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.