History of 'DD' Battery, Royal Horse Artillery
Chapter 1 - Formation and Sidi Rezegh
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JERBOA BATTERY, R.H.A., was first formed on Monday, 13th October, 1941, as a result of the reorganisation of the 4th Regiment, R.H.A., into three eight-gun batteries. As no Battery Commander had been appointed, the Regimental Second-in-Command, Major J. R. C. Christopher, DSO, R.H.A., temporarily assumed command and formed the Battery.
The Battery was granted the great honour of the title " Jerboa " (Arabic for desert rat) by Brigadier Jock Campbell. Commanding 7th Support Group, of which the Regiment formed the 25-pdr. unit. Major-General W, H. E. (Strafer) Gott, commanding 7th Armoured Division, gave his warm approval of the title, and it won universal approbation within the ranks of the Battery itself and in other units of the Support Group, in particular the 2nd Bn. Rifle Brigade and 1st Bn. (60th Rifles), with both of whom a firm bond of friendship with this Regiment bad been formed.
|13th October, 1941||The Battery took the field for the first time with Chase Column, under command of Major the Viscount (Hugo) Garmoyle, 2nd R.B. The role of 25-pdr. unit in the column had previously been filled by "A" Troop, " C " Battery, R.H.A. The column was at this time in a rear position at Baltet el Hileiba and troop positions were being dug in that area. But the Battery can certainly claim to have been born in action.|
|16th October, 1941||The column moved to a forward position at Alam Azza and the guns dug in. Training continued.|
|19th October, 1941||2/Lieut. E. J. Dainty joined the Battery and was posted to " D " Troop.|
|22nd October, 1941||Major P. T. O'Brien-Butler, R.H.A., arrived to take command of the Battery.|
|31st October, 1941||A practice camp was held by Lieut.-Colonel J. C. Currie, M.C., commanding the Regiment. Though not particularly successful, the practice taught many valuable lessons. The Battery was officially named " DD " Battery.|
|17th-18th November, 1941|| Until the middle of
November, since there was no interference from the enemy except a single
visit of high-level bombers, the Battery was busy training hard, so that
by 17th November the elements from " C " and " F " had
fused together to form a new unit of the Royal Regiment, ready for the
No hint of the British offensive was given until twenty-four hours before zero. 7th Armoured Division assembled at Quaret Azza and moved by night through the wire north of Fort Maddalena, with the first objective the landing-ground at Sidi Rezegh. 4th R.H.A. was under command of 7th Armoured Brigade (Brigadier George Davey), with the Battery in support of 7th Hussars.
|19th November, 1941|| During the morning
the 7th made contact with small enemy mobile parties twenty-five miles
east of Sidi Rezegh, but no real fighting ensued. By dark they were on the
escarpment overlooking Sidi Rezegh from the south, while 4th South African
Armoured Car Regiment were capturing prisoners and Italian planes on the
aerodrome. The Battery spent the night in leaguer with the ytb ft few
hundred yards north of the landing-ground. Enemy infantry which had lain
up all night in the escarpment just to the north and had now surrounded
the leaguer attacked as the guns were moving out at dawn. Lieut. Currie
led the guns—unscathed—to the cover of the valley south of the
landing-ground; while the O.Ps. went to the aerodrome ridge (432404). Here
the Battery remained for three days (" C " Troop moved 1,000
yards east on one occasion to meet a tank threat). Zero line north, but it
was altered at times to 270° and 90° to meet enemy threats. Another O.P.
worked with 1st K.R.R.C. (Lieut.-Colonel Sidney de Salis). Targets were
plentiful and included anti-tank guns north of the aerodrome, infantry
posts and ladder O.Ps.
