High expectations of Operation Crusader

Matilda tanks on the move outside the perimeter of Tobruk, Libya, 18 November 1941.

Stephen Dawson was inside the besieged garrison of Tobruk waiting for the breakout promised by Operation Crusader. Earlier in the year he had been evacuated with illness but he had returned to his unit on one of the midnight runs from Alexandria:

Thursday 20th November 1941

2p.m.
So far, there’s little information regarding the progress of the blitz. Today, the following arrived:-

HQ 70 Inf. Div. 18/11/41
Special Order of the Day.
The following telegram, which has been received by the C in C from the Prime Minister is to be communicated to troops at the earliest opportunity:-

“I have it in command from the King to express to all ranks of the Army and RAF in the Western Desert and to the Med. Fleet, that His Majesty is confident that they will do their duty with exemplary devotion in the supremely important battle which lies before them.

For the first time British and Empire troops will meet Germans with an ample equipment in modern weapons of all kinds. The battle itself will affect the whole course of the War. Now is the time to strike the hardest blow yet for final Victory, Home and Freedom. The Desert Army may add a page to history which will rank with Blenheim and with Waterloo. The eyes of all nations are upon you.”

George Hignall pinned this notice on a board, just beside M1’s fly-ridden shelter.

“’Ere, get a load of this. This means you.”
The grimy denizens of the wadi strolled over to read the document.

“His Majesty is confident! Well, ‘e’s the only one wot is!”
“Do their duty! What’s he think he is? Bleedin’ Nelson?”
“Waterloo! Bugger me!”

Someone derisively whistled a fanfare of trumpets. Yet for all our jeers, for all our weary cynicism, we are keen and enthusiastic and – this time – confident.

Stephen Dawson’s diary was recently featured as a blog ‘The Soul of a Poet‘ and there are plans for it to be published. The following day, the 21st, Stephen Dawson was to record an exceptional account of his work as telephone operator as Tobruk came under artillery attack and his work under fire when he went out to fix the telephone lines that had been broken by the shelling.

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