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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy


page 376

IN September and October 1942 Eighth Army made its elaborate preparations for the offensive at Alamein. Reinforcements in troops and equipment were arriving. The New Zealand Division was taken from the front line to undergo special training for its role in the offensive. Vast administrative arrangements were made to sustain a concentrated attack for ten to fifteen days by seven infantry and three armoured divisions on prepared enemy positions and a subsequent rapid advance. Meanwhile every effort was made to hinder the enemy by air and naval attack on his lines of communication in the Mediterranean and North Africa from building up his reinforcements. In October the enemy was estimated to have 108,000 men and 540 tanks. Eighth Army numbered 177,000 men and in tanks, artillery, and in the air was superior.

At the end of September, under conditions as similar as possible to those anticipated in the actual attack, the New Zealand Division worked out and tested a technique for the initial assault. The medical units of the Division took part in the special training of the Division. The particular aspect affecting the Medical Corps was the planned evacuation of casualties through the minefields, which is set out later. On 30 September General Montgomery paid a visit to the Division and spent twelve hours with the New Zealanders, during which he travelled many miles over the desert training area behind the Alamein defences. He inspected four large parades and spoke to almost the complete New Zealand fighting force in the field. His policy of letting the Eighth Army know exactly what was going to happen and how it was going to happen was of the greatest value. All ADsMS and commanders of medical units were instructed at frequent conferences, and in the greatest detail, as the ‘G’ plan unfolded. The value of these conferences cannot be exaggerated.

For the first two weeks of October brigade and battalion training followed the divisional exercises. During this period 5 and 6 Field Ambulances and 166 British Light Field Ambulance ran both ADSs and MDSs for 5 and 6 Infantry Brigades and 9 British Armoured Brigade which was under command. Fourth Field Ambulance was located in Maadi with 4 NZ Armoured Brigade. On 14 October 2 NZ Division moved back to the coast where time was spent in page 377 swimming and resting prior to 22 October, when 5 and 6 Brigades took over for the big offensive the part of the Alamein line between 51 Highland Division and 1 South African Division.