From medal recommendation:

“Near CAGNY in NORMANDY, on 18 July 1944, Lance-Corporal BARON, whilst driving Lieutenant GORMAN in a 75mm SHERMAN and when ordered to do so by that officer, charged into a *PANTHER tank at 100 yards range with such force and determination that it was unable to shoot and its crew baled out.

He then assisted his officer back by the hedgerows to where they had seen a ditched 17-pounder SHERMAN.  Having found it he helped to remove the dead Commander and generally to get the tank back into action.

Lieutenant GORMAN reports that Lance-Corporal BARON’s spirit and determination was a great inspiration to him.

Throughout the whole action Lance-Corporal BARON showed exceptional initiative and determination to destroy the enemy without regard to his personal safety.”

* The tank was in fact a King Tiger and not a Panther.

From Lancashire County Publications (England) - Monday, August 26, 2002:

“Guards honour war hero James

MEMBERS of the Irish Guards Association travelled from across the UK to honour a war hero who died at the age of 87.

James Baron, who served with the Irish Guards during World War Two, died in Blackburn Royal Infirmary after a stroke.

At a funeral service Sir John Gorman, who flew from Belfast to honour his comrade, said: "We have lost a dear friend, a great and good soldier."

Sir John, former equerry to the Queen, said one of the things he remembered most about James was that every night when his tank pulled up he would dig a huge hole for the five soldiers to sleep in. This, he said, helped to protect them and also brought everyone together regardless of rank.

One of the stories most associated with James relates to July 18, 1944, when James was driving a tank at a German King Tiger tank. He was told to fire but the shell bounced off the German armour.

Sir John, who was the troop commander, told him to fire again but the gun failed so James rammed his tank into the Germans to disable them.

James, who lived in Lyndon House, Great Harwood, received the Military Medal on his first day in Normandy.

This and his other medals will be taken to the Irish Guards Headquarters where they will go on display with his photograph and other memorabilia.

At his funeral service, officiated by Rev Janet Heil at Accrington Crematorium, mourners heard how James had once been a Chelsea Pensioner but left 'because he said they were too old."

He returned to Great Harwood, where he had spent most of his life after a move from Clayton-le-Moors when he was a boy.

A widow since his wife Phylis died 25 years ago, James drove until the day he died and often visited the Lake District and Lytham.

Joan Starkie said her uncle had recently had an operation on his leg so that he could join his former comrades on their last tour to the battlefields in Normandy in October.

She said: "He had decided against the operation because of the risks involved but when he heard about the final regimental tour he had it done."

Joan was with her uncle when he died. She said: "He was still reminiscing in the hospital. My uncle was a good and loving man who would help whenever he could." “

From The Times, September 3, 2002:

“James Baron, who has died aged 87, was awarded an immediate Military Medal for charging and ramming a German King Tiger tank in Normandy in 1944 while serving with Armoured Irish Guards.

On July 18 the 2nd Armoured Battalion of the Irish Guards was taking part in a powerful armoured thrust near Cagny in Operation Goodwood, which aimed to isolate Caen from the east and free the Allied forces to the west for the forthcoming breakout of Normandy.

The Irish Guards were equipped with Sherman tanks, which had proved to be a reliable fighting vehicle, but were outclassed by the German Tiger and Panther tanks.  On the Western Front, the Allies had no answer to Hitler’s latest weapon, the King Tiger, armed with an 88 mm gun, originally designed as an anti-aircraft gun.  Intelligence reports that it was about to make its appearance in Normandy were received with considerable apprehension.

“What do we do if we meet a King Tiger?” Lance-Corporal Baron had asked his troop commander, Lieutenant John Gorman, at a briefing a few days earlier.  “The only thing we can do,” Gorman told his driver, “is to use naval tactics.  If the 88 mm gun is pointing away from us, we shall have to use the speed of the Sherman and ram it.”

On the afternoon of July 18, as Gorman came round the corner of a hedge in his Sherman, he saw four German tanks 300 yards away in the middle of a field.  There was an old Mark IV and a King Tiger - the first seen in battle on the Western Front.

The King Tiger’s devastating 88 mm gun was pointing at one of Gorman’s troop on the rse behind him.  The Sherman’s 75 mm gun was little more use than a peashooter against teh King Tiger’s armour - armour-piercing shells would bounce off it.  “Driver, ram!” shoulted Gorman.

The Sherman crashed through a thin hedge and careered down the slope at 40 mph towards the King Tiger.  With 75 yards to go before impact, the Sherman’s gunner, Guardsman Scholes, fired a high-explosive shell at the King Tiger.   Although it did not penetrate the armour, he felt that it would give the Germans something to worry about.

The British tank slid down beside the long barrel and struck the King Tiger hard at the rear of its right track.  With the Sherman’s turret only a few inches from the 88 mm weapon, Gorman’s crew were like birds sitting on a sportsman’s gun.  On impact, both crews baled out and went in opposite directions - except one man, Guardsman Agnew, the front gunner, who finding his exit blocked and having to scramble back to the turret, was the last out of the tank.

As Agnew dropped to the ground, he saw four men running for a ditch and promptly joined them.  They were the German crew.  After an exchange of cold stares, being a punctilious sort of man, he saluted smartly and disappeared into a cornfield to rejoin his comrades.

