Thursday, July 31, 2008

[Image] 9th Division troops skylark at Alamein

4 Section, D Company, 2/17th Battalion

El Alamein, Egypt, 1942.

This is another of the great images that I received yesterday taken by my Grandfather at Alamein. The men shown are members of 4 section, D Company of the 2/17th Battalion.

If you look closely in the sand you can see the dugouts, or doovers, that the men lived in. Effectively they were a hole in the ground where you could supposedly be safe from enemy fire. Australians would go to great lengths to make their doovers comfortable earning a reputation as amazing scroungers.

The soldier skylarking in the German M35 steel helmet is NX60184 Cpl. Mervyn R. Lee.

image from author's personal collection.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

[Heraldry] Rats of Tobruk Association

Rats of Tobruk Association Crest

This is the crest of the Rats of Tobruk Association. It is a group set up by veterans of Tobruk as a means of keeping in contact and raising awareness of the actions of the men of the AIF at Tobruk.

This particular crest is scanned off a window decal that was in my Grandfather's personal items. It's old and never been used. At first I wondered why Grandad wouldn't have put the decal on the back window of his car and then I remembered that when I was young he drove a Toyota Corona. I also remember that he hated the fact that he couldn't afford to drive an Australian built car, as they were more expensive at the time. I never heard him say anything about the Germans commiting war crimes in the Middle East. He did however, never have anything nice to say about the Japanese.

Realising now just what my Grandfather faced at the hands of the Japanese forces in the jungles of New Guinea and Borneo it's no wonder that he just couldn't bring himself to put his Rats of Tobruk decal on his Toyota.

Rats of Tobruk Association window decal from the author's private collection.

[Image] 9th Division troops move From Blue to Red Line at Tobruk

Tobruk, Libya, 8th August, 1941.

9th Division troops move to relieve others in the Red Line.

This image shows unidentified troops of the Australian 9th Division moving on foot from the inner perimeter "Blue Line" to relieve others in positions in the front "Red Line" at Tobruk.

Troops coming off the front lines, where they had often been in close contact with the enemy for weeks, would fall back to take up positions in the inner defensive perimeter known as the "Blue Line". When Tobruk was originally taken from the Italians in January, 1941 by the men of the Australian 6th Division the English command wanted to set up the outer defenses in the area known as the Blue Line. Australian command argued that the outer Red Line should be the one to hold as to do so would place enemy artillery out of range of the vital supply point, Tobruk Harbour. That one decision alone could may well have changed the entire course of the war.

Had defenses been set up at the originally planned Blue Line, Rommel's artillery would have likely captured the city within days. With a deep water harbour secured Rommel could move forward with his plans to rapidly take Egypt and with it, a gateway to the rich Middle Eastern oil fields of Iraq. With unlimited supply of oil relatively close to the planned Eastern Front with Russia the whole shape of the war starts to look different.

What strikes me about this image of the Libyan desert is that fact that the landscape, if viewed through a red filter, reminds me of footage I've seen of the surface of Mars. Weird I know but those rock formations are like nothing I've seen on this planet.

image 041777 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] On leave in Palestine, 1941.

NX17811 Pvt L.J McCarthy
2/17th Battalion
Palestine, 1941.

Today a parcel from my mother arrived that contained all the photos my Grandfather took from his time in active service with the 2/17th Battalion. This one is a classic photo postcard that I've scanned. On the back in my Grandfather's handwriting is the following;

"Tell-Aviv 1941. Les McCarthy. D Coy."

What I also realised when looking through the photos was that one of them stood out like I'd seen it before. It was of a bunch of diggers skylarking at Alamein, one of them wearing a German helmet. Try as I might I just couldn't think where I'd seen it before. I was certain it wasn't on the internet, but rather in a book.

I went and made a cup of coffee and read through the names of the soldiers on the back of the photo and one name stood out.

Jack Barber.

Then it hit me. I had borrowed his book "The War, The Whores, The Afrika Korps" from my local library about 18 months ago and enjoyed it alot. What I didn't know at the time is that alot of these stories in the book concerned his mates on leave. My grandfather was one of his mates. I now have photos of my Grandfather on leave with Jack Barber.

