A day in the life of a Tank soldier in the desert

26th September 1942: A day in the life of a Tank soldier in the desert

Then out with the fire tin, in with the petrol, brew tin filled with water, and we stood round shivering slightly in the cool air waiting for the sun to come up over the horizon, watching the reddening sky, waiting for the full flood of light before we could light up. The air was crystal clear and cold, our wadi etched with a dark-rimmed silhouette. Other tanks stood out stark in the morning light; other figures stood around their tins. Then over the horizon flooded a warm yellow glow, eating up the shadows, swallowing the tight-drawn outlines.




The Battle for Voronezh continues

16th September 1942: The Battle for Voronezh continues

The one thing that we are unable to get used to though, is the nasty flies. They are drawn to all the dying corpses under the rubble, and have multiplied to form large swarms too countless to grasp. Birds are also circling over the battlefield; thou- sands of crows screech above the ruins and fields of death. Again and again, they dive into the depths of the rubble when they see the horrific harvest of death.




Montgomery prepares for the big assault

9th September 42: Montgomery prepares for the big assault

I had told Alexander privately that, in view of my promise to the soldiers, I refused to attack before October; if a September attack was ordered by Whitehall, they would have to get someone else to do it. My stock was rather high after Alam Halfa! We heard no more about a September attack.




Rommel gets bogged down

1st September 1942: Rommel gets bogged down

What most of us weren’t aware of, was that false maps of the area had been allowed to fall into enemy hands which indicated certain routes between the Qattara Depression and the two ridges as being ‘safe’, whilst others were dangerous, meaning soft and treacherous sandy going.




Panzers halted at Battle of Alam Halfa

31st August 42: Panzers halted at Battle of Alam Halfa

There were estimated to be three and a half thousand tanks, troop carriers, armoured cars and transport vehicles spread out in the cauldron below. Forty enemy tanks had dug in immediately below us and were pounding the top of the ridge and another hundred enemy tanks were mustering to the north between the New Zealand Division and ourselves.




Rommel’s last throw of the dice

30th August 1942: Rommel’s last throw of the dice

Shortly after passing the eastern boundary of our own minefields, our troops came up against an extremely strong and hitherto unsuspected British mine belt, which was stubbornly defended. Under intensely heavy artillery fire, the sappers and infantry eventually succeeded in clearing lanes through the British barrier, although at the cost of very heavy casualties and a great deal of time…




Germans reach the first of the Russian oilfields

9th August 1942: Germans reach the first of the Russian oilfields

We had reached the Maikop area, and the village ahead of us was held by the enemy, who hung on tenaciously and would not give way. We made a snap decision and set the thatched roofs alight to burn the enemy out. Within a few moments of opening fire with incendiary rounds, the first houses were on fire. The infantry then began to make good progress. In accordance with my orders, I moved my gun forward to the center ofthe village square to cover the infantry attack against possible surprises from the south. But there was not a single enemy tank to be seen.




A narrow escape in the Desert

22nd July 1942: A narrow escape in the Desert

The Aucklanders and my own H.Q. crew were hard at work, scraping shallow foxholes in the silt of the depression, and the battle looked like pausing until first light. Might as well rest a bit, ready for the day ahead; so I got down on the old bed-roll and “died”, leaving Crowley to dig in the Div. wireless set against possible trouble.

Forty minutes later, Cliff George woke me up, reporting his safe arrival. I told him what the plan would be at first light, and to rest his men until we could see enough to put them at it. The hour was probably about a quarter to five. He disappeared into the dark and I started putting my boots on.

Then hell broke loose. An Auckland carrier came dashing in across the depression, yelling “Stand to! Tanks! Lots of the bastards”. But that was obvious. A deluge of “golden rain” fell on us from the northern edge of the depression about four hundred yards away.




‘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.




South African dawn patrol snatches prisoners

24th February 1942: Desert War – South African dawn patrol snatches prisoners

They were miles out, in a kind of valley. Stirton stumbled on a German position about a company strong, only a Sentry half-asleep. Barney yelled, ‘Share that with your friends’ and lobbed a grenade. There was pandemonium. Shouts, screams the patrol’s tommy guns pouring in fire.