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Old 15-01-08, 08:17 PM
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Default The Beja Battle Badge Part 1

172nd FIELD REGIMENT ROYAL ARTILLERY

BEJA BATTLE BADGE

Among the many hundreds of badges and devices worn by the various regiments of the British Army throughout the different periods of their respective histories, there are very few badges, official or unofficial, which were created and worn to commemorate a particular regiment's achievements in one specific battle, although of course many badges proudly bear battle honours so heroically won in the past. One such unofficial badge which was so created and which is not widely known to exist by many collectors of militaria or which has often been wrongly identified, is the Beja Battle Badge of 172nd Field Regiment R.A. Behind the creation of this badge is a story of courage, heroism self-sacrifice and devotion to duty which compares with anything in the history of the Royal Regiment or indeed I venture to suggest with anything in the history of the British Army.

This is a summary of that story.

The story really starts in January 1942 when a new Territorial Regiment, 172nd Field Regiment R.A., was formed at Hastings with personnel largely taken from the 3rd and 5th Coast Defence Regiments R.A. The new Regiment was soon to join the Territorial 46th (North Midland) Division and be affiliated to 128th Infantry Brigade consisting of 3 Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment. The 172nd Field Regiment R.A., was made up of three batteries - 153, 154, and 155, each armed with eight 25 pr Field Guns.

A year later the Regiment was posted to North Africa with 46th Division to join the 1st Army in its final push for Tunis. After a 'swim' in the Mediterranean when their troopship was sunk by a German submarine and all their equipment was lost, but mercifully few men, they were re-equipped and ready to take up their position north of the town of Beja, at a place called Hunts Gap. 153 and 154 Batteries were deployed astride the main road to Mateur covering Beja, in support of the main force of 128th Infantry Brigade whilst 155 Battery was supporting the 5th Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment, some twelve miles North-East of Hunts Gap at Sidi Nsir. They had been established there as an outpost and patrol base whose object was to give warning of any impending enemy attack and if necessary to gain time.
On the 26th February 1943 the Germans commenced 'Operation Ochsenkopf' in which they launched a determined attack towards Beja, the vital centre for the Allied Communications, with the intention of breaking through the 1st Army lines. The main thrust of this operation was led by an armoured Battle Group including the 10th Panzer Division under the command of Colonel Rudolph Lang together with a number of the new and much vaunted 'Tiger Tanks'.

Thus it was that just after 6 a.m. on the 26th February, 155 Battery and the 5th Hampshire's came under fire from mortars and the first stage in the battle for Beja had begun and was to last nonstop for twelve hours. Before long F Troop was in action against tanks as they advanced down the main road, No. l gun, commanded by Sergeant Henderson, over open sights. Three tanks were hit and the road blocked where it passed through a minefield.

Throughout the morning F Troop and to a lesser extent E Troop were under constant mortar and machine gun fire and also experienced several attacks by eight Messerschmitt who raked the gun positions with machine gun and cannon fire during which a number of men were hit and ammunition vehicles set on fire. Ignoring the risks the Gunners salvaged what they could and manhandled ammunition to the gun positions under heavy fire.

At this point it would have been possible to withdraw the guns and engage the enemy tanks and vehicles from a safer distance but the Battery placed the protection of the Hampshire's first and remained in position so they could engage the infantry, machine guns and mortars who were closing in on the Hampshire's positions.

