Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Raid, Western Desert, October 1941

As the tank bounced and jostled its crew as it crossed the rough desert floor, each man was lost in his thoughts. They were out on another reconnaissance mission, their platoon and two lorries of infantry. Australians again, which didn't bother Sergeant Ted O'Connell, he rather liked their rough and ready ways.

This op was a bit different, intel was reporting that the Eyeties¹ were holding a number of British prisoners not too far behind the lines, such as they were. The idea was to check out the rumors and report back on what was what. Command had the idea of possibly sending in the SAS² to attempt a rescue.

The position was, as the officers liked to say, "fluid." There were clear lines in some spots, troops actually dug in to hold a location, in many areas it was just the desert. Whoever was on the ground at some spot in time controlled it, but only as long as they were there. Mobile troops don't like sitting still.

As the Axis attempted to build up for an offensive, their armored and motorized forces were being built up, resupplied and reinforced, not being used to hold terrain. Which is where O'Connell and his group came in, roll through the empty desert, find this alleged Italian POW cage, then report back.

The Captain in charge, one of the Australian infantry though an Englishman by birth, had told O'Connell before they had set off, "Between you and me sergeant, if we find the bloody camp, and depending on how many POWs they've got there, I might just decide to liberate them myself. Wouldn't surprise me if the bloody Huns want to get their hands on them. Can't let that happen, can we?"

O'Connell agreed.

Flight Lieutenant Reginald Morley was shivering under the torn and filthy blanket one of the Italians had given him. It still surprised him just how cold the desert got at night. At first he had been angry with the Italian who had given him the blanket, then he saw that the young soldier's own blanket was just as torn, just as filthy. It was apparent that the Italians were not as well supplied as their German allies.

He had exchanged a few words with that soldier until the man's sergeant had yelled at him not to fraternize with the prisoners. Morley understood, but he had no one to talk to as he was the only British POW held at this camp. The young soldier had mentioned Morley being transferred to a larger camp that had an actual POW camp, but conditions weren't good for that at the moment.

"Troppi aerei da combattimento inglesi!³" the young Italian, whose name Morley had learned was Nicola Falasco, had exclaimed, moving his hands in the air to indicate aircraft.

Morley certainly understood that, the RAF was wreaking havoc with the supply convoys running down the coast road. The Italians were certainly wise to stay in one place. His one great fear was being turned over to the Germans. Captivity in Italy might be tolerable, in Germany it wouldn't be, of that he was quite sure.

Unteroffizier Willi Hoffmeister sat atop the turret of his Panzer, staring out into the trackless depths of the North African desert. They were still waiting for a fuel truck. His driver, Gefreiter Fritz Weber, had assured him that they maybe had enough fuel to start the engine and move, maybe, a hundred meters.

"If we don't get refueled today Willi, what fuel that's left in the tank wouldn't be enough to start a decent fire!"

So they waited. It seemed that war in North Africa consisted of a few days of frantic maneuvering, close quarters combat with the British, then one side would break contact and weeks of small unit actions, sometimes no action at all would occur. Or not occur as the case may be.

Looking back toward the shady side of the vehicle (which was still hot but at least out of the direct sunlight) Hoffmeister asked his gunner, "Horst, how are we fixed for ammunition?"

"Plenty of high explosive, we're short about ten rounds of armor-piercing, and plenty of ammo for the machine guns. I think we only fired two rounds of HE in that last action."

Hoffmeister nodded, then his loader chimed in, "Water could be a problem real soon Willi. We've plenty of food but water for maybe another day without re-supply."

Hoffmeister nodded, then he looked up towards the ridge to their rear where he had seen a wisp of dust. The wind? Perhaps it was a supply or fuel truck, either would be welcome, but fuel was a priority.

The cloud of dust increased and soon an LKW breasted the ridge, not a fuel truck per se, but he did see that the truck was carrying what had to be fuel drums in the bed. Oh well, we'll be manning the hand pumps, but at least we'll be able to maneuver.

"Hey! Inglese!"

Morley looked up, he saw Falasco's sergeant walking towards him, studying a document of some kind. He stood up, "Cosa vuoi sergente?"

He almost regretted asking the question in Italian. While he spoke the language fairly well, the sergeant obviously resented the fact that he spoke it at all. He looked at Morley and began a long and very fast exposition in Italian, of which Morley understood perhaps one word in ten.

When the sergeant had finished he glared at Morley, as if daring him to ask for an explanation. Knowing that it would give the man pause, Morley simply nodded and said, "Grazie sergente."

With a harrumph, the Italian frowned and turned on his heel, headed back the way he came. The momentary pleasure of getting the grumpy sergeant's goat passed quickly. Of the words Morley had understood, two stood out, "transfer" and "Germans." If he understood correctly, he would be transferred to the custody of the Afrika Korps, perhaps as early as tonight.

He hadn't felt so down since the day he had landed in captivity. Things were going from bad to worse.

¹ WWII British slang for the Italians.
² Special Air Service, still in existence today. Special Operations types, like SEALs or Green Berets.
³ Too many English fighter planes! (Italian)
⁴ Englishman (Italian)
⁵ What do you want sergeant? (Italian)
Author's Note: As you might guess, Blogger repaired whatever it is they tweaked which broke anything having to do with links. Though I'm not ready to don my tinfoil hat just yet, the folks at Gulag/Gargle do seem to be "fixing" things a lot lately. And breaking them. Gives one pause it does.


  1. Footnote numbers 4 & 5 are missing in the post I think Sarge. Doesn't look good for Morley.

    1. Fixed it. Morley will need to be quick on his feet over the next few days.

  2. The LRDG might be able to lend a hand, with their one ton Chevy trucks!

  3. Nice little twist Sarge! "Seeing" rescue efforts in place while upping the suspense of Morely winding up in German custody.
    Keep the tinfoil hat handy; lotta " conspiracy theories" being proven correct these days...
    Boat Guy

  4. I read Stirling's book back when I was in high school, it was a good read.

    1. A very interesting man with a very interesting career. To say the least!

  5. Different parties, different objectives, same place and time. Things about to blow up.


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