Friday, August 1, 2008

[Image] Inside a Rat of Tobruk's nest

Tobruk, Libya, July 1941.

In the dug out of the Officers of the 2/24th Battalion.

This heavily sandbagged weapons pit in the Red Line of Tobruk is temporary home to VX48780 Capt. G.G. Anderson and VX48694 Capt. G.I "Ian" Malloch M.C. of the 2/24th Infantry Battalion.

This weapons pit appears roomier than other examples seen with ordinary ranks. That aside it is very much a functional structure. The highly sandbagged walls protected the men from shell burst, machine gun and sniper fire, provided that they kept their heads below the level of the sandbags. Note between the Captains is a rectangular firing slot in the sandbags to allow for weapons fire through the protective wall. German snipers were know to shoot men through these holes at ranges of 400 yards. A Lee-Enfield .303 rifle stands against the wall in the foreground. Both men wear the standard commonwealth Tin Hat, but this time with hessian covers.

VX48694 Capt. George Ian Malloch M.C. (right) was awarded the Military Cross for "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty" at Tobruk on 17th May 1941 for leading a counter attack on a heavily defended German position above an escarpment about 50 metres high. Despite being shot 5 times in the arm, head, knee, thigh and hand and incapacitated he kept his calm and successful ordered his men from his fallen position. This resulted in the position being taken and saved the lives of many men. Staying calm in spite of grievous injuries and keeping on task set an example amongst the men of the 2/24th that filled them with pride to serve with such an officer.

VX48780 Capt. Graham Grantham Anderson (left) died of wounds (D.O.W) received in the first Battle of El-Alamein on 13th July, 1942. At the time of his death he was 23 years old. Capt. Anderson is memorialised at the Australian Roll of Honour here:

The National Archives of Australia has a completely digitised version of VX48694 Capt. G.I Malloch M.C.'s service record. Included in this is the originally submitted citation recommending him for the Military Cross (page 28 of record). View Capt. Malloch's Service Record here:

(Enter Capt. Malloch's service number "VX48694" in the key word field, hit "enter", then click on the "View digital copy" link.)

image p00237.036 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] The 2/28th and the R.H.A load a captured Italian 149mm gun.

Tobruk, Libya, 18th September, 1941.

Men of the 2/28th and the Royal Horse Artillery.

This photo is a good demonstration of the resourcefulness of the Australians and English at Tobruk. The gunners of the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) utilising infantry of the 2/28th Battalion to load a captured Italian 149mm Field Gun.

These guns whilst large were quite unreliable, as alot of the Italian equipment was found to be. Note the stone "sangar" in the foreground. These low walls of stone were what was built to shelter troops from fire when the ground was too rocky to effectively 'dig in'.

The other things of interest for me in this photo is the long lanyard attached to the gun running back to the sangar. Pulling this long cord allowed the gunners to fire the cannon from a safe distance. The unreliable nature of Italian ordinance meant that to stand near the gun when firing it could mean instant death.

The other thing that amuses me is sense of urgency in the men running away from the gun to the shelter of the sangar. They have obviously seen what happens when an Italian large caliber shell misfires. Note the physical size of the shell in the sangar in the foreground. The explosion from one of these would be devastating.

image 020652 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] Sgt. Jones' improvised banjo

Tobruk, Libya, 3rd September, 1941.

Sgt L Jones of the 2/23rd Battalion's improvised banjo.

Made whilst serving in the Red Line of Tobruk's outer perimeter this banjo was constructed by Sgt L. Jones of the 2/23rd Infantry Battalion out of an old kerosene tin and a packing case.

Australian troops in Tobruk faced shortages of most necessities and luxuries were virtually unheard of. Leave it to resourceful Aussie scroungers to make what they cant otherwise have. There was very little in the way of entertainment in the Red Line and the long monotonous times in the front could be made to pass quicker with a musical instrument.

There are numerous accounts that I have read of Australian troops in Tobruk playing musical instruments to the Germans. There was even one account of a soldier from the 2/13th Battalion playing German songs on his trumpet on the Salient causing the Germans to cease firing for as long as he played. Obviously things of small beauty in an ugly place caused even the Afrika Korps to pause for thought.

image 020566 Australian War Memorial.

author's note: In keeping with my policy to try and identify by name and service number as many of the men as possible in photos I'm afraid I am unable at this time to identify the service number of Sgt. L Jones above. There were 323 men with the name L. Jones in the service of the Australian Army during the Second World War. Time permitting I will attempt to positively identify Sgt. Jones in the future.

