The small town of Sidi Barrani on the Egyptian coast was the first of the main Italian positions to fall during the British ‘Operation Compass‘. During the 9th and 10th they had successfully overcome the series of Italian desert fortified camps that ran south from their main base in Sidi Barrani.
Then the British reached the coast road running back to Libya, blocking it west of the town of Sidi Barrani. This left the Italian garrison of some 20,000 men to fight it out.
The fierce artillery duel on the 10th is described by Captain Walter Drysdale commanding 16th Brigade Anti-Tank company:
08.00 Led guns into action
– chose as target a knoll to right of A&SH [Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders] forward Company from where fire seemed to be holding up A&SH – one gun going into action was hit & burst into flames – got remaining guns into action & directed fire onto knoll- shooting was accurate but armour piercing shells cannot have very much effect – enemy artillery fairly plastering my guns-artillery duel is very thrilling – our own troops moving forward slowly-
08.20 only one gun left in action
08.25 shell burst wounded two of the crew
08.30 direct shell burst on gun – fell flat on my side & passed out for half a minute – came to and saw my left arm jerking up and down – thought at first it had been blown off – heard someone say ‘Gawd-the Captain’s been killed’so managed to sit up and say ‘no, you bugger, fire the gun’ – realised blood was spurting out of a wound just above the heart – Cpl Bishop came to me and tried to bind it – told me the gun was wrecked and all gun crew wounded. Tried to get up but couldn’t and fainted – came to later and crawled over to No.1 of the gun who was obviously in pain – reached him.
Read his full account on BBC People’s War.
Eventually the Italians surrendered and the British found themselves struggling to deal with unexpected numbers of prisoners. It was all welcome news back in Britain, the first substantial British success since the start of the Blitz.