Orders, Decorations and Medals (25 September 2008)

Date of Auction: 25th September 2008

Sold for £17,000

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

An outstanding Second World War Western Desert operations immediate M.M. and Bar group of six awarded to Sergeant J. A. Hine, the Rifle Brigade, whose gallant command of 6-pounder anti-tank guns resulted in numerous enemy tanks and vehicles being “brewed up”, most memorably in the famous “Snipe” V.C. action during El Alamein in October 1942 - described by one senior commander as ‘one of the finest actions of the War’

Military Medal
, G.VI.R. (6913512 Sjt. J. A. Hine, Rif. Brig.); General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Palestine (6913512 Rfmn. J. Hine, Rif. Brig.); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star, clasp, 8th Army; Defence and War Medals, the last four with their original addressed card forwarding box, together with the recipient’s cap badge, generally extremely fine and rare (7) £4000-5000

Footnote

Just 133 Military Medals with Bar were awarded to the British Army in the 1939-45 War.

M.M.
London Gazette 5 November 1942. The original recommendation states:

‘On the morning of 4 September 1942, in the area north of Deir El Ragil, Sergeant Hine was in charge of a 6-pounder portee which with two other 6-pounders was acting as part of the escort to a R.H.A. Observation Post (O.P.). The escort became engaged, before it was fully light, with the rear-guard of an enemy column consisting of infantry covered by five Mk. IV Tanks. Sergeant Hine was obliged to bring his gun into action in a very exposed position, but in spite of this he continued to engage the tanks under heavy shell fire from them, even after his portee had received three direct hits. It was only when his gun was damaged and his portee burst into flames that he was forced to stop. He then proceeded to extinguish the fire with the assistance of the crew, though still under shell fire. Sergeant Hine’s courage and devotion to duty not only assisted in causing the enemy tanks to withdraw, thus allowing the O.P. Officer to establish his position and so get the fire of his battery quickly onto the retreating column, but also enabled the scout section, which accompanied the O.P. to round up 37 German lorried infantry prisoners, and to capture several vehicles and guns. His quick action when the portee burst into flames saved both it and the gun.’

Bar to M.M.
London Gazette 14 January 1943. The original recommendation states:

‘Sergeant Hine was No. 1 of a 6-pounder anti-tank gun in the “Snipe” position on 26-27 October 1942. Throughout the day he engaged enemy tanks, allowing them to come well within range without regard for their fire, and then accurately directing the fire of his layer. At 1700 hours on the 27th, his gun was put out of action, and he led his men to another gun, whose crew had all been killed or wounded. Eight Mk. IIIs were at this time approaching his position. He waited till they were 200 yards away, and knocked out two of them, setting one on fire. During the day he and his crew accounted for three tanks, one S.P. [Self-Propelled] gun and two tanks and two lorries hit. His courage and leadership were of the highest order.’

John Albert “Jack” Hine, who was born in August 1917, enlisted in the Rifle Brigade in November 1935 and served out in Palestine prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Ordered to North Africa as a Sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, he won his first M.M. for the above described action north of Deir El Ragir in early September 1942, shortly before his part in the famous “Snipe” action in the battle of El Alamein a few weeks later. First, however, 2nd Battalion, the Rifle Brigade was allocated to the Minefield Task Force, which unenvious mission commenced on the evening of 23 October, and lasted for three days and two nights, an exhausting and hair-raising agenda that left its men in a weakened state, even before the momentous action at “Snipe” - undoubtedly one of the finest actions in the Regiment’s history, and indeed of the entire war, since it proved to be a pivotal chapter in the fortunes of the desert campaign.

“Snipe”: 26-27 October 1942

Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel V. B. Turner, 2/Rifle Brigade had 13 6-pounders and was supported by a dozen or so sappers and six 6-pounders from 239 Anti-Tank Battery, R.A., his force numbering in total around 300 men, the whole cut-off in a scrubby depression and without artillery support, the relevant Forward Observation Officer having lost his way. And pitched against this small force were two enemy armoured groups equipped with Mk. IV or Mk. III Specials, supported by accurate 88mm. fire - in the words of the citation to Turner’s V.C., no less in fact than ‘90 enemy tanks which advanced in successive waves’. But Turner’s men remained defiant in the face of these relentless attacks, allowing the enemy armour to approach to within 200 yards before risking the expenditure of more valuable rounds from their rapidly decreasing supplies of ammunition, a range which resulted in devastating loss to the enemy.

