Veteran Stories:
Oscar Fiteni

Army

  • On the way to Benghazi, through the desert, Oscar Fiteni and his comrades stop for a meal, December 10, 1941.

    Oscar Fiteni
  • On the way to Benghazi, through the desert, Oscar Fiteni and his comrades stop for a meal, December 10, 1941.

    Oscar Fiteni
  • The Royal Marine Provost unit to which Oscar Fiteni was attached while with the British 8th Army in Italy, 1943.

    Oscar Fiteni
  • A desert patrol unit visiting the Nomadic Tribes of Cyrenaica to control arms smuggling and dispense justice, November-December 1944.

    Oscar Fiteni
  • A desert patrol unit visiting the Nomadic Tribes of Cyrenaica to control arms smuggling and dispense justice, November-December 1944.

    Oscar Fiteni
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"The Germans surrounded the place and then we were stuck in Tobruk for about three months during the siege."

Transcript

When the war was declared in 1939, the British community in Egypt decided to form a kind of home guard. The home guard as such was based on a camp, a military camp which was then manned by a British regiment. I got in, I got my commission on the 9th of January, as a Second Lieutenant and I joined that day, I joined the camp, which was nine kilometers south of the pyramids. We went in there and trained in a normal British size battalion, made up of four companies, company headquarters, battalion headquarters, etc. Our Colonel at the time was a Lieutenant Colonel called Blue Jones and started training in platoon and company work, but then as the army in the desert had advanced fast, we were taken as we were, really half trained, at least the troops were, and … Oh, by the way, before that, when the Italian were defeated in Sidi Barrani [Libya], they had a division of Arabs, which immediately, when they were in camp, were interviewed by the Sanusis [clandestine anti-Italian group in Libya] and they all came to us. So all of a sudden, we had fairly trained soldiers. And so we were moved immediately into Libya. We moved through the famous Halfaya Pass [Egypt], up into Bardia [Libya] and then each battalion of, we had four battalion by the way, each battalion went into a zone because the final intention was to turn it into a police force, a defense force, a bit like the RCMP. But we were there, a few days had passed, and when the Germans counterattacked, so we all had to rush back. In the process of retreating, we had to rely on the RAC [Royal Armoured Corps] to provide the transport, and so we were all gathered in Tobruk [Libya] when we were the last battalion to be taken off. And when the transfer arrived, it was just a little bit, the Germans surrounded the place and then we were stuck in Tobruk for about three months during the siege. And it was the most interesting time because out of just training, we got into a cauldron where everything was coming down. We learned our lesson very quickly and dug ourselves well in. And we were then sent into the far perimeter on the west, by the sea. We had a small portion of it. And we were facing an area of, of soft sand and so on that no tanks or vehicles could cross. So the only people that came were infantry and they hardly had time and what with the heavy artillery that we had and our constant fire, they, they never really came very near. And we were there a couple of months and then the Navy had arranged a system with a couple of very fast destroyers, capable about 40 to 45 knots. And so they used to bring in supplies required and ammunition and so on, leaving Alexandria and then coming to Tobruk about 11:00 at night and then we all gather in and we turn over and by 1:00, we would leave. And at very fast speed. That even torpedoes couldn’t catch it, until we got past Mersa Matruh [Egypt], where we had air protection. So we got back to Alexandria. The second time, we trained again for a few months and then we got sent back around December of 1941. But this time, we went by sea, we were in an old Polish cargo ship and the seas were rough. But we had in our hold all the Christmas turkeys for the garrison of Tobruk. Unfortunately, as on our way there, we got torpedoed and the rest of the boats in the convoy came, we lost a few men, but we jumped across. But in the process, I lost all my paper, my photographs, all my memories and so on and my uniform. And the only thing I could carry with me was a case of Scotch.
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