At 3 p.m. the supply route for ammunition was cut by enemy infantry and no more ammunition could pass. Shortly after this enemy tanks attempted to advance down the main road. The leading Panzer Mk VI was hit three times by Sergeant Henderson's gun. Then a Panzer Mk IV which tried to pass was knocked out and a further one set on fire by the same gun. Soon both troops were in action against enemy tanks over open sights. But the enemy had the advantage of being able to engage the guns from hull-down positions and thus they engaged the guns one by one, setting on fire ammunition dumps, killing or wounding the detachments and eventually smashing up the guns themselves. But for nearly an hour the enemy was held at bay. 'Then at 4 p.m. another attack was launched against P Troop from its southern flank. Again Sergeant Henderson and his crew destroyed the leading tank but then received a direct hit and were put out of action. As the enemy tanks advanced the three remaining guns engaged them at ranges of 50 - 10 yards; Lieutenant Taylor, the only officer on the gun position, and all available survivors, including cooks and the fitters running from gun to gun and servicing them in turn. Finally by about 5.30 p.m. F Troop was silenced and the tanks surrounded E Troop who again fought to the bitter end engaging tanks at ranges of 10 - 20 yards. The tanks smothered the gun positions with machine gun fire and any man who moved was immediately shot whilst some tanks went round the gun position swivelling on their tracks and crushing in the slit trenches. At 5.51 p.m. the last dramatic message reached HQ at Hunts Gap over the wireless "TANKS ARE ON US" followed a few seconds later by the single letter V taped out in Morse code - then silence.

Of the nine officers and one hundred and twenty one other ranks on the gun positions or in the Command Posts and Observation Posts at the start of the battle only nine survived and escaped to join the remainder of the Regiment. One officer and seventy eight other ranks who were at the wagon lines or detached from the Battery also survived and reached Regimental lines. The rest of the Battery were killed wounded or taken prisoner. Of the Hampshire's who fought just as heroically and gallantly along side the Gunners, two hundred reached safety.
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Old 15-01-08, 08:18 PM
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Default The Beja Battle Badge Part 2

The gallant action and sacrifice of 155 Battery provided the vital delay in the advance of Lang's Battle Group and thus gave the rest of the Regiment time to prepare and summon further support, so when the next day the German tanks advanced down the narrow road towards Hunts Gap and Beja, 153 and 154 Batteries, supported by three batteries from other Regiments of the Divisional Artillery plus the R.A.F. were ready and waiting for them. Before long the road was blocked with smashed and burning tanks. As the Germans struggled to recover their damaged tanks and vehicles fate took a favourable hand - it poured with rain and soon the heavy German tanks were hopelessly stuck in the Tunisian mud! The Gunners of 172nd Field Regiment R.A. took remorseless revenge for their lost comrades of 155 Battery! By the 5th of March Lang had been ordered to withdraw with barely five tanks left and nearly forty destroyed which was to earn him the unenviable nickname of 'Tank Killer".

Immediately following the battle the Commander of the 5th Hampshire's, Lieutenant Colonel H. Newnham, voiced the feelings of his Battalion when he recommended to the Commander 128 Infantry Brigade "most strongly that the performance of 155 Field Battery should be put on record and that at a more suitable time when it is possible to collate information, just tribute may be made". This was supported by the Commander of 128 Infantry Brigade, Brigadier M. A. James V.C., in a memo headed 'Citation for Gallantry' which he passed to HQ 46 Division "I very strongly support the remarks of Comd 5 Hamps and I recommend that the facts be recorded so that when sufficient eye witnesses can be obtained, if His Majesty considers it advisable, balloted awards of the Victoria Cross may be made to members of this very gallant Battery"

