Saturday, August 2, 2008

[Image] Tobruk (c.2002 in colour)

The lone Fig Tree still stands north of the Derna Road

During the Siege of Tobruk, the 9th Division operated a Regimental Aid Post (RAP) in a cave underneath the lone fig tree just north of the Derna Road and behind the Red Line. The cave, like the fig tree is still there.

Weapons pits of the Red Line still virtually untouched.

Only time itself seems to have been in these weapon pits since the departure of the allied forces from Tobruk. There is even still, in 2002, evidence of spent shell casings and magazines found in these trenches.

The Harbour as it was in 2002.

And this is what the whole thing was all about. Whoever controlled the deep water harbour in Tobruk, the only deep water port between Egypt and Tripoli, could rapidly move troops and supplies via sea rather than transport them up to 1,200 miles over the harsh desert.

Holding Tobruk for the time that they did meant that the Australian's and English troops there delayed the Battle of El Alamein until a time when the Allies were adequately reinforced and supplied. It seems weird to see the harbour in colour and without the wrecks of so many ships in it.

images from Galen R. Frysinger, Wisconsin, USA.

[Image] Meet the 9th's latest Reo's

Nuseirat, Palestine, October 9th, 1942.

The first mess parade of the 2/48th's latest.

The latest "Reo's", Army slang for reinforcements, arrive at their staging camp at Palestine. These men have arrived and are queuing up for their first mess parade in their new temporary home.

Considering that this photo was taken a mere three weeks before the 2nd Battle of El Alamein in late October one wonders how many of the men in the above photo met their ends on that bloody battlefield like so many of their mates.

The 9th Division suffered disproportionately higher casualties as a result of the dangerous assault that they were tasked with undertaking against the might of Rommel's Panzer Divisions. Large numbers of troops on both sides were killed and wounded by the blanket shelling that both sides launched at each other mercilessly for a period of nearly two weeks in late October to early November, 1942.

image 025099 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] 2/43rd Bren Gunner in Syria

Homs, Syria, 18th June, 1942.

Bren Gun Training for Alamein.

SX11192 Pvt. Frank T. Hardy poses with his Bren Light Machine Gun, in a prone position with the barrel mounted bipod deployed, during training in Syria in June, 1942.

Little would these men know it but in a matter of weeks after this photo was taken they were withdrawn from Syria and rapidly sent to the Western Desert to reinforce Montgomery's 8th Army at the Battle of El Alamein.

Pvt. Hardy is obviously posing for this shot as the Bren gun lacks it's distinctive banana shaped magazine at the top of the gun and is therefore empty and not quite as menacing as he makes it look.

It was training such as this, with the Bren Gun, that allowed WX11519 Pvt. Leslie T. Starcevich V.C. of the 2/43rd to dispose of so many of the enemy in his action that earned him the Victoria Cross in Borneo in 1945. More on Pvt. Starcevich V.C. when this blog moves to the Pacific Campaign in the near future.

image 024411 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] The faces of the 2/32nd at Alamein

El Alamein, Egypt.

Men of the 2/32nd Battalion and their Bren Carrier

Three unidentified members of the 2/32nd Infantry Battalion pose alongside their Bren Gun Carrier at Alamein. They wear three different types of headgear from left to right: slouch hat, woollen beanie and tin hat.

The soldier on the right carries a trophy of war, a German Mauser Kar98 Rifle while the man in the middle wields a machete, a rather unusual choice given the desert location and in all likelihood this was not standard issue equipment for the Western Desert. He also appears to wear some kind of tinted goggles or sunglasses, a rather rare commodity at Alamein.

image p02522.005 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] 2/17th troops try out an Italian flak gun at Alamein

4 Sec, D Coy, 2/17th Infantry Battalion

The Italian Breda Model 35 20mm Anti-Aircraft Gun.

Men of 4 Section, D Coy. have a bit of fun on a captured Italian Breda Model 35 20mm cannon. These flak guns were primarily used in an anti-aircraft capacity however they had some use against soft targets like trucks, cars and infantry.

This photo was taken at Alamein in 1942 by my Grandfather, NX17811 Pvt. L.J. McCarthy of the 2/17th Infantry Battalion. This particular gun was popular amongst troops of the 2/17th for posing on for photos to send home. I have seen a photo of Jack Barber, also of the 2/17th and author of "The War, The Whores and the Afrika Korps", trying out the same gun in the photos within his book.

Click on the image for a high resolution copy.

image from the author's personal collection.

[Image] Explosive End Vol. 3

Egypt, 1942.

A M3 Grant Tank falls victim to the "dreaded 88".

An unidentified Sgt. of the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment of the 9th Division photographed the explosive aftermath of the American built M3 Grant when hit at close range by the German 88mm flak 36 Anti-Aircraft Gun. With absolute certainty the entire crew of this tank would have been killed instantly.

These 88mm Guns struck fear into the allies with their devastating effect and terrorising sound when fired. They were capable of penetrating 100mm of armour at 400 yards. By the looks of the outcome on the more heavily armoured M3 this one was fired upon by an extremely close 88. In the western desert these guns were sometimes dug into the ground to create a fixed position. An example of one of these guns is shown below.

