War Diary 8RTR Crusader November 1941

Discussion in 'RAC & RTR' started by GeoffMNZ, Aug 5, 2020.

  1. GeoffMNZ

    GeoffMNZ Well-Known Member

    I am interested in finding out more details of an incident involving A Squadron, 8 Royal Tanks, commanded by Major O'Neill at Sidi Rezegh late afternoon on November 28th. In the confusion there was a"friendly" fire that involved 24 Battalion RAP & my father. There is quite a bit of info in the NZ Official History, but I would like to get the British side of things.
    Also I am interested in finding out more info on Major O'Neill.

    Thanks in advance
  2. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Hi Geoff,

    I think I've got the war diary of 8th RTR somewhere. Give me a day or two to find it and I'll post here. In the meantime, here are the details for 28 Nov 42 from the war diary of 1st Army Tank Brigade (WO169/1263):

    28 November 1941
    While in close leaguer ‘B’ Echelon was bombed for 1½ hrs by British planes. 18 vehicles were destroyed or damaged and the casualties were 7 killed and 12 wounded, including 2/Lt. Thorneycroft, R.A.O.C. (See Appendices M and N att). Appx M, N
    Later in the morning ‘B’ Ech was approached by a strong enemy force and was shelled but, after considerable manoeuvring, managed to evade the enemy column and returned to its original location at 1530 hrs.

    Message received from H.M. the King:-
    “I am following your splendid fight from hour to hour. Keep it up and we shall surely win”.
    Large number of MET were observed on the escarpment to the East of Bde H.Q. Two Tps of A Sqn 8 R Tanks were sent out to engage them but were unable to make contact.

    B Sqn 8 R Tanks was sent out to clear up a concentration of MET and Inf on the left flank of 6 N.Z. Bde, and encountered strong artillery and tank opposition. One enemy tank and 4 A.Tk guns were destroyed, three enemy tanks damaged and about 200 enemy Inf killed. Own losses – 5 tanks out of action. Immediately after the remaining seven tanks of B Sqn had rallied they were ordered to counter-attack to the South and again encountered very heavy artillery and A.Tk fire. Only one tank was recovered from this second sortie.

    Casualties:- 2 O.Rs. killed.
    1 Offr and 5 O.Rs. wounded. (Lieut. G.C. Kent)
    1 Offr and 4 O.Rs. missing. (2/Lt. G.D. Pennington)

    1700 HQ 8 R Tanks and A Sqn 8 R Tanks, less two troops, moved to SIDI REZEGH area to assist 6 N.Z. Bde and B Sqn 8 R Tanks who were being heavily attacked, but were unable to engage the enemy owing to the fading light.

    1730 Enemy infantry approached Bde HQ area from East and South. WX Bty 8 Fd Regt held up the enemy advance westward up the valley while the three A.9 tanks of Bde HQ and the remaining two troops of A Sqn 8 R Tanks moved on to the escarpment to the South.

    2100 H.Q. N.Z. Div and H.Q. 1 Army Tank Bde moved to area 436408. Lt.Col. Walton, O.C. 8 Fd Regt, commanded the rearguard left to cover the withdrawal, consisting of WX Bty 8 Fd Regt, eight Mark III tanks from 8 R Tanks and two A.9 tanks from Bde H.Q.

    1400 Composite Sqn 44 R Tanks advanced from BELHAMED accompanied by NZ Div infantry in carriers and swept the corridor BELHAMED – ED DUDA, rallying at BELHAMED 1700 hrs.
    Many guns destroyed, enemy killed and prisoners taken.
    Casualties – 2 O.Rs wounded. Tank casualties – 3 damaged.

    1800 Two damaged ‘I; tanks of 44 R Tanks left for TOBRUK. Three ‘I’ tanks remained at ED DUDA under command Lieut. Baynam.

    [Major O'Neill was killed next day:]

    29 November 1941


    A Sqn 8 R Tanks, less two troops, having moved up to Pt. 175 the previous evening, were sent out to engage enemy M.T. advancing S.W., East of Pt. 175. Very heavy opposition was encountered and only one tank returned.

