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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery


page 437

WHILE the Division rested near Bardia the enemy retreated rapidly westwards across Cyrenaica. Eighth Army captured Benghazi on 20 November 1942 and a week later the German-Italian army had fallen back to the highly-defensible bottleneck at El Agheila between impassable salt marshes and the sea.

Not all the New Zealand units rested: the ack-ack gunners, as usual, were much in demand. Four-engined bombers attacked Halfaya Pass on 15 November and next day 41 Battery deployed B Troop to defend it and A Troop to guard Sollum Pass. Royal Air Force aircraft, including many low-flying freight planes, flew over frequently; but from then onwards enemy aircraft kept away. The Bofors gunners cleared their gun areas, dug in their bivouac tents, salvaged equipment from the neighbourhood (including a 6-pounder), and some of them fished successfully with sticks of gelignite in the Gulf of Sollum. The mornings were bitterly cold. Another call for ack-ack support came from the Acroma area south of Tobruk, where army supply and service units provided attractive targets for enemy aircraft, and 42 Battery moved there on the 25th.1

December started with a unique event: a Divisional Artillery route march, with small arms, packs and water bottles. The CRA led the way and looked much fresher at the end of the 17½ miles than many of his gunners. A dribble of reinforcements in the next day or two—21, for example, for the 4th Field—was not nearly enough to make up losses in LIGHTFOOT and SUPERCHARGE, and when the units moved off with their usual brigades2 on the 4th and 5th they were even weaker in numbers page 438 than they had been at the start of the Alamein offensive. For an advance that was expected to take them at least as far as Tripoli in a very short time this was a serious matter. Morale was nevertheless high. Mail and parcels from home had been plentiful at Bardia and the news of the landing of a British and American army in Algeria and Morocco and its subsequent fast progress towards Tunis was heartwarming. The tide was turning.

1 Lieutenant-Colonel Sprosen assumed command of the 14th Light Ack-Ack on 24 November, Bretherton reverting to his substantive rank of major to command the newly re-formed 25 Battery of the 4th Field. (Lieutenant-Colonel Glasgow replaced Sprosen in command of the 5th Field.)

The 14th Light Ack-Ack diary gives the following score of enemy aircraft for the month: 1 Ju87 for certain and another ‘probable’ on the 3rd; 2 Me109Fs on the 5th; 1 Me109F just east of Sidi Barrani on the 11th and another ‘probable’.

2 With 5 Brigade were the 5th Field, 32 Anti-Tank Battery, and from 6 December onwards 42 Light Ack-Ack Battery. With 6 Brigade were the 6th Field and 33 and 43 Batteries. Since 4 Brigade was back at Maadi training to become an armoured brigade, the rest of the artillery travelled with Divisional Headquarters as part of Divisional Group under the command of the CRA.