| December 1942 - April 1943
Leave Agedabia (Ajdabiya) area and move in desert formation. Battalion finished up about three miles wrong just before dark. After feeding the battalion began marching to previously reconnoitred positions just as dark was falling. The route lay up a track past Brigade HQ. The battalion marched on and on but failed to find any of the land marks which had been evident during the reconnaissance. So the C.O. decides to halt where he was rather than march on into the blue. The battalion bivouacked beside the track and settled down to wait for first light. About 0300hrs a message arrived from Brigade "Retrace your steps immediately", so the battalion retired the way it had come. Back at brigade the battalion was informed that it had been sleeping in "no mans land" right under enemy positions, so the withdrawal was not regretted. By first light the battalion had reached its appointed position and settled down in company positions.
The battalion moved forward to the next ridge as patrols had reported it as unoccupied and it afforded a good view of the enemy positions. The move was made by night, an advanced party having gone forward by daylight. Next morning it was found that the positions were still unsatisfactory and better ones were chosen in a bowl to the west, joining up with the 1st Gordons.
The battalion moved into this area in the afternoon and settled in behind a line of sandhill's. In front across 3000yds of open ground was the ridge on which the enemy was established. Italian soldiers could be seen walking about on the opposite skyline, with complete confidence
December 7 - 11th
The battalion remained in this area overlooking Bin Snera and the salt marshes running up to Messa Brega. Vigorous patrolling was carried out but little information was gathered about enemy dispositions owing to the great distance which still lay between our own and the enemies ridges. The battalion spent a quiet week with little attention from either 88mm artillery or from "Bouncing Minnie" the 210mm Italian gun which had raised the dust in its previous position but one.
Word came from Corps that the enemy appeared to be thinning out from his positions around Messa Bregan, and a reconnaissance in force was ordered on the brigade sector. Accordingly "D"company and the carrier platoon plus two detachments of mortars under Captain Henderson set out for the enemy position. They met no opposition until right under the left end of the enemy position when four or five Spandaus opened up. The mortars quickly brought fire down on the Spandaus positions and after some delay "D" company reached the objective taking one PoW. The PoW turned out to be a very young soldier of 115 Panzer Grenadier Regiment, who was despatched to the rear with hast.
An over zealous N.C.O. in charge of the prisoner commandeered the COs Jeep to transport him back, causing some concern in doing so.
About ten minutes after "D" company arrived on the position a large body of troops was seen to the front. The report came back that these were 100 prisoners coming in, but the prisoners turned out to be a counter attack and "D" company withdrew.
Sergeant Major Gainioch was too seriously wounded to be moved in the withdrawal and had to be left in the position. During the night the enemy withdrew and next morning the battalion advanced onto the position, finding Sgt Major Gainioch where he had been left. The enemy had removed his water and cigarettes and given him no medical attention. He died the same day in the M.D.S
The advance continued for eight miles on foot through the enemy defences which turned out to be quite deep.
The battalion advanced another 12 miles on foot towards El Aghila.
December 17 -31st
The battalion advanced another 17 miles on foot towards El Aghila (Al Aqaylah) arriving about 1500hrs about six and a half miles south of the main road.
From December 17 - 31st the battalion remained in the El Aghila area. Training was commenced in this exceedingly barren stretch of desert. Christmas and Hogmanay were celebrated as well as the N.A.A.F.I. could allow, Pork,, Christmas pudding, Beer and a Rum issue being given to the men.
War Diaries January 1943
The battalion remained in the El Agheila position. This period from December 17th to January 11th was the longest period that the battalion had remained in one place since arriving in the Middle East.
Battalion began the move from El Agheila to the Buirat area, the first leg being to Marble Arch.
Move from Marble Arch to Bir Sultan
Move from Bir Sultan to Wadi Mrah
Move to Wadi Mrah. Another sheep " acquired" for the officers mess.
The morning was spent in reconnoitring of the enemy position in front of Wadi Miras. At 1600hrs the battalion marched forward with essential transport only. Across eight miles of completely open desert, eventually contacting the brigade forward observation post and start lines about 2200hrs. 1st Gordons were to attack first with the tanks, behind a barrage and Scorpions The battalion was to pass through 1st Gordons gaps and extend the bridgehead for 3000yds to the south.
Just before the attack a message was received from Division Commander, "Slainte Bydand and Haie to the Cock of the North".
1st Gordons crossed the start line at 2230hrs behind the tanks and advanced 3000yds till they encountered an enemy minefield. The twelve Scorpions tackled the minefield but seven were knocked out before they made a gap. The field was 400yds deep and contained every sort of mine from AP to VZ Italian mines. One or two Spandaus were firing intermittently over the gapping parties heads, but they quietened down when the tanks opened up with their Bresa Guns. A gap was eventually made by 0300hrs and both battalions and their transport passed through after a long tedious wait. 5/7th then exploited south encountering no enemy.
154 and 152 Brigades passed through the gap and began to advance towards Misurata. (Misratah)
Brigade set out in the wake of the division making fifteen miles the first day to the area of the main road. Moves made in desert formation.
Battalion advanced thirty miles towards Misurata to Tauorga aerodrome area, move made in desert formation.
Battalion arrived in Misurata area spending the night to the west of the main road between Misurata and Criope
Battalion moved to the area of Zliten. This move marked the battalions entry into cultivated regions as Palm trees were abundant around Zliten and there is grass on the rolling hills inland.
Battalion moved at 0400hrs up to the main road and along it for 12 miles to an Arab infested area beside the main road, among palm groves. Water was plentiful and a washing day was had by the whole battalion.
Battalion moved at 1400hs along the road to Leptis-Magna outside Homs. (Khoms)
Day spent in Leptis- Magna area where the extensive Roman remains were inspected by the whole battalion. Orders and counter orders for the further move of the battalion to Tripoli were arriving at intervals. The battalion eventually took the road to Tripoli about 2100hrs. The road was blocked by a solid mass of cars, head to tail for about ten miles, traffic being held up by extensive demolitions. The night was spent on the road about ten miles west of Homs.
Traffic began to move again in a slow stream in the early hours and the battalion eventually reached the outskirts of Tripoli in darkness at about 0200hrs on the 25th. Having taken eighteen hours to travel a distance of about fifty miles.
The battalion moved after lunch into an orchard just outside Tripoli (Benito Gate)
The battalion was to take over VP's and guards from the New Zealand Division and the 7th Argyles, but the New Zealanders remained in the billets and seemed to have no intention of moving.
The New Zealanders moved out of their billet and the battalion moved in taking over the guarding of the Fiat and Lancia motor works, a water pumping station, a flour mill, a wireless station and a tank repair shop. One hundred men left for work in the dockyards.
Heavy rains caused the cancelling of work parties in the dockyard.
January 28 - 31st
Battalion still in the experimental farm location. Parties called for daily for dock labour.
Pipes and Drums played in massed division band before General Montgomery in Tripoli Square..
War Diaries February 1943
25th January to 10th February
The battalion stay in Tripoli was marked by an outstanding display ceremonial, alongside a period of extremely hard work in the docks for the unfortunate 'Jocks'. We eventually managed to persuade a rather browned off brigade of New Zealanders to vacate a particularly comfortable billet in the Government Experimental Farm which we then occupied. The men benefited from the fields of experimental cabbages and peas etc, while some hard bargains were struck by Pte Ellis the mess cook, for eggs. On the whole it was a rather dull period.
The new 2 I/C arrived on the 28th. A Cameron named Cameron. "Monty" spoke to all officers in the town centre on the 31st. His rather telling and true remark, which I much appreciated was, "If you are asked what you did in the war, all you need say is, I fought and marched with the 8th Army". Quite true too.
Tripoli itself is not much to write home about. Rather a bomb shattered little town with a few flea blown shops selling razor blades, soap and trash, and a moderately filthy Arab quarter. A harbour which was suitable only for small boats at that time. 1st Gordon's tell a good tale of their entry, they were the first troops in, riding on Valentine tanks of 40 Royal Tank Regiment. They arrived at 0500hrs and the General at 0700hrs. He looked around a bit and asked were they going to paint the H.D. They were a bit disconcerted and said there was no paint. "Oh I've got paint" said Wimberley, producing a pot from the back of his car. "We'll have it up there", pointing to the facade of one of the public buildings in the square, and sure enough within an hour one of the largest H.D's (Highland Division) you have ever seen was painted on the wall.
The above seemed to be something of a summary covering a period of a few weeks, the diary now goes back to sequential dates.
Churchills visit. For some days a highly secret hush hushey had been going on about a certain important person who was due to visit Tripoli in the near future. Of course every sensible man in the area knew that Churchill was coming to inspect everyone on the fifth, so kilts were got out, polishing began, trousers were pressed, and 120 good men and true from every battalion in the division were chosen to march past the great man. On February the fifth we all went down to the town early on in our best bib and tucker. Climbed into windows in the heights of the local offices around the square and waited. The streets below were lined with Tanks, A/Tank gunners, Quads, Armoured cars and you know what. The Navy was there with remarkable beards and next door a squad of giggling QAIMNS, (Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service) The Union Jack was flying from a march past booth. decorated with signal bunting, no doubt spelling out some rudery for the nautical eye.
