78th British Infantry Division - "The Battleaxe Div"

Discussion in 'Higher Formations' started by Ron Goldstein, Nov 4, 2010.

  1. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    No idea whether this is common press picture or a private photograph, but it is labelled 78th Battleaxe Infantry Division: Royal Artillery & Support Units.

    78th Battleaxe Infantry Division Royal Artillery & Support Units .jpg
  2. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    And this from 6RWK War Diary for February 1944--rather fun.

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  3. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    I'm a "day ahead" where I am currently but just wanted to re-highlight the disturbances that took place in Cairo 75 years ago during August 1944.. certainly not the 78th Division's most glorious episode it is fair to say but I wasn't there...

    My father was in camp at Sidi Bishr, not in Cairo that night, honest guv !!....

    "Men were given seven days leave in Cairo. The brigade’s first leave party returned to camp and told how they had been ‘rooked’ by their hosts. The second contingent decided to do something and a well-organised riot was arranged with considerable damage to vehicles and installations. There were many arrests but not of a single London Irishmen. Colonel Bredin had the battalion paraded upon their return from Cairo and officially congratulated them on staying clear of trouble..."

    FullSizeRender_1 (3).jpg

    Excerpt from Quis Separabit, July 1945
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
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  4. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Now which Bredin is this? I always get confused.

    There was H.E.N. 'Bala' Bredin and A.E.C. 'Speedy' Bredin.

    Were they brothers?

    Edit: your text is the latter. Went on to command Gurkhas in Malaya and become a Brigadier. Reached a ripe old age.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
  5. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
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  6. The Grandson

    The Grandson New Member

    Hi - new here. Great info. My Grandfather was R Signals - often working with the RA. I don't know if this helps date Cairo but I have a leave pass for 21 Aug '44 to Cairo (1400hrs to 2359hrs). His unit is listed as '2 Coy 78 Div Sigs' but it is stamped 'Headquarters Royal Artillery 78 Division'. Also have the one for Alexandria 9 - 15 Aug. Same details but unit listed as 'H' Section 78 Div Sigs.

    By the way my Grandfather believed he had a hand in starting the Cairo riots.... I don't think this was the case but believe his story and think his fight coincided with the wider development of the situation in Cairo. In short he had been recently deloused etc and he asked a girl to dance at some entertainment establishment. Some other soldiers (not 78 Div) in immaculate kit laughed at his appearance and advances, so my granddad and his mates laid into them.

    He did his initial training at Drip Camp in Stirling before deploying on Op TORCH and stayed with 78 Div for the rest of the War, ending up in Austria until he was demobbed.
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  7. The Grandson

    The Grandson New Member

    Seems this date for the Cairo Riots is too late going off of other posts and info. I suspect there were always scuffles.
  8. hutt

    hutt Member

    DSC09396.JPG Pages from the 78th Division 78 Divisional Provost Company, CM Police . no mention of the riots, is that a bit odd? DSC09394.JPG DSC09395.JPG
  9. hutt

    hutt Member

    Out of interest, why was 78th Division shipped to Egypt for such a short period in 1944. Seems a massive waste of resources only to be shipped back again to Italy!
  10. The Grandson

    The Grandson New Member

    32E838B9-883B-4709-AF5C-9704EC2607B7.jpeg Maybe it was a legend?
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  11. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    Battle Axe Division were in need of rest, recuperation, refitting & reinforcement having been in action on the Italian mainland from September 1943 (after 6 months fighting in Tunisia and a month in Sicily) until their withdrawal from Lake Trasimene area in late June 1944.

    Their stay in Egypt was intended to be for a lengthy period but was cancelled following their “activities” in Cairo.

    They returned to the front line in the mountains of Italy by early October 1944 in largely static positions and took part in the final advance in April 1945.

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  12. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

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  13. hutt

    hutt Member

    I guess you are right and as its the MP diary they would be far above anything like a riot wouldn't they!. Having said that, other MP diaries do mention some of the misdemeanors they were dealing with rather than just their own activities.
  14. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    High level reasons as outlined above, but adding here a couple additional personal reflections of the men who were nearby:

    1) A view of some of the specific issues of the practicalities of the Egypt sojourn was expressed at the time by Brigadier Pat Scott:

    "The big idea was that when the leave had been completed, we should go to Palestine and Syria for two or three months and do some proper training. This was a novel idea. Since we came abroad, opportunities for training had been practically non existent, with the exception of six weeks after the fall of Tunis.

