Captain Philip Gardner wins the VC

Captain Philip Gardner after recovering from wounds sustained whilst rescuing a fellow soldier in the desert.

Captain Philip Gardner was serving with the 4th Royal Tank Regiment in 32nd Tank Brigade in the Western Desert. They made an attempt to break out of Tobruk to join up with the forces of Operation Crusader that were seeking to break the siege. The most complete account of how he won the Victoria Cross appeared in The Times obituary following his death aged 88 in 2003:

During the fighting on November 23, Gardner was sent with two Matilda tanks to rescue a pair of armoured cars of the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards trapped under enemy fire.

The two tanks raced down the long desert slope as fast they could go, abreast with a hundred yards between them. Crossing the ridge, Gardner saw that both armoured cars were being used for target practice by the enemy with slow deliberate fire. Ordering the second tank to make a wide circuit to the left, he ran his tank up to the nearer of the stricken vehicles while his accompanying tank manoeuvred and kept up sustained fire on the enemy position. Gardner dismounted and tried to unhitch one of his tow-ropes, to tow the car away.

The one stowed along the side of his tank was jammed, so he loosened the one at the rear and signalled to his driver to turn about. In order to keep the main gun facing towards the enemy, the gunner began to traverse his turret and in doing so accidently killed the wireless operator/gun loader who, most unfortunately, chose that moment to put out his head to see what was happening.

The gunner had to ease the body clear before he could complete the gun traverse and, having done so, saw Gardner lifting Lieutenant Beame of the Dragoon Guards, who had been lying wounded with both legs shattered, back into his armoured car.

With the tow-rope now secured, Gardner was signalling the driver to move when a bullet struck him in the leg, fortunately not breaking it. As the tank moved, the tow-rope parted — probably shot away. Despite his own wound, Gardner returned to the armoured car, lifted Beame out and staggered back to his tank, half carrying and half dragging him.

The gunner continued loading and firing the Besa machinegun as fast as he could, single-handed, to distract the enemy while Gardner hoisted the badly wounded officer onto the rear deck of the tank. Gardner returned to the armoured car but found no other survivors. He then signalled to the driver to advance, and clambered up beside the wounded officer, receiving another bullet, this time in the arm, as he did so. The gunner then ordered the driver full speed ahead and, reloading his gun with another belt of Besa, kept up fire on the enemy position as the gallant little party withdrew.

The Times, February 18, 2003

His official citation for the Victoria Cross concluded.

The courage, determination and complete disregard for his own safety displayed by Captain Gardner enabled him, despite his own wounds, and in the face of intense fire at close range, to save the life of his fellow officer, in circumstances fraught with great difficulty and danger.

The citation varies from the account provided by The Times, and states that the unnamed Loader was killed by heavy shellfire as they returned to their lines. See VictoriaCross.org.

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