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Bardia to Enfidaville

21 April—the End of oration

21 April—the End of oration

Divisional Cavalry spent 21 April patrolling on the front of 6 Infantry Brigade and up the coastal strip for some five miles north of Enfidaville. The artillery had an active day, shelling enemy batteries heavily. The 4th Field Regiment, for instance, expended 3143 rounds and 5 Field Regiment fired nineteen concentrations and six ‘stonks’ in addition to other tasks.

page 337

In 6 Brigade's area the day was uneventful. It was Brigadier Gentry's last day in command, for at midnight 21–22 April he was to hand over to Brigadier Parkinson,1 and start his journey back to New Zealand to take up the appointment of Deputy Chief of the General Staff.2

The GOC held his usual conference early in the day to decide what further action could be taken. The 8th Armoured Brigade was sent to work round the west of Takrouna and to get as far north as possible, even to the Zaghouan road. Staffs Yeomanry made the attempt, directed on Point 136, but met heavy and accurate fire, particularly from Djebel Biada on the left, lost three tanks and could make little progress. As 21 Battalion had already discovered, this stretch north of and parallel to the Zaghouan road was part of the enemy's main line, and was strongly defended.

There was enemy shelling and mortaring on Cherachir from first light until dark, and snipers were a perpetual annoyance until three Crusader tanks moved into the area after 3 p.m. and gave some relief. Notts Yeomanry moved on to Djebel Bir and as far as the road between there and Cherachir, overran a few enemy posts, took another twenty-three prisoners and won commendation from the infantry for steady and helpful work.

On Takrouna there was great activity all day. During the night 20–21 April communication had been established between the summit and headquarters of both 5 Infantry Brigade and 5 Field Regiment, and Brigadier Kippenberger took direct control of further operations against the peak. There was steady enemy shelling throughout, and this extended southwards into the area of both 21 and 28 Battalions.

When it was learnt that the enemy had regained part of the feature, Kippenberger arranged that 28 Battalion should send reinforcements, including Sergeant Manahi and any others who knew the layout on the summit. Manahi responded at once and took a party of about fourteen volunteers drawn from B and D Companies, arriving soon after first light.

Lieutenant Hirst and Manahi planned first to soften up the enemy posts and then attack from two directions. Fire from the battalion mortars from below the hill was ineffective as the range was too great, and when a 2-inch mortar was brought to the ledge the reverse was the case, for the range—only 100 yards—was too

1 Maj-Gen G. B. Parkinson, CBE, DSO and bar, m.i.d., Legion of Merit (US); Christchurch; born Wellington, 5 Nov 1896; Regular soldier; NZ Fd Arty 1917–19; CO 4 Fd Regt Jan 1940-Aug 1941; comd 1 NZ Army Tank Bde and 7 Inf Bde Gp (in NZ) 1941–42; 6 Bde Apr 1943-Jun 1944; GOC 2 NZ Div 3–27 Mar 1944; CRA 2 NZ Div Jun-Aug 1944; comd 6 Bde Aug 1944-Jun 1945; QMG, Army HQ, Jan-Sep 1946; NZ Military Liaison Officer, London, 1946–49; Commander, Southern Military District, 1949–51.

2 Brigadier Gentry's period of service with the Division, first as staff officer then as brigade commander, was resumed in 1944.

page 338 short. Then Captain Harding,1 who was observing for 5 Field Regiment, opened fire with one gun, taking the risk of hitting the ledge instead of the summit; after trying conventional ranging, he finally brought the fall of shot round by round up the southern slopes, until from the last few rounds out of about sixty fired, three direct hits were obtained on the mosque, the range being about 8000 yards. It was by now about midday.

Parties from the ledge went forward at once, and found that the enemy had gone, using the same tunnel by which he had arrived. But he had not finished fighting and soon retaliated with heavy mortar fire from the lower village, where he was firmly entrenched. Harding silenced the mortars with artillery fire, and our troops fired at any movement they could see.

The lower village was a difficult target for field artillery to hit, as it was perched on a narrow ridge. During all this time Brigade Headquarters at the foot of the hill had been closely in touch with all activities, and after other devices had been suggested and discarded, Fairbrother, the Brigade Major, arranged for a 17–pounder anti-tank gun to snipe at the village, its lower trajectory being better suited to rake the target. After a shaky start—the first round hit the dome of the mosque occupied by our men—the gun worked back on to the village from south to north and caused considerable damage with its solid shot, in addition to the alarm caused by its high velocity.

Meanwhile Sergeant Manahi and some of his men had on their own initiative been stalking enemy posts on the north-east slopes, and had captured several, and other Maoris were moving down direct to the village. The enemy there was much shaken by the 17-pounder fire, and Lieutenant Hirst, who had sensed this, took a party, moved right round the western slopes and entered the village from the north, rounding up the enemy and driving them towards Manahi's group. This was too much for the enemy, who collapsed and surrendered: 323 prisoners were captured, of whom only five were German. The Italians, as before, came from Trieste Division.

The troops then on Takrouna were relieved in the early evening by a force drawn from A and B Companies of 21 Battalion, together with the battalion mortars and a platoon of machine guns, all under Captain Roach of B Company. The relief was effected without incident, and the new troops occupied the northern slopes with a small reserve below the mosque. Takrouna was now firmly held, and the operation brought a special message of commendation to 5 Brigade from General Horrocks and General Freyberg.

1 Maj A. F. Harding, MC; Wellington; born Wanganui, 27 Nov 1916; accountant; wounded 25 Nov 1941.

page 339

With the capture of Takrouna ORATION was over.

Casualties were heavy. From 19 to 21 April 3 officers and 43 other ranks were killed, 29 officers and 375 other ranks wounded, and 2 officers and 84 other ranks missing—a total of 536. The proportion of killed to wounded was luckily much lower than usual. The three battalions of 5 Brigade incurred the major number of casualties. The total for 21 Battalion was 169, for 28 Battalion 124, and for 23 Battalion 115, a total of 408. The 28th Battalion lost 12 officers out of 17.

The brigade captured 732 prisoners, of whom 164 were German. Equipment captured on Takrouna alone amounted to 12 guns of various types, 122 machine guns, 6 mortars and 4 vehicles.