Oh shit. I hope my mum doesn't read that book.

image from the author's personal collection.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

[Image] The Baby Faced 'Rat of Tobruk'

11th May, 1942. Beirut, Lebanon.

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.

[Quote] QX11512 Pvt. John Joseph Alman

Whilst reading a travel website about tours of Tobruk I came across a link to the NineMSN Travel website where the journalist, Kim Wildman, travels to Tobruk to attend this year's dawn service at the Tobruk War Cemetery.

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

[Slang] "To draw the crabs"

Australian slang is famous, especially when coupled with the dry humour of the Australian soldier at war. One famous saying used often in Tobruk was to "draw the crabs".

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."

[Image] Tobruk's Anti-Aircraft Guns welcome the Luftwaffe

Tobruk, Libya, 1941.

With powerful searchlights lighting up the night sky the Anti-Aircraft batteries of Tobruk Garrison open up with a barrage of flak and tracers to lay a protective blanket above the besieged city.

At the time of the siege, Tobruk was one of the most well defended cities from air attack in the world yet at the same time one of the most bombed. The immense cloud of splintered metal flak bursting at bombing altitude made accurate targetting of the harbour and city area as difficult as possible for the Luftwaffe, the German Air-Force.

Just as the Luftwaffe did significant damage to the city with their bombing sorties the besieged allied forces inside the defenses shot down their fair share of attacking planes. The fighters of the R.A.F. when available would also account for German losses.

German planes brought down inside the perimeter were high profile targets for the scavengers and souvenir hunters of the 9th Division. Within no time the Australians would strip a downed plane of anything of military value and have the captured guns working against the next bombing sortie to fly over.

Metal, especially aluminium, was in short supply and anything that fell to earth was quickly scrutinised for what value it could add to the defense. crash sites were also popular spots for those lucky enough to have access to a camera to take happy snaps for the folks back home.

image p00150.001 Australian War Memorial.

[Quote] Lieutenant-General Morshead

On the 22nd December, 1942 the Commander of the 9th Division, NX8 Lieutenant-General Morshead addressed the Division at Gaza Airport, Palestine in their final parade before embarking for home and the war in New Guinea. Lieutenant-General Morshead said;

"The battle of Alamein has made history, and you are in the proud position of having taken a major part in that great victory. Your reputation as fighters has always been famous but I do not believe you have ever fought with greater bravery or distinction than you did during that battle when you broke the German and Italian armies in the Western Desert."

- quote: Barton Maughan, "Tobruk and El Alamein", Canberra, 1966, p. 752
- image p03014.003 Australian War Memorial.

Monday, July 28, 2008

[Image] Post R49 Tobruk Explained

Post R49
Red Line Outer Defenses.
Tobruk, Libya, 1941.

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;

  1. Main anti-tank ditch
  2. Barbed Wire
  3. Barbed Wire
  4. Weapons pit with connecting trench and bomb-proof shelter
  5. Local anti-tank ditch
  6. 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

[Image] Aussie Alamein Artillery Aftermath

Alamein, Egypt. 12th July, 1942.

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.

[Image] Zero Hour: Alamein

2140Hrs 23rd October, 1942
El Alamein, Egypt.

Zero Hour.

The allies opened their assault on Rommel's Afrika Korps at El Alamein, Egypt at 2140hrs on the 23rd October, 1942. The commencement of hostilities occurred with the largest artillery barrage of the Western Desert campaign.

On a front of six miles, the artillery of Montgomery's 8th Army was dispersed every 23 yards. At amazing pace, the English Artillery signalled to Rommel that his assault on Egypt was going to cost much more than ever anticipated.

The Australian 9th Division was deployed in the northern sector of the Alamein battlefield opposite Rommel's Panzer Tank Divisions and substantial numbers of Afrika Korp Infantrie. The artillery was to commence a punishing creeping barrage that would move forward sweeping the way for the 9th Division on foot. These tactics caused many casualties on both sides.

All personal accounts of Zero Hour at Alamein that I have read have one thing in common. All say that those that survived it never forgot it as long as they lived.