Gorman ordered Baron and the others to stay where they were; he set off on a zig-zag run through the orchards, where he found a Firefly tank.  Gorman returned with the Firefly and completed the destruction of the King Tiger and the Sherman with the 17-pounder gun.

Meanwhile, the crew had been caught in an artillery barrage.  When two guardsman were wounded, Baron made a rough bed for them and stayed with his friends until they were picked up by a passing tank.

For their parts in this action, Corporal Baron received the MM and Lt Gorman the MC.

James Baron was born at Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire, on April 15 1915 and educated at the local school.  His family moved to Great Harwood when he was a boy, and at the age of 14 he was working in the textile industry.

Baron enlisted in the Coldstream Guards in 1936 and trained at the Guards Depot, Caterham, before joining the 2nd Battalion at Windsor.  He purchased his discharge the following year to join the Lancashire Constabulary, but was called up in 1940 and re-enlisted in the Irish Guards.

In 1941 Baron was selected for armoured training and qualified as a tank driver on the Crusader Mark I.  He joined the 2nd Armoured Battalion Irish Guards in 1942 and was promoted to Lance-Corporal in May.  After landing with the battalion on the Arromanches beaches on July 1 1944, he fought with his unit in the drive for the Seine and across north-west Germany, ending the war near Bremen.

Having left the Army in 1946 in the rank of sergeant, Baron returned to the textile industry as a technician at the Palatine Mill, Great Harwood; he retired in 1981.  He entered the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, as an In-Pensioner in 1991 but left the following year and moved to Blackburn.

James Baron died on August 18.  He married, in 1939, Phyllis Saville, who died in 1980.”

From The Times:

“James Baron, MM, wartime tank driver, was born on April 15, 1915. He died on August 18, 2002, aged 87.

Tank driver who was decorated for ramming a German King Tiger on the Normandy battlefield

RAMMING your opponent is a well- established practice at sea but seldom applied on the modern battlefield. Lance-Corporal James Baron did not order the ramming of a German King Tiger tank in Normandy 58 years ago but he did the deed and won the Military Medal. The King Tiger was the most powerful tank in the North West European campaign, outgunned only by the Soviet Stalin tanks on the Eastern Front.

Whether Montgomery intended Operation Goodwood as a breakout from the eastern flank of the Normandy bridgehead or a test of the enemy's strength there remains a point of argument. At 0745 hours on July 18, 1944, the Guards Armoured Division headed south towards Cagny, five miles southeast of Caen. Taken by surprise, the enemy reacted quickly, firing their highly effective 88mm flat-trajectory guns into the flanks of the advancing British formations. The 2nd Armoured Battalion of the Irish Guards ran into difficulties after fording a stream short of Frenouville but pressed on with three squadrons of Sherman tanks in line ahead.

Lieutenant John Gorman's tank had become bogged down at the crossing and, by the time he had switched to another, his troops had fallen behind. On cresting a ridge in his haste to catch up, he saw four German tanks in a field 200 yards away; the largest a King Tiger - the first to be reported in Normandy - mounting the formidable 88mm gun, which immediately began to traverse in his direction. The shell from his Sherman's 75mm bounced off the Tiger's armour and his order to fire again was met by a despairing cry from his gunner: "Gun's jammed, sir." Gorman ordered: "Driver, ram."

It was slightly downhill and there was only a scraggy hedge in the way, so Corporal Baron let the Sherman have its head at 40mph down the slope. Forward and low down in the hull, his was the most vulnerable position in the swiftly looming collision. The Sherman struck the King Tiger in its right track, aft of the gun. The German crew scrambled out with their hands up but the guns of the other three tanks set the next Irish Guards' Sherman ablaze. Unable to extract his from the collision, Gorman ordered his crew out and into a handy ditch. He brought forward a Firefly tank with a 17-pounder gun to tackle the remaining Germans while Baron evacuated the two crewmen, both wounded by artillery fire. Gorman was awarded the Military Cross and Baron the Military Medal, both presented by Montgomery in the field.

James Baron was born in Clayton-le-Moors in Lancashire and worked in the textile industry from the age of 14 until joining the Coldstream Guards in 1936. On re-enlistment in 1940 he joined the Irish Guards and served with them throughout the war. After demobilisation, he worked at the Palatine Mill textile factory at Great Harwood and became the secretary of the local branch of the Association of Power Loom Overlookers in 1961. On retiring from the textile industry he became an In-Pensioner of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, in 1991.

He married Phyllis Saville in 1939. She predeceased him; there were no children.”

Click here to read John Gorman’s medal recommendation.

Before embarkation to France in June, 1944 a list of tanks and vehicles was prepared by the 2nd Armoured Battalion, Irish Guards. On it Lance-Corporal BARON is listed as being Driver/Mechanic in a crew of 5. The tank was a Sherman in No. 2 Squadron, No. 4 Troop and was the Troop Leader’s tank. The officer was Lieutenant John GORMAN. The other members were Guardsman A. SCHOLES, Gunner/Mechanic (died 2000), Guardsman J. AGNEW, Gunner/Operator, and Guardsman A. Melville, Gunner/Mechanic.

Quis Separabit

Source: TNA; The Times; IG Journal 2001

Photo: The Armoured Micks; The Telegraph