‘Black Saturday’ for the British Eighth Army

13th June 1942: ‘Black Saturday’ for the British Eighth Army

With the first light the two armies were engaged. Almost at once the battlefield was covered over with rolling sand and the smoke of buming oil. Confused orders and messages were flying over the radio on both sides.

The front line British tanks called for assistance, and launched an attack from the north to cut through the base of Rommel’s wedge. They ran at once on the 88-millimetre guns that had been concealed in the night. Simultaneously, the tip of the enemy wedge threatened the British armoured headquarters which were forced to decamp hurriedly eastwards. During this move the headquarters lost contact with a great part of the tanks joined in battle.

And the battle was ferocious. In an attempt to get within range the British charged headlong upon the German positions. In a few minutes it was a massacre for both sides. From dozens of concealed positions the 88s opened up a tremendous belt of fire. Those British tanks, which had somehow escaped the opening salvoes and got right up to the enemy, found themselves exposed and deserted by their comrades who had fallen by the way.




Under Stuka dive bomb attack in the desert

12th June 1942: Under Stuka dive bomb attack in the desert

A solitary Bofors gun to the north loosed off a magazine clip of five. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. We knew only too well what that meant. The familiar prelude to an air raid. Someone shouted, ‘Coulu’ and Lieutenant Hester Hewitt, who was relaying fire orders form the O.P. yelled, ‘Take cover.’

We dived into the slit trenches. ‘The bastards are early this morning,’ said Ross, ‘they must have taken off in the fugging dark.’ The air above us was suddenly filled with a whirling confusion of twisting Stukas and Messerschmitts with their crooked crosses. There must have been a hundred or more and, once again, we were confronted with the devastating combination of Stukas and Panzers.

Wave after wave, black and menacing, like vampire bats, bombed and machine gunned targets all around us. Most of the dive bombers, with their fixed under carriage and with their sirens screaming, were concentrating on attacking Bir Hacheim to our south-west, but two sticks of bombs had exploded perilously close to the gun position and once again we experienced that choking stink of high explosives, sulphur and rotten metal.

Once again, we braced ourselves against the shock waves that stun the senses. The rocketing Bofors, joined by its fellows in a collective crescendo, continued to cough up a torrent of vicious air bubble explosions. Once again, in this wild war, we were scudding the pinnacle of awareness and challenge as lives were being snuffed out in this hideous orchestration of death.

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A loyal soldier executed by the Nazis

11th June 1942: A loyal soldier executed by the Nazis

On 11 April 1942, I walked into the military prison of the fortress of Orel. The fortress, a huge squat building, distempered pink, with massive round turrets at each corner, lies to the north of the town on the steep banks of the river Oka. There is a dark stone passage on the upper floor where the air is dank and chill; and here I was handed over to the prison guards.

‘My cell is in the north-east turret and is about 14 feet wide and the same height. It has a wooden floor and a vaulted brick ceiling. To the west an arched window pierces the wall, which is over three feet thick, and across the window there are strong iron bars, let into the wall. In the evening and then only, a few golden sunrays briefly penetrate to my dreary solitude. A massive oak door, reinforced by heavy iron-work, shuts out the world.

Darkness and terror paralyse my being. The stillness is unbearable. Helpless and abandoned I am left to myself, alone, sentenced to death. . .!




Public now optimistic about the war’s outcome

10th June 1942: Public now optimistic about the war’s outcome

There is no question that there has been a big rise in optimistic feeling about the war. …

One marked feature of this steadily mounting wave of optimism is a belief, reported from many quarters, that the war against Germany will “be over this year”. The emergence of a similar belief lias been noted in the U.S.A. and the leaders in that country have been setting themselves to combat this feeling and to warn their public that there is still a long and hard task ahead of them before victory. It is a question whether similar action is called for from the Government of this country. …

I think that no small part in the great public satisfaction at the recent R.A.F, raids was due to the consciousness that they were a blow struck directly by this country with its own material and its own forces. There is much feeling that the public have been asked for too long to admire Russian resistance, American production and Empire fighting qualities.




Taken prisoner out in the Desert

9th June 1942: Taken prisoner out in the Desert

We had not gone far before a carrier, closely followed by a fifteen hundredweight, came towards us. ’That’s all right’ I said to the D.C.L.I. [Devon and Cornwall Light Infantry] captain, ‘a patrol to check who we are’. They approached us at about fifteen miles per hour, the carrier with the familiar rocking motion fore and aft. When they were about a hundred yards away I shouted ’Halt, friend’ They did not halt but put on pace.

The carrier swung to my right, the fifteen hundredweight to my left, and then halted forty yards away. The ‘carrier’ was a German half-track with a machine gun in it pointing at us: the fifteen hundredweight was a British vehicle but with a machine gum mounted in front with two visored caps manning it; and previously concealed close behind the fifteen hundredweight was one of those German semi-armoured tracked vehicles with the silhouette of a tank, and mounting a forty-seven millimetre gun which seemed to be pointing straight at my stomach.