On a personal note I remember as a child in the 1970's visiting my Grandparents at their home. On the mantle piece in their loungroom was a large brass shell casing. Hand engraved on the bottom of it was "Alamein 1942". It fascinated me, for here in my mind was a highly explosive device that may go off with the slightest noise or vibration. I think it may have been a scam perpetrated by my parents to keep my behaviour quiet while we paid a visit :) In any case when I asked my Grandfather (NX17811) about it he said "That's a Tommy 25 pounder from Alamein". He never elaborated on it and I never understood enough to ask more.

I always wondered what happened to that shell.

image 042485 Australian War Memorial.

[Anecdote] NX60436 Cpl. Henry E. Zouch remembers unrecorded valour at Alamein

At the time of the following incident, Henry was a corporal of 18 Platoon, D Company 2/17th Battalion. He wrote of a remarkable feat by one soldier on the second night of the Battle of El Alamein as follows;

“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] 2/23rd Bren Gunner at Tobruk

3rd September, 1941
Tobruk, Libya.

VX26227 Pvt. George E. Jeffs, 2/23rd Infantry Battalion

Private Jeffs mans a Bren Gun in a weapons pit on the Red Line at Tobruk. This is a great photo of the tripod mounted Bren light machinegun (LMG) in action from a perspective not often seen in Australian war photos. The smiling face of Pvt. Jeffs adds a very Australian charm to it. Pvt. Jeffs wears his Tin Hat high on his brow so that when prone he can see down the sights of his Bren gun whilst dispensing .303 calibre welcoming presents to "Gerry".

Sadly, Private Jeffs survived all that the Axis had to offer in North Africa only to be Killed In Action (K.I.A.) by the Japanese at the Quoja river region, New Guinea on 17th November, 1943. At the time of his death (the promoted) Cpl. George Edward Jeffs was 24 years old.

VX26227 Cpl. G.E. Jeffs is memorialised on the Roll of Honour here:

image 020558 Australian War Memorial.

[Medal: Allies] The Africa Star

The Africa Star (with 8th Army Clasp)

The Africa Star is a Commonwealth medal awarded for operational service in North Africa from 10th June, 1940 (Italy's entry to WW2) until 12th May, 1943 (defeat of Axis forces in Africa).

Three clasps are available for wear on the Africa Star. Those representing the 1st Army, 8th Army and Commonwealth troops serving in North Africa during 1942-1943.

The medal pictured has the 8th Army clasp attached to the ribbon. This means that the recipient served on active duty in North Africa under Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery as a member of the British 8th Army. The 9th Division was attached to the 8th Army for the period of the Alamein campaign from July to November, 1942.

The medal itself is a six pointed star of yellow copper zinc alloy. The obverse has a central design of the Royal and Imperial cypher, surmounted by a crown. The cypher is surrounded by a circlet containing the words ‘The Africa Star'. Stars issued to Australian personnel have recipient names and service numbers engraved on the plain reverse.

The red on the ribbon symbolises the Army, the sky blue the Air Force and the dark blue the Navy. The yellow represents the Western Desert.

An unnamed Africa Star with an 8th Army clasp in good original condition will sell for up to $100 on eBay. A named version (which all Australian Africa Stars were) will sell for more than an unnamed one. Personally my Grandfather's medals are priceless and no amount of money would see them leave the family.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

[Image] Tobruk's Bush Artillery Reunited!

Reunion of "Tobruk's Bush Artillery"

This photo is the follow up piece to Lt. Thomas Fisher's famous "Tobruk's Bush Artillery" photo that featured my Grandfather, NX17811 Cpl L.J. McCarthy and his mates sitting on a captured Italian 75mm gun at Tobruk on 27th August, 1941. The men in the picture were actually member's of D Company, 2/17th Infantry Battalion and not cooks as the caption stated. See the original in my post called "[Image] Tobruk's Bush Artillery".

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

image from author's private collection.

[Hero] WX9858 Pvt. Arthur Gurney V.C.

2/48th Infantry Battalion, 26th Brigade, 9th Division

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.

