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Bardia to Enfidaville

21 January—the Plains of Tripoli

21 January—the Plains of Tripoli

By the evening of 21 January 51 (Highland) Division had forced the enemy back from Corradini, and Tripoli was less than 50 miles ahead. Despite this the Army Commander was uneasy at the lack of speed, for he noted that demolitions on the road had been skilfully related to the ground, so that it was often impossible for even tracked vehicles to get past.4 His Chief of Staff, Brigadier page 110 de Guingand, writes, ‘demolitions had caused great congestion…. it looked a ghastly picture, and one wondered whether it could ever be sorted out in time.’1

In the evening Montgomery decided on his final thrust. The object was to get to Tripoli without delay, forgoing any idea of rounding up the enemy, and taking advantage of the fact that the enemy had weakened his coastal forces to counter the inland column. He decided, therefore, to order his Army Reserve, 22 Armoured Brigade, to pass through 51 (H) Division on 22 January and force its way into Tripoli along the coastal road.

The 7th Armoured Division made little progress on 21 January and at last light still faced the defile ten miles west of Tarhuna. But a first success had been gained towards outflanking the enemy, for 11 Hussars from the division reached the flat country below the escarpment and patrolled up to 25 miles west of Tarhuna towards Azizia.

The 4th Light Armoured Brigade moved its main body down from the Gebel during the night of 20–21 January, and patrolled towards Garian and Azizia, one patrol going as far as Bir el Ghnem. Tanks were located round Azizia, and new defences blocking the road south of Castel Benito. Late on the 21st the brigade reported that it was in excellent country for tanks and that there was a good opportunity of cutting through to the coast; but General Freyberg, to whom the suggestion was made, would not agree to release the Greys, and his refusal was confirmed by 30 Corps. The suggestion was rather venturesome.

At dawn 8 Field Company began work on the track through the defile, which occupied it all day and into the night. It was a cold morning, and the troops found ice on their groundsheets. Divisional Cavalry was off early, followed by Tactical Headquarters and using the track from Tazzoli to Garian for about 13 miles, then turning due north into the defile over which RAF fighters and guns from 14 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment provided protection. To counter ground opposition, a gun group of 4 Field Regiment, 211 Medium Battery, and later 5 Field Regiment, moved immediately behind Divisional Cavalry. At 1 p.m. there was a raid by twelve aircraft, but no damage was done.

After advancing more than 25 miles along the divisional axis and reaching a point about eight miles south-east of Azizia, Divisional Cavalry came under shellfire and reported the enemy in position westwards from Point 193—ten miles east of Azizia. The 4th Field Regiment and 211 Medium Battery opened fire and compelled the enemy artillery to retire, leaving behind a gun and a page 111 truck. By that time it was dark, and the Cavalry laagered 15 miles south-east of Azizia, with Tactical Headquarters and the Greys close by.

Fifth Infantry Brigade Group did not move from south of Tarhuna until late morning, when 28 (Maori) Battalion led the advance in single column. By evening the battalion was out in the plain making contact with the rear of Divisional Cavalry. Brigadier Kippenberger, who had spent the day forward, gave the Maoris the task of protecting the Greys' laager. The remainder of 5 Brigade Group halted about 10 p.m. not far behind Divisional Cavalry.

Divisional Headquarters and the Reserve Group did not pass through the defile until after dark, and halted when just clear. The rest of the Division was still to the east of Tazzoli and farther back along the road to Beni Ulid.

1 Operation Victory, pp. 229–30.