Thursday, July 31, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
NX21849 Pvt. Elson Evered Bell on leave, aged 18 years.
If you are thinking that Pvt. Bell of the 2/17th Infantry Battalion looks young, that's because he was. Following in the time honoured Australian tradition of not being entirely truthful about your age to go to war Pvt. Bell bumped up his age by 5 years to meet the strict age requirements of the Second A.I.F.
Being only 16 years, 7 months old when he enlisted on 27th May 1940 (the day before my Grandfather) Pvt. Bell was the youngest man Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) at Tobruk.
The Australian War Memorial writes "Private K E Bell, A Company, 2/17th Infantry Battalion ... was aged 17 years when he was Mentioned in Despatches for bravery at Tobruk. During an offensive patrol he carried in his officer although wounded himself. The officer later died."
The Australian War Memorial credits this photo as being of Pvt. K. E. Bell of the 2/17th Battallion. My personal research has led me to believe that the baby faced Rat of Tobruk was actually Pvt. E. E. Bell who was, like the AWM states, a member of A Coy. 2/17th Battalion who was Mentioned in Despatches and wounded in Tobruk.
The nominal roll of the 2/17th Battalion shows only one soldier with a surname of Bell who was wounded at Tobruk, and no soldier with a name of K.E. Bell. The nominal roll of the 2/17th lists his service number as NX21849 and also mentioned was the fact that he was wounded not only at Tobruk, but also Alamein and New Guinea. He was discharged on 30th November, 1945 having just celebrated his actual 21st birthday the month before. How bizarre to think that Pvt. Bell fought a World War for 5 years and won all before his 21st birthday.
They don't make 'em like him anymore.
image 024225 Australian War Memorial
Nominal roll research from "What we have, we hold - A history of the 2/17th Australian Infantry Battalion", 2/17th Battalion History Committee, Sydney.
At this service she reads a prepared speech that her Grandfather (a member of the 7th Division's 2/9th Infantry Battalion attached to the 9th Division for the duration of the siege) is to read at a similar service back in Australia. It's final moving paragraph is this;
"While remembering our mates and their bravery and dedication sometimes it is so easy to forget just how young these men were and what they did for their country. It makes you feel so proud to be an Australian."
- QX11512 Pvt. John J. Alman 2008.Sadly Pvt. Alman passed away not long after his Grandaughter read his moving words to a small gathering of expats on Anzac Day, 2008. At the time of his death Pvt. Alman was 87 years old.
To read the article by Kim Wildman click here http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=452426
Draw the crabs -
"to perform any action in the front line, deliberate or not, that results in a rapid offensive response from opposing German forces, usually in the form of sniper, machinegun, mortar or artillery fire."
Example - #1
Digger A : "Mate, what did ya do that for? It was nice and quite out here with Gerry snoozing."
Digger B : "I was bored mate. Thought I'd draw the crabs for a bit."
Example - #2
Digger to mate: "Better put that smoke out mate, wouldn't want ya to draw the crabs."
- quote: Barton Maughan, "Tobruk and El Alamein", Canberra, 1966, p. 752
Monday, July 28, 2008
This German aerial reconnaissance image shows the outer perimeter defenses at post R49. This post is one of those built in the early 1930's by the Italian occupation force. It consisted of concrete trenches and weapons pits, an anti-tank ditch and even a underground bunker for when you were under artillery fire. All this surrounded by miles of razor wire and fields of landmines.
The numbers in the picture refer to the following;
- Main anti-tank ditch
- Barbed Wire
- Barbed Wire
- Weapons pit with connecting trench and bomb-proof shelter
- Local anti-tank ditch
- Supply road
9th Division troops would occupy these posts for weeks on end. Some of the posts were within 400 yards of German lines and even raising your head two inches above the sandbags would draw intense fire from German snipers.
Days in the line would often be spent resting due to the intense heat and the lack of usable cover in the desert. Exposing yourself in daylight hours would often be fatal. In Tobruk, it was said that the Australians owned the night. Once the harsh African sun set it would be time for the nightly patrols to commence.
Patrols would leave posts like the above one pictured to venture thousands of yards beyond the wire to gather intelligence (usually by capturing prisoners for interrogation) or to destroy a known objective. At this activity the Australian's excelled.
image #44246L3 by Ullstein as scanned from "The Rats Remain - The Siege of Tobruk, 1941" by J.S. Cumpston, Grayflower Productions 1966.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
25lb Field Guns of the 2/8th Field Regiment.
This image shows a 25 pounder field gun of the 9th Division's 2/8th Field Regiment. The aftermath of a successful shoot on Axis positions is seen by the huge mound of empty shell casings.
