Saturday, September 13, 2008

[Image] Unrewarded 2/13th Valour

14th February, 1941. The Middle East.

NX14879 Cpl. J.T. Willis enjoys a quiet beer.

NX14879 Cpl. James Thomas Willis of the 2/13th Infantry Battalion enjoys a quiet beer somewhere in the Middle East prior to engaging in the action during the Benghazi Handicap that ultimately took his life.

A farm hand from Moree, north western NSW, Cpl. Thomas was in charge of a Bren Gun section that was posted near the road at the bottom of the pass at Er Reijima when they were surprised by the rapid advance of the German Panzer Tanks. Finding themselves suddenly under intense fire Cpl. Willis grabbed a Bren Gun and yelled at his men to withdraw whilst laying down a barrage of machine gun fire on the advancing Germans from a formation of rocks. This drew the fire of the tanks killing Cpl. Willis but his sacrifice did allow some of his men to escape, though unfortunately not all.

Cpl. Willis' unfaltering leadership and decisive action under fire undoubtedly saved the lives of some of his men that day but he has never been acknowledged by the Army with the posthumous awarding of any medal for valour under enemy fire.

I personally believe that Cpl. Willis met the criteria for the award of the Military Medal.

"On the 4th April, 1941 when under intense fire from German tanks and infantry he single handedly and without due regard for his personal safety did take charge of a Bren Light Machine Gun and whilst ordering his men to withdraw to safety lay down a barrage of covering fire to safeguard the retreat of his men and to draw the fire of the enemy onto himself, an action that he most certainly knew would likely result in his death."

"Whist Cpl. Willis' section did suffer casualties in the engagement his utmost attention to duty and to the safety of his men ensured that there were survivors. This would undoubtedly not have been the case if Cpl. Willis had not sacrificed his own life by drawing the enemy fire onto himself and thus away from his men."

Sounds like a citation for a Military Medal to me. You be the judge. Feel free to post your comments. I am eager to hear what you may think.

Cpl. James Thomas Willis is memorialised on the Roll of Honour here;

image p05238.001 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] United we Stand!

22nd October, 1941. Tobruk, Libya.

The Men of Five Nations.

During the Siege of Tobruk the Men of 5 Nations were all that stood between Rommel and the Middle Eastern oil fields. Holding out at Tobruk, under siege by the German Afrika Korps and the Italian Army, these men made the German High Command commit far more troops and supplies to the maintenance of the siege than they were comfortable with, far weakening the Axis thrust into Egypt. It also denied Rommel the means of transporting the immense amount of supplies needed to wage a desert war via ship.

Everything the Axis used had to be transported by land across the desert from Tripoli, over a 1,000 miles away. Holding out for the 8 months that they did allowed the Allies to conclude negotiations with the United States for the supply of war materials that would ultimately arrive in time for the Battle of El Alamein in October, 1942.

The men that held the Axis at Tobruk, the only men entitled to be called 'Rats of Tobruk' came from (from left to right) Poland, Britain, India, Australia and Czechoslovakia.

Whilst this blogs primary focus is on the Australian 9th Division's contribution to the war effort the author acknowledges the sacrifice made by the men of all of these nations and I will endeavour to feature them when I have suitable material and a bit more time.

images 041852 and 041853 Australian War Memorial.