D Squadron 7 R.T.R. served in Tobruk for almost the entirety of the siege, providing invaluable armour support to 9 Australian Infantry Division. It was heavily engaged, under command of 4 R.T.R. and as part of 32 Army Tank Brigade, during the breakout operations and defense of the salient in November 1941. It’s first attack struck German-occupied Position 19 (part of breakout objective ‘Butch’) on the northern edge of the breakout corridor on the morning of 21 November. The German combat report is at this link. An overview of the breakout operation can be found at this link.
Matilda tanks lined up and ready to move off near Tobruk, 12 September 1941. Picture shows Matilda II tanks of ‘D’ Squadron 7 R.T.R. lined up while exercising (photoshooting) inside the Tobruk Fortress (IWM E5541)
32 A. Tank Bde. 70 Division 8 Army
Unit – 7 R Tanks
Rank and Name: Lieut. McGinlay, Alexander Oliphant
Recommended by Major J.R. Holden, DSO
Honour or Reward: DSO
TOBRUK – 22nd to 30th November 1941
Lieut McGinlay was in action continuously from the night 21/22 November to the morning of 30th November. During this time he performed his duties with the utmost gallantry and was largely responsible for three successful attacks on enemy strongpoints. On two separate occasions he led the tanks to a startline on foot when under the most intense artillery and mortar fire, with a complete disregard for his own safety. He has acted as troop leader, liaison officer, reconnaissance officer and even F.O.O. and at all times has been absolutely reliable. His magnificent courage and unquenchable cheerfulness have been unsurpassed. His leadership and advice have been first class at all times.
Sd/J.R.Holden, O.C. “D” Sqdn. 7th Bn., Royal Tank Regiment
WO373-18-56, final recommendation for MC Lt. McGinlay, 7 R.T.R.. UK TNA.
The award was downgraded by Brigadier Willison, CO 32 Army Tank Brigade, under which D Squadron 7 R.T.R. served at the time, and this was confirmed by Major-General Scobie, GOC TobFort and 70 Infantry Division, and Lieutenant-General Ritchie, GOC Eighth Army. Lt. McGinlay’s MC was gazetted on 24 February 1942, numbered 140577. The downgrad of the decoration is a difficult to understand decision, unless one presumes that what Lieutenant McGinlay did was somewhat expected of a troop leader.
It appears however that a DSO for a junior officer was seen as an indication that this officer had just about missed a recommendation for a Victoria Cross. Given that this recommendation came from a very experienced Squadron Leader, who himself had been in command at the very tricky action against 15. Panzerdivision at Capuzzo/Pt.207 during BATTLEAXE, it speaks very well of Lt. McGinlay.
What happened next
Lt. McGinlay was promoted to Temporary Captain and took over command of a squadron. He was heavily engaged in the fighting of the Gazala battles and was awarded a Bar to the MC for his actions at Pt. 209 on 29 May.
Bar to the MC Citation, Captain McGinlay. UK TNA WO373-20-29
Lt. McGinlay was wounded during the last stand of 4/7 RTR outside Tobruk in the disastrous Gazala battles, and captured in hospital when Tobruk fell. He returned to the Royal Armoured Corps in Italy in 1944, commanding Churchills after his escape from captivity, and fought until the end of the war.
I would still be interested to hear what became of Major Holden DSO.
- See also this post about some information from the Major McGinlay’s papers.
- Contact with the daughter of the late Major ‘Jock’ McGinlay MC and Bar who first confirmed that the D.S.O. recommendation was downgraded.
- Appendix to the War Diary of 7 RTR, which was in the Tobruk fortress during the battle. Many thanks to the Tank Museum for their great work in transcribing these, and the very courteous handling of my requests to get them copied in pieces and shipped to France.