What’s with all the DSOs?

What’s with all the DSOs?

This is a bit of a bitter entry about who got Distinguished Service Orders (the second-highest Commonwealth decoration after the Victoria and George Cross) in the first round of decorations for CRUSADER.

On 20 January 1942 the London Gazette published a special supplement (at this link), in which awards for operations in the Middle East were announced. It includes three names that are hard to understand, given the absence of other officers who at least in my view were far more deserving.

The three names are Brigadiers Gatehouse ( 4 Armoured Brigade – Bar to the DSO), Davy and Scott-Cockburn (7 and 22 Armoured Brigades, respectively, both DSO). Notable by their absence are Brigadiers Reid, Willison, and Watkins (Reid becoming CBE on 9 September 1942 for the capture of Gialo, and the latter two receiving the Bar and the DSO respectively on 20 February 1942), and indeed any of the New Zealand Brigadiers (Brigadier Barrowclough and Colonel Clifton received bars the 20 February 1942, and Brigadier Inglis received his DSO on the same day).

Screenshot 2019 12 28 07 50 58

‘Brig Scott Cockburn (Scottie)’, in physical training kit, on board HMT Orion en route to Egypt, 1941
[National Army Museum Image number: 111439]

It is hard to understand the precedence being given to the three who were on the first list, given the comparative achievements. Brigadier Gatehouse is probably the best of the three, given that he had at least not lost all of his armoured brigade. The other two are notable for having lost their Brigade in less than one week (Davy), and having lost it twice (Scott-Cockburn).

I guess there is a lesson here about decorations, which is especially pertinent given the refusal to grant one to Lieutenant McGinlay (see this older post), who at least from where I sit looks to have been thoroughly more deserving than Brigadier Scott-Cockburn. But at least some more junior officers such a Robert Crisp received their DSOs in the same round as the first three Brigadiers.

Nevertheless, more deserving (in my view) recipients were included, such as Robert Crisp, the other of ‘The Gods were Neutral’ and ‘Brazen Chariots’, and the South African armoured car commanders Lt.Cols. Grobbelaar (later to rise to armed forces command in South Africa) and Short, for their contribution to the capture of Jalo.

You can read more about the background to the DSO at this link.

Luftwaffe against Giarabub Aerodrome 15 November 41

The document transcribed below is an ULTRA intercept of a Luftwaffe communication relating to a raid by German Ju 88 bombers and Bf 110 destroyers on the Oasis of Giarabub, deep in the desert on the Egyptian side of the border with Libya. Michele found this in the ULTRA files I sent him, and I dug a bit deeper in the ULTRA files and the British war diaries.

It is rare to find such a detailed report in the ULTRA intercepts. My guess is that normally such reports would have been sent by mail, in order to not clog up the radio communications system. In this case, ULTRA indicates that Fliegerkorps X raised questions about the raid (where, when, how many, what…), since they did not know about it, when Fliegerfuehrer reported that there would be an investigation of the failure of fighter cover.

The attack appears to have been reasonably successful however, apparently hitting the RAF’s No.113 Squadron (Blenheim light bombers) and No.33 Squadron (Hurricane fighters), and causing a considerable amount of damage. The 29 Indian Brigade war diary (29 Indian Brigade commanded at Giarabub) states the following losses:

  • Six RAF ground personnel killed and 16 wounded.
  • 2 Hurricanes shot down with one pilot killed, one wounded
  • 1 Blenheim destroyed on the ground
  • 5 Blenheims and 2 Hurricanes damaged on the ground
  • 1 Me 110 shot down and 3 Ju 88 damaged
  • Attacking force consisted of two groups: (i) 8 Ju 88 and 1 S.m.79 (in reality 9 Ju 88) and 6 Me 110 bombed; and (ii) 7 Me.110 and 4 Me. 109 strafed the airfield (in reality these were the same 6 Me. 110).

So for a change the claims made by the attacker were actually less than the real damage. The RAF had a total of 9 planes put out of action, and a number of people killed. The RAF weekly intel summary No.116 for the week up to November 19 calls it ‘the most concentrated raid’ on an RAF aerodrome, and correctly states the German losses. Pictures of an attack aftermath a few days later and the perspective of the Royal Air Force personnel on the receiving end of such attacks on Giarabub can be seen at this link.

The main report is para no. 28 of the intercept series filed under CX/MSS/440. Punctuation and capitalisation is unchanged. I have only italicised German words.

The following report was sent on 17/11 by FROEHLICH [Fliegerfuehrer Afrika – Colonel Froehlich was in charge of the German air force in North Africa at this time] to Fliegerkorps X, Chef [chief of staff – Air Corps 10 was the parent unit of German air force units stationed in North Africa, and had its HQ in Athens].

Attack on GIARABUB.

    Following report issued after detailed interrogation of all Kommandeure involved.

