include "header.inc" ?>
The 1st Battalion Worcestershire was on active service in the Sudan in 1940 when the 5th Indian Division was formed there, and joined the 29th Brigade of that Division. After taking part in the Eritrean and Abyssinian campaigns, the 29th Brigade was transferred in August, 1941, via Egypt, to the Western Desert, and was an independent Brigade directly under the command of Army Headquarters.
| After taking part in a number of engagements, including an exciting raid on Jalo in
December 1941, when Major Tuckey, the Battalion second-in-command, was acting
Brigade Major for the Brigade, May, 1942, found the Battalion at the extreme Southern end of our defences running through
Agheila, guarding the left flank, which was held by the French Foreign Legion. The 29th Brigade had constructed and occupied a brigade box near Bir El
Gubi. Towards the end of May, strong German and Italian columns, moving far south, had outflanked the main battle positions and carried out a daring raid and attack on our lines
of communication near Bel Hamid, some 200-300 miles behind our forward positions. The 29th Brigade was hurriedly withdrawn from the box at Bir El Gubi and moved rapidly back to the area of Sidi
Rezegh, where it was hoped to contact the German forces. The latter, however, had withdrawn southwards and Brigade was detailed to take up a defensive position, the
1st Battalion sector of which was on an escarpment covering Sidi Rezegh. The Battalion arrived on
21st May 1942.
June 1st, 2nd and 3rd were spent in developing the defensive position on this rocky escarpment. Patrols in Motor Transport of approximately 2 Sections strength were sent out to watch for the approach of the enemy from the south-east, South and South-West. A patrol sent out by “A” Company (Capt. Bowen) from 7 Platoon under Sargeant Miller, went to the south-west. Having travelled some three miles and reaching the escarpment, they discovered an A.D.S. (Advance Dressing Station) completely wiped out by the enemy. Medical Officer, Orderlies and ambulance drivers, and patients were found shot. The patrol found the black hackles of the Italian Ariete Division scattered about the A.D.S.
|The “Glorious 1st of June” was not forgotten. Major Tuckey and C.S.M. Bruton arrived in the nick of time with a supply of beer for all ranks, and the Officers entertained the Serjeants for a short time in the evening.
It was quite impossible to dig, and, as the compressors were not available, most positions were built up with rock. There was very little air activity by day, but by night low-flying aircraft dropped bombs continuously. On the night of 2nd, at 2330 hours., four 500-pounders and two 1000-pounders fell in the Battalion area dropped by an Avola at about 300 feet. All failed to explode. Luckily, they thought the position of the Battalion was at the bottom of a broad valley, not on top of the escarpment, where we were bivouacing in the open. On Thursday, June 4th, there was another threat from the German forces in the south, and the Battalion was hurriedly moved to El Adam to occupy a box at Pt. 650; but on arrival the orders were cancelled and that night the Battalion returned to Bel Hamid to protect the L. of C. (It may here be mentioned that the area round Bel Hamid was a very important one as it contained enormous dumps of petrol and supplies.) Friday, June 5th, was spent in the Bel Hamid area. On Saturday, the 6th, about 1400 hours, further German attacks were expected and the Battalion was sent to Sidi Rezegh. However, these attacks had not materialised by 1800 hours., and the Battalion was withdrawn again back to Bel Hamid. B” Company, with one troop of 25-pounders and a wireless section under the command of Major Dodd, was sent out as a “Jock” column to the Bir Hachim area to assist in the withdrawal of the Free French. The column was known as “Buttercup” and considerably harassed the German communications. “B” Company eventually joined the Battalion 24 hours after the Battalion arrived at Pt. 187.
The following day, Sunday, 7th June, was spent in the Bel Hamid area, but that night orders were received for the Battalion to rendezvous south of Acroma. The 1st Battalion Worcesters had now left the 29th Brigade and had become an independent force with the 62nd Battery 3rd Field Regiment, “A” Troop 3rd Light Ack-Ack Battery, “A” Troop “B” Battery 95th Anti-Tank Regiment, and 20th Field Company. I.E., all under command.
|The Army had lost more tanks than it could afford, compared with the Germans, and although it was not generally known, it had been decided to withdraw the Gazala line southwards to Tobruk.
This line was being held, in addition to 50th British Division, by the 1st South African Division, a good one, and, right away down on the left, by some Free
French and the Foreign Legion. The left part of the line was to be withdrawn first, covered by defensive positions, the main one called Knightsbridge, which had been organised by the Guards Brigade amongst others, situated some 20-30 miles
South and West of Tobruk.
On arrival south of Acroma, the Battalion and attached troops came under command of 22nd Armoured Brigade and received orders to establish a defended box at locality Pt. 187, some 6 miles south of Acroma. This was first of all to provide a defensive position behind which British tanks could rally, and also with a view to, as it turned out, covering the withdrawal of the 50th Division and the 1st South African Division from the forward line, back to Tobruk.