Sadly despite the fact that this action was reported in the Illustrated London News, dated 23rd June, 1943, under the heading 'THE V.C. BATTERY' and accompanied by a vivid drawing by war artist, Bryan de Grineau, depicting 155 Battery's last stand, this award was never made. One 'Official' reason given to the C.O. of 172nd Field Regiment R.A., later for the failure of the award to be granted was "too many, prisoners"!
Never the less the bravery of the Gunners of 172nd Field Regiment and of 155 Battery in particular did not go unrewarded and the following Gallantry awards were made:
Distinguished Service Order : Lt. Col. W. D. McN. Graham - C.O. 172nd Field Regiment R.A.
Military Cross : Capt. J. S. Perry R.A. 154 Battery R.A. : Major J. S. Raworth R.A. 155 Battery R.A. (Battery Commander)
Distinguished Conduct Medal : LBdr R. S. Hitchin 155 Battery R.A. : Sgt. R. Henderson 155 Battery R.A.
Military Medal : Gnr. R. Kennard 155 Battery R.A. : Sgt. E. R. Lodder 155 Battery R.A. : Gnr. W. Shelton 154 Battery R.A. : Bdr. G. H. Wallis 155 Battery R.A.
Mentioned In Dispatches : Capt. S. T. Bormond R.A. 155 Battery R.A. : LSgt. M. A. W. Benham 154 Battery R.A. : B.S.M. Green 155 Battery R.A. : Lt. P. G. King R.A. 155 Battery R.A. : Capt. R. F. Lawrence R.A. 155 Battery R.A. : Gnr. J. Lewington 155 Battery R.A. (Killed in Action) : LBdr. N. H. Lovelock 155 Battery R.A. : Gnr. K. A. Pearson 155 Battery R.A. : Sgt. Perryman 155 Battery R.A. : Lt. R. J. H. Taylor R.A. 155 Battery R.A. (Killed in Action)

There were those at the time who felt that the importance of the success in this battle was very much underrated by High Command, but not by the Germans. A German Afrika Corps Commander talking to Brigadier Graham many years after the war admitted that their failure at Sidi Nsir and Hunts Gap "marked the end of our hopes of victory in North Africa". Indeed within two months of the battle for Beja, Tunis had been taken and the Germans had surrendered at Cap Bon.

However the pride of the C.O. of 172nd Field Regiment R.A., in the achievement of his men in their baptism of fire was such that he felt that all those who had been actively involved in the destruction of the German tank force should receive some recognition for their courage and bravery. Thus he personally designed and subsequently had made by Arab craftsmen in Tunis, a badge to commemorate the battle. It was awarded mainly to those members of the Regiment who were in the gun crews, Command Posts and Observation Posts at the time of the battle. The exact number of badges awarded is uncertain but it was less than two hundred although it is known that a few at least were also probably bought from the makers by members of the 5th Hampshire's.

The badge itself is stamped out in white metal in the shape of a shield with a raised edge. The centre is covered with a dark red felt and mounted on it in white metal is a Tiger tank pierced by Crusader's sword (the sign of the First Army) and small plate bearing the single word 'BEJA'. The badge measures 2 inches by 2 inches and has a pin brooch fastening on the back.
The badge was worn without too much regimentation either above the right breast pocket of the Battle Dress Blouse or on the right sleeve below the badge of the 46th Division. Thus it is that this little known badge has a small but nonetheless important part in the history of the badges and insignia of the Royal Regiment of Artillery.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I am most grateful to the following people for their kind help and first hand reminiscences which made the compilation of this article possible;
Brigadier W. D. McN. Graham D.S.O., O.B.E. Lieutenant Colonel J. S. Raworth M.C. Mr. J. W. Hullis also to the Royal Artillery Institution at Woolwich for their help in providing access to official records and documents and for permission to quote from them.
Copyright N. E. H. Litchfield August -1981 with permission.
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Old 02-03-08, 06:19 PM
Mark Hitchin Mark Hitchin is offline
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Thanks for posting this.

My Grandfather, (Bdr R. Hitchin) was was one of the 9 escapees.

The following may be of interest:

http://stalingrad.hostsnake.com/Family/RobertSHitchin/

One good account of the battle is in the Book 'Last Stand!' by Bryan Peritt.

I'd be really interested if anyone could tell me the name of the Troop Ship that was sunk or any other information about The Battle of SIdi Nsir or the gunners who fought in it.
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Old 02-03-08, 06:37 PM
Mark Hitchin Mark Hitchin is offline
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PS: You may notice I've added your text and your Badge image to my web space. If you'd prefer me to remove it just say!
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Old 02-03-08, 09:03 PM
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Bantam Bantam is offline
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Hi Mark,
My father was involved in "The Torch Landings". He was on The Strathallan a troopship that was torpedoed off the coast of Oran,Algeria in December 1942.
There is a very good website related to the sinking at www.thestrathallan.com
I hope this is of some help and would love to know the outcome.
Regards
Bantam
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Old 02-03-08, 09:37 PM
Mark Hitchin Mark Hitchin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bantam View Post
Hi Mark,
My father was involved in "The Torch Landings". He was on The Strathallan a troopship that was torpedoed off the coast of Oran,Algeria in December 1942.
There is a very good website related to the sinking at www.thestrathallan.com
I hope this is of some help and would love to know the outcome.
Regards
Bantam
Hi Bantam.

