With Winston Churchill in Egypt, Aug 04-09 and 19-23, 1942

 

Content

 


 

" The following issues had to be settled in Cairo. Had General Auchinleck or his staff lost the confidence of the Desert Army? If so, should he be relieved, and who could succeed him? "
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.412
 
Flight from London via Gibraltar to Cairo West, Aug 02-04
" We started after midnight on Sunday, August 2, from Lyneham in the bomber “Commando”. This was a very different kind of travel from the comforts of the Boeing flying-boats [Boeing 314 Clipper]. The bomber was at this time unheated, and razor-edged draughts cut in through many chinks. There were no beds, but two shelves in the after cabin enabled me and Sir Charles Wilson, my doctor, to lie down.

We reached Gibraltar uneventfully on the morning of August 3, spent the day looking round the fortress, and started at 6 p.m. for Cairo, a hop of 2,000 miles or more, as the detours necessary to avoid the hostile aircraft around the Desert battle were considerable. Vanderkloot, in order to have more petrol in hand, did not continue down the Mediterranean till darkness fall, but flew straight across the Spanish zone and the Vichy quasi-hostile territory. Therefore, as we had an armed escort till nightfall of four Beaufighters.

It was my practice on these journeys to sit in the co-pilot’s seat before sunrise, and when I reached it on this morning of August 4 there in the pale, glimmering dawn the endless winding silver ribbon of the Nile stretched joyously before us.

Never had the glint of daynight on its waters been so welcome to me. "

Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.411-2
Black Consolidated LB-30 "Commando", modified for passenger transport
Pilot William J. Vanderkloot looking out the window
Curchill with his ubiquitous cigar
American/Canadian crew posing in front of "Commando"
Churchill's cabin, far from comfortable
P.M. wearing the uniform of an Air Commodore
A warm welcome to Cairo after a long flight
Departure for the Embassy in a black flagged Pullman


 
 
 
At the Embassy, Aug 04
High-brass posing in the embassy garden
"After luncheon General Wavell arrived from India, and at six o’clock I held a meeting about the Middle East, attended by all the authorities — Smuts, Casey, the C.I.G.S. [Brooke], Wavell, Auchinleck, Admiral Harwood, and Tedder for the Air. We did a lot of business with a very great measure of agreement. But all the time my mind kept turning to the prime question of the command."
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.413
"The hospitality of Sir Miles Lampson [British Ambassador] was princely. I slept in his air-cooled bedroom and worked in his air-cooled study. It was intensely hot, and those were the only two rooms in the house where the temperature was comfortable. In these otherwise agreeable surroundings we dwelt for more than a week, sensing the atmosphere, hearing opinions, and visiting the front or the large camps to the east of Cairo in the Kassassin area, where our powerful reinforcements were now steadily arriving."
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.413-4
Churchill in his famous siren suit and with sombrero next to South-African Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts


 
 
 
With Morshead's 9th Australian Division, Tel-El-Eisa, Aug 05
" On August 5 I visited the Alamein positions.
I drove with General Auchinleck in his car to the extreme right flank of the line west of El Ruweisat, which was held by the Australian 9th Division. Then we proceeded along the front to his headquarters behind the Ruweisat Ridge, where we were given breakfast in a wire-netted cube, full of flies and important military personages. "
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.414
Auchinleck's Humber "Snipe" Tourer with 8th Army symbol and Union Jack
Note also sand mats and red-white St.Andrew Cross on top of hood
A warm welcome by Ramsden (center) and Morshead (right)
Undressing the coat
"The Auk" and his car
At 8th Army GHQ - Auchinleck, Morshead and "Strafer" Gott arguing with Churchill upon future startegy
The "Aussies" greating the Prime Minister


 
 
 
Flight to RAF H.Q., Burg-el-Arab, Aug 05
Lockheed Lodestar "EW992" of 267 Squadron used for front visits
"We parted at the airfield at two o’clock on this afternoon of August 5. At the airfield I was handed over to Air Vice-Marshal Coningham, who, under Tedder, commanded all the air-power which had worked with the Army, and without whose activity the immense retreat of five hundred miles could never have been accomplished without even greater disasters than we had suffered.