Churchill arrived with Payet and Montgomery followed by a few very embarrassed looking 'dicks' from Scotland Yard . The only civilians in a vast army, as Churchill was dressed in the uniform of Air Commodore. He first of all inspected all the C.Os on the sea front, drove up and down the massed ranks of the Highlanders and returned to the saluting base. The march pass of the H.D. led by the massed Pipes and Drums next began. After that came Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, etc and then a company from every battalion in the Division. A very good sight it appeared with every man marching like guardsmen, and even a whole company of Cameron's in the kilt. Just as the show was over and Winston Churchill was driving away to the cheers of the populace a band of 'Wogs' who had been carefully hidden in the background suddenly broke through the Corps Military Police screen, swarming onto the road clapping wildly.
Today the battalion moved from its location in the Experimental Farm to the area of an old Italian Fort,
about seven miles out of the town. It was quite an amusing place with bags of ammunition, grenades, shells and what-you-will.
We found several old Fiat guns which the Doctor appropriated and proceeded to work on and eventually got one into working order.
To our horror an order came in predicting Divisional Games so we had to get to work with vigour to produce a team of sorts. Then it began to rain and rained solidly for 24hrs,. To combat the wet misery of life in a tent in rainy weather we decided to install a stove. It was a huge success despite the fact that the Brigadier described the whole, like a fish and chip shop, and another consolation from the rain,-- the games were cancelled.
Off again. Today the C.O. and I.O. set off for Pisada where the battalion was to relieve the 131 brigade (Queens)in its firm base line on the coastal strip. They ploughed their way through blinding rain and eventually came to the miserable little railway station of Pisada. The last town of Italian North Africa. Jerry was actually on the frontier holding the narrow belt of hard going between the sea and the salt marshes, with the 131 at the other end six miles away pretending that they were stopping Jerry breaking through, back to Tripoli. But Jerry was too busy laying mines to think about that, as we found out later. The C.O. and I.O. went busily about their task of taking over from the Queens
Company Commanders arrived in the morning absolutely soaked, and the remainder of the battalion in the evening. Little activity from the enemy except for an occasional 75mm which crumped down in front of the Queens outposts.
The Queens departed in the evening to join the remainder of their brigade who with the 7th armoured division were going to break through to the south and come up on Ben Gardane from the salt marshes. The battalion settled down, with a patrol briefed to push west along the road to see what was doing.
The patrol returned in the early hours to say that the enemy had gone. It had been almost to the frontier finding nothing but craters on the road and dummy guns, so at first light the carriers were sent out to confirm this, while "A"company bundled off to fill in the craters. At 0900hrs the C.O. went forward. At 0930hrs a message informed us that a group was to be held at the frontier. Half way up the track on our way there the I.O. saw a prisoner being marched back by a most bellicose looking 'Jock'. The I.O. interrogated in his best german and found out that the Jerry was fed up walking back and happily accepted to be captured. He stated there was no enemy this side of Ben Gardane and we had no need to worry. We carried on and this time another 'Jock' informed us that the C.O. Major Barlow, Major Cochrane, Lieutenant McAndrew the company commander of the Machine Gun Battalion and three other ranks had walked into an 'S' mine patch and were all out of action. Who was dead and who was wounded we did not know. We went on until we met the Brigade Major who gave us the full story.
Major Barlow had been on the main road when one of his men stood on a mine and it went up. Major Barlow got a pellet in the chest and was in rather a bad way. He was evacuated. The M.G. Officer was dead, McAndrew wounded. The C.O. and Major Cockrane had been moving up a much used track with "A"Company, trying to get to the frontier. Major Cochrane stood on the mine and was killed outright and the C.O. who was only five yards away got his legs, side and arm peppered and collapsed on the spot. He also had to be evacuated. It was a dismal story.
All we could do however was to let the sappers take over. This was done and the battalion came up to join us , staying the night here with "D"Company moving up behind the sappers. All types of mines were found. A slight stir was caused by the photographers who were to take our picture as we crossed the frontier. So just before dark one of the Pioneers painted a huge H.D. and the words "First across HD 92 Bydand" on the frontier building.
Next morning was fine and everyone polished up boots etc for the news reel cameras benefit. Publicity always helps. "A" Company pushing on behind the sappers moved at a very slow rate, moving about 3/4 miles per hour. Back at the frontier the fun was fast and furious. The 2/I.C. and Adjutant moved off up the road at the head of the battalion behind the Pipes playing ' Cock of the North'. At the frontier they puffed their chests out, the camera man screwed up his camera and everything seemed grand. Suddenly the head camera man rushed out into the middle of the road and shouted "Stop stop there is no film in the camera", so the whole parade stopped, counter marched and once more swung across the frontier. This time all went well and the battalion marched into French North Africa. The road made by Mussolini ended abruptly at the frontier, the French had not carried it on, and all there was, was a bumpy track leading into as desolate a countryside as one can imagine. On we plodded all day occasionally coming on craters in the road, bypassing them rather gingerly watching the R.Es remove mines at a safe distance. By 1600hrs we had made ten miles inside the frontier and stopped for the night. Misfortune bestrode us for as "D"Company was moving into position they walked into a 'S' mine patch and Lance corporal Dolan was killed, Privates Walker, Farrell and Rowland wounded. We were by this time tired of mines but a diversion was provided by the arrival of an incredibly dirty and smelly Frenchman Monsieur Carmus the chief of police for that area. He promised to guide a carrier patrol out, on the next morning, to a village on the left flank. From his information we gathered that the Germans had vacated the area two days before. He also stated that the Mareth Line had been partially dismantled by the French under Italian supervision after the armistice. Pray you it is true as the Americans have started making a mess of things on the Tunisian Front. If Jerry can get some elbow room out there everything will be OK for him for a time and he will be able to put all he has got against us. Not too good as the Eighth Army up here at present consists of one Armoured Brigade, 5/7 Gordon's and 131 Brigade.
M.Carmus set out in the morning with the carriers and departed for the village on the south of the main road. Meanwhile the battalion plodded on towards Ben Gardane (Ben Guerdane) at the same speed as the day before. Mines were found at odd intervals and another crater this time unmined. The sappers at one crater found yesterday, picked up fifteen 'S' mines and then the sixteenth exploded. Six sappers were killed and seven wounded. All day a certain amount of noise could be heard to the south of Ben Gardane. Where 7th Armoured Division appeared to be meeting some opposition. This died down toward evening and we spent a peaceful night in sight of the town.
At 0900hrs 3/4 mile east of the town the C.O. and I.O. met the Brigadier. He showed them the area we were to take up for the defence of Ben Gardane, a firm base, until the rest of the brigade arrived. Our defensive position was to be across the various tracks into the town and the battalion duly settled down. There was no evidence of the enemy for miles, Medenine being mentioned as the present battle area, but fifteen M.E. 109's came overhead during the reconnaissance and caused some excitement, as one was shot down west of the town.
In the afternoon a carrier patrol under Captain Best and Captain Yolmans left to investigate Zarzis up the coast, report on the going to battalion and see if the port was workable. They returned in the evening with the news that it was a prosperous little town with a full military government (French) The Tricolour was flying over the Prefecture and the population appeared quite friendly. This news prompted the C.O. to suggest to the Brigadier that "D"company should go out there to look after the town and aerodrome until the brigade moved up. This was agreed on and they set out the next day.
We set out for Zarzis after lunch with a convoy of Carriers, "D"company, M.Gs and Anti-tank guns and began to thread our way along the coastal salt marshes.
We had a little difficulty in crossing a wet part where the marsh joined the estuary. Zarzis was a pleasant little place and we were greeted by a very spruce little Frenchman, a Captain, who was apparently in charge. He was quite helpful and volunteered what knowledge he had of the Germans, and he said that Rommell himself had passed through only a month before but had not stayed. "D"company soon settled down in the olive grove outside the town overlooking salt marshes which had once been an aerodrome, but which Jerry had effectively ploughed up. They were soon surrounded by Arab vendors with eggs and chickens and looked like having a pleasant stay. We returned home by a drier route , finding when we arrived that two three tonner's had got bogged again in the marsh.
The rest of the brigade arrived today and we had to adjust the positions slightly, with arranging our rather scattered Corp into a more central area.
We got orders today to move up to the causeway this side of Zarzis and repair the craters in it, so off we trundled on the fiftieth move the battalion had made since the 23rd October '42. 50 moves in 119 days is not bad a record when each move entails striking camp and digging a new set of holes. The causeway ran over about a mile of wet marsh and had two huge craters in it, so we set to work right away to fill them in, carrying stones from a local rock face and dumping them in the holes which were full of water. One 'Jock' staggered up with an immense boulder, dropped it into the hole with a resounding splash and was horrified to see it bob to the surface again and float for a few seconds. It was a very porous rock and soon sank when all the air was out, but it amazed the poor individual at the time.
