Sidi Rezegh – “The South African sacrifice resulted in the turning point of the battle”

The Battle of Sidi Rezegh was part of Operation Crusader during World War 2, and one in which there was substantial South African sacrifice and bravery.

The battle was primarily a clash of armour between Allied (British and Commonwealth) and Axis (German and Italian) forces to try to relive the German Afrika Korp’s siege of Tobruk and took place around a strategic airfield.  A feature in the battle was the white tomb of Sidi Rezegh shown here with battle debris around it.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-12-35-47

The South Africans fought valiantly in this battle but the losses were incredibly high, the 5th South African Infantry Brigade had gone into this action with a brigade strength of 5,800 and had come out with a strength of under 2,000. The balance had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

The German General, Rommel attacked with 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions (battle tank and armoured divisions) and captured the airfield located there. Fighting was desperate and gallant, The fighting at Sidi Rezegh continued through 22 November 1941, with South African Division’s 5th Infantry Brigade by that time engaged to the south of the airfield. An attempt to recapture it failed and the Axis counter-offensive began to gain momentum.
.
The most memorable action during the North African campaign of the 3rd Field Regiment, (Transvaal Horse Artillery) was during the battle of Sidi Rezegh on 23 November 1941. The South Africans were surrounded on all sides by German armour and artillery, subjected to a continuous barrage. They tried to take cover in shallow slit trenches. In many places the South African soldiers could only dig down to around 9 inches [23 cm] deep due to the solid limestone underneath their positions.

The Transvaal Horse Artillery engaged German tanks from the 15th and 21st Panzer divisions, the gunners firing over open sights as they were overrun. This continued until many of the officers were dead and the gunners had run out of ammunition.

Many of the gun crews were captured. As darkness fell, those that could escaped back to Allied lines under cover of darkness. The artillerymen of the 3rd Field Regiment managed to save 5 of their 24 guns from the battlefield. They later recovered a further 7 guns.

Although initially a German success, this battle ultimately proved disastrous for the German Afrika Korps as they lost 72 of their tanks to the hard fought attrition and resistance of the Allies and especially the South African forces and this would ultimately turn the tide of the North African theatre of operations to the Allies.

This is summed up best after the battle of Sidi Rezegh by  Acting Lieutenant General Sir Charles Willoughby Moke Norrie stated that the South African’s “sacrifice resulted in the turning point of the battle, giving the Allies the upper hand in North Africa at that time”.

The image below shows a Afrika Korps tanks and armoured vehicles burning in the assault by the  15th Panzer Division (8th Panzer Regiment) in November 1941.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-12-49-16

The images below show some of the South African involved – left to right Lt Col Ian Buchan ‘Tiger’ Whyte, DC, and a captain of the 3rd Field Regiment (THA) pose in front of some of the 32 German tanks knocked out by their guns at Sidi Rezegh on 23 November 1941, secondly Some South African survivors of Sidi Rezegh, members of what remained of the 3rd Field Regiment (THA) being returned to Mersa Matruh in Egypt to be re-formed as a fighting unit  and finally a South African Machine Gun Platoon 27 Battalion At Sidi Rezegh

The featured image shows a Afrika Korps work shop which was overrun at Sidi Rezegh: South African War Museum as published in: Klein, Harry Lt-Col (1946). Springbok Record.


Researched by Peter Dickens. References – Wikipedia and the Military History Journal  Vol 14 No 5 – June 2009 Sidi Rezegh : Reminiscences of the late Gunner Cyril Herbert Glass, 143458, 3rd Field Regiment (Transvaal Horse Artillery)

19 thoughts on “Sidi Rezegh – “The South African sacrifice resulted in the turning point of the battle”

  1. Pingback: “General Pienaar, tell your South African Division they have done well”; The Battle of El Alamein | The Observation Post

  2. my late dad, sergeant john peter lamb, fought and was captured at sidi rezegh, from whence he was transferred to an italian prisoner of war camp.

    Like

    • My Grandfather, Henry du Plessis was also captured at Sidi Rezegh, and spent 5 years as a prisoner of war, at first in Italy. When the Allies invaded Italy, he and his fellow prisoners were marched to Czechoslovakia, where he was held prisoner until he was liberated.

      Like

  3. My father, Ronald Trader Davis was taken prisoner and sent to a concentration camp in Italy. He survived by eating cockroaches and hence I do not have any inclination to kill them….

    Like

  4. Hi is ther anyone that know of the President Steyn Regiment that died in the battle of Sidi Rezegh? My daugther is doing a task about it?

    Like

  5. My Dad was also in that battle, and received a medal for bravery…….He went to England to receive the medal…my brother has the medal……..

