Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Demolition Rocket

Time for another short article. I feel I should give a quick explanation on why we're getting so many quick and dirty emergency articles these days. I currently work shifts six days a week. That only leaves Saturday for me to do any writing. If something crops up, such as a company I work with requiring na archive visit, then I can only do that my one day off, leaving no time for writing an article. That means I have to be lazy and just grab something spare from my collection and put it up before I go into work on the Sunday. 
I can only apologise for these short articles, hopefully the situation will improve soon.

In the UK at least there was always a considerable effort devoted to research into knocking out bunkers and other concrete fortifications. One early suggestion was a sawn off 60-pounder WWI era artillery piece, to blast the fortification to pieces.

However it was quickly found that just sheer mass of HE was inconsistent, if not ineffective, in its results. This lead to development of other ideas such as using APHE rounds, and some were built and tested for 17-pounder guns. The idea was that standard issue weapons could then be used, without resorting to specialist equipment. This idea seemed to have limited effect. Other anti-concrete weapons utilised HESH or HEAT warheads.

The US stuck with a mass of HE projected against a concrete position. To that end they adapted the Mousetrap anti-submarine weapon for land use. Mousetrap was in turn a development of the Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar. The main difference being Mousetrap was propelled by rockets, where as Hedgehog used a conventional gunpowder propulsion.
Mousetrap launcher

cutaway of a 7.2 demolition rocket
This T37 7.2 inch demolition rocket was mounted on a Sherman in a 20 round launcher, known as the T40 Whiz-Bang. One was loaned to the British who decided to test its anti-concrete performance. They wheeled it out and fired it agaisnt a concrete target to assess the damage from a full 20 round salvo.
The Sherman used in the test firing.

The results of 19 rockets, the 20th is the blind you see lying in the foreground.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


Today when you mention 'Beehive' in a military context most people think of the Beehive rounds that came to be well known in Vietnam. These were clumps of flechettes blasted down range from large calibre guns, and the big daddy of the lot was the 152mm Beehive round fired by the Sheridan tank.
There were, however, another set of weapons known as Beehives. These were explosive charges developed by the British and are still manufactured and used today.
A modern Beehive charge, you'll note the shape is slightly different to a WWII version.
The Beehive charge first came to life from the fertile minds at MD.1, also known as Churchills Toyshop. This group of inventors created all sorts of curious weapons for the British and were often involved with projects with other departments. Possibly the most well-known was the PIAT, although other important examples were weapons like the Hedgehog and limpet mine.
Where MD.1 excelled, and the reason why it likely got its name, was with explosive devices and items for use by the Special Operations Executive. SOE's remit was to cause as much havoc as possible, in a covert manner, in occupied countries. To this end they were heavily involved with various countries resistance movements, supply arms and equipment, training and advice. SOE also had a part in working with the Auxiliary Units on mainland Britain. These units were the people who would stay behind after a German invasion to inflict as much grief on the Germans as they possibly could.
WWII Beehive
To support this work, one of the officers of MD.1, Captain Stuart Macrae, travelled around the country to various Auxiliary Units to offer training. He carried with him a suitcase loaded with all the goodies MD.1 could devise.
Sitting there, in the middle of the box is the Beehive. This particular version was a version that when filled weighed in between 10-12 pounds (depending on source) and had 6.75lbs of explosive. The hollow charge cavity was aimed out of the bottom of the warhead and standoff distance was provided by the legs that attached to the bottom of the device. It was the size of warhead most common and was used throughout the war by the Royal Engineers for attacking concrete structures, blowing holes in walls between houses and most commonly to create a hole in the ground. After making the hole, further explosives could be placed at the bottom of the hole to make a much bigger crater for assorted uses.
Hole made by a modern beehive charge
The Beehive came in several sizes, the 6/12lbs above (that's 6lbs of explosive and a total weight of 12lbs) and 16/25lbs, 35/50lb and a 75/100lb. In early 1944 the latter two sizes were used in several studies by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) for the use of such charges against pillboxes and concrete fortifications to find the ideal combination of diameter and weight.
A first batch of tests using a 75/100lb device suggested that when fired against a 5ft thick concrete wall it would produce enough debris to neutralize the inhabitants, indeed the shock-wave was judged sufficient to do so alone. DSIR wanted confirmation of this so a series of tests were arranged in May 1944.
The tests were carried out against a copy of a German bunker design which had been built at Bovington, the walls were 5ft thick with a roof 6ft thick. The walls also had 9in steel reinforcing and the roof had 4x9in RSJ's inserted into it. Inside the bunker the roof had a metal sheet soffit (lining of a roof). Inside the bunker sandbags were nailed to planks of wood to represent the occupants of the bunker to assess the effects of the blast.
Details of the British tests
Nine charges were detonated, six against the bunker and another three against a 6ft concrete wall, built separately. All produced an entry hole about 7in wide and an exit hole about 3in wide, although there were minor variations. The 50lbs charges containing between 30 and 35lbs of explosive depending on the experiment, blasted between 120 and 240 pounds of fragments into the interior of the bunker. This blast of material would catch anyone within a 45-degree cone for certain, in multiple places. People within a 90-degree cone might be hit.

