The Axis retreat and the Tunisian campaign 1942 - 1943: British paratroops march away after landing at Algiers.

The Axis retreat and the Tunisian campaign 1942 – 1943: British paratroops march away after landing at Algiers.

An airman watches as Algerian dock workers roll barrels of oil along the quayside at Algiers. Behind them is Hawker Sea Hurricane Mark I, W9182, of the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit mounted on the fo'c'sle catapult of a Catapult Armed Merchantman (CAM ship).

An airman watches as Algerian dock workers roll barrels of oil along the quayside at Algiers. Behind them is Hawker Sea Hurricane Mark I, W9182, of the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit mounted on the fo’c’sle catapult of a Catapult Armed Merchantman (CAM ship).

General view of Algiers and its harbour as seen from the sea.

General view of Algiers and its harbour as seen from the sea.

On the 18th January 1943 the 56th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery, arrived in Algiers to join the British First Army in the drive east. Rommel’s forces were moving west, being pushed along by the Eighth Army.

They were sent to the Football stadium for the first night. Amongst them was a private soldier keeping a diary like no other:

All the action was around a Field kitchen. Several queues all converged on one point where a cook, with a handle-bar moustache, and of all things a monocle, was doling out. He once had a glass eye that shot out when he sneezed and fell in the porridge so he wore the monocle as a sort of optical condom.

He doled out something into my mess tin. “What is it?” I asked. “Irish Stew,” he said, “Then”, I replied, “Irish Stew in the name of the Law.”

It was a vast concrete arena. We queued for an hour. When that had passed we queued for blankets. Next, find somewhere to sleep, like a football stadium in North Africa. We dossed down on the terraces. After ship`s hammocks it was murder. If only, if only I had a grand piano. I could have slept in that.

Twenty two year old Gunner Milligan, 954024, had arrived on active service. War memoirs would never be the same again. His first full day in Algeria was the 19th January:

Gradually the sun came up. There was no way of stopping it. It rose from the east like an iridescent gold Napoleon. It filled the dawn sky with swathes of pink, orange and flame. Breakfast was Bully Beef and hard tack. I washed and shaved under a tap, icy cold. Still, it was good for the complexion. “Gunners! Stay lovely for your Commanding Officer with Algerian Football Stadium water!”.

I stood at the gates watching people in the streets. I made friends with two little French kids on their way to school, a girl and a boy and gave them two English pennies. In exchange they gave me an empty match box with a camel label on the top. I shall always remember their faces.

A gentle voice behind me. “Where the bleedin’ ‘ell you bin?” It was Jordy Dawson. “Come on, we’re off to the docks.” And so we were.

Arriving there we checked that all D Battery kit bags were on board our lorries, then drove off. The direction was east along the coast road to Jean Bart. We sat with our legs dangling over the tail-board.

Whenever we passed French colonials, some of them gave us to understand that our presence in the dark continent was not wanted by a simple explicative gesture from the waist down.

We passed through dusty scrub-like countryside with the sea to our left. In little batches we passed Arabs with camels or donkeys, children begging or selling Tangerines and eggs. The cactus fruit was all ripe, pillar box red. I hadn’t seen any since I was a boy in India.

The road curved gradually and the land gradient rose slightly and revealed to us a grand view of the Bay of Algiers. Rich blue, with morning sunshine tinselling the waves. Our driver ‘Hooter Price’ (so called because of a magnificent large nose shaped like a Pennant. When he swam on his back, people shouted ‘Sharks`) was singing ‘I’ll be seeing you’ as we jostled along the dusty road.

It was twenty-six miles to our destination, with the mysterious name “X Camp,” situated just half a mile inland at Cap Matifou. X Camp was proving an embarrassment to Army Command. It was built to house German prisoners of war.

Somehow we hadn`t managed to get any, so, to give it the appearance of being a success, 56 Heavy Regiment were marched in and told that this was, for the time being, “home.” When D Battery heard this, it was understandable when roll call was made the first morning: “Gunner Devine?” “Ya wol!” “Gunner Spencer?” “Ya!” “Gunner Maunders7” “Ya wol!”

See Spike Milligan: Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall.

Three WAAF code and cypher officers on a shopping expedition in a suburb of Algiers. They are, (left to right): Section Officer U M Robertson of London, Section Officer J Woods from Sale, Cheshire, and Flight Officer S A W Culverwell of Goudlas, Lanarkshire.