Whilst this image was taken during the 1st Battle of El Alamein and it wasn't until October that the largest artillery barrage of the campaign kicked off, one can only imagine how large the piles of the 'empties' were after the 2nd battle.
Large amounts of these brass casings made their way home in the form of Digger "Trench Art". Many were made into vases, ashtrays and umbrella stands for the people back home. Some were even personalised with engravings of battles fought, units served in and mates lost.
These days you can often see a decommissioned 25 Pounder Field Gun at memorials and RSL Clubs around the country. There are a few in my local area. I will see if I can photograph some of them to show you.
image 024515 Australian War Memorial.
“The Battalion advanced without artillery support with D Coy forward left, 18 Pl 9 Sec on the extreme left flank, when I contacted A Coy 2/13th Bn and proceeded to dig in. At this moment, the RAF dropped bombs on our Bn HQ hitting an ammunition truck some 400 yards to our rear, which lit up the whole front.”
“Approximately 40 yards in front of my section, a number of enemy machine guns opened fire on our Bren Gunners, Bruce Hindson (NX58750) and Horrie Kennedy (NX59787). This post was very close and we were losing men because the rocky ground prevented us from digging in. The remaining enemy positions had no field of fire on our position as they ran along facing east. Also, 18Pl HQ had problems as Lt. Al Urquhart (NX22422) was badly wounded by machine gun fire, leaving Sgt. Ted Taylor (NX21402) in charge of the platoon.”
“It was decided that the position in front had to be taken under covering fire of the two Bren Gunners. Whilst waiting for the reserve 7 Sec to join us, out of the blue on my left ran a soldier. In the semi-darkness he looked like an English soldier in Tommy battle dress. He threw a number of grenades into the enemy machine gun post and then jumped in with his submachinegun. He worked away from us down the enemy positions, throwing grenades, until I lost sight of him in the darkness some 100 yards away. What happened to him we never heard as we were in the battle for another nine days and nights.”
“The machine gun post had 10 German soldiers and 8 Spandau (MG42) machine guns. What a remarkable soldier this man must have been. I wonder if his deeds were ever recorded. Noone knew where he came from, but enquiries indicated that he could have been a British Commando working independently.”
image composite of crop from 020286 Australian War Memorial and photo of Henry Zouch from my personal collection.
The anecdote is taken from one submitted by Henry Zouch to "What we have, we hold - a history of the 2/17th Australian Infantry Battalion 1940-1945" by the 2/17th Battalion History Committee. Published under fair dealing for review as allowed by the Copyright Act.
NX60436 Sgt. Henry Eddington Zouch passed away in 1999.
He was 79 years old.
image 020558 Australian War Memorial.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
This photo was taken at Anzac Day at Sydney in the early to mid 1990's. I was stunned to find that a photo from my personal collection featured the same men as Lt. Fisher's photo. The two men on the outsides are currently unidentified but the others are exactly as posed in the original photo. My Grandfather is second from the right.
The beauty of this photo is in the fact that all 5 men survived the war, however not all of them unscathed. Of the three identified members only Henry Zouch was not reported wounded in action (W.I.A.). Both Charlie Lemaire and Les McCarthy were wounded at Alamein and Les McCarthy was further wounded in New Guinea in 1943 when a Private accidentally discharged his Bren Gun shooting my Grandad twice, once in the right thigh, the other in the right shin. This was a wound that took months to heal. The funny thing is that when the incident was originally reported to Senior Officers my Grandfather, a section Corporal, covered for the Private under his command and reported the wounds as having been received from a strafing Japanese Zero fighter plane. It wasn't until many months later with the potential for an army board of enquiry looming that the official record was amended to reflect that the wounds were received by "accidental discharge of section's Bren Gun". Amazing what information is in official service records.
To view the original post and photo about Tobruk's Bush Artillery click here http://9thdivvy.blogspot.com/2008/07/image-tobruks-bush-artillery.html
WX9858 Private Arthur Stanley Gurney was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Tel el Eisa, Alamein Sector, Egypt on the 22nd of July, 1942.
During an attack Gurney’s company was held up by machine-gun fire from posts 100 metres in front, and all the officers were killed or wounded. Gurney, without hesitation, charged the nearest machine-gun post, bayoneted three men and silenced the post. He continued on to the second post, bayoneted two men and sent a third out as prisoner. Stick grenades were thrown at him and he was knocked to the ground, but he got up and charged the third post. Gurney disappeared from view and later his body was found in an enemy post.
Private Gurney is buried at the Alamein War Cemetery in Egypt. His Victoria Cross in on public display in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Private Arthur Stanley Gurney was 33 years old at the time of his death.
image 100639 Australian War Memorial.