For attacks against the 6ft wall two 75/100lbs versions were used, with a third charge being made up of two stacked 35/50lb charges. The stacked version produced very similar results to the 75/100lbs version, with roughly 250-300lbs of debris blasted through the wall. This reason is likely why the 75/100lbs Beehive was declared obsolete shortly afterwards as simply stacking two charges would have the same effect but would reduce a logistical element and meant you only needed to carry and supply a single type of charge.

Both a 35/50lb and 75/100lb were tested against the roof of the bunkers. Here the results were disappointing as only about 10-20lbs of material entered the bunker. The rest was caught by the steel used to make the soffit.

The utility of the 6/12lbs Beehive charge can be seen by the fact variants of it are still in manufacture today. Although the shape of the charge seems to have changed slightly it is likely that as the principles behind HEAT warheads have become better understood the design has been refined.

There is one anecdote of the use of the modern Beehive. In Vietnam the allied forces wanted to knock out a Fordson Major tractor being used by the local VC to tow a trailer full of weapons. The tractor had been stolen from a local French plantation. Due to it being French property it was suggested to the men of an Australian SAS unit that the destruction should be deniable. Lacking accesses to any anti-tank mines the SAS men obtained some Beehive charges. They linked four Beehives and four Claymores together on the same circuit. Due to the likelihood of secondary explosions from the tractors cargo these had to be detonated by a pressure plate. The pressure plate was constructed from parts from a Landrover suspension, a radio and assorted junk lying about such as beer cans and kitchen ware.

Unsurprisingly the explosion which resulted when the tractor drove over the pressure plate was rather large and the tractor and most of the 90 or so VC who escorted it were destroyed.

For more details on Cpt Stuart Macrae's box, see this site.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Recovering James

In 2003 the British armed forces took part in the invasion of Iraq, at first they were part of the push north with the rest of the Allies. Then as Basra was surrounded the British contingent were handed the task of cracking the city while the rest of the forces moved north. The plan the British used was steadily increasing pressure as they ground down the defenders. One of the earliest elements of this operation was the attack on Abu al-Khasib codenamed Operation James.
Royal Marines and tanks from the Scots Dragoon Guards started their attack on the 30th of March. One big limitation was the terrain, the ground around Basra is very boggy and only a few raised roadways cross the area. This limits manoeuvrability even for good cross-country tanks, like the Challenger 2. The Challenger 2 also has the best armour in the world, something that was shown when the lead troop of Challengers pushing into Abu al-Khasib encountered the enemy. Moving slowly down the elevated roadway, 2nd troop, C squadron, was shooting at enemy positions as they went, supporting the Royal Marines who were off the road. The Challengers were elevated and in the harsh late afternoon sun lacked any cover and were a clear target, here they encountered an absolute storm of fire. At one point the lead Challenger had approached an enemy held building and six RPG's had been fired at the tank. The response from the 120mm with a HESH round had decided the matter.
Suddenly a puff of flame accelerated out of cover to the front of the tank, as it flew it wobbled slightly, the Iraqi's had launched an ATGM, possibly a Milan. With nowhere to go the lead Challenger 2 had no way of evading the missile and it struck dead centre, smashing the drivers episcope. Blinded, and startled, the driver lost control of the tank, and she lurched off the narrow causeway in plain sight of the Iraqi's, who stepped up their fire against the immobilized tank. Over the next couple of hours, the tank would be struck some fourteen times by RPG's alone, with no further damage apart from the gunners and commanders sights being knocked out. The storm of fire from mortars and RPG's also wrecked both tracks on the tank, rendering it completely immobile.

The Scots Dragoon Guards had a pair of Challenger Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicles (CRARRV) for just this sort of situation. Based on the Challenger 1 these vehicles had been fitted with a variety of cranes and winches to help with recovery and repair of damaged or broken tanks. One of the vehicles was dispatched and soon arrived on scene. It was commanded by Corporal John Morgan. After positioning their vehicle a line was run from the winch, which can haul up to 104 tons. It took some time to connect the tow cable, all the while the stranded tank was under concentrated fire. Then the hydraulic winch powered up and took the strain, however the cable snapped, luckily no one was near the cable when it parted, however the backlash damaged the winch on Cpl Morgan's vehicle. Lt Morgan evacuated two of the stranded Challenger’s crew as he withdrew to a wide spot further back along the causeway to await the second CRARRV which was some ten minutes away. The other two crew were evacuated by one of the other tanks in the Squadron.

