CHAPTER 7 — Battle of Alamein
Battle of Alamein
The New Zealand Division was now to commence training for the forthcoming offensive and moved into bivouac areas to the south of Burg el Arab by 19 September. Twenty-fifth Battalion then took part in a full-scale divisional rehearsal, held under conditions as similar as possible to the actual attack which was to be made later. After the rehearsal the battalion was engaged on general training, and with the other units of the brigade carried out a further exercise in attack in co-operation with tanks and supported by artillery.
The divisional exercise was preceded by company and battalion exercises, with considerable emphasis on night operations, and on 22–23 September by a night attack by the brigade. At its conclusion, officers and NCOs down to sergeants were addressed by General Freyberg on the lessons arising from the exercise. As he said later: ‘We laid out on the ground a complete replica of the Ridge; we laid minefields and we laid it out exactly like Miteiriya Ridge. We then laid survey pegs and carried out a complete rehearsal for the attack.’
On the morning of 30 September 25 Battalion took part in a ceremonial parade of 6 Brigade for inspection by General Montgomery. Decorations were presented by the General, Captain Stevens receiving the Military Cross.
Training continued for the first three weeks of October and covered a wide field, including movements in MT by day and night, desert navigation, signals co-operation, and the digging and occupation of a brigade defensive position with all-round defence. The weather was now growing decidedly colder, jerseys being worn (by order) from 4 October in the early morning and after sunset; an extra blanket was issued four days later when there was a strong wind with occasional rain, although not sufficient to prevent a heavy sandstorm.
On the 12th 25 Battalion, with a tank regiment of 9 Armoured Brigade under command, and in conjunction with 6 Brigade page 222 Tactical Headquarters, carried out attack practice. The following day the brigade held in daylight a repetition of a divisional night-attack exercise of 26–27 September, so that the troops could see the details of the operations. The laying of mines, Bangalore torpedoes, bayonet fighting, booby traps, anti-personnel mines, unarmed combat, and a route march filled in the next few days. In the late afternoon of 16 October a very unpleasant dust-storm arrived and put a stop to training; it was considered to be the worst experienced since the very severe one at Amiriya on 14–15 March 1941 prior to the battalion's embarkation for Greece. Rain at dusk reduced the dust a little, but the wind with a little rain continued the next day, raising a rough sea which stopped all bathing.
The time was drawing very close for further fighting and Brigadier Gentry explained future operations to Commanding Officers and Intelligence Officers, using a plaster model to show the country over which the battle would take place. On the morning of 18 October Colonel Bonifant and the IO, together with other parties from the rest of the brigade, visited the front with Brigadier Gentry and staff, returning in the afternoon. Two days later Colonel Bonifant received the brigade operation order for the attack on Miteiriya Ridge, the opening of the British offensive on the Alamein line, and at 7.30 p.m. the next day (21 October) the battalion moved westwards in transport along the coast road before turning inland to an area a couple of miles to the north of Alam el Onsol, six miles south-east of the Alamein railway station. Arriving there about midnight, the men dug in and camouflaged the vehicles. The front line was about ten miles to the west and the troops remained in their positions during the daylight hours; great care was taken to avoid enemy air observation, but the only enemy aircraft seen was an Me109 which passed over at a great height early in the morning.
At last light on the 22nd the A Echelon transport left for the lying-up area and was followed by the battalion on foot half an hour later. The troops reached the area, five and a half miles west of Alamein station, weary and very dusty, after a ten-mile march of four and a half hours over soft sand which tried their endurance (and temper) almost to breaking point. Once again they dug in and camouflaged their slit trenches The forward defended localities, from which the Division would launch its attack, were about 3000 yards ahead. Before midnight 22–23 October, 6 Brigade was complete in its lying-up positionpage 223
For the impending battle great efforts had been made to build up the strength of the Eighth Army, the most notable improvement being the provision of 300 Sherman tanks. On the other hand, the enemy had also been reinforced and was working hard on his defences. Where the New Zealanders were to fight, the minefields were from 5000 to 9000 yards in depth. Throughout the front German units were interspersed with Italian to stiffen the morale of the latter. In strength the enemy positions somewhat resembled the positions of the 1914–18 war, with the important difference that in the latter there were no anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. To get its armour through, Eighth Army would have to make gaps by an assault against the strongly entrenched enemy.
It had been decided, therefore, to attack in moonlight, the earliest feasible date being 23 October, the day before full moon. The main attack was to be made in the north, with a secondary attack in the south to pin down the enemy forces there. In the northern sector the Miteiriya Ridge, a narrow feature several miles in length and about a hundred feet above sea level, and stretching from south-east to north-west, was the key to the enemy position.
