Trench on the Mareth Line

Trench on the Mareth Line

Trench on the Mareth Line

Here we see British troops advancing down a trench in the Mareth Line in southern Tunisia, probably soon after the end of the fighting (North African Campaign).


Battle of Wadi Akarit

The Battle of Wadi Akarit (Operation Scipio) was an Allied attack from 6 to 7 April 1943, to dislodge Axis forces from positions along the Wadi Akarit in Tunisia during the Tunisia Campaign of the Second World War. The Gabès Gap, north of the towns of Gabès and El Hamma, is a passage between the sea and impassable salt marshes. The 51st (Highland) Infantry Division breached the defences and held a bridgehead, allowing the passage of their main force to roll up the Axis defences. After several determined counter-attacks, the Axis forces withdrew and the Eighth Army, under General Bernard Montgomery, pursued toward Tunis, until reaching Axis defensive positions at Enfidaville.

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Contents

In 1921, the Territorial Force was reconstituted as the Territorial Army following the passage of the Territorial Army and Militia Act 1921. [4] [b] This resulted in the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division being formed. It contained the same infantry brigades as before, the 149th (4th to 7th Battalions Royal Northumberland Fusiliers), 150th (4th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, 4th and 5th Green Howards and 5th Durham Light Infantry), and 151st (6th to 9th battalions Durham Light Infantry).

Motor division Edit

British military doctrine development during the inter-war period resulted in the three kinds of divisions by the end of the 1930s: the infantry division, the mobile division (later called the armoured division), and the motor division. Historian David French wrote "The main role of the infantry . was to break into the enemy's defensive position." This would then be exploited by the Mobile division, followed by the motor divisions that would "carry out the rapid consolidation of the ground captured by the Mobile divisions" therefore "transform[ing] the 'break-in' into a 'break-through." [9] As a result, in 1938, the army decided to create six such Motor Divisions from Territorial Army units. Only three infantry divisions were converted into motor divisions prior to the war, this included the 50th alongside the 55th (West Lancashire) and the 1st London. [10] [11] The reform intended to reduce the division from three to two brigades along with a similar reduction in artillery. [10] French wrote that the motor division "matched that of the German army's motorized and light divisions. But there the similarities ended." German motorized divisions contained three brigades and were as fully equipped as a regular infantry division, while the smaller light divisions contained a tank battalion. Whereas the motor division, while being fully motorized and capable of transporting all their infantry, contained no tanks and was "otherwise much weaker than normal infantry divisions" or their German counterparts. [10]

Following this, some of the division's infantry battalions were converted to anti-aircraft regiments, [c] and the entire 149th Brigade was converted into divisional support units for other formations. [d]

Buildup to the Second World War Edit

Throughout the 1930s, tensions built between Germany and the United Kingdom and its allies. [14] During late 1937 and 1938, German demands for the annexation of Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia led to an international crisis. To avoid war, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, met with the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in September and came to the Munich Agreement, the German annexation of Sudetenland. [15] Chamberlain had intended the agreement to lead to further peaceful resolution of differences, but relations between both countries soon deteriorated. [16] On 15 March 1939, Germany breached the terms of the agreement by invading and occupying the remnants of the Czech state. [17]

On 29 March, the British Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha announced plans to increase the Territorial Army (TA) from 130,000 men to 340,000, doubling the number of divisions. [18] The plan was for the existing divisions to recruit over their establishments and then form Second Line divisions from small cadres that could be built upon. This was aided by an increase in pay for territorials, the removal of restrictions on promotion that had been a major hindrance to recruiting during the preceding years, the construction of better quality barracks and an increase in supper-time rations. [18] [19] The 23rd (Northumbrian) Division was to be created as a Second Line unit, a duplicate of the 50th (Northumbrian). [20] Despite the intention for the army to grow, the programme was complicated by a lack of central guidance on the expansion and duplication process and issues regarding the lack of facilities, equipment and instructors. [18] [21] It had been envisioned by the War Office that the duplicating process and recruiting the required numbers of men would take no more than six months. [21] [22] The 50th (Northumbrian) Motor Division started this process in March, creating new units based around an initial cadre of just 25 officers and men. [23] [24] In April, limited conscription was introduced. At that time 34,500 militiamen, all aged 20, were conscripted into the regular army, initially to be trained for six months before being deployed to the forming second line units. [20] [25] The process varied widely in the TA divisions. Some were ready in weeks while others had made little progress by the time the Second World War began. [21] [22]

The division, along with most of the rest of the TA, was mobilised on 1 September 1939, the day the German Army invaded Poland. From the new units it created in March, the 50th Division created the 69th Infantry Brigade as a Second Line duplicate of the 150th Infantry Brigade, and the 70th Infantry Brigade as a Second Line duplicate of the 151st Infantry Brigade. These brigades had been created by the outbreak of the war and were administered by the 50th Division until the 23rd (Northumbrian) divisional headquarters was formed on 2 October 1939. At this point, they were transferred to the new division. [26]

The war-time deployment of the TA envisioned the divisions being deployed singly, to reinforce the regular army that had already been dispatched to the European mainland, as equipment became available. The plan envisioned the deployment of the whole TA in waves, as divisions completed their training. The final divisions would not be transported to France until a year had elapsed from the outbreak of war. [27] In October, the division was concentrated in the Cotswolds to train for overseas service, which continued into the winter. In January 1940, the division was moved to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). [28] The division disembarked at Cherbourg on 19 January 1940, and was assigned to II Corps. By March, the division was at work preparing the defences in the Lille—Loos area. [29]

When the German attack began on 10 May, the British and French enacted their Dyle Plan and advanced to the River Dyle in Belgium. The next day, the 25th Infantry Brigade and other supporting units were added to the division while it was in reserve on the Belgian border. It was ordered to moved on 16 May, and the division headed towards Brussels and took up positions on the river Dender, only to end up part of the Allied withdrawal. By 19 May, it was on Vimy ridge, north of Arras. [30] It had become known to the Allies that the German Army's southern spearheads had pierced the Peronne–Cambrai gap and were threatening Boulogne and Calais, cutting the BEF's lines of communication and separating it from the main French armies. A plan by French General Maxime Weygand to close this gap between the French and British forces included Frankforce (after Major-General Harold Franklyn, GOC of the 5th Division), consisting of the 5th and 50th Divisions and the 1st Army Tank Brigade attacking southward, and French divisions attacking northward from around Cambrai. [31]

Arras Edit

Instead of divisions, the attack was made by two battalion sized columns, with many tanks of the armoured units already unserviceable. Of the 5th Infantry Division's two brigades, one had been sent to hold the line of the river Scarpe to the east of Arras, together with the 150th Brigade of the 50th Division, while the other was in reserve. [32] The two columns comprised the 6th and 8th Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry (D.L.I.) of 151st Brigade supporting the 4th and 7th Royal Tank Regiment (R.T.R.), one of each in both columns, artillery and other supporting troops, totalling 74 tanks and around 2,000 men. Attacking on 21 May, the right column (8th D.L.I. and 7th R.T.R.) initially made rapid progress, taking the villages of Duisans and Warlus and a number of German prisoners but they soon ran into German infantry and Waffen-SS, and were counterattacked by Stukas and tanks and had many casualties. The left column (6th D.L.I. and 4th R.T.R.) also enjoyed early success, taking Danville, Beaurains and reaching the planned objective of Wancourt before running into opposition from the infantry units of Generalmajor Erwin Rommel's 7th Panzer Division. [33] [34]