The Battalion arrived there at approximately 1800 hours. The site selected was with the two forward Companies astride a small ridge running through Pt. 187, covering a strong gun line behind the ridge. This ridge commanded all the ground up the Rigel Ridge some 4 miles to the south-east, with Knightsbridge behind Rigel some 7 to 8 miles south of Pt. 187. The ground behind Pt. 187 (i.e. to the north) held many sandy patches, which later proved invaluable. The ground beyond the box to the north was a flat open plain for about 4 to 6 miles running up to an escarpment some 50 or 100 feet high, along the back of which ran the main road from our forward line to Tobruk.
|| The box was constructed in a rough square, the sides being some 1000 yards long,
and a minefield was eventually constructed 500 yards in depth all round, mined to a density of one mine per yard, with two entrances in the rear face, and later two large dummy minefields were constructed running out to each flank.
The layout in the box was two forward Companies holding the front or southern face and two supporting Companies covering the side and rear faces. The eight Battalion 2-pounder Anti-Tank guns were sited for direct fire covering the southern face, including portions of the West and East faces. One troop of four under command of Lieut. Lynes covered the southern face and the other troop was under command of Lieut. King.
|“B” Battery 95th Anti-Tank
Regiment and the three Bofors of the 3rd Light Ack-Ack Battery covered the sides and rear.
Only essential vehicles, i.e. two pounder transporters, carriers and one or two staff cars and 15
cwts, were allowed in the box. The ground was too rocky to accommodate more, All 25-pounder
guns. Quads (Morris C8 artillery tractor) were sent back to a position behind the ridge (Pt. 160) to the north of us. (These came under heavy shelling at about 1800
hours, 14th June, in an attempt to extricate the guns.) As it was, the few sandy patches in the box were utilized to the limit with positions carefully camouflaged with large numbers of nets, and growing wheat carefully replanted. The Battery of 25-pounders was located in the northern half of the box.
Between the 9th and the 12th of June, work was continued by day and night.
All the field guns were deeply bulldozed into the ground in sandy patches, which were hidden from view behind Pt. 187, the other side of the crest.
Aid posts were dug and all vehicles were well dug in. The positions of the supporting Companies were comparatively easy to construct, but those of the forward Companies, in full view of country to the south, were in very rocky ground and all had to be dealt with, with compressors, in the later stages at night, when the position became under view from enemy columns.
On the 11th June, the Corps Commander visited the box and explained the seriousness of the situation. During the past few days we had lost a large number of tanks (one report said 100 in one day), and it was expected that we should be heavily attacked pretty soon. Throughout the 12th June, large numbers of German and Italian aircraft were continually crossing near the box, too high to be a reasonable target, and they appeared to completely ignore our presence. Fighting had been observed going on in the Knightsbridge area, and on Saturday, 13th June, the Worcesters box was shelled for the first time. British tanks, which were lined up on the 187 ridge running to the west during the day and withdrawn northwards at night, were machine-gunned by three Tomahawks at dusk on this day. During the morning, heavy shelling and dive-bombing attacks could be observed on the Scots Guards’ box at Rigel. At 1400 hours the enemy attacked the Rigel position from the west and south-west 62 Battery, under command of 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, opened fire on the German attack, directed from an O.P. (Observation Post) on Rigel. By 1700 hours, the enemy appeared to have penetrated the Rigel defences and to have captured part of that box. Some of British tanks appeared from the East and put in an attack. As dusk fell the situation appeared to be very confused, but our tanks appeared to have dislodged some of the enemy. This tank battle at dusk was a remarkable sight, with the British tanks trying to close in with their small two pounder guns, and the Germans withdrawing to the line of their carefully dug-in 88 M.M.’s. In the half light the tracer shells, like innumerable red balls, seemed to cruise almost lazily backwards and forwards with the occasional bursts of machine gun tracer bursting like a rain of sparks as they ricocheted off the rocks. These were mainly directed against our carrier patrols, when they became too audacious. Carrier patrols were continually in action outside the box right up to the morning of the 14th June. It should be mentioned here that 1st Worcestershire Regiment and troops under command came under command of the 2nd South African Division on about the 12th June, and having only one W.T. (Wireless Telephone) link with Division, and that by key, very little information could be obtained about the situation. Patrols sent out in front of the box to the south could not penetrate owing to enemy tanks.
the night of Saturday/Sunday, 13th/14th June, stragglers from the Scots Guards and Sherwood Foresters brought contradictory reports of the evacuation of Knightsbridge and Rigel. 22nd
Armoured Brigade entered our minefield in front of “B” Coy. Two tanks had their tracks blown off. One was later salvaged, but the other was set alight the following morning, and, unfortunately, acted as a ranging point for enemy artillery for the remainder of the action. How “B” Coy. cursed that tank.