The second CRARRV was commanded by Corporal Jason Garrett. After it had taken the lead, Lt Morgan's CRARRV followed it to the stranded tank. Cpl Morgan and the recovery mechanic from Cpl Garrett's vehicle, Corporal Justin Simons, both dismounted to attempt to work on the Challenger 2. Cpl Garrett remained in his cupola to provide cover with his GPMG against enemy infantry who were pressing closer. Even after a smoke screen was laid by 105mm light guns the small arms fire continued to be quite concentrated, along with sporadic mortar barrages. Enemy reinforcements had by now begun to trickle into the battlefield to replaces losses and so the incoming fire did not slacken during the engagement. For four hours the two corporals worked on attaching a 15ft cable between the CRARRV's winch and the stricken tank. Finally, they were ready to begin. Again, the winch took the strain and the Challenger 2 begun to move, however due to the state of the tracks and the incoming mortars the entire mass slid off the opposite side of the causeway.
You would not believe how hard it is to find decent CRARRV pictures from Iraq. This is about as good as it gets. Assuming I've not dropped a clanger and posted a picture of a CHARRV.
To be able to control the disabled Challenger whilst under tow the tracks needed to be cut. Normally this would be solved by a small charge of plastic explosive to sever each track, and then when the tank was hauled away the tracks would be left behind allowing the tank to be towed on its road wheels. 

However, a feature of the 2003 invasion was just how badly equipped the British Army of the time was, due to Government penny pinching. Thus, the crews lacked the plastic explosive to complete the job. As night fell the two Corporals set to work trying to break the tracks with normal hand tools. When this failed Cpl Simons got an oxyacetylene torch and attempted to cut the mangled tracks off. This obviously caused a significant amount of light, and he was the only illuminated spot out in the dark country side. Giving his position away like this caused him to be the subject of concentrated fire. This brute force approach also failed.

Finally, the decision was taken to try hauling the damaged Challenger out by the use of both CRARRV's working together. It was hoped the increased weight and power would enable the disabled tank to be controlled better. First both CRARRV's were linked by several towing cables, then Cpl Garrett's tank was linked to the Challenger 2. Together both tanks took the strain, and the disabled Challenger 2 began to move. By this method it was dragged from the battle.

The entire operation had taken over 10 hours under direct, and quite often, concentrated heavy enemy fire. The damaged Challenger 2 was returned to the base workshops to be repaired. Within six hours the tank was back in action.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Story of White 9

Sitting in the cockpit of his BF109E, called 'White 9', Oberleutnant Karl Fischer begun to bounce down the grass runway at Guines airfield. The date was the 30th of September, 1940. The Battle of Britain was all but over, and the Luftwaffe was exhausted. Olbt Fischer had been with his Jagdgeschwader 27, sometimes called "Afrika" for at least a month or two. On the 25 of August he was part of the covering force of 109's that had escorted some BF110's and bombers to attack Warmwell airfield near Portland. This mission had been flown late in the day, and about 1730 as the flight approached the British coast the usual scattering of Hurricanes had met them. The attack had been a failure only damaging a couple of hangars, however Olbt Fischer had scored his first kill that day by shooting down a Hurricane. Since then he had not had any more victories.
A 109 at Guines
Now came the period of the Battle of Britain where the Luftwaffe attempted to break British morale by bombing London. Today's mission was to escort the bomber stream over the city.
Oblt Fischer was soon above the smoke shrouded London, watching as the bombs burst through the curtains of black smoke, below him he could see the bombers going about their deadly business. Then the familiar shapes of British Hurricanes appeared and the 109's of III Gruppe, JG27 moved to block the Hurricanes from getting at the bombers. A swirling dogfight ensued, at the end of the battle both sides separated. Oblt Fischer had not scored any kills, but equally he had not been hit. Then his wingman called him on the radio, he was wrong, he had been hit. His 109 had a trail of white fuel vapour. Oblt Fischer looked at his controls, the gauges for his fuel tanks all read empty. All around him lay London, nothing but houses and no-where to land safely. Then suddenly Oblt Fischer saw a patch of green, a park, so he aimed for it.

At the last moment the long nose of the 109 blocked his view of the park, Oblt Fischer groped for the ground, suddenly bumping into contact. He braked as hard as he dared on the unsteady undercarriage as a huge castle loomed in the distance.
Then the plane pitched forward and the rotating propeller smashed into the ground, and the plane tipped forward and flipped onto its back. Oblt Fischer was promptly caught and became a POW.
Righting White 9.
The 109 had crashed in the Great Windsor park. At the time it was reported the dastardly German had attacked a pair of innocent unarmed Ansons who were conducting a training mission. The nasty bullying German pilot then got his comeuppance when he misjudged a turn and stalled.
White 9 being inspected by the authorities.
To add insult to injury the remains of White 9 were recovered, and then hidden behind a fence. Locals were then charged six pence to view the wreck, or a shilling to sit in the cockpit. The money raised was then donated to the local Spitfire fund. The latter was a way for the members of the British public to donate and raise money with the aim to buying a Spitfire, although the money didn't always go towards such an aircraft, by the war's end about £13 million had been raised (That's about £650m today).
White 9 on display at Windsor
Shortly after the display was placed, the novelist George Beardmore who lived nearby and his wife decided to visit the downed 109. At the time he was working as a dispatch rider for the BBC, as earlier in the year he had been listed as medically unfit for military service.  Thus, first thing one morning, after enduring the usual Blitz air raid overnight, the Beardmores walked to the enclosure, on the way they saw an odd tub-shaped thing, with a parachute. They asked the gatekeeper if that was part of the display. The gatekeeper was curious, he'd been on fire watch all night and was exhausted. Turning the corner, he sees a 1000kg German Luftmine that had been dropped during the previous night’s air raid!
The alarm was quickly raised, with the police arriving within ten minutes. The houses nearby were evacuated, with the people advised to leave their windows and doors open. Later in the day the mine was safely de-fused.
It's likely that Oblt Fischer survived the war as a POW, although his complete biography eludes me. White 9 was probably scrapped after her time as a display piece.