The Strathhallen has been mooted as the most likely candidate. (Indeed I've been told by a Naval Historian that it is the *only* possible candidate.)

However, I understand that the Convoy my grandfather was in had 13 ships, sailed on the 13th. (IIRC) My Grandfather also verbally told me that the ship hit a mine.

...and that none of that really fits.

He was picked up by HMS Verity.
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Old 02-03-08, 10:04 PM
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Hi Mark,
I have been and had a look at The Strathallan Website to refresh my memory and it confirms that HMS Verity did pick up survivors from The Strathallan.I am sure you have done a lot of research and I know how frustrating it is when you can't make any headway.Keep at it and I await with interest in any developments.
Regards,
Bantam
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Old 08-05-09, 11:39 PM
JFerran JFerran is offline
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Default the "Beja Badge"

Nice to find an account of Sidi Nsir!
Brig. William Douglas McNeill Graham, DSO, OBE, RA, who was C.O. 172nd Field Regiment at Sidi Nsir was my father in law. In the family medal box, we have discovered 2 specimen of the badges he had made.
The reason the "VC battery" never got the recognition it deserved was possibly due to the fact Monty and him were never in best terms. His army career ended in Palestine...
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Old 04-03-11, 12:10 PM
JONBOY JONBOY is offline
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Arrow 5th Hampshires at Sidi Nsir

My father in law, Jonathan Wilkinson took part in the battle of Sidi Nsir. He was part of B Company who were positioned in advance positions on craggy outposts. After years of silence he began to talk about his capture, time in the Silesian coal mines as pow, and horrific Long March in the snow of Europe's coldest winter. I managed to put his memories on a number of pages on BBC2 Peoples War website
http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/s...a4789434.shtml
Sadly Jonboy died three weeks ago aged 90. During his last years he took an active part in the Hampshires and ex POW Association. He visited the Silesian area of Poland, and took advantage of the 'Heroes Return' program to return to Sidi Nsir, Beja and Bizerte where he was pushed into the hold of a cargo ship bound for Naples.
The Long March was a truly bitter experience for over 120,000 pows retreating before the Russian advance, and I cannot understand why these brave men were not awarded a special badge.
After his demanding experiences, after just six weeks leave to recover his health, he was back in service in Berlin. Things have changed so much - no counselling or special treatment.
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Old 09-09-12, 11:41 PM
Ethicsgirl Ethicsgirl is offline
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I've just stumbled across the site while trying to research some information on my grandfather, FWA Osborne. I have some brief notes I made years ago when I was a schoolgirl from conversations with him and the elements that led me here were the fact that he was on the ship Jeanne Jadot that was torpedoed on 20 January 1943 and was picked up by the destroyer Verity and that he was involved at Sidi Nasir.

My mother is very sketchy on his military career. We know he was a surveyor (he trained at Larkhill, having previously worked for the Post Office) and we have his medals and a Royal Artillery badge. We also believe he was with the Hampshires. So far I have not had any luck locating him in military archives but everything he told me about where he was posted during the war suggests he was with the 5th Hampshires (Tunisia and across North Africa, Italy, Greece, back to Italy and finishing in Austria).

Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I might find out more about his career? I didn't understand the significance of Sidi Nasir when he was alive and I wish the internet had existed then as he was very reticent about what he did and saw. The only anecdote I have about his career is him being the leading driver in a convoy that was billeted at some kind of race track in North Africa and leading them all in a lap of the track when they first arrived.

