SIMONDS, Richard Hugh Napier.

Two personal photograph albums of the Western Desert and Italian Campaigns.

North Africa and Italy: 1940-43 Stock Code: 43249
£3,000.00

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An engrossing visual record of the Western Desert Campaign and Allied invasion of Sicily, compiled by Richard Simonds, "unofficial photographer" in the 4th Armoured Brigade, the major component of the 7th Armoured Division. There are over 200 high-quality photographs of military action, British and Axis armour, street scenes, various Allied officers, and of Simonds's life in Cairo with his wife Kay, an employee of Indian Army Public Relations, who may have provided an outlet for his work. These are accompanied by a wonderful layered commentary comprising lengthy typescript and hand-written captions, contemporary and post-war newspaper and magazine cuttings, original cartoons, and transcripts of military ditties and intercepted orders (including Rommel's for the projected final breakthrough at El Alamein). The majority of the photographs (perhaps 150) appear to be original, though the diverse subject matter and dimensions of many in the second album suggest various sources (one is expressly attributed to another soldier). Roughly half of all the images are snapshots, approximately forty are 8" x 10" silver gelatin prints (at least half apparently by Simonds), the rest mid-size. Simonds explains that all his photographs until near the end of the first album were taken on a Contax III with telephoto and wide-angle lenses, before he was impelled to swap for a standard-issue Super Ikonta, though the quality remains high, the images retaining their rich detail and tonal contrasts.

Simonds (1913-1986) studied at Charterhouse and Badingham before being commissioned into the Royal Tank Corps in 1935, beginning the war in Egypt as staff captain; at one point he alludes to some kind of medical training. While awaiting reinforcements to counter the invading Italians he commanded a decoy unit near Bir Sofafi, before serving in the first engagement of the entire campaign, Caunter's assault on Fort Capuzzo in June 1940 ("the 2 pounder solid shot went clean through the stone wall"). The 4th Armoured were instrumental in the spectacular defeat of the Italians and returned triumphant to Cairo in late February 1941 before serving in the two thwarted operations to relieve Tobruk (Brevity and Battleaxe). Simonds served as temporary major from 3 June 1941 to the end of the war and left the army in 1955 after 20 years' service.



The album begins in earnest with Operation Crusader (November 1941-January 1942), documented in a series of dramatic 10" x 8" images of bombed out British and German tanks at Sidi Rezegh, according to Sir Geoffrey Cox, "the forgotten battle of the Desert War", and an extremely narrow victory for the British despite heavy losses (especially for the 4th Armoured), the bewildering fluidity of troop movements setting the tone for the rest of the campaign; Rommel gave up Tobruk in early December after offensive action by the 4th Armoured. Colonial infantry played a vital role, and Simonds depicts various Indian units rehearsing an attack, posing with a captured German 88 mm at Sidi Omar, and performing a burial service after the battle. His photographic skills are evident in a superb 10" x 8" of an Italian CR42 crash-landed propeller-first into the sand (his note: "I bivouaced under this for two nights. It was an easy-to-find rendezvous"). After a brief German counterattack in January a stalemate ensued. Rommel retook Tobruk shortly after the Battle of Bir Hakeim (vivid snapshots of Stuka attacks and the swift retreat of the Eighth Army), his advance halted at the First Battle of Alamein in July (five photographs of Bombay ambulance planes destroyed by Messerschmitts).

The second volume begins with Montgomery's advance through Tunisia in 1943. The Battle of Wadi Akarit (6-7 April 1943), a major victory giving providing a bridgehead for the march to Tunis, is illustrated in a lively series of images including the 4/16 Punjabis in action, a superb "drama in four acts" showing a pass being mined minutes before a German patrol, and several of German POWs and captured hardware. Montgomery pursued the Germans to Enfidaville (photographs of artillery units from the 4th Indian Division firing on Garci), and entered Tunis in May (snapshots the victory line-up outside Tunis, and a 10" x 8" of German POWs being escorted away to the jubilation of locals). There are also views of Mareth, Bani Zelten, ruins at Cyrene, and of local "cave-dwellers", possibly Berbers, and large graphic images of RAF bomb damage at Sfax. A run of tank snapshots are intriguingly captioned "These photos (ALL stopped by the military censor) are believed to be the only official photos in existance sic of tanks in the Sudan in 1940 - 41. It is hoped that someone looking through this album one day may be able to supply some details of them".

In June 1943 the 4th Armoured Brigade prepared to join the Invasion of Sicily, reaching the Italian mainland by September and fighting to cross the Sangro and Moro Rivers. Simonds depicts tanks and troops in Tripoli awaiting transportation, George VI inspecting a Churchill, briefings by Jim Hutton, Tony Lascelles and Pip Roberts, British destroyers passing through the Taranto Channel, local Italians helping Indian troops to unload, official aerial photographs of the bombardment of Alfedena and Pantellaria, and several further "random shots from Italy" including AA guns against mountain backdrops and grounded Austers. There are atmospheric photographs of the bombardment of Monte Cassino but the 4th Armoured had by this time left Italy to prepare for D-Day. Their actions in North Africa had been decisive, this pair of albums forming a superb tribute to their heroism and an involving personal narrative of service with the Desert Rats.

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Description

2 landscape folio albums (360 x 285 mm). The first volume in black half cloth, snakeskin-effect cloth sides; the second in green morocco-grain cloth ruled in blind. Secured with cloth cords sewn into spines through 3 iron grommets.

Illustrations

Altogether 230 original and studio photographs (snapshots, 60 x 90 mm, mid-size, 95 x 145 mm, press-size, 225 x 160 mm, and intermediate sizes) mounted to grey thick card leaves, captioned in white ink, with typescript labels, cuttings and other ephemera

Condition

Snakeskin cloth lifting and chipped slightly on edges with small abraded portion on front board; tips of green cloth volume worn, spine rubbed; a very small number of cuttings loose, a few closed tears to tissue-guards, mounted material never affected. In excellent condition.

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