20 Battalion and Armoured Regiment
CHAPTER 6 — Rebuilding the Battalion
Rebuilding the Battalion
To the 230-odd men evacuated from Crete to Egypt by the Napier and Nizam on 31 May the hot meal and a good night's sleep at Amiriya seemed luxury indeed. The YMCA and other organisations offered a welcome and hospitality; there was pay to spend and free issues to replace lost gear. But, despite material comforts, many of the men were restless and the events of the last few weeks dominated their thoughts and filled all conversation: the lack of air support, the Navy's heavy losses in ships and men, the two Mediterranean ‘Dunkirks’, the party left behind on Crete. The Division's war had begun badly, but there were few who did not believe that its time would come.
In the evening of 1 June the survivors gathered their scanty belongings and entrained for Cairo. Most men were still short of sleep and a good number preferred to travel on the floor under the seats, where they slept soundly to awake at dawn when passing through the Dead City. At Helwan the troops were given a welcome cup of tea and then taken in trucks to Garawi for breakfast, and from there to their old lines in Helwan Camp, the area occupied before leaving for Greece—but with a difference. The battalion had lived in tents at that time but was now to be accommodated in huts.
On arrival the men were checked in, issued with clean clothes, paid, given a leave pass to Cairo. For some it was enough just to be back, but for those who did go to Cairo there were shocks in store. The first of these came when their high-speed diesel train passed one coming the other way. After their experiences with dive-bombers in Crete the screaming crescendo of these passing trains took a bit of getting used to. Former members of the battalion came out to Helwan in search of friends or to ask for news of friends who had not returned; among them was Julian Tryon,1 a member of the ‘I’ section page 152 who had been posted to OCTU, who sped around on a bicycle with a word of welcome for everybody.
On 3 June Major Burrows and his rear party rejoined the battalion, some of the men being admitted straight to the field ambulance for treatment.
On battalion parade next day Colonel Kippenberger addressed the men. He explained points in the recent campaign that had hitherto been obscure, dealt fully with the difficulties of the command and made an appreciation of the value of the battle in Crete. The Germans were reported to have allowed three days for the capture of the island before moving on to Cyprus and thence to Syria, and the twelve days' resistance had irremediably upset their programme. The New Zealanders had never been beaten by the Hun infantry; they had pushed them back at night but had been chased back in daylight by the enemy's planes.
At the close of the lecture the general feeling was, ‘Well, we didn't do so badly after all.’ It was something to be alive and to have come through the battle. Resentment faded. Why worry, anyhow? Some day they would catch up with the enemy and the Kiwi was as good as ever he was.
On Friday, 6 June, all the men who had been in Crete paraded at 6.45 a.m. for an inspection by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser. Although the attitude of troops at inspections is usually patiently tolerant, if not apathetic, the Prime Minister, after paying tribute to the work of the Division, struck a responsive chord when he expressed his admiration and the gratitude of the people of New Zealand for the splendid work of the British Navy in twice rescuing New Zealand troops from almost certain capture or annihilation. In the afternoon a garden party in the Prime Minister's honour was held at the Maadi Club.
During this time many men visited the 2 NZ General Hospital at Helwan in search of friends. Leave was general and generous. Everybody was granted a week's ‘survivors' leave’ and most men who were fit took it immediately. With accumulated credits in their paybooks, men were soon scattered far and wide. Some made for Alexandria, Palestine, or Upper Egypt, while others stayed at pensions in Cairo. A favourite Cairo pension for men of the 20th was the Pension Moderne, located in a page 153 narrow street just behind the fashionable Metropolitan Hotel. To any gharry or taxi driver it was much easier to say ‘Metropolitan Hotel’ than to try to describe where the Pension Moderne was, and naturally enough the drivers would pull up with a flourish right in front of the Metropolitan. They could never make out why their passengers wanted to be taken ‘just round the corner, George’.
Reorganisation of the unit was difficult with men coming and going on leave, but new promotions were authorised and things made as ready as they could be for the reception of reinforcements. Letter and parcel mail arrived regularly. The unit had no transport, all vehicles being requisitioned from the transport pool, and they were not easy to get.
