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Bardia to Enfidaville

Lining up for oration

page 308

Lining up for oration

The two days before the attack, 18 and 19 April, on the whole were quiet. The units of 8 Armoured Brigade were either resting or doing maintenance. Their strength was now 69 serviceable tanks, showing a wastage of about 25 in the month since preparations were being made for PUGILIST. Both 3 Royal Tanks and Notts Yeomanry were in close liaison with their respective infantry brigades, and netted their sets into the brigade wireless net. They moved to their assembly positions after dark on 19 April.

Divisional Cavalry spent the few days before the attack in maintenance and reorganisation, including absorbing four new Stuart tanks with power-operated turrets, which did not meet with much favour as they were thought too elaborate.

The field regiments had been preparing their forward positions for some nights, but did not occupy them until after dark on 18 or 19 April, and in the former case did not fire during daylight on 19 April. Mac Troop was at first excluded from firing in the barrage owing to the wear in its gun barrels, but was later reprieved under the strict condition that its range-drum readings were to be 800 yards greater than the actual ranges. To take part in the long-range tasks there now appeared an enemy 170-millimetre gun, one of those which had been such a nuisance at Medenine. It had been captured in the Matmata Hills by 4 Indian Division, handed over to 2 NZ Division, and was now manned by 14 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. It was a source of much irritation to its earlier German owners.1

Both 7 and 8 Field Companies took over their Scorpions before the attack, and completed their preparations for mine-lifting.

The medical evacuation chain was now from the ADS on each brigade front to the MDS just north of Sidi bou Ali, thence to the New Zealand Casualty Clearing Station at El Djem, and thence to the newly-opened 3 New Zealand General Hospital near Tripoli. This was the first time that the chain was composed completely of New Zealand units.

Replenishment in the area was normal. As before at Akarit, the ammunition company was the hardest worked. In anticipation of an advance into the hills, 1 NZ Mule Pack Company was formed on 17 April, the personnel—six officers and 155 other ranks—coming mostly from NZASC, and the 102 mules and 96 donkeys from local civil sources. The company began and ended its career with a training programme, as the expected advance into the hills never eventuated.

page 309

The composite machine-gun company which was to provide flank protection for the open right flank of 26 Battalion was installed during 18 and 19 April. There appears to have been a local arrangement with the machine-gun battalion of 50 Division by which some of its guns also provided flank protection for 2 NZ Division, for special arrangements were made to prevent the fire of the companies from overlapping.

Within 6 Brigade, 26 Battalion was already in the forward area. The 24th Battalion moved forward in part after dark on 18 April and in part at 8 p.m. on 19 April, some two and a half hours before zero. The 25th Battalion needed only to move into the area vacated by 26 Battalion.

Fifth Infantry Brigade had two battalions already in the forward area—23 on Point 70, and 21 just south of the EnfidavilleDjebibina road. The 28th Battalion had been moved back some five miles, on 17 April, and would have a short approach march. The 23rd Battalion area was shelled at intervals on 18 and 19 April, but there were no casualties.

1 As with Mac Troop it started badly, with a premature airburst over regimental headquarters of 4 Field Regiment.