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Bardia to Enfidaville



Reinforcements were brought forward from Maadi Camp and absorbed into the Division, but their numbers were few because no reinforcement draft had arrived from New Zealand for over a year as a result of Japan's entry into the war. The strength of the Division at this time showed a deficiency of about 3600 in an establishment of 16,000, the corps most affected being the infantry, artillery and engineers. Five battalions (21, 23, 24, 25, and 26) were on the average some 250 below their establishment of 735, while the Maori Battalion was fifty short. Nevertheless the Division was probably in a better position than the majority of the British divisions and certainly was much stronger proportionately than any enemy formation. The long-term prospects for reinforcements were bright, however, for the Government was about to despatch a draft about 5500 strong (the 8th Reinforcements), and this was expected to arrive in Egypt in January 1943.

Advantage was taken of the lull in operations to make various changes in organisation, for which purpose the GOC held a series of conferences with the heads of corps and leading administrative officers of 2 NZEF.2 As can be seen from the order of battle,3 the Division was an assemblage of units drawn from fourteen different corps: cavalry, artillery, engineers, infantry, machine-gunners, signals, army service corps, medical, dental, provost, postal, pay, ordnance, and electrical and mechanical

2 Officer in charge of Administration, Military Secretary, and Director of Medical Services.

page 7 engineers.1 A history which attempted to cover at all stages the activities of all these corps would become an indigestible mass of words. There must be a high degree of selectivity.

Lord Wavell once said, when referring to military planning, ‘Sooner or later the time will come when Private Snodgrass must advance straight to his front.’ In other words, the culminating point of all planning, even though begun on the inter-governmental level, is the advance of the infantry. That is the yardstick by which success or failure is measured. Thus it may often appear that what is recorded here is not so much the history of the Division as a whole as that of the infantry, but it must not be forgotten that although the infantry were invariably in the spearhead, behind them was a shaft which gave both weight and direction to the thrust. Much work by many hands in a diversity of units made it possible for the infantry to be where they were.

Apart from the infantry this volume is concerned chiefly with those units which came into close contact with the enemy—the cavalry, armour, machine-gunners, and engineers. The artillery is referred to in sufficient detail to show the effect of its fire; the provost occasionally figure in the battle area, either on traffic control or on marking the axis of advance. The remainder of the Division carried out faithfully their normal duties, which generally cannot be described for any particular operation, but a few words must be said about those upon whom was thrown an extra burden.

The success of the campaign turned primarily on movement and supply, which broadly were the functions of the army service corps, ordnance, and electrical and mechanical engineers. The NZASC at this stage comprised one ammunition company, one petrol company, one supply company, and two reserve mechanical transport companies, each with its own workshops. Each platoon in any of these companies consisted of thirty 3-ton lorries and a few administrative vehicles, and could carry the marching infantry of one battalion when not being used for its normal duties. But despite their distinctive titles the NZASC companies together were a large pool of vehicles and formed one comprehensive transport organisation of great flexibility. Nevertheless certain weaknesses had been seen during the previous months, so it was decided to add a second ammunition company and to enlarge the petrol company from its

1 The British Army had split the ordnance corps into two parts: the one retaining the old name was to deal with the provision of equipment, and the other, called the electrical and mechanical engineers, was made responsible for the maintenance of technical machinery and equipment, including all tracked vehicles and all wheeled vehicles except those of the army service corps. This change was now made in 2 NZEF, with the result that the new corps of NZEME appeared, and the care of most vehicles fell to it; but the change was more one of nomenclature than of function, as the workshop units of the new corps had all existed previously in the old undivided ordnance corps.

page 8 existing two platoons to five. The second ammunition company did not join the Division until after the end of the campaign in North Africa, but the additional petrol platoons arrived in March 1943, in time to play their part in the last few weeks.

The carrying capacity of the transport of the Division, therefore, was of unfixed limit. The Division carried with it rations, water and petrol for anything up to ten days and 400 miles' travel, and enough ammunition to attack or resist the enemy at the end of a move. Difficulties of supply did not impede any operation. On only one occasion during the campaign, and even then for only one unit in unusual circumstances, was there a miscalculation sufficient to cause delay.

The transport in which the Division set out from Alamein already had survived much wear and tear; indeed some of the cars and lorries were veterans of the 1941 Libyan campaign. Despite the excessive strain imposed on the skill and ingenuity of the workshops staffs in keeping such worn-out or nearly worn-out vehicles in running order, the Division, throughout the many hundreds of miles of desert motoring that lay ahead, maintained a proud record of not abandoning transport on the march.

The contribution of the Divisional Signals should not be ignored, although its work was normally of a routine nature. Almost every activity of the Division involved some form of signal communication, and in effect the corps of signals was the glue that kept the manifold segments of the Division from falling apart.

Two small items of reorganisation may also be mentioned. First, the formation of a mobile field bakery, which joined the Division after about a month and baked fresh bread for the troops. Secondly, the departure of the artillery survey troop from the Division to join 36 Survey Battery at Maadi, where a more comprehensive artillery survey unit was being formed. Parts of this reorganised 36 Survey Battery joined the Division from time to time in the months that followed.1

In this campaign movements of the Division were carried out almost entirely with ‘brigade groups’, of which 5 and 6 Infantry Brigades were the nuclei. Under brigade command there normally would be a field artillery regiment, an anti-tank battery, an antiaircraft battery, a field company of engineers, a machine-gun company, and a field ambulance advanced dressing station. (A brigade signals section and a brigade workshops were integral parts of an infantry brigade.) At times, depending on tactical require-

1 The Survey Troop of the battery joined the Division on 19 Dec 1942, the Flash Spotting Troop on 14 Jan 1943, Battery Headquarters on 30 January, and the Sound Ranging Troop on 22 March.

page 9 ments
, other units or sub-units might be added, such as a squadron of divisional cavalry, extra artillery, extra machine guns, and so on.

It was the custom to affiliate certain units to each brigade, so that the normal constitution was as follows: