In November 1942, Maling landed at Bougie, Algeria, with the 6th Battalion the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment (6 QORWKR), part of 36 Infantry Brigade, 78 Division. In the dash for Tunis, the battalion was among the leading troops . The Germans reacted quickly, however, and within a week had a strong infantry force supported by tanks in and around Tunis, as well as complete air superiority.
On November 17, after a 20-mile march during which they were continuously strafed by bombers, the battalion arrived at the village of Djebel Abiod at 4am. Maling’s platoon had orders to defend a strategically important road junction at all costs.
They were tired and hungry, but they were in a forward position and knew that their lives depended on the speed at which they could dig and camouflage their slit trenches. That afternoon, a motorcyclist from a reconnaissance unit arrived and said: “The bleeders are coming.”
Eighteen German Mark IV tanks followed by lorry loads of infantry rumbled down the road heading for Djebel Abiod, unaware of the presence of Maling’s platoon, or indeed of Allied anti-tank gunners in support. The gunners opened fire with solid shot at point-blank range, disabling half the Mark IVs, and three lorry loads of infantry stopped 50 yards from Maling’s position and started to debus.
Maling, who had held his fire until the leading tanks had driven over his slit trenches, then gave the order to shoot. His men, armed with three Bren guns and about 20 rifles, were well trained and could not miss. His platoon killed 40 to 50 of the enemy (who turned out to be elite German paratroops) for the loss of only one man.
At dusk, the Germans withdrew their surviving tanks. As it got dark, Maling realised that he had to move, but he did not dare go back to the battalion, fearing that they would be so jumpy that they would shoot him and his men in the belief that they were Germans. He therefore led his men into enemy territory and carried out a big encircling movement, getting back to his lines at dawn. When they were almost there, a German fighter plane flew low over them — but they “froze”, and managed to escape detection. When Maling reported to Battalion HQ, officers were amazed to see him with his platoon intact. A party had been sent out during the night and reported that the position had been abandoned. His colonel was convinced that they had all been captured. Maling was awarded an MC. John Allan Maling was born in London on February 13 1920. His father, George, had been awarded a Victoria Cross in France in 1915 while serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps. Young John was educated at Uppingham and joined the QORWKR on the outbreak of the Second World War. On his first night in barracks, he was appalled to discover that none of the soldiers wore pyjamas and resolved to get commissioned as soon as possible. After the action at Djebel Abiod, he took part in the capture of Tunis, the invasion of Sicily and then the long slog up the length of Italy, finishing the war in Austria. After the conflict he trained at St Thomas’s Hospital, then served as a general practitioner in Tunbridge Wells. He retired in 1980 and moved to a village nearby, where he enjoyed fishing, gardening and reading military history. John Maling married, in 1952, Judy Haines, who survives him with a son and a daughter. Another son predeceased him. One of his grandchildren will be the sixth generation in the family to have become a doctor. Dr John Maling, born February 13 1920, died December 16 2012