Still at work on the holes. The rest of the brigade began to move through towards the brigade rendezvous at the Zarzis - Medenine,
Ben Gardane - Medenine road fork, and the M.O. went off to Zarzis to see what could be brought in the 'egg' line. He did very well and procured 11 and 1/2 dozen eggs for 1/2 lb of tea.
At 1900hrs "D"company shot down a low flying plane which turned out to be an M.E. 109G, the very latest thing in flying bombers, plus a bomb sight, as its the second one to be captured, and being almost intact it was a good catch.
The C.O. and I.O. set out after lunch to do a reconnaissance of the position we were going to take up after the crater was finished. They called at the M.E. 109 on their way, to inspect it. It was a small plane and was OK except for the bent propeller due to the forced landing. The pilot had escaped into the trees before anyone had arrived which was unfortunate. The I.O. approached the French authorities about it but they were not at all helpful. He also threatened the population with dire penalties if there was any repetition of the acts of sabotage that had occurred recently. Captain Best had his face cut by a telegraph wire which had been stretched across the road, and in some places telegraph poles had been found felled across well used tracks.
The C.O. and I.O. pushed on towards the new brigade H.Q. passing through an appalling rainstorm on the way. When they arrived the Brigade Major. met them with the news that they were expected forward immediately at an 'O' group reconnaissance just this side of Medenine and that the battalion was following up behind as soon as it could move. On a hill just outside Medenine they found the brigade 'O' group being shown the area the brigade might have to defend in case of a German breakthrough or attempt at one. Company commanders arrived at brigade at 2200hrs and the battalion at about 0100hrs and all settled down by 0200hrs.
The I.O. was sent off to reconnoitre the route from the brigade location through Ben Ghrara to the area of Gourine on the coast,
which was the route up which we would move to our position in front of the Mareth defences.
Today the brigade moved up to contact the enemy. The C.O. and I.O. went on ahead to meet the Brigadier in the Wadi Zessar and to see the positions the battalion would occupy for the first night. Shells landed in the wadi when they arrived but no damage was done. The reconnaissance was quite successful and we were allocated a very safe looking place behind the wadi Zessar which was about six feet deep in running water. When all was settled we returned to the rear to wait for the battalion. At last light the I.O. started back to contact the marching troops led by the 2/I.C. and Adjutant . As we passed brigade we came on a huge fiery cross blazing on the ground, 100yds by 100yds. This was apparently some sort of sign to the R.A.F., for where they could bomb, as another was visible down in the south near the main road and sure enough as we neared the battalion area the first bombers came over, dropped flares over the enemy and the crumpling of bombs began and continued all night. Eventually everything filtered into its correct position and we settled down.
At 0600hrs we were up early and "Stood-To" , what a life. The C.O. and I.O. were off as soon as it was light, with carriers and some of the "I" section to set up an observation post on a flat hill forward of the battalion FDLS, by about 1000yds. Unfortunately at about 0630hrs the mist came down like a blanket and nothing could be seen, so they returned to breakfast. Afterwards the I.O. took a patrol up to the flat hill. (Point 17) From its top there was an absolutely marvellous view. On the left in the south the rugged hills of Mareth were visible and to the north the sea. To the west 6000yds was the enemy not much in evidence at the moment.
An occasional truck trailing a plume of dust climbed up the side of wadi Zeuss, but we were still too far away for a clear observation.
The main sphere of interest was down in the south presumably in the area of the main road, where it appeared a fair sized battle was in progress. The bang of mines followed by the crump of shells bursting, mingled with the rows of bursting bombs from aircraft and the rumble of an Ack Ack barrage. It was very hot on top of the hill and we, almost, found it difficult to keep awake. However some minutes later the I.O. noted a man moving quite unconcernedly from one weapon pit to another. Ten minutes later he watched him walk back again. He advised the gunners about this and a salvo was sent down. To their delight 5 or 6 figures sprinted out of the post and then to their dismay they saw two carriers appear to head for our own lines. The 'enemy' turned out to be the "Black Watch". They must have had a patrol out on the ridge without telling us and they were lucky to escape without casualties.
At 1630hrs the C.O. arrived with "O"group and announced that the battalion was moving forward that night to the ridge ahead, with the Black Watch conforming on their right. "D"Company was to remain where it was in the wadi, "B"Company and battalion H.Q. to move up to the flat topped hill, and "A" and "C"Company to push forward to the ridge ahead. The move went off quite successfully and "A" and "C" getting into position without a shot being fired. A patrol by night had nothing to report, but a patrol by an Argyle under our command hit mines and the officer was wounded.
Nothing much happened all day, bar word coming in that we had to progress on a bit further that evening. "A" company was to move 2000 yds out into wadi Zeuss to (point 20) a flat topped hill rather hard to see from where we were. "B" company was to move in 300yds north of them. "C" company was to remain were it was, but was to put one platoon out along the roadway to the causeway at (point 12)
The 2 I/C and I.O. went out in the jeep to reconnoitre the ground forward of "A" company's present position (point 20) with a view to getting M.T up with "A" company.
They came to the conclusion that only carriers could make headway over such soft going. They also went up the main road for about half a mile and the 'friends' they saw, turned out to be 'Ities' moving in quick time, they managed to get away safely.
When darkness fell the battalion moved forward getting to their positions without much trouble. All except "A" company which placed itself in a belt of high scrub and had to shift again in the morning. Patrols were sent out by both "A" and "B" company's as soon as they reached their objectives.
"A" company's patrol under Lieutenant Nixon went out from (point 16) in a north west direction towards the road and (point 26) where mines were found on two previous nights. Unfortunately Nixon found them again rather short of (point 26). He tripped on a wire attached to a 'Thahan B4' and luckily escaped with a piece of metal in the backside. Lieutenant Grant took out "A" company patrol towards (point 42) on the enemy ridge. On the way to the enemy, passed through three patches of mines the N.C.O. being wounded in the first, Lieutenant Grant was wounded in the first also, but carried on. (Point 42) was found unoccupied, so they set out on the second leg towards (point 26), after about 200yds another patch of mines was struck and Grant tripped on a wire that was attached to two 'Teller' mines and was killed instantly. Both his legs and one arm were blown off by the explosion. The patrol then returned to its company guided by Pte Stevens, who took charge in a very creditable manner. This unfortunate incident however proved that the enemy was not laying a minefield but merely laying odd mines here and there to catch the unwary foot soldier.
"A" company was contacted by the C.O. early in the morning and found to be about 300yds too far west. They were to a certain extent under fire from sniping Spandaus, so they decided to remain in their location till dark, and then take up their proper position. They spent a hectic time unable to move or spot the snipers.
To the north "C" company sent out a standing patrol of one platoon under Captain Douglas to (point 12) were they dug in and tried to watch the enemy. But they to found they had no field of view.
Heat haze also caused mirages which caused Captain Douglas to see a host of the enemy advancing upon him at about 1100hrs. At about 1300hrs he stated that the enemy were digging in behind the ridge. The platoon was withdrawn in the evening and listening posts were established instead. During the rest of the day there was fairly heavy shelling and Lieutenant Forbes and Captain Yeoman were evacuated, Forbes being hit on the wrist and Yeoman on the backside. The only fatal casualty was Pte Thompson, A/Tank platoon. After the last three nights patrolling the C.O. refused to send out anyone without a R.E. party plus detectors. A party arrived and joined a "C" company patrol under Sergeant Milton which was to proceed west roughly parallel to the road picking up and reporting on any mines found. The patrol did not leave until 0200hrs and only covered 600yds of ground, the R.E. refusing to proceed with mine sweeping while the moon was clouded over. Perhaps it was just as well they did proceed with caution, as a similar patrol of the Black Watch lost its R.E. officer and N.C.O. to mines. Our patrol found three 'B4' mines after moving 600yds and having proved them to be isolated came home. One most interesting point during the night was the most unwelcome attention paid to us by the R.A.F. They were bombing 'Jerry' and we watched that with delight, but then one of the many which flew overhead came back over us and dropped a flare above our lines, which made us distinctly uneasy. He flew away and then made his bomb run and to our dismay they landed just in line with us but in the Black Watch area hitting one truck which appeared to hold company reserve ammunition.
As usual a fine day and the I.O. went to visit "A" company. He took Dalzill one of the I section to man an observation post. The rumour was that the enemy had gone , and it appeared so, as the R.A./O.P. had seen no movement either. The I.O. decided to go forward.
