Prisoner snatch in the Desert
24 February 1942: South Africans march deep behind enemy lines during the night to mount a surprise attack and take prisoners for interrogation
In North Africa the line between Rommels Afrika Korps and British forces had consolidated along the Gazala Line. Both sides were re-equipping and re-building in anticipation of a big push to be made within the next few months.
For the British new tanks were now arriving. This was welcome news to recently commissioned tank commander Bill Close1, already a veteran of desert warfare:
.. the American General Grant tank, newly arrived in the delta. This was to be the first tank we had that was fitted with a 75mm gun and capable of firing both HE and AP shot, most welcome news to the tank crews. Up until now we had only enjoyed the dubious pleasure of tanks fitted with a two-pounder gun firing AP shot.
In addition, the Grant was also fitted with a 37mm gun in the turret, making it the best armoured tank to date. It was fairly fast with a possible road speed of about 25mph, well armoured, and considered to be capable of outshooting an enemy tank or anti-tank gun, with the exception of the 88mm. The Grant crews found their new tank and armourment ideal and we looked forward to meeting the panzers more or less on even terms.
Meanwhile aggressive patrolling out from the desert front line was expected of the Infantry. Orders from General George Brink of the 1st South African Division were to ‘look for the enemy day and night and hit him wherever we can'.
James Brown's diary2 for the 24th February describes what that meant in practice:
‘There was pandemonium. Shouts, screams, the patrol’s tommy guns pouring in fire. Everywhere writhing Germans were lying in a muddle of kit, blankets and blood.’
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