French tanks and troop carriers enabled British soldiers to evacuate Warlus, and the carriers of the 9th Durham Light Infantry (in reserve) helped those in Duisans withdraw to their former positions that night. [35] Next day the Germans regrouped and continued their advance Frankforce had taken around 400 German prisoners and inflicted a similar number of casualties, as well as destroying a number of tanks. The attack had been so effective that 7th Panzer Division believed it had been attacked by five infantry divisions. The attack also made the German commanders of Panzergruppe von Kleist nervous, with forces left behind to guard lines of communication. [36]

Withdrawal to Dunkirk Edit

By now Arras was becoming a salient in the German lines and increasingly vulnerable. The four Brigades of the 5th and 50th Divisions [e] were becoming hard pressed and on the night of 23–24 May received orders to withdraw to the canal line. [38] After fighting on the canal line the 5th and 50th Divisions were withdrawn north to Ypres to fill a threatening gap developing between the Belgian Army and the BEF, after a strong German attack on the Belgians on 25 May. It was late on 27 May when the 50th Division arrived at Ypres to find their positions already being shelled and the Belgian Army being pushed north-eastwards away from them. The gap was covered by the side-stepping 3rd Division the next day. [39] On that day (28 May) the Belgians surrendered, opening up a 20-mile gap south from the English Channel, which the Germans aimed to exploit rapidly . The division was now ordered to form a line east of Poperinghe, with the 3rd Division east of them up to Lizerne, this was done by the morning of 29 May, forming the southern edge of the Dunkirk corridor. In contact with the Germans from the start the 50th Division was forced back and by late 30 May was in the eastern end of the Dunkirk perimeter. [40] The division was reinforced by some remnants from the 23rd (Northumbrian) Division on 31 May, [41] which were needed as the Germans continued to attack and shell the 50th Division's positions. [42] Withdrawn to the beach on 1 June, the 151st Brigade was informed it may be used in a diversionary attack to cover the evacuation and formed two columns, but this became unnecessary. [43] That night the 50th Division was evacuated from the beaches (150th Brigade, RASC and gunners) and the Mole (151st Brigade and others), with Lieutenant-General Brooke having estimated its strength on 30 May at 2,400 men. [44] [f]

While in Britain the division made good its losses with new recruits and convalescents, and was converted into a three brigade infantry division with the permanent addition, of the 69th Infantry Brigade group, at the end of June. This comprised the 5th East Yorkshire Regiment, 6th and 7th Green Howards with supporting artillery and engineers, from the now disbanded 23rd (Northumbrian) Division, which had been badly mauled in France. [46] It became part of V Corps on anti-invasion duty, stationed initially in and to the West of Bournemouth, later on the North coast of Somerset, after having transferred, on 22 November, to VIII Corps.

The 50th Division was first informed of an overseas move in September 1940 to North Africa, and embarkation leave was given over Christmas. After intensive exercises on the moors of Somerset and Devon, another grant of embarkation leave was given in March 1941, and on 22 April the division HQ and 150th Brigade Group sailed from Liverpool. [g] The remainder of the division, now commanded by Major-General William Ramsden, sailed from Glasgow on 23 May. [h] [47] While in the North Atlantic the majority of the escorts of the Glasgow convoy were diverted away to search for the Bismarck leaving only the cruiser HMS Exeter as the convoy's escort. [49]

In June the division landed at Port Tewfik, where the 150th Brigade and Division H.Q. was immediately sent to plan defences around Alamein. The rest of the division was sent to Cyprus, where it constructed defences on the island, especially around the airport and city of Nicosia. Reunited in July, the division continued its work in the island's pleasant surroundings, leaving in November, relieved by the 5th Indian Infantry Division. Landing in Haifa, the 150th Brigade was stripped of its vehicles and the other two brigades travelled on to Iraq, crossing the Syrian Desert to Baghdad, then beyond Kirkuk, building defences on the crossings of Great Zab and Kazir rivers. [50] In December the 69th Brigade was sent to Baalbek in Syria to relieve the 6th Australian Division which was returning to Australia. In February 1942 the 69th and 151st Brigades were recalled to Egypt. [51]

The 150th Brigade had returned to the Western Desert in November 1941. After training around Bir Thalata, it was ordered into Libya and saw action, capturing eight guns and a prisoner from the Afrika Korps. Directed to the Bir Hakeim position it erected wire, laid mines and dug trenches. Exchanging with the Free French in February 1942 it moved north, and rejoining the rest of the division took over a 25 miles (40 km) section of the Gazala Line from the 4th Indian Division. [52] The Gazala Line was a series of defensive "boxes", protected by mine-fields and wire and with little showing above ground, each occupied by a brigade of infantry with attached artillery, engineers and a field ambulance. The brigades' B echelons, with stores and motor transport, were sited some miles to the rear. [53] In the event of an Axis attack, these boxes were intended to pin down the attacking forces while the British 1st and 7th Armoured Divisions attacked them in turn. Close by to the north was the 1st South African Division, isolated to the south were the Free French. Other boxes were sited to the rear of the main line, such as the Knightsbridge Box. [54]

Patrols began, with the aims of gathering intelligence and disrupting German and Italian operations. These ranged in size from two to three platoons of infantry and anti tank guns, to battalion sized formations containing most of the arms of the division. One such operation, Fullsize, launched at the end of March consisted of three columns and was commanded by Brigadier John Nichols, commander of the 151st Brigade, who would later command the 50th Division. This ranged up to 30 miles (48 km) from Gazala to raid Luftwaffe landing grounds, in order to distract them from a Malta bound convoy. [55]

At the end of April the 150th Brigade was moved south to relieve the 201st Guards Motor Brigade in a large box with a perimeter of 20 miles (32 km), 6 miles (9.7 km) from 69th Brigade to the north and 10 miles (16 km) from the Free French to the south. [55]

Battle of Gazala Edit

By the middle of May the British were aware that Rommel intended to attack. On 26 May he launched a diversionary attack on the Gazala line, then the next day staged a wide sweeping movement around the left flank of the Gazala line at Bir Hakeim, then moved north behind it, while the Italians mounted diversionary attacks against the South Africans and 50th Division.

Intense fighting quickly developed behind the 150th Brigade box in an area known as The Cauldron, as four German and Italian armoured divisions fought and initially overran the British formations which were committed piecemeal to the battle. After two days, with the Free French holding out at Bir Hakeim, Rommel's supply situation was becoming desperate due to the long detour to the south, an increasing toll of tanks was being taken by the Desert Air Force (DAF). Some supplies reached Rommel through the weakly held mine fields north and south of the 150th Brigade box, but by 31 May the situation was again serious, such that General Fritz Bayerlein was considering surrender. [56] Rommel had turned his attention to the 150th Brigade box as a means to shorten his lines of communication and began attacking it on 29 May from the rear, using parts of 15th Panzer, Trieste Motorised and 90th Light Divisions, supported by heavy bombing attacks. The box was gradually reduced over a stubborn defence, and it was overrun by noon on 1 June, with the capture of all three infantry battalions and attached artillery and engineers. [57]

During this time the other brigades of the division, noting the flow of supplies in front of them, mounted vigorous patrols to disrupt and steal these supplies. Particularly prized was fresh water from the wells at Derna to supplement their own meagre ration, all other types of stores and weapons were taken as well as prisoners. [i] [59] This commerce raiding continued until, after the withdrawal of the Free French on 10 June and the defeat of the remaining British armour on 13 June, the remaining Gazala boxes realised they were now almost cut off. On 14 June they received orders to withdraw. [60]

Breakout Edit

The coast road leading to the east could only hold one division while it was being held open by the remains of the British armour and the El Adem box, and this was allocated to the South Africans. The 50th Division was left with the alternatives of fighting east, through the German armoured formations or taking the long way around through the Italians to their front. Obliged to destroy all they could not take with them, the division formed mixed columns (infantry, artillery, engineers and supporting arms), which charged through bridgeheads formed by the 5th East Yorkshires and the 8th D.L.I. for their respective brigades and into the Italian lines. [61] Leaving chaos and confusion in their wake, the columns headed further south around the routes the Germans took in their advance, then east and headed for Fort Maddelena on the Egyptian frontier. [62]

The enemy in the bridgeheads were Italian stiffened by a few German gunners. They were very much taken by surprise. It was late at night before they realised that a whole division was passing straight through their lines. Some vehicles went up on mines, others were shot-up, but on the whole we had very few casualties and both attacking battalions did their jobs successfully. The infantry went in with the bayonet and the Italians departed, often leaving all their arms and equipment lying about in the trenches.

