Bardia to Enfidaville
17 January—across Wadi Sofeggin
17 January—across Wadi Sofeggin
In the evening of 16 January Montgomery cancelled the caveat he had imposed and ordered the advance to proceed with great resolution and the utmost speed, for he was already a little concerned with the rate of progress. Despite 7 Armoured and 2 NZ Divisions' efforts the total advance in two days was not more than 50 miles, which was not enough. Montgomery now wanted to intensify the threat to Tripoli from the flanking column to cause the enemy to thin out in the Homs area, where demolitions along the road promised to be a serious deterrent to the advance there. He then intended to drive hard from his eastern flank once the enemy had drawn away.
During 17 January 51 (H) Division made fairly good progress northwards along the main road and reached Gioda, with little opposition from troops but much from mines, craters and demolished bridges. The Army Reserve, 22 Armoured Brigade, moved forward to about halfway between Tauorga and Sedada.
A landing ground at Wadi el Breg was completed during the day by 7 Armoured Division and was occupied almost at once by the Desert Air Force. The endless stream of transport aircraft bringing supplies reminded some of the veterans in 2 NZ Division of the similar—but how different—picture of German aircraft streaming on to the airfield at Maleme in Crete. Times had changed. The RAF column which had been moving with 2 NZ Division went to this landing ground, which presumably replaced the one intended for Sedada. One heavy and one light anti-aircraft battery were detached from the Division for protective duties there, and rejoined it in the morning of the 18th.
The Division advanced again about 7.30 a.m. and Sedada was soon reported clear; but the advance of the main column was delayed by minefields in Wadi Nfed, both real and dummy, which obstructed the only good track. Engineers from 7 and 8 Field Companies cleared the mines and improved an alternative track; page 101 but even then the going was rough and dusty, and movement was in single column. The engineers had their inevitable casualties from mines, but got some satisfaction from destroying a little stock of captured enemy tanks and guns. There were signs at Sedada of a hasty withdrawal, for several small minefields had not been finished, with mines still lying alongside the holes dug for them.
During the day 7 Armoured Division converged on to 2 NZ Division's line of advance, owing to the bottleneck across Wadi Nfed. Once during the morning the GOC adjusted the axis to give 7 Armoured Division more space; but shortly after 1 p.m. 7 Armoured Division cut across the Division's axis and separated the leading groups from the rest. The break came in the 6 Brigade column just south of Sedada, with the result that only 24 Battalion was in touch with the armour and artillery. The mix-up was referred to 30 Corps, which ruled that 7 Armoured Division must have priority. The rear portion of 6 Brigade Group and all groups behind it therefore had to halt until the armour passed through, for at the best there were only three good tracks. This caused 2 NZ Division to fall behind 7 Armoured Division, a position it could not retrieve for several days.
The advance of the leading groups continued steadily past Tmed el Chatua, across Wadi Sofeggin and on towards Wadi el Merdum. Odd prisoners were collected, including a party of three Italians who came out of hiding and surrendered. In the late afternoon enemy aircraft again made several attacks, causing casualties in Divisional Cavalry and in the artillery numbering six killed and eight wounded.
At Wadi el Merdum the axis of advance turned westwards towards Beni Ulid. By 5.30 p.m. leading patrols had passed Bir Gebira, and when a halt was called the day's advance was between 40 and 50 miles. Divisional Cavalry and the Greys laagered just west of Bir Gebira, with 24 Battalion, the only infantry unit available, providing protection. The rest of 6 Brigade did not arrive until almost 10 p.m.
A special plan had to be made to bring the remaining groups forward. Provost Company used 400 lamps to light the route for 40 miles. The three groups concerned, Divisional Headquarters, Reserve Group, and 5 Infantry Brigade, set off about 7 p.m. and did not complete the move until after midnight.
On the left of 2 NZ Division patrols of 4 Light Armoured Brigade were ten miles south of Beni Ulid. On the right 8 Armoured Brigade of 7 Armoured Division crossed the Bir Dufan – Beni Ulid road and advanced another ten miles to the west, a notable penetration.