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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

The End of the Alamein Line

The End of the Alamein Line

The morning of 4 November disclosed an enemy who was evidently defeated. Nobody now contested Freyberg's opinion that the battle had been won. As early as 7 a.m. the 4th Field, hitherto ‘in support of’ 9 Armoured Brigade, was placed ‘under command’ for the purpose of the pursuit, while the 5th Field came under 5 Brigade and the 6th under 6 Brigade for the same reason. Divisional control of the field guns would no longer be possible until a pitched battle was called for. In the case of the 5th Field this meant sending a liaison officer far page 416 to the rear to link up with brigade headquarters. In the afternoon, when the enemy was in full flight, the regiments began to move into position with their respective brigades, in readiness to travel south-westwards for a few miles and then north-westwards to the escarpment at Fuka, well on the way to Baggush. Fatigue had been slowing the gunners' movements and dimming their vision; but it now left them as if by magic.

An NZA group left at noon, passed dozens of burnt-out tanks and other wreckage, and drove in a mass of transport along the Boomerang Track. Dust rose in immense clouds, so thick in places that it was almost like night driving. East of Tell el Aqqaqir there were several halts and many adjustments of position. When night fell the 6th Field was ‘considerably split up’; but most detachments found the lighted divisional track, the diamond track which they were to follow for many hundreds of miles along the North African littoral and on some memorable diversions inland. The journey became a succession of stops and starts. RHQ of the 14th Light Ack-Ack was told at 7.30 p.m. that it would rest until 11 p.m.; but it was 2 a.m. on 5 November before the column moved again and in the meantime most of the gunners slept.

The Division now had not only the sadly depleted 9 Armoured Brigade under its command, but 4 Light Armoured Brigade as well, and in the afternoon Brigadier Weir, in the company of General Freyberg, visited the newcomers. The CRA was pleased to have under his command 211 Battery of the 64th Medium, as well as the 3rd RHA which was part of the new brigade. He saw some action in the afternoon as this brigade, which was leading, overcame opposition. The 5th Brigade, however, had a heavy clash at 2.30 a.m. on the 5th with an enemy approaching from the rear. At the height of this the brigade group, in close formation, was swept by fierce machine-gun fire which caused many casualties. The 5th Field lost one killed and five wounded, while 32 Anti-Tank Battery had a bombardier and two gunners of H Troop wounded and several portées suffered punctured tyres or other damage.17 It was an unexpected and unpleasant incident.

The Division reassembled in the course of the journey and before dawn of 5 November it was again concentrated and continued the advance with 4 Light Armoured Brigade leading. page 417 The CRA travelled at the head of this brigade, saw it overcome several small centres of opposition and knock out seven tanks, and brought all his field regiments and the medium battery into action at noon against a gun line including 88s which was holding up the advance. The guns had barely begun to range on the enemy, however, before he moved off and the Division resumed its journey.

Before this the 4th Field had clashed with another enemy detachment and in the course of this Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart, forward in his Stuart tank, took 60 prisoners and captured two trucks, with the aid of two Shermans of 9 Armoured Brigade (which now had only one armoured regiment).

Two Me109Fs reconnoitred the area in the morning and later in the day two more came over and dropped a few bombs. They were engaged by 42 Battery and some infantry thought that two were shot down. But the 5th Field was again unlucky, having three men wounded. Later in the afternoon the New Zealand field guns silenced enemy opposition to the light armoured brigade as it traversed a minefield south of Fuka—a dummy minefield, as it happened. A fairly strong gun group, including 88s and 105s, had fired on the British tanks and also engaged the 5th Field guns when these deployed. It scored a direct hit on a 27 Battery gun, but this time the regiment was fortunate: it suffered no casualties. By the time the British tanks moved on, however, and the 5th Field looked round to find 5 Brigade and resume its place in the brigade columns, there was no sign of the infantry and the regiment bedded down for the night beyond the minefield.

17 Several detachments failed to link with their allotted formations and, not wanting to be left behind, joined in the march wherever they could. Thus 32 Battery was increased by a portée and crew of 34 Battery under Sergeant Cutbush and another anti-tank gun of the Sherwood Foresters.