Bardia to Enfidaville
Starting Positions for supercharge
Starting Positions for supercharge
Considerable rearrangement of battalion sectors was involved in the preparations. Fifth Infantry Brigade was to take over the front east of the Kebili — El Hamma road, and 6 Infantry Brigade intended to reorganise its remaining portion of the front. But the first essential was the capture of Point 184, for it completely overlooked the proposed start line, which for most of its length was in front of the existing FDLs. There could be no move until this feature was held securely.
In view of the previous failure to capture this point and of the absolute necessity of its capture, Brigadier Kippenberger entrusted the task to a whole battalion. The CO of 21 Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Harding) was given orders for the attack at 10 a.m. on 25 March, and spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon on reconnaissance with his company commanders, and in arranging artillery support through Brigade Headquarters. All instructions were verbal, as there was no time to prepare written orders. At this time—about midday 25 March—5 Infantry Brigade was still in the position taken up on 23 March as a counter to possible action by 10 Panzer Division.
The first objective was Point 184, known as Objective ‘A’, to be attacked by C Company (Major Laird1) with A (Captain Bullock-Douglas2) in support. The second was another knoll 1000 yards farther north, known as Objective ‘B’, to be attacked by D Company (Captain Murray3). The 4th and 6th Field Regiments page 209 were to concentrate for fifteen minutes on both objectives and then for another five on ‘B’ only. One medium battery was to fire on ‘B’ for the full twenty minutes. The start line was at right angles to the Roman Wall and faced east towards the objectives.
The 21st Battalion began to move up at 6.30 p.m. and debussed at the Roman Wall south-east of Point 201. The companies formed up on the start line just before midnight, the artillery opened fire at 1 a.m. on 26 March, and the companies advanced and, despite some close fighting, captured both objectives by 2.50 a.m. A Company, in reserve to C Company, was not called on. The artillery preparation appears to have demoralised the enemy, so enabling our infantry to follow up quickly with the bayonet before they could recover. Enemy losses on Objective ‘A’ appeared to be only six killed, but thirty-seven were taken prisoner, all from 104 Panzer Grenadier Regiment of 21 Panzer Division. One truck, eleven heavy machine-guns, two mortars and much personal equipment was captured. On Objective ‘B’ twelve dead were counted, and eight were captured together with two mortars and one antitank gun. Here the enemy had fought harder; and shortly after D Company had consolidated, there was much noise from tanks and vehicles, and a counter-attack was suspected. Artillery support was called for at 3.15 a.m., and a concentration put down within nine minutes. It was effective in stopping any counter-measures.
The total casualties in 21 Battalion were four killed and seventeen wounded. Altogether it was a quick and clean operation. Before first light supporting arms—machine guns, mortars, and antitank guns—were in position, augmented by the mortars of 28 Battalion, which were to be on loan until that battalion advanced later in the day. There were distinct signs of an enemy attack about 8 a.m., but nothing happened, and no counter-action was taken, as it was not desired to alarm the enemy at that time.
Both the companies and their supporting weapons found great difficulty in digging in on the rocky ground, and had to build up rather than dig down. Enemy fire, heavy on occasion, made conditions most unpleasant up to the time the NZ Corps' attack began. In this attack, 21 Battalion took no part, remaining in a right-flank protection role.
The brigade reorganisation could now go on without enemy observation from close at hand. Sixth Infantry Brigade had all three battalions in the line—26 on the right, stretching out towards Point 184; 25 in the centre, mainly east of the El Hamma road, but with one company on the west; and 24 Battalion on the left, entirely west of the road. The brigade was now to attack with 24 Battalion only, with its right flank extended to but excluding the road.page 210
A sequence of moves was now to take place in the following order—28 Battalion to relieve 26 Battalion; 26 Battalion to occupy all 25 Battalion positions east of and including the El Hamma road; 25 Battalion moving out to relieve the Buffs battalion on the foothills on the extreme left. The 24th Battalion was to move forward to 1000 yards beyond the Roman Wall, with its right flank verging the road; 23 Battalion was then to move up between 28 and 24 Battalions. The final state of the line, in preparation for the attack, would then be 28 Battalion on the right, 23 in the centre, and 24 on the left. All the above moves were to be complete before first light on 26 March, for all movement after dawn was to be kept to the absolute minimum. Only troops whose training was thorough could have attempted such a reshuffle at night. In addition, patrols from 24 and 26 Battalions were to go out up to 1200 yards beyond page 211 their new FDLs to discover if there were any minefields which might hinder the advance of the armour. Detachments of engineers moved with the patrols for mine-clearing. No incident occurred and no mines were reported.
The Maori Battalion moved early on 25 March, but did not occupy its forward position until after dark, initially relieving the forward companies of 26 Battalion. After a hot meal at 3 a.m., companies moved forward to the start line, except for B Company, on the extreme right, which was to be relieved by a company of 21 Battalion. This relief was delayed, and so B Company dug in some distance short of the start line, with orders to move off twenty minutes before zero hour so as to catch up. The battalion was dug in and out of sight by first light. Under command were one troop of six-pounders and one section of 17-pounders, a detachment of 7 Field Company and one platoon from 4 Machine-Gun Company. In addition, 28 Battalion was allotted temporarily the 21 Battalion carriers to protect its exposed right flank during the advance. The 28 Battalion mortars, on loan to 21 Battalion during the attack on Point 184, were to rejoin as soon as the advance started.
The 23rd Battalion moved off after dark and went as far as a lying-up position south of the Roman Wall. There the men bedded down until 3 a.m., when after a hot meal the advance to the start line commenced. Support arms were on the same scale as for 28 Battalion except for the exchange of mortars and carriers. Again, all were in position before daylight.
The 24th Battalion had only to move forward from its old positions. It had under command one machine-gun platoon and two sections of 8 Field Company, but no anti-tank guns, which for the time being were kept in brigade reserve.
After 23 Battalion had passed through, 26 Battalion took up a more concentrated position in rear. The 25th Battalion was withdrawn and at 2 p.m. moved across to relieve 1 Buffs of 8 Armoured Brigade on the foothills on the left flank, where that battalion had been since 24 March.