Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Bardia to Enfidaville

28 (Maori) Battalion

28 (Maori) Battalion

The 28th Battalion advanced with A Company (Major Porter1) on the right and B Company (Captain Sorensen2) on the left; C Company (Captain Awatere3), 300 yards behind, covered both these companies, and D Company (Captain Matehaere4), another 300 yards in the right rear of C, had the special task of watching the exposed right flank. Two sections of carriers operated some two miles to the east as right-flank guard.

For three-quarters of the way to the first objective the battalion had few casualties, for enemy shelling was directed mainly at the tanks. But nearer this objective there were signs that stiffer opposition lay ahead. Point 209 was clearly held strongly, and already four tanks of Notts Yeomanry had been knocked out after pushing their attack with vigour. The tanks bunched to the left away from

1 Maj W. Porter, MC and bar; Kaeo; born Taumarere, 23 Aug 1915; taxi driver; twice wounded.

2 Maj C. Sorensen; Whangarei; born Auckland, 5 Jun 1917; school teacher; twice wounded.

3 Lt-Col A. Awatere, DSO, MC; Rotorua; born Tuparoa, 25 Apr 1910; civil servant; CO 28 Bn Jul–Aug 1944, Nov 1944–Jun 1945; twice wounded.

4 Maj J. Matehaere, MC, m.i.d.; Tirau; born NZ 28 Feb 1916; farmhand; three times wounded.

page 219 Point 209 and advanced up a small wadi, and 28 Battalion also edged off to the left and finally was somewhat concentrated well to the west of Point 209.

Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett then went forward to the tank commander. The essential task was to clear the high ground on the right, with its many anti-tank guns, mortars and machine guns. Accordingly Bennett ordered C Company to swing right and capture Point 209, while the other three companies were to dig in where they were and so establish a firm base. It was then 5 p.m. and still light. A and B Companies were about 1000 yards beyond the first objective, but were still 1500 yards short of the final objective, while D Company faced right to the south of Point 209.

Topography now played a part, for the hill immediately to the right, C Company's objective, was not in fact Point 209, but a steep underfeature west of and separated from it by a saddle almost 1000 yards long. There is some doubt whether anyone realised this at the time, but certainly both battalion and later brigade headquarters thought for varying periods that C Company's attack was being made on Point 209 proper. Bennett was not certain when he visited the feature after dusk, and in the confusion of battle the point was not cleared up at that time. Brigade Headquarters had been informed that 209 had been captured and did not realise the mistake until the brigade commander went forward in the morning to see for himself. This meant that in the evening and during the night there was no artillery fire in immediate support of the attackers, and what fire there was came down on the reverse slopes of Point 209, in the belief that the summit of that feature had been captured. Had the true situation been known, Brigade Headquarters could have arranged for heavy artillery support.

The sub-feature was later called Hikurangi, after a mountain in the East Coast district of New Zealand from which C Company was drawn. The defenders came from II Battalion, 433 Panzer Grenadier Regiment, of 164 Light Division. C Company attacked Hikurangi with great dash, Captain Awatere working his three platoons with whistle and arm signal in a manner that was most impressive. No. 13 Platoon (Lieutenant Jackson1) worked round the hill on the right, 15 Platoon (Lieutenant Haig2) in the centre, and 14 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Ngarimu3) on the left. No. 15 Platoon was pinned to the ground near the foot of the hill and could not get forward till after dark: 13 and 14 Platoons reached a point

1 Maj S. F. Jackson, m.i.d.; Lower Hutt; born NZ 11 Sep 1918; labourer; wounded 26 Mar 1943.

2 Capt W. Te A. Haig, m.i.d.; Ruatoria; born Waipiro Bay, Ruatoria, 14 Nov 1904; clerk.

3 2 Lt Te M. N. Ngarimu, VC; born NZ 7 Apr 1918; shepherd; killed in action 27 Mar 1943.

page 220 near, but not actually on, the crest. The enemy, above them on the reverse slope, counter-attacked repeatedly, supported by intense machine-gun and mortar fire, but was gallantly withstood, although with severe losses to C Company. By nightfall when Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett visited Hikurangi, both Captain Awatere and Second-Lieutenant Ngarimu had been wounded. Awatere refused to go until his wounded leg had swollen so much that he could only crawl, and the command of the company passed to Lieutenant Jackson. Ngarimu asked to be allowed to stay, and was given permission. Bennett gave instructions that the hill was to be held at all costs, while the remaining companies were to be ready for counter-attacks. Battalion headquarters was established a few hundred yards from the foot of Hikurangi.

Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett was not at the time aware that the main attack had reached the final objective, and that a gap had been made through the enemy position. The capture of Hikurangi and Point 209 had now in effect developed into a private struggle between 28 Battalion and II/433 Panzer Grenadier Regiment, to be fought out with all the gallantry that grim determination can produce.

The battalion support arms came forward after dark and were deployed, and the mortars, now rejoined from 21 Battalion, were concentrated at the foot of Hikurangi; and equally acceptable was the arrival of a hot meal about 8 p.m. This was distributed throughout, even to the men of C Company who were within earshot of the enemy. The dead and wounded were removed from the top of the hill and signal lines laid to all companies from battalion headquarters.

However, there was no communication with Brigade Headquarters, and the brigade commander in some concern instructed 21 Battalion to send a patrol from Point 184 to make contact. This was duly done, but as it happened 28 Battalion was finally in touch by wireless with Brigade Headquarters about the same time. The report was then made that Point 209 had been captured. The battalion appeared to be in good order, but Bennett was concerned both about his open right flank, and in having all four companies committed. He tried to arrange for tanks to be placed on his right flank, but without success. His only reserve was the carrier platoon. Brigadier Kippenberger then instructed 21 Battalion to move one company forward to the right of 28 Battalion, and after sundry adventures, including an alarming encounter with a patrol from 23 Battalion, A Company of 21 Battalion (Captain Bullock-Douglas) arrived in position to the right of D Company, 28 Battalion. It was then 3 a.m. on 27 March. There was still a gap page 221 between A Company's position and that of D Company, 21 Battalion, on the northern hillock of Point 184.

About this time also, 23 Battalion on the other flank made contact with 28, and the latter's brief isolation was at an end. The battalion was now in good heart for whatever the morning might bring.