After having been posted behind the 69th Brigade box, and having seen the Italians alerted to the breakout, the 9th D.L.I., and a party from the 6th, took the coastal route . Attacked by German artillery and infantry and accidentally shelled by the South African's rearguard, the column fought through the Germans and even took prisoners. [64] On 17 and 18 June the division was reassembled at Bir el Thalata. [65]

Mersa Matruh Edit

On 21 June Tobruk surrendered, and a new defensive line was made south of Mersa Matruh in similar brigade boxes to those at Gazala. In Mersa Martuh itself was the 10th Indian Infantry Division, south-east of the town, on an escarpment, was the 50th Division with a brigade of the 5th Indian Division south of them. The Germans attacked on 27 June and passed around the escarpment to the north and south. North of the 151st lay the coast road and the attack fell on the brigade and heavily on the 9th D.L.I. on the left flank. During the attack Private Adam Wakenshaw was to win a posthumous Victoria Cross (VC), the first of four to be awarded to members of the division, while manning an anti-tank gun. However, most of the battalion was overrun, [j] but the attack was not pressed further due to the Germans own heavy casualties. [67] [68] That night a large raid by the 6th and 8th D.L.I. and elements of the 5th Indian Division, was intended to disrupt German and Italian lines of communication south of the escarpment, but due to poor coordination succeeded in causing as much confusion to their own columns as to the enemy. [66] The same night the 5th East Yorkshires was heavily engaged with the Germans. [69] On the night of 28 June, with the division nearly surrounded, it was ordered to break out. Unlike the Gazala breakout, the battalion columns now faced German armour, and the ground was broken by steep-sided Wadis. The 8th D.L.I. was ambushed while driving out of a wadi and lost its D Company. The original orders had specified Fuka as the meeting point for the division, but this was in enemy hands, and some columns which had not been informed of this were captured. [70]

The 50th Division had suffered over 9,000 casualties [k] since the start of the Gazala battle, lost much of its equipment and what remained was worn out. The division was sent into Mareopolis, south-west of Alexandria, to refit. The average strength of the remaining infantry battalions was 300 men (less than 50%), and the division artillery had only 30 guns (out of 72) and all other services had heavy losses. By mid-July the infantry had been reinforced to 400–500 men per battalion and training had begun. [71]

Mitieriya Ridge Edit

In late July the division, now commanded by Major-General John Nichols after Ramsden was promoted, was ordered to provide troops for an attack on Mitieriya Ridge, under the command of the 69th Brigade, the 5th East Yorkshires and 6th Green Howards (both reinforced by platoons from the 7th Green Howards) were joined by a composite D.L.I. battalion of three companies, one each from the battalions of 151st Brigade. The hasty plan called for the brigade to pass through a gap in the mine field and clear more mines to allow the 1st Armoured Division's 2nd Armoured Brigade to pass through during the night of 21–22 July. The 5th East Yorkshires and the composite D.L.I. battalion reached their objectives, the Germans having allowed them to pass through their lines. Surrounded, then shelled and mortared for two days, with the supporting armour unable to advance, they were overrun with only small numbers escaping. [72] [73]

Second Battle of El Alamein Edit

In late July and August the division was part of the Northern Delta Force, together with the 26th Indian Infantry Brigade, the 1st Greek Brigade, the 2nd Free French Brigade and the Alexandria garrison. The division's artillery was loaned to XIII Corps as reinforcements. [74] At the start of September the 151st Brigade was detached and placed under command of the 2nd New Zealand Division in the front line, and then with the 44th (Home Counties) Division later in the month, south of the Ruweisat Ridge. Here they patrolled no-man's land and engaged with patrols from the Italian Folgore Division and Germans. On 10 October the remainder of the division entered the line reinforced with the 1st Greek Brigade, and deployed opposite the Munassib depression area, Greeks to the north, the 151st Brigade in the centre and the 69th Brigade to the south. [75]

On the night of 25 October, as part of the southern diversionary attacks, the 69th Brigade, 5th East Yorkshires and 6th Green Howards, advanced to clear the mine fields, and seize positions. After gaining nearly all of the first objectives, the attacking battalions came up against increasing numbers of anti-personnel mines, barbed wire and retaliatory mortar fire. After losing over 200 casualties, the battalions were withdrawn back to the front line. [76] On the night of 28 October, the 151st Brigade was transferred north to join XXX Corps, and take part in Operation Supercharge.

Operation Supercharge Edit

This operation began on the night of 31 October with an Australian attack keeping pressure on the Germans near the coast. Further south, timed for the early morning of 1 November, then delayed for 24 hours, the 151st Brigade with the 152nd Brigade, both under the command of the 2nd New Zealand Division, were to advance 4,000 yards to Tel el Aqqaqir on the Rahman Track, supported by tanks of 8th and 50th Royal Tank Regiments. Following them would be the 9th Armoured Brigade. The advance would be supported by a First World War style creeping barrage provided by 13 field regiments and two medium regiments of artillery. [77] The 151st Brigade, supported by the 505th Field Company, Royal Engineers and the 149th Field Ambulance, was on the Northern edge of the advance, with the 28th (Māori) battalion providing the first half of their Northern flank, the second half would be formed by the 6th D.L.I performing a right wheel halfway through the advance. The infantry had a seven-mile march up to their starting lines during which time the objective were bombed by the DAF. Moving across the start line at 01:05hrs the infantry advanced into the smoke and dust of the barrage which reduced visibility to 50 yards. [78]

The whole night to the east was broken by hundreds of gun flashes stabbing into the darkness. The shells whistled overhead to burst with a deafening crash in the target area, and from then, until the barrage closed about three hours later, the frightful shattering noise went on continually. Every twelve yards there was a shell hole.

It was well organized. On each flank – on the battalion flanks – they had Bofors guns firing tracer every two or three minutes so that you could keep on line. The barrage was going for about two minutes then they'd drop two or three smoke bombs – they were a bloody nuisance. But when they dropped you knew the barrage was lifting. You just moved in.

In the advance through the German trenches and gun lines, some had been stunned by the bombardment, others fought back, with all three battalions coming under fire. Lines through the mines were cleared behind the advance, and by dawn, having reached their objective the infantry dug in, and were in place to witness the destruction of the 9th Armoured Brigade as it charged dug in German guns. Relieved in the early hours of 3 November, the brigade had suffered almost 400 casualties and taken more than 400 prisoners. [81]

In the south, the remainder of the division, reinforced with the 2nd Free French Brigade, was tasked with clearing the mine fields between the Ruweiiat Ridge and the Rahman Track and capturing the defences around a point called 'Fortress A'. On 7 November the division was ordered to form a mobile brigade column and strike West. With all division vehicles given to the 69th Brigade and reinforced with anti-tank guns the column ambushed defensive posts and collected several thousand Italian prisoners, including the HQ of the Brescia Division. The 151st Brigade rejoined the division on 12 November. [81]

The division now went into reserve as part of X Corps, and was grouped around El Adem on the Gazala battlefield where it received new anti-tank and anti-aircraft regiments and commenced intensive training. Various formations of the division were detached, transport platoons to carry supplies forward from Tobruk, the engineers to improve the docks and roads around Sirte and the anti-aircraft regiment to protect newly captured airfields. The division, still with only two infantry brigades, returned to the front line, where it joined Leese's XXX Corps, in mid-March 1943, when the Eighth Army reached the Mareth Line in Tunisia. [l] [83]

Mareth Line Edit

Operation Pugilist, the attack against the Mareth Line was planned for the night of 19–20 March 1943. The Mareth Line was made up of a series of fortified positions, consisting of a number of pillboxes surrounded by wire and trenches, just behind the bank of the Wadi Zigzaou, backed up by a second line of such positions on a ridge to the rear. The 69th Brigade had taken the approaches to the Wadi on preceding nights, they were to attack a position called 'the Bastion' in front of the main line while the 151st Brigade supported by the 50th Royal Tank Regiment attacked the line proper to their right. The infantry were to be equipped with short wooden scaling ladders to climb the banks of the Wadi. None of the infantry battalions had regained their full strength, and opposing them were the Italian Young Fascist and the German 164th Light Divisions. It was planned that the 4th Indian Division would then pass through and continue the attack, while the 2nd New Zealand Division made a 'left hook'. [84]

The attack began on the night of 20—21 March, on the left, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Anthony Seagrim, Commanding Officer (C.O.) of the 7th Green Howards, was awarded the V.C. in clearing two machine gun posts on 'the Bastion' which briefly held up the advance, the battalion took 200 prisoners and advanced across the Wadi. On the right the 151st Brigade took the front line positions in heavy fighting, but by dawn only four tanks had managed to cross the Wadi. The next day (21 March) reinforced by the 5th East Yorkshires, the brigade advanced and took three positions on the ridge and took several hundred Italian prisoners. More tanks had crossed over but most of them were armed only with the increasingly ineffective 2-pounder gun. The passage of these tanks had damaged the Wadi crossing and only a few anti-tank guns could be moved across. On 22 March, with the DAF grounded by rain, the Germans counterattacked with the 15th Panzer Division with supporting artillery and infantry.

By evening a bloody and desperate battle was being fought out west of the Wadi Zigzaou, and slowly but surely the infantry were being driven back to the Wadi edge, until by midnight except for the East Yorkshire Regiment holding out in [a fortified position on the bank of the Wadi] there was no depth whatever in the bridgehead. Though tremendous casualties had been inflicted by the supporting artillery . they had failed to stop the enemy attack. Later even this support flagged as wireless sets with the forward troops were gradually knocked out or failed due to exhausted batteries. The men of the 6th, 8th and 9th DLI were inextricably mixed up, many without commanders, all hungry, tired and desperately short of ammunition. The whole area was lit up by the twenty seven derelict burning Valentine tanks of the 50th RTR fought to a standstill by superior enemy armour.

The 151st Brigade were withdrawn that night, the 5th East Yorkshires on the night of 23/24 March. The 6th D.L.I had started the battle with only 300 men, and was now reduced to 65 uninjured, and the other battalions were in a similar state. The 2nd New Zealand Division's flanking attack began on 26 March and was to force an Axis withdrawal. [86]

Wadi Akarit Edit

For the next several days the division was employed in tidying the battle-field and burying the dead. On 2 April the division was told to supply a brigade for the coming battle at the next line at Wadi Akarit, which runs from the sea to impassable salt marshes of the Chott el Fejej, while the Germans were distracted by the advance of Lieutenant General George S. Patton's U.S. II Corps to the west. The 69th Brigade was sent forward with the division machine gunners and a squadron of tanks from the 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters), but they were not to be supported by the divisional artillery as all available transport was being used to move Eighth Army supplies. Fire support was to come from the 51st (Highland) Division's artillery, the infantry of which were to attack on their right, while the 4th Indian Division attacked on their left. In the early morning of 6 April, the attack achieved its early objectives but then came under heavy fire which killed Lieutenant Colonel Seagrim, who had won the V.C. only recently. The 5th East Yorkshires' leading company suffered over 70% casualties, and during this attack Private Eric Anderson won a posthumous V.C., killed while attending to the wounded on the battlefield. The 6th Green Howards now passed through the first wave and also took casualties:

He was no sooner on his feet than a single shot rang out and Coughlan. dropped dead in an instant. . then my rage was up . Angrily, I grabbed poor Coughlan's machine gun . When we were about ten yards away we had reached the top of the slit trench and we killed any of the survivors, five of them cowering in the bottom of the trench. It was no time for pussy footing: we were consumed with rage and had to kill them to pay for our fallen pal. We were so intoxicated, we could not hold back, given the chance they would have killed us.

By 11:00 the battle was over, the tanks of the Yeomanry having got past the anti-tank ditch, and four hours later the 8th Armoured Brigade pushed on past the Wadi. [88] The brigade had overrun parts of the Italian La Spezia Division. [89]

The Eighth Army's attack north along the eastern coast of Tunisia, and the First Army's advance west, led eventually to the surrender of Axis forces in North Africa, on 13 May 1943, with almost 250,000 men taken prisoner, a number equal to that at Stalingrad on the Eastern Front earlier in the year. On 19 April, the division, now commanded by Major-General Sidney Kirkman (formerly the Commander, Royal Artillery (CRA) of the Eighth Army) after Nichols was sacked by Eighth Army commander Bernard Montgomery, was relieved by the 56th (London) Infantry Division and withdrawn from the front line, and on 24 April the 50th Division was ordered back to Alexandria by road. The division arrived on 11 May with all of the vehicles it had started out with some 2,000 miles previously, even though some had to be towed. [90]

The 50th Division was joined in the Nile Delta by the 168th (London) Infantry Brigade (1st London Irish Rifles, 1st London Scottish, 10th Royal Berkshire Regiment), which had been detached from its parent formation, the 56th Division, but was completely inexperienced. There, on the Great Bitter Lake and on the Gulf of Aqaba they trained in amphibious landing techniques for the Allied invasion of Sicily (codenamed Operation Husky). [91]

The invasion, planned for 10 July, would land the United States Seventh Army to operate on the Western sector, and the British Eighth Army to operate in the Eastern sector, and had as its objectives the port of Syracuse and the airfields inland. An airborne operation was to attempt to capture the bridges and waterways behind Syracuse. The division was to land on a one brigade front (151st Brigade) south of Cap Murro Di Porco with the 5th Division to their right (north). High winds scattered both seaborne and airborne landings, [m] but were able to concentrate and advance. The landing of the 69th Brigade later in the day was also disrupted, 168th Brigade was scheduled to land on D+3. Over the next few days the division lost most of its motor transport, bombed by the Luftwaffe while still on board ship. [93] Forced to march, the division was allocated the minor inland road north and urged forward by the GOC, Major-General Kirkman, fought the German Battlegroup Schmalz and the Italian Napoli Division. On 13 July contact was established with the 51st (Highland) Division at Palazzolo. [94]