November, 1942, Libya.

A dug in German 88mm Flak 36 Anti-Tank Gun.

Australian troops inspect the much feared German 88mm flak gun. This particular gun was dug in to the sand of the Western Desert to protect the crew from shell fire from allied tanks by creating a much lower profile.

Digging the gun in allowed the crew to fire on a distant allied tank much easier as to raise the arm of the gun up high to fire on a distant target in the flat terrain of the desert meant that you were likely to be more easily targeted with return fire. A smaller profile meant you were a smaller target and therefore, in theory, much harder to hit.

For the crew of this 88, the theory was disproven as when Australian troops arrived to inspect the gun they found the entire crew buried nearby.

images p01393.010 and 040977 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] Panzer Mk III disabled by 9th Division AT Gunners at Alamein

El Alamein, Egypt. August, 1942.

A victim of the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle.

This Panzer Kampfwagen III Medium Tank was taken out of action by Anti-Tank gunners of the 9th Division. The small hole between the second and third wheels from the right is where the disabling shell entered the armour.

image 024856 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] A means to an end

El-Alamein, Egypt, 19th July, 1942.

The Means

VX15962 Gunner Jack Wareham of the 9th Division's 2/8th Field Regiment takes aim with his tripod mounted Bren Gun. Gunner Wareham was credited with bringing down a German Messerschmitt BF109 Fighter Plane with this Bren rig.

And the end

The remains of a Messerschmitt BF109 that was brought down at Tel el Eisa later in the year. Whilst not the actual plane Gunner Wareham brought down the image is shown as representative of a crashed BF109 in the Western Desert.

images 024590 and 024906 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] The Gateway to Fortress Tobruk

El-Adem Road Gateway, Red Line,

Tobruk, April, 1941.

The gateway to the heart of Tobruk and it's inner defenses and harbour lay through the southern approaching El-Adem Road. It is at this point that Rommel first probed the defenses of the Garrison in the Easter Battle of 1941.

This heavily fortified and defended position is guarded by Pvt. Earl of the 2/13th Battalion. I have not been able to identify this digger any further at this stage. He sits astride a concrete pillar with his Lee-Enfield .303 with fixed bayonet. Being on the line he is also wearing his Tin Hat.

The gateway was surrounded by an anti-tank ditch and huge amount of barbed wire. The steel poles set into the concrete could be slid back to allow access for approved vehicles. Interestingly, when Rommel's tanks did first attack Tobruk in this area they chose not to breech the line at this point. That was one of their only wise decisions that weekend.

image 007499 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] For a hard earned thirst... need a big cold beer
and best cold beer is Vic. Victoria Bitter.

Cantoneria 31, Derna Road, Tobruk.

April , 1941.

On the evening of 7th April, with Rommel's Afrika Korps rapidly encircling Tobruk, soldiers of the retreating 2/13th and 2/48th Battalions made a defensive stand at the old Italian road maintenance depot 31 Kilometres west of Tobruk on the Derna Road.

They managed to hold the Afrika Korps at this position until midnight on the night of the 9-10th April, 1941. Whilst the position was held, and in three hours standing on the back of a truck parked up against the wall of the building SX538 Pvt. Leslie J. Dawes of the 2/3rd Field Company of the Royal Australian Engineers, 9th Division, painted this billboard for Victoria Bitter Beer and another for Griffiths Brother's Tea on the upper corner wall of the building.

Interestingly when Rommel had encircled Tobruk and the siege itself was underway he set up his headquarters briefly in this building the whole time under the watchful eye of Pvt. Dawes' brilliant artwork.

image tile 35, p. 33 "The Rats Remain - The Siege of Tobruk, 1941, J.S. Cumpston, 1966, Melbourne.

[Image] Monkey Business at Tobruk

Tobruk, Libya, 11th September, 1941.

Meet "Jerry" the monkey mascot of the 2/15th Battalion.

Pvt. Bob Leu of Mudgeeraba, Queensland, with "Jerry" a monkey soldiers from Queensland's 2/15th Battalion found in a captured German tank. "Jerry" was taken back to the Battalion HQ and enjoyed life from that day as the official mascot of the 2/15th Infantry Battalion.

Other photos exist of "Jerry" at Alamein and later in Syria with the 2/15th after pulling out of the Western Dersert. I currently don't know what happend to him after the Battalion's return to Australia in early 1943 but am eager to find out. I will let you know what I can work out.

image 020807 Australian War Memorial.

As at the time of writing I am unable to identify the service number of Pvt. Leu. I will endeavour to positively identify him and update the record accordingly.

[Image] Crack shot at Tobruk

Tobruk, Libya, April, 1941.

Motorcycle Vs 47mm Anti-Tank Gun at 1,500 yards.

VX48010 Lt. Jack Summerton of the 2/24th Infantry Battalion examines his handywork. Lt. Summerton destroyed this enemy motorcycle at a range of 1,500 yards (nearly a kilometre) with a 47mm Anti-Tank Gun.

The 47mm Gun wins everytime.

image 020101 Australian War Memorial.