    In spite of our victories during the preceding months, or possibly owing to them, we were in much need of training as we had turned over a lot of men. It was obvious ridiculous to train in the flat desert for fighting in Italy, which is either mountainous or very fertile and in every way the extreme opposite. We were told that conditions in Syria would be reasonably near the mark. However, all this proved too good to be true. We hadn’t been in the country a fortnight before we were told we had got to go back to Italy as soon as possible. The war was going to finish or something of that kind. If we didn’t hurry, we might be too late. Probably the real reason had something to do with the decision to send a useful proportion of the Armies in Italy to land on the pleasant beaches of the French Riviera. Fortunately, “as soon as possible” was in about a month’s time. As that month went on with its tide of good news on the Western front, people really did begin to think we might get stuck in Egypt if the war ended too quickly. By the middle of August, everyone was getting quite keen to go. A protracted stay in the Middle East appealed to no one..."

    2) Lt-Colonel John Horsfall 1st Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers put it in stronger terms when he later reflected:

    "The six week sojourn of the 78th Division in Egypt did little good and a great deal of harm.

    On the plus side, we recovered many of our best men from hospital or convalescence, but the impairment of morale through renewing acquaintance with a different kind of life was of grave concern to the COs. The life too in Egypt compounded the trouble, with a bogus military atmosphere cloaking a resident population devoid of the instincts that one liked to admire in people at that stage of the war....

    ..The subsequent course of events which affected all of us was now determined by grand strategy – or grand folly, according to one’s choice of terms. Certainly they were decided by the wishes of the American Chiefs of Staff and the insistence of Roosevelt against those of Winston Churchill. Winston, of course, was backed by Field Marshal Alexander and by our chiefs of staff. He was also backed by the American field commanders serving in Italy.

    We were soon to witness a classic instance of dispersion of force and the failure to back success. Worse still, the futile and outdated invasion of southern France was calculated to prevent success – in our theatre. This colossal strategic blunder was an American one and made for political reasons – not military ones and it is hardly believable that men in high places should have behaved in such a manner.

    The Riviera invasion was due in barely a month and to set it in motion a full quarter of the allied forces in Italy were withdrawn at the climax of the battle. Had it been otherwise, the mountain barrier round Florence, the Gothic Line would have fallen in the autumn and Kesselring’s army group would have broken up and collapsed in the ensuing rout through the Po valley. Had that happened, as it ought to have happened, and would have happened, there would have been no possibility of shoring up the German southern front with new armies. The Third Reich would have foundered in the general collapse whilst trying to. These remarks were proved in their principal aspects three months later. By then, much else had been lost – including the peace.

    By the middle of August, Field Marshal Alexander had at his disposal twenty three divisions remaining. He was now opposed to twenty eight under the redoubtable Kesselring. Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that orders recalling the 78th Division were on their way to Egypt within days of our battered troops arriving there."

    3) In my father's case, it may have saved his life as, due to a bout of pneumonia largely caused by swimming in Stanley Bay near Alexandria, he missed the early winter campaign at Spaduro and the mountains north of Castel del Rio:

    "Rumour had it that the London Irish were to be sent to various places in the Middle East in the formation of the 9th and 10th Armies. One morning, Lieutenant Bruckmann called to see me in hospital. He told me the division was returning to Italy and asked if I was prepared to go. I was still in pain with my ears and a little groggy, but I started to dress while he went to see the sister. She dashed back and forced me back into bed and shouted to the officer, ‘Don’t you know that this man has pneumonia and is on the danger list.’ Poor Bruckmann stammered an apology and left hurriedly. My parents were shaken soon after when they received a telegram that began: ‘I regret Colour Sergeant E O’Sullivan is…’. They were relieved when it continued: ‘…seriously ill with pneumonia…’

    Lt John Bruckmann a South African officer who volunteered and served with the London Irish Rifles, was killed on 23rd October 1944.
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