COMMANDING OFFICER’S REPORT ON ACTION BY 2 LIR ON 20 JANUARY, 1943
The Attacks on Pts 279 and 286
On the night of 19/20 Jan 43, the Battalion was established on features 640065 and 639070 with Bttn HQ in a Wadi Junction 635073.
At approximately 2300hrs, Brigade HQ ordered the battalion to prepare to move immediately; the CO to go for orders to Brigade HQ at 0010hrs.
At Brigade HQ, I was given brief orders to stage the attack and I sent off the I.O. to assemble the Battalion on feature 640065. Order Group to assemble and await my return.
The Brigade Commander then held a conference giving further details and I made a plan and gave orders to supporting arms. The conference ended at about 0215hrs and I returned to the Battalion to give orders to the Order Group. Orders were completed by about 0250hrs.
The Battalions was to move from its present position and assemble west of the road and track junction 647056. Companies to form up on a Platoon frontage facing east with the leading Platoon on the western side of the road Goubellat-Bou Arada, the order of companies being G,F, E, H with Bttn HQ in the centre, Artillery F.O.O.s and their parties were to meet Companies at this point.
The advance from the start line was timed for 0430hrs: the leading Company G, to cross at that time. The bearing of the advance was 50 degrees Grid. G Company was to move onto Pt 279. (655063) and dig in on the top and the forward slopes. F Company to follow and when Pt 279 had been occupied were to move forward to the second objective Pt 286 (663069). E Company to move behind F and to establish a position on the reverse slopes of Pt 279.
The Mortar Platoon, MG Section, and the Carrier Platoon to H Company area ready to move at first light as follows – 2 Mortar Detachments, 2 MMGs, and 2 two pounder A/Tk guns to F Company area.2 Mortar detachments, 2 MMGs and 2 A/Tk guns to G Company. 2 Bren Carriers with mixed ammunition to move as required. The remainder of Carrier Platoon in reserve. Every man in Rifle Coys to carry No-75 grenades, 36 grenades, emergency rations and light order. 100% tools to be carried. Digging to be carried out immediately on arrival at objective.
The attack to be supported by 152 Field Regiment, RA and 12 RHA with three 6 pounder A/Tk guns. 72 A/Tk Regiment, RA covering the position. Two F.O.O.s to move with both F and G Coys and two with Bttn HQ. The attack was to be silent until fire was opened by the enemy but if required F.O.O.s with forward Coys could call for fire onto Pt 286. A timed shoot was to come down from 0700hrs to 0705hrs on Barka 675060, Red Roof Farm 680087 and on a Cactus thicket north east of the farm. All F.O.O.s were to carry lamp, line and No 18 sets to ensure communication
At 0420 hrs, the Battalion arrived at the F.U.P. and Coys checked compasses and met the F.O.O.s. By the time this had been completed and Coys reported ready to go, it was 0442hrs. Bttn HQ crossed the start line at 0500hrs and at 0515hrs had reached its position on Pt 279. Communication to Companies was by No 18 Set and runner, it being impossible to move vehicles across country to the objectives.
At about 0615 hrs, enemy MG fire was sweeping Pt 279 and the Adjutant, Captain Laister, was hit. A few minutes later, G Company reported “on the objective” and informed Bttn HQ that F Company had passed through on its way to Pt 286. Mortar and automatic fire was increasing in intensity and communication with F Company was spasmodic. About 0715hrs, a message came through from F “Am on objective, send ammunition”. This was the last message received by wireless from F Coy.
I asked the Battery Commander to verify this information and his F.O.O. with F Company reported that the Company was at 673074.
At first light, the Carriers had made their way towards the objectives and Brigade was informed that both objectives had been taken. F Coy sent in six prisoners. Shelling of Pt 279 was heavy by this time and but few casualties were sustained as slit trenches were fairly deep. Both 18 Sets were hit or damaged by blast and functioned badly.
Digging continued. At about 0900hrs, I was astonished to see Lieut Cowdy leading a few of F Coy back past Bttn HQ. I stopped them (and) asked why. Lieut Cowdy explained that he assumed that Captain Ekin had given the order to withdraw as he had seen the men in front coming back.
In the light of later reports, I am of the opinion that Captain Ekin realized at first light that he had moved too far forward and was moving his Company back to the right position. He was wounded before this move had been completed and the Company had come right back, although there were few left. I placed them in position on a small feature west of Pt 279 and order Captain Costello to prepare to move E Company onto Pt 286.
E Company attack was carried out, covered by timed Artillery fire, another F.O.O. being detailed to move with the Company to give supporting fire by observation. This attack went in about 0930 hrs, the Company being most gallantly led by Capt Lillie-Costello. The Company got onto its objective and some of them got into folds in the ground and stayed there, among them being the Company Commander. The remainder of the Company were forced back off the hill by the very heavy fire both of Mortars and MGs. The ground, being completely bare and under observation by the enemy. About this time, two enemy SP guns had moved forward up to Pt 286, and were shooting onto Pt 279. They were engaged by our Artillery and knocked out.
