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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Major Sawyers recaptures a Dozen Tanks

Major Sawyers recaptures a Dozen Tanks

The Bofors guns of 43 Battery and the 18-pounders of M Troop, according to the records, did not fire this day, being reserved for the defence of the mass of 6 Brigade vehicles, and 48 Field Battery did little, though its commander, Major Sawyers, was extremely active. The restless energy of Sawyers took him on a journey of exploration of the huge concentration of derelicts to the south-west soon after 6 Brigade halted. Several enemy detachments were still working among the tanks there, many of which required only fuel to make them serviceable. Sawyers soon discovered that 18 tanks, 12 of them almost page 209 ready to drive off, and many other vehicles in similar condition, had been assembled by a small party of enemy. He promptly called for fire from his D Troop, bracketed the tanks, and boldly led his OP party forward, spraying the enemy with small-arms fire. The enemy, had they not panicked, might easily have repulsed this sortie. Some of them were inside tanks and could have brought them into action. But Sawyers' nerve was too much for them and the action ended after a few minutes with the surrender of some 50 Germans and the recapture of the vehicles. The 12 serviceable tanks were driven into the 6 Brigade area and later repossessed by British tank men. This success was important; for the enemy was quick to convert captured tanks to his own use and an increment of a dozen or more tanks to his strength at a time when British tank strength was dangerously low would have had far-reaching consequences.

The only other recorded action of 48 Battery this day was just before dusk, when half a dozen enemy tanks drove from the east straight for 6 Brigade. They evidently expected a friendly reception, but they soon learned better. C Troop had been moving with the rest of the brigade group towards Point 175 and was still in column of route with its guns hooked on. The gunners leapt into action and an AP shot set the leading tank on fire. The remainder at once veered off. One field gun fired about a dozen rounds before they disappeared. Shortly afterwards another enemy group of tanks and lorried infantry appeared to the south and the gunners prepared to engage it; but it was lost in a fold of the ground and did not reappear. A third group, also approaching from the south, caused anxious moments until it was identified as 12 tanks of 4 Armoured Brigade and was then warmly welcomed. After dark Weir of the 6th Field, McKay of 33 Anti-Tank Battery, and Bretherton31 of 43 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery arranged for the anti-tank defence of the brigade group, which in the light of the latest Intelligence seemed to be a matter of the greatest importance. The British armour had been defeated and it seemed highly likely that next day the enemy armour would exert its full weight against the isolated New Zealand brigade. The outlook was uncertain in the extreme.

31 Maj J. A. Bretherton, ED; Christchurch; born Wellington, 2 Jun 1911; barrister and solicitor; CO 15 Comp AA Regt, RNZA, 1948–55 (Lt-Col).