World War Two - North Irish Horse Battle Reports

Page 5

The object of this was to keep the enemy's heads down by fire while the Argyll Company, which had failed in the morning, advanced again on its objective. It was known that the road was mined and that there was a small enemy anti-tank gun guarding the road. No. 2 Troop A Squadron, commanded by Lieut. J. A. Ballantyne, was selected for the task and the following plan was made:

1700 -1705 hours - Concentration on anti-tank gun.
1702 hours - Smoke from close support tank on enemy minefield and anti-tank gun.
1703 hours - Party of R.E.s advance in carrier to lift mines.
1705 hours - Smoke from artillery to shield right flank of Troop
advance to start line. Four Brens from Reconnaissance Troop in position to cover lifting of mines. 1706 hours - Troop to advance to start line.
Troop to advance from start line when signal, which was carefully arranged, was given by R.E.'s who had also an officer in the leading tank. R.E.s to re-board carrier and, same operation to be repeated if further minefields met.
The concentration and smoke were put down according to plan and the enemy reacted immediately with very accurate machine-gun and mortar fire. The carrier conveying the sappers was hit and ditched, one sapper being wounded and the remainder going to ground. The Troop leader called for more smoke from Capt. Griffith in the close support tank and then ordered the Troop to advance although no signal had been received from the R.E.s. On the point tank reaching the minefield the R.E. officer advised that they should not go on but the Troop leader decided to continue with the advance. The point tank was blown up and the other mines exploded in sympathy. The Troop leader's and the reserve tank passed through but the latter was hit several times by mortar shells and broke a track. Lieut. Ballantyne, showing great deter­mination, continued and reached his objective from which he reported that none of our infantry was in sight. The Argyll Company failed to take the objective. The Troop leader was then ordered to return after which nothing further was heard on the wireless. The tank was seen next day lying abandoned and from inspection at a later date it was obvious that it had been mined as it was returning. Lieut. Ballantyne and two of the crew have since been reported as prisoners of war in Italy. The crews of the other two tanks remained in their tanks until after midnight when, having decided that it was impossible to effect recovery that night, Lt. Col. Dawnay gave the order to immobilise and evacuate. The crews carried out this operation successfully and arrived back in "The Loop" at about 0200 hours.

On the morning of 4th March A and B Squadrons, who were still in position in "The Loop” and Ksar Mezouar Station, were heavily mortared. Major Rew, while looking out of his tank, was killed by the blast of a mortar bomb. His death was an ir­reparable loss to the Regiment, his organisation of the defences of Hunt's Gap in most difficult conditions was splendidly executed. Capt. G. P. Russell immediately took over command of the Squadron on 5th March Major E. V. Strickland, who had been commanding Brigade H.Q. Squadron, arrived to take over A Squadron.

Meanwhile C Squadron had reached Tamaca at 0400 hours on 2nd March and a report by Major Welch on the action which took place on that day is now included:

At 1900 hours, 1st March, three Troops C Squadron was ordered to support the 138th Brigade at Sedjenane. They ar­rived at Tamara at 0400 hours Tuesday morning. I had made a reconnaissance with the officer commanding Lincolnshires the night before, being under his command. His orders were to hold Sedjenane as a firm base. The enemy had infiltrated through the positions of the Forresters, 1st Commandos and the Durham Light Infantry and had driven them from their positions during Monday's fighting. The Colonel of the Lincolns asked me to dominate Sedjenane at first light and to support his infantry. I moved two Troops to the village and one Troop on to the Mansour Ridge to watch the left flank. All were in position by 0900 hours. The Troop dominating on the right of the road was in a bad position due to difficult ground and the Germans managed to infiltrate right up to this Troop. On the whole, however, the day was quiet and the Germans were held. At dusk the Squadron was ordered to withdraw to harbour. The right-hand Troop when retiring got caught by the dark owing to pulling out a carrier. As a result two tanks, after taking a wrong turning, went over a small cliff by a mine pit shaft.
At 0200 hours Wednesday, 1st Commandos began to retire and reported that the Lincolns were still in Sedjenane and that they were surrounded. The Brigadier ordered the tanks to advance at first light and to drive the enemy from the village. No infantry or artillery support was possible. The tanks advanced down the road and encountered no opposition until the outskirts of the village where the point tank was knocked out by a shot from a 50 mm. anti-tank gun, which penetrated the front plate and started an ammunition fire. The crew, except for one, were killed or wounded by snipers. The tanks then shot up the village and the Germans retired except for snipers. I tried to get in­fantry support into the village but could only get one platoon. The Germans, as soon as they realised that there were no infantry with us, started to infiltrate back and to snipe. Our infantry were unable to cope with this. My tanks remained in their positions without support until I made contact with O.C. Lincolns, who had received orders to retire. He arranged to meet me again at 1600 hours.
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