The attack in the north was to be made by 30 Corps using, from right to left, 9 Australian, 51 Highland, 2 New Zealand, and 1 South African Divisions. The Australian and Highland Divisions were to drive due westwards and form a northern corridor, and the New Zealand and South African Divisions were to attack in a south-westerly direction to secure the Miteiriya Ridge and establish a southern corridor through the defences. Fourth Indian Division, farther south, was to carry out a diversionary raid along Ruweisat Ridge. When the corridors were formed, armoured formations were to pass through ready to meet enemy armoured counter-attack or to continue the operation to get astride the enemy communications. In any case the New Zealand Division and other infantry of 30 Corps, after securing the objectives, were to proceed at once, under the protection of the armour, with the methodical destruction of the enemy troops between the two corridors and, later, those on the flanks.
It was vital to the success of the whole operation that the leading armoured brigades should be right forward in their deployment area, ready to fight at first light in the morning following the attack and not be delayed or diverted by local fighting on the way. All enemy troops, especially guns, had page 224 therefore to be thoroughly cleared from the routes and the deployment area before the arrival of the armoured brigades, also great care had to be taken to see that the vehicles of the New Zealand Division and other attacking troops did not block the armour.
For the attack on the second objective 5 and 6 Brigades were each to leapfrog two battalions through the battalions on the first objective. Fifth Brigade would have 21 Battalion on the right and 22 Battalion on the left, and 6 Brigade 26 Battalion on the right and 25 Battalion on the left. Each of these battalions, including 25 Battalion, had one troop of six-pounders a platoon of machine guns, and a troop of Warwickshire Yeomanry under command. The tanks were to support the infantry and assist in mopping-up enemy strongpoints.page 225
The rate of advance to the second objective was fixed at 100 yards in three minutes, the same as for the first advance; the second objective was 1500 yards beyond the first objective.
Two companies of the Maori Battalion allotted to each brigade were kept in reserve, with the probable role of mopping-up, and the whole Maori Battalion, when released from that role, was to form a reserve in the lying-up area. Twenty-third and 24th Battalions, on capturing the first objective, were to hold that position, but were to be ready to operate as reserve battalions to their brigades. On the capture of the second objective and after reorganising, the battalions concerned were to exploit success for a further 800 to 1000 yards to destroy guns and troops likely to interfere with them.
The routes forward and the 24 Battalion start line were to be marked with lights by the Divisional Provost Company. In due course, as the attack progressed, units' fighting transport would be ordered forward as far as the first enemy minefield under brigade arrangements and would then be guided by unit guides.
A host of other details had to be provided for, these including signal methods and code-words, success signal (a rocket showing a large number of yellow stars) on first and final objectives, SOS signal (rocket showing three white stars with noticeable trail), infantry to tank recognition signal (red tracer fired vertically), and ground to air recognition (blue smoke, Aldis lamp letter ‘G’, and target landmark red smoke and Aldis lamp letter ‘V’).
Such, generally, was the plan for this vital attack, though before the battle it was varied in several respects.
In common with the other troops lying-up in readiness to attack, the 25th spent the daylight hours of 23 October in slit trenches which were covered with groundsheets to avoid observation from the air. It was a very trying day, with perhaps too much time for the men's thoughts to dwell on the possibilities of the coming night's attack, but at least it gave everyone a good rest after the strenuous march of the night before.
The night of the 23rd was still and clear, with a brilliant moon lighting up the landscape, and it was a great relief to the men to be able to stretch their cramped limbs and move about a little. At 9.40 p.m. the comparative calm of the night was rudely disturbed by the crash and flash of nearly a thousand guns, which opened fire simultaneously all along the front against located enemy batteries. It was the opening of the great page 226 British offensive which had been awaited with tense expectation by friend and foe alike.
Almost all the hostile guns were silenced, for the time being, by this intense counter-battery fire which, as planned, continued for fifteen minutes, ceased, and five minutes later reopened with equal fury against the enemy forward positions when the infantry of the Eighth Army at zero hour, 10 p.m., advanced to the attack.
The gunfire was tremendous, the terrific crash and flame of the exploding shells mingling with the great thunder and flashes of the guns behind. This artillery concentration made a very deep impression on the troops and, as is always the case, it seemed that nothing could live under it. Such a result, however, can never be obtained, and the main effect is to shake and unnerve the enemy troops and keep them down in their trenches or away from their guns while the attackers behind the barrage cover the last few hundred yards. While somewhat dazed by the noise and the spectacle, the men were thrilled by this demonstration of the tremendously powerful artillery support they were to receive and they entered the attack with the greatest confidence. All artillery was under centralised control during the counter-battery fire and for seven minutes while it pounded the enemy's forward defences. The field artillery then came under the Division for the first phase of the infantry attack, while the medium artillery continued counter-battery fire.
