Today is the anniversary of a little known battle of World War 2, the Battle of Sidi Rezegh. It was one of several battles of Operation Crusader, the operation to relieve Tobruk. It has a significance for me on two fronts. Firstly I proudly served in J (Sidi Rezegh) Battery Royal Horse Artillery and along with members past, present and future I will be raising a glass to remember. This little known battle earned J Battery its Honour title of ‘Sidi Rezegh’ thanks to the actions of 29 year old Second Lieutenant George Ward Gunn.
On 21 November 1941 at Sidi Rezegh Airfield in Libya. 2 Lt Gunn was the commander of A Troop of J Battery RHA. These four QF 2 pounder anti-tank guns mounted portee on trucks were part of a battery of twelve guns attached to the Rifle Brigade.
An attack earlier in the day was driven off but the main attack was by 60 German tanks. Gunn – in an unarmoured vehicle – drove between the guns under his command, encouraging and reorganising them as the battle progressed. Three guns and their crews were already knocked out when the last was hit. Except the sergeant, the crew were dead or disabled and the vehicle set alight. The battery commander Major Pinney attacked the flames and Gunn crossed the enemy fire to join him. Gunn took over the gun aiming and firing it with the sergeant acting as his loader. Despite enemy fire and the danger of the flames exploding the ammunition with which the portee was loaded, Gunn fired 40- 50 rounds from the QF 2 pounder gun and set two enemy tanks on fire before he himself was killed by being shot through the head.
After he was killed, the battery commander took over the gun and continued the action. As a result of the battery’s actions, it was given the honour title “Sidi Rezegh”.
2nd Lieutenant George Ward Gunn VC MC citation reads:
“On the 21st November, 1941, at Sidi Rezegh, Second-Lieutenant Gunn was in command of a troop of four anti-tank guns which was part of a battery of twelve guns attached to the Rifle Brigade Column. At 10.00 hours a covering force of enemy tanks was engaged and driven off but an hour later the main attack developed by about sixty enemy tanks. Second-Lieutenant Gunn drove from gun to gun during this period in an unarmoured vehicle encouraging his men and reorganising his dispositions as first one gun and then another were knocked out. Finally only two guns remained in action and were subjected to very heavy fire. Immediately afterwards one of these guns was destroyed and the portee of another was set on fire and all the crew killed or wounded except the Sergeant, though the gun itself remained undamaged. The Battery Commander then arrived and started to fight the flames. When he saw this, Second-Lieutenant Gunn ran to his aid through intense fire and immediately got the one remaining anti-tank gun into action on the burning portee, himself sighting it while the Sergeant acted as loader. He continued to fight the gun, firing between forty and fifty rounds regardless alike of the enemy fire which was by then concentrated on this one vehicle, and of the flames which might at any moment have reached the ammunition with which the portee was loaded. In spite of this, Second-Lieutenant Gunn’s shooting was so accurate at a range of about 800 yards that at least two enemy tanks were hit and set on fire and others were damaged before he fell dead, having been shot through the forehead.”
“Second-Lieutenant Gunn showed the most conspicuous courage in attacking this large number of enemy tanks with a single unarmoured gun, and his utter disregard for extreme danger was an example which inspired all who saw it. He remained undismayed by intense fire and overwhelming odds, and his gallant resistance only ceased with his death.”
“But for this very gallant action the enemy tanks would undoubtedly have over-run our position.”
The VC and MC of 2nd Lieutenant George Ward Gunn.
What’s the second significant part of this story? In the aftermath of Operation Crusader Rommel had failed to relieve the isolated German-Italian strongholds on the Libya–Egypt border. This led to the capture of over 10,000 Axis Troops in January of 1942. One of those troops was my Grandfather, and despite escaping during a mass breakout from a POW Camp he was shipped back to England and put to work on a farm in the rural South West.
For those of you interested a first-hand account from one of the other Subalterns that fought during the battle can be found here: