By early January, however, the Germans were seeking their revenge. German artillery fire was pounding Canadian artillery gun-pits, attempting to knock them out, and each salvo of Canadian artillery fire attracted a torrential German response. Eventually, the shelling began to wear on the nerves of the men, and the Hussars found themselves positioned amid the maelstrom, adjacent to the gun-pits. One Hussar noted at the time, “We took a lot of shelling and there were all kinds of narrow escapes. God knows there should have been casualties, but the fact remains there weren’t. Not one death. Not one serous wound. We began to figure we were a lucky outfit”.
After hours of discussion it was decided that B Squadron of the 8th Hussars, with the assistance of the Corps Artillery Survey Regiment, would attempt to demonstrate firing the main guns of tanks against unseen targets out in the Adriatic Sea. This was unprecedented, as the 75mm guns fitted to M4 Sherman tanks were designed for direct fire – that is, firing at a target within the gunner’s line of sight. In this case, however, the 75mm guns on the Shermans would be acting as artillery, firing indirectly at targets beyond the gunner’s line of sight. Such a task was a tall order, as the tanks lacked the instruments required to do this accurately.
To overcome the problem, the Hussars and their counterparts in the Artillery Survey Regiment worked out an intricate system of pegs to direct the tanks into position and then to direct their fire. Tanks would drive up on embankments so their guns could be positioned at predetermined angles. If all went according to plan, the shells would follow a parabolic arc and rain down on the target. Throughout this process, the Regiment's own Sergeant Prosser was integral to conceptualizing and planning the operation. When all was said and done, the exploit was a stunning success. Despite being given only five rounds of ammunition per tank, the Hussars obliterated the targets floating in the Adriatic. The stage was set. B Squadron had proved that tanks could act as artillery.
When the tanks finished firing, they quickly exfiltrated their positions and headed back to their pits to avoid German counter-battery fire. Moments later the German response came. The positions where the Hussar tanks had been were torn up by German counter-battery fire. Thankfully, the Sherman tanks and their excellent mobility afforded the Hussars the ability to evacuate quickly. Not one man was injured.
The shelling of Tollo crossroads is believed to have been the first instance of tanks firing their guns indirectly. The technique perfected by the Hussars and their comrades in the Artillery Survey Regiment would go on to be emulated by American and British forces in Italy and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the plucky Canadians who developed the technique rarely get the credit they deserve.
To find out more about the shelling of Tollo, or about the 8th Hussars in general, stop by the 8th Hussars Museum located in the historic Sussex Train Station along Broad Street. The Museum is fortunate to have Sergeant Prosser's medals and bracelet in its possession.