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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Lobs and Others on the Coast Route

Lobs and Others on the Coast Route

The LOB party and A (Survey) Troop of 36 Battery had meanwhile been travelling along the coast road. From the Haseiat area it had driven past huge RAF and American Army Air Force installations to a bivouac near the poor town of Agedabia. There the gunners awaited news of the operations to open the Agheila bottleneck, and in due course were ordered to rejoin the Division by way of the coast road. They drove past the salt marshes which gave the position its strength. Mines and booby traps were everywhere and in one flat stretch of desert the wind had uncovered dozens of rows of Teller mines in geometric patterns. Traffic on the road was extremely heavy as they approached Marble Arch, a huge marble landmark visible for many miles. Gingerly they helped themselves to rations from a deserted German dump. New Zealand sappers were still busy clearing mines from the landing ground at Merduma as the gunners passed. They reached Divisional Headquarters on 21 December, Captain Robinson reported to the CRA, and the LOB personnel returned to their units. (The CRA also welcomed this day the Topographical Section of 46 South African Survey Company.)

A more adventurous journey was that of a detachment of four men, Bombardier Gauntlett13 and three others of the 5th Field. They had been travelling in the truck Q5 of 28 Battery on 13 December when it blew a gasket. Help was promised, but it did not come: instead they were joined by two gunners of the 14th Light Ack-Ack whose truck was disabled nearby. Next day they removed the ‘head’ of the engine and found it was badly cracked. An English soldier then arrived. His truck, too, had broken down, and when they inspected it they found it was beyond repair and its parts were not interchangeable with their own. But they did find a tin of shellac and with this tried to seal the crack, waiting overnight for it to dry.

Next morning they started their motor, but again it failed. They then set out, one man towards each of the four cardinal points of the compass, and a fifth remaining with Q5 and firing flares at hourly intervals to help them maintain direction. page 449 Gauntlett found a Chevrolet with a faulty gearbox three miles away and returned to Q5 to await the other three. In the afternoon they were joined by two jeep-loads of Special Air Service troops, who stayed the night and were convivial, but otherwise unhelpful.

On the 16th the six men removed the gearbox from Q5 and carried it to the abandoned Chevrolet. There they worked on into the night by the light of a trouble lamp to effect a changeover. In so doing they discovered that the clutch, clutch housing and flywheel were also defective, and next day they returned to Q5 to get these parts. All were in due course transferred, and two hours after dark on the 17th they finally got it working. Then there was trouble with the fan belt. By this time they were desperately short of water and rations were low. Gauntlett, trying to fire a Very pistol to attract the attention of a passing vehicle, suffered a painful burn to his hand. The vehicle did not stop.

Early on the 19th they set off, trying at first to tow the disabled ack-ack truck; but this proved too great a strain. The radiator of another derelict provided five gallons of water and from this they gladly made tea. The party eventually reached the coast road, drove past Marsa Brega on the 21st, and reached the 14th Light Ack-Ack lines on the 23rd. There the 5th Field men were hospitably received, and it was 10.30 a.m. on Christmas Eve when they reached their own lines.

13 Bdr S. K. Gauntlett; Waitemata; born Eltham, England, 1 Apr 1912; motor driver.