Bardia to Enfidaville
NZ Corps Moves Forward
NZ Corps Moves Forward
The moves to the staging area passed off without incident. From there to the assembly area there were some delays owing to the opening and closing of columns in the darkness and without headlights; but again Groups reached their areas in reasonable time. Vehicles were at once dispersed facing north in an attempt to reduce shadow and prevent reflection of sunlight from windscreens, and camouflage nets were spread. Troops were dug in. But none of these precautions could prevent an enemy reconnaissance aircraft flying over the area in the evening of 12 March, when 6 Brigade Group was already there. It was at an estimated height of 10,000 feet, and evoked much speculation. German air reconnaissance in fact failed to detect the assembly area until the 16th, and not positively until the 18th.
The NZASC Group arrived in the assembly area early on 14 March, dumped its second-line holdings and, with all available transport, moved to an Army Roadhead at Dehibat, 50 miles southeast of Wilder's Gap. Two RASC companies—one Petrol and one Ammunition—had already come under command to help in the formation of a Field Maintenance Centre1 at Bir Amir, just short of the Gap. On 17 March, NZASC was further augmented by three General Transport Companies and two Water Tank Companies from RASC, all to provide third-line transport for NZ page 163 Corps between the roadhead and the Field Maintenance Centre. Some water was found in a well at Bir Amir and was issued from 14 March onwards.
On 17 March Administrative Group arrived in the assembly area and the Corps' concentration was completed, formations being disposed along the axis over a distance of some six miles, with Divisional Cavalry in front, and Administrative Group in the rear. The Corps spent the time resting and training, the latter including short route marches during the early hours of darkness. The perimeter of the area was patrolled, and in the interests of security all troops on patrol were searched for documents before commencing duty. No contact was made with the enemy, but Arabs were troublesome, nearly a hundred lamps disappearing from the Corps axis. Roving patrols had to be used to check this.
PUGILIST was explained to all officers on 14 March, and later to NCOs and the rank and file. Some very good air photographs of the enemy defences at Tebaga Gap were issued and were examined and discussed, particularly by the artillery and by 6 Brigade Group, which was to be in the lead.
The French Group was instructed on 14 March to maintain patrols north and north-east of Ksar Rhilane to prevent enemy ground observation of the Corps' assembly. That there was some justification for this precaution was made evident on the night 15–16 March, when considerable movement of motor transport with headlights was seen immediately to the east of the El Outid feature. Again, on the morning of 16 March scattered vehicles were seen south-east of Ksar Tarcine.
A party of representatives from KDG, LRDG and 2 NZ Divisional Engineers left on 14 March to reconnoitre the going to the next staging area, some 25 miles farther on. Armoured cars from KDG provided protection. This reconnaissance was uneventful, but a party from 6 Field Company that ventured still farther ahead on 16 March to investigate the crossing of Wadi bel Krecheb (north-east of Ksar Rhilane) was unable to reach its objective owing to enemy fire from El Outid.
1 A supply depot established between an army roadhead and corps, or between a corps supply depot and a division.