Image credits:

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Flamming Tiger

From the 13th of June to the 13th of July 1944, the New Zealand 20th Armoured Battalion was given a rest period in the Liri Valley, after its part in the push to Rome. It was a time of training and refitting for the Sherman equipped unit. On the morning of the 13th the Battalion began its march back to the war, this time it was to be part of the attack on Florence. By the 17th the Battalion was in position near the front for a brief rest at Lake Trasimene. Then on the evening of the 22nd the Battalion moved again some 70 miles to Siena, and finally to Tavarnelle on the 26th. The 27th was the day the war returned, a reconnaissance patrol dodged enemy mines but was halted by a blown bridge. On the return journey one tank slipped off the tracks it had made on the journey out and hit one of the mines. Over the next few days in association with strong infantry support the regiment pushed the enemy back through Cigliano and Pisignano, with several casualties. The enemy had armoured support in the shape of Tiger tanks. On one occasion a Tiger lurched out in front of a Sherman and hit it with its coaxial machine gun, but did not fire the main gun, presumably due to a lack of ammunition.

Two troops of tanks were given the objective of capturing the high ground near the village of Giogoli, as well as the village. These troops advanced with their infantry support on the 3rd of August. A few machine gun nests were quickly silenced by the tanks and by 0900 7 troop was on the hill and 6 troop was in Giogoli itself. The infantry had pushed further out the other side of the village by about a mile and were calling for support from the tanks. No 6  troop under Lieutenant Bill Heptinstall moved out to help the infantry After a short while they entered an olive grove and the low hanging branches caused damage to the tanks antenna compounding the earlier problems they had had with radio communication. Then one of the branches hit an open commanders hatch, ripping it from its mounting and badly injuring the Troop Sergeant, who lost part of his hand in the incident.
Even worst, this time messing about in the trees meant that contact with the infantry was lost.

Lt Heptinstall brought his troop out onto a road and began to advance at speed. The first living person they saw was a German armed with a Panzershreck. Luckily for Lt Heptinstall his hull gunner reacted quicker than the German. The road ran through a cutting then dipped steeply. The veteran New Zealand tankers halted knowing it was an obvious ambush point.
Lt Heptinstall tried to work his way around to flank the position using a promising looking narrow track. However, this ended at a farm house, and there was no means of travelling further. On the narrow confines of the track Lt Heptinstall got his tank turned around and returned to his troop. The infantry were still out of contact, however Lt Heptinstall had managed to re-establish contact with his regimental HQ, who said the infantry were ahead of him and under fire in need of help.
As he needed to advance Lt Heptinstall decided to take the road at full speed, with his other two tanks providing overwatch. At the bottom of the cutting there was a sharp left turn, and Lt Heptinstall intended to turn into it to get out of the suspected killzone

His Sherman raced forward at full power. Just before he was due to make his turn the wall that lined the side of the cutting opened up to the gates of the Villa La Sfacciata, beside the old villa was a rather more modern shape, that of a Tiger tank. It fired, hitting the fast moving Sherman, killing the driver outright. The Sherman skidded off the road and the rest of the crew bailed out, into a hail of German machine gun fire. The only person not hit was Lt Heptinstall. 
Looking up from a ditch he found himself in Lt Heptinstall could see the other two tanks of his troop advancing towards him, they had no idea what had happened, but were coming to investigate. Lt Heptinstall ran to the tanks to explain what had happened. The mad dash managed to halt the tanks before they blundered into the Tiger lying in ambush. Lt Heptinstall borrowed a Tommy Gun from the tank and returned to look for his crew.

As he approached he could see they were all dead, and then before he could close up German infantry on the hill side above him began to throw hand grenades at him. Lt Heptinstall was forced to retreat. On his way back, he was going much more cautiously and stumbled into a German machine gun nest, occupied by two Germans and their machine gun. Lt Heptinstall had walked past these men twice, and they hadn't opened fire, instead preferring to remain in their weapons pit in safety. Lt Heptinstall took both Germans prisoner, which they seemed willing to accept and returned to his troop. Meanwhile the rest of his tanks had been laying effective fire onto the German infantry who had tried to grenade Lt Heptinstall. The closest weapons pit was just ten yards away from the Sherman's, and a 75mm at that range was utterly devastating.
At this point a composite troop consisting of the Squadron HQ, some extra Shermans and a pair of M10's appeared, bringing much needed support. For the rest of the day both sides traded artillery, and a lot of it was aimed at the Tigers position. Later in the day the M10's were firing towards Point 199, when one was destroyed by return fire.

