Two VCs following fierce battle at Wadi Akarit

Men of the 7th Battalion, The Green Howards, stage a re-enactment of the storming of Point 85 during the Gabes Gap battles, 11 April 1943.

Men of the 7th Battalion, The Green Howards, stage a re-enactment of the storming of Point 85 during the Gabes Gap battles, 11 April 1943.

A Sherman tank crosses an anti-tank ditch during the advance through the Gabes Gap, 6-7 April 1943.

A Sherman tank crosses an anti-tank ditch during the advance through the Gabes Gap, 6-7 April 1943.

Road bridge over the Wadi Akarit detroyed by the retreating Axis forces. This water course had to be crossed before the  infantry could attack the German positions on a ridge beyond.

Road bridge over the Wadi Akarit detroyed by the retreating Axis forces. This water course had to be crossed before the infantry could attack the German positions on a ridge beyond.

The Germans continued to hang on tenaciously to the ‘Gabes Gap’, a thin strip of land on the coast of Tunisia, blocking the advance north to Tunis. On 6th April a dawn attack was made on the German positions, preceded by a heavy artillery barrage. The fighting went on all day. Having crossed the minefields and achieved their objectives the British troops faced a series of counter attacks. In the thick of the action were the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from the 51st Highland Division:

No fewer than three German counter-attacks were launched during the morning against A company, all of which were broken up by accurate artillery fire. About 1 o’clock in the afternoon the familiar eighteen bombers of the R.A.F., known to the Germans as the “Eighteen Indomitables,” passed over. This was a very welcome sight until they accidentally dropped their bombs on A company, who as a result suffered a number of unnecessary casualties. Through­out all this time the enemy shelling continued to be intense, and Battalion Headquarters as well as the companies came under this unpleasant shelling.

Shelling and mortaring of the minefield gap caused many casualties, and in some in­stances ambulances which were evacuating the wounded through the gap received direct hits from armour-piercing shells. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon eight enemy tanks appeared on A company’s front about 2,000 yards away. Bodies of infantry were then seen advancing, but our artillery again broke up their counter-attack.

At 6 o’clock that evening the most formidable counter-attack of all developed from a force estimated at two battalions with tanks in support. Some of the 7th Black Watch were seen to withdraw, and our A company, which had gone rather farther than was intended, were ordered to draw back three hundred yards at dark. This was done successfully, and A company took up new positions in line with the forward platoon of D company.

Our companies opened up with all they had and halted the German counter-attack. One body of infantry, however, penetrated to within fifty yards of C company’s headquarters, but Major John’ Lindsay Macdougall, M.C., was undismayed. Although already wounded, he ordered the’ only five men he had, consisting of his sergeant-major, his batman, his clerk, his runner, and his wireless operator, to charge with him, shouting at the same time, ” No surrender, C company.” Ever after this Major Macdougall was called “No surrender John.” Twelve of the enemy were taken prisoners, several were killed, and the remainder fled when they saw the bayonets of C company coming at them.

From Captain Ian C Cameron’s full description of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at the battle of Wadi Akarit, see 51st Highland Division.

Two men of quite different ranks were to distinguish themselves that day, each with completely different roles in the battle. The recognition of the award of the Victoria Cross went to both of them equally:

Lorne Campbell VC

Lorne Campbell VC

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: — Major (temporary Lieutenant-Colonel) Lorne MacLaine Campbell, D.S.O., T.D. (16220), The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise’s) (Ardrishaig, Argyll).

On the 6th April, 1943, in the attack upon the Wadi Akarit position, the task of breaking through the enemy minefield and antitank ditch to the East of the Roumana feature and of forming the initial bridgehead for a Brigade of the 5ist Highland Division was allotted to the Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell.

The attack had to form up in complete darkness and had to traverse the main offshoot of the Wadi Akarit at an angle to the line of advance. In spite of heavy machinegun and shell fire in the early stages of the attack, Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell successfully accomplished this difficult operation, captured at least 600 prisoners and led his Battalion to its objective, having to cross an unswept portion of the enemy minefield in doing so.

Later, upon reaching his objective he found that a gap which had been blown by the Royal Engineers in the anti-tank ditch did not correspond with the vehicle lane which had been cleared in the minefield. Realising the vital necessity of quickly establishing a gap for the passage of anti-tank guns, he took personal charge of this operation. It was now broad daylight and, under very heavy machine-gun fire and shell fire, he succeeded in making a personal reconnaissance and in conducting operations which led to the establishing of a vehicle gap.