The 1st Worcesters were now an isolated box covering the main road leading our forward positions
to Tobruk, and some 6 miles south of it. The fall of the box would mean that the enemy forces would cut our main line of communication along the coast, down which it was believed our forces were withdrawing.
|Dawn on the 14th saw our position attacked. The compressor (manned by
South Africans) working in “A” Coy. forward section areas was withdrawn and left the box half-an-hour before the battle started at dawn on the 14th. First of all, away in the distance coming slowly towards us could be seen line upon line of tanks, and away behind them glimpses of lorried infantry. As the visibility improved, German Commanders could be seen standing up in their tanks, using their field glasses to search the ground. They seemed chary of what they would find and did not hurry. Our Battalion Anti-Tank guns had orders not to open fire until the German targets were well within range—maximum 500 yards. In other words, when they were at the outer perimeter of our wire. The Germans apparently did not realise that the position was held and some of the personnel of the leading tanks, which arrived at the wire opposite “D” Company’s front, got out and examined the defences.
Our Battalion Anti-Tank guns then opened fire, causing the Germans no little surprise and some tanks were hit. The Germans replied with heavy machine gun fire all along the face of Pt. 187. From then, the battle developed fast and furiously. The forward Bren gun of “D” Coy. jammed. Major Nott, seeing this Bren gun unable to fire some 150 yards away, dashed down the slope of 187 through an absolute hail of machine-gun bullets and got it to go and had some very pretty shooting at Germans on the face of the minefield.
|His very gallant action resulted in a large number of casualties amongst the Germans. More and more German tanks arrived and, with the wind getting up from the south, a dust storm started, increased by the milling tanks outside the box. However, for a long time visibility was still very good.
| At dawn, 14th June, the mortars were very short of bombs, having only 180 (120 H.E., 60 smoke) between six mortars. But at approximately 1000 hrs., Capt. Sargeant arrived with a convoy of 3-tonners. He not only brought a further much needed 500
3 inch mortar bombs, mostly H.E.
(High Explosive), but also the Battalion beer ration. A gallant effort, as they had driven flat out some four miles across the desert under heavy shell fire to reach the box. The gunner O.P. situated near the
south-west corner of the box and our own O.P.’s continued to send back valuable information and the 25-pounders were firing rapidly and continuously, and a number of German tanks were knocked out. The Germans seemed averse to working round the flanks of the position.
No doubt they were deceived by the long dummy minefield. They kept hammering away at the front face of Pt. 187 ridge, where all our observation posts, except one, were situated. The German Air-bursts were particularly nasty, but not numerous. They appeared to indicate range and targets in this way.
During the morning, two very determined attacks were driven off by the help of our mortar fire, and on one occasion a mortar bomb dropped right in the centre of a tank, completely destroying it. A second bomb landed later on in a German half-track, which was also blown up.
|By noon, things had really got very exciting.
There were German tanks well around the front of the perimeter and working round the sides, but difficult to see owing to the blowing sand. Three tanks worked right round to the rear, but “B” Troop of the 25 L.B.R.’s swung round and gave them such a reception that one was knocked out immediately, a second blew up in a cloud of flame and smoke whilst retiring, while the third disappeared into the dust-storm. Our gunners were continually switching from targets in front of the box to engage tanks at close range on both sides. Shelling had become very heavy in the box, as the Germans had evidently brought up many more guns and were searching for our 25-pounders which were doing such good destruction. The box reeked with smoke, bursting explosives and churned-up earth from the heavy shelling. The day before, an observation post, manned by two men of the Intelligence Section, had been established well outside the perimeter on the western flank on a little feature. Throughout the morning, this O.P. kept sending back most useful reports of German tank movements and were able to give some good targets. In the end it was overrun, and the last message that came back over the ‘phone from the senior of the two of the Intelligence Section, was that he was afraid to talk
too loud for fear of being overheard, as the German tanks were all round him. (That evening it was observed that several German tanks had been knocked out quite close to this O.P.)
|By the middle of the day some 20 German tanks had been accounted for, about half by our Battalion Anti-Tank guns and the remainder of the bag going to the 25-pounders. By this time, nearly all our Battalion Anti-Tank guns had been knocked out.
Casualties were mounting up and the R.S.M., on going to his own particular dug-out for a moment, was surprised to find that it had completely disappeared and in its place was a large shell crater. Forward rifle Companies had been very heavily engaged, and there is no doubt that heavy casualties had been inflicted on the Germans. During the morning, requests had been made for aircraft and tank support, but it was not forthcoming, and a heartening message was received from the Army Commander congratulating the Battalion on their stubborn resistance. Orders had been originally received that the Battalion was to hold the position until dusk. At about 1300
hours., there was a distinct lull in the shelling. So much so that it was possible for some Companies to have a meal and a bottle of beer. It appeared that the original German plan, which must have been to overcome the box within 2 or 3 hours and get to the main Acroma Road, had failed, and, like all German plans, which are never flexible, time had to be spent on making a fresh one.