The next day the advance resumed and two burnt out Tigers were discovered. One had rolled down the hill whilst on fire, the one from the Villa La Sfacciata was now sitting next to the Sherman it had destroyed. It is likely that both tanks were destroyed by their own crews as they lacked the fuel to retreat (although one newspaper cutting says it tried to drive away from the position but was destroyed by fire from the Allies). With the two Tigers gone the Germans had lost the lynch pin of their defence and the fighting in the area ceased apart from the occasional skirmish.
Lt Heptinstall's Sherman next to the burnt out Tiger the morning after the battle.
Lt Heptinstall was awarded the Military Cross for his actions. Schwere Panzerabteilung 508 were the owners of the two Tigers, and their records say they lost a single man killed in action, likely from the artillery fire.

Image credits:


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Shadow of the Conqueror

I had a great article prepared for you today, something a little bit odd, and really came together well. But yesterday I came across a document while looking for other things, that pointed to not wrong information, more a missing part of the story. A quick check of the archives catalogue and it shows further research is needed, lest I start putting out wrong information.

Equally I can see this subject spiraling out of control in the size of the piece, so I might need to break it down into another three or even four part article, or maybe even do a small booklet on it. Let me know your ideas down in the comments, or on Facebook.

That means I've got nothing prepared for you. I guess you'll have to talk amongst yourselves for a bit. Sorry.


You're still here, ok, let me see what I can find under the "not enough documentation to make a full article" pile.

Here we have a plot of every V-1 encountered in the detailed time frame.

Considering that's for only about three months you can see the scale of the problem. One of the departments that stepped forward to challenge the V-1 was the Department for Miscellaneous Warfare Development (DMWD), of the Royal Navy. It's idea, code-named Tonsil, was to site Pillar Box AA rockets in a single battery. Some twenty launchers were installed within just a few weeks of the idea being first created.

The launchers arrive by truck, I doubt they were fired from the back of the truck due to the back-blast and the later pictures.
The Pillar Box launchers were placed in a single Battery at Dymchurch, on the coast. Each rocket was fused to explode at the same point, and when a V-1 was sighted the entire battery was fired in one giant salvo.

Tonsil Launching
The effect of a salvo from the battery.
This meant that the V-1 had a box barrage of 400 rockets laid around it in very short order. During the batteries operation from July 1944 to September 1944 it was credited with shooting down eight V-1's.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Boys from Australia

About four miles SWW from the port of Tobruk, is a junction of four main roads. In January 1941 the Italians had erected a place called 'Fort Pilastrino'. In reality it was not a fort, just a low wall surrounding a collection of barracks. The land around it was mostly flat with a few hills.
The 2/8th Australian Infantry battalion was marching towards this defence work to take part in the capture of Tobruk. One of the members of this battalion was Private Oliver Zachariah Neall.
Fort Capuzzo, a similar 'fort' by the description to Fort Pilastrino
The 33-year-old Neall was born in Victoria, in 1908. In his previous life he was a farmer, until December 1939 when he had enlisted. By April 1940 his battalion was loaded aboard ship and transported to the Middle East. Once war had broken out the Australians had fought at two larger battles at Bardia and Derna. Now he was about to take part in the capture of Tobruk. As the Australians pushed towards Fort Pilastrino they ran into an enemy strong point. It contained a pair of tanks, with infantry support, and had some degree of artillery support. As the Australians advanced Pte Neall's platoon came under fire. One of the rounds wounded Pte Keith Hall, the platoons anti-tank gunner, and damaged the Boys Rifle he was carrying. The platoon then launched a bayonet charge which cleared out the Italian defensive position and captured the two tanks.

To continue the advance in the face of enemy fire the platoon was split into two groups, and Pte Neall was given the damaged Boys Rifle to carry. The platoon continued to advance, however casualties were beginning to rise, when the group Pte Neall was part of reached its next point of cover there were just six men left. In the shelter from the enemy fire the remaining platoon members had a break and a quick meal. During this lull Pte Neall took a rock and smashed the magazine of the damaged Boys Rifle off. This allowed him to get at the internals of the weapon and unjam the bolt and bring the weapon back into working order. The rough handling when the magazine was removed meant that no magazine could be fitted, and the rifle had to be hand fed each round, drastically cutting down the rate of fire. This rough and ready fix was not a moment too soon.
In the larger scale of the battle the Australians had penetrated the Italians front lines. The Italians had held back reserves for this to enable them to launch counter attacks. One of these counter attacks was thrown at Pte Neall's position. It involved some 200 infantry and nine tanks.

