Moving west to defend Benghazi

An official portrait of the triumphant British soldier: few kept anywhere near this degree of smartness whilst in the desert.

Kenneth Rankin was with a Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battery. His unit moved west from Derna on the 17th February 1941 to their new position at Benghazi. The Italians had just been defeated and there were still prisoners being moved back to Egypt but there were also many units being withdrawn from the front. It was a reasonable assumption to make that the ‘war on land in Libya’ was over but in fact the presence of the Luftwaffe heralded quite the opposite:

Set off in our long convoy to the west along the coast road and admired the beautiful blue waters. Soon we were climbing a big hill with long sweeping bends – looking down, the sea was dead calm and covered by a vague mist, and the guns, lorries and trailers laboriously following up the road looked like toys, hundreds of feet below. Evidence of damage to the road, quickly repaired by the Australians, and we passed some high Italian officer prisoners.

Passed many more wrecked cars and lorries, lots of them British ones wrecked by explosion of land mines. Engineers had been digging these up all along the road and they were now lying safely by the side.

Passed numerous poor dead dogs and camels, killed on the roads, and saw little cemeteries marking the sad remains of soldiers killed by bombs, shells and bullets.

The heat was considerable, like best English July and as we stopped for a short rest we conversed with troops returning eastwards, who gave vivid accounts of German dive bombers operating at Benghazi every day – so there is plenty of fun for us.

The war on land in Libya must be over for we met convoy after convoy of guns going back – sixty pounders, twenty-five pounders, 4.5 inch howitzers – nearly fifty guns in all and there could not be many more than 150 in the whole campaign on our side – an incredible thought in view of the hundreds of captured guns which we had seen ourselves alone!

See Kenneth Rankin: Top Hats in Tobruk

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Earlier in the war:

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