1st K.R.R.C., with " A " Company, 2nd R.B., under command. seized the escarpment covering the north of the aerodrome, with much fire from enemy to their west. Capt. E. Dudley-Smith was wounded in the arm while observing from the aerodrome ridge. Capt. K. Wood took command of " C " Troop.
|21st November, 1941|| Enemy tanks
threatened from all sides. Their attack from the north-west, though it
gained the high ground of the aerodrome from 1st K.R.R.C,, was held, the
60th Field Regiment in 7th Support Group doing magnificent shooting over
At dusk " C " Troop took on a tank attack with " J " Battery, 3rd R.H.A. The tanks, numbering about twenty, came in to 1,200 yards from the south-east and were repulsed with the loss of eight—a good bag. Four men were wounded, including Sergt. Overy, one of the Nos. 1.
Lieut. Michael Kershaw, who had taken over from Capt. Dudley-Smith, was missing with his crew in his armoured car, and several months later unmarked graves were found beside the car. These were Lieut. Kershaw, L./Bdr. Homan-Berry, Sig. Moult and Dvr. Barnes.
|22nd November, 1941|| Having remained in
action throughout the night with D.F. tasks arranged with 1st K.R.R.C.,
one 0.P. being out with " A " Company, 2nd R.B., next morning
O.Ps. again were on the landing-ground, and Capt. Barrow was later awarded
an immediate M.C., and his O.P.A., L./Bdr. Ellis, an immediate M.M., for
their efforts on the 21st and 22nd.
(N.B.—This was the big battle at Sidi Rezegh when Jock Campbell won his VC and " C " Troop were heavily attacked and forced to abandon their guns—later all recovered—the next day.)
" C " Troop having occupied the same position at dawn, were ordered to move by Brigadier Campbell at about 10 a.m. They joined a troop of the 60th Field Regiment, moving one gun at a time to the position at the end of the aerodrome (431404). Sergt. Hallum's gun meanwhile engaged some tanks on the east flank moving north to form up for the big attack which the enemy were to put in later in the afternoon on the aerodrome. This eventually came in about 3 pm from the west the remaining tanks of the 15th and 21st Panzers being massed for it, but before this " C " Troop had been ordered south again to join " D " Troop in the wadi on the southern escarpment (432401). During this attack Capt. Barrow was firing indirect at targets to the north and west and spent most of the afternoon the other side of the enemy infantry moving in from the north.
Meanwhile on the aerodrome Jock was visible all the time, first directing guns of the 60th Field Regiment and then standing up holding a blue flag in his little staff car (cut down), leading the 4th Armoured Brigade tanks into action. These were Honeys, which arrived when the battle was at its height after the 1st K.R.R.C. had been overrun on " Sidney Ridge," and their arrival was opportune to say the least of it. Anyhow, the Panzers never came on to our 25-pdrs. At dusk the General (General 'Strafer' Gott) ordered the Division to withdraw five miles south to join the 1st South African Division, and this move was successfully accomplished after dark (432393).
|23rd November, 1941|| At dawn O.Ps. again
moved north to the southern escarpment overlooking the aerodrome. Salvage
of equipment and vehicles in the valley was possible if stealthily done,
and odd targets appeared on the aerodrome ridge. Early in the morning
Major Christopher Sinclair, 2nd R.B., came back from the enemy lines and
walked into " D " Troop O.P. (Capt. Barrow) - a weary figure,
having been a prisoner for twelve hours.
About nine o'clock a large enemy column attacked from the east end and the Battery was not allowed to shoot as the ammunition situation was then critical. Three tanks actually broke right through the gun line in among the echelon vehicles of the South African Brigade immediately west of the Division. Two were knocked out by " J " Battery, 3rd R.H.A.. and the other escaped.
