The adventures of the Tryon clan
Another of the Tryon family's member's created a memorable letter during the dark days of August 1942. Richard S. Tryon was a tank commander when he engaged the vaunted German Panzer tanks known as the Mark IV.
With just 12 U.S. built heavy Grant tanks, Tryon and his crew and those of the others managed to stop 60 of the Germans. It was a feat that seemed like a miracle at the time! It was one of those events for which Winston Churchill must have had in mind when he spoke the immortal words..."It may be the beginning of the end. It surely is the end of the beginning."
That Richard wrote to his brother the day after the battle was perhaps not too unusual. That the letter would surface more than 50 years later is. Now it is published as part of a book done in England to give a review of the English Army unit that among many other actions, was in the middle of this one!
His letter is shown here. The text of more of the book is found in the history section.
The following is an account of the Battle of Alam Halfa written a few days after the action by 2/Lt. Richard S.Tryon, ‘A’ Sqn 4th CLY
31st August 1942 “ I was suddenly awakened by the noise of the squadron scout car returning from the Colonel’s tank where it normally stayed with a liaison officer. In the moonlight I could see it racing towards my squadron leader’s tank. Although I expected what was coming I continued to lie there until the liaison officer came down the two rows of squadron tanks and stopped at mine. “Are you awake Dick?” . .. “Yes” . . . . “Game Birds Twelve Bore”. Just two words but we all knew what they meant. My troop were almost all up before I had gone to wake them, packing tanks, rolling up bedding with an air of resigned determination and a casual “that’s it then! ” Some were getting out of bed for the last time and it was only 2 a.m. on Sunday 31st August 1942.
We were ready to move off within the few minutes it took me to get information and orders from the squadron leader’s tank. Many of the men were already asleep again in their tanks when I returned - it takes more than this to spoil their night. “The squadron leader tells us the Germans are attacking to the south and making progress through our minefields. We are moving to ‘Twelve Bore’ in close formation now to carry out our role as previously arranged.”
The whole regiment moves off in the moonlight 5 miles to our destination. It seems that the whole 8th Army is on the move - sprung to life as the code word went out. But it is all orderly - each unit knows where it is going and what’s on. We reach our goal at about 3.15 a.m. each tank at its appointed spot, tank commanders alert on listening watch, each trying to cover the nearing flashes and rumbles with his own theory of what is going on.
Dawn breaks and still no new information. With it come the flies, thousands of them. The sun gets higher and we dismount to brew up, shave and have breakfast - sausages, biscuits, jam and tea. The squadron leader comes to tell us that the Germans are nearly through our minefields and that our light forces covering them are withdrawing according to plan, fighting a delaying action as they go. He has figures of enemy tanks ... 20 here ... 40 there etc. etc. moving east north east or north etc. etc. Behind them there seems to be a concentration of 3000 motor transport. We know this means lorried infantry, guns etc. as well. They are still 15 miles off so we close down the wireless and wait for more news.
All that long summer’s day we wait. Some crews clean their guns and test sights, some read, some kill flies, some even sleep in what little shade there is to be had beside the tanks. News of the enemy filters through. Their movement seems to be slow and split up, but their general direction seems to be towards us.
At last at 5 p.m. four enemy tanks are reported on a ridge 3 miles to our south. As the rising sand and dust clears I can just see them through my glasses. Things are getting close now so we get ready to move out of cover into our battle positions. We are on the air again and the wireless is buzzing with orders. My squadron leader talks to me “Hello Heyday 2, Heyday calling. Enemy reported advancing down telegraph wire in front of us and coming through the depression. Go out and keep an eye on them and report progress and numbers. Heyday over.” . . . . “Heyday 2 answering. OK but shall I do it on foot as my vehicle would be seen and give us away? Heyday 2 over.” . . . . “Heyday, Yes Off.” I go out on foot to some high ground in front, but I cannot see well enough to count numbers or even tell a tank from a truck. I return to report what I have seen. Then .... “All Heyday will move into battle positions and prepare to engage the enemy. No one will fire until ordered Heyday to Heyday out.” A last look round and we mount up. “Driver, start up and advance to our position, halt and switch off”.