About 1400 hours, the shelling re-commenced with increased violence. The Germans had evidently brought up a lot more heavy guns. The sandstorm was increasing in density and visibility was reduced at times to about 20 yards.
|This dust-storm was so thick that our L.M.G. ‘s
(Light Machine Guns) were out of action 90 per cent of the time, due to the impossibility of keeping the sand out of the mechanism. The infantry battle was almost entirely fought with rifle and mortar. The Boche spandaus covered in their tanks were in a different position, and were continuously rattling away with apparently never-ending bursts of 100-150 rounds at a time. C.S.M. Knox said he’d never experienced such wonderful shooting as “B” Coy. had that day between 1500-1600 hours. The Hun Infantry came in extended line and their (“ B” Coy.) rifles were continually engaged at rapid for about one hour.
Some used as many as 8 bandoliers. Making use of this sandstorm, German tanks were able to bring up mine detector parties and clear ways through the minefield, especially on the southern end and on the western and eastern faces. Glimpses were got of them occasionally through the storm. It is difficult to realise unless you have actually been in one, what a really bad sandstorm is like. It can be very thick indeed, with visibility almost nil, and yet for occasional fleeting moments you get glimpses through it of what is happening quite a long way away. On one of these occasions a large German tank recovery vehicle was seen at work well within our wire defences and was promptly knocked out by the 25-pounders. A number of tanks and vehicles were recovered by the Germans during the battle. By this time, the two mortars supporting “D” Coy. had fired 580-600 bombs between them. The base plate of one had to be changed as it was distorted into a deep “V.” Moving ammunition up was no small task under heavy shelling, but was achieved by using carriers. One
Sergeant (Sgt. Thomas Bigrigg) was killed and two Corporals wounded in the forward O.P. of “D” Coy. H.Q., which was
only one foot deep and under incessant fire. About 1700 hours., German shelling increased in violence and the battle was raging on all other sides of the box.
At this time a mutilated message in cipher was received from 2nd South African Division which ended up “leave immediately.” The battle was now at its height and it would have been quite impossible in any case to break off then, and a message was sent back to that effect. There had been signs of German tanks working round to the rear face of the box and the two exits were now closed with mines. It was estimated that some 60-80 German tanks with guns and infantry had now launched themselves against the southern and part of the western and eastern faces of the perimeter. It was afterwards found that the Battalion had been attacked primarily by some 65 tanks with a further 74 operating later. (These latter were mainly the Italian Ariete Division, who kept up a heavy bombardment on “A” Company’s front to the
|The original intention had been to withdraw the Battalion under cover of darkness.
By now, our O.P.’s had been obliterated and also many of the defences on Pt. 187. It was obviously only a question of time before the box would be completely overrun, as German tanks were already
well within our wire defences on the western and eastern sides, and it was impossible to keep them in check owing to the density of the sandstorm.
It was therefore decided to attempt a withdrawal. With difficulty, verbal orders were delivered to Companies, in most cases personally by the Adjutant. The rear mortars fired off all their remaining ammunition, mainly smoke, before retiring and assisted in the withdrawal. Everything that could be destroyed was destroyed, including valuable supplies of beer and whiskey, and under cover of a very heavy smoke barrage from the 62nd Battery 25-pounders the withdrawal commenced. The 62nd Battery had done magnificent work with their 25-pounders. During the day they fired over 600 rounds per gun. Before retiring, 2nd/Lieutenant J. J. Horton lit the fuse (I.D.) of a mine trap, which he had laid just outside the inner dannert wire. The trap consisted of mines, grenades, shells, etc. at intervals connected by F (I). The “bag” was a Boche machine gun team. The forward Companies withdrew to the line of the guns while the exit gaps were cleared. These Companies were then to withdraw from the box covered by the rear Companies.
|With the exception of artillery and evacuation of wounded, the withdrawal would be on foot as far as the main road near Acroma, where motor transport was expected. Three tanks were observed moving from south to north (slowly) on our side of the perimeter at some 700 yards.
These tanks kept up a continuous hail of fire (M.G.), which caused casualties amongst the gunners.
Heavy machine-gun fire and shelling from tanks on both sides made it impossible to clear exit gaps completely.
