Tank versus tank inside Tobruk

A German Mk IV tank, its turret blown off by a 25-pounder during the battle within Tobruk on the 14th April.

‘Driver advance, turn slightly left.’ My tank moved across to give this man protection. It was a stupid move, because by turning I presented the German tank gunners with a larger target, and they took full advantage of it. As we were turning back head-on to the enemy, the engine cut out, and we were left slightly ‘broadside on’. ‘She’s on fire, sir!’ shouted Adams, but he went on loading shells.




The Italians surrender at Beda Fomm

Italian M13 Tanks in the Libyan Desert, pictured later in 1941

For all the efforts of the previous day, the Italian column still looked huge and threatening. I watched with apprehension the movements of the mass of vehicles before me. On either side of me, hidden behind the crests of other dunes and ridges, I knew that there were other eyes just as anxious as mine, surveying the scene before them. In the mind of each one of us was the sure knowledge that we were well outnumbered.




The attack on Tobruk

Infantry from the 6th Australian Division move forward during the assault on Tobruk

When we were only yards away we could see the men in their dark green uniforms with their coats open, sweating as they tried to hump their guns round and train them on us. We simply went straight towards them, firing; we would have gone straight over them if we hadn’t knocked their guns out. Then we drove the loaders and odds and ends into the dugout. And the next thing I saw was a white flag emerging.




Australian’s dawn attack on Bardia

British artillery gun firing in the desert

In the last run that we made, one of the light tanks got a little too close to an anti-tank gun and received several direct hits which penetrated the armour. Of the crew of three the driver was killed by the first shot, and the commander, our newest young officer, had one of his hands shattered. The driver’s foot still rested on the accelerator and the tank continued to motor in towards the enemy. All this the young commander told us over the air, and we were powerless to help him.




The Italian base at Bardia besieged

A Matilda tank of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment in the Western Desert, 19 December 1940.

With each passing second we drew closer to the defences, and what an opportunity this was to penetrate them before the ‘gate’ was closed. I gave the order to advance with all speed and as my tank was on the road, I was soon well in the lead. We could not have been more than half a mile from the barrier when the whole desert seemed to erupt about me.




Fierce fighting on the Abyssinian border

Indian troops in the Sudan

This was the first British offensive in the area since the Italian occupation of Somalia. Brigadier William Slim’s attack initially made good progress but his small force of tanks were damaged by the rocky ground and by mines, and the spares were destroyed in the constant air attacks that followed.




The Italians attack in the Desert

The British A9 Cruiser tank as commanded by Lieutenant Rea Leakey in September 1940. It was relatively lightly armoured and only had a two pounder gun but was fast and proved effective against the Italians.

The Italians heralded the start of this venture with a heavy artillery bombardment, most of which hit the empty desert, and their bombers gave us a larger dose than usual. When the dust and smoke cleared, we saw the most fantastic spectacle.

The Italian Army was advancing towards us led by motor cyclists riding in perfect line – dressed from the right. Then came the tanks, again in parade order, and they were followed by row after row of large black lorries. Adams stared at them for a minute, then turned to me and remarked, ‘Bloody hell, Tidworth Tattoo – we can’t spoil their march past.’




The German advance continues

German built pontoon bridges allowed their advance to continue even where bridges had been blown up - a Panzer crosses the Maas on the 16th May.

Slept for a few hours in grounds and then took up position and started digging. Very tiring recce, in afternoon, of new position, maps inaccurate, this was cancelled by order to withdraw same night. Went up with Coy Comdrs and C.O. to recce position along main road on race course. Got company in about 11 p.m.




Churchill offers "Blood, toil, tears and sweat"

German tanks in forest

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire; no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal.




Allied breakout and pursuit by tanks in Italy

The 'Tankman'. Sergeant A G Williams of 17/21 Lancers in the turret of his Sherman tank at the main Headquarters of the Eighth Army in the San Angelo area of Italy, April 1944. Sergeant Williams from Woodford Bridge, Essex left England in November 1943, landed in North Africa, and from there was sent to Italy.

Now there was not time to think, for the Germans, having recovered somewhat, began to shell and mortar the place. A bunch of German prisoners who were making their way to a hastily prepared P.O.W. compound, hands above their heads, suddenly disappeared in a wave of smoke and dust as their own shells crashed down among them. When the air cleared, few got up: those who did, moved more swiftly still, their faces a mask of petrified fear. This was war also. There was no doubt about it, this sudden swoop by a British crack cavalry regiment had taken the enemy completely by surprise!