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Home » Columns » Batswana Gunners 1944

Batswana Gunners 1944

Publishing Date : 13 March, 2018

JEFF RAMSAY
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA


Of the just over 10,000 Batswana who served in the African Pioneer Corps (APC) during the Second World War about 40% experienced combat during the Italian Campaign. These notably included companies assigned to man 3.7 H.A.A. (Heavy Anti-Aircraft) Guns, which in the hands of Batswana gunners proved extremely lethal in destroying enemy ground armour as well as aircraft.


At the end of 1942 APC companies 1971-76 were transferred to the Royal Artillery Base Depot at Almaza, Egypt,  to become the first Batswana undergo intensive gunnery training. The biggest Anti-Aircraft weapon in the British arsenal, to load, aim and fire the 3.7 H.A.A. required the close cooperation of a half dozen men, while  the calculations required to hit fast flying enemy aircraft were complex. But, to the surprise of many of their superior officers, Batswana soon proved capable of taking over the “no. 1” firing position.


In February 1943 the OC of Middle East Anti-Aircraft Defences, Major-General Pollock, inspected the Batswana target practice. Impressed by their progress, he confirmed their transfer to combat duty. The following month, Batswana became the first African gunners assigned to Montgomery's 8th Army, during its final push across North Africa.


It was in Italy, however, that the “Fighting Becs” truly distinguished themselves. In July 1943, Batswana and Basotho APC were the only Africans to take part the invasion of the Italian island of Sicily. Batswana gunners were subsequently commended for downing 11 enemy aircraft over Syracuse, while on the push on Messina they for the first time used their guns against German ground forces.


Thereafter Batswana were among the British Empire units that served in the American 5th Army, as well as the British 8th Army on the Italian mainland. During the Battle of Salerno defeat of the 5th Army was narrowly averted by a gun line of the 87th Artillery Regiment, which included Batswana of batteries 278, 279 and 280. During the two years following Salerno, Batswana gunners took part in virtually all the major engagements in Italy. Our photo shows Bangwato gunners firing on German tanks during the 1944 Battle of Seneo.

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