They had fired White Very lights as success signals after passing the guns and were rudely surprised when engaged by all guns after they had driven right through them. One passed within thirty yards of Sergt. Bullock's gun, which in the excitement of the moment missed it. After that amusing little incident all was quiet till 4. p.m., when a massed tank attack came in on the South Africans from the west. They overran the whole S.A. position and soon came on towards " C " Troop, which engaged them at 800 yards, stopping six of them. " C " Troop were 1,000 yards south of " D " Troop and had a tremendous battle. Sergt. Hallum's gun got a direct hit which killed Gnr. Pennell and Gnr. Rees. Sergt. Pentherer's gun was then hit, he being killed and three of his detachment wounded. Another shell wounded Lieut. Denny, whose place as G.P.O. was taken by 2/Lieut. Dainty. Major O'Brien putter's armoured car was soon hit. Sig, Whitley being wounded and Dvr. Spendlove killed, and Major O'Brien Butler went to Sergt, Britton's gun as layer. Sergt. Hallam and Bdr. Barham went to Sergt. Pentherer's gun, theirs being out of action. Sergt. Wells was No. 1 of the fourth gun (No. 4).
Two hundred infantry then came in from the south, firing tommy guns, arid as all the Quads except one were out of action Major O'Brien Butler ran to fetch Dvr. Triffett in the Monkey truck (Signal truck). The remaining men on the position were about fifteen, including 2/Lieut. Dainty, who was badly wounded in the throat. These piled on to the 15-cwt. driven by Dvr. Triffett, which had to be pushed under heavy small-arms fire to start it. The rest of the Monkey truck crew had been on a. gun with B.S.M. Sunderland and were now back on their own truck. L/Bdr. (M.M.) Wood had meanwhile driven up another vehicle, a Quad, which picked up a few men who had fallen off the 15-cwt. For this action Gnr. (Dvr.) Triffett and Bdr. Smith, R. V., were. awarded the M.M. Bdr. Smith had gone from gun to gun after his own had been knocked out. " D " Troop pulled out at about the same moment as the 15-cwt. drove away with its heavy load, and the Battery joined the rest of the regiment—i.e., R.H.Q. and " F " Troop. 2/Lieut. Dainty died about 7 p.m. the same evening.
|24th November, 1941|| The Regiment,
together with what was left of 3rd R.H.A., moved off east during the night
to join Jock, the whole column moving on in the morning to Bir Hamarin,
where Jock organised 7th Support Group into columns and the remaining eight tanks of 7th Armoured Brigade rallied on the wire with Brigadier
Jerboa Battery and " F " were in Currie Column together with a troop of " M " Battery, 3rd R.H.A., and what was left of " J " and " D " Batteries (not much) and 2nd R.B. This column, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel J. C. Currie, R.H.A., the C.O. of the Regiment, was directed forthwith to join the General at the big F.M.C. (Field Maintenance Centre) at Agherat Sciosca and defend it, for the enemy after his Sidi Rezegh victory was already thrusting down the Trigh-el-Abd to Scheferzen.
|25th-29th November, 1941||The column harassed northwards for the next five days from a firm base at Gabr Fahrat, the highlight of the week being a successful swoop on the Ariete Division, which withdrew in disorder.|
|7th December, 1941|| Today
11th Hussars linked up with 1st R.H.A., and Brigadier Campbell met Major
Turnbull, 1st R.H.A., on the aerodrome the next morning. Tobruk was
definitely relieved at last, to the intense relief of every one of as
after days of acute anxiety. 2/Lieuts C. D. V. Wilson and R. Buxton joined
Rommel wad now regrouping at El Adem, and our new plan was to attack him from the south with the Indians (4th Indian Division and 7th Armoured Division protecting their left flank). This plan actually was abandoned later as unsound.
|10th-11th December, 1941|| The
columns advanced to Bir Hacheim, which the enemy evacuated as we arrived.
El Adem had mean while fallen to the Tobruk garrison, and Currie column
was ordered to do a wide sweep north through Rotonda H'Teifel and Sidi
Breghise to try and cut the enemy off from Ain-el-Gazala. During the
afternoon the O.Ps. reached the main escarpment about six miles south of
the main coast road between
Gazala and T'Mimi. Lieut. Currie on the left could see planes using the T'Mimi landing-ground. All sorts of stray enemy vehicles were shot up and captured and the war took on a new and enjoyable turn. We were obviously chasing him now. The 11th Hussars and " M " Battery (2-pdrs.) were having the time of their lives escorting O.Ps. of Jerboa and " F."
|12th December, 1941|| During
the night enemy columns passed close to the Column's leaguer, Lieut.