WX10426 Private Percival Eric Gratwick was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the night of 25th-26th October, 1942 at Miteiriya Ridge, Alamein, Egypt.
During an attack Gratwick’s company, advancing on the left flank, was forced to ground by well-directed fire from the elevated enemy positions. The platoon commander, platoon sergeant and many others in the platoon were killed, the total strength being reduced to seven. Gratwick then quickly got up and charged the nearest enemy post with a rifle and bayonet in one hand, and a grenade in the other. Throwing one grenade into the post, then another, he jumped in among the surviving defenders with his bayonet and killed them all, including a complete mortar crew. He then charged through heavy machine-gun fire towards a second post, and inflicted further casualties. Gratwick was killed by a burst of machine-gun fire just short of the enemy trench.
Private Gratwick is buried at the Alamein War Cemetery in Egypt. His Victoria Cross is currently held by the Army Museum of Western Australia at Perth. At the time of his death he had only recently celebrated his 40th birthday in the front lines at Alamein.
image 100640 Australian War Memorial.
El Alamein, Egypt.
An Australian Digger of the 9th Division menaces with bayonet fixed on his Lee-Enfield .303 rifle. He wears the standard Commonwealth Tin Hat and his shirt looks bleached from the North African sun.
Unfortunately the identity of this soldier is unknown but I wouldn't stand in his way. Many a German or Italian would have felt the same when confronted by this bloke and his bayonet. The Australian bayonet used in WW2 was a surplus item from WW1. It was quite long and had a very intimidating look when fixed (as is obvious from the photo above). Many an Axis soldier feared the Australian wielding a fixed bayonet.
image 042078 Australian War Memorial.
- 2/13th Infantry Battalion (NSW)
- 2/15th Infantry Battalion (QLD)
- 2/17th Infantry Battalion (NSW)
- 2/28th Infantry Battalion (WA)
- 2/32nd Infantry Battalion (VIC)
- 2/43rd Infantry Battalion (SA)
- 2/23rd Infantry Battalion (VIC)
- 2/24th Infantry Battalion (VIC)
- 2/48th Infantry Battalion (SA)
- 2/7th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery
- 2/8th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery
- 2/12th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery
- 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment
- 2/3rd Australian Machine Gun Regiment
- 2/4th Australian Pioneer Battalion
- 9th Australian Divisional Cavalry
- 2/3rd Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers (TAS/WA/SA)
- 2/13th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers (QLD)
- 2/7th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers (QLD)
- 2/4th Field Park Company, Royal Australian Engineers (WA)
This is a preliminary list of the structure of the 9th Division in 1941. I have horrible feeling that this list is incomplete so forgive me if I have left out information. It will be updated as and when I learn more.
Friday, July 25, 2008
image Imperial War Museum E2478
Australian 9th Division troops under fire from enemy mortar attack atop Ruin Ridge, Alamein sector, Egypt. These troops shelter in a standard slit trench dug waist deep and reinforced with sand bags, rocks and anything capable of forming a barrier between shrapnel and flesh. Tin hats are the order of the day while in typical Australian fashion shirts are not. The Sergeant (with the shirt) is holding a pair of binoculars searching for any sign of where the mortars are being fired at them from.
image 151150 Australian War Memorial
A patrol of 9th Division troops goes outside the wire of Tobruk's defenses into no mans land. Patrols like this constantly harassed the enemy at Tobruk. It was commonly felt amongst Australian troops that they "owned no-man's land". Major-General Leslie Morshead, commander of the Tobruk garrison implemented a series of relentless patrolling around the besieged troops in a constant source of concern for both Germans and Italians alike.
image 009394 Australian War Memorial.
Members of the 2/17th Infantry Battalion man a captured Italian 75mm gun.
Australian War Memorial #020286. Photo by W.O. Thomas Fisher.
I first came across this photo under the heading "Tobruk's Bush Artillery" published on p.54 of "Active Service with Australia in the Middle East". "Active Service" was the first of a series of yearbook type campaign journals that were published yearly by the Australian War Memorial. The caption that accompanied that above photo in "Active Service" is reproduced below;
"The troops and the gun represent one of the features of Tobruk that gives the boys something to talk about and "Gerry" something to think about."
"They are the bush artillery - captured Italian guns manned by soldiers who are otherwise employed in cook-houses, messes and the like, who's job it is to reissue enemy shells to the enemy. They do it, fast and efficiently, but the enemy does not appreciate the service."
I found this caption rather interesting considering the fact that one of the men in the photo is my Grandfather NX17811 Pvt. L.J. McCarthy of the 2/17th Infantry Battalion. The men in this photo were all members of D Company, 2/17th Infantry Battalion and not cooks like the official record stated.
