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Bardia to Enfidaville

Plans for Operation fire-eater

Plans for Operation fire-eater

On 28 December Montgomery issued his plans for FIRE-EATER, the operation to capture Tripoli. The object was ‘to destroy the enemy now opposing Eighth Army in the Buerat position, and to ensure the port of Tripoli as a base for further operations'. Different tactical plans were prepared in case the enemy should evacuate the position before Eighth Army reached it (codename GAME), or in case he thinned out and left only rearguards (SET), or in case he stood and fought (MATCH).

Thirtieth Corps issued a series of operation instructions for the offensive, of which the first dealt with the approach march to Wadi Bei el Chebir. Orders were issued on 5 January for the action to be taken in the event of GAME, SET, or MATCH; and when it was known that the enemy was indeed thinning out, slightly more detailed orders were issued on the 7th for SET only. These said that 2 NZ Division would have under command:

Royal Scots Greys (Lieutenant-Colonel A. G. J. Readman), with 25 Shermans, 4 Grants and 20 Stuarts

211 Medium Battery, RA

One battery 42 Light AA Regt, RA

94 Heavy AA Regt, RA

One troop of Scorpions (which in the outcome were not accepted and not taken)

Before ‘D’ day the divisions would move forward, prepared to go straight into battle without any pause to square up or reorganise. The start line and bounds were the same for 2 NZ and 7 Armoured Divisions. The former depended on the distance which 7 Armoured Division had advanced its patrol line (4 Light Armoured Brigade) before the operation commenced, and in the event was roughly the line of the road from Gheddahia to Bu Ngem. The corps axis of advance was SedadaBeni UlidTarhunaTripoli, with bounds at the crossing of Wadi Zemzem and at each of the above places.

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No inter-divisional boundary was laid down between 7 Armoured and 2 NZ Divisions, but they were to move on the right and left respectively of the corps axis of advance and cross the start line at dawn on 15 January; thereafter the speed of advance was to be as great as possible, with 2 NZ Division proceeding straight to Sedada and capturing it. The armoured division would then pass through and seize Tarhuna, while 2 NZ Division cleared the route from Sedada to Beni Ulid. The 4th Light Armoured Brigade was to cover the corps front but had considerable freedom of movement. If strong enemy forces were met, it was to swing to the west and make for Tripoli by any way it could.

A detachment from 239 Wing, RAF, using some 175 vehicles, would move with 2 NZ Division; in conjunction with a reconnaissance party accompanying 7 Armoured Division, it was to establish fighter landing grounds at Sedada and Bir Dufan, 30 miles farther north, in order to keep fighter cover in step with the advance, for by the time formations reached Sedada and beyond they would be out of range of the fighters operating from existing landing grounds. The New Zealand Division was allotted three wireless tentacles for communication with the air force, one of whose tasks it was to maintain air supremacy over the flanking column and give close support if required.

For the action to be taken on reaching Tripoli special instructions were issued. Naturally these made broad assumptions about the actual arrival at the gates of Tripoli, and one of these was that the leading infantry brigade would come from 2 NZ Division. This brigade was to determine sectors, allot each sector to a unit, establish guards on vital points, maintain law and order and so on. Sufficient copies of this particular corps order were distributed for each brigade, battalion and armoured regiment commander, so that all were aware of the general scheme.