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My great grandfather and great uncle's service

Discussion in 'What Granddad did in the War' started by jtoml3, Feb 11, 2016.

  1. jtoml3

    jtoml3 New Member

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    Hi all!

    I only recently discovered this great forum and came across this section so I thought I'd share what my great grandfather and great uncle did during the war. Unfortunately, my great uncle was KIA and I never got a chance to meet my great grandfather, so all this info is a combination of personal military records and info found on the internet about their respective theatres of war and conflicts.

    My great grandfather, William, started out as a signaller in the 18th New Zealand Battalion before it converted to armour and renamed to the 18th Armoured Regiment (a unit in the 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade) after their North Africa campaign. He eventually became a 2nd Lieutenant in C Squadron where he was a troop sergeant. The Armoured Brigade used M4A2 Sherman’s during the Italy Campaign as part of the United States Lend-Lease initiative.

    When the brigade was first formed it was initially going to be armed with tanks in the same manner of other regiments in the Middle East, ‘A’ squadron with Shermans, ‘B’ squadron with Grants and ‘C’ squadron with Crusaders. All that were recieved was a few Lees and Crusaders, these were retained by the armoured training school. In July 1943 the regiments were to be fitted out solely with Sherman III tanks and the Crusaders were given back.

    These are just overviews of the campaigns he was involved in with the 18th Armoured Regiment.

    North Africa
    In November 1941, the battalion participated in Operation Crusader as part of the British Eighth Army and was engaged in offensive operations towards the Sidi Azeiz area.

    After a period near Cairo, in February 1942, the 2nd New Zealand Division was dispatched to Syria to defend against a possible attack through Turkey on the Middle East oilfields by the Germans. Along with the rest of the 4th Brigade it worked on defences to the north of Damascus before the whole division was recalled to Libya on 17 June following the attack on the Eighth Army's Gazala Line by Panzer Army Africa. When the division was encircled at Minqar Qaim by the 21st Panzer Division on 27 June, the battalion, temporarily detached from the rest of the 4th Brigade, was one of the lead units in the subsequent breakout that night.

    The battalion was withdrawn to the Alamein line after a brief period of recovery at the Kaponga Box.

    A German counterattack in the afternoon of 15 July which overwhelmed the 19th and 20th Battalions also caused heavy losses amongst the 18th Battalion. Following the effective destruction of the 19th and 20th Battalions, the 18th Battalion remained in the field attached to the 5th Brigade. It then supported an attack by the 6th Brigade on El Mreir. Inadequately supported by armour, the attack proved a failure although the battalion escaped with relatively few casualties. It remained in the line throughout August and into September but, having been reduced to just 350 personnel, it was withdrawn to Maadi to re-join the reconstituted 4th Brigade.

    Italy

    The 18th Armoured Regiment disembarked at Taranto on 22 October 1943 and gradually travelled north towards the [SIZE=10.5pt]Sangro River, [/SIZE]which it duly crossed on 3 December. In the following weeks, the regiment supported the 5th and 6th Brigades in their attack on Orsogna, as part of the [SIZE=10.5pt]Moro River Campaign[/SIZE]. Two squadrons from the 18th Armoured Regiment attacked with the 22 Motor Battalion, Although the infantry made some gains, the German defences were too strong and the attack soon faded into a stalemate, with a number of back and forth actions as winter set in, which led to many of the regiment's tanks becoming stuck in the sodden ground.

    Orsogna became the final objective for the Armoured Brigade on 7th December 1943. There, attacks by 18th and 19th Armoured Regiments were repulsed by German Panzer IV tanks, although some ground was gained. Offensive operations around Orsogna ceased in late December and the New Zealanders withdrew from the area on 13 January 1944

    Relieved by a Polish unit in March 1945, the regiment returned to the front lines in early April after a period of rest. It made a series of advances against the retreating German rear-guard and on 2 May, the 2nd New Zealand Division entered Trieste. While most of the German garrison quickly surrendered, it was necessary to deal with some diehard elements who refused to surrender to either the New Zealanders or the Yugoslav partisans also present in the city. The partisans were reluctant to allow Germans to surrender to the New Zealanders, and the regiment remained in Trieste for several weeks until the large numbers of Yugoslav partisans also present in the city withdrew.

    Not required for service in the Pacific theatre of operations, the regiment was disestablished in December 1945. During the war, the 18th Battalion and its successor, the 18th Armoured Regiment, lost nearly 320 officers and men either killed in action or who later died of their wounds. Of the exactly 350 personnel made prisoners of war, a further 21 men died while in captivity.

    William also attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst in 1944 as a cadet.

    He received the following medals:

    · Africa Star
    · Italy Star
    · 1939-1945 Star
    · Defence Medal
    · War Medal 1939-1945
    · N.Z. War Service Medal

    It would have been fantastic to have met him. My grandmother said he never spoke about what he saw, which seems to be a common theme, however I’m incredibly proud of what he did.

