Rommel renews his attack on the Gazala line

Always close to the front line - Erwin Rommel in his command vehicle 'Greif'

In the desert of North Africa Rommel had consolidated his position after the confused fighting of the previous days and once more went onto the attack:

The attack was launched on the morning of the 31st May. German-Italian units fought their way forward yard by yard against the toughest British resistance imaginable. The defence was conducted with considerable skill and, as usual, the British fought to the last round. They also brought a new 57-mm. anti-tank gun [the 6 pounder] into use in this action. Nevertheless, by the time evening came we had penetrated a substantial distance into the British positions.

That evening he wrote to his wife expressing his continued confidence:

31 May 1942

Dearest Lu,

I’m well. The great crisis of the battle is over and so far we‘ve done well. But the next few days are still going to be hard. Cruewell has, unfortunately, fallen into British hands, complete with Storch, but I’m still hoping to hack a way out for him.

See The Rommel Papers .

A 6-pdr anti-tank gun in action in the Western Desert, 29 October 1942.

In the British lines facing Rommel’s troops that day was Ted Stonard, serving in the Royal Artillery, in 72nd Field Regt, 286th Battery, E Troop, of 50th Infantry Division:

The Troop position came under continual shell-fire, vehicles and Gun Quads being hit, a 3 ton lorry some hundred yards to the left flank burst into flames from a direct hit, this gave the Germans a visual target, unfortunately an acute shortage of ammunition prevented the Troop from returning the fire, detachments were only too pleased to seek the protection of a slit trench no matter how shallow…

No 1 Gun (Bdr Stonard) was out of action, one man (Gnr Rickett) being killed and two wounded, the Bdr was blown forward into a slit trench, Gnrs Canfield and Odell managed to escape injury and took shelter in their slit trenches.

After the dust had settled a voice was heard calling out for help, this was Gnr Ginger Lee who had been blown several yards in the rear and was laying stretched out on the sand. …With disregard for his own safety, Gnr Canfield dashed across and dragged Lee into the slit trench alongside Bdr Stonard, the wounded man was in a bad state, his shirt was scorched and burning but the worst injury was to his eyes, one socket was empty and the other eye was hanging out on his cheek, the shell had hit the cartridge case he was holding and the explosion had ignited the cordite. He was quite calm, probably in shock, the Bdr bandaged his eyes and gave him the only comfort he could – a cigarette and laid him in the slit trench…

After about half an hour the firing ceased, tracked vehicles were heard approaching, German Infantry appeared and indicated to them to go back to their rear – the Troop had fired its last shot!

Read the whole account, and his diary entries for the preceding days at The Second World War Experience.

A 25-pdr field gun and 'Quad' artillery tractor in the Western Desert, 8 March 1942.

A truck mounted 6-pdr anti-tank gun in the Western Desert, 31 May 1942.

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