This and point-blank shelling from tanks destroyed four of the eight 25-pounders, and they afterwards had to be put out of action. A Bofors gun suffered a direct hit by a mortar bomb. The entire crew were either killed or wounded. A number of wounded had been evacuated throughout the day, but there was still a number of stretcher cases in the box. The majority of these were got out in the ambulances and in carriers. A number of wounded being taken out in lorries were blown up by shell fire.
|| A certain number could not be taken and were too badly wounded to be moved, and our padre, the Rev. R. D. de Welchman, gallantly stayed behind to look after them. He was taken prisoner and later on was with them in Italy. Companies had orders to rendezvous on the main road some 4 or 5 miles back under the senior Company Commander, Major Nott, with the exception of two platoons who stayed in the box and fought to the end covering the withdrawal of the Battalion Companies withdrew in good order and, owing to the dust and smoke from burning vehicles and tanks, were very little shot at on the way back. As the sun went down, the wind dropped and on all sides of the box numbers of knocked-out German tanks could be seen, especially on the southern side, while other tanks
then came up rather half -heartedly, lined themselves on three sides and opened heavy machine-gun fire into the box for a long time, before going right inside and taking prisoner the few who were left.
|Just before dusk, our last little party left the outskirts of the box and made its way
towards the escarpment in the distance. They were fired at by a few German tanks with small armour piercing shells. The Germans had had a hard knock and very heavy casualties, and obviously were not prepared to do more than make use of the cover afforded by the box. Nearing the escarpment, a few of our own tanks were seen lined up under the hillside.
A few British tanks were on the west flank of the withdrawal between the box and the escarpment.
They had to move forward frequently to avoid German artillery shelling, which was coming quite close to them until they moved again.
These tanks were armed with guns of small calibre, and would not have been a match for the German tanks. On the slopes of the escarpment, a small party of Coldstream Guards, who had no doubt helped to cover our withdrawal, were seen.
|Officers who had watched the battle throughout the day through field glasses expressed their amazement at the toughness of the Battalion and were most impressed by the orderly withdrawal.
Dusk was now falling rapidly and the box had done its work. The 1st Battalion Worcesters and attached troops, true to the regimental motto, had stood ' firm' and borne the full onslaught of all the German armour that day. The Battalion had carried out its task and successfully covered the withdrawal of the 1st South African Division back to the Tobruk defences, and the 50th (T.T.) Division through Tobruk to Mersa Matruh.
After the battle, on totalling up German losses, it was found that they had lost 35 tanks, one large recovery vehicle, and very large numbers of lorries containing German infantry.
REPORT ON THE ENGAGEMENT AT TOBRUK on 20-21 JUNE,
by Captain R. L. Dray, M.C., Adjutant to the 1st Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment.
Since the withdrawal to Tobruk, from the defended box at Pt. 187 South of Acroma on 14th June, the Battalion had come under command 201 Guards Brigade The Brigade held in reserve were allotted a counter-attack role. During the period 18-20 June the Battalion were re-equipping. This had been in the main completed by the evening of 20 June, except that it had not been possible to replace the eight 2-pounder anti-tank guns put out of action during the previous engagement, Ten spiggot mortars were finally drawn, but could not all be mounted in time. The Battalion had no troop carrying transport. Approximate strength of the Battalion was just over 500 all ranks.
The Battalion less “B” Coy. was in a reserve position near Pilastrino Fort.
0600 hours - Information was received of a possible attack.
0630 hours - Heavy air attacks by Stuka bombers were seen in the south-east sector. Heavy firing broke out and continued throughout the morning.
1000 hours - Information was received of a break-through by the enemy. Heavy dive-bombing attacks continued in the south-east sector and formations of J.U. 88 bombed the whole area. The battalion position was bombed with heavy bombs (including one-ton bombs).
hours - Brigade informed that 60 tanks had broken through 'In the Mahratta Regiment’s area, but that the situation was very confused. A counter-attack by tanks supported by two companies of the Coldstreams had been launched.
1400 hours - A lull in the firing. The I.O. (Intelligence Officer) reported the situation was most confused at Divisional H.Q. Owing to the failure of the counter-attack and the presence of enemy tanks on the Tobruk-Bardia-El Adem road junction, it had been decided to establish a new defensive line drawn North and South about 2,000 yards forward of 201 Gds. Brigade H.Q. It was also understood that a relieving force was on its way to Tobruk.
1530 hours - The new line held by the Coldstreams and Sherwoods was reported as established by Brigade H.Q. This information was passed to 5 S.A. Brigade
1700 hours - Heavy firing begins again, the battalion heavily shelled and further air attacks are launched on our positions to the East.
1800 hours - Communications with Brigade H.Q. cut.
1830 hours - Enemy tanks observed proceeding to Tobruk on main road below the Southern escarpment. Our tanks moving parallel and about 1,000 yards. West— among our tanks many casualties were observed.
1900 hours - An officer is sent to contact Brigade H.Q., but discovers that Brigade have been overrun. 4th South African Brigade move out to White Rock. The Battalion are no longer in touch with any other formation.
2000 hours - A lull in the fighting above the escarpment. Large fires and explosions seen in Tobruk.