    Casualties:- 2 Officers killed. 3 Officers and 15 O.Rs. missing.
    (Officers killed – Major J.A. O’Neill. 2/Lt. P.H. Thornley).
    (Officers missing – 2/Lt. F.A.H. Cash. 2/Lt G.C.H. Dickens. 2/Lt. R.B. Reid).

    I hope that helps,


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  3. GeoffMNZ

    GeoffMNZ Well-Known Member

    Much appreciated, detail supports and clarifies who was where & when. Thanks for info on Major O'Neill.
    How many tanks normally in a squadron?
  4. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    Can you post here the info you found and have from the NZ Official History in order to give a fuller picture of the events.

    Thank you
  5. GeoffMNZ

    GeoffMNZ Well-Known Member

    3 extracts from NZ Official History

    Author: Murphy, W. E.

    Page 381

    “Of the nine more Valentines promised by General Freyberg, only six actually reached 6 Brigade, all that could be mustered by A Squadron, 8 Royal Tanks, commanded by Major O'Neill, who had already suffered heavy loss in the 20 Battalion attack from Bir el Chleta. Lieutenant-Colonel Brooke, CO of 8 Royal Tanks, also appeared, reaching Barrowclough's headquarters at 5 p.m., by which time news had come in that five of Sutton's tanks had been put out of action. Barrowclough at once committed A Squadron on a mission exactly similar to the second sortie of B Squadron, but with the added duty of doing whatever was possible to help survivors of that squadron. He also pointed out that it would soon be dark and A Squadron had better hurry. After what seemed an unduly long delay (though it was actually no more than ten minutes) the tanks moved off.

    This time the I tanks did not go quite far enough and headed north through the lines of 24 Battalion. When they reached the RAP they opened fire on it and on troops nearby. A section of carriers was chased towards Battalion Headquarters and for a few moments there was a difficult situation until by various means the tank commanders were made to realise their mistake. Private Muir of the 24th crossed 30 yards of open ground sprayed by tank bullets and climbed to the turret of a Valentine to put a stop to this fire. A Bren carrier was carrying wounded back to the RAP when a tank came up, firing at everything in its way, including the RAP. Then it stopped and its commander got out and was very upset when he learned what had happened (though happily no men were hit). He told Private Bell he had orders to ‘clean up whatever he saw on the other side of the aerodrome’, indicating that there had not been time to brief the tank crews properly.”



    Author: Norton, Frazer D.

    Page 117

    “The enemy gunfire slackened off. Then came a startling report that the two forward companies of 24 Battalion had been captured, apparently by a ruse. This reduced 24 Battalion to little more than a hundred men, and Nos. 13 and 18 Platoons were sent forward by the CO to help fill the gap. Strangely enough, just when everyone thought the game was about up, the enemy disengaged. A small enemy party which made a half-hearted attack from the south-east was beaten off. Three British tanks arrived late on the scene and, before anyone could get to them, opened fire on the 24th and 26th Battalions' RAP. Padre Watson went out, at no little risk, and explained to the tank commander what was happening. Unfortunately, several of the wounded in the RAP had been killed.”


    Author: Burdon, R. M.

    Page 81

    “Meanwhile Major Sutton's Valentines, having returned to Brigade Headquarters after a successful engagement, were sent off in a westerly direction with orders to turn north at a given point and overrun the troops attacking Shuttleworth's forward defences. Sutton went too far west before turning, with the result that he missed the German infantry and ran into anti-tank guns which immobilised most of his vehicles. His manoeuvre was of no avail, but at 5 p.m. six more Valentines arrived and were sent on a similar errand by the Brigadier. This latter force, it appears, instead of going too far west did not go far enough, so that when it turned north its fire was directed, not upon the enemy, but upon the sorely tried 24 Battalion. Sergeant McDonald's section was chased home by three tanks which then shot up the RAP (Regimental Aid Post), and might have continued doing so had it not been for an act of gallantry by a soldier of the battalion. Private Muir, of the Medical Section, ran across 30 yards of open ground under close-range fire, climbed on the leading tank, opened its turret, and told the commander in no very polite terms exactly what he was doing. A tank officer then came over to Battalion Headquarters and apologised. Muir survived without a scratch and was awarded the MM for his courage and presence of mind.”
    Tom OBrien likes this.
  6. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    Thank you Geoff, that is very helpful.