In support of the attack the Division employed its three field regiments and six troops of 25-pounders from 1 and 10 Armoured Divisions, together with a battery of 4.5-inch guns of 69 Medium Regiment, RA, a total of 104 guns. While 4 Field Regiment fired on a barrage line to help to keep the infantry on the proper line of advance, the remainder of the guns fired timed concentrations on known enemy positions in the divisional area.
The two battalions attacking the first objective—23 Battalion on the right and 24 Battalion on the left—assembled at their start line, each with two companies of the Maori Battalion behind it, and crossing on time at 9.35 p.m. moved towards the artillery opening line 2000 yards away at the rate of 100 yards in two minutes. The infantry were able to get close to the barrage when it lifted from the foremost enemy defences at 10.23 p.m., and then followed it as it lifted every three minutes in their advance to the first objective.page 227
The battalions to attack the second objective—21 and 22 Battalions of 5 Brigade and 26 and 25 Battalions of 6 Brigade, in that order from right to left—left their lying-up positions at times calculated to bring them to their start line at or near the first objective in time to follow the barrage when it lifted.
Twenty-fifth Battalion (which because of the shortage of infantry had three companies only, B, C, and D) left its lying-up position at 10.50 p.m. It had about 2000 yards to go to reach the 24 Battalion start line and another 3400 yards to its own start line, where it was due to commence the attack behind the barrage at fifty-five minutes after midnight. To pass through the minefield gap just beyond the original forward defended localities, 25 Battalion narrowed its front, with C Company (Captain Wroth) leading, followed by B (Captain Weston) and D (Captain Possin1), but did not find the blue lights which according to orders would be marking 24 Battalion's start line. Both Wroth and Weston, however, had noticed a white tape line which they agreed must have been the start line, and so, with C Company on the right, B on the left, and D in reserve, they pushed on. The companies had men detailed to pace the distance from the 24 Battalion start line, but there was now no fixed point from which to measure. Captain Wroth with C Company, the directing company, commented:
‘It was difficult to know just where to expect to find the lights marking the line especially when we suddenly found ourselves enveloped in a heavy concentration of smoke. Right in the centre of this smoke the coy comdr ran direct against a Bn Provost NCO complete with light which had not been visible in the murk, the NCO being able to give explicit directions of where the other lights were placed. While the coy correctly placed itself, with 15 pl on the right, 13 on the left, and 14 in reserve, contact was established with 26 Bn on our right, and whereas a moment before everyone was worried about locations, we were all set now for the big attack. Bde training a few weeks previously had proved invaluable in that the forward sections of the forward platoons knew what advancing under a barrage was and how close it was possible to keep up to the rear shells, with the result everything went according to plan and but 18 casualties were suffered, mostly from enemy shelling. After a 3840 paces advance we reached a wire marking a minefield which would appear from directions page 228 given prior to the attack to be the exact spot we were looking for as an objective. A hurried conference with B Coy Comdr who was also sure this was our objective and C Coy Comdr set fire to his success rocket, a cylindrical piece 14 inches long by 2 inches wide attached to about 4ft 6in of ½″ × ½″ wood which must have appeared to the enemy to be one of our secret weapons. The coy then took up a defensive layout—we had lost contact with the right neighbouring battalion during the advance and a patrol sent out to locate them contacted their Bn HQ approx 600 yds on our right flank, proving their forward elements had pushed on further than us in accordance with the layout of the enemy minefield. While returning, this patrol contacted two coys of Maoris moving up into the gap between the two battalions, and they undertook to cover the gap until first light when a fuller reconnaissance would be possible.’
|11 Pl||12 Pl||13 Pl||15 Pl|
|10 Pl||14 Pl|
|B Company||C Company|
|(Capt Weston)||(Capt Wroth)|
|16 Pl||17 Pl|
B Company (Weston) had the same difficulty as C Company regarding the first start line. The company passed through the gap in the minefield, ‘opening into artillery formation on the western side of the gap,’ wrote Captain Weston, ‘moving forward with 11 Pl on the left, 12 Pl on right, and 10 Pl in reserve; 12 Pl on right was contacting C Coy who were directing and they reported being unable to contact 26 Bn who were on their right. Consequently the attack had a tendency to drift to the right.
‘After a 3000 yard advance the Coy was on the second start line passing over this at 0030 hours still not having contacted the South Africans or 26 Bn. As the Coy approached the barrage it began to lift and we followed at about 50 yds, but so far the 24th and Maoris, whom we were supposed to pass page 229 through, had not been sighted. C Coy reported that they were still unable to contact the 26th Bn and we were unable to contact the South Africans on our left.
