Book Review – To the Last Round

To the Last Round is an oral history of the South Nottinghamshire Hussars (107 Royal Horse Artillery) by the Imperial War Museum’s oral historian, Peter Hart. Like his other books this is very readable, and very strongly focused on giving a voice to the men who served in the regiment during the war.

The book starts with the beginning of the war, and takes the reader through to the 6 June 1942, when the regiment was overrun by German tanks at the ‘Cauldron’.

The book is primarily based on the interviews with the men, which are well woven into a relatively sparse narrative about the campaign. The focus is always on the personal experience. While there are some errors in the overall narrative (such as ascribing the first name ‘Clive’ to General Claude Auchinleck), these do not detract from reading.

Where the book stands out is in the insight it gives the reader about the conditions in occupied Tobruk, from the boredom of being in a fortress under siege, to the terror of constant bombardment. There are a number of photos, with most of them portray photos of the men who were in the regiment.

The book ends on the Gazala battles, where many men of the regiment died firing their guns to the last moment, in a heroic but pointless last stand.

I can not recommend this book highly enough to anyone who wants to know what the war in the desert was like for the men who fought it.

 There are two interesting stories connected to Ray Ellis, who was with the regiment at Tobruk, and during its last battle at this and this link.

Flight Archive – Article on Free French Air Force

Just at the start of CRUSADER, Flight published an interesting article on the Free French Air Force, with some interesting pictures (if anyone can tell me what kind of a plane General Valin is standing in front of, I’d be grateful – I thought it was a Bf 108, but it has a fixed undercarriage, so that can’t be it). The article can be found at this link. The Flightglobal archive is generally very interesting, by the way.

The major contribution by the Free French to the battle was the 1st Bombing Group, known as the Lorraine squadron, a Bristol Blenheim equipped light bomber squadron consisting of two flights. In the course of operations, it lost 1/3rd of its flying personnel killed, missing or wounded, including  its newly arrived commander in December, Lt.Col. Pijeaud, killed on his first mission when his plane was attacked by Axis fighters. After the withdrawal of Axis forces to the west, the Group remained on the Egyptian border, based on Gambut airfield. After helping the Axis on the way by bombing rear area installations such as El Magrun airfield halfway between Benghazi and Agedabia (see below), it engaged in the bombardment of the Axis border fortifications of Bardia and Halfaya (see this older post). In the middle of January 1942 it was withdrawn for refitting to Syria. During the 16 days before the surrender of the Halfaya garrison, the Lorraine flew 300 sorties against it, from Gambut airfield. In fact, together with other light bomber units the amount of sorties climbed to a level prompting inquiries from Whitehall if this was really necessary!

Bombs from Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 270 Wing RAF explode among Junkers Ju 52s parked on the landing ground at El Magrun, Libya, in the afternoon of 22 December 1941. Blenheims, from Nos, 14 and 84 Squadrons RAF and the Lorraine Squadron of the Free French Air Force, made a series of attacks on El Magrun on 21-22 December, which was being used extensively by the Luftwaffe to provide air support for their retiring ground forces during operation CRUSADER

 

This French language site has some good information on the unit, including pictures. At this link you can find a nice colour profile of a Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV in Free French colours. Just ignore the statement that they were operating in the Western Desert in February 1942. Funnily enough, it appears Airfix (ah, bane of my youth) also did a kit of the Lorraine Blenheim (apparently its a good kit too – check the link through the picture below).

Dramatic Artwork of Lorraine Blenheims bombing Halfaya

Towards the end of the CRUSADER battles, the Free French 1st Fighter Group Alsace started operations in the air defense of Egypt, based at Ismailia on the Suez Canal, having just been re-equipped with Hurricane I fighters. Some information on this can be found at this link.

A lot of good information about Free French forces in North Africa can be found at this link.