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Bardia to Enfidaville

2 NZ Division Moves to Medenine

page 136

2 NZ Division Moves to Medenine

Late on 28 February General Freyberg was warned that 2 NZ Division would move immediately to Medenine, to come under command of 30 Corps. He was himself to fly to Medenine to see both General Montgomery and Lieutenant-General Leese. Before leaving, Freyberg left instructions that 5 Brigade was to be prepared to move at once, so that delays on the single, narrow road between Tripoli and Medenine would not prevent the immediate deployment of a complete brigade group. The rest of the Division was to follow as soon as the necessary arrangements were made.

Accordingly, while Freyberg was away, 5 Brigade Group was informed early on 1 March that it would receive replenishment priority and, accompanied by its ancillary arms, would move with its second-line transport and additional ammunition, petrol and rations to Medenine. The 5 Brigade orders group left Suani Ben Adem at midday, reaching Headquarters 30 Corps six hours later. Here Brigadier Kippenberger was given details of the area which the brigade was to occupy. Meanwhile the brigade group assembled, and by midnight was ready to move. However, the remainder of the Division had by this time so advanced preparations for the move that when General Freyberg returned he put Main Headquarters NZ Division, Survey Troop of 36 Survey Battery, 4 Field Regiment, Headquarters Divisional Artillery, Engineers and Signals on the road first. This group left Suani Ben Adem at 9.30 p.m., 1 March, and the 5 Brigade Group left an hour later. The rest of the Division was not far behind, 6 Brigade being on the road at 10.15 a.m., 2 March, and the last group, which included Divisional Cavalry, that same afternoon. The GOC and the CRE, Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson, went by air early on 2 March, followed in another aircraft by the CRA, Brigadier Weir, and the GSO I, Colonel Queree.

The move of the Division demonstrated once more the flexibility of the components of Eighth Army. On the first day of March, with the exception of 5 Brigade which had been warned of the move before dawn, all formations of the Division were occupied by the diverse activities of a non-operational period. The Divisional Artillery moved that morning to the south of Azizia to begin a three-day course of tactical and gunnery exercises, 6 Brigade was holding a football tournament, Divisional Cavalry was testing and adjusting the 37-millimetre guns which had arrived for the Stuart tanks. If any thought was given to future operations it would have been in terms of Montgomery's outline plan for PUGILIST, in which 2 NZ Division was scheduled to advance into the Dahar by way of Nalut. Yet within two days the vast quantity of supplies necessary to move the Division and to maintain it in page 137 battle for six days had been drawn and distributed, bivouac areas had been evacuated, vehicles had been prepared, and all units had left the area. Within one more day the Division was ready for battle nearly 200 miles away.

The road was narrow, not built for heavy traffic, and was frequently blocked by tank transporters, some of which had to be off-loaded to cross bridges south of Ben Gardane. All groups took rather more than fifteen hours to cover the distance, the complete move being made with very little incident. At Medenine, 30 Corps had issued an operational order on 28 February, defining the divisional areas that were to be occupied for the defensive battle that was expected on, or soon after, 3 March. General Freyberg had seen the area assigned to 2 NZ Division on 1 March, and that same evening the 5 Brigade orders group arrived at HQ 30 Corps to be given details of the brigade sector. In this way all commanders down to battalion level had a fair understanding of the task, and the areas to be occupied, before the units arrived.