Bardia to Enfidaville
28 (Maori) Battalion
28 (Maori) Battalion
The 28th Battalion advanced with A Company (Major Porter1) on the right and B Company (Captain Sorensen2) on the left; C Company (Captain Awatere3), 300 yards behind, covered both these companies, and D Company (Captain Matehaere4), another 300 yards in the right rear of C, had the special task of watching the exposed right flank. Two sections of carriers operated some two miles to the east as right-flank guard.
Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett then went forward to the tank commander. The essential task was to clear the high ground on the right, with its many anti-tank guns, mortars and machine guns. Accordingly Bennett ordered C Company to swing right and capture Point 209, while the other three companies were to dig in where they were and so establish a firm base. It was then 5 p.m. and still light. A and B Companies were about 1000 yards beyond the first objective, but were still 1500 yards short of the final objective, while D Company faced right to the south of Point 209.
Topography now played a part, for the hill immediately to the right, C Company's objective, was not in fact Point 209, but a steep underfeature west of and separated from it by a saddle almost 1000 yards long. There is some doubt whether anyone realised this at the time, but certainly both battalion and later brigade headquarters thought for varying periods that C Company's attack was being made on Point 209 proper. Bennett was not certain when he visited the feature after dusk, and in the confusion of battle the point was not cleared up at that time. Brigade Headquarters had been informed that 209 had been captured and did not realise the mistake until the brigade commander went forward in the morning to see for himself. This meant that in the evening and during the night there was no artillery fire in immediate support of the attackers, and what fire there was came down on the reverse slopes of Point 209, in the belief that the summit of that feature had been captured. Had the true situation been known, Brigade Headquarters could have arranged for heavy artillery support.
Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett was not at the time aware that the main attack had reached the final objective, and that a gap had been made through the enemy position. The capture of Hikurangi and Point 209 had now in effect developed into a private struggle between 28 Battalion and II/433 Panzer Grenadier Regiment, to be fought out with all the gallantry that grim determination can produce.
The battalion support arms came forward after dark and were deployed, and the mortars, now rejoined from 21 Battalion, were concentrated at the foot of Hikurangi; and equally acceptable was the arrival of a hot meal about 8 p.m. This was distributed throughout, even to the men of C Company who were within earshot of the enemy. The dead and wounded were removed from the top of the hill and signal lines laid to all companies from battalion headquarters.
However, there was no communication with Brigade Headquarters, and the brigade commander in some concern instructed 21 Battalion to send a patrol from Point 184 to make contact. This was duly done, but as it happened 28 Battalion was finally in touch by wireless with Brigade Headquarters about the same time. The report was then made that Point 209 had been captured. The battalion appeared to be in good order, but Bennett was concerned both about his open right flank, and in having all four companies committed. He tried to arrange for tanks to be placed on his right flank, but without success. His only reserve was the carrier platoon. Brigadier Kippenberger then instructed 21 Battalion to move one company forward to the right of 28 Battalion, and after sundry adventures, including an alarming encounter with a patrol from 23 Battalion, A Company of 21 Battalion (Captain Bullock-Douglas) arrived in position to the right of D Company, 28 Battalion. It was then 3 a.m. on 27 March. There was still a gap page 221 between A Company's position and that of D Company, 21 Battalion, on the northern hillock of Point 184.
About this time also, 23 Battalion on the other flank made contact with 28, and the latter's brief isolation was at an end. The battalion was now in good heart for whatever the morning might bring.