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Episodes & Studies Volume 2


WHEN two platoons from B Company, 28 Battalion, had moved forward to the road, 10 Platoon had remained in a wadi at the foot of Takrouna. There were twelve men only, under Sergeant Rogers, now in command of the platoon, and Lance-Sergeant H. Manahi.40 These two decided that their small force should be divided into two parties. Rogers would take one party up the south-east side of Takrouna, while Manahi worked round the front to attack up the south-west side. The two parties hoped to meet at the top, when further plans would be made to fit the circumstances. Just before a start was made, Captain S. F. Catchpole,41 forward observation officer from 5 Field Regiment, appeared with Sergeant W. J. Smith,42 a stray from 23 Battalion. Smith attached himself to Rogers' party, a very valuable addition. Catchpole encouraged the Maoris to carry on and set to work to establish communications with his headquarters.

At dawn the two parties started their attack. Enemy fire of all types was still heavy, and a hail of mortar bombs sent the men running for shelter from rock to rock. But they ran forward and were soon among enemy positions. Rogers' party got to work with rifles, while Smith and Private K. Aranui43 gained a ledge overlooking the trenches. More men from both parties were soon battling at close quarters against Italians in deep fighting pits, protected by screens of barbed wire hung with rattlers and other warning devices. Hand grenades, Bren guns, and bayonets were used and several weapon pits were silenced in turn. Some men broke right through, and from half-way up the hill soon convinced the enemy that they now had the upper hand. White flags appeared in quick succession from the defences circling the base of Takrouna, and 60 Italian prisoners were rounded up by Private H. Grant.44

Manahi took three men up a bare ridge that ended abruptly at a sheer rock face topped by stone buildings—the ledge. There was no opposition, a strange fact soon explained by Smith and Aranui. These two had already reached the rock face, up which they scrambled with the aid of a cluster of telephone cables running to the now surrendered enemy positions below. They were confronted by a high stone wall. The cables again proved useful, and the two looked down into a small courtyard where a solitary German soldier operated a wireless set. Aranui leapt down and took him prisoner, and while he was being sent off down the hill an officer called out in English, offering to surrender, from a room opening off the courtyard. He was an artillery observation officer and had been observing from a window that covered the whole divisional front.

There followed one of those strange interludes of war. The officer surrendered to Smith, they smoked together, and the officer went off into captivity. More of the attackers arrived, and the whole area was explored. The men were on a narrow rock ledge, almost covered by a row of stone buildings. Smith saw an Italian ducking through the buildings and gave chase. The Italian eluded him, but Smith carried on up a flight of rough-hewn steps to find himself on the pinnacle. The steps had led up one of four rock faces enclosing an uneven platform from which rose stone buildings in a haphazard maze. Paths zigzagged through the buildings. Smith went through to the north side and saw, immediately below him, an untidy huddle of houses—the village of Takrouna.

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Neither on ledge or pinnacle had there been any enemy interference; they had evidently relied on the defences at the foot of Takrouna and on the garrison in the village, for here Italian soldiers were moving round with apparent unconcern—until some shots from Smith scattered them.

Meanwhile Rogers and Manahi had decided that the best method of defending the pinnacle and ledge, for they expected an immediate counter-attack, would be to bar all access from the village. They blocked with a boulder the mouth of a tunnel bored through the rock to the bottom of the face enclosing the pinnacle, and Manahi himself occupied an Italian weapon pit overlooking the flight of crude stone steps that gave on to the path connecting pinnacle with ledge, continuing on below the rock face on the west side of the pinnacle to the village. Other Maoris, together with some stragglers from 23 Battalion whom Manahi called up the hill, were placed in various vantage points covering the village itself and a steep wadi on the west side. By now it was mid-morning on 20 April.

access to the ledge was difficult

access to the ledge was difficult