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The LRDG experiment with bombing vehicles

A larger LRDG patrol group leaving Siwa oasis, 25 May 1942.

The British Long Range Desert Group – LRDG – had been set up as an independent reconnaissance group that travelled way out into the desert and behind German lines. Initially they had been covertly monitoring enemy traffic on the coastal road that was the the main supply route to the front.

As time went on they were involved in more and more audacious attacks on the enemy behind the lines. They worked alongside the Commandos and the newly formed ‘Special Air Service’ in conducting such operations – at this time it was the Commander LRDG who had overarching authority over behind the lines activities in the desert.

On the night of the 14th/15th May they ran an experimental operation to attack vehicles moving along the coastal road. They travelled out from their base at the Siwa Oasis – itself a remote desert location – on the 8th May, taking nearly a week to arrive at their chosen attack point:

…. in order to place bombs in moving vehicles it was necessary to force them to slow down, and thus give the attacker time to jump out from a covered position at the side of the road, and run up to the rear of the lorry in order to “lob” the bomb in. It had been found at practice that to throw a bomb from some distance at a fast moving vehicle was not only inaccurate, but liable to arouse men in the rear of the vehicle.

The patrol carried 45 gallon drums for blocking the road; and in the hope of creating the impression of a stretch of road under repair two long poles were to be put across the drums, and two red lamps were hung on them with the notice “Achtung! Strassenbau”.

The truck was left 150 yards from the road with the driver and two machine-gunners. Two other ranks armed with a Tommy gun, a rifle and some hand grenades were in position 50 yards from the road. These two parties were to give covering fire. Five drums were placed round the heap of road metal which was shovelled further into the road. The first trucks to pass however did not slow up, and the barrels and stones had to be put further and further into the road; but no one succeeded in getting a bomb into a truck.

Attempts were made by a man squatting behind a barrel, but when two or more vehicles passed together he was liable to be shown up by the lights of the second vehicle, and the idea was abandoned. The only alternative position was behind a bank on the side of the road; but in this case the bomb thrower had to go over the bank, jump the ditch and then catch the vehicle up. A third difficulty was the height of the trucks. This entailed throwing the bomb, a rather clumsy missile, whereas it had been intended to drop it.

As no success was achieved by OZOO hrs on the 15th Capt. Timpson decided to try chasing a vehicle in his truck without lights; and Sergeant Fraser sat on the bonnet with a bomb, in readiness to throw it. The first vehicle they followed was found halted in front of the road block, and it was explained by two gesticulating Italians that it had been in tow and that the tow rope had broken. The lights of an approaching vehicle however appeared in the distance so the party was forced to go on to the west ….

As they sought to extricate themselves from the area the next day the seven man patrol was confronted by a force of twenty four Italian troops that had apparently been sent out in trucks to hunt them down. The patrol had considerable fire-power – ‘two Vickers .303 and three Vickers “K” machine guns, one Browning and one Lewis gun’ – and were able to fight them off, although Guardsman Matthews was killed.

See TNA CAB 44/151.

Three Long Range Desert Group 30-cwt Chevrolet trucks, surrounded by desert.

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