    I think I have 8 RTR diary for 1941 but I am not at home currently so away from my HDs. When I rejoin them, I'll look to see what's there.
  7. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    The 8RTR diary makes no mention of the incident.

    There are no additional appendices which report the encounter either. This is to be expected given that the OC was killed the following day and the bulk of the squadron destroyed.

    The British Official History does not mention the A/8RTR action just that the NZ aid post was overrun by German tanks and may prisoners taken.
  8. GeoffMNZ

    GeoffMNZ Well-Known Member

    Thanks for that. I had hoped that I would get another perspective, but it is understandable.

    It is interesting that the first diary entry for that day was also a "friendly fire" incident. I guess they happened more often that we know?
  9. GeoffMNZ

    GeoffMNZ Well-Known Member

    I have found in the NZ Official history details of the action on 29th Nov. where O'Neill lost his life.
    Author: Murphy, W. E.
    Page 399

    But Majors Fitzpatrick and O'Neill agreed that the I tanks should make yet another unsupported sortie of the kind which had already caused 8 Royal Tanks crippling loss. In it O'Neill met his death and most of the remaining tanks were lost.

    The main body of the enemy was well over 500 yards away when O'Neill counter-attacked with four tanks of 3 Troop on the right, while Second-Lieutenant Sugden led the remaining three tanks on the left. The Valentines presented a formidable threat to the machine-gunners and for a few minutes it looked as though 3 Company of the German unit would be overwhelmed. Then the German anti-tank guns opened fire and all four of O'Neill's tanks were hit. ‘Major O'Neill's tank came back out of action very fast with the turret on fire’, Sugden wrote later: ‘it is reported that the driver was pulled out by N.Z. infantry, but I am practically certain no one got out of the turret’. Sugden lost one tank to a Teller mine and was more careful with his remaining two, making two sorties and engaging the enemy each time from the crest of the escarpment until the anti-tank guns ‘started to hit us’ at about 700 yards' range, when the two Valentines withdrew. After the second sortie Sugden's tank was found to be hit through the radiator and from then onwards had to be towed.1

    1 G. H. Sugden, report in the war diary of 8 R Tks, 9 Dec 1941. Sugden, Lt G. H., 8 R Tks

    This would suggest that Lt. Sugden filed a report later on 9th December, so could you see if it is there, as it may also refer back to the incident of 28th? Thanks
  10. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    Sorry to disappoint.

    Sugden was C Sqn and was thus not involved with O'Neill's engagement in the evening of 28th.

    His report has an entry for 28th but refers to a different C Sqn engagement nearby.
  11. GeoffMNZ

    GeoffMNZ Well-Known Member

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks very much for looking. It confirms to me that the battlefield was was very confused and units were intermingling with the ebb & flow.

  12. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    The NZ historians did a really fine job with their body of work. They were conscientious and thorough.

    When you read their work, you can be fairly confident that they covered their bases very well. They clearly studied their own documents as well as British, German, Italian and any other relevant. In otherwords, if they didn't put something in, there's a good chance there is no paperwork to be found.

    The excerpt from Sugden shows they used the 8RTR diary. They didn't write up O'Neill's or the battalions view of the friendly fire incident because there was nothing for them to work with in the diary. Nor 1st Army Tank Brigade diary either.

    Sorry that you have come up empty handed.
  13. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Stuart Hamilton wrote a book about his experience as a troop leader with 8 RTR which includes Crusader. “Armoured Odyssey”. I read it years ago and recall he had at least one tank shot from under him with some casualties to his crew. Grim reading in places but evocative. I have no idea which Squadron he was in but recommend you get hold of a copy if possible to give you an eye-witness tankie account that explains view of battle from his perspective.


  14. GeoffMNZ

    GeoffMNZ Well-Known Member

    Thanks I will try that
  15. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    I have a copy of Armoured Odyssey and I do know he was in Valentines - unfortunately I am not home until next weekend so I can't check any details at the moment.

    Straying from this incident, in Robert Crisp's Brazen Chariots (Stuart tanks, Op Crusader) he describes accidentally firing at a friendly Crusader tank during Operation Crusader with horrible results. The curator of the Tank Museum read out that passage during one of his Q&A videos on youtube recently.
  16. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    I have Sugden's report on 28 November. There is no mention of the incident.

    All the best


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