Battle for Egypt
Appendix II — 22 BATTALION IN CAPTIVITY
22 BATTALION IN CAPTIVITY
The movements of 22 Battalion after it had been captured by the German 8th Panzer Regiment at Ruweisat on 15 July are as follows:
From the headquarters' area, the prisoners were marched hurriedly to the Alamein track and thence north to the vicinity of Deir el Dhib, where they were given a short rest and water which was badly tainted with petrol. On the way several men, although convinced that they would be shot if they fell out, collapsed through exhaustion. The enemy, however, picked them up and carried them forward in transport. At one stage, the Italian driver of a truck carrying wounded jumped out and took cover when a flight of British aircraft bombed a transport column a short distance away. The truck was running free until a New Zealander ran forward and brought it under control. His conduct earned the commendation of the German officer in command.
From Deir el Dhib the prisoners were taken, fifty in a truck, to an enclosure between Daba and Fuka. Here Captain R. R. T. Young, of 22 Battalion, escaped to make his way on foot to the British lines. Until this time the prisoners had been under the command of the Germans, but on the morning of 16 July, as one of them wrote in a letter home,
…the Germans said the war in the desert was Italy's war and the Italians would look after us. We all smiled when the Germans said this and the Germans smiled too. The German-Italian marriage was a strange one. …
The men were then taken by transport via camps at Matruh, Tobruk, and Derna to Benghazi, where the majority were held for some weeks in cramped and unhygienic conditions before being shipped to Italy.
At Derna, Mussolini inspected the New Zealand prisoners. According to Ciano, Mussolini had found groups of fierce-looking New Zealand prisoners ‘who were so far from reassuring that he always kept his gun close at hand.’1 The prisoners, however, have said that Mussolini, looking insignificant and dispirited, was given a sub-machine gun to hold while being photographed facing the prisoners, and that he quickly handed the gun back when the photographing was finished.page 386
Letters, conversations, and reports of the men of 22 Battalion reveal that surprise and bewilderment were the immediate reactions of most of those taken prisoner. They had entered the battle confident of success. Although some may have faced the possibility that, as individuals, they might become casualties, none had imagined that any battalion, let alone their own, could have been so simply and so easily isolated, subdued, and rounded up by the enemy. The end of the battle with the infantry helpless under the tanks was so unexpected to most of them that they did not have time even to think of escaping.
After the initial surprise, followed by humiliation and in some cases self-consciousness at finding themselves standing with hands up, disarmed, and no longer members of a disciplined, trained and ordered group, the majority of the men developed an anger which they directed vaguely at their officers, at the Army generally, and then more particularly at the British armour for its failure to provide the promised support.
1 Ciano's Diary, 1939–43 (Heinemann), p. 489.