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47 Battery at Bel Hamid

Alan Jackson

To 5 Fd Regt Return to artillery of 2 Div Arty

After Greece and Crete a reorganisation of the Regiment saw the formation of three Batteries of eight guns, instead of two Batteries of twelve. The third Battery comprised C Troop from 27 and F Troop from 28. On November 11th we moved into Libya. We took what was to be known as the 'Left Hook', moving out into the Desert, while other units of the Eighth Army took the Coast Road.

Eventually, on 28th November, we reached Sidi Razegh. By this time the 'Rats of Tobruk' had been liberated. They, in turn, were able to supply us with much needed ammunuition and supplies. Our extended lines back to Base were being continually attacked by Rommel's panzers.

We supported the Infantry here, who were under constant attack, throughout the 29th and 30th. The German big guns made things rather unpleasant.

Then, the evening of the 30th, we moved back to what we imagined was to be a rest. We arrived at a barren spot, which we later knew as Bel Hamid.

It was a bitterly cold morning. At dawn we formed our guns into an "L" shape formation. C Troop facing East, F Troop North. At about 6:30am vehicles could be seen approaching from the NE. We thought they might be the long awaited South Africans. Then the orders came. "Tank Alert. Enemy AFV's. Gun control. Fire when ready!!!"

All guns opened up. C Troop took the brunt, firing until over-run. Then our No. 1 Gun - Sgt Ray Cooke - was knocked out. He ran back to No. 2 Gun where his brother was the Sgt, only to find him mortally wounded, his crew scattered around, dead and injured.

Then No. 3 Gun - Sgt Duncan - was put out of action. He and three of his crew killed.

By this time, at No. 4 Gun, we had Major Beattie, Captain Cade, Lts Harper and Young.

There was a short lull. Smoke and dust blotted out all visibility. One Gunner from No. 3 Gun had joined us. He pointed to his foot. Blood was spurting out. As he ran to us, a bullet went through the sole of his boot, and out the top.

Suddenly the air cleared. Not fifty yards in fronty of us was a Tank. We swung the trail, and I pumped three shells into its tracks.

That was all we had. Major Beattie said "Cease Fire. Get out get out if you can." I handed the dial sight to Jack Cooper. He gave it to Fred Faukner, and they took off. Just then a burst of machinegun fire caught Jack. I lay beside him. He had really caught it.

Lt Young, who had stayed, said "Come on Jackson, let's make a run for it." We took off, following the others. I saw Major Beattie go down, shot through the thigh. Capt Cade and Lt Harper dragged him along. I changed course, but the tracer still followed. Eventually, running, falling, running, I made it back to some 6th Field guns.

That was Bel Hamid, December 1st, 1941. We, 47 Battery, took the full force of Rommel's Panzers. F Troop alone had a dozen killed, others wounded. Only a few of us got back.

As we were attached to the 6th Brigade on this occasion, Allan Boyd asked me to give an account of events as I saw them. I hope this account supplies enough to give due credit to the Junior Battery which, in its first major encounter, fought until the last gun was over-run.

This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.

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