[Weapon: Allies] Thompson Submachinegun

"The Tommy Gun"

The Thompson M1928A1 Submachinegun (SMG) was the Allied SMG used by the 9th Division during the North African Campaign. Made in the United States the Thompson, or "Tommy Gun" gained notoriety by it's use by gangsters of the 1920's and 1930's.

It fired a .45 calibre bullet and the one pictured above is loaded with a 50 round "drum" magazine. These were found to be too heavy when fully loaded for long range patrolling like that done at Tobruk. Often a smaller 20 or 30 round magazine would be used instead. A great example of the two variants can be seen in the photo in the post "Tobruk Patrol By Day". The Thompson provided a very quick spray of bullets at short range, perfect for close quarters combat. It was accurate to about 100 yards.

The Thompson saw out it's service with the 9th Division during it's North African campaign. Once the 9th Division was deployed to New Guinea the Thompson was soon replaced with the Australian designed and built SMG, the Owen Gun Mk1. The Owen Gun was named after it's creator, a Private from the 2/17th Infantry Battalion, Pvt. E. Owen. More on him and his creation later.

image cropped from 090000 Australian War Memorial.

[Hero] WX10426 Pvt. Percy Gratwick V.C.

2/48th Infantry Battalion, 26th Brigade, 9th Division

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.

[Image] 9th Division Digger at Alamein

3rd November, 1942
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.

[Info] 9th Australian Division Structure 1941

In 1941 a reshuffle of Brigades and Battalions created the 9th Division. At this time the division consisted of the following forces (with home state in brackets);

Infantry Units

20th Brigade
- 2/13th Infantry Battalion (NSW)
- 2/15th Infantry Battalion (QLD)
- 2/17th Infantry Battalion (NSW)

24th Brigade
- 2/28th Infantry Battalion (WA)
- 2/32nd Infantry Battalion (VIC)
- 2/43rd Infantry Battalion (SA)

26th Brigade
- 2/23rd Infantry Battalion (VIC)
- 2/24th Infantry Battalion (VIC)
- 2/48th Infantry Battalion (SA)

Artillery Regiments
- 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

Other Units
- 2/3rd Australian Machine Gun Regiment
- 2/4th Australian Pioneer Battalion
- 9th Australian Divisional Cavalry

Engineer Companies
- 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

[Hero] SX7089 Sgt. William H. Kibby V.C.

2/48th Infantry Battalion, 26th Brigade, 9th Division

Sgt William Henry Kibby received the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross for action at Alamein, Egypt from 23rd-31st October, 1942. The citation from the London Gazette (where all V.C.'s are gazetted) read as follows;

"During the initial attack at Miteiriya Ridge on 23rd October, 1942, the Commander of No. 17 Platoon, to which Sergeant Kibby belonged, was killed. No sooner had Sergeant Kibby assumed command than his platoon was ordered to attack strong enemy positions holding up the advance of his company. Sergeant Kibby immediately realised the necessity for quick decisive action, and without thought for his personal safety he dashed forward towards the enemy post firing his Tommy-gun. This rapid and courageous individual action resulted in the complete silencing of the enemy fire, by the killing of three of the enemy, and the capture of twelve others."

"With these posts silenced, his Company was then able to continue the advance. After the capture of Trig 29 on 26th October, intense enemy artillery concentrations were directed on the battalion area which were invariably followed with counter-attacks by tanks and infantry. Throughout the attacks that culminated in the capture of Trig 29 and the re-organisation period which followed, Sergeant Kibby moved from section to section, personally directing their fire and cheering the men, despite the fact that the Platoon throughout was suffering heavy casualties. Several times, when under intense machine-gun fire, he went out and mended the platoon line communications, thus allowing mortar concentrations to be directed effectively against the attack on his Company's front. His whole demeanour during this difficult phase in the operations was an inspiration to his platoon. "

"On the night of 30th-31st October, when the battalion attacked "ring contour" 25, behind the enemy lines, it was necessary for No. 17 Platoon to move through the most withering enemy machine-gun fire in order to reach its objective. These conditions did not deter Sergeant Kibby from pressing forward right to the objective, despite his platoon being mown down by machine-gun fire from point-blank range. One pocket of resistance still remained and Sergeant Kibby went forward alone, throwing grenades to destroy the enemy now only a few yards distant. Just as success appeared certain he was killed by a burst of machine-gun fire. Such outstanding courage, tenacity of purpose and devotion to duty was entirely responsible for the successful capture of the Company's objective. His work was an inspiration to all and he left behind him an example and memory of a soldier who fearlessly and unselfishly fought to the end to carry out his duty."