The ground proved very suitable and he was able to approach unobserved. No movement was seen until he approached within 5 to 600yds of his objective, when suddenly he spotted six Italians cleaning a M.G., and a bit further to the south another party were sunning themselves. He retraced his steps and informed the C.O. who arranged for a mortar party to go out and bomb them at first light next morning. The gunners also agreed to cover the advance and withdrawal of the party. "C" company sent out a listening party to (point 12) and they followed the telephone wire to the old positions they had dug. En route their C.O. pulled the wire and it was answered, he pulled it again and was replied this time by a bust of Spandau fire which passed over his head, so he had had quite a tug of war with 'Jerry' without knowing it.
The mortar raid was a complete success and we could see the bombs bursting from our own ridge. Captain Best stated he actually saw one of the enemy blown out of a trench. It caused the enemy no little annoyance and they shelled us all that morning, over 200 shells landed in the area mostly around "B" company's area (point 16), luckily there were no casualties. During the day the news came that we were to be relieved by the 1st Gordons for a week. The relief to take place on the night 1st - 2nd March , so today was spent in giving the incoming battalion the griff on our position. There seemed to be a flap developing that 'Jerry' was about to attack. His recent successful attack against the U.S. forces made it almost logical that he should now turn on what he supposed to be a very 'light' Eighth Army and deliver it a sound smack before the main force could arrive, so there was much ordering and counter-ordering.
War Diaries March 1943
No news of the take-over by the 1st Gordons came till late afternoon when it transpired that only one company of 1st Gordons and the carrier platoon was to take over the position. The remainder of the brigade ourselves included was to remain behind the wadi Zeuss which formed a better anti tank obstacle. The reason for this alteration in plan was apparently that an attack by Rommell was expected within the next few days. The battalion's role in defence was two-fold. First if the attack came in the north, we were to defend our positions behind the Zeuss and remain inside the 153 Brigade minefield. But at the same time we were to remain mobile and in case of attack from the south move down there on a counter attack role. Anyway the take-over was now far simpler and went off without a hitch.
A restful day was spent in the new position behind the Zeuss, when companies had finished digging in. But things became slightly more hectic in the evening. Word came through that the enemy appeared to be forming up for an attack on the far side of the Zeuss and the 1st Gordons screen was preparing to meet them. We listened into the headset with some excitement as Lt Grant of the 1st Gordons passed back information to brigade. The enemy advanced unopposed as far as "A" company's old position on point 20 where the Middlesex opened up on them at about 1200yds range. The first burst landed slap in the middle of them causing chaos to reign. The gunners then opened up with similar success, and the attack got no further. It was most heartening to listen to. The screens then withdrew and we settled down to await a repetition next morning.
At dawn we all stood too, but nothing developed and the day passed in peace. The only excitement was the reappearance of the Army Film Unit, who came to take photographs of anyone willing to be photographed, including a tableau representing "tired signallers resting after a hard nights work". Sergeant Beattie was of course much in evidence, sound asleep in front of the camera, a part which he played with the greatest of ease.
A chaotic morning. The General with the Commander Royal Artillery, Commander Royal Engineers and "all" arrived in a convoy of Jeep's while we were drinking our second breakfast cup, and immediately began to raise "Cain". The General quite rightly pointed out that we should be far safer inside the brigade minefield, and ordered us to move forward to the actual wadi bank where we should be in close contact with the 1st Gordons on our right. While the General was causing fur to fly the I.O. sidled up with a message from the battalion to the effect that carrier patrols were reporting the enemy to be forming up for another attack. His words acted like magic and the "Staff" vanished into thin air, back to divisional H.Q. before one could say Jack Robinson. In the late afternoon when no attack had actually developed, we moved down to the wadi, while the R.E. laid a minefield round our backs. There were no hitches.
Morning found us comfortably ensconced on the wadi bank in a small subsidiary wadi, safe from anything but a chance hit or a visiting brass hat, and we ate breakfast watching the antics of Spitfires and M.E. 109s overhead. Yesterday we had seen four M.E.s, laid low buy A.A. fire. Today we saw a Spitfire bought down by an M.E. The wadi was an interesting place with steep sandy sides falling down thirty feet to a marshy bottom with a slow stream running through. The wadi was fairly fresh and we all bathed in it, to the consternation of the numerous frogs and water tortoises. In the evening the flap started once more and the 2 I/C was sent down with the carriers to guard the wadi crossing which the Camerons had made.
Today was the day that Monty had predicted for the start of the enemy offensive, and he appeared to be quite correct in his surmise, for at 0600hrs when we were standing too, the first guns opened up way down to the south, and all day the battle raged with unabated vigour. Too far away for us to see it. Dogfights were constant overhead and disconcerting rumours about our impending mobile role came to a head in the evening, when at 1800hrs brigade informed us that go we must. By now it was known that the attack had so far failed without loss to us but with the loss of about forty tanks to the enemy. The New Zealanders and the Guards had borne the brunt of the fighting, which was south of the main road outside the division sector.
However we were taken up with our own move, it was drizzling with rain and quite the blackest night I have ever seen.
The only way to find the track which was washed a uniform colour by the rain proved to be walking ahead of the M.T. with a torch. This we did with spirits at pretty low ebb, especially as the guns were still in action all round us. We went right down to the south of the divisional front and eventually came up against a minefield fence where we decided to halt till morning.
Dawn found us facing the huge hills which we had seen away to the south for the past fortnight, and about a mile from the head of the wadi Zeuss. The battalion Adjutant met us there and took the C.O. forward to the area astride the wadi which we should have to occupy. The battalion moved up shortly after passing beside 128 Field Regiment R.A. just us all their guns commenced a Regimental shoot. The guns flashes lit up the route magnificently although the din was appalling. The tributary wadi turned out to be very pleasant and we settled in without trouble. In front of us stretching away to the crazy peaks of the mountains was the rolling grass plain covered with the smoking corpses of Rommells tanks.
"A" company was detached from us and sent out to help the 1st Battalion at the foot of the mountains, but apart from numerous reconnaissances the day passed in peace and we retired to bed in the evening very thankful for the peace after 48 hours without sleep.
The battle seemed to be quite definitely over in the morning and apart from the usual air activity and intermittent shelling, peace reigned. The N.A.A.F.I. order arrived and the camp was shrouded in a haze of tobacco smoke from all frantically puffing away at the first cigarette for weeks. Another of Monty's now famous messages arrived and ran as follows,
" I congratulate all officers and men on the first class show put up against Rommells attack. I congratulate particularly the infantry and artillery. The infantry unprotected by minefields saw off the attack of three Panzer Divisions by their own weapons, splendidly supported throughout by the artillery and the armour whenever necessary. Rommell absolutely bought it and will think twice before trying to attack the 8th Army again. Well done indeed"
Most encouraging it sounded, the only snag being that Rommell has got back to the Mareth Line instead of attempting to give full battle in front. We should now have to crack that line too.
In the afternoon word came that we were to move back to an old position on the wadi. All went very successfully as we were able to light the route.
Two days of peace behind the wadi. The water was approved by the Medical authorities as fit for bathing and everyone had a good wash. Air battles continued overhead but that and the occasional crump of shells onto the other two battalions of the brigade in some old positions up in front did nothing to disturb our peace.
Rumours about the future began to filter into the battalion, when the Green Howards of 50 Division came down to take over from the brigade, which was going into reserve, to rest. The brigade was to move back about six miles and train for future operations, but the I.O. and I.C. were to establish a report centre up forward on point 27 just to the south of "A" company's old position. Patrolling was to be continued from this report centre.
The brigade moved out in the morning and the report centre was established up forward. It became obvious that the battalion was to put in an attack on the southern part of the front it had been watching during the last days of February. The whole attack centred round crossings of the wadi Zeuss as it would be useless to get infantry over without M.T. and supporting arms. However two crossings were found. The northern one was a small bridge which the Italians had built for their abortive attack. The second was a natural rock crossing used for centuries by the 'Wogs' and their camels. Both needed some improvement if they were to support much traffic. During the next three days while the battalion was busy refitting and repairing in the rear, patrols went out from the report centre every night trying to find the extent of the enemy minefield. This proved a formidable task as mines were apparently laid without any front wire and were stuck in patches here and there making it extremely difficult to gauge an accurate picture of where the mines started. The company commanders came up to the report centre from the rear that night and went down to the wadi to reconnoitre their respective routes forward. On the 14th Major Napier went out over the Italian bridge and came upon a party of Italians laying mines only 150 yds further forward. As this was still 800 yds from the objective, the attack appeared most formidable. On the 15th, mines were encountered again 300 yds to the north of Major Napiers patch. Among these was a new type of mine.
It was a wooden box full of explosive with four commercial type detonators, one in each corner. A lid fitted over the whole, and pressure on this set of the mine. Very simple, but the snag was it would not cause any reaction to R.E. detectors, as its metal content was so small.
