Fighting off a heavy bombing raid on Tobruk

The bombing of Tobruk harbour on the 1st September 1941, the port was littered with sunken ships.

Kenneth Rankin was commanding a Heavy Anti Aircraft battery in Tobruk. On the 1st September the Luftwaffe launched one of their heaviest raids on the besieged port:

The alarm went and we were warned of a big party coming in. I prepared the gunners and we soon picked up a few dirty dive-bombers. After a short interval the party started – and what a party! We fired the harbour barrage and thinking there were only about twenty planes we thought there would be nothing more after seeing about this number.

Then they started pouring in near us, bombing the local water point and showing us their bellies as they went down past us. We bashed away at them and two were damaged. More came down bashing at ‘C’ site away to our south and huge dust clouds went up over there. ‘C’ went on firing furiously.

Another lot went for our old site and our dummy site, and suddenly I heard the roar of machine guns and, as bullets started falling around us, putting the height-finder out of action, knew what was coming. Just had time to duck when a bomb load landed right in the middle of our gun site.

After that they came in thick and fast, bombs landing continuously all round us. Three guns went out of action but the fourth (Sergeant Edwards) went on battling magnificently, fighting them off as they came in. The L.A.A. gun fought gloriously, fighting back with 120 rounds until a bomb landed within three feet of them wounding all of them and putting their gun out of action. All were taken off in an ambulance. One lad was killed and six wounded.

Then came the high level part of the raid and great wedges of Italian bombers came over dropping bombs everywhere, twenty-eight of them landing on ‘J’ site with no damage, others landing in amongst ammo dumps, some near G.O.R., more near ‘C site.

We engaged with our one remaining gun and estimated the heights, as our height-finder was out of action. Prodigious numbers of rounds were fired by all A. A. sites, especially those remaining in action throughout the performance.

A fort nearby was bombed and one Polish soldier wounded and another buried but got out again, shaken but not hurt. Our other L.A.A. gun was on top of the fort, took cover once, but otherwise fought on magnificently throughout. Lewis gunners also blazed away throughout, one being damaged by a machine-gun bullet.

The telephone wires went down and we were soon out of touch with everyone, until R.H.Q. managed to connect up with us. Got in touch with Ordnance and they put in some grand work on the guns, getting them all back into action except one.

Within two hours we had three guns in action. The fourth was taken away and was expected back again tonight, ready for action.

See Kenneth Rankin: Top Hats in Tobruk

Tobruk was twice attacked by a force of about 40 bombers with fighter escort. On the first occasion the harbour was the objective, and on the second A.A. sites and a gun position appeared to be the target. A few vehicles and a small quantity of ammunition were destroyed. The bombing was, however, notably inaccurate, and some bombs even fell in the Italian lines. In the course of these attacks two bombers were destroyed and six probably destroyed. Several other attacks were made on Tobruk, but were even less effective.

From the Air Situation Report for the week see TNA CAB 66/18/37

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

steve barnett June 17, 2014 at 10:09 pm

My father, Harry Barnett was also a gunner and driver, manning the heavy 3.7 AA gun and driving a Matador gun tractor. Twice mentioned in despatches. His war took him from Norway to the London blitz to N. Africa and then Sicily and Italy.

Malcolm Denbow May 30, 2014 at 9:20 pm

My dad, Harry Denbow, was a member of the anti aircraft battery in Tobruk harbour at this time. I think he was the layer on the gun.

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