Primosole bridge Edit

Operation Fustian was intended to swiftly capture the bridges along the coast of the Catanian plain by coup de main using No. 3 Commando and the 1st Parachute Brigade of the 1st Airborne Division, they would then be relieved by troops of the 50th Division. On the night of 13–14 July the British Commandos seized the bridge of Ponti di Malati North of Lentini, and the British paratroopers dropped around Primisole bridge a key bridge on the Sicilian coast south of Catania. High winds and lack of landing craft frustrated swift troop concentration in both cases, with only 30 out of 125 planes dropping on the Drop Zone at Primosole. [95] Early on 14 July, the 69th Brigade fought the Germans and Italians around Lentini, allowing the 151st Brigade, supported by tanks of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment, to make a 25-mile forced march to the bridge. The few paratroopers on the bridge were forced off it by lack of ammunition and newly dispatched German paratroopers of the 3rd Parachute Regiment, part of the 1st Parachute Division, only two hours before 9th Battalion D.L.I. arrived. [96] Attacking in the early hours of 15 July, the battalion was forced back over the river after fierce hand-to-hand fighting in densely planted vineyards, with the supporting tanks being engaged by 88mm guns. [97] [98] An attack by the 8th Battalion D.L.I. was delayed, allowing them to learn of a ford upstream of the bridge from one of the paratroopers. Before dawn on 16 July two companies of the battalion achieved surprise and established themselves across the Catania road some 200 yards north of the bridge, but in doing so lost all their means to summon the rest of the battalion. Communication was restored only when a War Office observer riding a bicycle crossed the bridge to 'observe' the battle and was dispatched back by the C.O. to bring the rest of the battalion forward. [99] [100] The arrival of the remaining two companies started a fierce battle in the vineyard, and during the day the battalion fought off a number of counter-attacks, but was slowly pushed back. Early on 17 July, supported by division and XIII Corps artillery, the 6th and 9th D.L.I. crossed the river in the face of machine gun fire and gradually established themselves on the northern shore of the river. By dawn the bridgehead was firmly established and the arrival across the bridge of Sherman tanks from the 3rd County of London Yeomanry on the Northern Shore brought about the German surrender. The battle had cost the 151st Brigade over 500 killed, wounded and missing, but around 300 Germans were dead and 155 had been made prisoner. [101]

The end in Sicily Edit

While the 69th Brigade mopped up around Lentini, the 151st Brigade rested south of the bridge, and the inexperienced 168th Brigade was sent into its first battle at Catania airfield on the night of 17—18 July. They faced veteran German paratroopers of the 4th Parachute Regiment and Gruppe Schmalz dug-in in woods and an anti-tank ditch. Almost everything went wrong, reconnaissance was faulty, surprise was lost, the advance was caught by enfilade fire and some units were caught by their own artillery fire. The brigade was forced to withdraw. Directed by enemy observers in these positions, long range artillery destroyed the Primisole bridge but left two bailey bridges intact. The 50th Division remained in these positions for the next two weeks.

On 4 August the Germans blew up ammunition dumps on Catania airfield and withdrew, and on 5 August the 6th and 9th D.L.I. entered Catania. The remainder of the advance was through territory ideal for ambush, with terraced vineyards and high stone walls resulting in many casualties. [102] With the end of fighting on 17 August, the division was rested and absorbed reinforcements. On 10 October the 168th Brigade returned to the 56th Division, then involved in the early stages of the Italian Campaign, and was permanently replaced by the 231st Brigade, which also fought in Sicily. [23] The 50th Division learned it was to return to Britain, as it was chosen by Montgomery, the Eighth Army commander, along with the 7th Armoured and the 51st (Highland) Infantry Divisions, to be among the veteran divisions to take part in the campaign in North-West Europe. [103]

During the campaign in Sicily, the 50th Division had lost 426 killed, 1,132 wounded and 545 missing it had taken almost 9,000 prisoners, mostly Italian, and had earned 68 bravery awards. [104]

Salerno mutiny Edit

On 16 September 1943 some 600 men from the 50th and 51st Divisions, convalescents from the North African Campaign, took part in the Salerno mutiny when they were assigned to be replacements for other British divisions taking part in the Allied invasion of Italy. Part of a group of about 1,500 men, mostly new reinforcements which had sailed from Tripoli, the veterans understood that they were to rejoin their units in Sicily. Once aboard ship, they were told that they were being taken to Salerno, there to join the British 46th Infantry Division. Many of the soldiers felt they had been deliberately misled and refusing postings to unfamiliar units. They were addressed by the X Corps GOC, Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery, who admitted that a mistake had been made and promised that they would rejoin their old units once Salerno was secure. The men were also warned of the consequences of mutiny in wartime. Of the three hundred men left, 108 decided to follow orders, leaving a hard core of 192. They were all charged with mutiny under the Army Act, the largest number of men accused at any one time in all of British military history. The accused were shipped to Algeria, where the courts-martial opened towards the end of October. All were found guilty and three sergeants were sentenced to death. The sentences were subsequently suspended, though the men faced constant harassment for the rest of their military careers. [105]


Rangers Carried Rifles to Make Them Indistinguishable From Their Men so as not to Attract Enemy Snipers

A haze veiled the North African coast as the Rangers and Commandos began to land at 1 am on November 8, 1942. Colonel Darby led his men through the surf and up a steep cliff path. He had decided to split the 1st Battalion and attack the two batteries simultaneously. Four companies under his command would hit the larger Batterie du Nord on a hill overlooking Arzew Bay, while the other two companies under his executive officer, Major Herman Dammer, attacked the smaller Fort de la Pointe at the harbor’s edge. The Rangers were tense and ready for action.

Colonel Darby wondered how the Vichy French defenders would respond to an attack by Americans and gripped his trusty Springfield rifle. All Ranger officers carried rifles to make themselves indistinguishable from their men and not present special targets to enemy snipers.

While Darby led his four companies toward the Batterie du Nord, the Dammer force disembarked from five landing craft and converged on the harbor fort from two directions. All was quiet ashore as the Rangers stealthily cut through a barbed wire fence, overpowered a curious French sentry, and poured into the fort. After 15 minutes and a few quick shots, the Americans captured the batteries and a 60-man garrison. Even the wife of the post adjutant was captured.

Darby’s force trekked four miles from its landing beach over bluffs, along a coastal road, and up a ravine behind the Batterie du Nord. The Rangers had to seize the fort swiftly, otherwise they would be caught in Allied naval gunfire which was scheduled if the position was not captured. The Rangers cut through barbed wire and, supported by fire from light machine guns and trolley-borne 81mm mortars, dashed across open ground to seize the fort. Several men pushed Bangalore torpedoes into the muzzles of the fort’s big guns, others tossed grenades into ventilators, and still others barged through the main entrance, shooting a sentry. Sixty French defenders came out with their hands raised.

Major Dammer, meanwhile, radioed that he had taken his objective. Darby was jubilant. The action had cost only two dead and eight wounded through token resistance, and the Rangers had acquitted themselves admirably in their baptism of fire. At 4 am, four green Very lights shot into the sky from the Batterie du Nord to inform elements of the 1st Infantry Division five miles out to sea that the forts at Arzew would not hamper their landing. As planned, the signals were supposed to be followed by four white star shells. These, however, had been lost during the Rangers’ landing.

Colonel Darby grew nervous he did not want his men endangered by naval gunfire. Eventually, he persuaded a Royal Navy forward observer party to signal a British destroyer, and she in turn transmitted the message to the American forces. Maj. Gen. Terry Allen had already started moving his 1st Infantry Division units when he saw the green flares, and by dawn the 16th and 18th Regimental Combat Teams were ashore.