Three WAAF code and cypher officers on a shopping expedition in a suburb of Algiers. They are, (left to right): Section Officer U M Robertson of London, Section Officer J Woods from Sale, Cheshire, and Flight Officer S A W Culverwell of Goudlas, Lanarkshire.

The Axis retreat and the Tunisian campaign 1942 - 1943: Anti-aircraft fire over Algiers during a night raid.

Anti-aircraft fire over Algiers during a night raid.

{ 3 comments }

Jan

18

1943

No end to the bitter struggle on Guadalcanal

18th January 1943: No end to the bitter struggle on Guadalcanal

On the Marine front last night a Jap came in with his hands up, saying ‘Me sick, me sick.’ The Major, knowing there were other Japs watching, motioned him to come on in – told his men not to fire. One Marine raised his rifle and the Major knocked it down – but on the other side of him another dope brought up a shotgun and blew the Jap apart. The Japs watching melted away – they’ll never give up as prisoners now.

Jan

17

1943

RAF Bomber Command visits the ‘Big City’

17th January 1943: RAF Bomber Command visits the ‘Big City’ two nights running

Then I thought about the message from the Chief of Bomber Command which had been addressed to us tonight and read out at Briefing, ‘Go to it, Chaps and show them the red rose of Lancaster in full bloom.’ Someone behind a desk had given an order to a great organization and here we were a few hours later, one of the pawns in the game, sitting up over the North Sea with the temperature at minus 30° Centigrade, wondering if we would ever see England again.

Jan

16

1943

Royal Artillery open up for another attack

16th January 1943: Royal Artillery open up for another attack

The Jocks (ours are Gordons and Black Watch) are I suppose forming up, and somewhere a few thousand yards ahead, Germans and Italians know something is in the wind but not that an hour from now a curtain of steel and an armoured wall will move in to destroy them. The enemy guns are nervously banging away all the time. We are completely silent.

Jan

15

1943

The agony continues in Stalingrad

15th January 1943: The agony continues in Stalingrad

They had no weapons, often no shoes. Their feet wrapped in rags, their emaciated faces encrusted with ice, suffering from their wounds, they dragged themselves deeper into the Kessel. At the edge of the road lay the dead and dying. I saw people crawling on their knees because their feet were entirely consumed by frostbite.

Jan

14

1943

Churchill and Roosevelt meet at Casablanca

14th January 1943: Churchill and Roosevelt meet at Casablanca

Admiral King then did so, and it became clear at once that his idea was an ‘all-out’ war against Japan instead of holding operations. He then proposed that 30 per cent of the war effort should be directed to the Pacific and 70 per cent to the rest. We pointed out that this was hardly a scientific way of approaching war strategy!

Jan

13

1943

Chance escape for the sole survivor from U-224

13th January 1943: Chance escape for the sole survivor from U-22

As soon as his head appeared, “U 224″ was peppered with gunfire. Danckworth says he remembered seeing the bow of a ship bearing down on him, and after that he remembered nothing more except that he was at one moment some 5 to 6 yards below the surface and automatically making swimming movements.

Jan

12

1943

Living the German nightmare in Berlin

12th January 1943: Living the German nightmare in Berlin

To think Hitler as the Master of Europe! The picture supplement we had to get out for our New Year issue was entitled ‘The German Soldier Keeps Watch’ – in the Russian winter, under the African sun, in submarines in the Atlantic, beneath the palm trees of Southern France, in the ice of Finland. How can we possibly hold such an extended front for any length of time?

Jan

11

1943

Treblinka death camp resumes work

11th January 1943: The death camps resume work

The men and the older women having already been asphyxiated, the rows of young women, half frozen, stood barefoot in the snow and ice, trembling, weeping, clinging to one another and begging in vain to finally be allowed into the “warmth” where death awaited them.

Jan

10

1943

Following the German retreat in Russia

10th January 1943: Following the German retreat in Russia

There, in the park, seventy or eighty Russian corpses were plaoed in rows, in horrible, frozen attitudes, some sitting up, others with their arms wide apart, some with their heads blown off, also some bearded elderly men, and young boys of eighteen or nineteen, with open eyes. How many common graves like this – “brother graves” the Russians call them so well – are dug every day along these two thousand miles of the Russian front?