Due to the difficulties in fusing the Hawkins mines which were to be used to seal the road, they had been fused earlier. One of the sappers had his store of fused mines carried in a sandbag, fifteen minutes before the attack was due to start he stumbled and fell into a Wadi, landing on the sandbag. The Hawkins mine is a pressure activated device of about a pound of explosive. When the igniter is cracked it leaks an acid onto a chemical which reacts causing the device to explode. During his fall the unknown sapper cracked one of the detonators. The resulting explosion caused a chain reaction in the other explosives carried by the Engineers. All but two were killed in the three explosions.
|Diagram of a Hawkins mine|
Lieutenant Colonel James Hill was in charge of the force. Born in March 1911 in Bath, he had gone the traditional route to college then into the army as an officer. However after a number of years in service he left to marry. Three years later he was recalled when war broke out and first served as part of the BEF in France. He commanded one of the evacuation beaches at Dunkirk and was on the last ship to leave. After conducting some staff duties he joined the brand new Parachute Regiment, which led him inexorably to Tunisia.
Lt Col Hill upon realising that the Germans were getting away launched an immediate assault. The first position was a stone wall and the Allied forces stormed forward, into the German fire. After a few minutes of close combat the wall had changed hands. However a new problem was evident.
|Lt Col James Hill|
He vaulted the wall and charged the first tank. Arriving at the tank unscathed by its fire he stuck his pistol into a vision port and sent a single round pinging around inside. The tank crew immediately bailed out yelling "Italiano!". With his first tank captured Lt col Hill charged the next. Again a single round from his revolver caused the Italian crews to bail, and surrender.
Finally it was time for the third tank. This time he found that the vision port was sealed. His response to this was to hit the tank, very hard, with his swagger stick.
This too had an effect, two German troopers emerged with their hands up to surrender to Lt Col Hill. The third, a giant of German, sprung out of the hatch. As he leapt out he opened fire with an SMG. Three bullets hit Lt Col Hill, one each in the chest, neck and arm. Instantly the German was cut down by friendly forces.
Lt Col Hill's Adjutant, Captain Whitelock, had also been injured by a hit to the face and neck. Both were loaded into a sidecar of a captured Italian motorcycle and driven, at speed, to the regimental aid post at Béja. However the only direct route which was safe to travel at speed in the dark was along a railway line. The motorcycle combination fitted in-between the rails and as a result hit every sleeper as a sharp bump.
|James Hill later in life|
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