Throughout the day Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell held his position with his Battalion in the face of extremely heavy and constant shell fire, which the enemy was able to bring to bear by direct observation. About 1630 hours determined enemy counter-attacks began to develop, accompanied by tanks. In this phase of the fighting Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell’s personality dominated the battle field by a display of valour and utter disregard for personal safety, which could not have been excelled.

Realising that it was imperative for the future success of the Army plan to hold the bridgehead his Battalion had captured, he inspired his men by his presence in the forefront of the battle, cheering them on and rallying them as he moved to those points where the fighting was heaviest.

When his left forward company was forced to give ground he went forward alone, into a hail of fire and personally reorganised their position, remaining with the company until the attack at this point was held. As reinforcements arrived upon the scene he was seen standing in the open directing the fight under close range fire of enemy infantry and he continued to do so although already painfully wounded in the neck by shell fire.

It was not until the battle died down that he allowed his wound to be dressed. Even then, although in great pain, he refused to be evacuated, remaining with his Battalion and continuing to inspire them by his presence on the field. Darkness fell with the Argylls still holding their positions, though many of its officers and men had become casualties.

There is no doubt that but for LieutenantColonel Campbell’s determination, splendid example of courage and disregard of pain, the bridgehead would have been lost. This officer’s gallantry and magnificent leadership when his now tired men were charging the enemy with the bayonet and were fighting them at hand grenade range, are worthy of the highest honour, and can seldom have been surpassed in the long history of the Highland Brigade.

London Gazette 8th June 1943

Eric Anderson VC

Eric Anderson VC

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: — No. 4347754 Private Eric Anderson, The East Yorkshire Regiment (The Duke of York’s Own) (Bradford).

On the 6th April, 1943, a Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment was making a dawn attack on a strong enemy locality on the Wadi Akarit with ” A” Company leading. After some progress had been made and ” A ” Company was advancing over an exposed forward slope, it suddenly came under most intense and accurate machine gun and mortar fire from well concealed enemy strong points not more than 200 yards away.

Further advance in that direction was impossible and ” A ” Company was able to withdraw behind the crest of a hill, with the exception of a few men who were wounded and pinned to the ground by strong and well directed small arms fire.

Private Anderson, a stretcher bearer attached to ” A ” Company, seeing these men lying wounded in “no man’s land “, quite regardless of his personal safety, went forward alone through intense fire and single handed carried back a wounded soldier to a place of safety where medical attention could be given.

Knowing that more men were lying wounded in the open he again went out to the bullet swept slope, located a second wounded man and carried him to safety. Private Anderson went forward once again and safely evacuated a third casualty.

Without any hesitation or consideration for himself he went out for a fourth time but by now he was the only target the enemy had to shoot at and when he reached the fourth wounded man, and was administering such first aid as he could to prepare for the return journey, he was himself hit and mortally wounded.

Private Anderson, by his valour, complete disregard for his personal safety, and courage under fire, probably saved the lives of three of his comrades and his example was an inspiration to all who witnessed his gallant acts.

London Gazette 29th July 1943

A formation of No 24 Squadron, South African Air Force Douglas Boston aircraft flying over Tunisia.

A formation of No 24 Squadron, South African Air Force Douglas Boston aircraft flying over Tunisia.

Hawker Hurricane Mark IIDs of No 6 Squadron, Royal Air Force rolling out at Gabes soon after noon on 6 April 1943 for a tank-busting raid.

Hawker Hurricane Mark IIDs of No 6 Squadron, Royal Air Force rolling out at Gabes soon after noon on 6 April 1943 for a tank-busting raid.

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CaitieCat April 6, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Wow…I think you just gave me context for one of my grandfather’s stories. He was a Lance Sergeant in the 7th Argylls, career Army from Palestine before the war, BEF and the 51st after it started, then to Africa with Monty.

He used to tell us of a situation where he’d been part of a small group of NCOs asked for volunteers for a party going forward against some formidable defence up a hill or a ridge somewhere in 1944 in Belgium, and my grandfather said he kept his hand down that time, because he’d volunteered on one like it in Africa and been one of very few survivors, and that they’d given a VC to the officer who’d called for the volunteers, and no medal was worth what he’d been through that night and day. From the description, I’m pretty sure this is where he volunteered for the first time, the one that taught him how suicidal volunteering could really be.

In the end, he did get a Military Medal, three weeks before V-E Day, in Aachen Germany, charging a machine gun post. My grandmother was still mad at him for that one fifty years later. “Three weeks afore the end, believe it or nae” she’d shout. “I’da killt him if he’d hae hurt hisself.”

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