In fact when this photo was taken by Warrant Officer (later Lt.) Thomas Fisher, official photographer of the 9th Division Military History and Information Section the gun in question was only 4000 yards from the German front line. Further photos in the series show the same men firing the gun at the Germans. Kind of cool to have a photo of your Grandfather firing heavy artillery at the Germans during the Siege of Tobruk. What is even cooler is that I have a photo in my personal collection of the same 5 men standing in the same order taken at Anzac Day in the early to mid 1990's with all their medals. The two images are quite powerful when shown side by side.
The soldier in the middle is NX65985 Pvt. C.E. Lemaire. My granddad's best mate and a later recipient of the Military Medal for bravery in the field for action against the Japanese at Borneo in 1945. Second from the left is NX60436 Pvt. H.E. Zouch. The other two men on either end are at this stage unknown however research is ongoing in an attempt to name all five members of Tobruk's Bush Artillery.
The soldier who took this photo was Warrant Officer Thomas Fisher of the Military History and Information Section. Sadly W.O. Fisher (later Lt. Fisher) was the only photographer of the Military History and Information Section to be killed in action during WW2. Lt. Fisher died in action against the Japanese at Papua on 16th November 1942. He has no known grave. More from Lt. Fisher's work in later posts. Lt. Fisher is memorialised on the Roll of Honour at http://www.awm.gov.au/roh/person.asp?p=147-7633
Thursday, July 24, 2008
2/17th Infantry Battalion, 20th Brigade, 9th Division
When the 7th Division embarked for Palestine in Oct 1940 little would they know that for some of them they would be arrive to be members of the newly formed 9th Division. As the divisions for WW2 were formed and numbered in the order of enlistment and began with the 6th Division (the 1st to 5th Divisions having been previously allocated for WW1) the members of the 7th Division were amongst the second wave of mass enlistments that occurred in early to mid 1940. The men of the former 7th Division were horrified to find themselves a part of the 9th Division. These men were often incorrectly labeled "The Long Thinkers" by the men of the 6th Division, a reference to the time it took for the men to decide to enlist.
With the 9th Division's deployment to Libya to relieve the 6th Division who were pulled out for the defence of Greece, Cpl Edmondson and his battalion (of whom my grandfather was a member) first engaged the German's in what was to be later known as "The Benghazi Handicap", the hasty retreat back to the shelter of the city of Tobruk.
Not long after arriving from this harrowing journey Cpl Edmondson's section was deployed on the outer perimeter of Tobruk's defences at post R33 in the Red Line. This was the area that was first attacked by Rommel's Panzer Division in what was to be known as "The Easter Battle".
Cpl. Edmondson's Victoria Cross was awarded posthumously (as too many are), for action during The Easter Battle of 13-14th April, 1941. The passage in the London Gazette of 1 July, 1941, gave the following details of Edmondson's deeds:
"On the night of 13th-14th April, 1941, a party of German infantry broke through the wire defences of Tobruk, and established themselves with numerous machine guns, mortars and field pieces. Led by an officer, Corporal Edmondson and five privates carried out a bayonet charge upon them under heavy fire. Although wounded in the neck and stomach Corporal Edmondson not only killed one of the enemy, but went to the assistance of his officer, who was attacked by a German from behind while bayoneting another who had seized him about the legs. Despite his wounds, from which he later died, Corporal Edmondson succeeded in killing these two Germans also, thus undoubtedly saving his officer's life."
John Hurst Edmondson's Victoria Cross was the first of twenty received by Australian Forces in WW2. As a result it carried with it quite a bit of propaganda value for the Allies who were in need of good news. John Edmondson's V.C. is currently on display in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial. John Hurst Edmondson V.C. is buried in the Tobruk War Cemetery.
Welcome to the 9th Divvy!
The 9th Divvy is the blog that I am keeping as I research the exploits of the Australian 9th Division during the Second World War. I hope you learn as much as I have about the forgotten heroes of Australia. I aim to raise awareness in subsequent generations of Australians about just what life was like for a digger in the 9th Division on active service. I plan to profile the people, places and events that forged the legend that is the 9th Division.
To open with I will share with you a famous quote I found made by Major-General Francis de Guingaund. The Major-General was the Chief of Staff of Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery's Land Force HQ. On the morning of the 6th June, 1944 as the invasion fleet of Operation Overlord set sail for the shores of France from England, the Major-General was heard to sigh and state;
"My God, I wish we had 9th Australian Division with us this morning".
Hearing this quote makes me beam with pride, not only because I am a proud Australian but because my Grandfather was a member of the 9th Division. More on him later, but for now I will welcome you all and hope that you find this blog both entertaining and informative.
Lest We Forget,
The 9th Divvy