Bardia to Enfidaville
5 Infantry Brigade Group and 4 Light Armoured Brigade in Position
5 Infantry Brigade Group and 4 Light Armoured Brigade in Position
In the 30 Corps area 51 (H) Division was already in position north of the Medenine–Mareth road with its left flank at Kef Ahmed ben Abdullah, and its line running thence to the northeast; and 7 Armoured Division occupied from Kef Ahmed southeastwards parallel to the Mareth road, including the prominent feature Tadjera Kbir, the peak of which was known as Point 270. The New Zealand Division was to go into position on the left (south) of 7 Armoured Division, the northerly limit being about one mile south of the road from Metameur to Toujane, and the sector stretching south and east for some 13,000 yards, facing west and then south. The line was in an arc about four miles from Medenine. The Division was to have under command 4 Light Armoured Brigade (which now included the Free French Flying Column), and 73 Anti-Tank Regiment, RA. Fifth Brigade Group was to occupy the sector described above, with 6 Brigade in reserve and 4 Light Armoured Brigade protecting the open flank in the south.
The ground for some ten miles in advance of Medenine was a gently rising plain, broken by numerous dry wadi beds, and bounded on the west and south by a range of hills, from which the enemy would presumably debouch.
At 8.30 a.m. on 2 March the 5 Brigade orders group made contact with 1 Buffs (from 7 Armoured Division), which was occupying part of the area now to be taken over, and made a page 138 page 139 quick reconnaissance of the area, the brigade commander deciding forward defended localities (FDLs) and inter-battalion boundaries. By midday the GOC had arrived, the position was further discussed, and final arrangements for the brigade approved. Commanding officers then made their detailed reconnaissances, and in the afternoon met the battalions as they arrived and guided them to their positions. The 21st and 23rd Battalions were deployed shortly after dark, although the final location of posts was left until daylight; 28 Battalion did not arrive until late, and moved forward into its sector early in the morning of 3 March.
The 28th (Maori) Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel C. M. Bennett) was on the right facing south of west, with its line running from the boundary with 7 Armoured Division, across the tracks from Metameur to Ksar el Hallouf and from Medenine to Ksar el Hallouf, with three companies forward and one in reserve. At a later date (4 March) 28 Battalion relieved the left company of page 140 201 Guards Brigade, the next formation to the north, thus extending the battalion frontage to 5500 yards. One platoon of 4 Machine-Gun Company was sent to the battalion to help occupy this extension.
The 23rd Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel R. E. Romans) was astride the road from Medenine to Ksar Krerachefa with its left on the road to Foum Tatahouine. One company on the right faced south-west. The other three were then in the line facing south.
When 28 Battalion had taken over the additional front, the total brigade frontage was some 14,000 yards, and the troops were rather thin on the ground. But to add strength in addition to the normal allocation of one anti-tank battery from 7 Anti-Tank Regiment, 5 Brigade was allotted three anti-tank batteries from 73 Regiment, RA, which were already deployed. One of these batteries was allotted to each battalion. On the morning of 4 March the new 17-pounder anti-tank guns just issued to 7 Anti-Tank Regiment arrived, and of these seven were placed in support of 5 Brigade, sited in depth across the front. This gave the brigade greater anti-tank strength than ever before. The normal artillery support coming from 5 Field Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Glasgow1) was augmented by support from 4 Field Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart2), although the latter was intended to give support also to 201 Guards Brigade.3 But in case of need even further artillery could be called upon.
All three battalions were in initial—sometimes provisional—positions by first light on 3 March and were patrolling to their fronts shortly thereafter. The situation was firm enough for General Freyberg to report to Corps Headquarters about 2 p.m. that both 5 and 6 Brigades were in position and ready for action. The 1st Buffs, which had been temporarily holding the line, then returned to 7 Armoured Division.
Behind the left of 23 Battalion was an airfield known as Hazbub. A battalion of the RAF Regiment and a light anti-aircraft regiment protected this airfield, together with some armoured cars and a battalion of French troops. There was some liaison with 5 Brigade, mainly to the extent that the ground troops were known to be available on the left flank if required; and the CRA was in touch with the anti-aircraft regiment.
Brigadier Kippenberger described the 5 Brigade position.1 He says: ‘Each battalion position had a depth of about a mile… and six-pounders [anti-tank guns] echeloned in depth. The men were dug into single rifle pits seven or eight yards apart so that each section was on a front of about sixty yards and no amount of shelling would do much harm. The greatest possible emphasis was placed on concealment—I preached that a post spotted is a post destroyed, and hardly one was visible from any distance in front…. All weapons had orders to hold fire until decisive range. We always thought this Medenine position was our masterpiece in the art of laying out a defensive position under desert conditions.’ And that this was so is borne out by the fact that after the battle the Corps Commander sent senior officers from all formations in the Corps to look at it.
In the evening of 4 March the brigade commander issued instructions that dummy minefields were to be laid on each battalion front. If necessary 8 Armoured Brigade from 7 Armoured Division would make a counter-attack through 5 Brigade, in which case live mines would be an encumbrance.2
The 7th Field Company started marking the fields at 8 p.m. on 4 March and finished by midnight, by which time there were some 1000 yards of dummy field on the front of 28 Battalion, 1500 yards on 21 Battalion front, and 1700 yards on that of 23 Battalion. Particular attention was paid to a deep wadi on the front of 28 Battalion, and the field was so arranged as to ‘canalise’ advancing tanks to come out on to higher ground. Live mines were placed each night as blocks across the roads leading into the position, and were removed each morning.
The brigade group had made its final adjustments by daylight on 5 March. All battalions had patrols well forward, and 23 Battalion sent out a standing patrol eight miles to the south-west. The Royals of 4 Light Armoured Brigade were continuously on patrol farther out across the whole brigade front. They kept touch with Brigade Headquarters, and withdrew their armoured car screen behind the FDLs each night.
2 A dummy minefield was marked by the same single strand of wire as a live field; but no containers were laid, nor was there any simulation of real mines.
The 4th Light Armoured Brigade deployed concurrently with 5 Brigade. In addition to its armoured car regiments and supporting arms, it had under command the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry, Staffordshire Yeomanry (Sherman tanks), and the Free French Flying Column. The role of the Royals has been given. Staffs Yeomanry was concentrated behind the left flank of 5 Brigade, and Divisional Cavalry was in the same area. The 2nd Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps, with one squadron of King's Dragoon Guards, and with field, anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery support and a field squadron of Royal Engineers, was to hold Haddada, 20 miles south-west of Medenine, and was to give warning of any wide enemy outflanking move. The FFF Column filled the gap to the north between 2 KRRC and the Royals, and was also to watch for enemy movement across the plain to Medenine.