Darby’s force captured more French officers and men, and Dammer’s soldiers cleaned out snipers in the harbor area. Sniping went on for three days, and when a French 75mm battery began firing at an Allied ship in the harbor, the Rangers stormed it. With Arzew in Allied hands the fighting moved inland. A Ranger company joined the 16th Infantry along the coast, while the rest of the 1st Ranger Battalion stayed in Arzew. Colonel Darby even acted as mayor of the town for a while.

Members of the 1st Ranger Battalion guard a captured gun position in Algeria. The Rangers captured the two forts overlooking the harbor at Arzew just prior to the Allied invasion of French North Africa.

He was pleased with his men. Several hundred prisoners had been taken and the Ranger losses were light, a total of four killed and 11 wounded. The training in Scotland had paid off. Darby said his men “hit the ground, fired their weapons, crawled or ran forward without deliberate or conscious thought … each Ranger knew his job, and anticipated events.”

When the 16th and 18th Regimental Combat Teams met stiff opposition at the villages of St. Cloud and La Macta, the Rangers went to assist. Lieutenant Max Schneider’s E Company commandeered a squadron of half-track personnel carriers and attacked a French 75mm battery at La Macta. The defenders threw up heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, but the Rangers, aided by supporting fire from a British ship offshore, captured the village. At St. Cloud, Company C, led by Lieutenant Gordon Klefman, encircled the village, charged across a field, and pushed the defenders back. Klefman was mortally wounded, and his last command was: “Keep going! Keep going to the right and don’t worry about me.” The French surrendered around midafternoon.

When the fighting around Oran and Arzew ended, the Rangers felt they deserved a rest, but Colonel Darby disagreed. He thought they needed more training, so for almost three months they practiced night fighting, speed marching, mountain climbing, and amphibious landings. Darby devised a way for his men to maintain contact in the dark by using flashlights with pinpoints of different-colored light. The soldiers groused, wondering if they were going to spend the rest of war in training.


On This Day in Military History

Our artillery crucified them.
A message from an observation post of the U.S. 18th Infantry Regiment, 6:45 P.M., March 23, 1943.

While Monty was slamming his forces against the Mareth Line, General Harold Alexander, the commander of the 18th Army Group, ordered U.S. II Corps to make a thrust towards Gafsa, a middle-of-nowhere Tunisian town that had already switched occupants four times (the GIs even made a song called "The Third Time We took Gafsa"). Operation WOP it was called, and it reflected Alexander's contempt for the United States Army, especially in light of the recent debacle at Kasserine Pass. The GIs would merely put pressure on the Axis forces while Montgomery's Eighth Army did the real work.

At 11:00 P.M. on March 16, 1943, the American artillery barrage commenced. However, there was no resistance whatsoever, the enemy withdrawing the next morning, before any GI could lay hands on him. Then, at 12:30 that afternoon, Gafsa was back in American hands. "If any American officer ever had the will to win, that man is Lieutenant General George S. Patton," the folks back home, across the Atlantic Ocean, were told on the radio. "He certainly won the first round today. Apparently the Nazis saw him coming and ran."

Apparently the Nazis saw him coming and ran. Patton, the II Corps commander, was rubbed the wrong way by that fact. "You should have kept going until you found somebody to fight," he angrily told Terry de la Mesa Allen, the 1st Division commander, later in the day. "I'd feel happier if I knew where the Germans were," he conveyed to the press. "As long as I know where they are I don't mind how hard they fight." The enemy kept seeing Patton and running away from him for five days, until II Corps had gained 75 miles, at the extremely cheap price of 57 casualties.


A GI gives cigarettes to Italian prisoners near El Guettar, Tunisia, circa March 1943.
The enemy had no intention of withdrawing forever, though. Field Marshal Albert Kesslring realized if the II Corps, advancing down Highway 15, made it to Tunisia's shores, the First Italian Army, still fighting at Mareth, would be trapped. Consequently, he sent 10th Panzer Division to counterattack before Patton continued his advance.

A cry went out from Hill 336, "Wop Hill": "Here they come!"
"They" were panzers, accompanied by infantrymen, advancing towards the U.S. 1st Division, across terrain that offered hardly any cover for them. The tanks fired while Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of the late President and Rough Rider, called on his own guns to respond. The Americans' situation was made worse by a peril from the skies: Stukas, and the dive bombers were so close to the ground that pistols were fired at them. Indeed, as Roosevelt imparted to his wife, "I felt I could reach up my hand and grasp them."

While Ted Roosevelt was feeling that way, the 5th and the 32nd Artillery Battalions had their own worries. The previous night, they, along with other artillery units, moved forward to support the 1st Division's expected advance. Now, because of that move, the GIs had to contend with the very real of possibility that they and their guns might be captured. Of course, they did not intend to go down without a fight. Back and forth many an artillerymen went, bringing water and ammunition, while the cry of "Hitler kommt! Surrender!" was made by advancing enemy troops, part of a two-pronged assualt that targeted the American left flank. Eventually, the defenders were compelled to fire some rounds at point-blank range, disabled their cannons with grenades, and use their small arms to make a fighting retreat.

It wasn't just the artilleriests who were unlucky on the left flank but the 3rd Battalions of the 16th and 18th Infantry Regiments as well. The infantrymen could not withstand the Panzer attack. at first. Over Keddab Ridge they went before halting at a wadi, where one of the rare instances of World War II close-quarters combat took place. "Come on, you Hun bastards!" was the battlecry of Company K of the 18th Infantry as they showered their assailants with grenades. Suffering more than 60 casualties, the company would expend 1,300 of those projectiles.

Amidst this struggle, at an oasis near the wadi, General Allen, suggested by a staff officer to move his command post, replied, "I will like hell pull out, and I'll shoot the first bastard who does." Yet the fact remained that the GIs around Highway 15 were in quite a fix. Panzers fell on the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion like a lion falls on its prey. One mauled company withdrew while another such unit resisted until all of its ammo had been expended. Like the Blitzkriegs of the past, the Germans exploited the resulting hole in the line, and it seemed as if the Americans would be outflanked. until the Panzers ran into Company A of the 601st, which opened a devastating volley of shells on them. Stuck in a boggy minefield after moving south and at the mercy of American artillery and tank destroyers, fire from whom was building up to a deadly crescendo, the Panzers fell back. "The men around me burst into cheers," Roosevelt attested. And with that, round one ended.

Round one ended. A message was intercepted that six German battalions planned on attacking again at four that afternoon, an hour's warning for II Corps. "Angriff bis 1640 verschoben" followed the initial conveyance 45 minutes later. Patton acted on this information, transmitting uncoded messages to his subordinates about the impending attack. Allen in turn acted on what Patton told him, ordering his signalmen, at 4:15, to let the Germans know that the Big Red One knew they were coming: "What the hell you guys waiting for? We have been ready since four P.M. Signed, First Division." "Terry," Patton, shaking his head, asked at Allen's command post, "when are you going to learn to take this damned war seriously?" Due to Patton's uncoded messages and Allen's heckling, the 1st Division's intelligence officer would recollect, "We couldn't read German mail for quite a long time after that."

Anyway, the Germans still launched their assualt, albeit at 4:45, five minutes behind schedule. An American officer would later make note of how they advanced: "The men walked upright, moved slowly, and made no attempt at concealment or maneuver. We cut them down at fifteen hundred yards. It was like mowing hay." Such fire failed to affect that complacency. As another officer wrote, "Eerie black smoke of the time shells showed that they were bursting above the heads of the Germans. There was no running, just a relentless forward lurching of bodies." Some German infantrymen found shelter on a reverse slope of a hill, or so they thought. American artillery zeroed in on the slope and let them have it. Brigadier General Clift Andrus, the 1st Divisions chief of artillery, witnessed the ensuing slaughter: "The battalion broke from cover and started to run for another wadi in the rear. But none ever reached it." All the while, Roosevelt, Patton, and Allen, were observing the fight from a trench on Hill 336. Patton turned to Roosevelt. "My God," he said in a low voice, "it seems a crime to murder good infantry like that." The Battle of El Guettar was over.

