Fighting with the Desert Rats, Major H.P. Samwell MC

Fighting with the Desert Rats, Major H.P. Samwell MC

An Infantry Officer's War with the Eighth Army

Major H.P Samwell was an infantry officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the last part of the campaign in North Africa, arriving just before the Battle of El Alamein and taking part in the advance to Tripoli, the battles in Tunisia and the post-invasion occupation of Sicily. The book was written during the Second World War, and sadly Samwell was killed early in 1945, so never had any chance to revise his work.

Samwell gives us a good feel for the confusion and chaos of the battlefield. Even the best laid plans can break down, and there are several occasions when he ended up wandering lost across the desert trying to find his men or the right place to stop and defend. We also get a view of most parts of the Eighth Army. Samwell was wounded at El Alamein, so we see the hospital system, Cairo and the whole area behind the lines as he recovered and then had to make his way to the front. He only reports what he knew at the time, so we get a vivid impression of the fighting as seen by a junior officer at the time.

Samwell has some very negative views of parts of the British army. He was hugely unimpressed by the army in Cairo and most of the areas behind the lines, where he found affairs to be organised for the comfort of the rear area officers, rather than to support the fighting men. The occupation authorities on Sicily also failed to impress, especially when compared to the American sector.

Samwell was always curious about the views of the various factions in North Africa, so he took the time to question members of the French, American, Italian, Egyptian, Arab and Jewish communities as he met them. There is a fascinating pair of interviews about Jewish settlement in Palestine, giving opposing viewpoints, while his impression of the faction-ridden French community is of great valuable. This is a fascinating memoir, with a real freshness, providing a unusual view of the fighting in North Africa.

Chapters
I - I Embark
II - First impressions of Egypt and its war-time population
III - I join the Eighth Army
IV - The Battle of El Alamein
V - The attack is renewed
VI - In a South African Hospital
VII - In Cairo
VIII - At the Infantry Training Depot and up the Line
IX - From Sirte to Tripoli
X - Resting in Tripoli
XI - Early Days in Front of the Mareth Line
XII - Rommel Attacks
XIII - Patrols and Keeps
XIV -Hospital in Tripoli
XV - Up the Line again
XVI - Left out of battle
XVII - Resting in Sfax
XVIII- Enfidaville and the end of the campaign
XIX - Journey through Algeria
XX - Training for sea invasion
XXII - Following the Sicily campaign from an African base
XXIII - Problems of occupation
XXIV - The lighter side of life on detachment
XXV - Leave in Palermo
Epilogue

Author: Major H.P. Samwell MC
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2013


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