Withdrawal to Tobruk. 1-14 April 1941. 3rd KOH

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by maisiefosse, Jan 24, 2015.

  1. maisiefosse

    maisiefosse Member

    This is the section I am just transcribing of my father's diary. He was Frank Wallbank, a fitter with 3rd King's Own Hussars (7899116) and was 23 at that time. They were in Libya, between Benghazi and Tobruk.

    1st April 1941
    Yesterday, enemy mechanised forces moved up and we decided to try and draw them to a better battle-field – or so our 'brass hats' say. We set off at 3.30 am leaving behind several trucks and 2 tanks. We had our first raid after 2 miles and from then until ? we were bombed twice and machine gunned 5 times – 4 trucks very damaged and 2 blokes severely injured. After 3 pm 10 Hurricanes covered our withdrawal and we saw no more enemy planes. During the journey we lost one more tank and another lorry. 2 Messers were brought down, one of which we passed soon after the crash.

    2nd April 1941
    First job today was to dig in. Hurricanes overhead patrolling. 200 yards yards away is a large Arab camp with hundreds of sheep, goats, camels and ponies. All day the Bedouin have been over, cadging tea or sugar or exchanging cigs and goats' milk. The sun is very hot today- it's impossible to get comfortable before the night and our water is almost too hot to drink. I'd give the truck away now for a glass of iced lemonade.

    2nd-15th April 1941
    For 14 days we have been tasting the bitter cup of defeat. Our strategic withdrawal of April Fool's Day finally turned into a wild dash for freedom. On the 2nd we set off to move back to Benghazi with the Jerries following. The K.D.G's and the 5th Tanks were at the front and during the night allowed a whole Panzer brigade to get through unseen. We had gone 8 miles back when we met an Aussie Captain. ''See those cars,'' said he, pointing to trucks moving in a cloud of dust only 2 miles off-''Well, they're Jerries.'' So we did a top gear 27 miles lying camouflaged in a small valley until dark. As soon as it was dusk we set towards the coast moving all night to a point near Regina Aerodrome, a distance as the crow flies of 12 miles, but we actually covered 23 miles having to give a wide berth to all likely points of action. Dawn found us all in another valley still having to be cautious but being much safer than the previous day. During the day we moved at dusk covering six miles, then we came to a so-called 'impossible' ravine. It took us from 8 pm to the following morning to get across. During the crossing we lost 29 vehicles, but no-one was injured. On the other side we decided to risk an hour's stay for a meal, but after 10 minutes enemy long-range artillery were landing shells less than 600 yards away. Once more we 'nipped off' and after 2 hours rough going hit the main coast road. And didn't we eat up the miles, finally arriving at a point 14 miles from Mechili where we stayed the night. At dawn we learnt that the enemy had been in the fort since the previous noon- so we took the hint. Water was now getting very scarce and the water truck had a 24 hour guard. On the way up the trail to Giovanni Berto 9 planes machine-gunned us and we lost another lorry. That night we went through the town of Baree...jo (?) a whole mass of flames, all the industries being demolished by our RE's.
    Then we went up the pass, a mountain of 7000 feet with a temporary wooden bridge over a ravine – was I glad to get over it. On account of nervous reaction, no-one was allowed to cross it in daylight. At the top we were stopped by Aussies with water and bottles of rum – very welcome. We followed the road for 10 miles. At every important point, RE's were waiting to put the finishing touches to all the mines when the last trucks had passed. Twice we were bombed, 2 trucks being hit and a man killed. At one point a bridge had been blown up and we spent 4 hours building a by-pass. At night we came to Derna, another coastal town, and once more hundreds of fires were going nicely. Here was another pass, 8,000 feet high where we lost another 5 lorries and one scout car. On the top we quickly took advantage of a 4 hour sleep. Dawn next day saw us on the road to Tobruk passing across the aerodrome of Bomda-ef-Erado. We found that the enemy armoured cars had taken the drome on the previous day and were actually there when we passed through but never challenged us.
    On the 11th we got into camp at Tobruk and had our first decent meal and sleep for days. During the whole journey we covered 900 miles, lost 48 trucks and all our tanks and have 18 men missing. We are now camped on the edge of Tobruk. Each day Jerry dive-bombers come over to bomb the harbour and yesterday 4 were brought down. Today, 9 more have just visited and we're now waiting to see how many got away. They just drop their bombs and shoot off at full speed with several Hurricanes after them. In the harbour now is the 'Waitora'- one of the ships in our convoy from Blighty bringing a cargo of tanks, mostly Matildas. All the spare files have been sent back to Cairo away from the approaching battle. An AA battery of 25 pounders is now practising about a mile away. This is a field, formerly belonging to the Italians and is covered with dozens of plane-wrecks and within 50 yards of our truck are 3 Capronis and 1 Savoia all burnt-out and a cemetery of Italian airmen.
    Never had such an exciting fortnight and the campaign is only just beginning. 4 Junkers with 23 fighters as escorts have just bombed the 'drome and our lads are now seeing them off. In the last 4 days, Hurricanes have got 12 and AA got 3.

