The 1st Battalion in North Africa 1941-2


Map of Eritrea 1941
The Italian camp at Barentu captured after a battle in January.

The 1st Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment crossed into Eritrea in January 1941 and was involved in several sharp low-level engagements while driving Italian forces back to their mountain fortresses at Keren and Amba Alagi. Both were eventually captured, Keren at considerable cost in casualties and resulted in complete Italian surrender. In the four-month campaign the Battalion lost four officers and 48 men killed in action and many more wounded.

Guard of Honour provided by the Battalion for the Duke of Aosta, Commander-in-Chief, when Italian forces surrendered at Amba Alagi.

Libyan Desert

At the end of the Eritrean Campaign, the 1st Battalion ws transferred to the Western Desert. Here its major battle took place in June 1942. It was occupying a defensive ‘box’ at point 187 when Rommel’s Afrika Korps launched a major attack on the Allied Gazala line west of Tobruk. On the morning of 14 June the Germans launched two attacks on the position by infantry supported by tanks, but these were repulsed by fire from mortars, anti-tank guns, artillery and small arms. After a sandstorm and well into the battle the Germans started to work round the sides of the box and launched a third attack, during which the Battalion received orders to withdraw to Tobruk. This it did with the help of a smokescreen, though some men who were too badly wounded to be moved were left behind with the Padre to be captured. A week later members of the Battalion were taken prisoner when Tobruk was captured, apart from a few who escaped back to Egypt.

Some 500 members of the 1st Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment were captured when Tobruk was overrun by German and Italian advancing troops commanded by Rommel in June 1942.

Some Worcesters and Camerons who escaped to Egypt from Tobruk.

The Officers and wounded soldiers were flown to Bari in Italy shortly afterwards. The unwounded soldiers were kept in POW camps in Libya until November when they were moved to Tripoli and from there sent by sea to Italy.

The SS Scillin Incident

On the 13 November 1942 810 prisoners embarked at Tobruk on the SS Scillin, a coastal steamer, on their way to prison camps in Italy. They were confined in the hold, which was full of coal dust. Five were allowed on deck at a time to relieve themselves and get fresh air and exercise.
After dark on 14 November she was sighted by HMS Sahib, part of a patrol line of British submarines deployed to protect the Allied landings in Algeria. Sahib opened fire and the Scilin stopped and transmitted an SOS but made no move to surrender. Sahib then fired a torpedo, which hit the engine room, and the ship sank in under a minute. When Sahib proceeded to the scene to pick up survivors, the crew were horrified to hear shouts of “British Prisoners of War” from the water. She picked up 26 British and 35 Italians, before being forced to break off the action on the approach of an anti-submarine vessel.
784 prisoners died in this incident including twenty members of the Regiment.

From the Diary of Private Davis.