Major Hugh Fane-Hervey (Obit for an impressive soldier...)


March 25, 2003, 10:22 AM
Major Hugh Fane-Hervey
(Filed: 25/03/2003)

Major Hugh Fane-Hervey, who has died aged 86, won the MC as a tank commander in the North African campaign, and a Bar to the award for his exploits as an escaped prisoner of war.

On June 20 1942, Fane-Hervey was in action at Tobruk, serving as a major in the 7th Royal Tank Regiment. He was in command of a squadron supporting the 2nd South African Division, when his tank was hit and caught fire.

His gunner was wounded and trapped in the burning tank but Fane-Hervey freed him and threw him clear. According to one witness, German soldiers who saw the incident applauded openly.

Fane-Hervey, wounded and suffering from burns, was taken prisoner. But he and a brother officer escaped from the hospital during the night and made their way through the enemy lines with three other escapers. After eight days' hiding, with little food or water and moving only by night, they tried to steal a truck.

After an exchange of fire in which three Germans were killed, Fane-Hervey and most of his group were re-captured. He was subsequently transferred to Italy, where he was imprisoned. In September 1943, Fane-Hervey, as the senior British officer, was in command of 100 men when the PoW camp at Fontanellato was abandoned after the Italian armistice.

After making arrangements for the accommodation of those who hoped to wait for the arrival of the Allies, he and a Royal Marine headed south. In November, he was recaptured in the area of Monte Cassino, some 10 miles from the Allied lines, and incarcerated in a civilian prison at Frosinone.

Soon after his arrival, he broke out through the roof but, as ill-luck would have it, the guards conducted a snap roll-call. By the time a recount was taken, Fane-Hervey had dropped down from the roof and slipped in behind the guards to take his place among the other prisoners.

The Germans decided to send the PoWs to a camp in Germany, and Fane-Hervey and his comrades were loaded into a freight train. On the way, he badgered the guards into allowing them a hot bath and a Polish refugee was ordered to chop up wood to heat the boiler. Fane-Hervey appropriated the man's hatchet, concealed it in his clothing and used it to hack through the side of the truck. Twenty-four PoWs escaped.

Fane-Hervey made his way to Rome in the company of Flt-Lt Garrard-Cole, who subsequently wrote a book about their adventures, Single to Rome. In Rome, Fane-Hervey adopted the alias of "Count Paolo Fattorini", and regularly took a box next to the German commander at the opera, on one occasion obtaining his signature on his programme.

His contacts with the English College at the Vatican and with Monsignor O'Flaherty's resistance organisation stood him in good stead and, having obtained an apartment in the abandoned British Embassy, he used his ingenuity to gain access to the sealed wine cellar and was able to celebrate the Christmas of 1943 in some style.

After Rome was liberated in June 1944, Fane-Hervey captured and handed over five Germans to the Allies. He was awarded a Bar to the MC he had won in 1941.

Hugh Frederick Fane-Hervey was born on January 2 1917 at Trichinopoly, India. His father was in the Indian Civil Service, and Hugh spent his early years in India before returning to England to complete his education at Ashburton Grammar School, Devon. He joined the 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) in 1935 and, after Sandhurst, was commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment in 1940.

In September 1940, a large Italian Army entered Egypt from Libya and advanced on Sidi Barrani where it constructed a forward base. On December 9, the British went on the offensive under the command of General Richard O'Connor.

Fane-Hervey, or "Fanny" Hervey, as he was known, led "B" squadron in a dawn attack by two squadrons on the camp at Nibeiwa, south of Sidi Barrani. It was defended by mined approaches, Italian M11 medium tanks, heavy AA guns and more than 120 machine-gun emplacements.

Fane-Hervey's troop broke through and engaged anti-tank and field-guns at point blank range, destroying several of them. By 10 a m, the camp had been captured, together with large quantities of guns, ammunition, lorries, and between 2,000 and 3,000 prisoners. Despite receiving a number of direct hits (one on his third tank), he rallied his troop and, later that morning, led his two remaining tanks into an attack on Tummar where he knocked out more enemy guns.

The next day, Fane-Hervey was once more in the leading troop in the attack on the base at Sidi Barrani. His tank took hits, and was finally immobilized with all radio communications gone. Fane-Hervey ordered his crew to bail out and set his tank on fire to avoid its capture.

Although it seemed that he was now a prisoner, he persuaded the Italians that they were surrounded and the Italian officer surrendered his force. For his part in the two-day action, Fane-Hervey was awarded the MC.

On January 3 1941 Fane-Hervey was again in the leading troop in the attack on the encampment at Bardia. After Phase One of the attack, Fane-Hervey withdrew his battered tank, which had received about 40 direct hits; his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Jerram, said, "There's my tank, Hugh. You're in Phase Two - off you go."

The C O was more than 6 feet tall and Fane-Hervey just 5ft 6in, but there was no time to adjust the height of the seat and Fane-Hervey went back into battle standing on the ammunition boxes.

After his exploits as an escaper, Fane-Hervey had a period of home leave, before returning to Italy as part of 2 RTR in Italy. In April 1945, he was severely wounded at the battle of Senio and was evacuated to England.

For the next 14 years, Fane-Hervey held a series of command, staff and training appointments, including command of Mons Officer Cadet School at Aldershot. He finally returned to 7 RTR, first as a squadron leader and subsequently as second-in-command, before retiring from the Army in 1959.

Fane-Hervey became a stockbroker in the City, and settled in East Sussex where he farmed for several years. A gregarious man of stocky build, he was an excellent games player. He played for the Harlequins RFC before the Second World War and represented the Army at hockey. He boxed at regimental level, and was a leading member of the squash team and the golf society.

Hugh Fane-Hervey, who died on January 11, married first, in 1938 (dissolved 1946), Eileen Kerbey. They had a twin son and daughter. He married secondly, in 1950, Patricia Brennan. They had three sons and a daughter.

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Jim March
March 25, 2003, 07:16 PM
Dear GOD what a NUT :).

Complete and utter lunatic :D. And I'll betcha anything he'd be the first to agree.

Jeez, they don't make 'em like THAT anymore. 'Specially not in England :(.

Harold Mayo
March 25, 2003, 09:26 PM

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