Remnants of the Coldstreams with some anti-tank guns (6-pdr.) and one platoon of the Sherwoods take up positions near Fort Pilastrino. 3rd South African Field Regiment under command Lt.-Col. White, withdrawing reaches the battalion area and forms a circle ‘of guns within the infantry positions—8 guns above the escarpment and 12 below.
2100 hours - As no contact with any other formation can be made (4th South African Brigade having moved again from White Rock), Lt.-Col. J. O. Knight decides to hold position with all available troops. The position is consolidated and some mines are laid on the East during the night.
June 21st, Sunday
0130 hours - “A” Coy. armed with grenades and sticky bombs leave the area to locate and attack the enemy last known about 201 Gds. Brigade H.Q.
0500 hours - “A” Coy. return having been unable to locate the enemy, who had withdrawn from the immediate front.
0700 hours - Telephone call received from Lt.-Col. White that a representative of the G.-O.-C. had just arrived with orders to cease fire, blow up all guns and burn vehicles. Lt.-Col. J. O. Knight immediately goes to interview this representative, whose bona fide is established, and receives the same order.
0710 hours - Enemy tanks approaching in the distance.
Lt.-Col. J. O. Knight informs all companies of the orders received and orders companies to proceed independently to White Rock, attempt to collect what available transport they can and escape if possible in company columns. The previous evening a certain amount of Motor Transport had been directed to the White Rock area and it was hoped to find this there.
Battalion H.Q.’s remained until all companies had left—an attempt was made to locate "B" Echelon to collect some vehicles, but this was unsuccessful as the Echelon had moved.
22nd June, Monday
Little is known of what occurred to the Battalion after the order to try and leave Tobruk, as the major part of the unit were unfortunately captured.
30th June, Tuesday
A small nucleus Battalion Headquarters was re-opened at the Infantry Base Depot at Geneifa, of those who managed to escape. Capt. R. L. Dray, M.C. (Adjutant), Lieut. E. W. Leveratt (rejoined from hospital after being evacuated wounded from the Acroma box), Lieut. W. C. Banner (rejoined from leave), R.S.M. J. White, 23 Other Ranks out of Acroma box, 29 out of Tobruk, and 13 rejoined from hospital, after being evacuated wounded from Acroma box.
Officers of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - June 1942
Notes - The Quartermaster
Lieutenant William George Banner (250689), was on leave in Egypt at the time.
He was previously the R.S.M. and appointed to the rank of Lieutenant
Quartermaster on the 20th May 1942.
following account was written by 2nd/Lieutenant Hugh Knowles Edwards
(later Major), who was one of four Worcestershire officers drafted from
the 8th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment to the 1st Battalion in the
Middle East during January 1942. The other two officers also drafted
from the 8th Battalion were Lieutenant L. K. J. Plowright and
2nd/Lieutenant R. J. R. Hall. A forth officer from the 8th
Battalion, 2nd/Lieutenant L. J. P. Watts, was sent to the Libyan
|On 23rd May 1942 we left the Infantry Base Depot which was situated beside the Great Bitter Lakes about 20 miles south of Ismalia destined for 1st
battalion Worcestershire Regiment. On the 26th May whilst having a “brew up” we met a German Mk IV tank at a range of about 800 yards and fortunately it missed us with about 4 rounds so pushing over the precious brew we quickly dived into the 15 cwt truck and made off with some speed.
Next day we tried again and this time we were successful.
I joined "D" Company being met at a spot in the desert by 'Chota' Horton (2nd/Lieutenant J. J. Horton). We off-loaded my kit and a Bren Gun I had found abandoned the day before. I had cleared the stoppage and it appeared to be working quite well. I kept it because it was a more effective weapon than the pistol with which I had been issued. Bren Guns never did like sand!
'Chota' then left me and went in search of "D" Company, which was acting as a small ‘Jock Column’ harassing the enemy. We acted as close protection for a troop of 25-pounders.
Whilst sitting waiting for 'Chota' to return with nobody and nothing in sight, the daily lunch time dust storm blew up and the distant sound of guns died down.
| I wondered if
'Chota' would find me but I need not have worried for a dot appeared on the horizon - was it a mirage - no it slowly became a truck and
' Chota' enjoying the freedom the desert provided. ' He had found the Company and we set off to meet my fellow officers.
|For a young subaltern of just 22 years and in a battle zone for the first time Donald Nott
(Major D. H. Nott DSO MC) presented an awesome figure, being about 6 foot tall with a large red moustache to match his red hair.
He was dressed in a sheepskin jacket and an Indian Army cap, similar to an Australian hat with the left side brim up and an emerald grass green diamond supporting the regimental badge on the turned up part of the brim. I soon acquired similar headgear.
We rode around the desert in an effort to help contain the boundaries of the German push which had started on the day of our encounter with the Mk IV tank. Whether we were successful we never knew. The guns fired about four rounds each at distant targets then we would scoot to a new position usually a mile or two away and repeat the shoot.