This force advanced upon Pte Neall’s position, seeing them coming and realising that his hand fed rifle was of dubious value Pte Neall saw another Boys Rifle lying on the ground. Its previous operator was had been wounded. The weapon was abandoned some 200 yards away. In plain view of the enemy he leapt up and sprinted across the gap to the rifle. Grabbing the weapon and ammo he sprinted back towards his original position burdened down by the 35lbs of the weapon. During his mad dash the Italians had opened fire on him.
Not Pte Neall. just an Australian publicity shot, taken at Toburk.
They continued to focus attention on his position as he returned fire on the advancing enemy tanks. Pte John Mayer was beside Pte Neall and filling magazines for him. This enabled Pte Neal to set up a brisk rate of fire. Many rounds later the leading three Italian tanks had been peppered with rounds each one being disabled in turn as they ground closer. The remaining six enemy tanks shied away from the position. The Italian tanks moved further down the line and over-ran another section in the Company, however in doing so they ran straight into an anti-tank battery of two pounders (Note: in some accounts it's a pair of Matilda's that show up). These quickly opened fire causing the Italian tanks to retreat.
Stripped of their armour the Italian infantry were forced back as well allowing the Australians to advance and capture Fort Pilastrino as part of the larger capture of Tobruk.

For his actions on that day Neall was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
After Tobruk Pte Neall took part in the Greece and Crete campaigns, in the latter his actions for assisting in the evacuation of wounded using a donkey he had obtained were singled out for praise. Neall returned to Australia in March 1942 with the rest of his unit for garrison duties.
Lt Neall and his new wife.
His health failing Neall remained in Australia when his unit was deployed to New Guinea in 1944. During this period, he'd met and married his future wife. When he was discharged at the rank of Lieutenant in 1946 he was too ill to resume farming and so became a joiner. Neall died in 1999.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Scout Down

 A Warning: The recent temperatures seem to have melted my proof readers computer, and so this article hasn't been proof read.
The operation to sweep the Wadi Dubsan was now considered, as the Para's were on the Bakri ridge they were over looking the Wadi, to reach it they had to go down a 3000ft cliff, clear the village of Bayn Al Gidr, and then begin their push along the narrow Wadi. To get down the cliff there were two footpaths, one was the main route used by the locals and one a treacherous footpath which was of much lower quality. Deciding that either of these footpaths would be the logical place to put ambushes on, the Para's found an alternative straight over the edge of the cliff. A boulder strewn stream bed started some 30ft down a cliff, and following it would bring them out on the rear of the village. The Para's abseiled down the cliff face to the stream bed and followed it, while they were spotted by sentries the few tribesmen abandoned their position leaving the village in the hands of the paras.
 At day break, learning from earlier experiences of in the Radfan, a company of Para's now advanced along the sides of the Wadi, as they did so a large number of Rebels were seen to leave their ambush positions on the better of the two footpaths down from Bakri ridge. At the same time the Re-enforcing company of Commando's advanced down the middle of the Wadi. This lead to a blistering firefight that lasted for several hours. It was reported as one of the most savage battles of the entire campaign.
Anthony Farrar-Hockley was in command of the Para's, he decided to take a Scout from his command post at Bayn Al Gidr to the front line to see what was happening. The tight nature of the Wadi caused lots of problems for Helicopters and it was extremely difficult for them to fly in. However one was provided, flown by Major Jackson, and with the front line coordinates in hand the scout set off down the Wadi.
As they approached the map reference the Officers in the Scout saw groups of Rebels on the cliffs above them. The Tribesmen opened fire with everything they had, the noise of the Scouts engine drowned out the impacts, but a wash of fuel sprayed over the front canopy, and the engine began to rattle and scream.
Turning around the Scout juddered through the air, suddenly up-ahead the front line of British troops was visible. The Scout finally came o rest in the middle of no mans land, with about fifty rebels closing in. The British front-line started shooting and fire was sleeting both ways around the Scout, Farrar-Hockley, Maj Jackson, and the intelligence officer,  Lieutenant Ian McLeod, all bailed out of the Scout and made it to the British lines. Only Lt McLeod was wounded when he was shot through the wrist.
The battle was finally won by a company of Para's marching around Jebel Haqla and outflanking the Rebel positions. The locals then began to withdraw about 1600, allowing the British to push up to the damaged Scout. The Scout was a problem, it couldn't remain in place, and the Para's only had enough supplies to last them for 24 hours total, and they'd already been on the ground for 12 of that. Their stay could not be extended due to the problems with re-supply, only scouts could get into the extremely narrow Wadi, and they couldn't carry enough supply. Air drops would scatter all over the place and be useless.

