Flies, fleas and bombs in Tobruk

A Bren gun used for anti-aircraft defence in the besieged port of Tobruk.

Lieutenant Kenneth Rankin describes a typical day in the siege of Tobruk:

10th June 1941

Had very little sleep what with fleas and air raids, gun fire and bombs. Whilst firing at one raider a stick of bombs fell quite close to us – between us and our dummy gun site. One boy got hurt failing to get out of the way of the recoil on the gun – knocked his nose about and it was at a most peculiar angle when I looked at it, though someone said it was quite natural in his case.

Oil bombs and thermos bombs were dropped amongst other things, but all, as far as I could see, with no effect at all. When ‘A’ site were heavily bombed by Stukas recently about sixty bombs were dropped on them, and very few went off. A large 250 pound bomb fell in a small L.A.A. pit and did not go off – one member of the crew got hurt when they all made a rapid bolt for it – that was all! There must be some good fifth column work in some of these bomb factories!

Went down to see Jimmy and told him about Bombardier Yorke [apparently one of the few soldiers in the unit showing signs of nerves], he was as disappointed as I about it all. Placed Bombardier Goodey under arrest for reading a magazine when on duty as a spotter. As another Bombardier is losing his stripes too, in unfortunate circumstances, there will be more stripes going for those who have earned it through all this difficult time.

An Me. 110 went over dropping bombs and was heavily engaged by A.A., going away in difficulties.

Organised a fly-swotting party – every man in the camp to kill 100 flies per day in the cookhouse! Killed off my hundred and ticked my name off the list. Spent some time preparing a charge against Bombardier Goodey, and I put him under Section 40 of the Army Act. I hate doing this kind of thing, but it has to be.

Went down for an afternoon bathe and complete change of clothes, catching several large fleas in the process, and disposing of them. Came back for tea and went over to the ration dump, wandering around and eventually finding Captain Littlewood who very kindly arranged to send us over a load of extra rations tomorrow.

Saw a lot of thermos bombs which had been dropped; evidently 157 of them were dropped in the ration dump enclosure alone. Saw two which no one else had found yet and reported them – lethal looking objects, which I would not touch for a fortune. Had a long talk with the Captain and swapped yarns with some of his boys, but I learnt nothing new. No one seemed to know anything except that we had a good strong force at Mersa.

Came back quite tired of feet for a game of solo with the Sergeants. Quite good fun.

One-third of June gone! And still in Tobruk!

The day before his unit had been commended by the Brigadier in a despatch to H.Q.:

‘I have been impressed with the constant alertness of the 4th A.A. Brigade by day and night, resulting in the rapid engagement of the enemy wherever seen. The courage and steadfastness of guns’ crews and predictor, etc. teams under intense dive-bombing and machine-gun attack from the air, are of the highest order, and are an inspiration to us all. Battery positions, and even single gun sites, are continuously attacked, but never neutralised.’

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Lee Milne January 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm

A relative – Cedric James Joseph Rowell was killed on this day(10 June 1941). Now lies in the Tobruk War Cemetery(Plot 5, Row O, #13). Private in 2/17 Aust.Infantry Batt. #NX585229. Son of James and Cicely Rowell of Maroubra, N.S.W. Born in Hobart 2 Dec 1909. Left behind a wife, Lillian. R.I.P.

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