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Bardia to Enfidaville

Change of Plan

Change of Plan

On 29 April Eighteenth Army Group had in fact issued another directive to First Army for the continuation of the offensive, which was to be pursued with the formations already under command, but this was held back when Montgomery's message was received, and after the discussion on 30 April it was cancelled.

At this meeting Montgomery repeated that he could now see no good purpose in going on with his offensive up the coast, and the whole tactical position was discussed. The first decision was that Eighth Army was to adopt a purely holding role. The next, the earlier ‘administrative difficulties’ evidently overcome, was that the best formations that could be spared from Eighth Army were to be moved across at once to First Army. It is clear that while General Alexander had been quite prepared to plan the First Army attack with its existing strength, he was more than willing to accept the transfer of troops now that Montgomery was willing to give them up. He was in any case becoming anxious about further delays, as in the background was the invasion of Sicily, which would take some time to prepare.

The speed with which the new plan was made is indicated by the fact that, although Alexander did not arrive at Headquarters Eighth Army until 7.30 a.m., the orders for 4 Indian Division and other formations to move were sent out at 9 a.m., only an hour and a half later.

page 355

The prospects for First Army now changed from a continuation of a slogging match to the delivery of a smashing blow. The new plan put overwhelming strength at the decisive point, and made full use of the power of the Allied forces. Perhaps the decision to transfer troops was a little belated.

Montgomery selected 7 Armoured Division, 4 Indian Division, and 201 Guards Brigade for transfer and there was a very good reason for the choice of these formations. They were the nucleus of the original Western Desert Force of 1940, from which Eighth Army had evolved. (The 201st Guards Brigade was at that time numbered 22.) The 7th Armoured Division and 4 Indian Division had taken part in the first offensive at Sidi Barrani in December 1940, and it was fitting that they should take part in the final victory. To quote from General Alexander's despatch:

The Enfidaville line thus marked the culmination of Eighth Army's great advance across Africa….In six months they had advanced eighteen hundred miles and fought numerous battles in which they were always successful. This would be an astonishing rate of progress even in a civilised country with all the modern facilities of transport—the equivalent of an advance from London to two hundred miles east of Moscow—but in a desert it was even more remarkable.

In the First Army the commander of 9 Corps had been accidentally wounded, and Lieutenant-General Horrocks was sent from 10 Corps to take over 9 Corps, which was to be the spearhead of the final attack. Lieutenant-General Freyberg was then appointed to take temporary command of 10 Corps.

The task of Eighth Army now became a holding one on the existing line and to maintain pressure by limited attacks with the forces available. These were now 2 NZ, 51 (H), 56 (L), and 1 Free French Divisions, and 4 Light Armoured and 8 Armoured Brigades. Montgomery decided to hold the line with 56 (L) and 1 Free French Divisions, to keep 51 (H) in reserve where it could begin training for Sicily, and to move 2 NZ Division and 8 Armoured Brigade to the western flank for an operation against Saouaf—an operation which was designed to assist the French formations, due to attack on 3 May. All these formations, except 51 (H) Division in Army Reserve, formed part of 10 Corps.

Lieutenant-General Freyberg took over the Corps at 4 p.m. on 30 April, and at the same time Brigadier Kippenberger took command of 2 NZ Division, Lieutenant-Colonel R. W. Harding took over 5 Infantry Brigade and Major M. C. Fairbrother went to command 21 Battalion.

page 356

During these last few days the Hon. F. Jones, New Zealand Minister of Defence, visited the Division. He arrived at Headquarters on 27 April and remained until 1 May, visiting many of the units not in the line. He also had discussions with Lieutenant-General Freyberg regarding the General's future, and on proposals for a furlough scheme for long-service personnel.