Cruel history, Italian tankers in inferior tanks were actually very courageous!

You may have heard the joke the old South African World War 2 North African campaign veterans used to often tell about ‘Italian Bravery’ – how many gears does an Italian tank have?  Answer; one forward and four in reverse!

History is very cruel to these very brave Italian tankers fighting alongside Nazi German forces and the likes of Rommel against the South Africans, British and Allied forces.

Weighting only 14 tons, by Allied standards the Italian M13/40 tank was seen as a light tank. For the unfortunate crews who manned it, it was nothing short of a death-trap.

Its semi-automatic 47 mm Ansaldo 47/32 gun could penetrate 1.7 inches (43mm) of armour at 550 yards (503 m), making it more than adequate to deal with most allied tanks -saved for the cumbersome Matildas- and its diesel engine had a low probability of catching fire when hit, but it lacked power which made the M13/40 a slow moving target, specially off-road.

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Although it had armour deemed adequate by 1940 standards, this was made of low quality steel which lacked tensile strength, resulting in a higher probability to shatter when hit, spraying the crew inside with deadly pieces of metal from their own armour.

To these men in dark blue overalls, destined to fight on unequal terms, history has often been cruel. Nevertheless, time and again, they charged gallantly against a superior adversary, often paying the ultimate price for their courage.

Note on the main featured image: The number 3 on the turret and the rectangle with a white stripe identifies this tank as the 3rd tank of first Platoon. The rectangle background colour identified the Company, the number of stripes the Platoon.

These Italian tanks were easy prey to the British, South African and other Commonwealth and Allied forces, here a member of the crew of an Italian M13/40 tank giving himself up near Gazala. His captor might be a soldier of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifles Brigade (part of the British and ‘Allied’ forces in North Africa).

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Original’s source of feature photograph unknown, feature image, colourising and caption by “In colour veritas”.  Insert image – Imperial War Museum copyright. 

‘Don’t forget I’m up here TODAY for your tomorrow’

Sometimes someone sends you something priceless. This is a letter written in the Area of Operations in 1982, during the SWA/Angola Border War. It is written by Angelo Angelides to his son, Ryan who was just 3 years old at the time.

In it he expresses his reasons for fighting in a manner only a small 3 year old can try to understand. It also shows the deep sense of anguish and fore longing caused by conscripts called up to duty away from their families.

9 Nov 1982

Dear Ryan

Thanks for your letter son with all squighs and circles I got the message.  You love me. Well son the same goes for you I love and miss you and it is not long now before I am home again.

Don’t forget that I am up here today for your tomorrow. 

Well your Mom say’s you are naughty.  Don’t worry I am not cross with you because I love you.  Don’t cry for your Dad because I am home soon.

Lots of Love

Angelo wrote it whilst he was a member of the Transvaal Scottish and off fighting in Angola at the time.

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Angelo Angelides (left with beard) and his brother Basil, serving with him at the same time – pictured 1978

My deepest thanks to Ryan Angelides for sharing this priceless memory.

 

South Africans destroy 101 Enemy Aircraft in East Africa

This is an interesting photograph of South African Airforce personnel celebrating a significant milestone.

The photo was taken during the East Africa campaign in 1941. Pilots and ground crew of No 3 Squadron, South African Air Force, chalk up their 101st enemy aircraft destroyed on the fuselage of a captured Italian CR 42 fighter.

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It must however be noted that this milestone was not 101 aircraft destroyed in air combat, and would be inclusive of aircraft destroyed whilst on the ground.  Nonetheless it provided for good propaganda and moral.  “Tiny” South Africa and a bunch of very brave airmen, in conjunction with The Royal Air Force and other Commonwealth Air Forces, decimated a European ‘superpower’s’ Air Force.

The East African Campaign – also known as the Abyssinian Campaign, started on 13 June 1940, with an Italian air raid on the base of 1 Squadron Southern Rhodesian Air Force (237 (Rhodesia) Squadron RAF) at Wajir in Kenya.

The campaign  continued until Italian forces had been pushed back from Kenya and Sudan, through Somaliland, Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1940 and early-1941.

The SAAF No.3 Squadron campaign began on 14 January 1941 the squadron was equipped with the Hawker Hurricane. It was used to support the invasion of Italian Somaliland, then after the fall of Mogadishu (25 February) took part in the advance into Ethiopa, moving to Jigigga on 24 March.In late October 1941.

