In the initial stage of the Sidi Rezegh battles on 21/22 November 1941, Brigadier Jock Campbell, commanding 7th Support Group, the non-armoured element of 7th Armoured Division, won his Victoria Cross for his brave and energetic leadership of the defense forces on Sidi Rezegh airfield against the German assault. The best online account of the battles I am aware of can be found at this link.
‘The Battle at Sidi Resegh, Libya, 1941’
Watercolour, pen and ink by Eric ‘Jack’ Dawson, formerly 2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade, 2007. (Courtesy UK National Army Museum)
Bob Crisp memorably describes the action in ‘Brazen Chariots’, and I think Cyril Joly in ‘Take these Men’ also describes it.
When I started my research into the Operation, I came across a very dramatic drawing that encapsulates it very well, and I contacted the National Archives to have it properly identified, which they did very quickly, but unfortunately then changed back to the old text again after a while. Probably too speculative for them. I think it’s a shame, since the drawing would properly belong into their ‘Valour’ colleciton.
Unidentified brigadier leading tanks onto the battlefield. National Army Museum.
Here is the citation of Campbell’s VC, from the 2nd Supplement to the London Gazette of 30 January 1942:
23rd February. 1942.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to Brigadier (acting) John Charles Campbell, D S O, MC (13594), Royal Horse Artillery, in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Sidi Rezegh on the 21st and 22nd November, 1941.
On the 21st November Brigadier Campbell was commanding the troops, including one regiment of tanks, in the area of Sidi Rezegh ridge and the aerodrome His small force holding this important ground was repeatedly attacked by large numbers of tanks and infantry. Wherever the situation was most difficult and the fighting hardest he was to be seen with his forward troops, either on his feet or in his open car In this car he carried out several reconnaissances for counter-attacks by his tanks, whose senior officers had all become casualties early in the day Standing in his car with a blue flag, this officer personally formed up tanks under close and intense fire from all natures of enemy weapons.
On the following day the enemy attacks were intensified and again Brigadier Campbell was always in the forefront of the heaviest fighting, encouraging his troops, staging counter-attacks with his remaining tanks and personally controlling the fire of his guns On two occasions he himself manned a gun to replace casualties During the final enemy attack on the 22nd November he was wounded, but continued most actively in the fore-most positions, controlling the fire of batteries which inflicted heavy losses on enemy tanks at point blank range, and finally acted as loader to one of the guns himself.
Throughout these two days his magnificent example and his utter disregard of personal danger were an inspiration to his men and to all who saw him. His brilliant leadership was the direct cause of the very heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy In spite of his wound he refused to be evacuated and remained with his command, where his outstanding bravery and consistent determination had a marked effect in maintaining the splendid fighting spirit of those under him.
Jock Campbell rose to Major General and GOC 7th Armoured Division, after General Gott was promoted to command 13 Corps in February 1942. He tragically died in a car accident at Halfaya Pass just a few weeks after taking over his new command, on 26 February 1942.
Brigadier John Charles ‘Jock’ Campbell, VC. CO 7th Support Group, 1894 – 1942 (Courtesy Wikimedia)
2 Rifle Brigade was at Sidi Rezegh.
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See also the knockout account by the NZ doctor, L.G. Hannah, who tended to Campbell’s wounds on 22 November: p. 95 in Richard Begg and Peter Liddle, eds., FOR FIVE SHILLINGS A DAY.