Personal info

  • Name: Thomas Frank DURRANT
  • D.O.B: 17th Oct, 1918
  • D.O.A: 27th Mar, 1942
  • D.O.D: 29th Mar, 1942
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Sergeant, Corps of Royal Engineers, attached No 1 Commando
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
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Sources & Acknowledgements

The Second World War 1942


By the end of December 1941 the British in North Africa had in Operation Crusader pushed the Germans back from the Egyptian border and forced them to retreat to Ajedabya between Benghazi and El Agheila. The British then planned to advance further west into Tripolitania. However, early in 1942 fresh supplies reached Rommel and on 21 January he attacked the British at Mersa Brega in Western Cyrenaica, then advancing to recapture Benghazi on the 29th. At the end of May the Germans advanced again, outflanking the British positions at Bir Hakeim, south-west of Tobruk. The British counter-attacked on 5 June but were eventually forced to withdraw. On 21 June 1942 the Germans captured Tobruk, thereby gaining not only a great psychological victory but a large quantity of British equipment. Hitler promoted Rommel to the rank of Field Marshal as a reward, while Auchinleck dismissed General Neil Ritchie and took command of Eighth Army himself. He ordered a withdrawal to Mersa Matruh across the Egyptian border and then to El Alamein, only 66 miles west of Alexandria. This was to be the furthest point of the German advance. When Rommel launched the First Battle of El Alamein on 1 July 1942, the British line held and a period of stalemate set in. Attempts to wrong-foot their opponents by the British at Ruweisat and Miteiriya Ridges in late July and by the Germans at Alam Halfa in late August and early September were unsuccessful. The chief casualty was Auchinleck himself, whom Churchill blamed for the lack of progress, and in August he was replaced by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery. With the German failure at Alam Halfa and supplies flooding in to the Eighth Army the psychological advantage had now passed to the British. On the night of 23 October 1942, Montgomery launched his attack on the German line. The Second Battle of El Alamein lasted twelve days. On 4 November the British broke through and the Germans were forced to withdraw. Though Rommel succeeded in extricating his most valuable troops, the British pursuit did not allow him to establish any lasting defence positions as he retreated across Libya. On 23 January 1943 Montgomery took Tripoli and three days later Rommel withdrew into Tunisia. By then Tunisia was also under attack from the west. On 9 November 1942 the Allies under General Eisenhower had launched Operation Torch, the three-pronged invasion of the Vichy French colonies of Morocco and Algeria, with landings at Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. On 10 November, the Vichy French authorities in North Africa ordered their troops to cease resistance and thereafter co-operated with the Allies. In retaliation, the Germans occupied Vichy France itself, and the Italians Corsica. The Germans also poured troops into Tunisia and by the end of the year had succeeded in temporarily halting the Allied advance. However, the loss by the Axis powers of their airfields in Libya had made it easier to supply Malta and brought an end to the effective siege of the island, which had begun in January 1941. The almost ceaseless bombing and the shortage of food had caused appalling hardship. In recognition of the courage with which the Maltese people gallantly endured these privations, on 15 April 1942 King George VI awarded the island a collective GC. Meanwhile, the Russian campaign was relentlessly consuming German resources. Hitler had invaded Soviet Russia on 22 June 1941 and by mid-November Panzer units were 20 miles from Moscow. The Russians, however, had seemingly endless reserves of manpower to offset their military losses while the military output of their factories east of the Urals during 1942 far surpassed German war production. Having failed in his initial attempt to neutralize the Red Army, in summer 1942 Hitler aimed to break Soviet resistance in the south and seize the Caucasus oilfields at Grozny and Baku. When his troops were threatened by Soviet counterattacks mounted from Stalingrad on the Volga, he ordered General von Paulus to capture the city. Savage fighting took place but the Soviet defenders not only held their ground but on 19 November 1942 launched Operation Uranus, encircling and trapping the German army. On 31 January 1943 von Paulus surrendered. It was a stunning blow to German morale and a turning point in the war. In the Far East, after Japan’s Declaration of War on the United States and the United Kingdom in December 1941, Japanese forces had initially carried all before them. Hong Kong was indefensible and fell on 25 December. Through December 1941 and January 1942 they advanced down the Malay Peninsula. On 8 February 1942 they attacked Singapore Island across the Johore Strait. On 15 February Singapore, the key British defensive position in South-East Asia, surrendered. Between 10 December 1941 and 6 May 1942, the Japanese conquered The Philippines. In the Malay Archipelago they had overrun Borneo and Celebes during January 1942. Java fell to them on 7 March. The following day they invaded New Guinea. However, an attack on Port Moresby on its southern coast, which would have provided a potential springboard for an invasion of Australia was forestalled in early May by the naval Battle of The Coral Sea. Instead, they advanced towards Port Moresby down the Kokoda Trail across the Owen Stanley Range and by the end of August were within 25 miles of their objective. The Australians succeeded in driving them back and the Japanese, adopting a new strategy, withdrew to their north coast beachhead. In parallel with their advance through the Malay Archipelago, in January 1942, the Japanese also invaded Burma. Rangoon fell on 8 March and by 20 May the last British troops had evacuated the country. This not only cut supply routes overland to the Nationalist Forces in south-west China, it also brought the Japanese to the gateway of India. British attempts to recapture south-west Burma beginning in December 1942 were unsuccessful. The cost to the Japanese of seizing Malaya and Burma from the British Empire had been about 5,000 men


 For great gallantry, skill and devotion to duty when in charge of a Lewis gun in H.M. Motor Launch 306 in the St Nazaire raid on the 28th March, 1942. Motor Launch 306 came under heavy fire while proceeding up the River Loire towards the port. Sergeant Durrant, in his position abaft the bridge, where he had no cover or protection, engaged enemy gun positions and searchlights on shore. During this engagement he was severely wounded in the arm but refused to leave his gun. The Motor Launch subsequently went down the river and was attacked by a German destroyer at 50-60 yards range, and often closer. In this action Sergeant Durrant continued to fire at the destroyer’s bridge with the greatest of coolness and with complete disregard of the enemy’s fire. The Motor Launch was illuminated by the enemy searchlight and Sergeant Durrant drew on himself the individual attention of the enemy guns, and was again wounded, in many places. Despite these further wounds he stayed in his exposed position, still firing his gun, although after a time only able to support himself by holding on to the gun mounting. After a running fight, the Commander of the German destroyer called on the Motor Launch to surrender. Sergeant Durrant’s answer was a further burst of fire at the destroyer’s bridge. Although now very weak he went on firing, using drums of ammunition as fast as they could be replaced. A renewed attack by the enemy vessel eventually silenced the fire of the Motor Launch but Sergeant Durrant refused to give up until the destroyer came alongside, grappled the Motor Launch and took prisoner those who remained alive. Sergeant Durrant’s gallant fight was commended by the German officers on boarding the Motor Launch. This very gallant Non-Commissioned Officer later died of the many wounds received in action. 

(Supplement to The London Gazette of 15 June 1945. 19 June 1945, Numb. 37134, pp. 3171-72)

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