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Bardia to Enfidaville

2 NZ Division after Takrouna

2 NZ Division after Takrouna

When, on 21 April, General Freyberg heard Horrocks's account of the Army Commander's intentions, he said that his own appreciation had been the same that morning, but he now wondered if it would not be better to thrust north-west from Takrouna. Fifth Infantry Brigade would try to complete its objective within the next twenty-four hours, and after that it would depend on where the best gun positions could be found. However, during the night of 21–22 April, 25 Battalion made a special reconnaissance of those parts of Cherachir not yet occupied, with the idea of later making a silent attack by one company to secure the whole feature. But the information brought back led Lieutenant-Colonel Morten to think that the attack could not succeed, and after discussion with Brigadier Kippenberger it was cancelled. After this no attempt to capture Cherachir, far less Froukr, was made by 2 NZ Division.

During the night engineers from 7 Field Company cleared mines in 28 Battalion area, and also on the road from Takrouna village to the Zaghouan road, so enabling supporting arms to be sent up to Captain Roach on Takrouna.

On 22 April there was little activity on the part of 2 NZ Division, except for some artillery fire on known enemy positions. Very little observed shooting was done owing to poor visibility, which not even the Air OP could overcome. The main air offensive was crippled this day by bad weather. Enemy artillery and mortars were very active, the bulk of the fire being against Cherachir and Takrouna. The 25th Battalion was severely shelled from time to time during the day, and had five killed and nine wounded, and fire on Takrouna was continuous. Altogether the shelling on 5 Brigade's front was the heaviest yet experienced.

On this day 8 Armoured Brigade was withdrawn for rest and maintenance. In the morning the GOC conferred with the commanders of 5 and 6 Brigades, and decided that 6 Brigade should take over the whole divisional front on the following night, but in the evening this move was cancelled, and 5 Brigade stayed in the line for another twenty-four hours, at the end of which time it was in any case to be relieved by a brigade of 51 (H) Division. page 344 This was Brigadier Parkinson's first day in command of 6 Infantry Brigade. The 28th (Maori) Battalion also had a new commander, for Major Keiha1 arrived from the LOB camp near Tripoli and took over.

During the night of 22–23 April 6 Infantry Brigade sent out patrols as preliminaries to a proposed operation to capture the Srafi feature, north of Djebel el Hamaid. Some reorganisation took place within 5 Infantry Brigade where 25 Battalion relieved 21 Battalion on Takrouna, and at the same time bowed to the inevitable, gave up the position on Cherachir, and withdrew to the northern slopes of Djebel Bir and Takrouna. The shelling on Cherachir had been too intense, Kippenberger considered, to be suffered a second day to no good purpose.

The 10 Corps programme of reliefs started this night with the relief of 4 Indian Division by 51 (Highland) Division. Next day, 23 April, representatives from 152 Brigade of 51 (H) Division arrived to prepare for the relief of 5 Infantry Brigade, which was carried out after dark. The 25th Battalion suffered casualties from mines and booby traps still in the area, but 21 and 28 Battalions were relieved without loss, and the whole changeover was complete by 3 a.m., 24 April. The 25th Battalion then reverted to 6 Infantry Brigade, while 5 Brigade assembled in a rest area about seven miles south of Enfidaville. It had experienced one of its most difficult assignments, had been only partly successful, but had produced in the capture of Takrouna a feat which had caught the attention of the whole army.

There had also been a change on the east flank of 2 NZ Division, where 56 (London) Division took over from 50 (Northumbrian) Division. The 201st Guards Brigade of 50 (N) Division remained in the line, however, passing to the command of the London Division. This last formation had come all the way from Iraq direct into action, travelling 3223 miles in 30 days, probably a record in approach marches. The division was now seeing operational service for the first time.

After the relief of 5 Brigade the frontage of 2 NZ Division was that of 6 Brigade only, with its forward defences unchanged, running in a semicircle from Point 63 (east of Hamaid en Nakrla) to the Zaghouan road north-east of Djebel Bir.

In the evening of 22 April General Freyberg had agreed to push forward the 6 Brigade line, first for 2000 yards on the night 23–24 April, and then for an unspecified distance on the night 24–25

1 Lt-Col K. A. Keiha, MC; Lower Hutt; born Gisborne, 24 Jan 1900; law clerk and interpreter; CO 28 Bn Apr–Sep 1943.

page 345 April, both advances to be without armoured or artillery support in the hope that such ‘peaceful penetrations’ would be successful. This was not considered too venturesome, for a marked enemy map captured on Takrouna had shown that the enemy's main line was still some distance to the north.1 The GOC said beforehand that it was not likely that much opposition would be met on the first advance, but that the second might be a greater problem. He was right.

These advances were in fact the first measures in the new policy of widening the ‘throat’ of the coastal strip, and were to be followed by similar attacks. The object was to obtain a position from which to attack the main enemy line in the Kef AteyaSidi Cherif area.

