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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Crossing Cyrenaica

Crossing Cyrenaica

The route, after negotiating minefields in the Sidi Azeiz area, was along the Trigh Capuzzo, and for those who had served in the winter battles it was heavy with memories. The 4th Field had lunch opposite the ‘mosque’ of Sidi Rezegh and very close to the ground on which they had fought desperately against 15 Panzer Division on 1 December 1941. The 6th Field veterans felt many a pang as they drove past their fateful battleground of that same day and then camped for the night at El Adem. But much had happened in the intervening year and now they were part of a triumphant army which had finally turned the tables on a stubborn foe. The airfield at El Adem was packed with aircraft—Douglas and Lockheed transports, many Wellingtons, and some four-engined bombers. Beyond it the columns of vehicles turned inland and drove over smooth desert. Then came the grim battlefields of Knightsbridge and Bir Hacheim, intensely interesting to veterans and newcomers alike. None had seen them before and all were much moved by the defiles through endless minefields, the burnt-out vehicles, the hosts of derelict tanks (mostly Grants), and the graveyards, one of them marked by two large crosses and an old artillery piece in memory of Italian gunner officers buried there. It was a chastening experience.

The desert continued in its usual variety: patches of rough rock, soft sandy stretches, scrubland with myriads of little mounds, and vast gravel wastes. The route took the dusty lorries ever farther inland, away from earlier battlegrounds. For the 7th Anti-Tank (less the two detached batteries), however, the monotony was broken in the afternoon of 7 December when, by some misunderstanding connected with the temporary absence of the CO, the three columns of lorries, jeeps and other vehicles began to increase speed, the leaders each trying to keep abreast of the others. Each thought that one of the other two was officially setting the pace and the competition soon had page 439 the columns racing over rough desert at a bone-jolting and spring-shattering rate. The crews of portées were riding their 3-ton lorries like bucking broncos. Then reason prevailed and the columns slowed down to something like the proper eight miles in the hour.

North of Saunnu on the 8th the going deteriorated badly, but Artillery Headquarters nevertheless reached its immediate destination north of El Haseiat by evening and the remainder of the artillery arrived next day. It was a sullen region of open, rolling desert with very sparse vegetation and a liberal sprinkling of sharp rocks, damaging to tyres. The gunners settled down for two or three days of much-needed maintenance of guns and vehicles while high-level discussions and planning went on ceaselessly. The rocks were soon found to harbour countless scorpions and a gunner who struck a match while lying down at night in his ‘bivvy’ was apt to find two or three of them on the underside of the canvas only inches from his face.