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SAAF No.3 Squadron gained a second flight. This formation had originally been formed as No.41 Squadron Fighter Detachment, and was equipped with the Curtis Mohawk. This detachment was moved from Nairobi to the border town of Aiscia, where on 5 October 1941 it achieved the only Mohawk victory in Africa, shooting down a supply plane attempting to reach the isolated Italian garrison of Djibouti. Only after this did the detachment become ‘B’ Flight, No.3 Squadron.

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At the end of 1941 the squadron returned to South Africa before been redeployed to North Africa.


Feature image copyright IWM Collection. Reference, Wikipedia and the historyofwar.org.

As they like to say in the military “Karma is a Bitch!”

There’s a sarcastic saying in the military – “Karma is a bitch!” It’s a flippent manner of saying they had it coming, what goes around comes around – and this is an example of it.

The featured image is that of Gestapo member Johannes Post, executioner of Sqn Leader Rodger Bushell (known as ‘Big X’ as he masterminded “The Great Escape”), the moment the death sentence was announced at Post’s post war trial. He was hanged.

Roger Bushell’s story is nicely summed up by Buskriut Burger in his dedication to him;

Roger Bushell was born in Springs, South Africa in 1910. Paul Brickhill, who met Roger in Germany (POW) and later wrote THE GREAT ESCAPE, stated that “at the age of six, he (Roger) could swear fluently in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa and spit an incredible distance.”

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Roger Bushell (left), Janet Montagu and Paddy Green

Roger was educated in England, became a barrister and spoke fluent French and German. As a pilot in the RAF, he rose to the rank of Squadron Leader (equivalent to a Major in the South African Air Force). On 23 May 1940 he was leading 601 Squadron (12 Spitfires) over Dunkirk, when they were attacked by 40 German (Messerschmitt) aircraft.

Before being shot down, he destroyed two of the attackers. He bailed out and was taken prisoner of war (POW). During the next four years, he was a thorn in the flesh of his captors. Only his experience as a barrister saved him from being shot for habitually escaping, insubordination, resisting arrest and alleged spying and sabotage charges.

Sandy Hanes adds to this;

Roger Bushell is also oddly connected to Reinhard Heydrich’s assisination, he was recaptured due to it and worked over by the Gestapo as they believed he was involved in it (which he was not). The people sheltering him were executed for doing so.  It is suspected that this is when he began to hate the Nazi Germans with a passion.

In his final escape Roger masterminded, organized and orchestrated the “Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III POW camp in 1944. He was one of the 76 prisoners who escaped through the tunnel, and also one of the 73 recaptured. Squadron Leader Roger Bushell (RAF) and three South African Air Force airmen were among the 50, whose execution was ordered by Hitler.  Lt Johan (Boetie) Gouws, Lt Rupert Stevens and 2/Lt F.C. McGarr. Their names appear in the the South African Air Force Roll of Honour.

Roger Bushell’s ‘Great Escape’ was fictionalised to a degree in the movie “The Great Escape”. The character played by Richard Attenborough, Roger Bartlett, is modelled on Roger Bushell.

Karma is indeed a bitch – certainly for Johannes Post.  Roger Bushell is remembered on three war memorials, notably the one in Hermanus, South Africa.  Johannes Post has no such memorial and instead occupies a black stain in the annuals of history.


Insert picture of Roger Bushell thanks to Tinus Le Roux.  Composition article by Buskruit Burger, Sandy Evan Hanes and Peter Dickens

“Tomorrow I am going to die”

This is what Captain Walter ‘Jack’ Webb told his fellow 40 Squadron pilot, Lt. Michael Welchman, on the day that Mike snapped this photograph.

“Tomorrow I am going to die”

The very next day, 4/11/1942, Jack was shot down over the Alamein front whilst doing a tactical recce sortie on enemy positions. He forced landed on friendly territory but unfortunately landed in a mine field with tragic consequence that ended his short life.

19105707_10154760075403269_1391824141783588154_nJack was a survivor of three times being shot down but returned to the squadron unscathed every time . When he did not return after this particular sortie no one in the squadron were too much worried as they were confident he will pitch up on foot soon, but it never happened.

Jack was promoted to the rank of captain just days before his death and was recommended for an immediate DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) award.

What a poignant and sad image of someone clearly philosophical of his fate, and resigned to it.

May South African heroes like Capt. Walter John Stanley Alexander Jack’ Webb forever Rest in Peace. In the full knowledge that they are not forgotten and their sacrifice is a direct reason for all our modern-day liberties and freedoms.