An excellent account of “Snipe” is to be found in Brigadier C. E. Lucas Phillips’
Alamein, an account in which Hine’s movements and actions receive due recognition: thus his taking command of Corporal Cope’s gun after his own had been knocked out and Cope wounded, a move which placed him but yards from Sergeant Calistan’s gun, where Lieutenant-Colonel Turner stepped in as a loader - an incident famously captured on canvas by Terence Cuneo (see Focus on Courage, the 59 Victoria Crosses of The Royal Green Jackets, by Lieutenant-General Sir Christopher Wallace, for a colour image):

‘By now it was nearly 11 o’clock in the forenoon and the position had become extremely hot in both senses of the word. The desert was quivering with heat. The gun detachments and the platoons squatted in their pits and trenches, the sweat running in rivers down their dust-caked faces. There was a terrible stench. The flies swarmed in black clouds upon the dead bodies and excreta and tormented the wounded. The place was strewn with burning tanks and carriers, wrecked guns and vehicles, and all over drifted the smoke and dust from the bursting high explosive and from the blasts of guns. Six more carriers had been hit and set on fire. The 6-pounders of Sergeants Hine and Dolling had been knocked out and only thirteen remained in action. Sergeant Swann sent the tough little Hine to take over the gun of Corporal Cope, who had been hit. Several of the detachments were down to two or three men and officers were manning guns to replace the casualties. But the offensive spirit had firmly seized upon all ranks. The bursting shells that shook the ground and the heavy shot that smashed a gun or carrier, or that took the breath from one’s lungs with the vacuum of its close passing, could not shake the spirit. Every kill was acclaimed. At last they had got the weapon that could knock-out the Panzers ...’

Here then a small extract from Lucas Phillips’ inspiring account of “Snipe”, yet it is in his concluding paragraphs that we learn about the true significance of the action - and its cost:

‘The immediate lesson that was read to the whole Army was that, when equipped with their own 6-pounders, the infantry could themselves see off a tank attack and inflict severe losses upon the enemy. The Battalion and their Royal Artillery comrades, in resolutely holding ground that in itself was worthless, had that day struck one of the stoutest blows that helped to win the Alamein victory. They had destroyed or disabled more enemy tanks than had so far been destroyed or damaged in any single action and had shot one of the most crippling bolts in the destruction of Rommel’s counter-attack of that day.

The action gained such fame throughout the desert, becoming somewhat embroidered in the retailing, that a Committee of Investigation was appointed a month later to examine the ground, count the still remaining carcasses of the enemy tanks and sift through all the evidence critically. Their inquiry was searching. They analysed the peformance of every single gun. Taking into consideration the number of wrecks that had been removed by ourselves or by the enemy, the Committee concluded that the minimum number of tanks burnt and totally destroyed was 32 - 21 German and 11 Italian - plus five self-propelled guns, and that certainly another 15, perhaps 20, tanks had been knocked out and recovered, making a grand total of 57. A few tracked and wheeled vehicles had also been destroyed. Only a very few of the tanks recovered could have been repaired before the battle ended.

This phenomenal success had not been won without its cost in flesh and blood, but, speaking relatively, the cost had not been grievously severe. Of the total force of less than 300 who had started out from the Highland lines, 72 riflemen and gunners had been killed or wounded, to which number were to be added some R.E. casualties, not ascertained. The figure would have been very much higher if they had not been well trained in the principle of “dig or die” and in the craft of concealment.’

Among the resultant gallantry awards, in addition to Turner’s V.C., was an immediate Bar to Hine’s M.M., an award that greatly pleased Turner, who, writing to his comrade from No. 15 Scottish General Hospital, Cairo in December 1942, said:

‘Dear Sergeant Hine,

A line with my heartiest congratulations on the Bar to your M.M. I am most awfully pleased about it, as no one deserved it more than you and it only bears out that I was right in saying to you that you are doing more for the war effort in killing tanks than in mending them! Hope you are well. I am sorry to say the doctors won’t let me come back to you for two months. Hope you’ll be in Tripoli by then!

With best congratulations to you and all ‘S’ Company and all best luck.

Yours truly,

V. B. Turner, Lt. Col.’

An excellent diorama of the “Snipe” action is to found in the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester; so, too, Turner’s V.C. and Sergeant Calistan’s D.C.M. and M.M., the latter, in fact, having originally been recommended for a V.C. - see
Focus on Courage, the 59 Victoria Crosses of The Royal Green Jackets, by Lieutenant-General Sir Christopher Wallace, for the background to this recommendation.

Transferred to the Army Reserve in November 1947, Hine later emigrated to Australia, where he settled at Yarra Junction, Victoria, and married an old pre-war girlfriend - she, too, had moved to Australia on the failure of her first marriage. A modest man, Hine was only once ever persuaded to wear his Honours & Awards - namely on Anzac Day in 1983.

Sold with a quantity of original documentation, including the above quoted letter from Lieutenant-Colonel V. B. Turner, V.C., and another communication from the G.O.C. 1st Armoured Division, forwarding the riband of the M.M., this dated 1 October 1942; a congratulatory message from the C.O. 7 Motor Brigade on the award of his M.M., and a copy of Battalion Orders, 1 October 1942, announcing the same award; his Soldier’s Service and Pay Book, Soldier’s Release Book (Class ‘A’) and Certificate of Transfer to the Army Reserve, this last dated November 1947; a signed portrait photograph, and another of him in old age, wearing his medals on Anzac Day in 1983; and volume I of the Committee of
The Rifle Brigade Chronicle’s 1939-45 War history, with an account of “Snipe” and further mention of Hine.