LOWSON Jack

Jack LOWSON c.1918 – 1941

1526873, Gunner J. Lowson, 3rd Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, 7th Armoured Division was killed in action 13 April 1941 aged 23.  He is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial, Egypt and the Evenwood War Memorial.[1]

Family Details

 Jack Lowson was born c.1918, the only son of Frank and Susy Lowson.  Frank was known as “Wreck” (not to be confused with Rex) because of his ability to wreck everything.  Jack worked as a bus driver.

Service Details

 The service record of Gunner Jack Lowson has not been researched.  It is understood that he was a tank driver.[2]

A summary of the Western Desert Campaign: 7th Armoured Division [3]

The 3rd Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) was part of the “Mobile Force” which was formed with the Cairo Cavalry Brigade (the 7th, 8th and 11th Hussars), the 1st Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), a company of Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), a Field Ambulance unit and a battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

16 February 1940:  the Mobile Force became the 7th Armoured Division.

After the Italian declaration of war, the Western Desert Force was massively outnumbered. However, the Italians proved to be no match for the British. The Western Desert Force captured 250,000 Italians in the early engagements in 1940.  During the 1941 Italian retreat, Major-General Richard O’Connor, the Western Desert Force commander, ordered the Desert Rats [4] to travel south of the Jebel Akhdar and cut off the Italian forces at Beda Fomm, while Australian forces pushed the Italians west. As the tanks were unable to travel fast enough, the manoeuvre was led by an ad-hoc brigade of armoured cars, towed artillery and infantry which completed the trip in 30 hours, cutting off the Italian retreat and destroying the Italian Tenth Army. Lieutenant-Colonel John Combe led this group which was known as “Combe Force” after him.  The Italians proved so weak that German dictator Adolf Hitler was forced to send reinforcements (Afrika Korps) to stiffen them under the command of General Erwin Rommel.

April – November 1941: The Tobruk Story: A summary

The siege of Tobruk quickly came to symbolise not only the determination of the Allies to resist the advance of Rommel’s Afrika Korps but also Britain’s resolve to fight on against Germany whatever the odds.  The siege saw the first major engagement of Australian forces in the war, and the first battlefield defeat of a German panzer division by the British Army.

Tobruk was the only deep water port in Eastern Libya with the capacity to land large amounts of supplies and, as a consequence, it had been heavily fortified by its former Italian garrison. Anyone wanting to advance on Alexandria and Suez needed Tobruk. Rommel made its capture the main objective of his first offensive in North Africa. British forces in Cyrenaica were caught completely by surprise and retreated several hundred miles across the desert towards Tobruk in increasing disorder.  Realising that he had a chance to capture Tobruk before the Allies had time to organise a defence, he drove his commanders on. But the importance of the port had not been lost on Wavell and he had determined that it would be held at all costs, feeding any troops he could find into its defences.

The 9th Australian Division, supported by British tanks and artillery, bloodily repulsed the initial German assaults between 10 – 14 April.   Gunner Jack Lowson 3/RHA was killed in action 13 April 1941.  Even when the fresh 15th Panzer Division was committed to the attack on 30 April, the defenders held on.

The siege proper then developed.  The defenders had to adjust to life in stifling heat, under constant artillery and aircraft bombardment. There were food and water shortages and the troops were plagued by flies, fleas and outbreaks of sickness. Nevertheless, morale remained high, the Australians adopting the nickname “The Rats of Tobruk”, in response to a Lord Haw Haw broadcast, which had decreed that they were all caught ‘like rats in a trap’.  The Australians provided the mainstay of the Tobruk defence force until August, when they were withdrawn by sea and replaced by the British 70th Division (and attached Polish Carpathian Brigade).

The End of the Siege

15 June: Wavell launched “Operation Battleaxe”, a land offensive intended to relieve Tobruk. The failure of “Battleaxe” led to the replacement of Wavell as C-in-C Middle East Command by General Claude Auchinleck. The Western Desert Force was reinforced and re-organised to form a two corps army designated Eighth Army commanded by Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham.

18 November :  Auchinleck launched a major offensive, “Operation Crusader”, which led to the relief of Tobruk at the end of the month and the occupation of the whole of Cyrenaica by the end of the year.

The 7th Armoured Division took part in most of the major battles of the North African Campaign, including both Battles of El Alamein:

  1. The First Battle of El Alamein (1 July – 27 July 1942) the advance of Axis troops on Alexandria was blunted by the Allies.
  2. The Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October – 4 November 1942) Allied forces broke the Axis line and forced them all the way back to Tunisia.

Winston Churchill said of this victory, “Now this is not the end, nor is it even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” He also wrote, “Before Alamein, we had no victory and after it we had no defeats”.

The 7th Armoured Division also participated in the destruction of Axis forces in North Africa in Tunisia in 1943 but sadly, Gunner Jack Lowson was not present.

The Alamein Memorial, Egypt [5]

1526874 Gunner J. Lowson has no known grave and is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial at column 8.  The Alamein Memorial forms the entrance to Alamein War Cemetery. The Land Forces panels commemorate more than 8,500 soldiers of the Commonwealth who died in the campaigns in Egypt and Libya and in the operations of the Eighth Army in Tunisia up to 19 February 1943 who have no known grave.  It also commemorates those who served and died on Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Persia.

REFERENCES

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] Jimmy Lowson

[3]History of the British 7th Armoured Division: Engagements – 1940” I.A. Paterson http://www.ian.a.paterson.btinternet.co.uk/battles1940.htm.

[4] The Desert Rat divisional flash was originated from a sketch of a jerboa drawn by the divisional commander’s wife after a visit to the Cairo Zoo.  But, another explanation is that the “Desert Rat” nickname was attributed to ‘Lord Haw Haw’, the German propaganda broadcaster when he coined the phrase ‘Desert Rats’ during the siege of Tobruk. He intended it as an insult, but the soldiers at Tobruk took a perverse pride in the name which became the nickname of the 8th Army in general and the 7th Armoured Division in particular.

[5] CWGC