McCormick had broken down within a mile or two at dark (he had even
returned once to the leaguer to collect M.T. spares and had gone out
again). He and his crew bedded down where they were, intending to come in
in the morning, but they were never seen again and were later reported
prisoners of war.
At first light enemy columns to the east were engaged at about 5,000 yards, 11th Hussars and " M " Battery, 3rd R.H.A.. both had a wonderful day shooting up and capturing a lot of M.E.T. Towards evening the column moved east again through 4th Indian Division, to spend twenty-four hours in reserve.
|13th December, 1941||The enemy, after a counter-attack by tanks on an Indian Brigade and 31st Field Regiment, had now withdrawn to Derna, and our column advanced west, harassing to the north all the while.|
|14th December, 1941||Lieut. Currie was wounded by a shell splinter in the back, but he refused to be evacuated (M'Teilim).|
|16th December,1941||In action 5,000 yards south of Rotonda Segnali (N.B. - Rotonda signifies a place where a lot of tracks meet— i.e., a sort of circus), while the 12th Lancers and 4th Armoured Brigade and 2nd R.H.A. came up on our south (left). On in the afternoon towards Meduli, eventually leaguering ten miles short of that fort.|
|17th December,1941||On again at dawn due north over appalling rocky country towards Derna, eventually reaching the Camusa cross-tracks west of Martuba without gaining contact. At last light the column was recalled south again as the 4th Indian Division expected to dine in Derna that night, which indeed they did.|
|19th December,1941||By 0700 Currie Column, following Wilson Column (with " C " Battery), had made contact with a withdrawing enemy a good forty miles west of El Mechili.|
|20th December, 1941||On to Charruba at a cracking pace, with many vehicles " on their knees."|
|21st December, 1941||The plan is now to cut the coast road south of Benghazi, the enemy having concentrated in the Djebel and in Benghazi. We reached Antelat by dark.|
|22nd December, 1941|| O.Ps.
moved north-west towards Soluch, where Capt. Wood got a long view of
aircraft using a landing-ground near the coast. Several trucks were
captured, including one lorry by Capt. Wood containing about thirty men
and a stack of chocolate, which he distributed round the column. There
were a lot of enemy moving south from Sceledima and Barce and many must
have got away during the night; however, every day yielded its quota of
vehicles captured. At midday the column was suddenly ordered south again
to Antelat, where Wilson Column was engaging a large column withdrawing
west in the direction of Agedabia, and during the evening both " F
" and " DD " were heavily engaging a gigantic column
withdrawing slowly in perfect order. It was a wonderful sight against the
setting sun. It was a thousand pities we bad no tanks, and Jock actually
sent a message to Division :—
|23rd December, 1941||North again to Soluch with little activity as most of the birds have already flown.|
|24th December, 1941||On again towards Ghemines. with part of the column actually astride the main road (Benghazi—Tripoli). No one is likely to forget this Christmas Eve for in the middle of the night a K.D.G. charging plant caught fire and, the leaguer being then given away, Jock ordered an advance of a further three miles.|
|25th December, 1941||General Gott visited all round the column as we sat astride the main road. O.Ps. found nothing to shoot at and a quiet day was spent maintaining. A carol service was held by Padre Keith (2nd R.B.) in the evening. The bad news of the fall of Hong Kong rather spoilt an otherwise happy Christmas.|
|27th December, 1941||Moved to M'Sus, where it was announced that the Division would probably move back to the Delta to re-equip. Jock sent out a message which ended, " Remember our motto— first in and last out and ever ready to go on," and so it was.|
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