Green Howards in North Africa

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“A” Company, 6th Battalion, Green Howards – North Africa 1942-43

By Paul Goldstone

“A” Company, 6th Battalion, Green Howards, were formed in Middlesborough, Yorkshire, in 1939. They served briefly in the French campaign and were evacuated from Dunkirk. In 1941 they were sent to the Middle East.

Armoured Fist

North Africa

The company broke out from Gazala in June 1942, and made its way back to Mersa Matruh. At Mersa Matruh they were cut off by the advance of Afrika Korps, but managed to avoid the fate of other units of the Green Howards and break out once more.

In July 1942 the Green Howards – with very green reinforcements – were launched into a badly planned attack in the Alamein positions. Losses were heavy, and after lying in an exposed position for much of the day, the force was forced to retreat. The Green Howards were then withdrawn to rebuild yet again.

Mersa Matruh
A German Map of the operations up to El Alamein

The company was still receiving reinforcements when it was brought back into the attack at Alamein in October 1942. It was ordered to attack the Munassib Depression, in an effort to keep Axis forces in the southern part of the Alamein front from shifting to the decisive northern sector.

Immediately before the attack, officers and select men patrolled the front-line, scouting the enemy positions and marking minefields.

On 25 October 1942 the Green Howards formed up behind the white tape start line, drank a tot of rum and fixed bayonets. At 10.30 p.m. a creeping barrage commenced firing in front of the Company, and the men, commanded by Captain G.H. Walker, and accompanied by Captain F. Edward’s Carrier platoon, advanced.

The enemy – Italian paratroops of the Folgore Division - put down heavy mortar and machine-gun fire, but, cheering and with their bayonets at the ready, the Green Howards charged across the minefield and assaulted the enemy machine-gun posts.

Folgore defenders man a 47/32 anti-tank gun
Distinguished Conduct Medal

Edwards was killed while leading one assault, but Sergeant A. Huggins continued the attack, charging enemy positions in his carrier and capturing forty prisoners (for which he would be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal).

Walker went from section to section under intense fire, encouraging his men and personally storming a machine-gun post, for which would be awarded the Military Cross. In fierce fighting at close quarters, two other soldiers from “A’ Company would earn Military Medals and another earn the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The next afternoon, “A” Company attacked once more and taking their objectives, despite now being only a third of their original strength. Sadly, Walker, leading the attack with his usual cool gallantry, was severely wounded.

In March 1943 “A” Company, now commanded by Major C.H. Gardiner, were ordered to smash through the Mareth Line in Tunisia. Sappers attached to the company gapped the minefield, and led by No.7 platoon and the Company HQ, and followed by No.8 platoon, the company pushed ahead into the enemy positions.

Gardiner was wounded, and Captain Metcalfe took over. There was heavy fighting, during which Sergeant L. Blackham would be awarded the D.C.M for his heroic actions, including wiping out an enemy post while armed with a Boys AT rifle, and destroying another with grenades. However, there were more than forty casualties.

In April the Company, now under Captain Honeyman, was sent into the attack for the Wadi Akarit position. Crossing an anti-tank ditch, the Company made an attack against the Jebel Romana hill. At first the Italian defenders surrendered quickly, but as they began to climb the hill they were forced to ground by intense machine-gun and mortar fire.

Other companies from the battalion, however, were able to work forwards, and after heavy fighting the position was taken.

During this fighting Private Harper assaulted two machine-gun posts, firing his Bren gun from the hip as he charged, for which he would be awarded the Military Medal.

After the battle for Wadi Akarit, the Company was withdrawn to Egypt to gain reinforcements and prepare for the invasion of Sicily.

Military Cross Military Medal

Last Updated On Tuesday, January 11, 2022 by Wayne at Battlefront