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.