Today was the day of the battle. The battalion had rehearsed the action once by day and once by night in its back area, and at the company final conference it was announced that we should have Scorpions to assist us. That would simplify the task considerably. The plan was as follows. The battalion was to leave its present location at 1900 hrs and proceed in transport to the area of the report centre where it would debus and have a meal. At 2200 hrs the artillery was to open up on the objective and the M.G.s were to support the move forward of the Scorpions by fire along the flanks. The Scorpions plus an R.E. party and a protective platoon from the 1st Gordons were to cross by the two crossings over the wadi, move up a previously taped and lighted path to the minefield and start work at 0100 hrs. The infantry was to pass through the gaps and carry on forward to the objective. "B" company on the left with point 42 as objective and "C" company on the right with point 39 as objective. "D" company to follow "C" and "A" company to follow "B". Simultaneously 50 Division was putting in its attack on the battalion right to the south of the road.
All went well up to 2200 hrs. The Scorpions arrived on time, crossed the start line and moved down to the wadi. Here the first snag occurred. The 'rocky' crossing proved too soft. The first Scorpion managed to cross the wadi successfully but the second stuck and held up the third. The Italian bridge however proved suitable and sweeping commenced right away. The left hand gap proceeded for 300yds from the front of the minefield through patches of B4 mines and then Tellars when the first Scorpion broke down. The second Scorpion had by now extracted itself from the wadi and followed up the first. But it broke down before reaching the gap. The third arrived some time later and finished the gap about 0300 hrs. "B" company then passed through and gained its objective without trouble, the enemy having left previously. On the Italian bridge gap things did not go with such a swing. The first Scorpion had broken down after 400 yds and the second had not extended the gap to 600 yds before 0300 hrs and the wind carried the smoke back to our own troops. This cut visibility down to 10 yds and set everyone coughing like the victims of a gas attack. Also the enemy was still very much in evidence opposite "C" company. Three or four Spandaus were firing incessantly down the gap making life most unpleasant.
The second Scorpion eventually failed and Charles Napier decided to take his company forward without a gap to wipe out the Spandaus. He formed them up and had just started off when Captain Douglas tripped on a B4 mine tripwire, exploded the mine and injured himself and three privates who were nearby. This decided Major Napier that it was not worth while pushing on until daylight, especially as no fire had come from any of the Spandaus for the last ten minutes. So "C" company dug in and sent out a patrol to reconnoitre forward a safe route onto the objective. At 0500 hrs the C.O. set of on foot for "B" company which was by now on its objective. Nothing further was heard of him till 0630 hrs, communication having broken down, when he came back in the Jeep with his trouser leg ripped open and blood on his face and leg. Both he and Captain Day had been knocked out by the same B4 mine in "B" company area, and were both evacuated. "B" company was however quite firmly established on its objective and had commenced digging in. Word came back at 0600 hrs that "C" company was about to advance through the safe lane it had reconnoitred onto the objective which was by now obviously clean of enemy. This they did without trouble the only living object they found being a small white puppy in a deep Italian dugout. "C" company then commenced digging in.
An uneventful day. Major Hay from the 1st Gordons took over command and B.H.Q. moved out of the wadi to the scrubby plateau above, close to the minefield. Two patrols went out that evening, "C" company went towards the road but was pinned down by shellfire whenever it moved. The one from "B" company went for a mile was fired on by a Spandau and struck a tripwire which seemed to indicate another minefield. The Black Watch attack on our left to point 46 was put forward to the afternoon and they walked in without difficulty, taking over from "C" company 1st Gordons, which had been holding the position till the Black Watch arrived. Some shelling continued all day but there were no casualties from it.
In the morning the Green Howards were contacted, their positions were astride the road. They had a fairly heavy time in the minefields as their attack did not include Scorpions, but they were quite happy now, apart from the odd shell landing in their area.
Back at battalion the news was that the Black Watch were not too happy. Having trouble with Italian Paratroops from the Zagliare Division, who were showing surprising initiative for Italians.
They were apparently harassing the forward troops of "C" company from slit trenches only 300 yds away. The B.W. had lost two men captured by them but had made amends by capturing two in return. Scott, a new man, did a patrol in the evening out to the area we had found last night, but found the positions unoccupied. He however found a considerable work party over to the north, presumably laying mines. Observation posts moreover reported much enemy movement in the Mareth - Zarat road.
The enemy shelled the sector. He also established a stumbling block in the shape of a strong outpost, Known as Trilby Post. It was very well sighted, had an anti-tank ditch round it and in addition strong wire defences. It was a protection for the enemy's flank if he should attack the division on our right flank. The R.A.F., "Famous 18" made a raid on it. Fighters also made sorties over the enemy lines.
There was increased enemy shelling in the B.W. area. The "18" bombers again attacked the Mareth Line. Two were lost plus one fighter escort plane. That evening about 2000 hrs a furious artillery barrage opened up, the prelude to an attack put in in the north by the 50th Division. The shells screamed over for hours. The enemy replied and some shells landed in the battalion area. There was also a report that the New Zealand Division showed themselves to the enemy for the first time in their new positions, 15 miles N-W of Mareth. It caused considerable consternation. The Mareth Line had been outflanked.. The 4th Armoured Division were reported moving up the main Medenine Road.
After a night of terrific bombardment by our own artillery, the day began quietly. Our battalions only returned defensive fire.
The day was ideal for bombing and the famous "18" played a major part. Approximately 10 sorties were made over the Mareth - Zarat - Gabes area. No planes were lost.
Our observation posts spotted much movement in the area of Trilby Post, and considerable M.T. in and around the area 583095. Slight movement in other sectors indicated that the enemy had not moved very much at all. Shelling was slight all day, a few landed in the battalion area. Some landed near the O.P. but no damage was done. General Wimberly visited the C.O. about 1800 hrs, staying for an hour. O.P. reported more movement at Trilby Post plus the fact that it had been heavily shelled. More M.T. movement was seen in area S.E. of Zarat. About 1845hrs what looked like an enemy ammunition dump went up as there were bright flashes and clouds of white smoke. Enemy air activity was slight but about 2100hrs a bomber thought to be a 'Macchi' bombed brigade area.
Again there was intermittent shelling and counter battery fire. About 8 to 10 of our own shells landed in "B" and "C" company areas, but no casualties resulted. Our artillery laid smoke screens and high explosive on Trilby Post and near areas. The "18" were over the Mareth Line again, making five or six raids. About 1400 hrs the enemy made a counter attack on our right flank but was repulsed. No details to hand. About 1445hrs 12 shells landed in battalion H.Q. area, one right in front of the command post making a furrow 6ft long and 2ft deep. There was one casualty (Pte Webb) injured on the head. At 1845hrs two companies of Argyles pass through battalion H.Q. in trucks going towards "C" company.
Trilby Post again, O.P. reported much movement here before the shoot, and slight movement of men and M.T. afterwards.. The tank screen returned about 1910hrs. The Brigadier visited the battalion at the early hour of 0400hrs. During the night 22/23 March own artillery put over a heavy barrage - results not yet to hand. At the same time the road over Italian crossing was considerably widened and strengthened.
Brigadier again visits battalion about 0800 hrs. The morning is quiet until our artillery lays a barrage near the 'Line'. Enemy shells land in area beyond the causeway road and start one fire (0835 hrs) Kittyhawks dive-bomb enemy concentrations far to our left and near the foot hills.
Heavy concentration of smoke might indicate blowing up operations by the enemy near Mareth. The "18" are over again 8 times in the morning and bomb Trilby Post 5 times. It was also shelled twice. O.P. reported light A.A. fire from Trilby. and also movement in Machine gun post ref(586049) The Middlesex (machine gunners) open up, and continue intermittent fire all afternoon and evening. Two or more Spandaus open up in reply to the Vickers. Fire coming from post in area (589048) There was also some 105mm and 75mm shelling of battalion area.
Again there was slight shelling, but no damage resulted. Brigadiers of 152 and 154 along with the C.R.A., visited the camp. There was a C.Os conference at 1400 hrs. After which, battalion H.Q. prepares to move forward to a new location in the wadi, slightly north of "C" company. (map reference 605046). "D" company moves forward to road 604050, "B" company moves approximately 400 yds along camel track to 599035. "A" company moves to wadi 595043 "C" company stays put. There was some opposition but all objectives were reached. Sergeant MacGregor of "B" and L/Cpl Tyson of "D" company's both suffered from shell shock and were evacuated. The 5th Black Watch also moved up but met with strong opposition resulting with 80 other rank and 6 officer casualties. They reached their objective but were counter attacked and had to withdraw to their former line. Shelling continued well into the night. The battalion moved up at different times, battalion H.Q. leaving from 1700 hrs onward. The battalion settles down and commences to dig fire positions, command posts and what-not. Patrol goes out from "A" company to 588048
Battalion settles down in new area. Divisional Commander pays it a visit, and later the Brigadier. One N.C.O. from each company attend a mine recording lecture at 276company R.E. this side of Cameron crossing.