Any additional information on how I might piece together his story would be much appreciated.
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Old 11-09-12, 07:35 AM
alan g alan g is offline
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Rod flood has one of these badges for sale on his website at the moment

Regards

Alan
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Old 21-01-13, 05:34 PM
dmoyson dmoyson is offline
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Default Jean Jadot

Hi Ethicsgirl,

I saw your post while looking around for information on my grandfather's time during WW II. He was an officer in the Belgian merchant navy and an officer on the ship your grandfather was on. The name of the ship is in fact Jean Jadot and it was hit by a torpedo fired by the German U-boot U453 at 4.33pm on 20 Jan 1943.

I don't have much info regarding the battle at Sidi Nsir and I'm sure you can find plenty on that yourself but I do have a few bits and pieces on the Jean Jadot. If you're interested I can send you some links.


Cheers,

David



Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethicsgirl View Post
I've just stumbled across the site while trying to research some information on my grandfather, FWA Osborne. I have some brief notes I made years ago when I was a schoolgirl from conversations with him and the elements that led me here were the fact that he was on the ship Jeanne Jadot that was torpedoed on 20 January 1943 and was picked up by the destroyer Verity and that he was involved at Sidi Nasir.

My mother is very sketchy on his military career. We know he was a surveyor (he trained at Larkhill, having previously worked for the Post Office) and we have his medals and a Royal Artillery badge. We also believe he was with the Hampshires. So far I have not had any luck locating him in military archives but everything he told me about where he was posted during the war suggests he was with the 5th Hampshires (Tunisia and across North Africa, Italy, Greece, back to Italy and finishing in Austria).

Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I might find out more about his career? I didn't understand the significance of Sidi Nasir when he was alive and I wish the internet had existed then as he was very reticent about what he did and saw. The only anecdote I have about his career is him being the leading driver in a convoy that was billeted at some kind of race track in North Africa and leading them all in a lap of the track when they first arrived.

Any additional information on how I might piece together his story would be much appreciated.
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Old 21-01-13, 05:40 PM
dmoyson dmoyson is offline
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Default The ship Jean Jadot

Hi Mark,

From seeing posts in your name elsewhere (or someone else called Mark with the same story) I think you've figured out by now that your grandfather was on the Belgian merchant navy ship Jean Jadot that got torpedoed by a German U-boot. My grandfather was an officer in the Belgian merchant navy, serving on the Jean Jadot.

As I said, I think you've pieced most of it together by now but if you would like to know more about the Jean Jadot I could point you in a few directions. If you have more info/storied on the ship or the people on it I would be very happy to hear about it.


Kind regards,

David



Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Hitchin View Post
Hi Bantam.

The Strathhallen has been mooted as the most likely candidate. (Indeed I've been told by a Naval Historian that it is the *only* possible candidate.)

However, I understand that the Convoy my grandfather was in had 13 ships, sailed on the 13th. (IIRC) My Grandfather also verbally told me that the ship hit a mine.

...and that none of that really fits.

He was picked up by HMS Verity.
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Old 24-04-13, 10:59 AM
DavidByrden DavidByrden is offline
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Concerning the Beja battle; I've been helping on a website, TIIF.DE, which is devoted to identifying Tiger tanks in photos. The landscape of northern Tunisia is so unusual that you can find the location of some photos, so I've additionally started to do that as well.
And consequently, I have identified some photos of the Beja battle, including one view of a 25pdr gun still in place after the battle. You may find them interesting?

Here's what I have;
http://tiger1.info/event/To-Sidi-Nsir
http://tiger1.info/event/Sidi-Nsir-battle
http://tiger1.info/event/3-Tigers-wrecked-Hunts-Gap
http://tiger1.info/event/4-Tigers-Pa...yard-Hunts-Gap
http://tiger1.info/event/Retreat-Hunts-Gap

David
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Old 25-04-13, 03:03 PM
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DJT DJT is offline
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There is an example of this badge on display in the National War Museum of Scotland. I think I have a photograph stored somewhere. I will try and post it if of interest.
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Regards,

Des
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