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.