‘Some shells were falling short causing a considerable number of casualties. Owing to the dust and smoke it was impossible to cover the front allotted to the Coy and keep contact. The attack still drifted to the right as C Coy endeavoured to contact the 26th Bn. Opposition from the enemy was slight. Single Dannert wire and booby traps were encountered. The Coy passed over several dug enemy positions, many of which were unoccupied and others showed signs of a hurried departure. Those of the enemy who were left surrendered after firing a few shots. Some were killed before having a chance to surrender. On reaching the objective at 0200 hours the Coy consolidated and dug in. No. 10 Pl passed through and exploited for about 400 yds then returned and dug in on our left rear flank. D Coy passed through later to exploit.’
D Company's part in the attack was described by Second- Lieutenant Buchanan,2 commanding 18 Platoon. ‘For this attack D Coy was given the task of reserve coy for the Battalion and followed B and C Coys to their objectives. It was then found that the Bn was approx 400 yds to the right of their correct position. So D Coy moved over to the left to fill this gap between 25 Bn and the South Africans. While in this position the Coy came under intermittent fire from two enemy MG posts approx 600 yds forward and one on each flank. The two forward platoons (16 and 17) were sent forward to silence these guns. As a result of this local action 2-Lieut Dickson,3 2 Sgts, and 6 ORs of D Coy were killed, also 2-Lieut Powdrell,4 1 Sgt, and 6 ORs were wounded, 2-Lt Powdrell later dying at ADS. In the early hours of the morning the tanks of 9 Armd Bde and of 10 Corps took up positions along the crest occupied by 25 Bn and engaged enemy positions and tanks. In this action 5 more ORs of D Coy were wounded.’
When his platoon commander and platoon sergeant became casualties in the attack on the machine-gun posts by 15 and 17 Platoons, Corporal Penman5 took over command of his platoon page 230 and, although wounded himself, was personally responsible for obtaining assistance for the wounded men. Subsequently he was awarded a bar to the Military Medal (which he won later in Tunisia) for ‘his excellent leadership, devotion to duty, courage, determination, and disregard for his own safety’ on Miteiriya Ridge.
As indicated in these reports, 25 Battalion was about 600 yards to the right of its correct position but it was also about 800 yards short of it, having stopped on the near or eastern side of the ridge (as explained by Wroth) instead of continuing the advance to the western side to the true objective, as in fact 26 Battalion on the right had done. It was perhaps fortunate that 25 Battalion did not cross the ridge. Had it crossed it would have been in a very exposed position, with its left flank unprotected through the South Africans being unable to reach their objective, and may well have suffered severe casualties. The battalion was to be required to make another attack to place it on the objective.
By daybreak on the 24th 7 MG Platoon was in position to support 25 Battalion by indirect fire from the left flank, while 8 and 9 MG Platoons on the right between 25 and 26 Battalions helped considerably to make the brigade front secure. The situation on the New Zealand Division's front was fairly satisfactory. All of the objectives had been taken except on the left on 25 Battalion's front, but owing to delays caused by minefields very few anti-tank guns were in position. Only a few tanks of the Yeomanry had passed through into the open, but later these were withdrawn. The main concentrations of armour were still on the wrong side of the ridge and could not exploit the bridgehead which had been made in the enemy defences.
Elsewhere partial success had been achieved. The Australians had one brigade on their final objective and one brigade a thousand yards short. The Highlanders were also held up, in places well short of the objective, although 7 Black Watch was in contact with the New Zealand Division on the objective. South of the New Zealand Division 2 South African Brigade, on the left of 25 Battalion, did not reach the objective, which however had been secured by 3 SA Brigade on its left.
In the northern sector the armour could not get through the corridor as it was still blocked by minefields under fire from enemy strongpoints. The southern corridor through the New Zealand sector was cleared as far as Miteiriya Ridge, and 9 page 231 Armoured Brigade (under the Division's command), closely followed by 8 Armoured Brigade, had reached the near slopes of the ridge and had some tanks forward of it, but these had heavy casualties. As the ridge itself came under artillery and anti-tank fire, the main concentrations of the armour remained behind it and engaged the enemy at long range. On the southern flank of the Alamein line 13 Corps had fulfilled its chief function of keeping the southern group of enemy armour from coming north. From the start of the offensive the Allied Air Forces gave very strong support to the ground forces.
