1/6th Battalion

Djebel Grembil

Chapter 9

The advance commenced at dawn on 11th April. A rapid advance was not possible owing to the large number of booby-traps and mines which were scattered all over the valley. At 1100 hours after D Company had been held up by mortar fire, the Battalion halted and concentrated near a farm at the foot of Djebel Grembil. Here the further advance was planned. A and B Companies under Major G G Maggs, MC., were ordered to advance on the left of Djebel Grembil with C and D Companies under Major R C Guyon the right. After advancing about two miles the two leading companies - A and C - were heavily engaged by mortars and machine-guns from the front and flanks. A Company occupied a small feature very close to the enemy. Here Corporal M W Hainsworth was killed leading his section forward and Private J Dixon, also of 8 Platoon, was killed. The 3-inch mortar had been put in action but the small amount of ammunition carried on the mules proved to be of little value.

Lieut G A Dowler and 7 Platoon were now ordered to the top of the feature held by the enemy, covered by fire from 8 and 9 Platoons on the left and by fire from B Company on the right. Their advance was slow and it was dark by the time they reached the top. In fact they advanced up a gully which brought them out behind the enemy position, which they were unable to see. They took up defensive positions for the night with the two sections there.

Some enemy movement was heard but no shots were fired. On investigation it was found that the section under Corporal R Francis had disappeared, and then it was found the other section had also gone. Those who were left - Lieut Dowler, Sergeant Grosmith and seven others of the platoon started crawling away after a sharp engagement but they were not followed up although some mortar fire was brought down in the opposite direction to the way they had gone. Small arms fire could be heard coming from the top of the hill, the explanation of which was not clear at the time. Meanwhile B Company and the remainder of A Company had reached a gully where there was good cover from machine-gun fire, but not from mortar fire.

C Company at the same time had reached the gully from the right flank of Djebel Grembil and reported fire from an enemy anti-tank gun on the main road to Sidi N'sir. Owing to the mountainous nature of the country no contact could be made with Battalion Headquarters by wireless, and as it was now late it was decided to remain in possession of the gully for the night. Captain J O Strode was then sent back to Battalion Headquarters to report and obtain further orders. All four companies took up defensive positions.

A Company now sent out one section of 9 Platoon under Corporal J Cudlip to contact 7 Platoon. Instead they contacted the enemy and a hand to hand fight in the dark ensued. The enemy were well dug in on the forward slope up which the section was advancing when short range fire broke out. Corporal Cudlip was wounded in the leg and hip as well as four of his section, but he carried on. When he had used up his Tommy-gun magazine, he used the butt against a German whom he killed, splintering the butt on his head. He then brought his section back under cover. It is obvious that the small arms fire which 7 Platoon had heard was this section running into trouble while trying to contact them. For his gallantry in this action Corporal Cudlip was awarded the Military Medal.

Whilst in the gully Colour Sergeant Trowbridge of B Company came forward with the mules carrying rations and tools. Working under great difficulties he prepared a hot meal in a small cave. Captain Strode returned at about 0200 hours with orders to withdraw to the farm where the Battalion had stopped at midday.

A Company moved off first carrying back Private F Budd who had been wounded in the ankle, followed by C Company and D Company. Finally B Company got away just before first light, with enemy mortar bombs falling close behind the last section. Lieut Dowler's platoon had not been heard of since the previous evening, and as the patrol sent to make contact with them had been shot up, A Company had to withdraw without that platoon. On arrival back at the farm the companies took up defensive positions. At about 1000 hours on 12th April Lieut Dowler, Sergeant Grosmith and seven men arrived back with Corporal Cudlip and Private Brooks who were both wounded and Private Hill, all that remained of the patrol from 9 Platoon.

During the day it was decided that as the direct line of advance along the Djebel Grembil feature was blocked, it was necessary first to capture a high feature on the left flank which dominated the line of advance. A Company was given the task of capturing this feature, Sidi ben Touil, where there appeared to be the few enemy armed with some machine-guns and mortars who had fired on the Battalion on 11th April. Tank support was asked for and promised, but it did not materialise.

At noon Lt Col Bruno ordered Captain L Brown to take a carrier patrol to find out whether there were any enemy in the area of the Mines de Semaine, to the left of Sidi ben Touil, without if possible, becoming engaged with the enemy. Captain Brown took with him No 4 Section commanded by Sergeant Bacon. Approaching the area the patrol encountered one enemy whom they shot at but he disappeared. Some Arabs reported that the enemy were in the area of the mine buildings in large numbers, but after shots had been fired into the buildings and then searched Captain Brown concluded the enemy had gone. The carriers had been left some way back and had returned to the Battalion when it became dark, consequently the remainder of the patrol had to return on foot to report that there were no enemy in the mine area.

At 1800 hours A Company moved off, but the Gunner Forward Observation Officer reported that he could not keep in contact with his guns and that in any case they would be out of range very soon. After advancing for about a mile and a half, A Company came under very accurate fire from machine-guns and mortars. Having no artillery support and their 3-inch mortar being outranged, the company could not advance further and therefore decided to dig in. Shortly after this Lt Col Bruno arrived in the Gunner's carrier, which was also being very accurately mortared although moving quite fast. He then ordered A Company to return. As it was now dusk this was carried out without further trouble, except that the 3-inch mortar carrier stripped a track and had to be left behind. B Company, who had been following up behind A Company, covered them out in case they were being followed. That night an explosion was heard, later found to be the enemy blowing up the abandoned mortar carrier.

The difficulties of supply were serious, as the advance had been entirely across country for more than seven miles, and mules only were able to follow the Battalion until a route was found by which carriers and jeeps could bring up ammunition, food and water. In the course of finding a route forward Sergeant T Jones and Private D Murrie were killed and Private W H Gammon injured when their carrier was blown up by a mine.

Lieut Lankester of 4 Recce Regiment was sent out with a further patrol to the Mines de Semaine area as a result of Captain Brown's report. They entered all the mine buildings using grenades and tommy-guns, without finding any enemy. The patrol then split up to search the whole area thoroughly. When they were well out in the open the enemy opened up on them from their positions on the hillside above, causing some casualties. Ammunition was running short when another party of enemy were seen advancing towards them from the rear. Their position was now hopeless and they were taken prisoner.

Map 5

Map 5
(Click to enlarge)


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