The commanding officer of the Scout flight flew in to inspect the situation, he thought the scout was repairable, and so two fitters were brought in at last light. They erected a screen around the scout and began to work with torches and hand tools. At dawn Major Jackson remounted his steed, turned the engine over and pulled up on the helicopters controls. The Scout rose and was able to fly out of the Wadi and over the mountains. The Para's completed their sweep of the Wadi and climbed out, whereupon they were met by the Wessex helicopters of HMS Centaur and airlifted back to Aden.
FRA troops on a mountain in Radfan
The final actions of the campaign happened about a week later. The Stalled operation along Wadi Misra. the 1st East Anglian regiment was brought in. Ad in the Wadi Dubsan, forces advanced along the edges of the Wadi as well as its base. After a few minor skirmishes, and one casualty to a mine, the Wadi was cleared and the British were at the base of the Jebel Radfan. To take the Jebel a steep mountain climb was needed, however there were some doubts as to the ability of the British forces to do it. Thus a Federal Regular Army battalion was brought forward. These were Aden native troops. They charged up the slopes with some considerable dash and elan. As the FRA troops got near the top of the mountain, the Rebels, enraged by the trespass into their core domains came out to fight. The Rebels sent a large force to attack the FRA battalion and a battle ensued. This battle was a long range engagement, the FRA still equipped with Lee Enfield's displayed a level of skill at musketry that was very effective. The accurate fire pinned the Rebels in place, unable to advance or retreat they provided a perfect target for the RAF. For the rest of the day the Hunters strafed, bombed and rocketed the Rebels. That night, the survivors of the Rebel forces withdrew, and from then on there was no more organised opposition. The East Anglians and FRA pushed on, capturing Jebel Huriyeh and Jebel Radfan by the 10th of June.

image credits:
If you don't follow my facebook page, then you'll have missed the post earlier in the week. The jacket for my upcoming book has arrived. The post can be found here.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Radfan (part three)

Part one.

We left the situation in Radfan with two companies of 3 Para, and the battalion HQ arriving along with some medium guns. These replaced the company already on the ground which rotated out for a rest. This formation was to be used as a mobile element to enable attacks on the enemy. However, the British commanders faced a problem. They could easily throw formations into the mountains, but to what aim? Without a clear-cut strategy there was little point to doing so apart from to run the risks of getting the soldiers stranded. The commanders also realized that simply relying on body counts was impractical, as the rebels were far too clever to mount a stand-up fight. Thus, the British commander, Major General Cecil Hugh Blacker, concluded that the only solution was to land attack the rebels in their most secure locations, the ones they considered militarily important. This would prove that the British forces could do whatever they liked, at will, with impunity. Equally the rebels might be drawn into a stand-up fight at that point to protect their ground, but this was considered a secondary goal to destroying the rebels will to fight.
The obvious target for this was the Bakri Ridge, and the village of Hajib situated halfway along the ridge. From the outset this had been a major concentration of enemy resistance and had been close to the location where the SAS patrol got attacked. The plan was to start on the 21st of May, the entire ridge line was to be worked over heavily by the RAF, then on the 25th the Paras would attack. The dates were selected due to the arrival a squadron of Wessex helicopters from HMS Centaur to assist the RAF Belvederes.
HMS Centaur
The Paras however had different ideas. There was a noticeable slackening of enemy resistance around the lower slopes of Bakri Ridge, so the Paras were ordered to make a reconnaissance in force to see what was happening. They were told they would receive no Belvedere support, and so had to plan accordingly. On the 18th they launched their probe. One company led the way, with a second company being turned into porters to carry supplies. The Paras advanced some three miles, although the route taken by foot was closer to three times that distance. The company used as porters had to do this route again to collect their own arms and equipment, and then re-join the force. They covered some 36 miles in the heat, over rough terrain in a single day, half of it while carrying significant levels of equipment.

This advance meant that the northern end of the Bakri Ridge was now held by the British, with no resistance met. Thus, the operation was continued with the Paras attacking and capturing Hajib village the following night in the face of very light resistance. The southern end of the Bakri Ridge was captured by the planned operation on schedule.

The next phase of the campaign was to seize the Jebel Huriyeh and the Wadi Dubsan, places where no European had ever ventured. The Wadi Dubsan was the main military headquarters and logistics area for the rebels and the rebels held the Jebl Huriyeh as a point of prestige as it was the highest mountain in the Radfan area. 
As a distraction an armoured advance was sent down Wadi Nakailain, like before it wasn't expected to reach the end due to impassable terrain, but it was ordered to create a lot of noise and draw the Radfani attention. This it did, with one Saladin crew penetrating a bit further than was intended. Simply because when they reached the impassable terrain the commander was a bit eager and ordered his driver to accompany him as they both dismounted and pushed forward a short ways. They then ran into the enemy and became involved in a skirmish, in which the driver was lightly wounded, at which point the two soldiers withdrew back to their Saladin, and the driver was able to resume his duties.

45 Commando was due to advance up Wadi Misra and capture Jebel Radfan and then Jebel Huriyeh. However, a massive rainstorm occurred which delayed the Commando's by 24 hours. At this point the Commandos were due to be pulled out of action to attend another operation elsewhere in Aden, and the entire operation was suspended for a week until further forces could be brought in.
The Paras were reinforced by a company of Commando's to bring them up to full strength and sent in a sweep from the Bakri Ridge through the Wadi Dubsan. Their job was to seize any food stuffs, documents and weapon caches. To get off of Bakri Ridge the Paras had to fight their way down from Arnolds Spur, this was a feature that started at about a height of 5,000 feet and had drops ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 feet down to Wadi Dubsan, most of these were near vertical. To add to the problems the weather was beginning to turn much rainier and the beginning of storm season made life more difficult for the air support. The Wadi was out of range of all the British artillery apart from a single section of medium artillery. To make matters worse once in Wadi Dubsan the sides of the Wadi proved extremely difficult for helicopters to operate in, with only Scouts really being able to get in with some difficulty.