    Like

  6. Pingback: Rommel’s aide-de-camp was a South African | The Observation Post

  7. To the best of my knowledge, my late Dad, C J Wilken, was also captured at Sidi Rezegh and spent the remainder of the war in an Italian POW camp. My Mum has also passed, so I can’t corroborate this information, but I do know he served in Africa as I have all his service medals with his name stamped on the reverse to prove it. Any assistance with verifying this information will be greatly appreciated.

    Like

  8. I bought a book “Guns or butter ”
    By R H Bruce Lockhart .
    In it are a number of notes written by
    John LD Geyser who was captured at Sidi Rrzegh 23 November 1941 and was liberated 30 April 1945 from P.O.W Camp 3911 Munich .
    If anyone has any information on him or his family I would be very happy to give them the book with his notes wrtten in pencil .

    Like

  9. Ek is in besit van ‘n gedig geskryf deur ene Kpl Ross oor die slag van Sidi Rezegh wat ek in my pa se 2de wêreld oorlog versameling gekry het. Asook ‘n dagboekie wat my pa gehou het. Kan ek die gedig hier plaas – dit is in Afrikaans geskryf en ek het dit oorgetik omdat die papier verweerd is. Ek is ook in besit van al sy medaljes, foto’s en geldstukke.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you to all those who have contributed to this site. My father, John Fitch, Royal Artillery, was captured in 1940 in France and taken to Stalag VIIIB and Stalag 344. He was a POW until 1945, when he was marched on the so-called Death March back into and through Germany, before being freed in Regensburg. He brought little back with him apart from a couple of small diaries and some photos of the camps. What he also brought back, which is relevant to this site, is an aluminum spoon, carved with the name KPL JJF NAUDE, POW 77309. He has carved a map of Africa with a springbok across it together with African countries, including Libya.The first date he has carved under the heading POW is 23.11.41, which I take to mean that he was captured in the Battle of Sidi Rezegh. I have read that many South Africans were moved first to Italy and then onto POW camps in Poland, including Stalag 8B and 344, where he must have met my father.My father has passed on and I would like to return this beautiful spoon to the family of JJF Naude, who, I presume was/is South African. If anyone can advise me how to continue my search, I would be very grateful. I know I would be honoured to receive such a memento of my father.

    Like

  11. My Father sergeant Lightfoot was with the 5th side infantry battalion at Sidi Rezegh he never spoke much about the 2nd world war except for this one story he told me when i was a kid. After his platoon had taken heavy losses and was surrounded by a German panzer division. He and a commissioned officer snuck behind enemy lines and stole a German troop carrier at night they used it to move in between the enemy and pick up as many wounded friendly soldiers as possible getting them to safety, they did this for hours until the Germans realised they were missing a troop carrier they were spotted and chased by three German tanks, my father was seriously wounded in the side of the face by shrapnel but fortunately they both managed to escape and get back to safety.

    Both managed to save a significant number of wounded and both were awarded a medal for bravery not sure which medal but do remember seeing it as a kid. Sadly my father passed away in 1980, I would be grateful if anyone has any additional info they can email me gary@lazybay.co.za regarding this story.

    Kind Regards
    Gary Lightfoot

    Liked by 1 person

    • My stepfather, Henry Desmond ‘Des’ Power, was an artillery man attached to the South African Irish regiment at Sidi Rezegh & was wounded. He had head wounds & a shell fragment in his shoulder & was unconscious . He awoke in an Allied field hospital, so someone carried him there, could have been your father.

      Like

      • Hi Phil yip it is possible my farther did not talk much about the war but he did tell me the story of how he and his CO picked up so many wounded troops from his unit at the battle of Sidi in detail but did not mention any names, its only as i got older did i realize the enormity of what they had done he was wounded in the process hit in the face with shrapnel after the war the wound turned cancerous and eventually killed him at the age of 64.
        I am assuming your stepfather has passed on?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Gary, yes Des Power passed on some years ago. Heart attack in Zambia, 1969. After recovering from his wounds in South Africa he spent a while training troops, and then went through Italy. Not sure which regiment he was with then, as the South African Irish had so many casualties they were disbanded after Sidi Rezegh. Read somewhere there was just one officer & a handful of troops who survived that battle unwounded & uncaptured.

        Like

  12. Hi, I’m wondering if anyone has been able to find the Sidi Rezegh mosque with Google Maps or any other satellite photography? I’ve searched and the best I can come up with for coordinates is 31°50’17″N 24°7’12″E, but this is a guess.

    Like

  13. Hi, I’m wondering if anyone has been able to find the Sidi Rezegh mosque with Google Maps or any other satellite photography? I’ve searched and the best I can come up with for coordinates is 31°50’17″N 24°7’12″E, but this is a guess.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.