2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
Suani Ben Adem
Dawn on 23 January, eagerly awaited, disclosed a quiet front with no sign of enemy. The Cavalry reconnoitred towards Azizia and soon found it to be unoccupied. The Shermans of the Greys followed impressively and the Divisional transport streamed after them along a good road. After days of crawling along in bottom gear with engines roaring it seemed like a dream. Passing the white buildings of Azizia the troops saw that Arabs had already taken advantage of the absence of their former masters and had carried out a thorough looting of property, while the few remaining Italians gazed apprehensively at what seemed to them a huge display of military power.
The road beyond Azizia headed straight for Tripoli, but the Division did not go more than halfway to that long-dreamt-of city and did not share the triumph of actually capturing it. British armour was already cutting across the front of the Division to continue the pursuit of the enemy and had already reached the dilapidated village of Suani Ben Adem, where the New Zealand Artillery units halted.
The CRA's tactical headquarters kept off the road until late afternoon and then drove for 25 miles to within a mile of Suani Ben Adem. About 100 yards west of the road Brigadier Weir established his headquarters in a lucerne paddock surrounded by tall trees, and in due course all regiments concentrated in the neighbourhood under his command. It was a region of flea-infested paddocks, ploughed fields, and many water-wells which harboured millions of mosquitoes. Next morning many badly-bitten gunners consulted their quartermasters and made their first acquaintance with DDT powder. RHQ of the 7th Anti-Tank, however, had no complaints. It parked in a ‘well sheltered orange grove … a delightful spot after the desert’, according to the war diary. And RHQ of the 14th Light Ack-Ack had an ‘Excellent area in grounds of a private house’. The 5th Field parked among trees near the village: in the long advance from the Gulf of Sirte this regiment had not once deployed its guns. The 6th Field stayed overnight with 6 Brigade and did not reach the concentration area until the 24th.
Maintenance of guns and vehicles was now the first consideration and the next was to build up supplies by land and sea to enable the New Zealanders and the Highland Division to join the pursuit of the enemy towards Tunis. The resources ofpage 462
Eighth Army were badly overstretched and a stay of several weeks in the Tripoli area was to be expected. A faint possibility existed that the enemy might make some sort of riposte, and C Troop of 31 Anti-Tank Battery and H Troop of 32 Battery therefore reinforced road-blocks set up by 5 Brigade on the south-western approaches to Tripoli. The 6th Field and 33 and 43 Batteries had to move to the area of the town of Bianchi, some 20 miles south-west of Tripoli, on the 25th and there they again came under the command of 6 Brigade. These rearrangements, however, were only temporary and by 2 February these guns returned to the Suani Ben Adem area.
The survey troop of 36 Survey Battery, now called X Troop, carried out astro-fix training in the evening of the 24th. Next day it was joined by S (Flash-Spotting) Troop under Captain Allison.24 This troop had left Almaza on 3 January and had travelled by road until the middle of the month, then, after some trouble, had caught up with the administrative tail of the Division. Battery Headquarters, leaving Almaza on the 21st, had a much quicker journey, travelling by road through Benghazi and Tripoli and joining S and X Troops at Suani Ben Adem on the 30th—1500 miles in 10 days. R (Sound-Ranging) Troop stayed at Almaza to complete its training.
Except for the sound-ranging troop of the Survey Battery, therefore, by the end of January the whole of the Divisional Artillery was for the first time concentrated in one area under the CRA's command. Gunners—and particularly gunner-officers, most of whom had served in more than one unit—took advantage of this unique situation to visit friends in other units. There was much reminiscing, often aided by plentiful supplies of Tripoli ‘plonk’, usually a raw purple wine. A 4th Field party visiting the 7th Anti-Tank found that it was being served with wine direct from the 200-gallon tank on the water truck. By the end of the month leave to Tripoli began.