Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The White Cairn on 13 and 14 September 1941 south and east of Tobruk

A patrol from the 2/28th Battalion was sent to attack the feature they called the White Cairn. This was south and east of Tobruk. The patrol was small, some 27 men including two engineers. They approached the White Cairn at about 11:30pm and attacked from two sides. There were three sections in the patrol. One section attacked on the right and another two sections attacked on the left.
The defenders of the White Cairn were all Italians. Prisoners taken  included an artillery officer from the Bologna Division. The officer carried interesting documents including his diary. A truck drove the officer back to the Australian division headquarters where he was questioned. The officer had been involved with operations involving Point 146, which was where the Jack Observation Post was located. That night, afte 1:30am, Jack outpost reported to 2/28th Battalion that they were being attacked. The battalion kept two carriers at the ready to drive out and rescue men from observation posts, so they were sent to Jack. Jack was manned by seven men commanded by a corporal. About 300 yards south of Jack were a 12 man patrol. The attackers were found to be Germans. They fired automatic weapons at the Germans, but the attackers were numerous and overran Jack, where the survivors surrendered. The commander of Jack, Corporal France was a prisoner and he was taken to see General Rommel "who congratulated him on his courage and his men's effective resistance".
The carriers arrived a Jack during the fighting. They retrieved most of the 12 man patrol and drove back to the divisional headquarters where they reported to Colonal Lloyd. Colonel Lloyd sent out a larger force with carriers to try and get to Jack. The commander of the force reported back that they enemy had occupied Jack and had the support of "three to five tanks". The information from the captured Italian officer was that Jack would be attacked by "German pioneers and engineers with "six German and three captured Matilda tanks". They heard that the enemy planned attacks against more of the outposts "on the next four nights".
Colonel Lloyd requested that the 104th RHA fire on Jack, so they fired five rounds at the post. The Australians would have liked to have had more artillery fire, but the rules about restricting firing to save ammunition kept them from firing more. Eventually higher authority in the form of the Tobruk fortress artillery commander allocated the 60 pounder guns and removed the restrictions so that they could be more effective. By the dawn on 14 September, the men in the sector that included the 2/28th Battalion were put on alert. They expected to be attacked, so six Matildas were moved forward in support. Later, they could hear tanks moviing, but there was no attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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