Purpose of this blog

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

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.