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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

The CRA Fails to Clear Up High-level Misunderstandings

The CRA Fails to Clear Up High-level Misunderstandings

Brigadier Miles went on a vital mission to Tobruk at 8 p.m. to see the Corps Commander on Freyberg's behalf. Freyberg's orders were to hold the Corridor at all costs, and next day seemed likely to bring disaster unless these could be modified or further help provided. What Freyberg meant Miles to do is not quite clear: the GOC's report merely says that he was to ‘see the Corps Commander and give him the picture’. But evidence suggests Miles's mission was to get permission to withdraw behind or alongside the Tobruk garrison at Ed Duda: that page 268 is, to relinquish the New Zealand part of the Corridor. Miles reached Corps Headquarters soon after midnight—very quick time for a difficult journey—and gained verbal instructions confirmed later (too late to affect the issue) in writing. The Corps Commander wanted Freyberg to await the outcome of an attack by the South African brigade on Point 175 and then on Sidi Rezegh. If this were successful then the positions gained should be consolidated. If not, the Division should move to an area north of Ed Duda and Belhamed and continue to hold the latter. Freyberg was to use his own discretion about withdrawing from the Zaafran and Sciuearat areas.

This, at least, is how the written orders read. What Miles actually understood from the Corps Commander and told Freyberg cannot be known for sure. The alternatives offered, however, were unreal. By the time the outcome of the South African ‘attack’ was known it would have been too late to withdraw. No such attack in fact took place and, as the G Branch war diary remarks, it was already too late to withdraw when Miles got back at 4.30 a.m. on 1 December. But a serious misunderstanding seems to have clouded the discussion. The Corps Commander understood by the term ‘Corridor’ the whole area of the break-out from the original Tobruk perimeter, whereas Freyberg meant merely the New Zealand positions which linked with this—the New Zealand end of the bulge. Freyberg was dissatisfied with Miles's message and briefly considered going to Tobruk himself. It was too late, however, even for this, and in the end Freyberg had to turn for guidance and support to the Corps Commander near at hand, LieutenantGeneral C. W. M. Norrie of 30 Corps, who was with the South Africans on the escarpment east of Point 175. Miles himself seems to have favoured an immediate move—perhaps to the position suggested by the 13 Corps commander—and to have resented the way Freyberg received him on his return. At all events he acted from then onwards as though he had' a chip on his shoulder'. If so it was not without reason; for the misunderstandings between Division and Corps and the resultant indecision greatly endangered his beloved guns.

The danger was not immediately apparent, however, to most of the gunners. The 6th Field in its new positions was southeast of Belhamed, with 47 Battery to the south-west, 30 Battery to the west, 29 Battery north and 48 Battery east of the regimental position, RHQ being to the west of centre and G Section, Divisional Signals, just below the top of the Belhamed page 269 escarpment near 29 Battery. Many guns were still limbered up and their crews expected, as Bombardier Loughnan43 says, to drive in the morning to ‘Tobruk, water, fresh bread and a wash!’ Major Beattie's 47 Battery was in the midst of the enemy position captured on 28 November and German dead ‘were still littering the area’, according to Gunner Smith44 of Headquarters Troop. ‘Greatest thing of interest was the bags of sugar lying around’, says Lance-Bombardier McLaren45 of F Troop; ‘badly in need of same, I smartly got a sand bag and walked about 50 yds to help myself’. The situation as these men understood it was broadly correct: the South Africans were to attack the area of the Mosque and the British tanks were to arrive in the morning after refitting. The ADS of 6 Brigade was some 300 yards to the right front of 47 Battery and there was much other transport in the area.

43 Bdr I. H. Loughnan; Wahroonga, NSW; born NZ 3 Mar 1918; draughtsman; wounded and p.w. 1 Dec 1941.

44 L-Bdr D. Smith; Lower Hutt; born England, 18 May 1918; clerk; wounded 1 Nov 1942.

45 L-Bdr H. J. McLaren; Auckland; born Auckland, 13 Jul 1908; motor driver; twice wounded.