About this time the battalion lost its Greek interpreter, Nicko Jacovides. Nicko was a Cypriot who had joined up with the battalion in Greece; in those days an interpreter who could speak Greek was a useful adjunct to any unit. He went with the battalion to Crete and apparently did his part there. On 23 May he was seen coming down the Galatas-Canea road with some yards of German parachute cord round his neck, two Lugers in his belt and a smile on his face. When asked where he had been he said he had just killed two Germans—‘Just boys.’ From Crete he returned with the battalion to Egypt. He was not highly paid, about two shillings a day it is said, and was always pestering somebody about an increase. Persuaded by two leg-pulling friends that he should be at least a WO I, Nicko promptly went off and bought a pair of brown boots. He then had the choice of two batmen as soon as his rank should become substantive. The prospect of a transfer from the battalion did not appeal very strongly to him and on being posted to a Cypriot unit at Qassassin he took three weeks to get there.
The strength of the battalion at this stage was approximately 400 and on 14 June 15 officers and 365 other ranks under Major B. J. Mathewson marched in. These men came from a composite battalion formed by the Southern Infantry Training Depot during the dark days of Greece and Crete to guard Wadi Natrun in the Western Desert. On 17 June a further draft marched in from the depot. With them came Captains Mitchell and Manchester2 and a number of senior NCOs who page 154 had been on instructional duties at Base. The reinforcements quickly became part of the battalion, which benefited greatly from the insurge of new blood. At first some of the old hands were perhaps inclined to think that they alone knew all about soldiering, but this phase soon passed and old and new alike trained together strenuously as they prepared for ‘another crack at Jerry’.
On 18 June the battalion was reorganised and companies brought up to strength again. The senior appointments about this time were:
|CO||Lt-Col H. K. Kippenberger|
|Second-in-Command||Maj J. T. Burrows|
|Adjutant||Capt D. B. Cameron3|
|IO||2 Lt A. P. Boyle|
|MO||Capt W. L. M. Gilmour|
|HQ Company||Capt R. S. Orr|
|A Company||Capt T. H. Mitchell|
|B Company||Capt R. E. Agar4|
|C Company||Capt D. J. Fountaine|
|D Company||Capt K. G. Manchester|
The arrival of the replacement officers and reinforcements was most welcome, and after the slack days of the past two weeks it was a pleasant change to be busy and purposefully occupied. Equipment was scarce but the days passed quickly with instruction in Bren and rifle, range practices, training with anti-tank mines and booby traps, and lectures on the Crete campaign, the chief of them by General Freyberg and the Colonel. The RSM held drill and duties courses for NCOs, and these, together with regular company inspections and battalion parades, soon welded all members of the battalion into a disciplined unit. In the campaigns in Greece and Crete something had been learned of the enemy and his tactics. Major Burrows was sent to Cyprus to lecture on paratroop landings and Brigadier Inglis was sent to England on the same mission.
After their safe return to Egypt it had been decided that New Zealand troops should make some tangible recognition of the page 155 great work of the Navy in the evacuations from Greece and Crete. A collection for naval charities made throughout the Division raised almost £900. This was handed over at a cere mony on board HMS Phoebe, which had brought many of the 20th away from Crete, in the presence of General Freyberg, Brigadiers Puttick and Hargest, and other officers and a detachment of other ranks. In his autobiography, A Sailor's Odyssey, Admiral Cunningham says: ‘… I was handed a cheque after a moving and pleasant speech by a New Zealand private soldier, to which of course I replied. Afterwards the troops were entertained to the midday meal by the Phoebe's ship's company, while the officers lunched with my wife and myself at the Residency. I think it is true to say that much as the naval sailor liked and admired all the Dominion troops, he had a very special place in his heart for the New Zealanders with whom he was thrown in such very close contact in the Mediterranean.’
In July both Lieutenant-Colonel Kippenberger and Major Burrows entered hospital, the former with a recurrence of malaria, and the latter with jaundice. Major Davis, who had been the battalion's original adjutant before being posted to the staff of Divisional Headquarters, had returned to the battalion in June and he assumed temporary command. At the end of the month, and in very hot weather, battalion practices in ceremonial drill with a pipe band were held, and on 29 July there was an evening parade for a ceremonial retreat.
