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Bardia to Enfidaville

15th January

page 96

15th January

AFTER moving forward during the night 51 (Highland) Division made contact on 15 January with the enemy line and prepared for a night attack. In the southern sector 7 Armoured and 2 NZ Divisions were more mobile. General Freyberg, accompanied by the CRA (Brigadier C. E. Weir), spent the day with Tactical Headquarters, which was shelled at intervals. An officer and three men of the protective troop were wounded.

Divisional Cavalry crossed the start line at 7.15 a.m. and reported its first bound clear twenty-five minutes later. This was a ridge immediately west of the Bu Ngem track. At the same time 7 Armoured Division found that the Dor Umm er Raml ridge on its front was held by anti-tank guns. Thus it was not surprising that when Divisional Cavalry advanced to its second bound, the western edge of Dor Umm er Raml, it encountered an infantry and anti-tank screen, and that A Squadron was held up. B Squadron moved off in an attempt to work round the enemy's southern flank, and in this was partly successful, destroying a 75-millimetre gun in the process.

By about 9.30 a.m. the enemy was seen to be in strength sufficient to hold up the advance for some hours. His shelling was particularly heavy. Freyberg therefore altered the thrust line 30 degrees to the south to turn the enemy's flanks and called the Greys forward as a complete regiment to move behind Divisional Cavalry. The 211th Medium Battery and 4 Field Regiment were also brought forward from the Reserve Group.

On this new thrust line Divisional Cavalry gradually worked round the end of the ridge, helped by some good shooting from 34 Anti-Tank Battery and a troop of 26 Field Battery. About midday the GOC ordered the Greys to follow, but on a personal reconnaissance found the going heavy and about 3 p.m. reverted to the original thrust line. By late afternoon Divisional Cavalry and the Greys were round the end of Dor Umm er Raml and had engaged enemy tanks and transport on the western side. Both units page 97 laagered for the night on the southern slopes of the ridge. In the last spurt of enemy shelling at dusk several more casualties were added to the day's small total.

The rest of the Division advanced slowly without coming into action. Fifth Infantry Brigade Group could not move at all until 2.50 p.m., and was still east of the Bu Ngem track at the end of the day. By nightfall only some eight miles had been gained and, in the words of the GOC, ‘progress was slow’. From his prepared positions the enemy probably had the better of the engagement; but on the whole Freyberg was satisfied, for the pressure played its part in deciding the enemy to draw back. Nevertheless the objectives for 15 January, Sedada and Tmed el Chatua, were still a long way off.

The tanks of 7 Armoured Division were in action during the day and inflicted losses on the enemy, but at some cost to themselves. The 4th Light Armoured Brigade finished the day well to the south-west, with the Royals near El Faschia, which was still in enemy hands.

At the end of the day the GOC learnt that 30 Corps would resume the advance to Sedada at first light next morning.