The 10th Panzer Division had been the bane of many an opponent, in Poland, in Russia, in France, in Tunisia. All the more sweet that it had been defeated by a relatively green outfit, the 1st Division. "The Hun," Eisenhower forecasted, "will soon learn to dislike that outfit." While the Americans did make some errors, the battle was, in the words of Patton's deputy, Omar Bradley, "The first solid, indisputable defeat we inflicted on the German army in the war."


Organization [ edit | edit source ]

Structure of the Amphibious Forces Command (COMFORSBARC).

  • Naval Disembarkation Force
      Regiment
      • Assault Battalion Grado
      • Logistic Support Battalion Golametto
      • Naval Operations Company
      • Special Operations Company (Compagnia Operazioni Speciali Andrea Bafile)
      • Logistic Support Battalion Cortellazzo
      • Battalion Schools Caorle

      The support elements of the regiment include a telecommunications center a coordination center for fire support air observer and coastal defense forces and staff.

      Advanced force and reconnaissance operations are undertaken by a separate company (“Demolitori di Ostacoli Antisbarco DOA”), tasked primarily with the clearing of landing zones and the removal of barriers, obstacles and mines. The marines can be landed by helicopters, speedboats or from submarines. The DOA trains with the commando frogmen of the Italian Fleet Command Special Forces COMBUSIN GOI, who themselves are drawn largely from the ranks of the San Marco marines. COMBUSIN wear an emerald green beret.

      Another separate company,consisting of about 180 men, the Naval Operation Company, leads the Boarding teams. These units of about 8 to 10 men conduct boardings and inspections of shipping, e.g. in embargo measures.

      A detachment of the Grado battalion parading on 2 June 2007

      The Grado battalion contains the actual naval infantry component of the Italian Navy. The battalion consists of a staff and supply company, three naval infantry companies, plus a 'heavy' company.

      Each of the three combat companies consists of three 37 man platoons and a 21 man fire support section. These companies can be brought ashore with amphibious vehicles and boats or with helicopters. In other cases they can operate as mechanized infantry with a modified version of the M113 (“VCC-1”).

      The heavy company forms the combat support component of the battalion with their air defense and anti-armour weapons as well as with the 120mm mortar .

      Logistical support is conducted by the Golametto battalion. It contains transport and logistics companies, as well as a medical unit. The members of this battalion are fully trained naval infantrymen, who give landing operations the necessary combat logistical and technical support to the Grado battalion. General tasks of support fall into the scope of responsibility of the Carlotto regiment, which supplies the Golametto battalion with the necessary materials before deployment depending upon operational orders .


      Successful Frontal Assaults in Modern Warfare

      I think the OP is referring to battles in which the main emphasis is a frontal assault, which usually only would occur if the offensive force had overwhelming force or confidence or there was no room for maneuver.

      Obviously if you break it down, almost all WW2 battles were frontal assaults with the fronts covering coast to coast, but really they were actually battles of maneuver. Concepts of Blitzkrieg and Schwerpunkt to break through weak points and then envelope as much of the enemy forces as possible.

      El Alamein, already mentioned, is probably the best WW2 example due to the natural terrain creating limited front. WW1 on the other hand consisted of almost entirely of frontal assaults. The best example of a frontal assaults here is probably Battle of Dobro Pole, which opened the Vadar Offensive. Allied units assaulted well entrenched positions on the high ground (although to be fair, the Bulgarian army was on the verge of mutiny). A second, almost simultaneous attack was repulsed by the Bulgarians to the East at Battle of Doiran. However the breakthrough at Dobro Pole was so great that the entire front would soon collapse as the Bulgarian army would race back to Bulgaria.


      1. When it teamed up with Nazis and prisoners of war to defeat the SS

      Schloss Itter (Itter Castle) in July 1979. (Photo: S.J. Morgan. CC BY-SA 3.0)

      In May 1945, Germany was collapsing and it was obvious that the war in Europe was almost done. As it ended, Allies raced to secure evidence of war crimes and the Nazis worked to destroy it. This led to what has been dubbed World War II’s “strangest battle.”

      American tankers rushed to where high-profile prisoners of war were held in Itter Castle in Austria. As a group of drunk SS soldiers marched on the castle to kill the POWs, the Americans offered to help the Wehrmacht defend themselves so that the SS couldn’t kill the POWs and all witnesses.

      So, U.S. soldiers, German soldiers, and local resistance fighters fought side-by-side and saved the lives of the prisoners. The friendly German commander was killed in the six hours of fighting before U.S. reinforcements arrived and pushed back the surviving SS members.


      This legendary arsenal made weapons for the US from 1812 to Vietnam

      Posted On April 29, 2020 15:55:35

      If there were any one weapons manufacturer that was worthy of being called the “Arsenal of Democracy,” it would be the Springfield Armory. The armory was founded by George Washington in 1777, meaning it’s nearly as old as the country itself. The Springfield, Mass. institution was the nation’s first depot for its weapons of war and has supplied the United States in every war from the War of 1812 to Vietnam.

      Today, the nation’s first federal armory is a national historic site, run by the National Parks Service and housing the largest collection of American firearms in the world. Until 1968, however, it was an innovative firearms manufacturer, producing the weapons that won wars for the United States. From the get-go, the site of the Springfield Armory was of critical defensive importance to the young United States. It was the site where New England colonists trained to defend the colony from nearby native tribes. When the time came for revolution, Gen. Washington and his artillery chief, Henry Knox, chose the site for its defensive terrain.

      After the revolution, the armory was critical to the defense of the young republic. In putting down Shay’s Rebellion, the defenders of the arsenal proved the United States was capable of maintaining its own stability and security. Later, it produced arms for the War of 1812, despite resistance to the war in the New England states, and it may have been one of the deciding factors in the Union victory in the Civil War.

      Union troops with Springfield Armory 1861 rifles.

      The mass production techniques used by the armory at Springfield were so advanced for the time that from the start of the war to the end of the war, production increased 25 fold to more than a quarter-million rifles every year. That far outpaced what the Confederates could produce. By the end of the war, the armory wasn’t just a producer, it was designing and testing new arms for the future. It was experimenting with concepts that wouldn’t become widespread for another half-century, including interchangeable parts and even an early assembly line.

      Some of the most iconic small arms ever produced by the United States to serve on the foreign battlefields of the 20th Century were produced at the Springfield Armory. The Springfield Model 1903 rifle, the M1917 Enfield Rifle, and Springfield is where John Garand developed the first practical semi-automatic rifle for military use – a weapon Gen. George S. Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”

      You may have heard of the M1 Garand.

      The last weapon the armory developed and produced was the M14, a version of the M1, but eventually, the M1 family was replaced by the M16 family of rifles as the U.S. military’s standard-issue infantry weapon in 1964. By 1968, the legendary facility would be shuttered despite producing other arms for use in the Vietnam War. When the armory refused to build the new M16, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had the armory closed.

      In the years that followed, the buildings of the Springfield Armory complex were restored and the place was turned into a museum, run by the Parks Service.

      More on We are the Mighty

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      MIGHTY HISTORY

      'Memories of Past Years' CHAPTER 5

      After a few days in the barracks in Cairo, I was re-issued with kit and sent back to my unit. When I rejoined them they were in the battle line at El Alamein.