After the platoon and company training of the past six weeks the battalion was ready for manoeuvres. One of the earliest of these, and perhaps the stiffest test of all, was the dawn attack carried out in the El Saff area on 30-31 July. The companies marched out from Helwan late in the afternoon by way of the Sweetwater Canal on the El Saff plain to bivouac for the night. Some companies under junior officers did not arrive until the early hours of the morning, very weary, and they had little time to rest before moving off to the start line to begin the long advance to the enemy gunline by dawn. No transport being available, the troops had to march back to camp at the close of the exercise in terrific heat and with little water in their water bottles.
The worst part of the march came at the finish. The men left the formed road to cross the flat to the dhobi area, and page 156 although it did not look far, to walk the distance was a different matter. One party of five took a short cut and finished the journey by taxi. Finally, all hands arrived home very weary and hot and appreciated the efforts made to have showers turned on during a period of strict water rationing. Next day over 200 men were on sick parade, mostly with sore feet. The distance covered on foot in this exercise was roughly 25 miles and many men found the roads hard going after training and marching over sand.
On 6 August the battalion took part in a parade of 4 Brigade at which Brigadier Puttick handed over command to Brigadier Inglis. The former was returning to New Zealand as Chief of the General Staff. Brigadier Inglis was no stranger to the 20th. He had commanded 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion in Burnham and in Egypt, and in Crete had taken over command of 4 Brigade while Brigadier Puttick commanded the Division.
During the following week Brigadier Inglis inspected each battalion in the brigade, commencing with 18 Battalion on II August. A certain amount of smartening up was done for this parade—web was blancoed, rifles meticulously cleaned, and all other equipment brought up to inspection order. After 18 Battalion had been inspected word got about that the new brigadier was extremely thorough and demanded a high standard, and smartening-up operations were renewed by the 20th with feverish zeal until arms and equipment were really sparkling. Nineteenth Battalion was inspected on 12 August and the 20th the following day. The previous night, just before turning in, one of the battalion's sergeants who prided himself on his rifle was giving it a last loving pull through when the cord broke. He could not get it out and had to make an early morning dash to Brigade Headquarters to borrow a rifle from a member of his platoon who was on duty there at the time. The inspection was thorough but not as long as had been expected. The men were on their toes, stood the test well, and the parade was dismissed at lunch-time. The next day, 14 August, all sergeants attended a lecture by the Brigadier.
On 17 August the battalion moved to the Canal Zone by train. The move took all night, and a departure from the usual quartering arrangements for train trips was the issue of a water melon to each nine men and a bottle of lemonade for each man. page 157 The troops detrained at Geneifa at daylight and were taken to the Combined Operations Training Centre at Kabrit by lorry. The CO had returned from hospital early in August, but on arrival at Kabrit the Adjutant, Captain Rhodes, was evacuated to hospital with jaundice and Captain Chesterman5 replaced him. Captain Rhodes resumed the appointment at the end of September.
Practice in combined operations included boat drill, rowing, scaling ladders, etc., with good swimming in between training periods. All companies in turn carried out attack exercises with tank co-operation, the infantry moving forward in lorries until forced by enemy fire to debus. The battalion also conducted an exercise in a counter-attack role. In addition, Battalion Headquarters personnel practised the layout of their headquarters in defence.
At Kabrit the officers and men of a shore naval establishment, HMS Stag, were entertained in the battalion lines. Water polo and soccer matches were played against them and cricket matches were also played against 19 Battalion.
Early in the morning of 25 August the whole battalion moved out from camp for assault landing exercises. The Navy ferried the troops to HMS Glenroy, the parent ship of the Combined Operations Centre, where they received special instruction on the landings to be made. Two hours before dawn next day the landing craft stole away from the ship's side and made for their respective beaches on the Sinai side of the Canal. The objective was an area marked out as an airfield.
Early in September the air raids on the Suez Canal increased and considerable damage was done to ships unloading there. The climax came on the night of 8-9 September when an air-raid warning ‘Black’ indicated that parachute landings might be expected. A Company had been detailed for the ground defence of Kabrit aerodrome and a remarkable sight greeted the troops as they turned out of their beds and scrambled into their trucks for a cross-country dash to the airfield. The whole sky was lit up with parachute flares of soft pastel colours, and these continued to fall for some considerable time. In the unit the men stood to, ready for any emergency.page 158
On 12 September the advance party of 4 Brigade, under Major Mitchell, left Kabrit. The brigade was to move again into the Western Desert to take over the western end of the Baggush Box. The transport moved by road and the troops by train, arriving on the 15th and 16th respectively. The advance party took over from the Essex Regiment and the 20 Battalion companies were allotted to the areas occupied by the corresponding companies of that regiment. The brigade was to carry out maintenance of the forward defences and train as much as possible. The area was 158 miles west of Alexandria and about 30 miles east of Mersa Matruh. Eighteenth and 19th Battalions took over all positions south of the road, leaving the 20th an area from the sea to the road.
