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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Ruweisat Ridge

Ruweisat Ridge

On the night of 14-15 July 4 and 5 Brigades made an attack on Ruweisat Ridge. By daylight they gained their objective but were unable to establish themselves with supporting arms. The Germans counter-attacked strongly. In the absence of the support expected from British armour, three New Zealand battalions were overrun, and the two brigades were forced to withdraw with considerable losses.

The advanced dressing stations for this attack were 4 ADS and 5 ADS. There was much enemy air activity over nearby areas on 15 July, and some bombs fell in 5 ADS area but only damaged one truck. During the day 4 ADS, under Maj J. M. Coutts,4 admitted 103 New Zealand and twelve British patients, and 5 ADS, under Capt J. M. Watt,5 159 New Zealanders plus British, Indian, and page 212 enemy wounded. At 8.30 p.m. 5 ADS was told to be ready to move at immediate notice. Tents were struck and the patients then held were loaded on the available vehicles, but at half past eleven word was received that there would be no move and the tents were erected again by midnight.

For the week that it had been open 5 MDS had been steadily admitting bomb and shell casualties, but on 15 July the number of admissions jumped to 400, of whom 167 were held overnight. The unit was handicapped by shortage of transport and was also understaffed, although 32 reinforcements had been received on the 12th. When 5 MDS was relieved by 4 MDS on the 16th, it had treated 1095 cases since 7 July. The whole of 5 Field Ambulance was then placed under command of 4 Brigade, which moved back to Maadi Camp at this stage.

Sixth Field Ambulance had moved to the desert from Maadi on the 16th and waited in reserve alongside 4 MDS. Ahead was the almost continuous rumble of gunfire, and German bombers ranged the sky, pursued by tiny puffs of smoke from the anti-aircraft barrage. A squadron of bombers circled the ambulance position and everyone dived for slit trenches, but the aircraft passed over the Red Cross markings and made for some transport vehicles nearby. Tiny bombs, shining silver in the sunlight, fell away from under the planes. Slowly at first but gathering speed, they fell at a steep angle to burst in spouts of flame and smoke just beyond the unit's area.

4 Lt-Col J. M. Coutts, OBE, ED, m.i.d.; born Scotland, 20 Aug 1903; Medical Practitioner, Martinborough; Medical Officer 7 Fd Amb (Fiji) Oct 1940-Aug 1941; 4 Fd Amb Feb 1942-Jun 1943; 1 Gen Hosp Jun 1943-Jun 1944; CO 5 Fd Amb Jun 1944-Jun 1945.

5 Maj J. M. Watt, m.i.d.; born Dunedin, 5 Jul 1914; Medical Practitioner, Wellington Hospital; Medical Officer 2 Gen Hosp Aug 1940-May 1941; 5 Fd Amb May 1941-Dec 1943; 3 Gen Hosp Jan-Jun 1944.