Throughout the daylight hours of the 24th the position held by 25 Battalion was shelled from time to time and some casualties occurred. Although a great deal of enemy movement was reported, the expected enemy counter-attack did not develop, perhaps because of the array of heavy tanks close to the forward localities and the strong artillery fire. When darkness fell a patrol of twelve men from D Company moved to the south-west for 800 yards but saw no enemy, though it found an Italian 81-millimetre mortar and an anti-tank gun, both unserviceable, a small anti-aircraft gun, and some mortar ammunition; it was discovered later that the patrol had passed two well camouflaged machine-gun posts without detecting them.
The attack was resumed at 10.15 that night when 9 Armoured Brigade and the Divisional Cavalry advanced through the southern corridor, the enemy shelling and bombing the gaps in the minefield as the tanks passed through. A similar operation took place through the northern corridor. The operations were not successful. About an hour before the attack enemy bombers, attracted by a blazing truck, bombed a convoy of 8 Armoured Brigade vehicles containing troops, petrol, and ammunition, which were closed up nose to tail to pass through the gap in the minefield. About twenty vehicles were set on fire and there were many casualties among the troops in them. This occurred close to 25 Battalion's forward positions, and those vehicles which were able to scatter were a real menace to the men in the slit trenches. Fortunately the battalion suffered few casualties, but all those who saw the bombing were ever afterwards most insistent that the correct distances between vehicles should be maintained at all times.
During daylight on the 25th enemy shelling by guns up to 210-millimetre (approximately 8-inch) and the bombing of guns, tanks, and transport behind the ridge were continued and caused several casualties in 25 Battalion as well as damage to page 232 a jeep, a 3-ton truck, and a two-pounder anti-tank gun. That morning C and D Companies passed back over a hundred Germans and Italians, a result of the armour's attack during the night. Throughout the day enemy tanks had been reported at various places and in the early afternoon 100 tanks, reported by 10 Armoured Division to be advancing towards 25 Battalion, were shelled by the artillery.
The strong resistance to the advance of the British armour through the southern corridor indicated that it would be too costly to resume the attack there, and it had been decided to switch the offensive to the northern flank. The New Zealand Division was therefore to reorganise its position for defence. The front was a narrow one, a rarity in the experience of the Division, and so presented no difficulty. Each of the two brigades, 5th and 6th, would have two battalions forward, with the same boundaries as at present, and the tanks would be in hull-down positions on the ridge, the Warwickshire Yeomanry supporting 6 Brigade. Strong patrols, including engineers, were to be sent out to destroy enemy tanks and vehicles and to prevent damage to British ones, many of which were recoverable. Also, tanks were to probe the enemy positions to discover his strength and dispositions.
Patrols from the forward battalions of the Division reported on the night 25–26 October that enemy working parties were laying mines across the front. A patrol from 25 Battalion saw enemy tanks and a working party laying mines and engaged two mortar positions about 5000 yards forward of the ridge; a minefield in front of the left flank of the battalion was found to extend southwards from the crest of the ridge for at least 800 yards.
Early in the morning of the 26th our tanks on Miteiriya engaged enemy positions and artillery and mortars joined in. Shortly afterwards an encounter between British and enemy fighters was, as usual, watched with great interest by the men on the ground. The day, in fact, turned out to be unusually interesting. Just before noon D Company reported that enemy infantry, holding a white flag and accompanied by a tank, had approached to within a thousand yards but had gone to earth and had then been fired on by our artillery and machine guns. About the same time information was received that South African armoured cars were operating about 4000 yards south-south-east of the battalion's left flank. In the early afternoon the enemy shelled the ridge near C Company, and an hour page 233 later six enemy 800 yards forward of D Company gave signs which seemed to indicate that they wished to surrender, but they made no attempt to walk in.
That night, 26–27 October, 6 NZ Brigade and 2 SA Brigade on the left attacked to straighten the line and gain the original objective of the attack three days before. Twenty-fifth Battalion received its orders during the afternoon of the 26th: 25 and 26 Battalions were to advance to the brigade's original objective.
With 26 Battalion on its right and South African troops on its left, 25 Battalion was to advance 800 yards, with C Company right, D centre, and B Company on the left. When the objective was secured the position was to be held with two companies forward, D Company dropping back into reserve. Success was to be exploited 200 yards ahead of the objective; each of the forward companies was to have two platoons forward and one in reserve; two six-pounder anti-tank guns and most of the two-pounders were to be well forward, and two six-pounders and the balance of the two-pounders were to be on the ridge, where the support tanks would also be in position.
The artillery barrage opened at 8 p.m. and after ten minutes began to lift forward as arranged, firing smoke before each lift.
‘Arrangements were very hurried for the second attack,’ said Captain Wroth, commanding C Company. ‘With zero at 2000 hrs, 1945 hrs found C Coy moving back and slightly left to bring it on to the Bn start line—3 lights. No right-hand light could be found and at zero, when another terrific barrage began to fall just in front of us, contact had not been made with the troops on either flank. OC HQ Coy fortunately appeared and advised B Coy (on our left) were only a few yards away, so rather than have the barrage leave us behind, we pushed ahead, experiencing considerable difficulty with the booby-trapped minefield behind which we had sat subsequent to the first attack. We had not covered more than a quarter of the 800-yard advance, however, before prisoners began appearing in large numbers and the difficulty was to maintain momentum and the effect of the barrage and still deal with the prisoners. A man at a time was quickly detached from a section for each 20 or so prisoners but even with only a hurried search it was apparent the barrage would get away from us if we did not hurry. Instructions had been to advance 1000 yards, thus giving us an exploited area 200 yards deep but things were going so successfully Cmdr C Coy called Bn Cdr on the 18 set and advised the Coy was pushing on a little further as prisoners were still page 234 very plentiful. Another 200 yds and with the taking of prisoners the effect of the barrage [was] lost, the enemy regained heart and opened fairly intense small-arm and mortar fire, necessitating the Coy abandoning any unnecessary attempt to get any further forward, and the order to retire was given. Withdrawing approx 400 yds a most convenient patch of sandy ground appeared, into which the Coy smartly introduced a defensive layout of slit trenches, several being recently and hastily-vacated enemy ones, including that occupied by the OC of the enemy unit.
‘Casualties in this attack amounted to 15, including 2-Lt McAneny6 who was most unfortunate in being hit and killed by unaimed small-arms fire while consolidating. In the light of a half-moon we could see the South Africans on the left of B Coy having a grand time rounding up many prisoners, but on our right we could find no one but enemy snipers and as we found later the 26th had been held up by intensive fire.
‘An interesting observation of this attack was the effective use of the 36 grenade in cleaning out covered dug-outs, full of reluctant enemy. Particularly after a complete section of a leading platoon was wiped out by a booby-trap in the initial crossing of the minefield, it was most difficult to maintain contact on a full Coy front, especially when the attack was begun with very depleted numbers—20 men comprised the Coy front, even then with very small reserves.’
For this attack D Company (Captain Possin) had 16 and 18 Platoons only, the men of 17 Platoon being in the other two platoons. After advancing 1200 paces between C and B Companies, D Company was to withdraw 600 paces and occupy the position of reserve company. The Company advanced with 18 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Buchanan) on the right and 16 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Fraser-Tytler7) on the left.
‘No direct opposition was met with,’ wrote Buchanan, ‘and Italian prisoners were taken and hustled to the rear. No casualties occurred until the move back to the reserve positions when 2 Lt Fraser-Tytler and 2 ORs were wounded with mortar fire. For the rest of the night and the next day the Coy came under periodic heavy mortar fire but Capt Possin and 2 ORs wounded and 1 RAP OR were the only other casualties until the Coy page 235 was relieved by SA Bn. Total casualties for both actions:— Killed 2 Officers 8 ORs; wounded 2 Officers 21 ORs; evacuated (neurosis, etc.) 3 ORs; missing 3 ORs.’
B Company, commanded by Captain Robertshaw (vice Captain Weston, wounded on the 24th) formed up on the left of the start line with two platoons forward, 12 Platoon on the right, 11 on the left, and 10 Platoon in rear on the left flank.
‘Immediately the barrage opened,’ said Robertshaw, ‘shorts started to fall among the company and after advancing approx 100 yds several shorts among 11 Platoon caused considerable confusion and casualties and held up the advance on the left flank. 10 and 11 Platoons rallied and again attempted to advance but enemy mortar counter-fire and booby-traps set in the minefield again caused the left flank to withdraw with several casualties. Coy HQ also suffered several casualties. Meanwhile 12 Platoon advanced under cover of the barrage and after passing through the minefield encountered several enemy A/Tk and LMG posts and sent back over a hundred prisoners. On reaching the objective the OC fired the success signal and the area was immediately very heavily mortared by the enemy, inflicting heavy casualties on 12 Platoon and wounding the Platoon Com, Lt Ward.8 The OC and a few survivors consolidated the position by occupying a captured enemy post. Approx one hour later a Coy of the SA Bde captured an enemy post about 100 yards to the left flank and consolidated. The Coy position was then reinforced by some of the survivors of 10 and 11 Pls.’