The first tasks were the digging, maintenance, and camouflaging of the existing fortified positions. To avoid enemy observation from the air the battalion became a race of underground dwellers. There were days of sunshine and days less pleasant when sandstorms penetrated every nook and cranny of the sandbagged dugouts, coating everything with fine dust. Noses and throats would be choked with sand and every break in the skin seemed to develop into a desert sore. Fortunately the Mediterranean was not far away. Companies were a considerable distance apart and lived as separate groups with their own officers', sergeants', and men's messes. Each company maintained its own canteen, which could be replenished from Naafi stores at Mersa Matruh, El Daba, and Abu Haggag. Demand invariably exceeded supply and canteen trucks roamed far and wide, the drivers employing many ruses to augment their stores. British quartermasters were justifiably suspicious but were successfully impressed by such fictitious names as the ‘Stewart Island Fusiliers’ and the ‘Great Barrier Buffs’. On one occasion a dusky-skinned member of the battalion assisted his thirsty mates by uplifting an issue in the name of a Cypriot unit.
On 19 September all men who had been in Greece and Crete were paid ten shillings in compensation for lost belongings. The same day Lieutenant-Colonel Kippenberger returned from leave and the news was announced that he had been awarded the DSO. The battalion was delighted.
Desert manoeuvres took place on 25 September. The battalion turned off east of Garawla and moved about 20 miles south page 159 into the desert over some rough ground. Troop movements were carried out with the artillery, the gunners using their radios. Reveille was at 4 a.m. next day and the troops pressed on to Bir Shineina, the objective of an attack exercise on an enemy laager. The manoeuvre was not completely successful. The mortars were too far forward, the CO got a puncture, the attack was twenty minutes late, and it was too light to effect surprise. After breakfast at 8 a.m. the battalion returned to camp by 10.30. The wind blew all day.
During this period swimming was popular but at times dangerous. Breakers were strong and tricky rips got several men into difficulties. Private Hopkins6 of Headquarters Company lost his life on I October. His body was recovered two days later and buried at Maaten Baggush.
Saturday, 4 October, was the battalion's second birthday, and every man was ‘shouted’ a bottle of beer out of regimental funds. Celebrations were general. The following week the companies did range firing and an officer from I Army Tank Brigade gave a lecture on I tanks. The lecture was very interesting and the men were most attentive, although the lecturer did seem to harp on the things a tank could not do.
There had been more training than maintenance during the four weeks at Baggush and all ranks realised that a tremendous amount of work would have to be done if the Box was to be defended, a job few would have relished.
On 14 October the battalion took part in a divisional exercise based on a role the Division might have to undertake in the coming offensive—an attack on a heavily defended fortress covered by wire and mines. Two dummy fortresses, Sidi Clif and Bir Stella, based on air photographs of the Sidi and Libyan Omars, were prepared, wired, and covered by live minefields.
The 20th carried out an attack on Sidi Clif. An approach march of about 30 miles was made without vehicle lights and the brigade deployed under cover of darkness ready to attack at dawn. Under command of a tank officer who had a radio in his vehicle, tank drivers drove trucks which represented the tanks that would operate with the battalion in action. Three minutes before zero, at 6.57 a.m., a battery of 25-pounders page 160 opened fire on the marked position, firing smoke for ten minutes. The first wave of ‘tanks’ advanced from the start line at seven minutes before zero hour and arrived at the wire at 7.8 a.m. The first wave of infantry, A Company, went forward in trucks at zero hour, 7 a.m., and passed through the tanks just before reaching the enemy wire. The artillery failed to lift the smoke screen and smoke canisters were soon bouncing amongst the infantry, fortunately without causing casualties. The infantry debussed and hurled themselves over the dannert barbed wire with great spirit. Meanwhile the artillery had changed to high-explosive shells, firing on three 200-yard lifts, and the tanks engaged the defences from the outside. As soon as a section of engineers had made gaps for them through the wire and had cleared a path through the mines, the tanks entered and attacked. Mortars moved forward after A Company and took up positions to cover the advance. At timed intervals B and C Companies with a second echelon of tanks, and D Company with a third echelon, continued the attack. After the capture of the position the mortars, a platoon of machine guns, and a troop of anti-tank guns entered to consolidate and prepare for a counter-attack.
