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Bardia to Enfidaville

Gone Away

Gone Away

During the night patrols heard the noises of activity in Nofilia village and to the west; and at first light it was believed that the enemy was still there, and 30 Corps was so advised at 7 a.m. This was followed by a personal message from the GOC saying that Nofilia was still strongly held and should be bombed, and asking that A Squadron, Staffs Yeomanry, be sent to the Division again to augment the low number of effective tanks with the Greys. Sixth Infantry Brigade Group made ready to send out a mobile column to attack the village from the west, and 4 Light Armoured Brigade prepared to sweep widely round 5 Brigade and then back along the road towards Nofilia.

But soon patrols approached the village, reported that they could see no movement, and then at 8.43 a.m. that it was clear. It had to be accepted that the enemy had got away intact. The 21st Battalion, the unit farthest to the west, reported that there had been spasmodic enemy fire until just before dawn; but at full page 70 daylight the ground between the battalion and the road was found to be empty. The newly laid mines were lifted later in the morning.

The enemy plan for this successful withdrawal was a simple one: 33 Reconnaissance Unit and 104 Panzer Grenadier Regiment were to stay in position until Africa Corps was clear, and then in turn retire through Africa Panzer Grenadier Regiment, which was the final rearguard. In fact the only hitch came from lack of petrol which, amazing though it may seem, was literally being issued a few hundred gallons at a time. There were occasions during the night when units reported that they had come to a stop until more petrol was received. The 15th Panzer Division disengaged from the area round Nofilia shortly after 8 p.m. and had travelled 30 miles along the good tarmac road by first light. The segments of 21 Panzer Division followed, and then 33 Reconnaissance Unit and its supporter.

In the morning of 18 December patrols from 4 Light Armoured Brigade reported enemy transport immediately east of Sultan, where there was a steady stream of vehicles moving west. The KDGs kept contact as far as Sirte, and the rest of the brigade accompanied by Divisional Cavalry moved out on the 18th for some 25 miles westwards across the desert to the vicinity of Bir el Magedubia. For the moment contact with the enemy had been broken except for the armoured car patrols.

So for a second time the enemy had merely been hustled; he had withdrawn from Nofilia itself despite the nearness of our troops. But, as Rommel has recorded, it is extremely difficult to surround a retiring force. Previously the New Zealand Division had withdrawn from Sidi Rezegh and from Minqar Qaim, so escaping what at times had looked like certain encirclement. The German-Italian forces had avoided encirclement at Fuka, Tobruk, Benghazi and Agedabia, and were to repeat the performance. It was not until the end in North Africa, against overwhelming superiority and with the sea at his back, that the enemy was captured complete. Battles like Cannae or Sedan are rare.