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15 October 2014
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Archive List > Siege of Tobruk 1941

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Herbert Austin Frederik Pike
Location of story: 
Desert- Middle East
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Three Counties Action on behalf of Herbert Pike and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

In 1933 thinking of Churchill’s warning of the danger of Hitler coming to power I joined the Army. Then in 1936 I joined the draft to India doing anti Ghandi’s civil disobedience duties in 1938 we went to Palestine as Peacekeepers. For this I received the Palestine medal. In 1939 I joined Wavells 14th Army. War was declared, instead of being sent home on reserve I was kept in the colours.

On the 14th April 1941 we were rushed to Greece, and landed on the Isle of Lemos, Where our forward company were captured, we were ordered to embark again on the 15th back to Egypt. While there I was on boom duty in the harbour where our fleet was bombed. Afterwards my section had the job of cleaning out a Navy Ship, which had received a direct hit. It was my first sight of the effects of bomb damage and dead bodies.

On the 7th July 1941 we left for Egypt for Palestine and on the 11th July we went overland to Syria where we saw the De Gaulle arrive with the Free French. We were sent as support, to drive out the Vichy French. A company of British Cavalry were in the assault and we were told it was the last charge of the British Cavalry. When the action was over it was found that a Free French Sergeant had charged a Vichy French Sergeant and both were found lying impaled on each others bayonet.

We returned to Palestine, from there back to Egypt. On 4th November were landed by a navy ship in Tobruk harbour under heavy gunfire and dive-bomber attack. We were sent straight into the front line positions. I occupied a dug out with a platform cut out of the side as a bed. The first night I woke to find a large desert rat looking straight at me. My sections job was to find mines so that they could be removed and prepare a path leading from the rear to the front for the Tanks and troops to move up. We had been sent out there for the relief of Tobruk.

During the day we were dive bombed and one day a dive bomber came out of the sky straight in a line towards me, but our guns had opened fire and we all shouted ‘They have got him’ As he was shot out of the sky, I gave a great sigh of relief. At 5.15am on the 21st November we were told to stand by and were given a mug of rum. The Night had turned into Day as the heavy arterially and 25 pounders opened up and shells flew overhead with a mighty roar and at 6.30am the order came to advance. I was attached to B Company and our objective was to advance on Tugun, take and hold it. As we advanced with fixed bayonet, shells and machine gun bullets came at us and one shell landed on my left so expecting machine gun fire to follow, I shouted to my friend Sam “come on, lightning does not strike in the same place twice” and pulled him into the hole that had been left. As we landed in it machine gun bullets flew over our heads, this saved our lives. We then continued to advance. After a short while a terrible scream sounded above the noise of the Battle and someone near us shouted “its only somebody shell-shocked”. Then all went silent. Then a great shout went all through the lines “it’s over”. Reaching the top of the hill I found myself in a dug out with a machine gun in it which had been abandoned. We then waited for the Counter Attack. After a short while it came in the form of tanks. One tank was in the distance coming in direct line to my position so thinking the machine gun would be better than my rifle I got behind the gun, not thinking I aimed the machine gun and lay in wait for it to come into my sights. As it got bigger and bigger I wondered who was in it and if they had any family. Before it came into range it suddenly turned to my left out of sight. We were told C Company had moved their positions and the Tanks had moved into the opening and had been destroyed. A shout went up again “it’s over” I examined the machine gun and discovered it had been damaged and would not have fired. Later our next move was to advance with fixed bayonets to mop up enemy troops, As we advanced word was passed among us that the 7th Tanks had run into heavy German gunfire and suffered heavy casualties. Afterwards we saw the burnt out tanks scattered over the battlefield. I looked into one and as I peered in I saw the drivers foot left behind, melted to the accelerator.

When all the Italian prisoners were rounded up I had orders to board them on to a train and take them to prison camp. They were no trouble and all glad to be captured. One started to sing a piece from Tosca so I encouraged them all to join in. The train was rushing through the night with this choir of hundreds of Italians singing opera.

So ended my part in the release of Tobruk arriving back in Alexandra were the 8th Army was being formed with troops just out from England. With their (porridge knees) as we called them. I also witnessed the first Spitfire arrive at Alexandra Airport. It was to me a wonderful sight as it landed.

From Egypt we returned to India arriving in Bombay on the 12th March 1942 to start jungle training for action in Burma. On the 27th March 1943 I left Bombay for England and ended up in Northern Ireland until 1st December 1945 and discharged in England in 13th March 1946. having served 12 years 76 days with the colours.

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