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.


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.


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)

38 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.


    • 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.


  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….


  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?


  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……..


  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.


  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 .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good Morning Sir. I realise that it is 2 years later but if you still have that book I would be interested in looking at it as I am busy with my PhD on the SA Forces in North Africa. Hoping you get this message, Major JP Scherman SANDF.


  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 2 people

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Good morning! I am trying to obtain more information on a family member of mine that participated in the Battle at Sidi Rezegh. He was reported missing in action after the Battle of Chiusi (Italy) in 1944 and I found a tombstone for him in Genoa’s Staglieno Cemetary.
        His details : WJ Myburg
        Service Number 145827V
        6 SA Bde, Signal Coy SA Corps of Signals.

        Is there any way I can obtain more information?

        Annemarie Gerber


    • I have a photo of some of the prisoners at Stalag 344. My great uncle W.R Harris (Chick)was captured at 5he battle of Sidi Reezegh. After being force-March to Benghazi the prisoners were put in the hold of an Italian armed merchantman to be shipped to Italy. The ship was hit by a torpedo in the bow by an Allied Sub. The captain and crew abandoned ship leaving the prisoners on board . They were rescued into captivity and re -shipped to POW camps in Italy and Germany. He and 9 others escaped only to be hunted. The Americans reached the fugitives first. Jock Leyden wrote a tribute to Chick for the NMCC. He was a well known motorcycle rider of the DJ. Race.


      • Hi,
        My Dad, Steve Cronje was also captured at Sidi Rezegh . I remember him telling me about the ship being torpedoed and then marched off to camps in Italy and then Germany . He was imprisoned in some Stalag camp but I do not know the number .
        He told me about their constant hunger and the cold . I always regret not getting more information from him about his experiences during this time .

        Don Cronje


  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 regarding this story.

    Kind Regards
    Gary Lightfoot

    Liked by 2 people

    • 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.

      Liked by 1 person

      • 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 2 people

      • 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.

        Liked by 1 person

  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.


  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.


  14. My uncle Gunner E.W. (Ted) Marlowe was killed in action at the Battle of Sidi Rezegh. He was 22 years of age.He was part of the 9th Field Battery, 3rd Field Regement.


  15. That is my father, Mike Hersch, on the right in middle photograph above with the three guys at a gun, the sergeant is in the middle. transferred to the South African 2nd Anti-tank and attached to the Scots Guards and transported to Libya where they saw action at Sidi Rezegh. My father was captured by Rommel at Sidi Rezegh and handed over to the Italians and sent to a POW camp outside Tripoli together with 5000 other POW’s where sanitary arrangements were substantially less than non est.

    Mike managed to escape twice from the Italian POW camps and, having a flair for languages, learned to speak Italian. After his second escape, he was captured by the Germans, or rather, by a German shepherd dog in the mountains and sent to Stallag VIIA where he ended the war, being liberated by General Patton.

    After being a POW for two and a half to three years, having been liberated by General Patton, Mike asked to be demobbed in London with the aim of joining the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA) and, thinking that with the various languages he spoke, he would be sent to Eastern Europe where he could try to find out if any of his family had survived the war and the Holocaust. The UN and bureaucracy being what it was and still is, sent him to Greece where he was put in charge of various areas, including Mykonos, to see to food distribution. Mike of course learned to speak Greek.

    My father met my mother in Greece. She was a lieutenant in the British forces and a social worker and was seconded to UNRRA to rehabilitate Yugoslav refugees in Greece. They initially got married in the British Embassy in Athens and when their contracts with UNRRA were over, they came to South Africa and settled in Thaba ‘Nchu in the Freestate.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. When was the THA captured and sent to Italy? My father joined up from Bechuanaland Protectorate and fought in N.Africa. He ended up in Stalag 1VB and then was flown to UK for rehab at Addenbrookes Hosp. in Cambridge.Liz Davies


  17. My father H.G. Aucamp was a bombardeer st Sidi
    Deaths marx het through the desert. On an Italian shop to Of any which was sink by the Allied nea R the coast of Greece
    To POW camp in Italy. Later moved to Germany..


  18. My Uncle Bernard Willis, New Zealand infantry, was killed at Sidi Rezegh, and I had not appreciated the South African sacrifice during that battle. He is in good company. RIP.


  19. My Father Maurice Arthur Smith, of the 5th Brigade was also captured at the battle of Sidi Rezegh and sent to a concentration camp in Italy, then later transferred to a camp in Austria where he remained until the end of the war. He never spoke about the war and he passed away April 2000.


  20. My father, Aaron (Stookie) Newfield, was in the battle of Sidi Rezegh where he was badly wounded. He was saved by ……. Manning who pulled him into a vehicle. He spent time in hospital in Cairo and then went by ship with Italian prisoners of war to Durban. He was hospitalised at Oribi for nine months before release.


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