John Cecil Currie

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For other people named John Currie, see John Currie (disambiguation).

Brigadier John Cecil Currie DSO** MC (1898 - 26 June 1944) was an officer in the British Army during World War II.

As part of Iraqforce (or Paiforce in Persia), Brigadier Currie commanded the 9th Armoured Brigade during the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia. His brigade was part of Hazelforce commanded by Brigadier J.A. Aizlewood.

During the Battle of El Alamein, he played a key and indeed some would say heroic and self-sacrificing part in the Operation Supercharge phase. Once again, he was commander of the 9th, forming part of Freyburg's 2nd Division (New Zealand). He was later killed in France while leading the 4th Armoured Brigade.

Operation Supercharge[edit]

This battle took place on 2 November 1942. The initial thrust of Supercharge was to be carried out by 151st (Durham) and 152nd (Seaforth and Camerons) Brigades supported by British 9th Armoured Brigade under the command of Currie, all at the time under command of 2nd New Zealand division, as also was 133rd Royal Sussex Brigade and 23rd Armoured Brigade, less 40th and 46th Royal Tank Regiments. The New Zealand Division's commander, Freyburg, had tried to free his division of this chore, as they were under strength and had lost a brigade; the New Zealand contribution to SUPERCHARGE was 5th Brigade with 28th (Maori) Battalion attached to 151st Brigade.

The infantry gained most of their objectives, but as with Operation Lightfoot on the first day of the battle, lanes could not be cleared through the minefields until night was almost over.

9th Armoured Brigade started its approach march at 8pm from El Alamein railway station on the 1 November with around 130 tanks; it arrived at its start line with only 94 tanks.[1]

The brigade was to have started its attack towards Tel el Aqqaqir at 5.45a.m. behind a barrage; however, the attack was postponed for 30 minutes while the brigade regrouped on Brigadier Currie orders.[2] At 6.15 a.m., half an hour before dawn, the three regiments of the brigade advanced towards the gunline[3]

We all realise that for armour to attack a wall of guns sounds like another Balaclava, it is properly an infantry job. But there are no more infantry available. So our armour must do it.

—Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg[4]

Currie had tried to get the brigade out of doing this job stating that he believed the brigade would be attacking on too wide a front with no reserves and that they will most likely take 50 percent losses.[4]

The reply came from Freyberg that Montgomery[4]

...was aware of the risk and has accepted the possibility of losing 100% casualties in 9th Armoured Brigade to make the break, but in view of the promise of immediate following through of 1st Armoured Division, the risk was not considered as great as all that.

The German and Italian anti-tank guns (mostly Pak38 and Italian 47mm guns,[5] along with 24 of the formidable 88mm flak guns[4]) opened fire upon the charging tanks silhouetted by the rising sun. German tanks, which had penetrated between the Warwickshire Yeomanry and Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry also caused many casualties. British tanks attacking the Folgore's sector were fought off with petrol bombs and mortar fire as well as with the obsolete Italian 47mm cannons.

The Axis gun screen started to inflict a steady amount of damage upon the charging tanks but was unable to stop them; over the course of the next half an hour around 35 guns were destroyed and several hundred prisoners taken.

The brigade had started the attack with 94 tanks and was reduced to only 24 runners (although many were recoverable[3]) and of the 400 tank crew involved in the attack 230 were killed, wounded or captured.[6]

If the British armour owed any debt to the infantry, the debt was paid by 9th Armoured in heroism and blood.

Bernard Montgomery, referring to the British Armour's mistakes during the First Battle of El Alamein

[citation needed]

After the Brigade's action, Brigadier Gentry of 6th New Zealand Brigade went ahead to survey the scene. On seeing Currie asleep on a stretcher, he approached him saying, "Sorry to wake you John, but I'd like to know where your tanks are?" Currie waved his hand at a group of tanks around him, replying "There they are". Gentry was puzzled. "I don't mean your headquarters tanks, I mean your armoured regiments. Where are they?" Currie waved his arm and again replied, "There are my armoured regiments, Bill".[7]

The brigade had sacrificed itself upon the gun line and caused great damage but had failed to create the gap for the 1st Armoured Division to pass through; however, the attack as expected[3] brought down the weight of the German and Italian tank reserve. At 11a.m. on 2 November The remains of 15th Panzer, 21st Panzer and Littorio Armoured Divisions counterattacked 1st Armoured Division and the remains of 9th Armoured Brigade, which by that time had dug in with a screen of anti-tank guns and artillery together with intensive air support. The counter-attack failed under a blanket of shells and bombs, resulting in a loss of some 100 tanks.[6]

The resulting fighting was later termed, the "Hammering of the Panzers". Although tank losses were approximately equal, this represented only a portion of the total British armour, but most of Rommel's tanks.

Rommel called up his last armoured reserve, Italian 132nd Ariete Armored Division from the south to join the defence around Tel el Aqqaqir and screen the withdrawal of Panzer Armee Afrika. While Ariete weak M14/41 Italian tanks were committed to an effective, albeit desperate rearguard fighting at Tel el Aqqaqir against much stronger US-built Sherman and Grant tanks, till virtually complete annihilation, Rommel succeeded in the withdrawal of the remains of the Armata Corazzata Italo Tedesca (German-Italian Armoured Army, aka Panzer Armee Afrika for the Germans) to Fuka. By nightfall, the Axis had only thirty-two tanks operating along the entire front.

Command history[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Playfair, p.66
  2. ^ Barr, Niall. p.387
  3. ^ a b c Playfair, p.67
  4. ^ a b c d Barr, Niall. p.386
  5. ^ "Walker (1967), p. 395". Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  6. ^ a b Watson (2007), p.24
  7. ^ Lucas-Phillips (1962), p.358
  8. ^ CWGC entry

See also[edit]