A Gunner's Recollections of Sidi Aziez
by Gnr WP Brown, No. 20721, E Troop, 28 Bty
It was the morning of the 27th November 1941. The night had been bitterly cold, after which we had to stand to. So you can imagine we were all looking forward to a nice hot cup of tea when stand down was given.
An Ammo Column was supposed to arrive at 0230 Hrs to replenish our Ammunition which had dwindled to only 12 rounds in the Limber. A Column did arrive around 0500 and ther was a sigh of relief all round. Unfortunately it left with a few more vehicles than it arrived with because it was a load of prisoners being taken to the rear. So no Ammo.
Around 0600 Hrs a truck did arrive and issued out 6 boxes of Shell (24) and 3 boxes of Charges (24) per gun. While the crews were breaking open the boxes to put the Shell and Charges into the trays, George Pawsen came around to say all Sgts to Capt Ombler's Bivvy for a briefing.
The 4 Guns of E Troop were facing Bardia with Infantry about 500 yards to our front, and 5th Brigade HQ to our rear. Between HQ and the Guns there was a slight rise. I was on No. 4 Gun, with Bill Cook the Sgt and Charlie Stone the layer. While the Sgts had gone for their briefing, Alex Rowe and Allen Sim had got things ready to have breakfast when the all clear was given.
This was not to be, for as the sun came up behind us all hell was let loose. The first enemy shells had direct hits on No. 2 and 3 Guns with appalling results. There was no need to say about face, and by the time Bill Cook arrived back we had 4 casualties. Alex Rowe had lost an eye and part of his face. Gnr Parsons, a Tank Shell through his buttocks, Allan Sims, Shrapnel through the hand, and Lofty Stephenson dead with head wounds.
I called out to see if there was any help we could get, and the Infantry who were moving up, left us a couple of men. Sgt Bob Bond was on his way over to help when a trail of Machine Gun fire from the rear of the RAP cut him down. At the same time Bill Cook was hit and so collected the walking wounded and took them to the CCS.
Len Matthews came over to help and lost his steel helmet. I gave him mine, which was too big and kept falling off every time I bent over. Bill Simpson came over and said Charlie Stirling was on his way, but at the moment was pinned down. Next to arrive was Col Ken Fraser and Major Grigg. They were asked if they would yake over the Gun, but said they would be the Ammo numbers and try and salvage what they could from No. 2 and 3 Guns. Col Fraser also helped swing the Gun around as the tyres were shot off, the platform bent and the shield on the loaders side was like a colander. Riddled with holes and only a piece of jagged metal.
All the trucks in front of us were burning and through the smoke appeared Doug Gerrard (Mickey Mouse) who said there was a truck of Charges outside HQ which had not been hit. Len Matthews volunteered to go and retrieve some, and managed to get back within 100 yards of the Gun when the truck caught fire. The last I saw of Len he was trying to put the fire out and was hit by a burst of Machine Gun fire.
We were swinging the Gun around to fire on a Tank that Charlie had sighted coming through on our left, when Col Fraser was hit by a ricochet. This caught him in the chest and flattened a silver cigarette case he had in his pocket, and knocked Col Fraser out.
Major Grigg at this stage asked if someone could move the two Quads as he thought they were being used as the target. Gnr Tarrant, who was helping as an Ammo number, along with Gnr Alby Ludwig volunteered and were told to keep going and the Div is over in that direction.
Capt Gerrard arrived crawling through the Camel Thorn with 4 Charges and told us No. 1 Gun under Sgt Owen Lee was now out of action and he had advised them to stay put. Major Grigg then went for more Shells and coming back was hit by a burst from a Machine Gun in the head and legs. The telescopic sight bracket on the Gun was hit and bent, knocking Charlie off the seat. Also, at the same time the Range Cone was damaged.
I was hit on the hip, but it must have been a stone as there was no blood. Charlie said he could not see and felt sick. Then Col Fraser sat up and asked what had happened. This was quite a relief as we had thought that he had had it.
Col Fraser asked where everyone was, and I am sure there were tears in his eyes as he looked about the Gun site. Three Tanks got past but a fourth was not so lucky, as I saw a couple of Jerries scramble out as it began to brew up. That was the last of the HE Shells. Col Fraser then gave the order to fire all the Charges and spike the Gun, and then said,"You have done well Brownie".
When it was all over, I put one AP down the spout and 2 AP up the breech and threw away the firing mechanism. Then waited for the Jerries to come. There wasn't long to wait. A Tank came through from the RAP area and I thought this is it, at least I will be in good company! The Tank stopped about 2 feet away, with the gun pointed at my chest and a Jerry poked his head out of the Turret, with a Schmeiser, and in a Yankee accent said, "Yous guys are on the wrong side".
From around the side of the Tank came a short squat man with a pock marked face and motioned me to drop something. When I looked down I was still holding the Rammer. He then motioned me to surrender, which I did, with no other choice.
Another High Ranking Officer then got out of the Tank and looked at the carnage. I asked the Yank if it was General Rommel, to which he answered, "The tall one is Baron Obest Major Westphal and the other one Rommel".
Rommel asked who we were and I replied, "We are New Zealanders". Rommel then wanted to know why we had not surrendered when the others had. To which I replied, I didn't know they had.
Something was then said, and about a dozen Jerries surrounded us and a number of photographers started taking pictures. One of the guards produced a Very Pistol and fired 2 white flares as a victory sign.
After asking if I could assist with the wounded to the RAP, I helped carry Major Grigg and met up with Bill Cook who was helping with the wounded. He enquired who was firing the Gun, and when I said it was me he said he thought it was Col Fraser. When Bill was told KWF was wounded, he said all wounded were to be left behind. So I said it was a sad day for E Troop.
The Jerries would not allow us to carry any more wounded up to the RAP and rounded up all who could walk and attached them to the Infantry who were already lined up. Col Fraser said Brigadier Hargest would like to speak to you, so I went over and shook hands and the Jerry cameramen had a field day.
The first order was "Fall out the Irish, Fall out the Jews". As no-one fell out, the long trek to Bardia where we to be held as POW began.
WP Brown. This article first appeared in 5 Fd Regt Newsletter #14.