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Bardia to Enfidaville

Dock Labour

page 125

Dock Labour

On 10 February 2 NZ Division took over from 51 (H) Division guard duties in Tripoli, provision of working parties in the dock area, and part of the anti-aircraft defences. For this purpose 6 Infantry Brigade moved into Tripoli, Brigade Headquarters being in the Governor's Palace. Infantry units found guards for power stations, wine factories, hospitals, breweries, petrol depots, water points, flour mills and so on. Brigade Headquarters co-ordinated demands for dock working parties, 900 men being drawn from the brigade itself, 1200 from a composite artillery regiment stationed in the town, and up to 1150 a day from other divisional units (5 Brigade, Divisional Cavalry, and 27 (MG) Battalion). Shifts were worked day and night both on the ships and on shore.

The work on the docks was well done, and received praise from higher authority and even from Mr Churchill himself, who on one occasion sent a laudatory telegram. It transpired that the discharge figures were signalled to him daily, and a figure of 2700 tons on 14 February had inspired the telegram. For the moment, tons of stores were more important than ground gained.

However, there was a reverse to the medal, for there was too much pilfering; and on one occasion there was an explosion on an ammunition barge being unloaded by the Maoris, the suspected cause being smoking by some of the men, although this was strictly against orders. At least-one man was killed and several wounded. This last episode led to a stiff interview between General Montgomery and Brigadier Kippenberger, who was temporarily in charge of the Division in General Freyberg's absence. The Army Commander hauled the Brigadier over the coals for the Division's delinquency, and although he stoutly defended the Division, Kippenberger was conscious that he was on shaky ground.1

There was then a general tightening up of discipline among the working parties, both by stricter control by Divisional Provost Company to prevent pilfering, and by a closer supervision by officers in charge of parties. The CO 28 (Maori) Battalion went so far as to stop leave for the unit for some days until he could be convinced that general behaviour had improved. Progressively from 17 to 28 February demands for labour from the Division were reduced, and the work was taken over by pioneer and labour units. The Composite Regiment returned to its units on 25 February and 6 Infantry Brigade to its bivouac area at Suani Ben Adem on the 28th.

page 126

Meanwhile 14 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment had been frequently in action along the waterfront, and had fired 30,000 rounds as part of the anti-aircraft barrage over the area. There were enemy raids almost daily, but the damage caused was negligible, and the New Zealand units had no casualties.

1 Infantry Brigadier, pp. 268–9.