The objectives given to battalions for the first night's advance were, for 26 Battalion, Djebel dar Djaje, and for 24 Battalion, Djebel el Hamaid. Both battalions were to dig in deeply on their objectives, and 24 Battalion was to be sited with a view to repelling attacks from the north-west. The axis of advance was now running almost parallel to the enemy's front, and 24 Battalion was in effect open to being ‘raked’ from its left flank. Each battalion was to have an additional platoon of machine guns. Two squadrons of tanks from Staffs Yeomanry were to take up positions about a mile south-east of the new line ready in case of an immediate enemy counter-attack. The 201st Guards Brigade would also be advancing on the right.

At 10 p.m. the two battalions advanced, each with two companies only, and occupied their objectives without opposition. Supporting arms were in position before 1 a.m. on 24 April. The 24th Battalion exploited forwards to Point 107, and had a short exchange of fire with an enemy patrol during which one man was wounded, the only casualty in either unit. Junction with 201 Guards Brigade was made by 26 Battalion just to the east of Djebel Djaje, and the tanks were in their appointed position.

Little movement was seen after daylight, but enemy shelling and mortaring were severe, for good use was made of Djebel el Froukr for observation purposes, as it overlooked the 6 Brigade salient. The feature was first ‘stonked’ several times, but the summit was razor-edged and a difficult target. At 2.15 p.m. the CRA fired a concentration from fourteen regiments, which brought heavy retaliation directed on Takrouna. Lieutenant-General Horrocks observed this concentration from a vantage point on Takrouna, which he was visiting, and was pinned to the ground by the enemy's shellfire.

1 See p. 310.

page 346 During the day Notts Yeomanry moved out north-east of Enfidaville in support of 201 Guards Brigade, and in the course of the operation its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel J. D. Player, who had done much in the support of 5 Brigade, was killed.

At 9.30 a.m. a conference was held at Headquarters 2 NZ Division, attended also by the GOC 56 (L) Division and his brigadiers. This decided that the second advance by 201 Guards Brigade and 6 Brigade should again be silent, but the artillery was to be ready to support the advance with concentrations and to bring down defensive fire later. The objectives for 6 Brigade were first Djebel Terhouna, including a spur running to the north, and then Djebel es Srafi, both to be taken by 26 Battalion, which alone was to advance. On the right 201 Guards Brigade would conform. The 25th Battalion was to move up to the rear of 26 Battalion to strengthen the defence facing north-west, for by the end of the page 347 operation the brigade line would run nearly north and south. The 24th Battalion would not move, but the ‘hinge’ of the line just east of Djebel Bir was strengthened by several anti-tank guns, including two 17-pounders.

black and white plans for military attack

djebel terhouna and djebel es srafi. night attacks on 23 and 24 april

A final decision about artillery support was to be made at 6 p.m., but the divisional intelligence summary issued at that hour caused some concern as it stated that the enemy was in occupation of part of the objective, in particular the west end of Djebel es Srafi. There was further consultation between brigade and divisional headquarters, and a decision was not reached until 9 p.m. This was to adhere to the silent attack, as the case was held to be not proven, but events proved that the summary was substantially correct.

At 10 p.m. 26 Battalion, with B Company (Major L. G. Smith1) on the right, and A Company (Captain F. M. Ollivier) on the left, moved off to their objectives, Terhouna and Srafi respectively. B Company almost reached Terhouna but then met shell and mortar fire, and two platoons were held up. The company commander called for an artillery concentration at 3 a.m., and this was fired fifteen minutes later; but the enemy's fire intensified, and Major Smith was mortally wounded. The CSM, Warrant Officer Lock,2 sited the two platoons, helped in the evacuation of the wounded, and then guided up the supporting arms, which were all in position on Terhouna before dawn. The enemy made no attempt to counterattack, but kept the feature under heavy fire.

A Company met strong opposition on Srafi. During its approach heavy fire came from the feature itself, and as the ground was broken and the going difficult little progress was made, and the company went to ground on the southern slopes. Captain Ollivier went back to report to Lieutenant-Colonel Fountaine, who decided that another attempt must be made, and arranged for C Company (Captain J. J. D. Sinclair) to assist. C Company was directed to the east end of Srafi and A to the west. Arrangements were made for the artillery to fire concentrations on Point 141, a feature just beyond Srafi, and for the battalion mortars joined by others from 24 Battalion to bombard Srafi and then Point 141.

At 3.30 a.m. the mortars fired from behind Djebel el Hamaid, and as soon as they had switched to Point 141 C Company advanced from south-east of Srafi. The fighting was severe, as the enemy troops—all Italian from Young Fascist Division—were well dug-in and well armed, and their pits had to be cleared out by hand grenades and bayonets. While the rest of the company was fighting

1 Maj L. G. Smith, m.i.d.; born Mataura, 18 Aug 1911; accountant; died of wounds 25 Apr 1943.

2 Capt A. R. G. Lock, DCM, MM, m.i.d.; Rotorua; born Masterton, 4 Jan 1914; carpenter; wounded 24 Oct 1942.

page 348 on Srafi, 13 Platoon (Lieutenant Thomas1) went on to attack Point 141 and even induced the enemy to surrender, but by that time was reduced to the OC and three other ranks. The prisoners managed to regain their positions, and the opposition was too strong for the small party, which had to withdraw to Srafi, and even here the company had in the end to be content with digging in on the southern slopes. It was now only 27 strong.