On the Glorious 1st June each man had an issue of a can of beer (I assume that the QM or PRI had been to the NAAFI in Tobruk and got the month’s supply).
| The Company Officers assembled in a small tent (Donald
Nott, Desmond Hazlehust (Capt D. B. Haslehust, 2i/c), 'Chota' Horton, E. A. Lawton and myself); I cannot remember tasting any of my gin; I expect the higher echelon was pleased to see a replacement officer who only drank water flavoured with angostura bitters (Needless to say I have since acquired the taste for gin).
We toasted the King and the Regiment many times.
|Next morning I met the
C.O. for the first and only time: Lieut-Colonel J. O. Knight - known to all as Jock Knight. After a few more days of shooting up the enemy we moved into position at Point 187.
We were on the reverse slope of what looked like a large crater. I was sent up to the top of the slight ridge to see what was going on. I found an arena - I cannot judge the size but it might have been 1 mile across - a mass of dust from manoeuvring tanks and guns.
I stood up to get a better view with my binoculars and was obviously spotted for a few rounds landed quite close, so I became more cautious and watched the battle from a prone position for about 15 minutes more.
I then returned to Company HQ and reported to Donald what I had seen.
This I discovered later was the tank battle when we lost 350+ tanks in one day (13th
June 1942) and the area has been called ‘The Cauldron’ at which I had a ringside seat.
I was to go back to the area again at dawn. That night all the friendly forces in front of us withdrew so we were left isolated to take whatever the enemy chose to throw at us.
|When I did my dawn recce peering into ‘The Cauldron’ it was twinkling with small fires - the Germans were breakfasting.
But peace was soon shattered as we came under an extremely heavy artillery bombardment - which was to last all day
- and the attack on our position (box) started. I can remember a German officer walking up and down across our front where their engineers were lining our mines and cutting our wire. I shot at him many times with the Bren Gun but he led a charmed life.
I never was a good shot! I fired single rounds to conserve my ammunition for I only had 2 magazines.
|At about 1300
hours the usual dust storm started and the battle eased off. Donald Nott appeared visiting the two forward platoons so it seemed right for me to visit my sections.
I brewed some tea in the platoon HQ cooking dug out (each platoon had its means of cooking) and this I took around the sections giving a word of encouragement to each.
Then back to my slit trench. I got to within about 10-20 yards when an airburst shell exploded close to me knocking me to the ground.
When I tried to get up I couldn’t. Upon looking down I saw ‘Tomato Ketchup’ covering my hose top.
I managed to crawl to my slit trench and tumbled into it. Shortly afterwards my platoon sergeant and my batman
(Private Richardson) half carried/half dragged me to the RAP (Regimental
Aid Post) where the MO (Medical Officer) re-bandaged my wound. The RAP was near our guns and each time they fired most of us ‘jumped’.
At about 1700 hours we were ‘loaded’ into an ambulance and started our journey out of the box.
The ambulance was full with approximately 10 wounded, some lying on stretchers, some sitting on the side of stretchers and those who could stand stood and hung on to whatever they could. The MO was beside the driver and he cleared our mines as we passed through the minefield and wire surrounding the ‘box’.
During the journey I was asked if the vehicle was bullet-proof ‘Yes of course’ I replied but in places you could see its real structure of canvas and plywood.
|At a spot in the desert was the ADS
(Advance Dressing Station) where we were all laid out on stretchers. Whilst waiting for the next move a Messerschmitt came over at about 200 feet strafing but it was obvious when he saw the red crosses he stopped firing although he re-commenced as soon as he had passed over us.
Shortly afterwards we were placed in ambulances and taken to Tobruk where I was operated on. The operating theatre was a large room with about eight operations going on at one time.
|Next day (15th June 1942) I had a very painful journey in a convoy of ambulances from Tobruk to Mersa Matruh a distance of approximately 150 miles. I could hear aircraft - Stukas I presumed - bombing the road. We arrived at Mersa Matruh to find a hospital train waiting where I was placed between heavenly white sheets by two nursing sisters. Soon we chugged off along a track that was definitely worse for wear. Next day we arrived in the Canal Zone at No 6 General Hospital. Four Worcestershire officers were in beds next to each other - reading from left to right, myself, Sammy Mellor, Ted Leveratt and C. B. Hollerton. After about six weeks I rejoined what was left of 1st battalion Worcestershire Regiment in Cairo, but within a month we were disbanded and I became ‘regimentless’ in the Middle East. So when Tobruk fell on 21st June 1942 and most of 1st Worcestershire Regiment went ‘in the bag’ we four were safe but not sound in hospital.||
Hugh Knowles Edwards subsequently served with 4th Battalion Royal West Kents at the Battle of El Alamein. After a bout of typhoid he became an instructor at the Middle East Officer Cadet Training Unit in Palestine for 10 months. Early in 1944 he was sent to the 2nd Battalion Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry with whom he fought through Italy at Cassino and the Gothic Line. He spent most of 1945 in Greece during the Civil War then, from 1946 to 1949 he was on staff in the War Office. This was followed by another staff job in GHQ West Africa Command in Accra until 1952. He returned to the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment in Bulford and Iserlohn from 1953 to 1955 and commanded "B" Company before going to Bristol UOTC as Training Major and then 'Travelling Wing' Highland District until he retired from the army in 1960. After the Army he was administrator for the East Sussex Family Practitioner Committee. Major Edwards died on the 31st March 2001 at the age of 81.