The 5th Black Watch are allocated one company of the 1st Gordons to make up for loss of their "A" company. Some slight shelling in B.W. area. Observation post reports move before "B" companies area and plotted wire and enemy dugouts. At nightfall approximately 1600 hrs "C" company moves forward to new position about 600 yds away 601045, move was carried through without opposition.
New observation post established in area of "C" company (point 31) Mortars open fire on Trilby Post at approximately 0300 - 0330 hrs. Hits were scored in the target area but no results were obtained. Two pounder anti tank gun fired 20 rounds at machine gun position 585044 which was silenced for about three hours. The Brigadier visited the C.O. Observation post reported movement in position (585045) and proceeded to plot every minefield as accurately as possible. About 1200 hrs while laying mines, one box of 16 mines was blown up by a truck striking one of them. No one was killed but Pte Byrone ("C"coy) was evacuated with burst eardrums, earlier on, L/Cpl Thurber was also wounded, by a mine detonator. Lieutenant Gilmore went out on a patrol about 2245 hrs and brought back information about a minefield (588048) that mines were scattered irregularly. There is considerable noise from artillery fire and a fierce battle seemed to be going on in the hills to our left.
About 0300 hrs Mortars again shoot at selected targets but no results were given.
Observation post reported visibility very bad with movement mainly confined to the left flank. It was decided to send a carrier patrol and gapping party (by daylight) to try and establish a position on the ridge. The carriers approached the wire from "D" company and the gapping party continued with a Bren as protection. A Spandau opened up and the Bren jammed, so fire couldn't be returned. A mortar opened up on the party and the first round landed in its midst, killing Lt Gilmore and Cpl Scott both of "C" company. The artillery had been primed to fire in defence of this party on the red very-light signal. It was duly sent up and the artillery brought down fire on the code word Huntley. The carriers withdrew and returned to the lines. More casualties were Pte Alderman ("C"coy) and Dykes and Smith of the carriers. Observation posts plot a definite mortar position on a bearing 327 deg. and about 2000 yds away. Our mortar sergeant is informed and he laid on 21 rounds, there appeared to be a few casualties. Again another enemy position was spotted and it was engaged by our mortars and anti tank guns. An enemy anti tank gun probably 50mm Breda fired a few rounds at our carriers but no damage resulted. Our artillery ranges on further targets. Patrols for that night were off, but listening posts were established.
These listening posts established in front of companies reported M.T. movement throughout the night, in and behind the enemy lines and along the roadway. Early in the morning two carriers a Jeep and a 15 cwt went to the ridge on a reconnaissance. This patrol was mentioned to the artillery but it was fired on, the frantic waving of a blue flag resulted with our artillery ceasing. This patrol led by the C.O. and I.O. reported no enemy in sight and the assumption was that he had cleared out of this line. A deserter caught by 154 brigade stated that the line was empty of enemy.
69 Brigade moved forward to area PISTE DJORF. Squadron 5504. 153 reconnaissance group went forward to look at the crossing of Wadi Ziggaou. The Brigadier led this party. A 1st Gordon's carrier patrol approached to within 200 - 400 yds of ARRAM. Our own carriers took over on the ridge in front of our positions.
The companies were at short notice to move and B echelon transport was moving up to battalion area. New observation posts established by I.O. and intelligence section were never in action, as the C.O. and I.O. brought back word that the enemy had completely evacuated the defence up to and beyond the Mareth Line. Thus the battalion was ordered to move forward as far as possible. The advance party left at 1400 hrs but when it arrived at proposed destination the plans had been changed. The battalion had now to move on 3 - 4 miles beyond the Mareth Line. The battalion set off on foot. The carriers, while out in front had a number of incidents, two were blown up by mines, casualties being Pte's Adamson and McCullen killed and Captain Best and Sgt Narrie and Pte Shee wounded. The ground was bad for M.T. so the battalion had to march, independent of transport. The battalion settled down for the night somewhere N-W of Mareth. The party returning from the rest camp also suffered through mines, Sgt's MacFetridge and Pearson being evacuated with Pte McKay. Others had slight wounds but were able to continue to camp. This incident happened about 200 yds from the wadi Zigzaon.
The Mareth Line presented a very imposing spectacle when the battalion approached. Block houses almost completely hidden and extremely well camouflaged, would have proved a pretty desperate obstacle to attacking forces. Mines were sown like daisies and a formidable anti tank ditch, plus the wadi itself would have put a stop to any direct tank attack. Communication trenches which zig-zagged all over the place were not the type we would have dug, being six feet deep.
The whole effort was planned re-planned and improved by three nationalities till it presented to us an impenetrable barrier. Mercifully this was not quite the case as it could be outflanked. This was done by the magnificent move of the 2nd New Zealand Division and the Armoured Divisions who were now near El Hamma.
The battalion set off about 0600 hrs moving slowly owing to the density of mines ahead. These were a wooden affair difficult to detect. There were halts every ten minutes or so. The track taken was rough and in some cases led right across country. The battalion followed it until the main Medenine - Zarat road was reached which was followed for about two miles. Mines (wooden) very close at certain spots and one vehicle was blown up resulting in the driver, Pte Sloanes, sustaining a broken leg. Sgt Beattie (signals) received facial injuries. Curiously enough he was facing away from the explosion, while another who was facing the blast only got a black face. (time 0830 hrs) The battalion stopped from 0845 to 0945 hrs and breakfast was taken in the middle of the road. A German ration truck had also been blown up, pointing to the haste with which the mines had been laid, even before all the transport was out. The battalion moved on about 1000 hrs and marched 15 - 16 miles across country in a general direction parallel to the road. The carrier screen which was forward was meeting no resistance. The skeleton transport had to leave the marching personnel because of a wadi, but it made a detour and rejoined the battalion some miles on. After marching till about 1600 hrs the Battalion arrived at its allotted area where it spent the night. The 153 brigade was dispersed in the following order; 1st Gordons in the rear, 5/7th Gordons on the left flank, 5th Black Watch right flank, B echelon moved up to five miles west of wadi Ziggaou.
Battalion expected to move forward if the enemy does not hold the Gabes gap. An advanced party is therefore ready to move off by 0915 hrs. New maps are given to C.O. and I.O., a good sign as one is tired of Mareth. The advance party is on its way to brigade assembly point, met "B" echelon moving up. Again the battalion is reunited.
Advanced party goes out and after much trouble with bad roads it reaches its objective near Teboulbou only to find that the move was off. It returned to battalion area and found all signs up, including the flag which heralded a short stay until conditions permitted a move forward. 152 and 154 brigades went forward and stopped near the main road. That evening the Pipes and Drums of the battalion played Retreat. A pleasing sight and sound after so many weeks of musical silence. The C.O. gave a lecture to each company in turn on various points eg. discipline. All officers met at battalion H.Q. for a C.Os. lecture at 1900 hrs. The news was very good and the prisoners totalled 8000. The enemy were reported 17 miles north of Gabes with the New Zealand cavalry hard on their heels. The enemy concentrated in the Wadi Afarit. The P.M. spoke in the House of Commons about the part played by the 51st Division in breaking of the Mareth Line.
There was no 'stand to' that night or the next morning. A good sign. Enemy air craft passed over about 1930 hrs and an intense Ack Ack barrage was put up in the direction of Hamma and Gabes. Bivouac's were erected and the battalion spent a restful night.
Immediately north of our position 365252 on the beach a heavy smoke screen seemed to be laid by Fighters both American and British. Shortly afterwards a Vigilant with American markings lands and flies off about ten minutes later, the fighters swarm around the area like flies. Probably some notable personality from the American army has landed.
The day was quiet and the usual peace-time routine began with rifle inspection and company parade. Followed by forty minutes drill. I.O. went to brigade but no more news about the fighting was to be obtained. Two carrier sections went to join the 152 brigade taking four days rations. Various units about us went forward, and the 2nd Seaforths left their positions just north of battalion area.
The Pipes and Drums again played Retreat, and football was enjoyed by many in the evening.
War Diaries April 1943
The battalion was static outside Gabes. The 152 and 154 brigades moved well forward of the town. There is word however of a shift. The usual routines were carried out and cleaning of weapons was done. The remainder of the day was utilised for writing and resting. In the evening the Pipes and Drums played Retreat.
The advanced party went forward to the west of Metouia village where the carrier screen was holding the ground. The ground was reconnoitred and we settled down to await the battalion, but the I.O. from brigade arrived to inform us that the move was off and to return to the battalion. The carriers and the advanced party both returned to the battalion area at 2100 hrs. Nothing of importance happened during our absence. But the battalion was to move the next morning, early.
The 153 brigade advance party moved off at 0700hrs to within seven miles of the enemy, who were commanding the whole of the wadi Akarit and holding the ridge known as Zemlet El Beida The usual form was adopted that is C.O., I.O. and company commanders first, followed some hours later by the battalion. The battalion arrived at its location about 1900 hrs and after dinner it proceeded on foot for a distance of five or so miles. Battalion H.Q. was established in a grove with the companies well spread out. The battalion relieved the 2nd Seaforth's who had only been in this position for a matter of 24 hrs. As the move up was in process, enemy planes dropped flares all around us, and it appeared that we had been spotted, for bombs were dropped close at hand. However we soon managed to proceed into our new location without further ado. An observation post was dug and the following morning at first light it was to be manned, it lay between "B" and "C" companies.