We flew in a quarter of an hour to his headquarters, where luncheon was provided, and where all the leading Air officers, from Group Captains upwards, were gathered. The food had all been ordered from Shepheard’s Hotel. A special car was bringing down the dainties of Cairo. But it had gone astray. Frantic efforts were being made to find it. At last it arrived. This tumed out to be a gay occasion in the midst of care — a real oasis in a very large desert."

Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.414-5
Burg-el-Arab Landing Ground
Churchill next to Air Marshal Tedder
Note Ford staff cars in the back


 
 
 
   With the 51st Highland Divsion, Kassassin Road, Aug 07
Humber "Snipe" Tourer, possibly from 238th Field Company, Royal Engineers
"I spent all August 7 visiting the 51st Scottish Division, who had just landed.."
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.418
Churchill and Alan Brooke greeting cheering Highlanders
Note armada of following Ford staff cars


 
 
 
William "Strafer" Gott's death, SE of Alexandria, Aug 07
"General Gott seemed in every way to meet the need. The troops were devoted to him and he had not earned the title “Strafer” by nothing."
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.413
Bristol "Bombay" shot down by two strafing (!) Me109's from JG27 while transporting "Strafer" (!) Gott to Cairo
"As I went up the stairs after dinner at the Embassy I met Colonel Jacob. “This is bad about Gott,” he said. “What has happened?” “He was shot down this aftemoon flying into Cairo.” He had been killed by the enemy in almost the very air spaces through which I now flew.

I certainly felt grief and impoverishment at the loss of this splendid soldier, to whom I had resolved to confide the most direct fighting task in the impending battle. All my plans were dislocated."

Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.418
Churchill's Changes in Command
"I have been busy here with a reorganisation of the High Command which was necessary. I am detaching Iraq and Persia from the Middle East Command and transferring General Auchinleck there. Alexander will succeed him as Commander-in-Chief Middle East. General Gott, who was to have been appointed to command Eighth Army under Alexander, was killed yesterday. I propose to appoint General Montgomery in his place. This will promote the utmost concentration upon the battle.."
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.422


 
 
 
Visiting Units at Tel-el-Kebir Camp, Aug 08
"I spent the 8th with the Yeomanry Division. These fine troops, hitherto wasted and never yet effectively engaged with the enemy, were camped along the Kassassin road. For two years they had served in the Middle East, mainly in Palestine, and I had not been able to have them equipped and worked up to the high quality of which they were capable. At last they had reached the back of the front and were to go into action. Now, at this moment in their career, it had been necessary to take all their tanks from them in order to feed and rearm the fighting line. This was a staggering blow for these eager men. It was my task to go from brigade to brigade and explain to all the officers gathered together, two or three hundred at a time, why they must suffer this mutilation after all their zeal and toil. But I had good news as well.

The 300 Shermans were already approaching through the Red sea."

Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXVI, p.420
Churchill and Brooke riding a Morris Commercial PU 8-cwt light truck


 
 
 
Trip to Montgomery's HQ, Aug 19


1940 Dodge D-17 Light Sedan with G.H.Q. embleme and Union Jack
"On August 19 I paid another visit to the Desert Front. I drove with Alexander in his car out from Cairo past the Pyramids, ahout 130 miles through the desert to the sea at Abusir. I was cheered by all he told me.

As the shadows lengthened we reached Montgomery’s headquarters at Burg-el-Arab. Here the afterwards famous caravan was drawn up amid the sand-dunes by the sparkling waves. The General gave me his own wagon, divided between office and bedroom.

After our long drive we all had a delicious bathe. “All the armies are bathing now at this hour all along the coast,” said Montgomery as we stood in our towels. He waved his arm to the westward. Three hundred yards away about a thousand of our men were disporting themselves on the beach. They were in fact tanned and burnt to the darkest brown everywhere except where they wore their short pants.."

Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXIX, p.462
Monty somehow overeagerly jumping towards the Dodge to open the door for Churchill
Churchill, Alexander and Montgomery with the Dodge in the background
Monty's Leyland Retriever-mounted (ex-Italian) Caravan in the dunes - almost a vacation mood...
Churchill's overnight stay generously provided by Monty
The next morning, continuation of the trip in a closed Humber "Snipe" Saloon


 
 
 
With Brigadier Roberts' Armour and his old regiment "4th Queen's Own Hussars", Aug 20
1942 Ford C21AS Tourer
"On August 20 we sallied forth early to see the prospective battlefield and the gallant troops who were to hold it. I was taken to the key point south-east of the Ruweisat Ridge. Here, amid the hard, rolling curves and creases of the desert, lay the mass of our armour, camouflaged, concealed, and dispersed, yet tactically concentrated. Here I met the young Brigadier Roberts, who at that time commanded the whole of our armoured force in this vital position. All our best tanks were under him. Montgomery explained to me the disposition of our artillery of all natures. Every crevice of the desert was packed with camouflaged concealed batteries. Three or four hundred guns would fire at the German armour before we hurled in our own. Although of course no gatherings of troops could be allowed under the enemy’s continuous air reconnaissance, I saw a great many soldiers that day, who greeted me with grins and cheers. I inspected my own regiment, the 4th Hussars, or as many of them as they dared to bring together — perhaps fifty or sixty — near the field cemetery, in which a number of their comrades had been newly buried. All this was moving, but with it all there grew a sense of the reviving ardour of the Army. Everybody said what a change there was since Montgomery had taken command. I could feel the truth of this with joy and comfort.."
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXIX, p.462
Admirable fitness of the 67-year old while climbing the Ford in the merciless desert heat
Note sun protector attached to the windshield and sun clock on hood top
Rear doors removed while converting station car to tourer in field shop
Ford C11ADF and Morris Commercials in company
In the back: Fordson WOA1 with unidentifiable roof load
Fordson WOA1 staff car
Note W.D.number in latin + arabic letters and upper side rails
Encountering the A15 Crusader Mk.II cruiser tank
"I spent two days in the Western Desert visiting H.Q. Eighth Army. Brooke, Alexander, Montgomery, and I went round together, seeing 44th Division, 7th Armoured Division, and 22nd Armoured Brigade, and representatives of the New Zealand Division. I saw a great number of men and all the principal commanders in the XIIth Corps area, also again Air Marshal Coningham, who shares headquarters with General Montgomery.."
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXIX, p.465


 
 
 
Tura Caves and RAF Airfields, Aug 22
"On August 22 I visited the Tura caves, near Cairo, where vital repair work was being done. Out of these caves the stones of the Pyramids had been cut some time before. They came in very handy now.

The reader will have seen my perpetual complaints of the bad servicing and slowness of repairs ot our aircraft and tanks [sik!]. Everything looked very smart and efficient on the spot, and an immense amount of work was bring done day and night by masses of skilled men. But I had my tables of facts and figures and remained dissatisfied. The scale was far too small.

The original fault lay with the Pharaohs for not having built more and larger Pyramids. Other responsibilities were more difficult to assign.

We spent the rest of the day flying from one airfield to another, inspecting the installations and addressing the ground staffs. At one point two or three thousand airmen were assembled.

I also visited, brigade by brigade, the Highland Division, just landed.

It was late when we got back to the Embassy.."

Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXIX, p.468
Visiting the Tura caves workshops with a RAF Commer Q2 15-cwt light truck nearby
Churchill again in his siren suit visiting Abu Sueir Airfield with RAF Wellingtons in a row
Vickers Wellington "Wimp" Mk.Ic Medium Bomber of 37 Squadron based at Abu Sueir Landing Ground
Crews on the wings of their "Wimps"
Approaching Churchill's "Commando" easily identifiable by its sheer size


"We sailed off from the Desert airfield at 7.5 p.m. on August 23 and I slept the sleep of the just till long after daylight. When I clambered along the bomb-bay to the cockpit of the “Commaiido” we were already approaching Gibraltar. We spent the morning with the Governor, and flew home in the afternoon, taking a wide sweep across the Bay of Biscay when darkness fell.."
Churchill, The Second World War, Vol.IV The Hinge of Fate, Chapter XXIX, p.469-70
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