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Bardia to Enfidaville

The Remainder of the Division

The Remainder of the Division

Divisional Headquarters arrived at midday on 2 March and was established just east of Medenine, north of the road to Ben Gardane. The 4th Field Regiment arrived two hours later and was at once deployed. The commander of 6 Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Gentry) and the commanding officers of 6 Field Regiment and the three battalions met the GOC late in the afternoon and inspected the position the brigade was to occupy north-east of Medenine in second line. The GOC was not entirely satisfied with this position and would have preferred it to be south of the Ben Gardane road and so better placed to support 5 Brigade. Discussions went on for the next few days, the point at issue being that the GOC wanted 6 Brigade in closer support of 5 Brigade, while both the Army and the Corps Commanders wanted it placed behind the northern sector of the front as Army Intelligence forecast an enemy attack along the coast. The position in the end was a compromise, not so far north as Army wanted, nor so far south as Freyberg would have liked.

The brigade arrived in its new area at intervals between 6.30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on 3 March, and the battalions occupied positions already reconnoitred, all some two miles north-east of Medenine across the road to Bou Ghrara. The 26th Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel D. J. Fountaine) was on the right (north) just east of the Bou Ghrara road, and faced north-east. The 24th Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel J. Conolly) was west of the road and faced west, while 25 Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel T. B. Morten1) was also west of the road south of 24 Battalion and facing west and

1 Lt-Col T. B. Morten, DSO; Little River; born Christchurch, 30 Sep 1913; shepherd; CO 25 Bn Jan 1943–Feb 1944; wounded 15 Jul 1942.

page 143 south. The area was thus organised for all-round defence and was supported by 6 Field Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Walter1) deployed farther back. Anti-tank guns were sited with interlocking fields of fire.

The way in which 6 Brigade's area had been organised was, as directed by 30 Corps, to form a strongpoint should the enemy break through; but at the same time to support 5 Brigade or other parts of the line and even to counter-attack any enemy penetration. The task was thus a fluid one, with emphasis on a ‘back-stop'role. For that role the brigade was well-prepared; but for a counter-attack role armoured support was needed. Brigadier Gentry has said since that the discussion about his possible roles were rather ‘airy-fairy’, but adds, ‘I am quite clear that our primary role was to defend our own piece of ground against attack from the flanks or rear after German penetration, and that any attack by us against that penetration would have required a properly laid-on plan with tanks and artillery support.’2

On 3 March 6 Brigade formed a small mobile force of 31 Anti-Tank Battery and 3 Machine-Gun Company, under Major Nicholson3 of 31 Battery, which was to be ready to go to either flank of 25 Battalion as required. Positions were dug in readiness. (Both these sub-units were additional to the normal allocation to the brigade.) A composite Bren-gun platoon was then formed by 8 Field Company and placed on the left flank of 25 Battalion, so committing these engineers to a fighting role if required.

The CRA had all his regiments linked up on a common communications system which even included the anti-aircraft guns on Hazbub airfield, briefed for possible anti-tank duties. Full use was made of the survey troop of 36 Survey Battery and for the first time the flash-spotting troop was deployed, setting up a base on high ground round Metameur and Point 270. The Divisional Artillery was also linked with that of 7 Armoured Division, 51 (H) Division and 5 Army Group Royal Artillery,4 with the result that the whole front was covered by a network of interlocking zones of fire.

During 3 March the remaining units of the Division arrived in their new area, the NZASC companies carrying four days' rations and 350 miles of petrol for the whole Division. Units were ordered to replenish daily, and to maintain their petrol supplies at 350 miles—for the shadow of PUGILIST was always in the background.

1 Lt-Col C. L. Walter, DSO, ED; Hamilton; born Christchurch, 10 Dec 1902; electical engineer; CO 6 Fd Regt Dec 1941–Nov 1943.

2 Letter to the author, 23 Jan 1958.

3 Lt-Col S. W. Nicholson, DSO, ED, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 22 Feb 1914; customs agent; CO 5 Fd Regt Oct–Nov 1944; 7 A–Tk Regt Dec 1944–Mar 1945; 6 Fd Regt Mar–May 1945.

4 AGRA comprised 7, 64 and 69 Medium Regts, RA, and 4 (Durham) Survey Regiment.