Episodes & Studies Volume 2
During this period the only link with the actual field of battle and Headquarters 5 Brigade, since the withdrawal of 21 Battalion, had been the wireless set with the 23 Battalion Adjutant, Captain A. Ross,45 from a wadi between Bir and Takrouna. Ross had been able to tell the Brigadier something of the condition of 28 Battalion and had estimated that part of 23 Battalion had got through to positions beyond the road. Early in the morning men could be seen on the top of Takrouna and it was thought that they were Maoris.
The two 6 Brigade battalions were well dug in with supporting arms up and communications established, and Brigadier Gentry was confident that they could resist any counter-attack. At dawn Brigadier Kippenberger had ordered the tanks of the Notts Yeomanry under his command to go forward on the east side of Takrouna to mop up and to find and help 23 Battalion. General Freyberg instructed the regiment of 8 Armoured Brigade in reserve to clean out any pockets of the enemy between the two brigades, and then went forward to Headquarters 5 Brigade with the CRA, Brigadier C. E. Weir.46
At this stage Lieutenant Wikiriwhi, who had taken the triple role of commanding officer, adjutant, and intelligence officer of 28 Battalion, arrived at 5 Brigade Headquarters with the first definite news of his battalion. He had just witnessed the remarkable exploits of Private T. Heka47 who, supported by two tanks at long range, had, quite alone, moved up Djebel Bir. A whirlwind series of ‘engagements’ resulted in the capture of an anti-tank gun and surviving crew, together with three machine-gun posts. Thus Wikiriwhi was able to report that Bir had been captured, to confirm that some men had reached the top of Takrouna, and that although the battalion had suffered heavy losses it was being reorganised. Brigadier Kippenberger gave him a definite line for reorganisation—stretching between Bir and Takrouna—to act as second line of defence should the enemy by-pass or break through 23 Battalion, concerning which there was no firm knowledge.
At ten o'clock word was brought back from 23 Battalion on Cherachir. The Intelligence Officer, after a hazardous trip through the valley between Bir and Takrouna, then told the Brigade Commander of the events of the night attack and, which then interested him more, the situation of the battalion that morning. This was reasonably good, although no supporting arms could get through and ammunition was running short. Could artillery concentrations be put down on Point 136, where the enemy was seen collecting for the expected counter-attack?
With this information it was only a matter of minutes before an artillery programme was under way to the loudly expressed gratification of Thomas and his men. The tanks were given renewed instructions to push on to Cherachir, a difficult task owing to the many mines, and the supporting arms were told to get through. These latter could not move far, for no soft-skinned vehicles could survive the shellfire, and machine guns, anti-tank guns, and carriers had to give up after several unsuccessful attempts. The tanks eventually reached the Zaghouan road.
By this time artillery observation officers, among them Captain J. C. Muirhead48 from 5 Field Regiment and an officer from an English medium regiment, had been to the top of Takrouna. From the information sent back by these officers it was debated at Headquarters 10 Corps, and discussed with General Freyberg, whether the few troops on Takrouna should page 24 not be withdrawn, the whole feature heavily pounded by artillery, and a new assault launched that would clear the whole area, including the village and the northern slopes. Fortunately, for the effectiveness of artillery in steep, rocky country and among stone buildings is restricted, this policy was not adopted. Brigadier Kippenberger knew nothing of it. He still held to his decision to hold the ground that had been won, and with the intention of finding out himself what further support could be given to the forward troops, had gone up to the 28 Battalion area and on to the lower slopes of Takrouna. The Brigade Commander concluded that the small group on Takrouna should be relieved by a platoon from 21 Battalion, and instructions to this end were given to Colonel Harding shortly before midday. Some adjustments were made to the line on which 28 Battalion was being reorganised.
During the afternoon General Freyberg again visited Headquarters 5 Brigade, and on hearing the number of casualties—estimated at 40 for the Brigade at this stage—said that he would transfer the reserve battalion of 6 Brigade. Accordingly, arrangements were made for 25 Battalion to relieve 23 Battalion on Cherachir during the coming night, the relief being completed without incident.
Little more could be done. The attack as a whole had not reached the planned objectives, as 4 Indian Division, after a particularly bitter fight, had not managed to capture its first objective and had been left in a similar position to that of 5 NZ Brigade. Obviously nothing further was possible in the meantime: it remained to tidy up the existing positions, and at all costs, with the artillery exposed in the open plain, to hold Takrouna.