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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

General Situation – The Pursuit to the Frontier

General Situation – The Pursuit to the Frontier

The aim of the Division's outflanking movement on Fuka from the breakout at the Alamein line was to cut off the enemy retreat along the coast road. But the enemy made a quick withdrawal defeating the original aim. Near Fuka on 5 November our armour engaged an enemy rearguard covering a minefield. Resistance was not stubborn, and by the morning of 6 November the enemy had withdrawn from Fuka and the Division drove on westward in the desert, still with an outflanking move in view. It was then that the elements defeated this objective. On 6 November torrential rain began and next morning the Division's transport was hopelessly bogged—the desert had turned into an impassable morass. This gave the enemy, who was using the main road, a full day's reprieve.

It was not until 8 November that the New Zealanders were able to advance again, and that day they pushed on to stop the night south of Mersa Matruh, still well away from the main road. At Matruh the enemy did not make a stand and, while 6 Brigade moved in to clear and occupy the town, the rest of the New Zealanders moved up to the main road west of Matruh and towards Sidi Barrani. The sides of the main road, which was followed in the next lap of the advance, were littered with wreckage from merciless RAF strafing of the retreating columns.

As it screened the advance 4 Light Armoured Brigade encountered road blocks and shellfire, but no serious resistance was met until a minefield was reached at the foot of Halfaya Pass. Here again the main enemy force withdrew before our infantry could deploy to attack, but 21 Battalion on 11 November, in an engagement with an page 404 Italian rearguard holding the pass, captured 612 prisoners with only two casualties to themselves, one killed and one wounded.

With the capture of Halfaya Pass all organised resistance by the enemy in Egypt itself was ended. Capuzzo, Sollum, Bardia, and Sidi Azeiz were not contested. British armoured forces continued the chase through Gazala and Tobruk to El Agheila, a thousand miles from Alamein, but the New Zealand Division stopped on 11 November south of Bardia to rest and refit.