We are now sitting in the holes we dug several days before, waiting should the enemy come on and attack us. I test the crew intercom. They can all hear me clearly and are keyed up for action. It is now 6 p.m. - the Germans seem to love an evening scrap, but they are coming from the south so they won’t have the sun behind them this time. I wonder how many they are, what type, whether they are going to attack us or move further east.
A thousand such thoughts fill my mind and I know the rest of my crew are thinking the same. All but one of them have been in it before and know what it is like. He is the loader and won’t see anything anyway except a smoking breech and a lot of empties. I tell the crew over the intercom all I know about the enemy and our own side. There are a few shells landing now in the depression 2000 yards ahead of us, but not many - on the whole things are very quiet. Now the German tanks are emerging from the low ground ahead. Their commanders are well out of the turrets and don’t seem to be aware of what they are coming to. They appear to be forming up at 2000 yards to attack - four rows deep with some big chaps with nasty looking guns in the front. There are 60 facing our squadron position and a lot more to the right.
“75 armour piercing action! ” There is a clang as the round goes home and the breech closes. “37 and Browning action! ” I can feel the movements of my operator as he loads our other guns and a tap on the leg tells me all is ready. Now we just have to wait permission to fire. The enemy is sitting in the open without cover. We are making use of ground and have a good background for camouflage. The Germans move forward slowly and we remember our squadron leader’s words of a few days before - “There will be no question of withdrawing. The Battle of Egypt will be fought at El Alamein - nowhere else! ” . . . . . Before we start firing we lose a tank. Heyday 1 is on fire and he is bailing out. He has a dead man in his tank and one or two wounded, but he gets them all away. He’s a brave man. I know because he was in my crew before he got his commission.
My 75 gunner has already picked out his victim and is waiting for the order to fire. We wait until they are well in range then ... “75 - 1500 target in front. Fire! ” The tank shakes as the gun goes off and I am able to follow the tracer. “Observation minus - bring it up a bit. Fire! ” This time 16lbs of lead tears its way straight through a large Mark IV which stops, shudders and goes on fire. A few more shots to make sure. My gunner hits his target each time. By now the firing on both sides is furious. Two more of our crews have reported bailing out and one or two are off the air. “Hello Heyday, Heyday calling. You are doing wonders. We are greatly outnumbered, but stick to it.” We carry on firing, but only three tanks answer that call. “Hello Heyday 2 . How are you getting on down there?” . . . “Heyday 2 answering. Heyday 2 Ack has bailed out, but we’re still plugging away.” . . . . . “Good. Stick to it. Don’t let them get through.”
Wireless procedure is forgotten now. My gunner has picked another victim and we’re pounding him with shot. Very few of the Germans seem to be firing now, but we are being hit a lot. Sparks are flying and the fumes from the guns make breathing difficult. My crew are still working calmly and the 75 gunner is doing marvels. We have run out of armour-piercing and are firing high-explosive now. The German bailed-out crews don’t seem to like it either. A few of their tanks are burning; others have obviously been hit.
A constant stream of shells continues to pass my head. Some hit the tank and bounce off; others send rivets flying round inside. The right of our line is wiped out and Heydays 1 and 4 are still getting their wounded away. We hang on until suddenly there is a loud bang; flames, sparks and acrid fumes fill the whole tank. Something big has come right through. “Are you all right down there? ” - No answer, just blinding smoke and flame. Time to leave. “Abandon tank! ” I roar as the intercom has broken down.
We all gather behind the tank. My driver has a bad head wound, but otherwise we are still OK. After the tank had been penetrated and the gun put out of action, they all quietly waited the order to leave. It is too hot a spot behind the tank which is slowly being broken up by murderous fire. I give the order to run and we all make for a nearby trench, helping the driver as we go. Metal whizzes round us but none are hit.
The Germans are falling back now. They have failed to get through and they are leaving some 20 dead tanks behind them. They have had a nasty knock and though we’ve lost many men and all our 12 tanks, they’ve lost a lot more. Maybe, who knows? This little action near El Alamein may mean the turning point in the Battle of Egypt.
In a few days the Germans are sent back where they came from, crippled and sore. But they’ve got more to come yet. The Battle of Egypt will be fought at Alamein. There is no thought of withdrawing. ”
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