As an amazing postscript to this incredible story in the days after his death Sgt. Kibby's wounded mates that escaped from the machine gun that killed him returned to collect his body. They noted that every member of the machine gun nest that Sgt. Kibby rushed in his fatal charge were dead and lying nearby Sgt. Kibby's body was that of his Company Commander, a Captain, and in his jacket pocket they found a letter recommending Sgt. Kibby for the Victoria Cross. The recommendation was passed on and Sgt. William H. Kibby became the first man of the AIF to win the Victoria Cross on the recommendation of a dead man.

Lest we Forget,
Sgt. William Henry Kibby V.C.

[Image] 9th Division troops guard Axis prisoners of war at Alamein

Australian troops of the 9th Division guard Axis prisoners of war at Alamein. Note the fixed bayonets on the Lee-Enfield .303's. The German prisoners appear to be in formal battle dress whilst the Italians are much more casually attired.

image Imperial War Museum E2478

[Propaganda] German leaflets dropped on 9th Division at Alamein

9th Division specific propaganda leaflets dropped by Germans over Alamein

In a follow up to their unsuccessful leaflet drop on Australian 9th Division troops at Tobruk the Germans again produced, printed and distributed via air drop thousands of leaflets aimed at demoralising the Australians.

Like their effort at Tobruk, Australian troops found this very amusing and reinforced the perception that their efforts had damaged the German attempts to take North Africa. In these examples a crude representation of the 9th Division symbol of Platypus and Boomerang can be seen at the top. Underneath are the messages designed to demoralise. On one a message advises that American troops are having a great time in Australia presumably with their wives and girlfriends while the 9th Division sits in the sand. Of all the messages dropped by the Germans this one is probably the most effective against the Australian soldier. Like before, however, most troops kept them as keepsakes or for the laugh value.

I think it took the Germans a long time and a lot of men to work out the Australian sense of humour.

image 025015 Australian War Memorial

[Image] Sep 1942. Mortar attack on 9th Division positions

September 1942 Ruin Ridge, Alamein Sector, Egypt

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

[Image] 9th Division Bren Gunner at Tobruk.

This Bren Gunner of the 2/13th Infantry Battalion opens fire on German lines 400 yards away from his weapon pit in the Red Line of Tobruk.

image 009510 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] Tobruk Patrol by Day

Image taken from "Active Service - with Australia in the Middle East". Australian War Memorial 1941.

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.

The patrol pictured appears to be a standard section patrol of 8 men. 6 with Lee-Enfield .303's with fixed bayonets (a constant source of fear amongst Axis troops) and two with the American Thompson submachinegun. The man in front, the leader of the patrol has the larger 50 round drum magazine whilst the other "Tommy Gunner" appears to have the smaller 20 or 30 round box magazine. All men wear the standard commonwealth tin hat helmet, shorts and carry only extra ammo, grenades and field dressings.

Morshead organised two different types of patrol around Tobruk. Reconnaissance and Fighting. A Recon patrol would often go out after dark, lightly armed for thousands of yards to often lie for hours in the cold desert within yards of enemy positions to gather intelligence about enemy troop dispositions and movements. Often a recon patrol would return, report the night's findings and return to their positions after up to 6 hours in the desert without a shot being fired or a word spoken.

The other type of patrol, the Fighting Patrol, would often go out the next night to attack targets watched the night before. These patrols were often larger in number and more heavily armed than usual. They would often sneak up on the enemy and toss grenades amongst the unsuspecting foes only to charge them with fixed bayonets or blazing Tommy Guns. There was even a report of a fighting patrol of 11 men who attacked 188 Germans with fixed bayonets at night and killed over 20 and captured the rest, including a dreaded Flak 88 gun and many Spandau MG's without a word being spoken or a shot being fired.