Nether the less the Paras began to plan their descent and would eventually be involved in a race against time to recover a shot down Westland Scout and its crew. This will be in next week’s final article on the Radfan.

Image credits:
www.4and7royaltankregiment.com, www.seaforces.org and www.radfanhunters.co.uk

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mountain Armour

We left British operations in Radfan with the failure of an SAS patrol to secure a landing zone, that would allow a company of Para's to land behind an objective. With the failure to secure the drop zone the parachute drop was cancelled, and the Para's were to re-join 45 Commando, and take a ground route to Cap Badge and attack it from the rear.

As it turned out Cap Badge was unoccupied, the fortified positions on the Cap Badge which 45 Commando stormed were empty. They consisted of caves with crude concrete breastworks. As 3 Para moved through Wadi Taym they found progress harder than expected. At daybreak they were still in the low ground, and immediately came under concentrated fire from the small settlement of Al Naqil, which was adjacent to Cap Badge. The thirty odd rebels in the large village were the force stationed on Cap Badge. They had decided not to spend the night in their sangers and had retired to the Al Naqil to sleep.

Now they had a company of Paras in front of them. Due to the sheer nature of the sides of Cap Badge the commandos couldn't bring any fire to bear on the settlement as they couldn't see it. Thus, a day long battle begun, with thrusts to capture a house, and then a counter thrust to flank the captured position. They received support from the Hawker Hunters, who in one daring strike managed to get a salvo of rockets into a cave hidden at the base of Cap Badge, which had been screened by the settlement. This cave contained an ammo dump.

The Hunters also helped deal with the houses that had been fortified. Initially HE rockets were tried but failed to work as the rockets would not arm on the mud walls. Back at base a suggestion was made to use the concrete filled practice rockets. These worked much better at demolishing the fortified houses. A company of commandos was brought forward by Belvedere to Cap Badge in the afternoon, this force then began to press upon the rebels from the other side.
Eventually after eleven hours of fighting the settlement was captured. The Paras had lost two men killed, and nine wounded. The Paras re-named the village Pegasus Village.

Road building in the Radfan
At the same time as this operation had been going on, the local troops had been advancing up Wadi Rawba towards a feature called Gibraltar. As they cleared the last hold outs the road was found to be almost utterly destroyed. With Gibraltar seized the British forces had a good toehold in the Radfan and had pushed the rebels back. The rebels were still confident of winning and were well organized and still well equipped with small arms. They also still in some strength in the northern and southern ends of the Wadi Taym.

The rebels also had a much more secure logistics system. The British were at the end of a long supply line, which was being maintained by the use of helicopters. Camels were being used to bring in more supplies, and some primitive airstrips were constructed. Even so the number of troops deployed forward had to be reduced.

About the 11th of May when the Kings Own began to arrive one of the objectives given was to get the logistics under control, because before that supplies arrived and were just moved out of the way and piled up without order or thought. Equally the Kings Own was given the task of imposing 'military control'. This latter was a kind of scorched earth policy, which was apparently common throughout the region. Leaflets would be dropped on a misbehaving settlement, warning them to leave. After a time, to give the residents time to evacuate the army would move in and remove foodstuffs and livestock, and otherwise do damage that was non-permanent. For example, structures and items were to be left undamaged. This wasn't often carried out as the British soldiers disliked carrying out these orders.

Another operation that was carried out was the deployment of an entire squadron of SAS into an area east of Wadi Bana. This was suspected of being the main route of supply for the rebels. For five days the SAS operated in the area, by the end of it they had killed or wounded every rebel in the area and cut off a major route of supply for them.
4th RTR ready for the opperation's start. At the time, in Aden 4th RTR was equipped with Ferret and Saladin.
Finally, an armoured spearhead was planned. It was to be thrown up the Wadi Mirsa. 4th RTR provided a squadron, supported by 16/5th Lancers. The armoured column advanced as best it could through the broken ground. Every time they encountered a position that looked like it might hold an enemy the locale was shelled. This kept enemy action to a minimum, but there were some terrain issues which slowed the column down. Eventually, just short of the end of the Wadi where it turned into an uncrossable obstacle, the tanks got into a serious firefight with the rebels. Here bad luck struck, a sudden and heavy rain storm occurred higher up the hills. A Wadi is a dried-out river bed, and it began to flood. This forced the tanks to retreat in the face of the rebels, who took heart from the action, as it appeared they had seen off the enemy’s tanks and that the British lacked the heart for a fight.

On the 16th of May the rest of 3 Para, and a section of medium artillery arrived to support the Kings Own, there was still plenty of fighting to be done before the end of the operation, however this article is beginning to get a bit long, so we will wrap it up there.

Image credits:
iwm.org.uk and www.4and7royaltankregiment.com