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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

General Situation, December 1942

General Situation, December 1942

In November Rommel had retired to his old line at El Agheila, the ‘impregnable’ stronghold from which he had twice launched offensives and driven our forces back into Egypt. Opposite the Agheila position Eighth Army prepared for the next attack. For this attack supplies of ammunition, petrol, and food had to come up many hundreds of miles from the Nile Delta. While supplies were being built up plans were worked out for the attack and 2 NZ Division was given the role of outflanking the El Agheila line.

The Division was equipped and trained for the task it was to undertake. During the desert campaigns complete mobility had been aimed at and achieved. The entire force moved on wheels or tracks. When complete it comprised two New Zealand lorry-borne infantry brigades (4 Infantry Brigade having been withdrawn for conversion to an armoured brigade); a British armoured brigade armed with Sherman tanks; a gun group of British medium artillery; the New Zealand Divisional Artillery of three field regiments, an anti-tank regiment and an anti-aircraft regiment; the Divisional Cavalry in light tanks, and a machine-gun battalion, plus engineer, ASC, ordnance, and medical units. It was the most powerful division in the Western Desert, combining in one formation the capabilities of the armoured division and the ordinary infantry division. Mobility and striking power were the keynotes of the Division's part in the remarkable six months' campaign in which the enemy was driven back through Cyrenaica and Tripolitania to final defeat in Tunisia.

The enemy position at Agheila was a strong one, flanked on the north by the sea and on the south by a desert of soft sand, and covered frontally by salt marshes. Out into the sand 2 NZ Division was to make an outflanking movement, a ‘left hook’, coinciding with a frontal assault by British forces on the Agheila line. When the Division received its role it was still at Bardia, 350 miles from the front, but early on the morning of 4 December the force moved page 407 west and in three days crossed 356 miles of desert to an assembly area at El Haseiat, east of the Agheila position. The Division was under command of 30 Corps. All three field ambulances accompanied the Division, while 4 Field Hygiene Section and 1 Mobile Dental Unit remained near 1 CCS and moved with that unit later to Agedabia.

plan showing medical support for military operation

Battle of Medenine, 6 March 1943, showing Medical Dispositions