The companies were very well scattered and their forward defence lines would be about 3000 yds from the enemy who were in a place of vantage lying as he was on the top of the hills and the companies who had little or no cover could not move.
The 1st Battalion Gordons were on our right flank and the 5th Black Watch in reserve. Brigade and A echelon remained about five miles back on the left hand side of the railway.
The observation post was established but communication with them was disappointing. The view was somewhat limited as the terrain was flat with a ridge rising steeply from it. Later we found they had spotted many gun positions and diggings. Shelling throughout the day was spasmodic with heavy concentrations on the forward companies at set times. In the evening at last light (1830 hrs) "B" and "C" companies with H.Q. company moved forward about 1500 yds. "D" company was still in reserve and "A" company remained were it was.
During the day the duty of observation post work, noting enemy movement, recording the situation, and the positioning of supporting arms was carried out. At approximately 1400 hrs when the area was shelled by 88mm guns one of the batman was wounded . Two O.Rs. were killed when one of the carriers attached to "B" company was struck by a shell.
The morning was very quiet but later on a few shells landed in the battalion area. The big attack was to come off fairly soon so to enable the start line to be within reasonable distance of the enemy the battalion had to keep moving forward till it was right under the nose of the enemy. "D" company had therefore to shift forward right up to the wadi under the very base of the hills. At last light the I.O. and a tape party set out to mark the start line. The attack went in in the early hours of the morning (0300 hrs) The Indians in the south, the 152 and 154 brigades in the centre. With the Guards brigade on the coastal sector, they put in a mock attack, not moving but drawing fire.
The barrage was terrific, 3000 rounds on point 85 alone in 15 minutes. By first light prisoners were already on their way to the P.O.W. cage, 688 past through the battalion H.Q. alone, while 3575 passed through the division.
"Moaning Minnie" was active in the morning and the famous "18" came over in the afternoon. Out of five JU88s which endeavoured to bomb back areas, two were shot down and the remaining three were seriously damaged. All that day there was bitter fighting and counter attacks from the enemy, the battalion had a grand stand view of the battle, only a few shells landing in our area. The 152 were seen to go in and they appeared to bear the brunt of the fighting. The Italians were surrendering at the rate of 1000 per hour for a considerable time. The 5th Black Watch moved through us about 1400 hrs to support the Seaforth's. In the evening the battalion and the 1st Gordons moved forward by easy stages to enable us to be on the ridge by first light. At first light the battalion was safely ensconced on the hill and took it without firing a shot. Many more prisoners were taken. The M.T. movement we heard, indicated that the enemy was withdrawing.
The battalion is settled in the Black Watch area and about 0545 hrs an observation post is established on the top of 'Roumana' overlooking "A" company. One Italian was taken in at about 0630 hrs, he was from the Trieste Division and was found hiding in a hole. At various intervals more prisoners were bought in and formed into a pool and by 0745 hrs forty eighty more prisoners had arrived. Ten of them being German and the remainder Italian Trieste Division and P.G.R. The prisoners are used to act as stretcher bearers, and they bring in two wounded Seaforth's who lay out all night . In all eighty three prisoners are taken and the other units represented are Boulogna and Spezia. The rest of the morning is employed collecting a vast amount of booty which was abandoned by the enemy. Guns and weapons and equipment was collected ad lib, about 400 rifles and 24,000 rounds of ammunition etc, other weapons included mortars, anti/tank weapons, wireless transmitters etc.
In the afternoon the battalion was told about its future role. It was to act as the road makers for the division and were now at four hours notice. Truck and troop transport all arrived and at approximately 1400 hrs the harbour party moved off to brigade. After an abortive start the advanced party returned to the brigade area, where the party was split up. The first party carry on again about twelve miles on the road to Sfax. The rest of the battalion arrived in the early hours of the morning.
The battalion is to act as a spear head for the armour, so it means an early move. The harbour party leaves at 0515 hrs, while the rest of the battalion leaves about 0600 hrs. Breakfast was had on route. The journey was very erratic and we stopped and started three or four times. The route lay along the railway and en route we passed various minefields. We lingered for a few hours beyond the railway station of Skhria. Dinner was taken there and then the whole battalion moved forward. Two or three enemy shells landed near the main road from an enemy position which was held in a wadi forward among some trees. This was the fourth move for the battalion in one day and when we arrived at our last location it was pitch dark and about 2200 hrs. Battalion H.Q. was in a deep wadi and the companies were about a mile forward, "A" company right of the road, "B", "C" and "D" companies left and forward respectively. Patrols sent out reported enemy away, but large craters in the road.
An observation post was established at first light but no enemy movement was seen. The companies helped to fill in the huge crater which is in the main road. At approximately 1500 hrs the harbour party moves off up the Mahares road, and stops about five miles from the town for about two hours, being held up by more delaying action by the enemy. The artillery puts down smoke and the truck and 1st Gordons move up. Later the battalion moves up and on the road we pass a 1st Gordons carrier which had been hit and the crew killed. The carrier had been hit by a 50mm PAK which we saw further up the road along with the captured German crew. The General was seen further on looking at the ground up in front.
The battalion moved up to within fifteen miles of Sfax and stopped for the night. The 1st Gordons being in front supported by the armour. When it grew dark a huge fire was seen and muffled explosions heard from an enemy ammunition dump going up. Later on in the evening a plane which had been bombing our lines suddenly burst into flames and fell to the ground.
At first light the I.O. established an observation post on top of a water tower but no movement was seen. The harbour party set off at 0800 hrs and the battalion moves off one hour later. There were no incidents on the road and Sfax was entered amid scenes of tumult, the people showing signs of sincere joy and relief. The first men to enter the town was "A" company of the 1st Gordons followed by "A" company of the 5/7th next came the remainder of the battalion. A bridge at the entrance to the town was blown, stopping all M.T., but the marching men crossed without difficulty. A roadway was soon made for traffic further up the wadi and soon the whole battalion was established in the military barracks which were unfortunately indescribably filthy and in utter chaos. The whole town itself in fact was almost levelled and also stank to high heaven. Utter chaos reigned throughout the whole area.
The battalion seized the opportunity to wash and shave for the first time in days, water was not very plentiful but the effort was great. Rooms were cleaned out and every effort was made to tidy up before any other shift, which was expected any moment. A church parade was held and the Pipes and Drums played on the square, quite a peaceful scene. The C.O. lectured to officers and men on various points and later he spoke to the N.C.Os on discipline. The M.O. also gave a short lecture on the dangers of filth. Guards were mounted on the railway station also a ceremonial guard on the barracks.
A demonstration was held on the subject of "rapid fire with the rifle" by Colonel Barlow. After which an R.S.Ms parade was duly held.
In the afternoon the Massed Pipes and Drums of the division played in the town square.
The intelligence office becomes the focal point for officers requiring information and news in general. That evening an impromptu concert was held officiated by Captain Aitcheson , and for the first time since Tripoli the men were allowed out on pass. 75% allowed out per day.
The first signs of a move, the 1st Gordons and 5th Black Watch move to their new location some five to six miles out of Sfax, but this does not change the battalions routine, and as usual the R.S.Ms parade is held at 0830 hrs. Rumours started that Tunis and Bizerte had fallen but there is no confirmation, as brigade has moved and we are not in touch with them. The situation however has not altered very much, but good news is received when we hear of the fall of Sousse. The Pipes and Drums again beat Retreat tonight.
The usual parades are held in the morning, and there is still no news of the war. A situation map is put up for the use of the troops and much interest is roused. The work party starts again as at Tripoli, and four batches of two hundred men from the battalion go down to the docks to unload boats. Unfortunately they are late in returning and miss a concert given by the Balmorals.
At first light another large party of men go to the docks and spend a full day unloading stores, petrol ammunition etc. Meals are taken down to them. In barracks little happens, the Brigade Major arrives and we get more information regarding the disposition of our own forces. The C.O. goes to Division and also collects information and material, so although approximate, we have a broader picture of events. The general map is altered accordingly. A mobile cinema arrives and acts as a tonic to the hard worked men when they come in from the docks.
The battalion carries on with the usual parades etc, and a Bath parade is arranged, but later cancelled. So full use is made of the time to wash up and clean clothes as word of a move is more than definite. The advanced party is warned to be ready to move off on the 17th at 1500 hrs. Representatives from each company, with the Intelligence section plus a signal party are all to attend.
There is still however a work party detailed for the docks, and this appears to be the last one in Sfax for the battalion. The Balmorals give another concert for the benefit of the men who missed the first performance.