He is buried in Egypt at the El Alamein War Cemetery. Grave Reference: Plot XXIII. Row A. Grave 8


Image colourised and caption researched by Tinus Le Roux – with kind thanks

Photo credit to Michael Welchman (left) who is still around and lives in Hermanus, this is the original shot he took (right) of Captain Jack Webb.  Headstone image courtesy Brett Fennell.

Supreme South African heroism on Omaha Beach, Lt. Royston Turnbull DSC

Remember the shattering opening of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” starring Tom Hanks commanding US Rangers as they storm ‘Omaha Beach’ and take out the German positions pinning everyone down on the beach during D Day?

Well, there was also one South African D Day hero and DSC (Distinguished Service Cross) recipient for gallantry in the centre of that specific firefight. Lieutenant Royston Davis Turnbull who had served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in Cape Town before the war and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry, on Omaha Beach itself.

His citation reads:

“This officer showed a magnificent example to his Flotilla when very heavily opposed whilst landing the 2nd Battalion United States Rangers near Vierville. Seeing three of his craft stranded on the beach and being subjected to intense mortar and machine-gun fire, he returned to their help. His hard work before the operation and his courage and leadership in the assault was an inspiration to all”.

Able, Baker and Charlie Companies of 2nd US Rangers were landed along with the 5th Rangers, the 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division at Omaha Beach. Their action was fought near and at Vierville-sue-mer.

Rangers, Lead The Way!

During D Day the 2nd and 5th US Rangers on Omaha beach found themselves coming to the aid of elements of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division who were pinned down by murderous machinegun fire and mortars from the heights above. It was there that the situation was so critical that General Omar Bradley was seriously considering abandoning the beachhead, instead of sending more men to die. And it was then and there that General Norman Cota, Assistant Division Commander of the 29th Infantry Division, gave the now famous order that has become the motto of the 75th Ranger Regiment: “Rangers, Lead The Way!”

The 5th US Rangers broke across the sea wall and barbed wire entanglements, and moved up to the pillbox-rimmed heights under intense enemy machine-gun and mortar fire and with A and B Companies of the 2nd US Rangers Battalion and some elements of the 116th Infantry Regiment. They advanced four miles (6 km) to the key town of Vierville-sur-Mer, thus opening the breach for supporting troops to follow-up and expand the beachhead.

The magnificent eleven 

The feature photograph is one of the “magnificent eleven” photos taken by Robert Capa and shows this exact firefight as landing US troops are pinned down on Omaha beach, seen here taking cover behind the beach obstacles from the highly effective machine gun fire coming from a nearby German pillbox. The landing craft that would have concerned our hero – Lt. Royston Davis Turnbull are similar to those seen in the background.

This opening sequence of the beach landing in “Saving Private Ryan” was so accurately played by Tom Hanks and his men acting as the 2nd US Ranger Battalion, landing on Omaha beach and taking out these pillboxes, that the actual surviving veterans of the beach landing could not sit through it. Such was the intensity and accuracy of the harrowing memory it brought back to them.

To think that we had our own South African in the middle of this epic moment in history earning a decoration of gallantry is quite something, and we should stand very proud of Lt. Royston Davis Turnbull DSC.


Image copyright Robert Capa, and has been colourised. Story by Peter Dickens with assistance from Sandy Evan Haynes.  Film sequence copyright Paramount International. Reference: SOUTH AFRICA’S D-DAY VETERANS Cdr w.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum, Simon’s Town.

South African bravery on D Day, Capt. Lyle McKay.

18839888_1970607699834885_1633886504255988424_oCapt. Lyle Louwrens Archibald McKay, was part of South African forces attached to the Royal Marines on D Day, 6 June 1944.  He showed remarkable courage on this most significant day in history – as this insert attests.

“Captain McKay showed qualities of initiative, energy and courage in a high degree by spotting and engaging enemy strong points, machine gun positions and anti-tank guns from the beach throughout D-Day.

In the course of the day he was wounded by a direct hit from a 75 millimetre shell which put the main armament of his Sherman tank out of action, but he nevertheless continued to engage the enemy with his .300 Browning machine gun until he finally moved inland from the beach with only one of four Centaur tanks, the remaining three still being out of action through damage to tracks on landing.”

The featured image shows a Sherman tank of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group, to which Capt. Mckay would have been attached, seen here during D Day operations – 13 June 1944, near Tilly-sur-Seulles.


Reference: SOUTH AFRICA’S D-DAY VETERANS Cdr w.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum, Simon’s Town.