Long Range Desert Group

A LRDG patrol pictured in 1942 when they were using Chevrolet trucks.

The Long Range Desert Group were formed in the autumn of 1940, successors to the much smaller Long Range Patrol. They were intended as a covert reconnaissance unit operating deep into the desert to observe enemy movements, a role that they had considerable success with. They also undertook a number of offensive operations, commando type raids that took the enemy by surprise. This role was later largely taken over by the SAS but in 1940 the LRDG were pioneering this type of operation.

‘W’ Patrol of the LRDG had left their base in Cairo on 23rd November and made slow progress across the sand dunes of the desert. They had been spotted by Italian aircraft in the open desert and bombed for over an hour on the 29th. By dispersing and then driving at speed at right angles to the attacking aircraft they had avoided any casualties. By the night of the 30th they were in position outside a remote Italian landing strip at Ain Dua where they they lay up before attacking at dawn with the sun behind them:

There appeared at first to be no sign of life there; but when within 800 yards the patrol halted and fired one round from a Bofors gun. This aroused intermittent M.G. and rifle fire from behind walls and rocks. Major Mitford then attacked. ‘D’ Troop under Lieut. Sutherland was sent round the enemy’s left to make a flank attack on foot, while the rest of the patrol gave covering fire from the front. ‘D’ Troop’s attack was successful and the garrison, believed to consist of about 30 men with 3 M.G’s, abandoned their strong position and retired up the hill after losing three men, of whom one at least was killed.

As a reconnaissance aircraft was expected to make its appearance the action was broken off, and the patrol took cover in the rocks about a mile and a quarter east of Ain Dua. At 1015 hrs two S.79’s arrived and at 1045 a Ghibli aircraft. They disappeared in due course, but as it was not certain whether the patrol had been discovered or not, it lay up until 1500 hrs.

Major Mitford then decided to make a second attack in spite of the strength of the enemy’s position. He hoped to inflict further damage to men and material, and he also wished to show the enemy that one patrol could remain in their immediate vicinity without being spotted by aircraft. This might well create a feeling of uncertainty, and lead them to use up valuable petrol in increased and fruitless patrolling.

Long Range Desert Group truck

A Bofors anti tank gun mounted on a truck, as used by the LRDG in their first attack.

The second attack was made from both flanks. ‘D’ Troop with one Bofors gun attacked the enemy’s left over the ground that it knew. Covering fire was given by the H.Q. truck and one Bofors gun. The remainder of the patrol worked round the enemy’s right. Orders were issued that the risk of heavy losses must not be taken.

‘D’ Troop got close enough to inflict further casualties, and silenced two of the three machine guns, but the enemy defended himself stoutly, and the position could not be captured. Lieut. Sutherland and one man got close enough to cause damage with Mills grenades.

Trooper Willcox, who was pinned down by M.G. fire, distinguished himself by getting his Lewis gun into a position from which he killed the machine gunner and silenced the gun. The rest of the patrol were unable owing to the difficulties of the ground, to get near enough to engage the enemy. At 1700 hrs when it was beginning to get dark the patrol was withdrawn.





British Empire troops ready in the Desert

Infantry from the 4th Indian Division training in the desert in late 1940, apparently with Molotov cocktails.

The British had reinforced their army in the desert. Churchill had made the decision to send a number of the of new Matilda tanks, taking a risk that they would not be needed for the threatened invasion at home. In late November most of the troops in the desert had participated in No.1 Training Exercise with the focus on overcoming Italian defensive minefields. All units were warned to be ready for No.2 Training Exercise in the second week of December.




Dealing with Incendiary bombs in Surrey

Incendiary-Bombs-exploding in street in World War II

One fell in a garden four houses away. They are small magnesium and carbide bombs about 2 feet long and 2 or 3 inches wide. A small fin of alloy one end enables them to fall straight down when the basket containing them explodes in the air. There must be hundreds or even thousands of these small bombs alight around us tonight. The place was like fairyland. Luckily no material damage was done.




‘The Eternal Jew’ – Nazi propaganda film released

Nazi propaganda Poster for Eternal Jew

Although the violent, murderous anti-semitic attitude of the regime towards was readily evident in its actions in Poland, the process was less blatant in Germany and occupied western Europe. Here the Jews found their lives increasingly restricted by discriminatory measures but the full extent of the intended persecution was always kept obscure. The film marked yet another step along the way to the Holocaust.




Battle of Cape Spartivento

The Italian Battleship Vittorio Veneto firing a broadside at the Battle Of Cape Spartivento.

Our forces engaged the enemy at extreme range, but were unable to overtake them. Fleet Air Arm aircraft from H.M.S. Ark Royal, however, succeeded in attacking with the following results : one torpedo hit on a battleship of the Littorio class; and one almost certain torpedo hit on an 8-inch cruiser. Another 8-inch cruiser was observed to be in difficulties, and a dive-bombing attack was made on three 6-inch cruisers, probably causing some damage by near misses.




German raiders off New Zealand

Rangitane sunk on 27th November 1940

The armed merchantman Rangitane had delivered evacuee children to New Zealand and was returning with a valuable cargo to Britain when she was trapped between the Orion and the Komet. Refusing orders not to use her radio she was shelled and of her passengers and crew killed. The remainder were then taken on board the German ships and later most were deposited on the remote island of Narou.




SS Patria sunk in Haifa Harbour

The SS Patria sinking in sight of land - 267 people died when the ship went down rapidly following the explosion.

Jewish refugees were held in the port of Haifa on the SS Patria with the intention of making them proceed on to Mauritius. On the 25th November 1940 the SS Patria was bombed in attempt to prevent it leaving. Unfortunately the bomb was a great deal more powerful than needed to disable the old ship and she sank within 15 minutes. It was estimated that 267 people lost their lives, including 50 of the mainly British crew.




Hugh Dowding is retired from the RAF

Hugh Dowding, official portrait

Yet the reserved uncharismatic, Dowding, nicknamed “Stuffy”, was not popular amongst the higher echelons of the RAF. Some argued that he was not a sufficiently personable leader and should be spending more time visiting the front line Squadrons. There was no evidence that any fighter Squadron needed any form of inspiration – but this was just an alternative view of military leadership.




First night of Southampton Blitz

Ruined Southampton street after the blitz

You could see the whole of the city of Southampton from the hill and if there was a raid it looked like dozens of vast red fans over Southampton. I found that very frightening and I was glad to be in the shelter. If in the day time there was raid and we hadn’t time to get to the shelter, my mother used to push us under the stairs.




Condor Base at Bordeaux bombed

Wellington night bomber, moonlit flight 1940

On the night of the 22nd/23rd twenty-four heavy bombers attacked the aerodrome at Bordeaux; twenty-nine tons of high explosive and two thousand eight hundred incendiaries were dropped. The attack appears to have been most successful. Direct hits were obtained on hangars and barrack blocks, and many aircraft on the aerodrome were seen to be on fire. The hangars on the south-west side of the aerodrome were completely burnt out.