I ordered H Company to move up behind Pt 279 and reported the situation to Brigade. The Brigade Commander impressed upon me the importance of gaining Pt 286 and I staged a further attack by H Company. This started at 1240hrs and had just got under way when we were attacked by enemy dive bombers. The Company Commander was wounded and the Second-in-Command was killed. This stopped the attack and I collected H Company and put them under cover behind Pt 279. This attack was supported by half a Squadron of Crusaders of the 16/5th Lancers, which withdrew west of Pt 279 to cover enemy tank action.
By this time, I was convinced that the only way onto Pt 286 was to do as unobtrusively as possible. I therefore ordered Major Swiney to take command of H Company and to move off section by section on to the feature. This was done and at about 1420hrs. H Company reported the feature in our hands. Carriers were then moved up under cover and were loaded with tools and wire to strengthen the position at dusk. At about 1800hrs, the Brigade Commander arrived and informed me that the Grenadier Guards were attacking Barka at 0200hrs. All men were to be informed so as to prevent them firing on the Guards when they arrived in front. Consolidation went on and H Company was ordered to leave one Platoon on Pt 286 and, after carrying in the dead and wounded, to withdraw the remainder. The remaining Platoon to stay until after the Guards attack had gone in.
Arrangements were then made to give the men hot food and this was completed just after midnight. Bttn HQ had moved back from Pt 279 to a Wadi beside the road and reorganisation was taking place. At about 0300hrs, a runner arrived from E Company to say that enemy tanks had moved up onto their position on Pt 279. I was considering the best way to cope with this situation when ‘Besa’ fire opened up from both sides of Bttn HQ. With no communications and with very little officers, there was little that could be done from that position so all men I could contact were ordered to crawl up a Wadi which ran towards the west. I arrived on this feature at about 0330hrs and got a situation report to Brigade through O.C. 1 RIrF. Hearing that some of the men had gone to a Battery HQ nearby, I went there with a view to collecting them back to Pt 279, where all appeared quiet. The Brigade Commander would not agree to this and ordered to me to take the Bttn back to the Wadi Junction from which we started.
The I.O. and the Signal Officer were sent to collect the Bttn, while I took four men and went with the Battery Commander to the west slope of Pt 279. On the road, I met a patrol of the Inniskilling Fusiliers. There was no sign of the enemy except dead.
STRENGTH OF BATTALION PRIOR TO ACTION.
Officers: Capt VJA Lillie Costello – Capt JP Carrigan – Lieut VC Joseph – Lieut HE Rawlings – Lieut Briggs.
WOs, NCOS: 25.
Officers: Capt SM Ekin – Lieut A Cowdy – Lieut CE Kinch – Lieut VWL Pottinger – Lieut JM McGranahan.
WOs, NCOS: 27.
Officers: Major BA Tebbit – Lieut EHA Beechey – 2/Lieut RT McKenna – 2/Lieut RC Hardwick.
WOs, NCOS: 30.
Officers: Capt JD Lofting – Capt H Henderson – Lieut W Bowker – Lieut PJ Gibbons – Lieut Briggs.
WOs, NCOS: 24.
Officers: Lt Col JB Jeffreys – Major JD Swiney – Capt TL Laister – Capt DW Conroy – Capt RG Cockburn – Lieut TWH Wilson – Lieut K Neely – Lieut JD O’Rourke – Lieut BC Stigant – Lieut AG Lees – Lieut FE Fletcher – Lieut DA Aitkenhead – Major CAF Gibbs – Capt JL Samuels – CF C14 AH Graydon.
CASUALTIES (reported at the time)
Killed – Capt JP Carrigan.
Wounded – Lieut VC Joseph, Lieut HE Rawlings.
Missing – Lieut Briggs.
WOs, NCOS: Killed – 3. Wounded – 7. Missing – 6.
Men: Killed – 6. Wounded – 12. Missing – 21.
Killed – Lieut JM McGranahan.
Wounded – Capt SM Ekin. Lieut VWL Pottinger.
Missing – Lieut A Cowdy, Lieut CE Kinch.
WOs, NCOS: Killed -1. Wounded – 5. Missing – 10.
Men: Killed – 1. Wounded – 14. Missing – 46.
Killed – Lieut EHA Beechey.
Wounded – Major BA Tebbit, 2/Lieut RC Hardwick.
Missing – 2/Lieut RT McKenna.
WOs, NCOS: Killed – 2. Wounded – 6. Missing – 3.
Men: Killed – 2. Wounded – 12. Missing – 17.
Killed – Capt H Henderson.
Wounded – Capt JD Lofting.
Missing – Lieut W Bowker.
WOs, NCOS: Killed – 2. Wounded – 3. Missing – 1.
Men: Killed – 1. Wounded – 10. Missing – 12.
Wounded – Major JD Swiney, Capt TL Laister, Lieut JD O’Rourke.
Missing – Lieut AG Lees.
WOs, NCOS: Killed – 1. Wounded – 2. Missing – 4.
Men: Killed – 1. Wounded – 7. Missing – 10.
Four Acts of gallantry are worthy of notice:
Capt VJA Lillie-Costello.
Lieut JM McGranahan.
L/Cpl H Dongahy.
Rifleman B Mawdesley.