A Company's experience on the western end of Srafi was much the same, and the fighting soon became a series of section and individual actions among a maze of occupied trenches. Bit by bit the company, now only between twenty-five and thirty strong, became lodged on the western end and was in touch with C Company, but as it had not been possible to clear Point 141, it had to keep below the crest.

At daylight on 25 April (Anzac Day) an enemy attempt to clear Srafi was defeated, but he continued to hold weapon pits on the highest point, and our companies could not advance farther. There was persistent sniping, mortaring and shelling, and movement from the trenches was impossible. But no further attack developed and the companies retained their somewhat uneasy gains.

B Company on Terhouna was likewise pinned to its trenches during daylight, but made contact between all three platoons and was reasonably secure. It was in touch with neither 201 Guards Brigade on Hamadet es Sourrah nor with C Company on Srafi, although the gaps were covered by fire.

Headquarters 6 Brigade had made arrangements for a further attack on Srafi should 26 Battalion not succeed, and for this purpose moved A Company of 25 Battalion (now on Hamaid en Nakrla) to a point near Headquarters 26 Battalion behind Djebel dar Djaje, intending that it should be used as part of a force for which 3 Royal Tanks was to provide armour. When at 5.40 a.m. it was reported that Srafi had been captured, this plan was cancelled, but when a little later 26 Battalion reported that its companies had reached only the southern slopes, 3 Royal Tanks was instructed to move up to occupy the feature. Unfortunately the plan to incorporate infantry was not revived. Tanks from B Squadron, 3 Royal Tanks, swept over the top of Srafi at 9 a.m. and destroyed some guns, then withdrew to the foot of the hill owing to shelling. Again at 1 p.m. they moved over the top, this time as far as Point 141, reporting that they thought infantry could get there if the tanks removed themselves to avoid drawing fire. But while part of C Company succeeded in clearing the eastern end of Srafi and

1 Lt G. J. Thomas, MC; Nelson; born NZ 17 Mar 1917; tobacco grower; twice wounded.

page 349 consolidating there, no infantry was available to follow up the tank attack, and the tanks promptly called for infantry support. However, the companies on Srafi were too weak to do any more, and the tank attack remained a rather disjointed operation. Enemy infantry, which seems to have remained in concealment during the armoured sweeps, was not permanently dislodged. At 2.15 p.m. Fountaine reported that he could hold Srafi but could not both capture and hold Point 141.

Evacuation of the wounded from Srafi was a continuing problem. Walking wounded as usual made their own way back, but one of the tragic hazards of war occurred when some of these, still with their arms, appeared from the enemy side of Point 114, held by 24 Battalion. They were fired on, and one was killed and two wounded again before their identity was established. The casualties in 26 Battalion up to the end of 25 April were six killed and twenty-seven wounded, with six missing.

For 24 Battalion the day was one of constant shelling and restricted movement. At one stage, seeing enemy troops on Srafi, the OC B Company, Major Andrews, took forward two carriers with heavy machine guns and opened fire from about 1400 yards. The enemy troops scattered, but 88-millimetre guns soon opened up on the carriers, which were obviously under direct observation, and they had to withdraw.

On Djebel Terhouna and Djebel es Srafi enemy fire died down towards evening, and after dusk meals were taken up to the forward companies. B Company extended its line to the east and made junction with 201 Guards Brigade, and our artillery fired three heavy concentrations on Point 141 during the night to discourage any idea the enemy might have of counter-attacking. The situation, however, had steadied down into uneasy stalemate.

The opposing enemy comprised Young Fascists interspersed with men from 90 Light. There was also a report of tanks some distance back but it was a doubtful one. It is unlikely that there were any German tanks hereabouts at this time, as 15 Panzer Division was already away in the north.

That the enemy had accepted the position was shown on 26 April, when his shelling greatly decreased and our troops had a comparatively quiet day. It was their last action for a while, as 25 and 26 Battalions were relieved that night by 169 Infantry Brigade of 56 (L) Division, and 24 Battalion by 152 Infantry Brigade of 51 (H) Division, the boundaries between these two divisions being adjusted accordingly. Despite a little harassing fire the relief was complete by 2.30 a.m. on 27 April, without incident.

page 350

The 4th Indian Division was withdrawn from the line at much the same time, and Eighth Army's front was held by 56 (L) Division on the right from the coast to Djebel dar Djaje: 51 (H) Division in the centre as far as the western side of Djebel Garci: and 7 Armoured Division on the west flank, soon to be replaced by 4 Light Armoured Brigade and ‘L’ Force. The French 19 Corps, one division of which was under Eighth Army, was on the left.

The New Zealand Division, including 8 Armoured Brigade, but less the artillery and engineers, concentrated in a rest area a few miles west and north-west of Sidi bou Ali. The duties of the artillery and engineers will be described later.