    Out of curiosity, this is a C Squadron tank in Italy. For those of you more familiar with slight differences in tank models, is this a M4A2 Sherman?

    [​IMG]

    My great uncle, also named William, was part of the New Zealand Medical Corps serving on the converted Dutch passenger ship the SS Slamat. The New Zealand Medical Corps team consisted of 7 other New Zealanders serving on the ship.

    The Dutch troop ship Slamat was part of a convoy evacuating about 3,000 British, Australian and New Zealand troops from Nafplio in the Peloponnese. As the convoy headed south in the Argolic Gulf on the morning of 27 April, it was attacked first by Bf 109 fighters, then Ju 87 dive bombers and Ju 88 and Do 17 bombers. A 250 kg (550 lb) bomb exploded between Slamat's bridge and forward funnel, setting her afire.

    Her water system became disabled, hampering her crew's ability to fight the fire. Another bomb also hit her and she listed to starboard. The destroyer HMS Diamond rescued about 600 survivors and HMS Wryneck came to her aid, but as the two destroyers headed for Souda Bay in Crete another Ju 87 attack sank them both. The total number of deaths from the three sinking’s was almost 1,000. Only 27 crew from Wryneck, 20 crew from Diamond, 11 crew and eight evacuated soldiers from Slamat survived.

    William received the following medals:

    · 1939 – 1945 Star
    · Africa Star
    · NZ War Service Medal
    · War Medal 1939-1945
    · The New Zealand Memorial Cross

    I hope you enjoyed reading this :)
     
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  2. Biak

    Biak Adjutant Patron  

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    Welcome to the forum jtoml3.

    Very interesting history and thanks for sharing.
     
  3. YugoslavPartisan

    YugoslavPartisan Drug

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    Welcome!
     
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  4. Scorpius

    Scorpius New Member

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    Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Slamat. My grandfather Lieutenant Walter Scott was also on that ship. He was in the Australian 6th Army Signal Corp but was attached to the SS Slamat in Alexandria in charge of an anti aircraft team. The ship went down during the evacuation from Navplion, along with the destroyers Diamond and Wryneck. My grandfather and 982 other victims died in that tragedy.

    I didn't know exactly what had happened to him until last year. We new that he died during the Greek Campaign, but his army record stated that he was killed when the HM Sloop Slanto that he was allotted to was sunk at sea. Problem was that the Sloop Slanto never existed! Over some forty years I would keep coming back to the record, search for the "Slanto" or some variation and hit the same brick wall. In July of last year I started a thread on uboat.net on the elusive Slanto, and in the ensuing research I came across the story of the SS Slamat. Interestingly it was Wikipedia that gave me the lead. They have a listing of EVERY ship sunk during WW11 and I was able to narrow the search right down. It was then that I discovered that Rotterdam Lloyd Museum has a website and had commemorated the sinking of the SS Slamat and the loss of the other two ships. It was there that I found my grandfather listed as one of the victims, along with a photo of him. In fact he was mentioned by name, along with captain surgeon Lennox Douglas of the NZ medical team in an opening speech.

    To jtoml3 - was your great uncle L/Cpl William Douglas Tomlinson? If you go to http://www.krlmuseum.nl/slamatdocen.html and scroll down a way you will find a picture of him amongst the Allied soldiers. In fact his picture is next to my grandfather's! I don't know if the Museum is doing anything for the 75th anniversary - doesn't seem to be anything on their site about it. Anyway, we've just had ANZAC Day here - all seems to fit together.
     
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  5. jtoml3

    jtoml3 New Member

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    You are correct. William Douglas Tomlinson is my great uncle. When I first found the KRL museum website a few years ago they didn't have a lot of info on him, or the photo, so I provided it to them. I gave them that photo last year hoping it would be included in the SS Slamat documentary you can buy, however it wasn't to be. I had a chance to go over last year for an anniversary event but it was too short of notice. A cousin and her family did go over though to represent us.

    I don't have any particular stories about his service, other than he was in the NZ Medical Corps. You're the first person I've come across who had a relative involved in the SS Slamat disaster.
     
  6. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    I don't know how I missed this back in February, but thank you jtoml3 for telling us about what your great grandfather and great uncle did in WWII. Also, thank you Scorpius for sharing your grandfather's story.
     
  7. Scorpius

    Scorpius New Member

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    I wish I'd found the KRL museum site a few years ago - feeling a bit late for the party! It's great that your family was able to be represented at the anniversary event, and well done you for getting that photo up. I don't know who posted the pic of my grandfather, but one thing I have discovered is that I have a cousin I didn't know about! Funny how things like that work out.

    Who knows - with your post up and out there, other relatives of those involved in the Slamat sinking might come out of the woodwork.
     

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