Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fighting on 17 May 1941 near the posts, including S4

The attacks mounted early on 17 May 1941 had left many Australians as prisoners of the Germans. To make matters worse, the 2/23rd Battalion commander, Lt-Col. Evans was not aware of the situation of his surviving men. Even though they were surrounded, the men in Post S4 were holding onto their position. Other men were holding out in the stone building near the water tower.

MOre than the 2/23rd Battalion saw action. The men of the 2/10th Battalion held an area to the left of the 2/23rd Battalion. The enemy fired an artillery barrage starting at about 8:35am. German infantry supported by four tanks moved near the water tower. The tanks opened up on the 2/10th Battalion, but they received supporting fire from the 51st Field Regiment. That forced the tanks and infantry to withdraw. One tank had been damaged by the firing. More tanks arrived about four minutes later. They seemed to be near Post S4. The British artillery did not know that S4 was still being held by Australians. They fired on the tanks and S4 and drove the tanks off. One of the 2/10th's "Bush Guns" fired on the German guns near the wrecked aircraft.

At about 12:15pm, German tanks and infantry were overcoming remaining Australian resistance. A brave signaler, took a phone line to Post S6, which was still in Australian hands. After thirteen line breaks were repaired, they could speak with Post S6. Now that artillery fire could be called in, they forced three enemy tanks to withdraw. Later, another five tanks were stopped from moving forward. Men in Post S9 could see men at ease near Post S7, which they supposed meant that it was in German hands. Brigadier Wooten had hoped that the 2/23rd Battalion might stage another attack, but Lt-Col. Evans decided that they were too weak to mount another attack. General Morshead and Brigadier Wooten decided that Lt-Col. Evans should withdraw his remaining men "after dark". They would try to establish a new defensive line between the 2/10th Battalion and Post S8. While the 2/23rd Battalion was to withdraw, they would go out and try and find wounded to take out with them.

The sound of tanks, presumably German, could be heard after 7:30pm. The sun set at about 8:10pm. The enemy tanks seemed to be moving in on Post S6. Three carriers were sent out, but they ran into anti-tank guns. One carrier was disabled and casualties were taken. Lt-Col. Evans told the commander of the men in S6 to go to Post S8. Instead of reaching Post S8, the men from Post S6 reached post S10. There was heavy British artillery fire and Very lights in the sky. In the attacks, the 2/23rd Battalion lost 163 men. The men in Post S4 were left to surrender to the Germans on early 18 May. Many mistakes were made through inexperience, both of the Australians and the British tank crews. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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