Victoria Cross for attack on the Mareth Line

Two wounded soldiers from the Durham Light Infantry during the Mareth line battle in Tunisia, March 1943.

Two wounded soldiers from the Durham Light Infantry during the Mareth line battle in Tunisia, March 1943.

Operation PUGILIST. Martin Baltimore Mark IIIAs of No. 232 Wing RAF flying in loose formation off the coast of Tunisia, en route to bomb the Mareth Line.

Operation PUGILIST. Martin Baltimore Mark IIIAs of No. 232 Wing RAF flying in loose formation off the coast of Tunisia, en route to bomb the Mareth Line.

In Tunisia the Germans were well dug in on the Mareth Line. The rocky terrain and the mountainous ridges provided natural defensive positions. These had been fortified with concrete pill boxes and gun emplacements by the French Army before the war. Ever since Rommel had decided to make a stand here the Germans had been adding their own defences, including extensive minefields and barbed wire.

The 8th Army attack sought to soften up these positions with artillery and bombing. At the end of the day it became the job of the infantry to go forward, overcome the defences and face the enemy:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:

Major (temporary Lieutenant-Colonel) Derek Anthony Seagrim: (26914) The Green Howards (Alexandra Pnncess of Wales Own Yorkshire Regiment) (Westward Ho Devon)

On the night of the 20th/21st March 1943 the task of a Battalion of the Green Howards was to attack and capture an important feature on the left flank of the main attack on the Mareth Line.

The defence of this feature was very strong and it was protected by an anti-tank ditch twelve feet wide and eight feet deep with minefields on both sides. It formed a new part of the main defences of the Mareth Line and the successful capture of this feature was vital to the success of the main attack.

From the time the attack was launched the Battalion was subjected to the most intense fire from artillery, machine-guns and mortars and it appeared more than probable that the Battalion would be held up entailing failure of the main attack.

Realizing the seriousness of the situation Lieutenant-Colonel Seagrim placed himself at the head of his Battalion which was at the time, suffering heavy casualties and led it through the hail of fire.

He personally helped the team which, was placing the scaling ladder over the anti tank ditch and was himself the first to cross. He led the assault – firing his pistol, throwing grenades and personally assaulting two machine-gun posts which were holding the advance of one of his Companies. It is estimated that in this phase he killed or captured twenty Germans.

This display of leadership and personal courage led directly to the capture of the objective When dawn broke the Battalion was firmly established on the position which was of obvious importance to the enemy who immediately made every effort to regain it.

Every post was mortared and machine-gunned unmercifully and movement became practically impossible but Lieutenant-Colonel Seagnm was quite undeterred. He moved from post to post organising and directing the fire until the attackers were wiped out to a man. By his valour disregard for personal safety and outstanding example he so inspired his men that the Battalion successfully took and held its objective thereby allowing the attack to proceed.

Major Seagrim, awarded the VC for leading the Green Howards attack on the Mareth Line.

Major Seagrim who was awarded the VC for leading the Green Howards attack on the Mareth Line.

Lieutenant Colonel Seagrim subsequently died of wounds received in action.

See London Gazette 13th May 1943

Royal Engineers in a Daimler scout car on their way to blow up an abandoned enemy tank, to prevent it being recovered and repaired, 14 March 1943.

Royal Engineers in a Daimler scout car on their way to blow up an abandoned enemy tank, to prevent it being recovered and repaired, 14 March 1943.

Men of 7th Battalion, The Green Howards on an exercise among the sand dunes at Sandbanks, near Poole in Dorset, 31 July 1940.

Men of 7th Battalion, The Green Howards on an exercise among the sand dunes at Sandbanks, near Poole in Dorset, 31 July 1940.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Editor October 7, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Martin

I can assure you that this language does not sound particularly ‘normal’ to those of us on this side of the pond. All part of a language that kept the Royals even more remote and rarified during the period, but probably all the more loved because they were so mysteriously different.

Martin

Martin, too October 7, 2013 at 12:58 am

This isn’t specific to this entry–but to the documents awarding the Victoria and George Crosses.

“The KING has been graciously pleased to approve,” to a North American, is a pretty ungainly construction. To us, “has been” opens the possibility that HRM might have changed his mind. Why not the simpler “is graciously pleased?” Or “is pleased to graciously approve?” The latter emphasizes his graciousness. Or, in this case, does “gracious” really mean “grateful?”

All for the “common” language that binds us,
Martin

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