The patrols wreaked havoc amongst the Italians around Tobruk with their own leaflet campaign. 9th Division recon patrols would sneak into the Italian positions and stick leaflets with the words "V per Vittoria" (V for Victory) written on them all over the place. There was even a report of an Italian soldier waking up in the morning in his dugout with a "V per Vittoria" leaflet neatly tied around his bootlaces at the foot of his bedding.

image 009394 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] Tobruk's Bush Artillery

27th August, 1941.
El-Adem Sector
Tobruk, Libya.

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

[Propaganda] German leaflet drop on 9th Division at Tobruk

Image from the author's personal collection.

In 1941 Rommel's Afrika Korp commenced the first of a series of propaganda leaflet drops aimed at demoralising the troops of the Australian 9th Division. Hundreds of leaflets were dropped over the occupied areas of Tobruk, especially the Red Line, Tobruk's outer defensive line.

The example above is a scan of a photocopy of an original leaflet dropped on 9th Division troops. The irony of the situation is that rather than demoralise the Aussies the leaflet drop gave the diggers a much needed morale boost. If the invincible German Army was bothering to print leaflets calling on the Australians at Tobruk to surrender then they must be feeling the effects of the ongoing siege. The leaflets became one of the hottest souvenirs of the desert campaign.

Many were sent home to Australia as proud spoils of war while others utilised them for much more practical purposes as writing letters home on the back, keeping a journal or even cigarette paper and in some extreme cases toilet paper. Even funnier is the fact that even if the Aussies had wanted to surrender there were no white flags to use as everything that could have been used was so dirty from the desert's relentless dust that it was no longer white.

Other leaflets were dropped on the 9th Division positions at El Alamein in 1942. These were specifically printed with the 9th Division in mind. I find it interesting that at Tobruk there were Australians, English, Indian and Polish troops and at Alamein the Germans and Italians were opposed by Australians, English, Indian, New Zealanders, South African and other Commonwealth troops but they only ever printed propaganda aimed at demoralising the Australian 9th Division. This was a sign of the high regard held for them by Rommel.

[Weapon: Allies] The Lee-Enfield .303 Rifle

Photograph taken by Coggansfield, 2006 and used with permission.

The Digger's Best Mate

This is the Lee-Enfield .303 rifle. It was standard issue to all Australian Infantry Battalions during World War 2. Many of these rifles were left overs from World War One and as such were old, heavy and bolt actioned. Needless to say they were durable, accurate and sturdy. No photo of a Digger from either World War is complete without a .303 somewhere in the picture. I don't plan to get technical about the weapons at this stage but if I do I will tag the post with a [Tech] tag.

[Foe] Erwin Rommel "The Desert Fox"

When recalled to Berlin to explain to Hitler why one division of commonwealth troops were holding up his Afrika Korps' advance across North Africa at Tobruk in 1941 Rommel is quoted as saying to Hitler;

"These are no ordinary dominion troops. These are Australians. Give me two divisions of Australians and I will conquer the world."
- Erwin Rommel, 1941.

Needless to say Hitler accepted Rommel's explanation.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

[Image] The Alamein Heaven Photo

For me, this is one of the most powerful photos of the Second World War. A lone shirtless Australian soldier of the 9th Division carves the word "Heaven" and an upwards pointing arrow in the soft stone wall of the Alamein railway station with the tip of his bayonet. I've seen the significance of this being explained as "Alamein is a slice of heaven". I like to look on it more as that of a digger taking the piss. If Heaven is above them as the arrow would indicate I think the digger means to liken Alamein to Hell. And he would be right. More on Alamein later.

[Hero] NX15705 Cpl John Hurst Edmondson V.C.

2/17th Infantry Battalion, 20th Brigade, 9th Division

Cpl John Hurst "Jack" Edmondson was born in Wagga Wagga, NSW in 1914. He enlisted on 20th May 1940 at Paddington, NSW. Here he joined the newly formed 2/17th Infantry Battalion of the 7th Division. Due to his previous militia service he was quickly promoted to Corporal.

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.

9th Divvy - The Australian 9th Division 1940-1945

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,

Tim B.

The 9th Divvy