In the desert the British Gazala still just held as the different defensive ‘boxes’ came under ferocious attack. Henry Ritchie was with an artillery unit just north of the French box at Bir Hacheim, which had ben holding out since the beginning of the battle”
The hollow, booming of the gun fire from the south increased in volume and, shortly after the sun had lifted its red rim clear ofthe desert floor, came the familiar order from the Command Post.
‘Take Posts, Target Tanks’ ‘Bloody hell,’ said Francis, running for the gun in sockless and unlaced boots. ‘Where the hell have they come from?’ We had been assured the night before that there were no enemy tanks nearer than five miles from our sector.
‘Zero five degrees, seven five hundred, one round gunfire. Fire! .. .’ ‘Hullo,’ said Kevin, with his eye to the dial sight, ‘here we go again, ranging with all four guns.’ Ranging with four guns of the troop at the same time indicated important targets and we deduced correctly that there were a number of enemy tanks moving towards our O.P.
As the sun slowly rose above the new day’s distant edge, the world took a hard and brutish shape as the enemy guns retaliated in strength and artillery duels, like wild spitting Fire Gods, volleyed back and forth.
A solitary Bofors gun to the north loosed off a magazine clip of five. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. We knew only too well what that meant. The familiar prelude to an air raid. Someone shouted, ‘Coulu’ and Lieutenant Hester Hewitt, who was relaying fire orders form the O.P. yelled, ‘Take cover.’
We dived into the slit trenches. ‘The bastards are early this morning,’ said Ross, ‘they must have taken off in the fugging dark.’ The air above us was suddenly filled with a whirling confusion of twisting Stukas and Messerschmitts with their crooked crosses. There must have been a hundred or more and, once again, we were confronted with the devastating combination of Stukas and Panzers.
Wave after wave, black and menacing, like vampire bats, bombed and machine gunned targets all around us. Most of the dive bombers, with their fixed under carriage and with their sirens screaming, were concentrating on attacking Bir Hacheim to our south-west, but two sticks of bombs had exploded perilously close to the gun position and once again we experienced that choking stink of high explosives, sulphur and rotten metal.
Once again, we braced ourselves against the shock waves that stun the senses. The rocketing Bofors, joined by its fellows in a collective crescendo, continued to cough up a torrent of vicious air bubble explosions. Once again, in this wild war, we were scudding the pinnacle of awareness and challenge as lives were being snuffed out in this hideous orchestration of death.
A blackened Valentine tank and its dead crew, destroyed by bomb and blast, sat crippled and impotent, with its disabled gun like a broken bean pole pointing uselessly to the sky. Four, grey canvas covered lorries were fiercely burning and an armoured car had been blasted over on its side, the wheels still spinning. Six Messerschmitts were machine gunninga small group of R.A.S.C. vehicles that had just arrived with petrol and ammunition.
A wounded Stuka broke the circle and plummeted down, white flames streaming from its belly. It fell to earth, a flaming ball of fire. I know that we had been through it many times before but we had never really become case hardened to being attacked by dive bombers. Hundreds of bombs were dropped during a Stuka attack and one of them could be just too close to guarantee your survival. You could be wiped out like a fly on a wall.
By mid-afternoon, when I had counted the empty ammunition cases, my staunch, honest, even handed gun and its gunners had blazed off two hundred and fifty-two rounds of high explosive shells since morning.