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4th and 6th Reserve Mechanical Transport Companies

Friday, 21 November

Friday, 21 November

The New Zealand Division and 4 Indian Division begin a sweep around the enemy's southern frontier forts to sever them from the west. Screened by tanks and with the Divisional Cavalry in its light tanks and Bren carriers scouting ahead like sheepdogs, the Division continues north in the afternoon. In page 127 front the Divisional Cavalry's armoured fighting vehicles capture surprised Sidi Azeiz, and an even more surprised Italian officer taking a bath, at dusk. First blood.

Now the Division splits: 5 Brigade swings east to behind the frontier forts of Capuzzo, Musaid, and Sollum; 6 Brigade turns west, ready to go to Gambut, about 25 miles away and halfway to Tobruk; 4 Brigade continues north to cut the Bardia-Tobruk road.

Drivers have taken their vehicles safely through dust and darkness and over rock, potholes, shingle, and thornbushes. But not through mud. It's here now, mud in the desert, mud in your eye, glutinous, deep, dirty. The mess spreads wherever heavy rain fell during the night of the electrical storm. Before the mud is struck, 26 Battalion in C Section's (6 RMT) lorries are singing ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’. Once in the mud, the night is no longer silent or holy. Drivers and passengers work flat out before they are free. In every column bunches of cursing men, overcoated and hooded with balaclavas, are slithering and sliding, shoving and heaving from the side, from the back, from anywhere they can get a grip for hand and foot. Battalion Bren carriers do a great job rescuing and towing. In some of the worst spots drivers must back repeatedly before slushy tires begin to grip properly. Other lorries keep going only as long as nobody changes gears or slows down. The mud-spattered passengers pant behind for a chain or more, struggling through ooze to catch up to the tailboard, to clamber in, only to hear the truck stick again. Some Headquarters RMT trucks carrying no obliging infantry risk being left behind in their plight. One spare driver, frantic to get the truck moving, flings personal gear, webb-equipment, anything he can find, under the rear wheels for traction.

The most extraordinary incident of the night, according to a 6 RMT driver, takes place when leading vehicles of 25 Battalion run into bogged transport. The 6 RMT driver pulls up near two bogged Ford trucks and the riflemen in the lorry jump out to lend a hand. Not until the two trucks are almost clear do the riflemen discover they are liberating grateful Germans ‘driving Australian trucks captured in Greece’. Rounded up altogether are eight enemy vehicles and twenty very startled Germans from an isolated tank-repair unit.

page 128

Soon 6 Brigade, fed up with the floundering, camps for the night, ready to move on at dawn to attack Gambut. The 4th RMT lorries with 4 Brigade take up to 14 hours to cover 36 weary miles. Confounding confusion, an ambulance convoy mixes with C Section. The woes of D Section increase when an anti-tank ditch 12 feet deep and 15 feet wide yawns unexpectedly ahead. ‘Much credit is due to the MT drivers for the manner in which they navigated this exceedingly difficult piece of going,’ notes 19 Battalion's war diary.

Fifth Brigade is in action: a company of 23 Battalion sent to reconnoitre Capuzzo during the night captures it; 21 Battalion reconnoitres Bir Hafid.

black and white map of directions of soldiers advancing

routes of new zealand brigades in advance to sidi rezegh, 18–27 november 1941