The attack was watched by perhaps the greatest number of brigadiers and generals ever seen by our troops. In the words of one soldier: ‘There seemed to be every brass hat in the Middle East there.’ The spectators were impressed with the accurate co-ordination of the various arms and the dash of the infantry. After the exercise all officers and sergeants were addressed by General Freyberg, who introduced the new Army Commander, General Cunningham. At the conclusion of the exercise a very convincing demonstration was given by the CRE, Colonel Clifton, and a party of sappers on the method of blowing up a minefield and the use of bangalore torpedoes to blow holes in barbed-wire entanglements.
In the early stages of this exercise a divisional order-of-the-day had notified the award of the Victoria Cross to Lieutenant Upham and to Sergeant Hulme7 of 23 Battalion. Every man felt pleased that ‘Charlie’ Upham had received his just reward for his gallantry in Crete, and all were proud to belong to the same unit as this grand soldier.page 161
For the next week or so parties of officers made trips up the desert to the forward areas to familiarise themselves with routes and to get some idea of conditions. These trips were to prove of value later during the approach march round the enemy's flank. It was during the first of these excursions that the BBC broadcast news of the award of the Victoria Cross to Sergeant Jack Hinton of C Company for his courageous action in the fighting at Kalamata.8 A notice appeared in the unit lines: ‘Join the 20th and get a V.C.’
Lieutenant-Colonel Burrows, who had left the battalion in September to command the Southern Infantry Training Depot at Maadi Camp, at once sent his unit's congratulations. The correspondence is worth quoting:
Southern NZ Inf Trg Depot,
15 Oct 41
The Officer Commanding,
This Unit wishes to convey to you its sincere congratulations on the great honour won by the 20 Bn. 2/Lieut Upham's exploits are known now to every soldier in the NZ Forces and you and your Battalion may well feel proud of producing one of New Zealand's finest Officers.
As a South Island Unit we feel we may also be proud of him, and his actions in Crete will always be an example to Officers who hope to do the right thing when their test comes.
(Sgd) J. T. Burrows,
Commanding S Inf Trg Depot
Southern Inf Trg Depot. 18 Oct 41
Honours & awards
Reference our communication … dated 15 Oct 41; for 2/Lieut Upham read 2/Lieut Upham and Sgt Hinton.page 162
It would be a convenience to this Headquarters if in future the names of members of the 20th Bn who win Victoria Crosses be published in one list and not on different days as appears to be the present practice.
(Sgd) J. T. Burrows,
S NZ Inf Trg Depot
This was certainly something to live up to, and after the realistic field exercises it might have been difficult to stimulate interest in training had not the Colonel conceived the idea of platoon competitions, judged by officers of the battalion. All forms of infantry training were tested: tactical exercise — Colonel Kippenberger, Captain J. F. Phillips, and Second-Lieutenant A. P. Boyle; platoon inspection—Major Mitchell; platoon weapons, tools and stores—Captain Fountaine; platoon drill—Major J. W. McKergow (he had succeeded Major Burrows as second-in-command), RSM Wilson, CSMs A. Brookes, R. W. Goodall, and H. Krogh; assault course—Captain Manchester and CSM Grooby; military knowledge—Second-Lieutenant C. O. D. Roberts; grenade throwing—Second-Lieutenant L. M. Uttley; alarm post—Major Orr, Second-Lieutenant R. W. A. Beauchamp, and CSM R. E. O. Anderson.
The competitions culminated in a platoon attack. Each platoon paraded in battle order and was told to be the advanced guard of the battalion in an attack on Garawla. The platoon commander disposed his men and decided on his starting time in order to pass a stated point at the time laid down. At different points en route officers were posted to give verbal situations —air attack from the sea, platoon under fire, etc.—and points were awarded according to the platoon and section commanders' reactions and their orders.
