Newsletter No. 431
When the Natal Field Artillery was called up for the 2nd World War, they went 'Up North' divided between the Second Field and the Second Light Brigades. When the 8 Gun Battery Organisation was introduced there was a partial amalgamation and the Unit became known as 2nd Field Regiment (NFA) SAA, consisting of RHQ, 4th 5th and 6th Batteries. Our speaker - Gunner Gordon Manton - was attached to 6th Battery, initially as a Signaller but later as a Driver.
After undergoing training in desert warfare the Regiment moved with the rest of the 2nd South African Division and on arrival in Egypt, was issued with new 25 Pounder QF guns. The men were engaged in digging defences at el Alamein, some of which would be used in the battle some 12 months later. After being deployed initially at Jarabub, Gordon Manton moved with 6th Battery to join the 2nd Division in preparation for the assault on Sollum and Bardia, which had been left as a fortress by the retreating Germans. The attack on Bardia was launched on the 1st January 1942 and during this action, the Battery Commander 6th Battery, Major Jack Sired MC and his armoured car crew were killed. Gordon described how they discovered them the following day, after communications with them had been lost. Gordon had been responsible for laying the cable from the guns to the BC's OP and he described how had to do so under heavy German artillery fire. Sired was succeeded by Major John Newman and Capt Vossie Vosloo became the Battery Captain. Gordon became his driver.
6th Battery was attached to 'Stopcol' and was engaged in heavy fighting from the 26th May to the 13th June 1942, when it was given the task of covering the withdrawal of the Guards Brigade from Rigel Ridge, 42 km south of Tobruk. Our humble speaker covered this briefly, but perhaps it is necessary to quote the Royal Artillery Commemoration Book, which describes this as the most glorious action fought by South African Artillery during the War: "On the 13th [June 1942] the Scots Guards on Rigel Ridge were attacked and overrun by a large force of enemy tanks. The 6th Battery, two troops of which were 800 yards [875m] below the ridge (and north of it) and 600 yards [656m] apart, was at gunfire under the directions of the troop commanders until the ridge was lost. The battery commander then decided it was his duty to stay and fight it out and so delay the enemy as long as possible. The troop commanders hastened to the gun positions and all guns were commanded individually and engaged the enemy on open sights. The enemy tanks lay hull-down on the ridge with 50mm anti-tank guns on the ground between them.
Supported by field guns, they maintained a devastating fire including armour-piercing machine gun fire on 6th Battery. Tanks moved round until the Troop were being attacked from the front and rear. Nevertheless the fight was maintained until all eight guns had been put out of action by enemy fire. About half the gun detachments were killed and wounded, including the battery commander and most of the officers. The last gun in action was manned by Lieutenant Ashley and one signaller until this gun too was knocked out. When the battery had been silenced, the enemy tanks approached cautiously and the battery personnel were made prisoners." The Natal Field Artillery was captured and virtually ceased to exist until after the War.
After some questioning the Chairman, Bill Brady asked a former Regimental Sergeant Major of the Natal Field Artillery (but in recent years!) to do the vote of thanks. Ken Gillings first called upon the National Pay Bill ('Treasurer') of the MOTH Order, fellow member Mike Adrain to present a hamper to Gordon in appreciation for the role he played in his role in the battle for the Western Desert. Ken then screened some slides taken during the SAMHS's visit to the Battlefields of the Western Desert in May 2009. Some of them showed 6th Battery's gun positions at Rigel Ridge, where Gordon Manton had been in action with his Battery Captain in 1942. It was a memorable moment during a unique evening, when our oldest member - 90 year old Gunner Gordon Manton - gave us an inkling of the role he played in his fight for our freedom. Ken read extracts from a book entitled: "6th Battery - a Saga of Gunners in the Western Desert" by John Newman and AG Vosloo. On page 47, the authors wrote: "On the fatal day, when the Battery was overrun i.e., the 13th June 1942, Capt Vosloo had gone on foot to the crest of Rigel Ridge, then came running back to the A/Car, and ordered us back to the wagon lines, having himself joined the crew of No 3 gun. Later in the day I received a radio message that tanks were approaching on our flanks, so we, Driver G Manton, Bdr Feldman and self drove up to the gun position. I shot out of the A/Car, ran to the gun pit of No 3 gun, delivered the message and returned to the Wagon Lines. To this day, I do not know why we were not fired on as we must have been an absolute sitting duck. After dark we crawled back to Tobruk, with our A/Car suffering from three broken springs."
Our speaker was the driver of that vehicle!
Gordon managed to escape from Tobruk and made his way to Italy where his Latin - taught to him during his school days - came in handy as a 'lingua franca'.
The business of the evening was concluded by Chairman Bill Brady and we retired to the ante room of the Murray Theatre. Gunner Gordon Manton, 2nd Field Regiment (NFA) SAA found himself surrounded by our members thirsty for more anecdotes from this great old soldier. As is the tradition, the last meeting of 2011 ended with a cocktail party but this time the focal point of the conversation was Gunner Gordon Manton, 2nd Field Regiment (NFA) SAA, aged 90. What an unforgettable meeting!
THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING:
Thursday 19th January 2012 (NB - Third Thursday ) - 19h00 for 19h30.
Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: 'The Giant Leipheim' by Capt. (SAN) (Retd) Brian Hoffman.
Main Talk - 'Zulu Military Systems' by Ken Gillings.
FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: February - April 2012.
* 9th February 2012
DDH - Jackie Fisher and the Dreadnaught by Rob Crawley.
Main Talk - The Work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by Capt.(SAN) Charles Ross.
8th March 2012
DDH - 'The Twilight of the U-Boats' by Charles Whiteing.
Main Talk - 'Rider Haggard and the Anglo-Zulu War' by Stephen Coan
12th April 2012
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture - 'The Fall of Singapore', by Bill Brady
Main Talk - 'Maj Gen Sir Charles Warren in Northern Natal', by Prof. Philip Everitt.
South African Military History Society / firstname.lastname@example.org