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Bardia to Enfidaville

10 Corps' Orders

10 Corps' Orders

In the early afternoon of 28 March 10 Corps issued orders prescribing action to be taken by NZ Corps and 1 Armoured Division to capture El Hamma and advance to the line GabesEl Hamma. The first phase was for NZ Corps to reach the line of the track running from Bir Zeltene to El Hamma (i.e., through Hir Zouitinat) while 1 Armoured Division manoeuvred in the approaches to El Hamma. The second phase was for NZ Corps to occupy the Gabes oasis, while 1 Armoured Division moved round the south of Djebel Halouga and came up on the west of NZ Corps. There were instructions to NZ Corps about the early entry into Gabes of advanced landing ground construction parties and airfield defence units, some of which were to join the Corps and move with it. New Zealand Corps remained responsible for containing the enemy in the Djebel Melab area, where ‘L’ Force still remained.

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But during the afternoon events moved faster than expected. New Zealand Corps was almost up to Hir Zouitinat, the enemy was evacuating the Mareth Line with all speed, and the first phase of the order was virtually completed. The order was then amended to give 10 Corps (including NZ Corps) the objective El Hamma to west of Gabes. New Zealand Corps was given a series of bounds northwards across the GabesEl Hamma road, with its axis about midway between the two towns. The 1st Armoured Division's move round the south of Djebel Halouga was cancelled. Horrocks emphasised that ‘No major action or attack will be undertaken, as the policy now is to conserve our resources of men and material. The enemy will be dislodged by manoeuvre and fire’. The amendment stated that 51 (Highland) Division was advancing up the main road towards Gabes, and that 4 Indian Division would advance to Gabes from Zeltene.

We see here an example of what can happen when by force of events a headquarters gets out of the picture. Tenth Corps Headquarters had followed 1 Armoured Division, in spite of Freyberg's suggestion that it should remain farther back, and when NZ Corps went off to the north-east, 10 Corps' control over it was very tenuous. In any case events moved so rapidly on that day of 28 March that, not for the first time in desert warfare, formal orders with ‘phases’ could not keep pace, and only the most general directive met the case. Considerable latitude had to be given to subordinate commanders. Freyberg left unaltered his axis of advance through Gabes.