THE TRAGIC SINKING OF
SS SCILLIN - "Friendly Fire"
|When the Tobruk garrison in North Africa capitulated in the face of Rommel’s advance in June 1942 the 1st
Battalion Worcestershire Regiment were amongst those taken prisoner.
Most of the officers were flown to Italy within a short time of capture, but the
other ranks were moved westwards through a succession of camps for 800 miles during the next five months, before being shipped across to
POW camps in Italy from Tripoli.
At first the prisoners were held in a hurriedly-constructed cage on the Bardia road, just past the NAAFI, which the Germans kept enlarging with posts and wire as the need arose. In the first couple of days food and water were short, particularly water, but then water was brought up in 40 gallon drums. Most prisoners felt that the Germans did their best in the circumstances, but some felt that more of the large quantities of British I rations captured could have been supplied to them.
|On the night of
13th November 1942 the Italian transport ship SS Scillin was en route from Tripoli to Sicily with about 815 Commonwealth prisoners-of-war on
board (including some 1st Battalion Worcestershire men) and some 200
The conditions in the hold were terrible. It was so over crowded that no-one could lie down. About half the men had dysentery and a great many were seasick. The only air and light came in through a small hatch. It was kept open during the day and battened down at night.
|The ship sailed from Tripoli on a northerly course, keeping close to the shore.
At 1929 hours on the 14th November 1942, she was sighted off Cape Bon ,some 10 miles north of Cape Milazzo in the Tyrrhenian
Sea, by the British submarine HMS
Sahib (P212), commanded by Lieutenant John Bromage.
The HMS Sahib (P212), part of a patrol line of 10 submarines deployed to intercept the enemy main fleet if it attempted to interfere with the Allied landings in Algeria (Operation TORCH). The submarine was on the surface and, as the target was an unarmed coastal ship, opened fire with her 3 inch gun, scoring 10 hits from 12 shots.
At the time the SS Scillin seemed be heading towards Africa and carried no sign or flag and as the submarine's orders were that only African-bound ships were to be torpedoed.
SS Scillin continued to ignored the warning and sent a wireless transmission that it was under attack. At 19.50
hours HMS Sahib fired a torpedo hitting the SS Scillin engine room and the ship sank by the
stern in under a minute.
HMS Sahib then proceeded to the scene to pick up survivors, and the crew were horrified to hear shouts of “British Prisoners of War” from the water. In the next 35 minutes she picked up 27 prisoners of war (26 British and one South African) and 35 Italian crew, but was forced to break off the action on the approach of an anti-submarine vessel. The survivors later reported that before the SS Scillin was torpedoed the prisoners attempted to remove the boards over the hatches in order to get on deck, but the Italian guards forced most of them back into the hold, from which they had no chance of escape when the torpedo struck.
Most of the British POW's died instantly when the torpedo blew the bottom of the hold in which the British prisoners were herded.
At a subsequent inquiry into this 'friendly fire' tragedy, Lieutenant John Bromage was cleared of any wrongdoing. At the time he firmly believed that the ship was carrying Italian troops. The Ministry of Defence kept this incident a closely guarded secret for fifty four years, telling relatives a pack of lies, maintaining that they had died while prisoners-of-war in Italian camps. It was not until 1996, after repeated requests for information from the families of the drowned men that the truth came out. The submarine HMS Sahib was attacked by bombs from escort German JU-88's and depth charges from the Italian corvette Gabbiano in the counter attack immediately after the sinking. Badly damaged, the HMS Sahib was later abandoned and scuttled.
During investigations it was found that the SS Scillin had no life-belts or life-boats and the hatch had been battened down. However, the charge of the murder of 783 prisoners was dropped in January 1947 due to lack of evidence.
|The members of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment known to have lost their lives in this incident are:|
All the above are commemorated on the
Alamein Memorial. The Column number is indicated on the table above.
1st BATTALION WORCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT CASUALTIES
is a list of all 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment men who were either
killed in action, died of wounds or died as a Prisoner of War. The
list excludes all the men who died in the sinking of SS Scillin (those
detials are above).
Following Awards were received
|More information will be added soon|