Bardia to Enfidaville
Having assumed operational responsibility for the forthcoming attack, 30 Corps began in the first days of December to make closer contact with the enemy. The 51st (Highland) Division1 occupied the area opposite Marsa Brega and Bir es Suera, while 7 Armoured Division patrolled south and west. On 2 December 2 NZ Division passed from the command of 10 Corps to 30 Corps, and preliminary orders were issued for it to move to the Agedabia area. The Division was to leave the Bardia area on 4–5 December, and be fully assembled at El Haseiat, some 35 miles south-east of Agedabia, by 9–10 December. Tracked vehicles would travel on transporters via the main coast road, the remainder of the Division across the desert.
In the morning of 3 December the GOC briefed his formation commanders and heads of services and discussed plans. The Division's part was to be an outflanking march with 4 Light Armoured Brigade under command along the route reconnoitred by Captain Chrystal. The chief difficulty would be the supply of petrol in the quantities needed to move the Division, and even at this early stage General Freyberg stressed the necessity for economy in its use. After reviewing the general strategic position—the enemy's shortages, the lengthening lines of communication of Eighth Army, and so on—he told the conference that Rommel had been ordered to hold the El Agheila position at all costs.2 He ended with instructions to officers to tell their men about the coming advance, and to say that the final of the rugby competition would be played in Tripoli—for which purpose sports gear was to be taken!
Orders later issued for the move to El Haseiat prescribed the groups and timings:
|Formation||Departure||Arrival at Destination|
|6 Inf Bde Gp||11.30 a.m., 4 December||Not later than 11 a.m., 9 December|
|HQ and Res Gps||6.30 a.m., 5 December||Not later than 4 p.m., 9 December|
|5 Inf Bde Gp||11.30 a.m., 5 December||Not later than 11 a.m., 10 December|
1 Usually abbreviated to 51 (H) Division, a contraction used at times in this volume.
The 50th Division took over the engineer tasks in the Tobruk – Bardia area so that the sappers could move with the Division, and the detached light anti-aircraft batteries similarly were called in, 41 Battery from Sollum–Halfaya rejoining forthwith and 42 Battery from Tobruk rejoining en route. General Freyberg had a rooted objection to leaving any part of the Division on detached duties when operations were afoot; and in this case this feeling was augmented by the need for full anti-aircraft protection on a march that might well be taking the Division behind the enemy lines.
Thus, hastily, the pause at Bardia ended and the Division, rested and revived, set out again on its long journey westwards. About El Adem and Sidi Rezegh the survivors of the CRUSADER operations recognised the battlefields of the previous year still littered with wrecks and debris. But morale ran high. There was a feeling that this would not happen again.
The move was uneventful, except that three or four vehicles were damaged on old minefields near Bir Hacheim,1 and six vehicles a little north of Haseiat. Each group arrived well on time, the Division—less its tracked vehicles—being complete by the evening of 9 December. Petrol consumption was less than had been expected.
The armoured fighting vehicles, including those of Divisional Cavalry, a total of 32 Stuart tanks and 135 carriers, went on transporters of 6 Company, RASC, by the main road through the Gebel Akhdar, and arrived in the El Haseiat area to unload before darkness on 10 December.
Thirtieth Corps issued its initial operation order on 4 December for operation GUILLOTINE. Briefly, 51 (H) Division was to attack astride the main road to capture the defended localities in and south-west of Marsa Brega, codename SWEAT; 7 Armoured Division was to attack in the Bir es Suera area, create a gap and then pass through, codename BLOOD; 2 NZ Division was:
To destroy enemy posts north to Giofer inclusive.
To contain Marada and take every opportunity to occupy it.
The codename for 2 NZ Division's tasks was TOIL.
These various tasks were given on the assumption that the enemy would stand his ground at least until a major attack developed.
Dates for the operation were communicated to commanders separately. It was intended that 2 NZ Division's advance from El Haseiat—task (a)—should commence on 14 December, but no firm date was given for the other objectives, the achievement of which depended on the general course of operations.
There is a slight degree of mystery about the Division's tasks (c) and (d), for on 5 December 30 Corps arranged for a party to reconnoitre Marada and Zella. Drawn from King's Dragoon Guards, one of the regiments of 4 Light Armoured Brigade, the patrol—four armoured cars and three jeeps—went out on 7 December, entered Marada during the night 8–9 December and found it unoccupied, and then went on towards Zella and a little farther to the north-west. This was duly reported to regimental headquarters on 10 December, but possibly owing to the transfer of 4 Light Armoured Brigade from 7 Armoured Division to 2 NZ Division at this time, does not seem to have fully registered with any superior headquarters. Meanwhile the enemy garrison of Marada had moved out on 6 December as the first stage of the thinning out of the Marsa Brega position.