Bardia to Enfidaville
2 NZ Division Closes up for the Attack
2 NZ Division Closes up for the Attack
The Desert Air Force was very active in the week preceding the offensive. Fighters destroyed about twelve enemy aircraft in the air and four were shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Two Spitfires were lost, but the pilots were saved. There were 152 fighter sorties on 14 January.1 Bombing of enemy positions and landing grounds both by day and night, was stepped up as ‘D’ day approached, with increasing attention to advanced landing grounds. Here the enemy resisted strongly, and there were many engagements between enemy fighters and our fighter escorts; but our attacks fulfilled their purpose, for on ‘D’ day few enemy planes were seen.page 94
On 13 January 2 NZ Division rested after crossing Wadi Tamet, and prepared for the night move to Wadi Bei el Chebir. This was to start at 7 p.m., but in order to compensate for the ‘short haul’ of the previous day, and because the going proved rougher than had been expected, an afternoon move of about 17 miles was begun at 3.30 p.m. and took about two hours. Towards the end vehicles closed up to twenty yards' distance to maintain visibility between them after dark. The night march, now only 16 miles, was made with the advantages of a half-moon and freedom from wind. Sixth Brigade Group reached its destination near Pilastrino between 9 and 10 p.m., and about the same time Divisional Headquarters and the Reserve Group halted near Wadi Umm er Rtem, with 5 Brigade Group a few miles behind.
In the evening of 13 January there was still no sign of a general enemy withdrawal, so 30 Corps was impelled to inform both 7 Armoured and 2 NZ Divisions that the enemy might make a stand at Gheddahia, in which case the ‘inland column’ would wheel round the enemy's southern flank, directed on the main road some 20 miles north of Gheddahia with 4 Light Armoured Brigade making for Tauorga. This message was not received by the GOC until the early hours of 14 January. He met the corps commander and the Commander of 7 Armoured Division (Major-General Harding) early next morning and discussed this new possibility; but later air reconnaissance showed that there was a steady movement of enemy transport to the north-west, while that in the forward area had lessened. The need for this new left hook thus diminished.
The armoured fighting vehicles, including the Greys, rejoined the Division during the 14th from a laager near Wadi Tamet airfield, and 150 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA, and the Flash Spotting Troop of 36 Survey Battery also joined, completing the troops under command.
In view of the nature of the going and because of the congestion of vehicles, the GOC again decided to carry out part of the next advance (Stage I of the operation order) by daylight. Divisional Cavalry, starting therefore at 3 p.m. instead of 7 p.m., moved as far as Bir ez Ziden (just west of Wadi Bei el Chebir), halted there for the evening meal, moved again at 6 p.m. (by which time it was dark), and finally laagered on the divisional axis four miles east of the Bu Ngem track. Other formations ‘followed at first in open order, but closed up at nightfall into night order for the last part of the move. Stage I, a distance of about 20 miles, thus had been completed without incident. The Division now extended from the Divisional Cavalry laager as far back as Bir ez Ziden, in the order of Divisional Cavalry, 6 Infantry Brigade Group, page 95 Headquarters 2 NZ Division, Reserve Group, 5 Infantry Brigade Group, and Administrative Group.
By this evening (14 January) all formations of Eighth Army were in position: 51 (H) Division with its three brigades between Wadi Bei el Chebir and Wadi el Uesc-ca and 7 Armoured Division (4 Light Armoured Brigade, 8 Armoured Brigade, 131 Infantry Brigade) in the area immediately north of 2 NZ Division. The Army Commander's final instructions for the operation imposed a measure of caution on the outflanking column, as he wished to avoid casualties to tanks, in the belief that the enemy still had some 200 anti-tank guns and twenty-five of the hated 88-millimetre guns. On 12 January he issued a personal message to all troops:
The leading units of Eighth Army are now only about 200 miles from Tripoli. The enemy is between us and that port, hoping to hold us off.
THE EIGHTH ARMY IS GOING TO TRIPOLI.
Tripoli is the only town in the Italian Empire overseas still remaining in their possession. Therefore we will take it from them; they will then have no overseas Empire.
The enemy will try to stop us. But if each one of us whether front-line soldier, or officer or man whose duty is performed in some other sphere, puts his whole heart and soul into this next contest—then nothing can stop us.
Nothing has stopped us since the battle of Egypt began on 23rd October 1942. Nothing will stop us now.
Some must stay back to begin with, but we will all be in the hunt eventually.
ON TO TRIPOLI!
Our families and friends in the home country will be thrilled when they hear we have captured that place.
B. L. Montgomery, General
GOC-in-C, Eighth Army
1 A sortie is an operational flight by one aircraft.