HOME

This short extract is taken from the concise history of the North Irish Horse in World War Two, Battle Report, which was published in Belfast in 1946. I have added some explanatory footnotes at the end of the item. For more on the North Irish Horse, visit this excellent website: www.northirishhorse.net

‘Meanwhile C squadron had reached Tamara 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 were ordered to support the 139th 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 Foresters, 1st Commandos and the Durham Light Infantry and had driven them from their positions during Monday's fighting (1). 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 (2). 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. (3)

‘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. (4) 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 OC Lincolns, who had received orders to retire. He arranged to meet me again at 1600 hours.

‘During all this time heavy mortar and artillery fire was put down on the tanks, with several casualties, including the forward observation officer. At 1500 hours the Adjutant of the Lincolns came up and said that they were going to retire and asked me to cover their retirement. I advanced to the outskirts of the village and told the tanks there to open fire to assist the infantry, ordering one troop to the Mansour Ridge to cover my withdrawal. The fire put up by the tanks in the village was good and a lot of Germans were killed. Our infantry came out on our right through the woods and moved down the road. I smoked the village and hill on the right during this operation. I remained in observation for half-an-hour and saw nothing; I then moved back to the Mansour Ridge, sending the troop there one bound further back.

‘Just as it was getting dark we came back through the Coldstream Guards who had come up to form a firm base, the majority of 139th Brigade and 1st Commandos being safely back. Numerous petrol and ammunition dumps were destroyed by our tanks as we returned and we also pulled out a 6-pounder gun which had been left behind. One tank of No 1 troop, in trying to pull out some other guns, was bogged and had to be destroyed.’

Notes:

1 Far from being overrun, in fact the situation had been more less static since Saturday 27th February and the initial DLI advance to contact with the enemy in the hills north of Sedjenane. The DLI were still holding their forward positions on Monday March 1st, indeed the Battalion were planning their final, disastrous assault on the German held hills, timed for dawn on March 2nd. The 6th Lincolns and NIH were the contingency plan should this attack fail. See the eyewitness account of Major Harry Craggs MC. On Monday March 1st, the Foresters were still in their positions and had not yet been attacked. Obviously a unit only sees a battle from its point of view, and this is certainly the case with the various accounts of the Sedjenane action that I have gathered for this website!

2 This 'quiet day' for the NIH was in fact the decisive day on which the last DLI attack failed and the Foresters were overrun. Also note that the steep hills and boggy ground at Sedjenane would have made it impossible for the tanks to support the DLI attack.

3 The Germans made much propaganda of this incident with photographs of their troops inspecting the two wrecked Churchill tanks in the aftermath of the Sedjenane Battle. Two such photographs appear in the 1997 book by Jean-Yves Nasse Green Devils: German Paratroopers 1939-45 and one has also been published on the North Irish Horse website. Click here to see it:

4 This 50 mm anti-tank gun was a British 6-pounder that had been captured from the 6th Lincs. See their Battalion History's account of the action here.

THE NORTH IRISH HORSE AT SEDJENANE