As I realised this in a split second, a German non-commissioned officer with a tommy gun jumped out of the half-track shouting ‘Hands up’. ‘B-, they’re Bosch’ I said, and – there was not much time to think – ’it’s no good, pack in’.

It was a neat bit of work just as dark was falling, and, in the state most of us were in I honestly do not think that an attempt at fighting would have been any use. My first reaction was one of intense anger, my next – immediately afterwards – to turn round, tear off my rank badges and medal ribbons, and drop them with my field glasses and revolver in a hole I scuffled in the sand with my foot.




Malta – ‘you never have time to be scared’

8th June 1942: Malta – ‘you never have time to be scared’

Bombs were liable to come whistling around your ears any minute. If you looked up you’d see Spits and Me’s split-assing all over the sky and every once in a while some poor devil who hadn’t kept his tail clean would come spinning down in flames.

Flak went up in flowerbeds and parachutes came drifting down. From the ground the constant din of ack-ack batteries . . . Up high the clatter of machine-gun and cannon bursts and the roar of full-engined Spitfires, Me’s and Macchis diving … Erks scurrying about the drome, patching bomb craters… Engineers detonating time bombs …. Rescue launches rushing to sea to pick up floating parachutists …

The Maltese population trying to carry on the day’s chores between headlong dives for the shelter and protection of walls, cracked-up houses, or wrinkles in the rocks … Cats and dogs fighting in the streets in keeping with the tempo of the place … Never a dull moment, day or night.

That was Malta in the blitzes. Before you had been there a day you got the idea Jerry had decided to either sink the damned island or blow it away – and you weren’t far wrong.!




Hope and Despair in the Warsaw ghetto

7th June 1942: Hope and Despair in the Warsaw ghetto

‘Your hope is vain; your trust a broken reed. All of you are already condemned to die, only the date of execution has yet to be set. We are doomed to pass from the World without seeing the Nazi downfall because the physical annihilation of European Jewry is one of Nazism’s cardinal principles. You have eyes and yet you do not see that the fulfilment of this horrible goal has already been started.

What hope do we have that it will not be carried out? Over half a million Jews who used to live in Poland have already been murdered; some by hunger, some by disease, some by the Nazi sword. Jews have been deported from hundreds of small communities, and no one knows their whereabouts, simply because they were killed along the way and never reached a new destination.

7th June 1942: Hope and Despair in the Warsaw ghetto

Optimistic fools! Where is the great community of Lublin, and the hundreds of other smaller communities? Where did their deportees settle? The Nazis created ghettos in order to annihilate us but their plan did not succeed. Now they have decided upon the ‘final solution’, annihilation through murder.




Japanese cruiser Mikuma sunk, USS Yorktown torpedoed

6th June 1942: Japanese cruiser Mikuma sunk, USS Yorktown torpedoed

He led the second division of his squadron in a coordinated glide-bombing and dive-bombing assault upon a Japanese battleship. Undeterred by a fateful approach glide, during which his ship was struck and set afire, he grimly pressed home his attack to an altitude of five hundred feet, released his bomb to score a near-miss on the stern of his target, then crashed to the sea in flames.

His dauntless perseverance and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.




The battle for the Gazala Line continues

5th June 1942: The battle for the Gazala Line continues

10th Indian Infantry Brigade was completely destroyed. 16 Platoon being on the extreme left flank of the action, took up position behind a small ridge, we had no trenching tools, picks or shovels, and being under continuous fire from a group of Armoured Cars supporting heavy machine guns, we could not inflict much damage to them, having only Bren Guns and Rifles, and there was no artillery support (there was supposed to be artillery support but none was forthcoming). Communications were bad, West Yorks having no wireless sets and as fast as the Signals Platoon laid telephone cables Tanks in the rear chewed them up so any link up was just non existent.

Shortly after mid-day “D” Companies 16 Platoon were ordered to withdraw as did the rest of the Battalion, leap frogging one platoon after another, tanks and trucks that had been knocked out were given the final treatment by grenade and fire, ensuring that they would be of no use to the enemy forces.

Late in the afternoon we passed through the artillery lines, the enemy in close pursuit, the darkness was closing in now when we reached fairly safe area and here we were served with a hot bully beef stew, once more we were under attack from artillery fire, our artillery was retalliating, we then received orders to dig in and be prepared for a tank attack.




U.S. and Japanese clash at Battle of Midway

4th June 1942: U.S. and Japanese clash at Battle of Midway

I was right at headquarters when first reports began to come in from our planes. The first message was brief. The Jap carriers had been located, a little belatedly, and they were virtually without air cover. Apparently all their planes had been sent out to make the conquest of Midway quick and easy.

However, the squadron commander of the TBD [Douglas Torpedo Bomber] unit reporting, said that his planes were virtually out of fuel.
‘Request permission,’ he called, ‘to withdraw from action and refuel.
The admiral’s answer was terse. ‘Attack at once.’

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