The winning platoon was No. 15 (Second-Lieutenant Upham), with No. 8 (Second-Lieutenant Ormond)9 second, and No. 16 (Second-Lieutenant Abbott)10 third. Each man in the winning platoon received six ounces of New Zealand tobacco, with lesser quantities for the men of the second and third platoons.page 163
With the approach of winter many of the men had taken to wearing woollen balaclavas, usually rolled up and worn like a skull cap. It was a practice that the Colonel did not approve of, and on the battalion's return to camp after the field exercise in mid-October a sharp notice in his routine orders left no doubt of his views. The order ran:
Balaclavas: The balaclava is an unhealthy, unsightly and unsoldierly headgear. It is suitable for wear when sleeping outside, or driving or riding when exposed to very cold weather. It will be worn under these conditions only and the childish practice of wearing a balaclava whenever there is any ‘nip’ in the air will cease forthwith. It is better not worn at all.
By 6 October plans for the second Libyan offensive had been made. Briefly, Eighth Army was to take Cyrenaica, the immediate objectives being the destruction of the enemy armoured forces by our own and the relief of Tobruk. It was estimated that the Axis forces in Cyrenaica numbered II0,000 men, with approximately 300 medium tanks and 1140 field and anti-tank guns. Apart from a force of Stuka dive-bombers, the enemy air force was mainly Italian and slightly inferior to the RAF in numbers. The newly-formed Eighth Army with its 500-odd cruiser tanks, 200 infantry tanks, and I00 or more light tanks, supported by about 500 aircraft, was expected to outnumber the enemy in tanks and at least match him in the air.
Eighth Army was divided into three groups. Thirtieth Corps (the armour) was to seek out and destroy the enemy armour and then relieve Tobruk. Thirteenth Corps, which included 4 Indian Division, the New Zealand Division and I Armoured Brigade, was to advance north, isolate the enemy's frontier forces and later mop up to the west. Far to the south the Oasis Group force was to deceive the enemy by moving from Giarabub the day before the main battle began. In addition the Tobruk garrison—70 Division with various supporting units, including the Polish Carpathian Brigade and 32 Army Tank Brigade— would come under command of 30 Corps when the breakout operation became feasible.
On 4 November a brigade ceremonial parade was held on the 19 Battalion football ground at which the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, presented page 164 decorations won in Greece and Crete. After a brief inspection the General pinned ribbons on the tunics of Lieutenant-Colonel Kippenberger, DSO, and Lieutenant Upham, VC.
Time was now running out and many officers and men went away on leave, returning to the unit just in time to make final preparations for the impending battle, although they were not then aware of the situation. Some of the men in the later leave drafts got an inkling that something was afoot and returned before they were due. Sergeant-Major Grooby and Sergeant Vincent of C Company, at Base Depot after spells in hospital, returned with the CO in his car.
One of the last events to take place before the Division moved west was the long-awaited rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand. This was an excellent game and resulted in a win for New Zealand by 8 points to nil. No 20 Battalion representatives were in the team.
On II November the great move forward began, 5 Brigade being the first to leave Baggush. The Division's training had been hard, thorough and complete, and morale was high. ‘We felt like runners, tense for the pistol,’ the Colonel later wrote.
The battalion moved out next day from Baggush with all ranks not normally on tactical vehicles aboard 3-ton lorries of 4 RMT Company. The route was along the main road, bypassing Mersa Matruh, and down the Siwa road for approximately 30 miles before turning west into the desert. For another ten miles or so the battalion moved with ease in its now familiar desert formation of nine vehicles abreast with I00 to 150 yards between them. The five company commanders with the CO in the centre were in line abreast across the front. A halt was made during the late afternoon for the remainder of the brigade group to form up. No further move was made until the morning of the 15th, when the troops again embussed and moved forward 50 miles. The Division, moving as one force for the first time in the war, was now approaching the frontier wire; greater caution would now have to be taken and all future moves were to be made by night.
The first of these was made on the night of I6-17 November and the second the following night when a little over 25 miles was covered. The procedure followed was for the provost section and the intelligence officers to move out during the day and page 165 leave two men with a petrol tin and lamp every half-mile along the route. These lamps would be lit just before the transport was due to arrive. The guide officer would then move along these lights during the night move, a feat not quite as simple as it sounds. It was during the move of 18-19 November, soon after passing through the gap in the frontier wire, that the line of lights was lost and the IO, Lieutenant ‘Paddy’ Boyle,11 gave his now famous order to his driver, Harry Bretherton: ‘270 degrees, Green Light or Colonel Glasgow, head for the open, Harry.’ However, the battalion veered more and more to the right until the head of the column was almost facing back to Egypt. Brigadier Inglis moved up to find out why. After a brief reconnaissance the CO led the whole brigade to complete the loop and came back on to the line of lights again. Very few realised next morning that anything untoward had happened during the night.