Morning again spent cleaning up and the advance party prepares to move. The party led by the I.O. go out the 'Sidi Mansour' road to the brigade area and take up a position opposite the 1st Gordons in an olive grove. The harbour party takes up a position and lay out further positions for the separate platoons and after dinner settle down for the night.
At approximately 1000 hrs the battalion transport arrives and is led into position by the company markers and at 1030 hrs the marching personnel arrive, the C.O. taking the salute. The rest of the day is spent settling down.
Word comes in that the battalion may be here for some time, so training programs are made up and various people are sent on courses. A Division school has been organised and officers and N.C.Os have been picked to attend. The usual leave party proceed to Sfax from 1330 to 2000 hrs. No news yet from brigade, it almost appears as though the brigade is finished with the war. The wireless gives good news of the greatest air battle yet, when the enemy looses 57 transports and 17 fighters, this news greatly cheers up everybody.
The lull continues on the front line, also regarding news so the battalion carries on with its training. The much acclaimed "Desert Victory" picture is showing in Sfax and two parties of men from the battalion pay it a visit. However the picture house was too crowded and the screen too small. and generally the men were very disappointed with the picture, thinking it a very feeble effort and misrepresentation of a terrific event.
Word comes through early in the morning that the battalion is to move again, so the usual advance party went off at approximately 1000 hrs. They meet at brigade and the group move of together. The route is long and has many stops, but the first part of the run is on the main road, so going is easy. However we branch off and go onto a very dusty track, were we eventually stop and are told by the S.C. to lay out battalion area. This plan is however changed and when we reconnoitre a third stop it is final and the battalion arrive in the dark about 2400 hrs and settles down for the night. The C.O. and I.O. had been out at a conference all day and came back for a meal at 2000 hrs only to leave again at 2200 hrs to reconnoitre the area to be taken over by the battalion. The C.O. and I.O. stay out all night along with company commanders in the area to be taken up the following day. This position where the battalion stopped was about fourteen miles from the front.
The battalion is at short notice to move and at 1000 hrs the units move off up the track to brigade area where mid-day and evening meals are had. The Brigadier, S.C. and B.M. arrive and the C.O. is told that the battalion is to move a further three and a half miles in transport after dark. At last light we move off and the battalion arrives at the foot of the hills in complete darkness. "B" company takes over the job of carrying all supplies to the hill top. Mules are also available but the track in some places is too steep for them. The battalion is to take over from the 1/9th G.R. who supply guides for the various companies. As the battalion moves up the hill it is heavily shelled by 75mm and 88mm guns and a number of men are wounded. After a terrific journey up the almost sheer cliffs the unit arrives at its new location, and in the pouring rain find holes to sleep in. The 1/9th G.R. pass through on its way out at approximately 2200 hrs.
Nothing to report after stand down, so the change over has been completed successfully. An observation post is established on top of the ridge above battalion H.Q. but visibility is bad and little is seen.
The mules and "B" company are still hard at work bringing up food and supplies. During the day the area is shelled by mortars and 75mm. Our own mortars retaliate from "D" company but are unable to fire much owing to the retaliation. A sniper overlooking "A" company area causes some nuisance but hits nobody. The men are beginning to feel the strain and a few "Bomb Happy's" are evacuated. The brigadier arrives in the area and inspects the battalion layout with the C.O. At about 2200 hrs "D" company moves forward 200 yds to take up a more suitable position, the move is carried out successfully encountering no opposition.
The Brigadier pays an early call at 0515 hrs but there is nothing to report after a quiet night. During the day there is sporadic shelling of the battalion area and several casualties are sustained by "D" company and also "A" company but there are no evacuations. "D" company forward platoons are on the forward slope of the hills and cannot be approached during the day, so no definite news can be obtained about them. Later in the day at 1700 hrs three men from the mortar section attached to "A" company were wounded and had to be evacuated, which was a dangerous and difficult task. The observation post reports the finding of an enemy battery of guns and when the F.O.O. is informed the area is shelled. At 1550 hrs the corps shoot is carried out and consequently the area visible from the observation post is completely clouded over with dust.
The quietness of the night is broken at 0300hrs by a heavy artillery barrage which sounded like an attack. There were also sounds of much M.T. movement but nothing develops. So it must have been harassing fire by our own artillery.
The observation post reported much movement on the hill we call 'Blankie'. This movement continues most of the day and proved a very valuable point for obtaining information. A corps shoot was instigated on this area and consequently the enemy retaliation shells landed in our area resulting in the death of Cpl Burl and L/Cpl Pine both of "A" company.
The battalion was growing accustomed to the awkward position they were in, and even though quite a number of shells fell in the area throughout the day the men still retained their good humour and indulged in some cooking, which seemed to prove very satisfactory. Word comes through that the battalion will move out of the line for about fortyeight hours. So the appalling task of carrying all that kit etc, down the hill will have to begin again. An artesian well at the bottom of the hill proves of great value and all men make the most of it by having a well earned bath.
The morning was spent carrying all the kit and stores down to the base of the hill, a very laborious task especially when it came to carrying ammunition. The purpose of the shift was to thin out the line and use the battalion to fill in another gap. The move out was successfully accomplished about 1900 hrs. The battalion marched then about six miles, one mile beyond brigade and settled down for what they thought to be for fortyeight hours.
The following morning was marked by a long lie in bed, a much needed rest for the battalion. The fortyeight hour rest was to be quite a myth as we heard that morning the battalion was once more to get up the line, this time to relieve the French. However clothes were washed and as much cleaning done as possible. The battalion was standing by from 1730 hrs and moved off about 1845 hrs. The usual practice was adopted ie, skeleton transport and the battalion marching. The advanced party went ahead and contacted the French.
At approximately 2030 hrs the marching personnel arrived, so little time was left for the marking out of routes and crossing of wadi's. However this was done successfully and the carrier personnel worked hard to improve the crossings.
Some difficulty was still encountered due to the blackness of the night and the lack of knowledge of the ground but by 2400 hrs the battalion was safely ensconced in its new area which was slightly forward of the original French positions. Battalion H.Q. was in a deep wadi and the companies were well forward.
"B" company right forward, "C" company left forward, "A" company rear left and "D" company in reserve. The French battalion moved out about 2300hrs, the remainder of the night was quiet and there was no sound from the enemy, not withstanding the considerable noise of M.T. movement which must have carried to their lines.
Stand to again but nothing to report. An observation post was established in "C" company area about 1000 yds in the direction of the hills but it was found to be unsuitable so it is decided to try and locate some position which will be more valuable and one which the R.A. can also use. At 0610 hrs the first enemy shells land in the battalion area so movement must have been spotted in the forward companies, as the French had no shelling for about a week. The 154 Brigadier and I.O. arrive to inspect the battalion layout and later the B.M. and R.A. arrive to lay on D.F. tasks. An interesting thing happens in the battalion area, with the lighting of a mysterious fire, which is reported to have been laid by some snooping Arab, to act as a guide for the enemy mortar fire, which came down about the time the smoke of the fire was spotted. This was investigated and found to be a kindled fire and no sooner was it put out the mortaring ceased. A patrol was arranged to investigate a village which was thought might harbour the Wog, but the patrol reported no humans there only a couple of dogs. Mines are to be laid in front of "A" and "C" companies, so tape is laid by the "I" section to mark the area.
A reconnaissance patrol goes out at night but has nothing to report.
At 0330 hrs two "I" section and the R.A. observation group go forward to a previously reconnoitred observation post and establish a new position before first light. This should prove to be valuable as it is situated about a 1000 yds into 'no mans land'.
The silence of the morning was broken about 0545 hrs by mortar fire landing in "C" company area. "C" company report that out of a patrol of one N.C.O. and two men, only one man returns. The other two appear to have been captured, as the man who returns says they were surprised by Italian sentries. Credit should be given to Pte Taylor the third man who returned unaided to his own lines guided only by the Spandau fire.
In the afternoon "D" company suffers from mortar fire and two anti-tank gunners were killed, also Major Glennie and Captain Angus were wounded and later evacuated. The observation post reports much movement in area of White House (165870) It appears to be an H.Q. and is later shelled receiving some direct hits. The minefield in front of the companies is continued but still not complete.
Once again the Brigadier 154 (acting) visits the battalion and again inspects the battalion layout. The area is shelled at odd intervals throughout the day and about sixty shells land in the battalion area, but still no damage is done. However it seems apparent that we are well and truly under observation as the slightest movement, especially in "C" company area causes fire to be brought down. There is little else to report, except for a briefing of patrols and more reports of enemy movement at the White House. Our artillery again opens up and several casualties are seen to be sustained by the enemy. The 'Dorsal Ridge' is another feature which hides a great deal of movement and obviously shelters quite a number of mortar positions. The area is shelled directed by our F.O.O. who is in the forward observation post. Division artillery also have a shoot, but not so much in our area. Quite a lot of amusement is caused when we are told it was for the benefit of some Chinese General.