Task: Attack by III L.G.1 [Junkers 88] and 8 Z.G.26 [Bf 110] to destroy bomber and fighter a/c on GIARABUB aerodrome. 8 Z.G.26 [Messerschmitt Bf 110]to make a low-level attack with S.D.2 [cluster bombs for anti-personnel use]. Fighter escort during outward and return flight: (Roman) I J.G. 27 and II J.G. 27 [both Messerschmitt Bf 109] with which rendez-vous was to be made at 0620 over GAZALA at 2000 m. Rendez-vous with the fighter escort for the 6 Me.110’s of 8 Z.G.26 was made over GAZALA: fighter projection by (Roman) I J.G. 27 for III L.G.1 (9 Ju 88) did not materialise, as at 0620 the formation leader of III L.G.1 (Hptm. HEINTZ) already flew at 2800 metres on the outward course. At 0620 (Roman) II J.G.27 was at 2000 m. over the aerodrome as ordered. On its outward course III L.G.1’s height was 2,800 m. III L.G.1 was not seen either by (Roman) I or II J.G.27. Bad visibility and heavy haze complicated matters as on the outward course the aircraft were flying into the sun. At 0645 the formation leader of III L.G.1 was informed that a large number of fighters were coming up a long way behind him. From this he inferred that the fighter Gruppe was following up. At 0650 there was no longer any fighter escort to be seen in the immediate vicinity. The formation leader assumed that the fighters had already flown ahead into the target area. At 0652 the formation leader signalled to base “am without fighter protection”. At 0700 base signalled back “wait till 0705, break off attack if no fighter escort”. As the target was spotted at that moment from a height of 3200 m. the formation leader decided to attack at 0715. Of 68 bombs dropped, 24 fell in the middle of the a/c parked. According to photographic interpretation, large fires and much smoke was seen. After the attack III L.G.1 flew on the course ordered in close formation. After 3-5 minutes 3 enemy fighters attacked the formation. The attack lasted 30 minutes. 1 fighter turned away after the first burst leaving a trail of smoke.

    At 0914 6 Ju.88’s landed at BENINA [aerodrome of Benghazi]. 1 Ju.88 force-landed in grid square 3219, the crew being rescued by the Desert Rescue Service. The a/c received only slight damage. 2 Ju.88’s which had been hit landed in Derna, one of them sustaining 30% damage. 8 Z.G.26 carried out a low level attack with 6 Me.110 simultaneously with the attack by III L.G.1. For results see report for 15/11. 1 Me.110 with Staffelkapitaen, made a forced landing in enemy territory after being hit by Flak. Crew rescued by 2 Me.110 and a/c set on fire. During the low-level attack 8 Z.G.26 was intercepted by 2 Hurricanes, one of which was shot down.

    No losses to personnel among III L.G.1 and 8 Z.G.26.

    Fliegerfuehrer’s comment:

  1. Fighter protection did not materialise because III L.G.1 did not rendez-vous with fighters at 2000 metrest as ordered, but at 0620 hours flew on the outward course at 2800 metres without making sure that fighters were escorting the formation,
  2. The formation leader ought to have broken off the attack when ascertained the absence of fighter escort.

Note:-     1. The above report suggests that FROEHLICH is Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA.

        2. The report of 15/11 mentioned above is presumably that reported in MSS/436/T4 para. 11.


Earlier reports were included in other deciphered items:



16: Source saw the following document of 15/11 from Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA to Fliegerkoprs X:

“The operations report from III/LG.1 shows that fighter protection for III/LG.1 did not materialize. Enquiry is proceeding. Results will be communicated.”

17: On the afternoon of 15/11 Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA (Photographic Dept.) reported to Fliegerkorps X as follows:-

“Photograph of JARABUB aerodrome shows 18 single-engined and 14 twin-engined a/c, 3 destroyed (of which one probably so).

18: Source copied the following document of 15/11, signed G.A.F. [German Air Force] Operational Staff, and addressed to Fliegerkorps X.:-

“With reference to your telegram 151/11, supplementary report of attack on JARABUB. Nothing is known here of an attack on JARABUB. Please supply the following particulars: date and time of attack, name of unit attacking and number of a/c, weight of bombs dropped and results observed.”

34: At 1430/15/11 Fliegerkorps X sent the following report to ROBINSON and KURFUERST IC:-


D. Fliegerfuehrer.

14/11. [should be 15/11] 9 Ju.88 of III L.G.1 escorted by 6 Me. 110 of 8 Z.G.26. Attack on a/c at GIARABUB. Very good results. Fighter defence and heavy and medium Flak.

1 Me.110 and 1 JU.88 forced-landed in the desert…

2 Ju.88 forced-landed in Derna.

1 Hurricane shot down by (Roman I J.G.27)


11: On 15/11 Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA, IC, sent following report to Fliegerkorps X, IC, and ITALUFT:

“Evening report 15/11.


Own air activity: supplement to morning report. 0725 hours, attack by 9 Ju.88 of III/L.G.1 and 6 Bf.110 of 8 Z.G.26 escorted by 8 Bf.109 of (Romand) I J.G.27 and 16 B.F.109 of (Romand) II J.G.27 on GIARABUB aerodrome. Very good results. Photograph of results that some bombs of III L.G.1 fell on the target. Effects of SD 2 of 8 Z.G.26 not to be observed by photograph. Of 22 a/c, 3 multi-engined a/c destroyed according to photograph. A.A. forced 1 Bf 110 to land in enemy territory. Fighter defence brought down one Ju.88 in the desert. Crew of Bf.110 picked up by other crews. Bf.110 burnt out. Crew of Ju.88 rescued by Desert Rescue Service. All other Ju.88 hit by fire from fighters. No casualties among crews. 1 Hurricane shot down by (Roman) I J.G.27 near GIARABUB, aerodrome SIDI BARRANI etc. follows. Repeated fault in cameras, so ground was not completely covered.