Harassing the Italians with gunfire

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

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

Infantry advancing outside the fort at Derna, Libya, 1 February 1941.

Infantry advancing outside the fort at Derna, Libya, 1 February 1941.

The pursuit of the Italians westwards into Libya continued. The main Italian force was falling back along the coast road and had just passed through the port of Derna.

George Clifton was a New Zealand officer out looking for water supplies in the desert. He describes catching up with the leading elements of the 7th Armoured Division who were pushing the Italian army along the coast road. Late in the day he came across a unit of tanks and 25 pounders guns that were just engaging the Italian rear guard:

The hunched-back “quads” trailing their twenty-fivers lurched off the road into a shallow wadi. As we passed, the four guns dropped easily into action, and – crash! An opening round went screaming overhead. Seconds later back came the muffled burst.

Leaving our cars under cover, I walked up to the squadron leader’s cruiser, hull-down on the crest. Behind him a command truck was parked – the gunner by its markings. Another shell screamed over.

Standing close alongside, I could hear a faint voice coming through on the blower, giving a priceless running commentary.

“That nearly rang the bell. Cock the old bitch up another two hundred. Over.”

“O.K. Red. Up two hundred. Over.” “Three M. Thirteens wandering round, not sure what the hell to do. There are blokes with motor-bikes and Emma Gees [machine-guns] farther along the wadi. Oh, good shot! Right in among ’em. Over.”

“O.K. Red. We’ll slam a few in. Watch ’em come. Over.” “The ruddy tanks are still milling round. There’s a Breda truck coming up now. Tell Bill to pull his finger out for the love of Mike.” Crash! Away went a troop salvo, which turned into dull detonations from off in the blue. “Boy, oh boy! That’s good. Up two hundred. Right two hundred. They’re bolting up the side wadi. Over.”

“O.K. Red. Up two. Right two. Bill is giving them five rounds gunfire. Try the motor-bikes next. Over.” Crash! Crash! Crash! Almost continuous shrieking overhead; they were pushing through their twenty rounds in real Horse-Gunner style.

Red came again. “Good stuff. That’s speeded the tanks. Oh, nice shooting. The Breda’s bitched and the crew’s bailing out. Their truck’s burning. Will try the speed-track merchants now. Right four hundred. Over.” And on it went.

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.

See George Clifton: The Happy Hunted

A 25-pdr field gun and 'Quad' artillery tractor, 22 December 1941.

A 25-pdr field gun and ‘Quad’ artillery tractor, 22 December 1941.

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