      I was given an armoured car to drive weighing 16 ton with ¾ inch thick steel plating. My Unit had been re-equipped with self-propelled guns mounted on a tank chassis and were much bigger guns. They were American 105mm firing 35 lb shells, so now we were more like a tank unit. My officer was Lt.Henderson G.P.O. Acting Bombardier and also two wireless operators.
      The second day that I was back with my unit, when nightfall came, the barrage opened up and went on all night. It was absolutely fantastic!
      When daylight came my officer and I were standing in front of my armoured car when an armour piercing shell struck the ground three feet in front of us. If that had been an explosive shell we would both have been dead.
      That morning I saw waves of our bombers come over and drop their bombs on the Germans. I saw four or five bombers shot down and it was a terrific sight to see.
      Later in the afternoon we prepared to move. I was now driving the Command Post vehicle and we moved through one of our own mine fields. The Royal Engineers had lifted mines and put wide white tape in lines and we had to drive between these lines. Once we were through the minefields we were in the German lines. When we stopped, quite a few shells clomped down near us and the shrapnel spattered against the sides of my armoured car, but we were all inside and took no fault. Only a direct hit would have finished us.
      Soon after this, things seemed to go quiet and when we looked out, our infantrymen were marching prisoners back into our lines, there were thousands of them!
      After getting through the battle lines at El Alamein and the noise of war seemed to have passed our guns and my armoured car were right in the middle of the German front line and all the German and Italian soldiers had been taken prisoner.
      I noticed a dugout and without thinking that the Germans might have booby-trapped the place, I went down a flight of steps cut out of the hard sand. At the bottom was an oblong room about 10ft long and 6 or 7 feet wide. At each end of the room were places cut out of the sand about 2 ft high, each with a bed in place. In the middle of the room was a table and neatly folded on it were two German Swastika flags, two or three German telescopic rifles and boxes of ammunition.
      I noticed that one of the beds was an English Officer’s bed they must have captured it during our previous retreat. I took out the blankets, rolled up the bed and took the rifles and ammunition and the two flags. I had the bed for the rest of the four years I was in the Middle East. I used the two flags for sheets in my bed, but I will refer to these two flags later on. I believe now that this dug out was Rommel’s office.

      So now the Germans were on the run as fast as they could, with our armoured cars and Infantry after them, so we have a long ride back up the desert in pursuit.
      In Tobruck, my Captain, Robin Smith our observation officer, wanted to return to the place where we were bombed to see whether our men had been buried. When we had been in action Robin Smith had been out five or six miles in front sending radio messages and ranges for the guns, back to us. He and Second Lt.Henderson, my gun position officer and two wireless operators got in my armoured car and we went out into the desert to our old gun positions, where we noticed our lads had been buried and pieces of wood had been hammered into the ground with their identity discs and tin hats on top of the wood.
      After looking around the area Capt. Smith, who was supposed to know the area, said, “Drive on Mawson”, so we went about 100 yards and ‘Bang’, up we went on one of our own mines. It blew off my offside front wheel and folded the wheel rim up like a banana skin. I thought ‘That’s a fitting piece of work, after looking for our dead’ but fortunately no one was killed but Lt. Henderson had a sprained ankle when the mine blew up the floor and trapped his foot under a girder which ran the full length of the armoured car.
      The chaps walked back up my wheel tracks to the top of the rise and saw a vehicle travelling in our direction so they waved furiously and caught their attention. We were in luck as they were just the men for the job, they were Royal Engineers and they came over and lifted all the mines around my vehicle. When the R.E’s left us they took my two officers and one wireless operator with them and I was left with one wireless operator, so we were always in contact with our unit. Lesley Rundal and I were stuck there all night and in the morning a big scammel, or transport vehicle came for us. They put a towrope on to my vehicle and pulled me out of the minefield on the same tracks as we went in. They pulled the vehicle on to a tank transporter and tied it on and the sergeant in charge pulled a cover over the scammel.
      I could see a land mine about 300 yards away and the big pile of mines were 100 yards distant from the single mine. I just wanted to try out my German telescopic rifle so I took a shot at the single mine and hit it. As it exploded, instantly the big pile of mines also went up with a terrific explosion. The Sergeant felt the blast and jumped off the scammel in shock and I got a real dressing down for my action. I hadn’t expected the pile of mines to go up. Fortunately no one was hurt.
      We were taken to the Army repair depot West of Tobruk where Les and I had to wait two days for our vehicle to be repaired. Les was in touch with our unit by radio so we set off again round the high cliff top above Tobruk, which is down at sea level. When we got round to the East side of Tobruk we could look down on the quayside in the bottom. Just at that moment while we were enjoying the view we heard aircraft coming. We both lay down on the ground and as we watched they came straight for Tobruk and dived so low we expected them to crash. They dropped their bombs and pulled out of their dive and skirted up close to the cliff side and away. We couldn’t see the damage they had done for smoke and steam and the harbour was blotted out.
      We now got on our way for a good few miles and rejoined our Unit at Agedabia.
      The Unit moved off the next day round the coast road to what the troops had christened ‘Dirty Sirty’ because of the many booby traps, which the Germans had left in this village. We were warned not to go near for our own safety, so we skirted around the village and moved miles up the coast towards Misurata, where we found we were back in touch with the enemy. Now we are faced with the fortified Mareth line. It had taken us some weeks to get to this place, which was much the same as all the rest of the desert.
      Now we had our Eighth Armoured Division all ready for the attack. It was decided that we would go out into the desert under the cover of darkness and be off the end of the Mareth Line where the rough cliffs ran out and we could get around. So when daylight came we found ourselves shooting round the back of the Mareth Line. While we were there it came over on the radio that two enemy aircraft were flying towards us. So the tanks and everyone who had firearms were at the ready and we could see the planes coming. Across the gully from where we were, stood some of our tanks and they were shooting in our direction while we were shooting in theirs, a very dangerous position. When the first plane came opposite us we could see that it was one of our own Spitfires followed by a German fighter plane. But it was too late. It seemed to me later after the incident that most people shot at our own plane because the German fighter peeled away and flew back but before the Spitfire was out of sight, I saw the pilot come out of his plane feet first and his parachute never opened. His plane crashed further on and went up in a column of smoke.
      That evening we moved forward behind the Mareth Line and the place we stopped for the night was in a little valley not very far from Tripoli airfield. While we were there five German bombers were coming in to land and everyone seemed to open fire with anything that would shoot. Because the planes were flying in very low, not much higher than 60 ft, they all crashed on to the airfield on fire.
      The next morning we captured the airfield and moved past Tripoli. I never saw the place because soon we were moving past Zuara into Tunisia, past Medenine, Gabes, La Sklura and Sfax. The Germans appeared to be going as fast as they could in retreat.
      In Tunisia, wide of Sousse, we went into a very large yard with our guns in close formation where we stayed the night. In this yard an area was covered with orange blossom and what a beautiful smell! Here there was a perfume factory where they distilled the flowers in vats and put the perfume into large barrels.
      A day or two later we pressed on towards Tunis and were told that we were going to support the First Army. Whilst we were moving forward I noticed my brother in law Edward’s Divisional Sign, the Mailed Fist, so I wondered whether I would see him.
      The Germans had moved down Cape Bon, a pointed spit of land, hoping to escape across to Sicily. They tried to slow us down by placing 88mm guns here and there, but our firepower was too much for them. One gun I saw was knocked out with its gun barrel burst and the German was dead in a slit trench beside the gun, it must have had a direct hit.
      That was the end of the war in North Africa. So then I knew there would be no more shells coming at us and I could go and look for my brother-in-law Edward.

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