[Image] Explosive End Vol 2.

El Alamein, Egypt, November, 1942.

German 88mm "flak 36" Anti-Aircraft Gun.

The dreaded "88" was one of the most feared German weapons of the Western Desert campaign. Originally designed and manufactured as an Anti-Aircraft gun the 88 was redeployed brilliantly by Rommel in North Africa as an Anti-Tank gun.

Able to penetrate 100mm of armour at over 400 yards with an armour piercing shell and with an effective range of 18,000 yards with a high explosive shell that had a timed 'airburst' effect designed to rain shrapnel or "flak" over the top of infantry positions.

These guns also had a rather distinctive sound when fired that all members of the 9th Division soon became well acquainted with. These guns accounted for devastating loses with both Armour and Infantry, especially at Alamein.

This particular one has fired it's last shell.

image 050011 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] A "Boys" own adventure

Tobruk, Libya, 11th September, 1941

Meet the .55in Boys Anti-Tank Rifle.

VX18855 Gunner Jeff Coombe of the 9th Division's 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment demonstrates how to deploy the .55in (13.9mm) Boys Anti-Tank Rifle in the Libyan desert.

Often in short supply in the early stages of the siege, the Boys (often incorrectly spelt "Boyes") Anti-Tank rifle is a bolt actioned weapon with a 5 shot magazine. It was sometimes known as "Charlie the bastard" amongst the 9th Division troops as a reference to the heavy recoil experienced when firing the gun when compared to other smaller calibre weapons available to them at the time.

Capable of firing two different types of cartridges, the W1 and W2, with the W2 being able to penetrate 20mm of armour at 100 yards. The weapon was effective against "hard" targets (armour) out to 300 yards and against "soft" targets (infantry") to a much longer range with devastating effect.

Having initial success against the lighter armoured Italian tanks and some of the earlier model German tanks, the Boys rapidly became obsolete in the Western Desert due to the increasing thickness of the armour of subsequent models of German tank. It was still capable however, of causing casualties to machine gun nests and smaller infantry fortifications and in the absence of anything better the 9th Division simply made the most of what they had, an all to common occurrence in Tobruk.

image 020723 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] Cairo, Egypt.

"View of ancient portion of Cairo".

image by NX17811 Cpl. L.J. McCarthy, 2/17th Infantry Battalion from the author's personal collection.

Click on image to enlarge.

[Map] Siege of Tobruk, 1941.

The Siege of Tobruk

Libya, 1941.

This is a map of Siege of Tobruk, as defended by the 9th Division, from April to November, 1941. You can see the both the Red and Blue lines as well as post numbers and dispositions of the Royal Horse Artillery guns.

Post R49, as discussed in the previous article "Post R49 Tobruk Explained" is located on the Red Line to the east of the El-Adem road. The locations of major battles is also shown.

Click on the image to expand it.

image from "The War, The Whores and the Afrika Korps". by NX34089 Cpl. Jack Barber, 2/17th Infantry Battalion, 1997, Kangaroo Press, Sydney.

[Image] The hard yards done at Tobruk

Tobruk, Libya. 11th September, 1941.

The worn out boots of the 9th Division.

An unidentified Army boot maker wonders what to do with the huge stockpile of worn out boots left from the troops of the 9th Division over the course of the siege.

It's not surprising that there are so many boots in this pile. The harsh Libyan desert would be very tough on the standard army boot. Australian troops would often have to walk vast distances not only on patrol, but in the course of their normal troop movements. The defenses of Tobruk were spread out over a vast area and for many the only way to get from one place to another was to walk.

That's a hell of a lot of boots in that pile. Wonder if they have any size 13's?

[Image] Explosive End Vol 1.

Tobruk, Libya, 1941.

Wreckage of bombed Italian ammunition truck.

VX48227 Pvt. Charles T. Jury of HQ 26th Australian Infantry Brigade examines the wreckage of an Italian ammunition truck. Note the artillery shell casings littered around the very skeletal remains of the truck. It would have been some sight to behold to witness this truck explode. I can't even imagine the force of a blast of that size.

Nothing would have survived this blast.

image 020147 Australian War Memorial.