    (If any experienced members have advice as to how best to post interesting sections, I would be grateful. . There are 5 photos to accompany this time, labelled 'the strategic withdrawal 1941, but they will have to wait until I can scan them.)

    Tricky Dicky likes this.
  2. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    June, wonderful reading. Thank you.

    Please add the photos when you are able and continue with the diary entries.
  3. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day maisiefosse,m,today,11:55am.re:withdrawal to tobruk-1-14 april 1941.great reading.well written.thank you for posting regards bernard85.
  4. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Very interesting stuff! Many thanks for posting, and would be very interested to hear more and see the photos.

    All the best

  5. fishdish

    fishdish Member

    Thank you for posting. The mention of Hurricanes covering the withdrawal is most interesting! On the 31st March 1941 the Axis forces moved through Marsa Brega, however accounts of the day make no mention of allied aircraft involvement? Looking forward to the pictures and any further transcriptions.
  6. maisiefosse

    maisiefosse Member

    Hello Fishdish,
    I have posted the next section in the diary for you, as it refers more to Hurricanes. In the sections from March to June there are details most days of dive-bomber attacks, and of ships bombed in the harbour.
    From 25th March until April 1st, the only mention of action against the German planes is the AA guns, but 25-27th was a sand-storm.
  7. fishdish

    fishdish Member

    Thank you maisiefosse.

    I am wondering why the Hurricanes were not used against the Axis forces while they were massing near El Agheila? Any references to locations mentioned in your Fathers diaries would be of immense use to me in my project (private and non commercial) I happen to be in Marsa Brega right now and where I have worked for the last 22 years. Thanks again for your time and effort.
  8. maisiefosse

    maisiefosse Member

    I've sent you a message.
  9. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Interesting question of why the Hurricanes didn't attack when Rommel was massing at El Ageila- it should be recalled that what was to become 8th Army

    had just finished wiping out an Italian Division at Beda Fomm (Google it )- and had nothing left - 4thIndian was on it's way to Somalialand trying to steal all the
    transport, many other troops were heading back to Egypt for re -fits etc - probably didn't know Rommel was anywhere near them until he caught up with

    them near Benghasi…..communications were not of the best in those days…

  10. fishdish

    fishdish Member


    Communications must have been virtually non-existent! Clashes with Rommel's men had occured in the last week of March with KDG and 3 KOH units. Rommel himself purportedly seen near El Agheila on recce! If the Hurricanes didn't engage the enemy I would have thought some aerial recce would have been in order. Having said that I think Axis aircraft were dominant hence too risky for allied pilots, also the top brass had it in their heads that Rommel wouldnt move east until later in the year and firm base/supply camps had been established. It's hard to say where 3 KOH HQ actually were on the 31st/1st April. Some elements were in the forward locations and HQ possibly somewhere S.E. of Marsa Brega.
    I wonder how many more diaries are sitting up in attics and down in basements holding clues that could give us more insight on the events of this period of time?
    Thanks for your thoughts Tom.

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