The difficulties of night-time moves in the desert are described by the Colonel in Infantry Brigadier:
Apart from these difficulties the night moves were not easy. We used no lights and most desert is bumpy and uneven. Leading vehicles travelled at two and a half miles in the hour but there was unavoidable concertinaing, and the tail of a long column usually had to move in fits and starts at anything up to twenty miles an hour. Twenty miles was a long night march under normal conditions. The drivers could see nothing of the ground in front, those back in the column could only follow their leaders. One was constantly slithering down over steep banks, bumping against hummocks, falling heavily into abandoned slit trenches, or getting stuck in soft sand. But every difficulty would be surmounted, the lights were always found in the end, and a few minutes after daylight we halted and dispersed and every truck brewed up for breakfast. During the day the stragglers and cripples were brought in by the indefatigable L.A.D.,12 and next night the performance would start again. The men could sleep during the day, but there were conferences and affairs of various kinds for commanders, and I was very short of sleep before the battle opened.
After covering the required distance in such moves the convoy would halt for the night in close order. Companies posted page 166 sentries and all others settled down to sleep until dawn, when the companies would move forward to their dispersal areas, dig in, have breakfast, shave, and rest until evening again.
The 19th November was spent quietly in ‘enemy country’ a few miles south of the Libyan Sheferzen and a move north of about ten miles in the afternoon brought the Division close to the Trigh el Abd. Defensive positions for the night had to be prepared and dusk had fallen before the company commanders could complete their reconnaissance. The following morning preparations were being made for another move when a warning was received to prepare to meet an armoured attack from the north-west. The Divisional Cavalry, which had been moving in front but out of sight of the Division, sent back its second echelon transport, which halted immediately in front of the 20th's defensive positions. Two enemy planes flew over during the morning and were greeted with a great deal of fire from the Bofors guns distributed throughout the Division.
The enemy armoured attack did not develop and shortly after 10 a.m. next day (the 21st) orders were received for each brigade group to move to its respective task. It was the last time during the campaign that the Division was to be concentrated.
The officers on the battalion strength when it moved into Libya were:
|CO||Lt-Col H. K. Kippenberger|
|Second-in-Command||Maj J. W. McKergow*|
|Adjutant||Capt G. A. T. Rhodes|
|RMO||Capt W. L. M. Gilmour|
|Padre||Rev. G. A. D. Spence|
|HQ Company||Maj R. S. Orr|
|A Company||Maj T. H. Mitchell|
|B Company||Capt R. E. Agar|
|C Company||Capt D. J. Fountaine|
|D Company||Capt K. G. Manchester|
|Capt J. F. Baker|
|Capt J. F. Phillips|
|Capt E. R. Chesterman|
|Lt G. Baker (Anti-Aircraft Platoon)|
|Lt E. W. Bolwell (QM)|
|2 Lt C. H. Upham*|
|2 Lt P. V. H. Maxwell*page 167|
|2 Lt N. J. McPhail|
|2 Lt R. J. Abbott|
|2 Lt J. A. T. Shand*|
|2 Lt J. S. Harper|
|2 Lt E. A. Shand*|
|2 Lt A. R. Guthrey (Carrier Platoon)|
|2 Lt E. M. Wilson|
|2 Lt M. Heenan|
|2 Lt T. D. White|
|2 Lt G. F. Dunne|
|2 Lt G. Mills (Pioneer Platoon)|
|2 Lt R. W. A. Beauchamp (Transport Platoon)|
|2 Lt A. P. Boyle (IO)|
|2 Lt A. R. Ormond|
|2 Lt L. M. Uttley (Mortar Platoon)|
|2 Lt J. D. Gibb*|
|2 Lt C. O. D. Roberts (Signals Platoon)|
3 Captain Cameron was succeeded almost immediately by Captain G. A. T. Rhodes.
4 Captain Agar did not join the battalion until 7 July.
12 Light Aid Detachment, a section specially equipped for the recovery and repair of vehicles.