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Bardia to Enfidaville

23 Battalion

23 Battalion

The 23rd Battalion advanced with B Company (Captain Robertson1) on the right and D (Captain Black2) on the left, with A (Captain Thomas3) behind B, and C (Captain Slee4) behind D. The battalion had comparatively easy going, for the ground was good for tanks, which advanced steadily in line, drawing most of the artillery fire. Lieutenant-Colonel Romans travelled well forward in a jeep, within speaking distance of the RSM of Staffs Yeomanry, who moved in a rear tank and was in wireless touch with the regimental commander. Romans was lucky, for a jeep amongst armour is a risky vehicle. His water bottle was shot from his side and several bullet-holes were drilled in the jeep's seat.

The first objective was passed about 4.40 p.m. almost unnoticed, but more shell and machine-gun fire marked the advance to the final objective. However, many enemy defensive positions were now overrun, and Germans surrendered in dozens. Enemy tanks were driven off by Staffs Yeomanry and four destroyed. But touch was lost with 28 Battalion, the ground caused the tanks to bunch towards the left flank and the companies lost their precise formation. D Company on the left, for instance, drew additional support from the tanks on its front and got ahead of the others. There was increasing enemy fire as the troops reached the crest of a low rise (which was in fact the watershed of Tebaga Gap), but the momentum of the advance was enough to keep it going, and co-ordinated attacks dealt with some annoying anti-tank guns which had accounted for six Staffs Yeomanry tanks. The battalion carriers here did noble work, armed not only with Brens but with captured enemy weapons, and there were occasions when they engaged enemy anti-tank guns at close range.

During the advance down the northern slopes of the rise, there was increased fire from enemy positions which had already been page 222 overrun by tanks. Many prisoners were disarmed and sent back but enemy fire increased. The tanks were by now under heavy antitank fire from the north side of Wadi el Hernel, and from enemy tanks there and in Wadi el Fellag, but were fast nearing the final objective. B Company on the right front was forced to go to ground, so Captain Thomas brought A Company forward to the right of B, and sent a section against the enemy in Wadi el Fellag, disorganising them and even inducing enemy tanks to withdraw.

About 6 p.m. both A and B Companies were dug in just south of Wadi el Hernel and D Company was on their left close to the El Hamma road, all only slightly short of the final objective. Staffs Yeomanry had by then cleared the area up to Wadi el Hernel, and 1 Armoured Division was beginning to pass through towards Wadi Aisoub. Patches of resistance on the right flank were soon cleared up, firing died down, and the battalion consolidated with the tanks laagered behind the forward companies. There was still, however, no link with 28 Battalion, and finally Lieutenant-Colonel Romans sent out a patrol from A Company, which met A Company from 21 Battalion advancing to support the 28th, and very nearly started a private war.

Battalion headquarters was set up well forward of the rise between the two objectives, but owing to a breakdown in the wireless set was not in touch with Brigade Headquarters until nearly midnight. The night proved uneventful.

The battalion war history records that ‘practically everything in this battle went according to plan for the battalion’, and it had scored a clear-cut victory on the vital sector of the front. The total casualties were 11 killed and 30 wounded, but over 400 prisoners were taken. The battalion had the highest praise for the Staffs Yeomanry.

1 Capt G. McG. Robertson, m.i.d.; born Ladbrooks, 20 Apr 1909; bank officer; killed in action 26 Mar 1943.

2 Capt H. C. Black; born NZ 29 Aug 1917; warehouseman; twice wounded; killed in action 20 Apr 1943.

3 Lt-Col W. B. Thomas, DSO, MC and bar, m.i.d., Silver Star (US); London; born Nelson, 29 Jun 1918; bank officer; CO 23 Bn 1944–45; 22 Bn (Japan) Oct 1945–Nov 1946; wounded and p.w. 25 May 1941; escaped Nov 1941; returned to unit May 1942; twice wounded; Hampshire Regt, 1947–.

4 Maj C. A. Slee, m.i.d.; born Westport; clerk; died of wounds 5 Apr 1944.