Fire by four enemy machine guns on the minefield gap on the crest of the ridge prevented the anti-tank guns and mortars of 25 Battalion from getting forward. One of six Sherman tanks nearby was persuaded to move to the gap to silence the machine guns and some enemy snipers. Guided by Colonel Bonifant and Major Reid9 (8 Field Company) through an uncleared minefield, the anti-tank guns towed by jeeps and the mortar carriers reached their positions shortly after 2 a.m. An enemy mortar with a large supply of ammunition, which was captured in front of the new forward posts, was used by the battalion against its former owners.page 236
Shortly after 3 a.m., 27 October, lorried infantry and tanks, reported on the battalion front, and again about six hours later, enemy infantry advancing about 600 yards away, were engaged by the artillery. No attack developed. Throughout the morning all targets offering were immediately engaged by both guns and machine guns. The enemy artillery was not idle, and just before 9 a.m. Battalion Headquarters area was heavily shelled. An enemy mortar a couple of hours later bombarded the battalion's positions and was engaged by the mortar platoon under the direction of Sergeant Laverty.10 This action and the work of the mortars during the offensive is described by Sergeant French:11
‘The Bn Mortar Pl attacked an Ite mortar hidden behind a burnt-out tank about 1000 yds away. The action continued for about two hours, and many enemy bombs dropped very close to our positions. After a while the Ites got tired of the duel and started to come in and the mortar sgt, Nelson Woods12 from Wellington, went out to collect them. A Spandau opened fire on him and he took cover. The Ites escaped but the Italian mortar was silenced….
‘The Alamein attack, as far as the mortars were concerned, was a matter of being called upon at odd moments to assist the infantry or to knock out enemy mortars or gun positions. Also much assistance was given to our patrols at night by direct barrage, etc. When patrols went out with mortar support at night two mortars would go out on two carriers. These patrols would advance at night to a suitable position and wait for first light to pin-point enemy positions. The carriers would withdraw after the job had been completed.’
As was the case with each forward battalion, a section of 8 Field Company with the battalion was intended to lay a minefield along the new front to give protection against the counter-attack expected at dawn. Although the officer commanding the sapper section accompanied the battalion to fix the site of the proposed minefield, heavy machine-gun and mortar fire prevented the laying of the mines.
On 27–28 October, as part of a reorganisation, 1 SA Division relieved 2 NZ Division, which (with the exception of the page 237 artillery) was withdrawn into reserve in the Alam el Onsol area south-east of the Alamein station. (The artillery was left behind to support an attack that night by 9 Australian Division farther north.)
Twenty-fifth Battalion received the warning order for the relief about noon on the 27th and later in the afternoon received orders stating that General Freyberg, who though the enemy might be withdrawing, had instructed that fighting patrols from 25 and 26 Battalions were to be sent out at dusk. The patrols found little to report, though the 25 Battalion patrol captured a German and four Italians.
Shortly after midnight on 28 October the relief by the Duke of Edinburgh's Own Rifles was completed without incident, though the two-pounder anti-tank guns were held up for a couple of hours through the relieving guns encountering soft sand. The enemy may have had some inkling of the relief as, both before and after the battalion moved, the forward localities were bombarded by mortars. Moving in MT, the troops reached Alam el Onsol, where they rested for the next two days under the command of Major Porter, Colonel Bonifant (wounded on the 24th) having been evacuated to hospital.
The battalion's casualties for the two attacks and in the period 18–29 October, as shown in the casualty lists, were: Killed—3 officers (Second-Lieutenants Dickson, McAneney and Powdrell), 23 other ranks; Died of wounds—6 other ranks; Wounded—9 officers (Lieutenant-Colonel Bonifant, Captains Possin and Weston, Lieutenants Abbott, Ward, Webb, Second- Lieutenants Fraser-Tytler, Mahar and O'Connor), 115 other ranks; Prisoner-of-war—2 other ranks (1 wounded), a total of 12 officers, 146 other ranks. During that period 17 other ranks were evacuated sick; 1 officer and 8 other ranks arrived as reinforcements; and the strength of the battalion was 21 officers, 394 other ranks.
Though not known until just before Christmas, five immediate awards were made to members of the battalion for the Miteiriya Ridge operations. Colonel Bonifant was awarded the DSO, the citation stating that he commanded his battalion in the assault on Miteiriya Ridge on the night 23–24 October ‘with noteworthy skill and resolution’. Although wounded in the head with a bomb splinter, he refused to leave his battalion when he heard that it would have to carry out another attack. Only when this second attack had been successfully completed and he knew that his unit would be relieved from its forward page 238 position was he willing to be evacuated. His courage throughout was outstanding. Sergeant W. K. Marshall, platoon sergeant in 12 Platoon, received the DCM; during the attack on the night 23–24 October, when his platoon commander was wounded and evacuated early in the evening, Marshall immediately took over the platoon. He continued to command it for the next eleven days. On the night 26–27 October his platoon attacked an extremely strong enemy position and captured over fifty prisoners without casualty.
