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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

‘Left Hook’ at Agheila

‘Left Hook’ at Agheila

The Army plan for the offensive at Agheila was advanced by forty-eight hours as it was thought the enemy might be withdrawing, and the object was to hit him hard before he disengaged. This acceleration provided complications, but on 13 December the whole Division moved out at 7 a.m. on the left hook. Rain had fallen and this helped rather than hindered the going, and the worst of the obstacles, Chrystal's Rift, was crossed successfully. By nightfall on 13 December the Division was south of the enemy's outposts. Reports of enemy withdrawals from parts of the Agheila position came in during the night. The advance was pushed forward next day with all speed over very difficult country, with the object of seizing the escarpment dominating the Marble Arch area in the coastal belt behind the Agheila line. By early morning on 15 December the force had swung to the north-west to reach Bir el Merduma before cutting across to the coast road. Unfortunately, in the final advance to the objective over particularly broken country during 15 December and in the night, the Division travelled further west than had been intended. Thus, when 5 and 6 Brigades deployed during the night to cut off the enemy rearguard there was a gap of about 6 miles between them.

A strong enemy tank force lay to the east. Clashes with this force developed on the morning of 16 December, but in the darkness the Division had not been able to get firmly astride the enemy's line of retreat. Our tanks and artillery engaged the enemy tanks but they were able to escape, along with other elements of the enemy force, through the gap between 5 and 6 Brigades, with few losses.

As an enemy rearguard was holding Nofilia further west along the coast it was decided to outflank this position on 17 December. This advance meant going to the limit of the petrol supplies, and no support could be expected from the British forces advancing along the coast as they were delayed by mines and extensive demolitions. On the morning of 17 December Sherman tanks of the Royal Scots Greys of 4 Light Armoured Brigade joined battle with enemy armour and guns south of Nofilia. Behind them the rest of the force swung into position under shellfire, but were held up short of the main road. During the night the infantry advanced and mined the road to the west of Nofilia and artillery harassed it, but the main enemy force had already escaped, and on the morning of 18 December Nofilia was found to be deserted. The enemy withdrew a further 100 miles to Buerat. The Division remained at Nofilia.

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