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Bardia to Enfidaville

22 March

22 March

At first light 8 Armoured Brigade advanced with Staffs Yeomanry on the right, Notts Yeomanry on the left, and 3 Royal Tanks in reserve. The brigade made little progress, being much hampered by enemy artillery fire from both flanks, including fire from 88-millimetre guns. Staffs Yeomanry established a footing in the right of the enemy line about Point 247, knocked out at least one tank and took 100 prisoners, and for its pains was bombed by our own aircraft. Notts Yeomanry passed through the minefield and penetrated to the north of Point 201, but was heavily shelled and lost two tanks. During the advance of 8 Armoured Brigade, Colonel Kellett, DSO, second-in-command of the brigade, was killed, actually while talking to General Freyberg, who as usual was well to the front.

Intelligence reports the previous evening had foreshadowed the arrival of three troops of 88-millimetre guns, and now proof had come that the report was correct. Moreover, by midday ground observers reported eleven enemy tanks north-east of Point 201, and later another twenty tanks were reported a few miles farther back. Later still, air reconnaissance confirmed that this was 21 Panzer Division.

In the early afternoon there was a series of tank engagements at long range, punctuated by enemy artillery fire from the foothills of Djebel Tebaga. The RAF made several raids in support of NZ Corps during the day, and on one occasion some forty aircraft bombed a group of tanks estimated at forty and claimed hits on thirty-two, including the destruction of nine.

Divisional Cavalry also moved forward through the minefield with orders to clear enemy positions, including the enemy guns on the Djebel Tebaga slopes, that were holding up the tanks, but enemy fire, both from guns and tanks, was too strong and little progress was made. They did, however, capture one troop of 77-millimetre guns and took prisoner 11 officers and 135 other ranks, all Italians.

King's Dragoon Guards spent most of the day in and around Zemlet el Madjel, but in the afternoon one squadron was sent to try to find a passage through Djebel Tebaga. The squadron reached the top of the range but reported that the northern face was sheer and impassable.

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During the day both 4 and 6 Field Regiments, and the anti-tank batteries with 6 Brigade, moved forward, for enemy targets were getting out of range. The counter-battery work by the Corps artillery (111 Field Regiment, RA, 64 Medium Regiment, RA, and 4 and 6 Field Regiments, NZA) was effective enough to quieten the enemy guns from time to time.

A number of enemy air raids on our gun positions during the day caused no damage, but bombs did cause damage and casualties in the forward medical units. Towards the end of the day it was thought better to move 6 Brigade Advanced Dressing Station to a quieter position.

The ground occupied by 25 and 26 Battalions was kept under heavy enemy fire, and at midday it was bombed. The 25th Battalion had ten casualties from shellfire. In the early evening 6 Infantry Brigade began to ease forward and occupy the ground gained during the day by the tanks, and as part of this move 25 Battalion took over a little of the frontage of 26 Battalion east of the KebiliEl Hamma road, so allowing the latter to stretch out to the north and east. The 25th Battalion moved without incident, and deployed the reserve company on its left flank. But when B Company of 26 Battalion began to move towards high ground on the right flank, a radio message was received saying that enemy tanks and Italian troops in unknown strengths were advancing up a wadi on the other side. The company took cover at the north-west end of the feature and waited for the position to clarify, the Italians being visible about 100 yards away. Their supporting machine-gun platoon (4 Platoon of 2 MG Company), thinking that B Company had occupied the feature but having no means of wireless communication with the company commander, moved up to consolidate. The result was that the platoon, under Lieutenant Titchener,1 ran into the Italians, and while both sides were surprised, the machine-gunners recovered first and rounded up thirty-five Italians and captured intact four 75-millimetre guns and two machine-gun posts.

The enemy vehicles advancing on the feature were then engaged by 8 Armoured Brigade, and the enemy advance petered out. It appears most unlikely that these vehicles were in fact tanks; Lieutenant Titchener himself disclaims their presence, saying that they were more likely to be tracked infantry carriers.

The remainder of 26 Battalion moved forward unopposed to their new positions some 500 to 1000 yards ahead. By the end of the day the enemy was securely established on the high ground page 188 to the north-west and the east of PLUM, and had cross-observation on all movement over the ground between Djebel Melab and Djebel Tebaga. There was every sign that he intended to stay there.

1 Lt-Col W. F. Titchener, MC and bar; Ahmedabad, India; born Dunedin, 14 Dec 1907; public accountant; CO 27 Bn, Japan, May 1946–Mar 1947; wounded 2 Nov 1942.