Italian M13-40 Tanks in the Libyan Desert, pictured later in 1941

The Australian 6th Division had captured the coastal town of Benghazi on the 6th February and then pursued the retreating Italian army west along the coast road. Meanwhile leading elements of the 7th Armoured Division had moved rapidly across the desert country to intercept the Italians, arriving at the road just thirty minutes before the first retreating Italians appeared, late on the 5th February. British artillery held up this force until the arrival of the British tanks late on the 6th, when there was further fighting. It was a tight situation for the British forces who were at the extreme limits of their very extended supply lines. Once again however the Italians chose to believe their own propaganda which told them that they were facing a massively superior force.

Cyril Joly was an officer in one of the tanks and later wrote a classic account of the action:

From my position on the dune I watched an attack which was launched soon after dawn by about thirty Italian tanks against the position on the road. This was beaten off quickly and with little difficulty.

For a time there was silence on both sides. For all the efforts of the previous day, the Italian column still looked huge and threatening. I watched with apprehension the movements of the mass of vehicles before me. On either side of me, hidden behind the crests of other dunes and ridges, I knew that there were other eyes just as anxious as mine, surveying the scene before them. In the mind of each one of us was the sure knowledge that we were well outnumbered. Each of us knew by what slim margin we still held dominance over the battlefield.

Our threat was but a facade – behind us there were no more reserves of further troops. Even the supplies of the very sinews which could keep us going had almost run out. If we lost now we were faced with capture or a hopeless retreat into the empty distances of the inner desert. It was a sobering thought. I felt that the day, with all its black, wet dullness, was heavy with ominous foreboding. The scene before me was made gloomy enough to match my mood by the black clouds of acrid smoke which shrouded the battlefield like a brooding pall.

Gradually I became aware of a startling change. First one and then another white flag appeared in the host of vehicles. More and more became visible, until the whole coiumn was a forest of waving white banners. Small groups of Italians started to move out hesitantly towards where they knew we lay watching them. Larger groups appeared, some on foot, some in vehicles. Still not able to believe the evidence of his own eyes, the Colonel warned, “. . . Don’t make a move. This may be a trap. Wait and see what happens. Off.”

But it was no trap. Italians of all shapes and sizes, all ranks, all regiments and all services swarmed out to be taken prisoner. I felt that nothing would ever surprise me again after my loader suddenly- shouted: “Look, sir, there’s a couple of bints there coming towards us. Can I go an’ grab ’em, sir? I could do with a bit of home comforts.” We took the two girls captive, installed them in a vehicle of their own and kept them for a few days to do our cooking and washing. I refrained from asking what other duties were required of the women, but noted that they remained contented and cheerful.

See Cyril Joly: Take These Men (Echoes of War)





Wellington bomber captured on Boulogne raid

Wellington bomber captured by Germans

The enemy attempted to break out and made a persistent attack with over 100 tanks, but these were repulsed with heavy losses, including 60 of the latter. The full number of prisoners has not yet been ascertained, but it is understood that they have surrendered in large numbers, and include an Army Commander, a Corps Commander and many other senior officers.




Goebbels on Churchill

German Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels in late January 1941, during a course on propaganda for military leaders.

England will one day pay a heavy price for this man. When the great catastrophe breaks over the island kingdom, the British people will have him to thank. He has long been the spokesman for the plutocratic caste that wanted war to destroy Germany. He distinguishes himself from the men behind the scenes only through his obvious cynicism and his unscrupulous contempt for humankind.




The cold wet misery of the Greek front line

"The proper way to carry a stretcher"

I was never trained to do trauma surgery under such great pressure and in such primitive conditions. I have no time to think of alternatives; sometimes I barely have time to disinfect one trauma before I must deal with another more severe one. In the background as I hear the explosions of the guns and the mines, I think of the parents, wives and children of our men, who are agonizing about them without really knowing how great the dangers are — even the natural dangers of this wild and rugged terrain — and tears come to my eyes.




‘Q-ship’ torpedoed in the Atlantic

HMS Crispin, seen before she was converted into a British Ocean Boarding vessel and later equipped with Anti-Aircraft guns to protect convoys.

It was 2200 hours. We had been hit by a torpedo which had struck the bulkhead separating the engine room and the for’ard hold beneath the bridge. One “greaser” (stoker) was killed by the explosion and the NAAFI canteen manager had a lucky escape. He was blown out of his bunk and his cabin was wrecked. His young assistant was not so lucky and died as a result of his wounds.




Swordfish from Ark Royal attack Sardinia

HMS Ark Royal and one of her Swordfish aircraft, operating in the Mediterranean during 1941.

H.M. Ships Renown, Malaya, Ark Royal and light forces operated off Sardinia on the 2nd February. Owing to unfavourable weather the original plans had to be modified, but at dawn 8 Swordfish made an attack on the Tirso Dam which holds the water for the hydro-electric station. Observation of results was impossible; but it is thought that 3 torpedoes hit the dam.




Harassing the Italians with gunfire

A 40mm Bofors Gun being used against the defences of Derna, 1 February 1941.

The squadron leader took off his headphones and crawled out on to the back of his turret. Bright blue eyes and white teeth showed through the mask of dust and dusty stubble, topped by a very aged beret, sometime black; equally aged corduroys and jersey; pair of binoculars and a sweat rag round his neck; hands covered in dusty bandages concealing the inevitable desert sores; the complete Seventh Armoured commander.




Italian prisoners bombed by Germans

A Heinkel III bomber in flight, they began operating over North Afrika in early 1941.

Relays of men spent hours in the bitterly cold surf dragging the Italians to safety; others assisted them into slings and those on the escarpment hauled them to the crest. The wounded had to be brought ashore on Carley floats, so the last stages of their journey were extremely hazardous, but groups of volunteers brought them through the breakers and had everyone ashore by first light.




Hitler’s ‘New World Order’

Adolf Hitler making a speech later in 1941

I do not want to miss pointing out what I pointed out on 3rd of September [1940] in the German Reichstag, that if Jewry were to plunge the world into war, the role of Jewry would be finished in Europe. They may laugh about it today, as they laughed before about my prophecies. The coming months and years will prove that I prophesied rightly in this case too.




Churchill ‘We need to import more’

The cold bleak Battle of the Atlantic was also a battle of tonnages and other statistics, which were closely monitored by the Royal Navy and at the highest levels of Government. Britain's ability to keep fighting was at stake.

It is reckoned that the minimum food import required to maintain efficiency is about 16 million tons, 70 per cent, of the 23 million tons imported before the war. This involves cutting animal feeding-stuffs by about 4 million tons, which will reduce our stock of meat on the hoof, the safest kind of stock in case of air attacks. It will, of course, also reduce our supplies of bacon, eggs and dairy produce, already greatly depleted by the collapse of the Continent, but every effort is being made to maintain the children’s milk supply which depends upon imported oil cake.