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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Point 175 is Lost

Point 175 is Lost

For the field gunners the day was extremely busy. The newly reoccupied Point 175 was evidently vulnerable to counter-attack and many of the tasks fired by 26 Battery at Sciuearat, 25 Battery to the west of it, and 48 Battery of the 6th Field were in support of 21 Battalion there. The 6th Field also fired several regimental concentrations for the same purpose, some of them by all four of its batteries. At one stage an infantry private directed the fire of field guns from his slit trench. Anti-tank defence was by three 2-pounders of the 65th Anti-Tank and they performed splendidly. In the late morning the position was under heavy attack, supported by mortar fire which scored several direct hits or near misses on one gun. ‘The last man was wounded but remained loading and firing his gun until he was killed’, according to an officer of 21 Battalion.

By 2 p.m. the attack ceased and the Germans moved off. Both 26 Battery of the 4th Field and D Troop of the 6th had an OP on Point 175 and their FOOs watched a large group approach later in the afternoon. They were tempted to open fire; but were dissuaded from doing so, the opinion prevailing that the group was the long-awaited South African brigade. But when the leading elements, including three tanks, were recognised as enemy it was too late. They were among the infantry and rounding them up as prisoners. The ‘Log Diary’ of 6 Brigade has the following dramatic entry:

1710 hrs 21 Bn. Bn Comd sends urgent message for Arty support. ‘They are in my lines with three tanks and are taking prisoners. Arty support at once for God's sake.’

As the enemy approached, an artillery FOO alongside the battalion commander had been more sceptical than the infantry about the identity of the approaching force and had given his guns directions to lay on it. A 4th Field observer had gone so far as to call down fire, but higher authority had blocked it. Now it was every man for himself. Those near the escarpment descended if they could and made their escape. Captain Hall31 of D Troop, 6th Field, and his assistants just managed to get away. Major McKenzie, who commanded the battery of the page 259 65th Anti-Tank supporting 21 Battalion, had gone for reinforcements and was at the foot of the escarpment with two portées and some gunners (to replace the many casualties suffered in the morning attack) when the survivors descended. With some difficulty McKenzie was persuaded to accompany the survivors towards Brigade Headquarters. Tanks came to the top of the escarpment and started to fire down at the party and the two portées replied, carrying on at intervals on the retreat until out of range.

The whole episode had been watched anxiously by 25 Battalion in the Blockhouse area. Fire directed from the Blockhouse had been brought down by the 6th Field in support of 21 Battalion in the morning and early afternoon. Then a liaison group from the South African brigade passed through and the arrival of the main body was expected from minute to minute. There were plenty of targets for the 6th Field on the southernmost escarpment. The force coming from the south-east exactly fitted what 25 Battalion had been told to expect—in appearance, direction and timing—and the disaster to the 21st was therefore totally unexpected. L Troop of 33 Anti-Tank nevertheless did what it could to help by engaging Italian tanks at long range from across the Rugbet en-Nbeidat until it was too dark.

Observers at Sidi Rezegh saw much activity to the south and in the afternoon witnessed in the distance an attack by 15 Panzer Division on Ed Duda which overran much of the position. Two batteries, the 29th and 30th, covered the intervening ground, 47 Battery fired to the south, and 48 Battery to the south-east. For much of the day they could barely reach the most tempting targets and a medium battery would have been invaluable. Two large-calibre guns on the southernmost escarpment fired furiously towards Ed Duda until 29 Battery silenced them at almost extreme range. This was almost the limit of assistance by 6 Brigade to the Tobruk garrison at Ed Duda this day—a day when both 4 and 6 Brigades might have done much to ward off the attack on that vital position had firm links and effective liaison been established between the garrison and the Division. Among the many concentrations fired by the 6th Field, one or more was almost certainly directed at artillery of the British armoured division operating to the south-east (in reply to fire on 6 Brigade); here, too, liaison was sadly defective. But worst of all was fire brought down on the captured page 260 MDS, which endangered staff in their work of mercy and patients and hit some of them. It was a muddled battle.32

The main strength of the Division now lay in the strong gun group south-east and east of Belhamed—the 4th, 6th and 8th Field, plus three 18-pounder troops of the 7th Anti-Tank—and the loss of Point 175 gave the enemy observation over the gun areas. Already he had demonstrated his ability to bring down devastating counter-battery fire when observation favoured him. Late in the afternoon 25 Battery, which had been firing on the escarpment east of Point 175 from gun areas just southwest of Zaafran, was about to engage enemy due east when C Troop came under fierce fire. C3 and C4 were quickly put out of action, as well as three troop vehicles, and five gunners were killed and an officer and eight others wounded. Enemy fire continued until dusk, rising to a peak every time the remaining two guns were manned and fired. The position was evidently under direct observation and any movement in it provoked immediate fire. With Point 175 in enemy hands the outlook for the next day was bleak.

One incident in the afternoon, however, gave much satisfaction. An intercepted wireless message indicated that the enemy wanted artillery fire on Belhamed at a point to be indicated by two flares to be fired from tanks. Two flares were therefore fired at a point well away from the defending troops and in due course there were ‘terrific enemy concentrations on the empty hillside’.

31 Maj G. F. T. Hall, ED; Wellington; born Woodville, 26 Oct 1902; motor dealer.

32 One serious handicap was that the Tobruk garrison and the British armour were using different codes from those of 13 Corps which the New Zealand Division used. This led to delay and misunderstanding.