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Bardia to Enfidaville



ALTHOUGH Point 209 had not been captured until 5 p.m. on 27 March, the further operations of NZ Corps were not delayed. By daylight it was known that the enemy had been completely cleared from the left flank on Djebel Tebaga, and preparations were made to follow 1 Armoured Division, leaving 5 Infantry Brigade Group to clear the right flank and hand over to ‘L’ Force. The situation east of Point 209 was still uncertain. The enemy's problem was now to withdraw about five weak divisions from the Mareth Line and through the gap at Gabes, the narrow corridor between the sea and the Chotts. There was thus a chance that the enemy might thrust to the south-west to keep the line of escape open, for he still had 15 Panzer Division and at least some of the tanks of 21 Panzer Division.

About midday, therefore, 5 Infantry Brigade Group was ordered to take up a position roughly parallel to the KebiliEl Hamma road, facing south-east, to safeguard the line of communication. In this gun line 28 Battalion would stay where it was, 23 Battalion was to move to its left, and 21 Battalion would prolong the line, each on a frontage of about 3500 yards. Part of ‘L’ Force relieved 21 Battalion on Point 184 in the afternoon. Other moves were dependent on the capture of Point 209, and did not start until about 6.30 p.m., but the group was in position by 10 p.m.

But the anticipated counter-attack had come and gone before 5 Brigade changed position. Unmarked by the brigade, and apparently unknown to NZ Corps Headquarters, the enemy tank thrust to the south-west had been countered by 8 Armoured Brigade, all three regiments of which were engaged from 7 a.m. onwards, and despite losses beat off the enemy attack by midday. Bayerlein says: ‘Early in the morning (27 March) 15 Panzer Division plus 21 Panzer Division's tanks counter-attacked the enemy's flank from the line Oglat Merteba — Djebel Souinia. The attack took the enemy by surprise, and six more heavy tanks were knocked out. About mid-day 15 Panzer Division had to retire to its start line in face of a strong armoured pincers attack. The objective to cut off the page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page 235 enemy had not been attained, but the flank attack had forced the enemy to divert the main body of his tanks from the north and set them against 15 Panzer Division. This relieved the thin El Hamma line temporarily.’

black and white photograph of army and civilians

Passing through Gabes. The inhabitants fill in a crossing over Wadi Gabes

black and white photograph of fighter aeroplane over desert

A Hurricane drops a message from General Montgomery at New Zealand Corps headquarters

black and white photograph of air ambulance

Stretcher bearers carry wounded to an ambulance plane near Tebaga Gap

black and white photograph of army vehicles crossing desert

Eighth Army advances to attack the Wadi Akarit position

black and white photograph of army trucks crossing desert

NZASC vehicles pass through the Wadi Akarit defences

black and white photograph of relief model of desert

The Enfidaville battlefield—a relief model made by New Zealand engineers

black and white photograph of desert area

Takrouna, from the east. On the extreme left is the white farmhouse in the Maori Battalion area

black and white aerial photograph of desert attack

5 Brigade's sector. The marks in ink were made by Brigadier Kippenberger after the attack and show the axes of advance of his three battalions. Takrouna is marked Fort, A is Djebel Cherachir and Djebel Bir is marked Bin

black and white photograph of building in desert

Takrouna. The Ledge, taken from the Pinnacle

black and white photograph of desert cliff

Looking south-east from Takrouna

black and white photograph of derert village

The lower village

black and white photograph of soldiers in desert

New Zealand field artillery in action near Takrouna

black and white photograph of army truck passing through flowers

A convoy passes through a field of daisies

black and white photograph of road sign, cactus and trucks

Black diamond signs and cactus hedges mark the route forward

Bayerlein's conclusion is wrong, however. The main body of tanks, those of 1 Armoured Division, maintained their attack on El Hamma without hindrance and 8 Armoured Brigade alone dealt with 15 Panzer Division, although the figure it later reported of seventy-five enemy tanks was about double the actual strength.

Meanwhile Divisional Cavalry was sent up the KebiliEl Hamma road to keep contact with 1 Armoured Division. Lieutenant-Colonel Bonifant said later, ‘We tried till 4 p.m. to reach them, but every time our patrols went forward they were fired on by artillery and anti-tank guns and when they went on foot, by small-arms fire. We fired recognition signals and did everything possible to show them that we were friendly troops. On my asking them later if they knew what the recognition signal was, I was informed that they had never heard of it.’ Liaison was finally made on the road northwest of Oglat Merteba. The only consolation to Divisional Cavalry was the capture of 140 prisoners. In defence of 1 Armoured Division it must be said that during the morning it had been in action to both front and rear, and the situation in the rear had been obscured by a series of engagements with enemy tanks and 88-millimetre guns.1

Units of 6 Infantry Brigade Group were ready to move from early morning, but it was not until late afternoon that they were ordered to assemble by 6.45 p.m., with the leading vehicles on the El Hamma road some four miles beyond the Roman Wall. New Zealand Corps had paused while the situation at El Hamma became clearer.

1 In some post-war comments Maj-Gen Briggs says: ‘Such incidents as these do happen even with the best-trained troops. My diary informs me that one ammunition lorry of 76 Anti-tank Regiment was set on fire by the NZ Div Cav Regt.’ So honours are even!