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Bardia to Enfidaville

An Outline of supercharge II

An Outline of supercharge II

Precisely at 3.30 p.m. the Air Force appeared, and for half an hour bombed and strafed enemy positions and gun emplacements. Then the guns opened and the heavy tanks of 8 Armoured Brigade moved forward from their concealed positions ready for the attack, followed by the first line of carriers. The sun shone behind the tanks as they moved forward, and the strong wind which had been blowing all day carried the stirred-up dust into the enemy lines; thus the enemy was not only looking into the sun but into dust and haze with the sun behind it. Moreover, the enemy was by now accustomed to the usual night attack, and was probably ill-prepared for a daylight assault. It was not until the first line of armour reached the start line at 4.15 p.m. that the enemy reacted, and it is not known whether this was due to the element of surprise, the poor visibility, or because the fighter-bombers kept the enemy crews away from their guns, but probably it was the result of all three.

When the leading tanks on the right flank ran into shellfire on the start line the tank commanders must have thought that they had caught up with the barrage, for the tanks halted. This was quickly noticed and the tanks were told to move on, after a pause of only a few minutes. The second wave of armour, Crusader tanks followed by carriers, had probably closed up a little, for at 4.20 p.m. the first wave moved on, closely followed by the second wave. Almost immediately afterwards the infantry moved into position approximately 200 yards behind the armour and the whole force was in motion. The Shermans and carriers, followed by Crusaders and carriers, followed by the lines of infantry of the three battalions, all advancing behind the fire of six field and two medium regiments, while overhead fighter, light-bomber and tank-buster aircraft flew in constant procession, represented the closest co-operation between land and air forces that the war in the desert had seen: it was the page 217 perfect blitzkrieg. Behind the front line the tanks and lorried infantry of 1 Armoured Division waited, ready to move up and exploit success when the gap had been breached.

The advance to the first objective was accomplished without serious opposition, and for the infantry it was largely a matter of following the tanks. The enemy was obviously not prepared for a daylight attack, infantry and artillery positions being sited with a view to night defence.

The smoothness of the advance was interrupted beyond the line of the first objective. On the right flank the tanks were held up by the difficult, heavily defended feature Point 209, and forced by the going to bunch to the west. The 28th Battalion was halted and deployed to attack Point 209 and its western extremity, the underfeature later called Hikurangi.

In the centre momentum was not lost, although tanks and carriers met determined opposition on the reverse slopes of the feature between the first and second objectives. Opposition to 23 Battalion in the centre was chiefly on its right flank, where German infantry put up a determined, but short-lived, defence from well entrenched positions. This opposition was largely overcome by the carriers. The tanks, closely followed by carriers and the leading infantry companies, reached a line slightly short of the second objective at 5.56 p.m., twenty-three minutes after the barrage had lifted 200 yards to fire smoke as a guide to the infantry.

On the left sector, west of the road, the tanks were not far behind those in the centre. Here the advance had lost the precision shown earlier because of an unsuspected minefield supporting dug positions on the left flank. The tanks lost formation, and then advanced too quickly for the infantry; 24 Battalion encountered very stiff resistance from German machine-gun posts bypassed by the tanks, posts which were still being dealt with when 1 Armoured Division began to move up the El Hamma road. But, despite heavy casualties, the leading infantry company reached its final objective within five minutes of the tanks.

At 6 p.m. 1 Armoured Division passed through the forward positions to laager in its forward staging area until the moon rose to light the remainder of the advance to El Hamma. The gap had been won.