Sydney Radley-Walters: Tank Ace
The Western Allies’ premier Tank Ace during the Second World War was a Canadian man named Sydney “Rad” Radley-Walters. He was credited with at least 18 tank kills, scored hits on many additional tanks, and knocked out many other German equipment, such as armoured vehicles, machine gun nests or smaller bunkers.
Born January 11, 1920, in Malbaie, Quebec (now Saint-Georges-de-Malbaie), Radley-Walters enlisted with the army in 1940. As Radley-Walters was attending Bishop’s University at the time, he was immediately enrolled in the Canadian Officer Training Corps. After graduation, Radley-Walters was posted with the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, a local militia infantry battalion.
The Fusiliers were initially posted to Newfoundland, where they manned the garrison until 1942. Radley-Walters, however, would leave Newfoundland in 1941. The Fusiliers were going to be converted to an armoured regiment and as part of the transition Radley-Walters was to attend armoured school to train as an instructor. Radley-Walters recalled the moment he and the other officers were told they were going to become a tank unit: “At that time we all looked at one another and wondered what tanks were, and so on, in 1941.” In 1942 the regiment was officially redesignated as an armoured unit and shipped to England for training.
Beginning in 1943, forces stationed in Britan started preparation for what would become the largest seaborne invasion in history – D-Day. Radley-Walters remembers the feeling among Allied forces:
“We’re going to invade Europe someday, somehow, and we’d better get together with the infantry and learn, first, everything about cooperating, one with the other, the infantry, artillery, and the tanks. But more importantly, learn a lot about watermanship training, because we’re going to have to get on a boat somewhere and go across this channel and land on the other side.”
June 6, 1944. The Sherbrooke Fusiliers land on Juno Beach as part of Operation Overlord. A reserve unit, the Fusiliers aren’t among the first on the beach; They landed after the initial beachhead had been secured. Radley-Walters secured his first tank kill, on a German Panzer 4, merely a few hours after landing in Normandy. His unit went on to fight throughout France, participating in many key battles, such as the liberation of Caen.
Radley-Walters seemed invincible during his time in France. He survived having three tanks shot out from under him, he hit a landmine while riding in a scout car, and he had the wheels blown off a jeep with him inside. This contributed to the deep respect and admiration Radley-Walters received from soldiers under his command. He never asked his men to do something he wasn’t willing to do himself and, as an armoured officer, he was always right in the thick of the fighting. He was also known for caring a great deal about his troops, often ordering them to sleep whenever they had the chance.
On August 8, 1944, Radley-Walters or one of his tank commanders killed Michael Wittmann, the “Black Baron,” who was a legendary German tank ace featured in a significant quantity of German propaganda. For his leadership as a squadron commander during the Normandy Campaign, Radley-Walters was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross. By war’s end, Radley-Walters commanded the Sherbrooke Fusiliers.
Radley-Walters remained in the military following the Second World War. Due to his exceptional leadership, experience, and charisma, Radley-Walters rose through the ranks during his career, retiring in 1974 as a Brigadier General. He was appointed a Commander of Military Merit for his service to Canada, and the French government also recognized him as an Officer of the Legion d’honeur. Radley-Walters had four sons, lovingly referred to as “the tank crew,” with his wife Pat, who also served during the Second World War as a Red Cross nursing assistant. Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters passed in 2015, at the age of 95.
Additional Information & Further Reading:
An in-depth exploration of Radley-Walters early military career and leadership style.
Listen to Radley-Walters describe D-Day and the following weeks/months in his own words on the Warriors in their own words podcast.
Main photo: Lt- Radley-Walters standing in front of a Sherman Firefly (Credit: The Globe and Mail) and Rt- The badge of Les Fusiliers de Sherbrooke. (Credit: CAF via Wikipedia)
Boileau, John. 2022. “Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2023. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sydney-valpy-radley-walters.
Harbaugh, Ken. 2022. “BGen Sydney Radley-Walters (Part I): A Tank Ace on D-Day.” Warriors in Their Own Words. Accessed July 2023. https://evergreenpodcasts.com/warriors-in-their-own-words/bgen-sydney-radley-walters-part-i-a-tank-ace-on-d-day.
Rose, Larry. 2015. “Tank Ace began stellar career at Normandy.” The Globe and Mail. Accessed July 2023. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/tank-ace-captain-radley-walters-began-stellar-career-at-normandy/article24093726/.