Wednesday, August 27, 2008

[Image] The Price of Victory

27th January, 1943. El Alamein, Egypt.

The wrecks of allied tanks from Alamein.

These allied tanks, knocked out by Axis forces during the Battle of El Alamein, await transport to allied workshops for repair and refit. With a desperate need for all armoured vehicles to be serviceable and with production of new units unable to meet demand, it was a logical choice to repair these tanks.

In the foreground is the US built M4 Sherman Medium Tank. This was the tank that broke the Africa Korps. Supplied under the Lend-Lease Act where America supplied war materials to the Allies in return for military base rights in allied colonies around the world. The agreement also called for the return or destruction of all war materials after the war but with nearly a billion pounds of equipment enroute when the war ended which was vitally needed by the British it was decided by the Americans to sell it at 10 cents in the dollar.

The Americans allowed the British to pay off the money owed in 50 annual installments even allowing the British to defer payments when foreign exchange rates were not favourable to them. In essence it was a deal too good to be true. Over the years the British Government elected to defer payments on 6 occasions. The final payment was made to the US Government in 2006.

image 014269 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] 9th Div Salvage Unit under fire

5th October, 1942. El Alamein, Egypt.

9th Div Salvage Unit under fire.

Being shot at is all in a days work for members of the 9th Division Salvage Unit in the desert at Alamein. These men were working to recover a disabled Bren Carrier in the forward line areas when a German shell landed dangerously close.

Whilst some men have wisely gone to ground, some merely crouch. The Salvage Unit often worked extremely close to enemy lines and were often shelled or fired upon whilst conducting their vital work. With limited access to rapid resupply of lost heavy vehicles it was often in the best interests of the 9th Division to salvage what they could and repair it for further use. Anything that could be salvaged was, even enemy equipment and hardware was pressed into service against the Axis forces at Alamein.

image 013351 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] Death of a Valentine

17th July, 1942. El Alamein, Egypt.

German shrapnel defeats the Allied Valentine Tank.

In a perfect example of why the allies needed heavier tank armour in the Western Desert this Valentine II Infantry tank has been disabled by shrapnel from German shelling. If shrapnel can be so devastating against an armoured target like this, it is horrifying to think of it's effect on infantry in the open ground of the Western Desert. This is a major reason casualties were so high at Alamein.

image 024552 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] Take that Germany!

5th October, 1942. El Alamein, Egypt.

9th Div troops mock Hitler.

These unidentified troops of the 9th Division skylark on a destroyed Mercedes Benz Battle Wagon in a mock salute to Hitler. It was common practice for many Australian troops to skylark in photos wearing pieces of captured German uniforms. A particular favourite, as worn by most of the Diggers in the above photo, is the German M35 Steel Helmet.

image 013356 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] The Western Desert Today

The Western Desert still has secrets.

This amazing image was taken by a tour guide in the Western Desert upon discovering the remains of an allied Chevrolet truck. Even after all the decades that have passed since the early 1940's the wreckage is in surprisingly good condition. The truck's engine was found half buried in the sand nearby.

image Long Range Desert Group Preservation Society

click on the image for a high resolution shot.

[Image] What direct hit Sir?

19th September, 1942. El Alamein, Egypt.

Two direct hits on an M3 Grant Tank.

This 8th Army M3 Grant Tank, or General Grant, has taken two direct hits on it's forward armour by German shell fire. These two hits, side by side, have dented the armour but done no real damage. These same hits would have destroyed an English Crusader Tank and likely killed the crew. Whilst far from perfect, the Grant had it over it's English predecessors in the one department that truly mattered, the armour. With much thicker armour, the operational life of the tank, and it's crew, was extended beyond that previously experienced.

The M3 Grant Tank was an interim measure taken by the British after the initial devastating defeats in the Western Desert by the Panzer Divisions. Lacking armour and firepower the British tanks were decimated by the much stronger Germans. After being refused permission to have American factories produce an English designed tank, the British resorted to purchasing the M3 Medium Tank from the United States.

Whilst slow, heavy, with a high profile and with an unusually mounted main gun, the M3 was used extensively in the Western Desert until the M4 Sherman became available. Once the Sherman's arrived in numbers the Grant was rapidly withdrawn from front line operations.

image 025032 Australian War Memorial.

[Image] Invaluable Aussie Advice

22nd July, 1942. Tel el Eisa, Egypt.

Good advice from the AIF?

The cabin door of this 9th Division ammunition truck is painted with either a timely piece of advice or a commentary on life in the Western Desert. In a typical display of Australian defiant humour the men who painted this sign leave it up to the reader to decide their intent.

image 024624 Australian War Memorial.