October 2012

Oct

31

1942

El Alamein – Australians begin to break through

El Alamein 1942: Tracer gunfire photographed at night during an air raid on the new forward British positions.

But with a scream and a crash another shell arrived. Something glanced along the side of my boot and two or three more pieces hit on the tank with a clang. Evan rolled sideways off the back of the tank and fell to the ground. ‘Are you all right?’ I asked him. ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Well get back in the turret, I’m not going to muck about digging in this stuff.”

Oct

30

1942

German reaction to the bombing of Munich

A view of Munich some time later in the war, the raid of October 1942 was the first of 71 attacks on the city.

Presumably, after some young Canadian turns the Frauenkirche into a pile of rubble, he will assign Herr Speer to help us reconcile ourselves to the loss of this and other cathedrals. I would assume that he is secretly delighted over the loss of our Gothic masterpieces, since he has always wanted to become one of the immortals of architecture …

Oct

29

1942

The hell of a Japanese prison ship

The Notu Maru, one of the Japanese freighters used as prison ships, otherwise known as the 'Hell Ships'.

With his backside on a latrine bucket he was vomiting from his other end into a container, and quite often missing it. With the next roll of the ship he pitched forward, spilling the contents of both containers, and went crashing down on the deck. I put down my rice, wiped up the spillage as best as I could, helped him back onto the bucket and returned to my meal. My sensibilities had been brought to a point of complete numbness.

Oct

28

1942

El Alamein – Montgomery regroups his troops

A New Zealand machine gun post in a rocky part of the Allied positions in the Alamein area.

The tank was filled with a thousand buzzing flies and smelt vaguely of death. Occasionally a shot pinged against the armour. My peace of mind was not helped by a tactless signaller who informed me, between grips for breath after running and dodging, that a shell had come through the forward observation port of the tank the day before.

Oct

27

1942

Rifle Brigade fight off the tank attack on Kidney Ridge

British gunners hammer away at the enemy despite heavy counter fire which comes uncomfortably close.

The whole area of the bridgehead was jam-packed with lorries, tanks and guns. It resembled a badly organised lorry and ordnance park. The congestion was horrendous. Our two troops of guns were only twenty yards apart and there must have been fifty guns within an area the size of a twenty acre field. It was any man’s country and it seemed as if every gun in the desert was in the bridgehead.

Oct

26

1942

Rommel returns to the El Alamein battlefield

A British soldier gives a V-for-Victory sign to German prisoners captured at El Alamein, 26 October 1942.

Unfortunately, the attack gained ground very slowly. The British resisted desperately. Rivers of blood were poured out over miserable strips of land which, in normal times, not even the poorest Arab would have bothered his head about. Tremendous British artillery fire pounded the area of the attack. In the evening part of the Bersaglieri Battalion succeeded in occupying the eastern and western edges of the hill. The hill itself remained in British hands and later became the base for many enemy operations.

Oct

25

1942

John Basilone beats off Japanese on Guadalcanal

FIELD TELEPHONE, still in working order after being hit by a shell fragment when a Japanese “knee-mortar” shell landed six feet away. In the absence of reliable radio communications, wire communications were heavily relied upon. The EE–8 field telephone and the sound-powered telephone were used for long and short distances, respectively.

A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Oct

24

1942

El Alamein – the infantry go forward

British infantry rushes an enemy strong point through the dust and smoke of enemy shell fire.

One of the paratroopers decided to make a break, and with head down, he dashed to my left front. I shouted to him to halt, but he still continued. My Bren gun was set on single shot, and I fired from the hip well ahead of him. I was amazed to see him drop like a log, hit in the head by a single bullet. This action appeared to put paid to any further attempts at escaping.

Oct

23

1942

The British Guns open up at El Alamein

A 25-pdr gun firing during the British night artillery barrage which opened Second Battle of El Alamein, 23 October 1942.

At the gun positions final checks had been made. Some of the men took off their coats, others took off their shirts for they knew before the night was over they would be wet with sweat as they were to be part of a large battery of 882 field guns which were to lay down a barrage of shells, the like of which hadn’t been seen since WWI and those guns still firing as daylight came, would have fired more than 600 rounds each.

Oct

22

1942

The last 24 hours before battle

A driver in the Royal Army Service Corps writes home to his mother from a slit trench in the Western Desert, 24 October 1942.

I awakened next morning, cramped and sore, to find, seeping through the little spaces where the corrugated iron did not meet flush with the sand, faint rays of light. Dawn was breaking. In a few hours the vicious heat would start and the agony of our confinement would really begin. We had our meals with us — in tins. Cold bacon, bully beef and biscuits were on the menu, and these things had to satisfy us until darkness fell.