Lance-Corporal Monaghan,13 14 Platoon, received the MM for commanding his section with outstanding courage and complete disregard for his own personal safety throughout the offensive. Although he had received four shell-splinter wounds in his back on the morning of 27 October, he remained with his section until ordered to the RAP. After having his wounds dressed he returned to his section, although suffering great pain and unable to carry a pack.
Private Maclean,14 C Company runner, was awarded the MM. During the attack on the night 23–24 October he assisted his company to consolidate quickly under very difficult conditions and very heavy enemy fire. Without orders he moved across the battalion front to locate neighbouring sub-units and to determine arcs of fire.
Private Wrigley,15 Signal Platoon, who was employed as a linesman on a section of the line between rear and forward headquarters on 27 October, also received the MM. He was largely responsible for keeping the line in working order, despite mortar fire along its length, and was called on to mend frequent breaks. He also assisted wounded men returning to the RAP across the ridge.
These recitals of gallant conduct and devotion to duty illustrate the conditions under which all ranks of the battalion carried out their duties in action, and those receiving these awards, selected as they were from many others who had distinguished themselves, may be said to be representative of the gallantry and devotion to duty of the whole battalion.
From 3 p.m. on 29 October the battalion was at two hours' notice to move, and after dark the next day it moved forward by MT to relieve 2 Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, one of the page 239 battalions of 152 Brigade which was being relieved by 6 Brigade. B Company was detached to come under command of 24 Battalion and the remainder of the battalion completed the relief by midnight. The 12-mile journey was one of acute discomfort. The desert had been churned up by countless vehicles and the so-called tracks were literally rivers of the finest dust. Large numbers of vehicles were on the move, and with the tracks difficult to follow and occasional encounters with slit trenches, it was a slow, bumpy, and suffocatingly dusty ride, to the accompaniment, from 10 p.m., of a heavy artillery bombardment in support of operations by 9 Australian Division a couple of miles to the north.
The new position was a little over four miles north of that held on Miteiriya Ridge and the foremost localities about five miles east of Tell el Eisa station. These were held by 26 Battalion on the right and 24 Battalion on the left, with 25 Battalion in reserve two miles back, on a frontage of 1400 yards, with D Company on the right and C on the left. Sixth Brigade's task here was to hold the position for three days as a firm base for a forthcoming attack.
Spasmodic shelling and sniping were experienced in the forward positions where B Company was the reserve company of 24 Battalion. Allied aircraft were overhead most of the time but occasionally enemy aircraft got through the screen, 25 Battalion experiencing Stuka raids in the late afternoon of 31 October and after midday on 2 November. There were no casualties or damage.
On the night of the attack the forward troops were to be withdrawn sufficiently to be clear of the artillery opening line, reoccupying their positions after the reserve battalions of the attacking formations had passed through. In its brigade reserve position 25 Battalion was little affected, and its B Company had merely to stand-to while the forward companies of 24 Battalion temporarily withdrew. Captain Robertshaw, commanding B Company, gave a brief account of its experiences:
‘The Company on joining the 24 Bn proceeded by MT to the forward area held by the 152 Bde and carried out the relief of the reserve company of the Camerons Bn (51 Div). The Coy Amn truck was lost in a wire entanglement and the cooks’ truck on a mine on the move up. The relief was completed by 2300 hours 31 Oct.
‘The days of 31 Oct and 1 Nov passed without incident, the Coy position being shelled and mortared on several occasions. page 240 At 0030 hrs 2 Nov the Coy stood-to while the forward coys of 24 Bn withdrew to get away from an artillery barrage to be laid down for an attack by the 51 Div. At 0105 hrs the attack and barrage commenced and during the night heavy fighting took place and by daylight it was found that the attack had been successful. At 1730 hrs 2 Nov the Coy received orders to march out and rejoin the Battn.’
During its attachment to 24 Battalion, B Company had had several casualties. The attack referred to by Captain Robertshaw was part of the offensive from the northern flank of the salient and was made, not by 51 Division, but by 151 Brigade of 50 Division (with the Maori Battalion under command) and 152 Brigade of 51 Division, both under command of 2 NZ Division. The start line for the attack ran north and south about 1000 yards west of the positions occupied by C and D Companies. There was a good deal of traffic through the battalion area and just to the north of it, and the several tracks that were being used were filled with the engineers' vehicles, the armour, the supporting arms and other essential transport, resembling the congestion behind Miteiriya Ridge on 23 October. Although the barrage at 1.5 a.m. was three times the weight of that given for the attack on Miteiriya Ridge, the general opinion in 25 Battalion was that it was not so impressive. The attacking infantry got away to time and succeeded in capturing its final objective, but the operations of the armour beyond the infantry objective were only partially successful. Two squadrons of an armoured car regiment, the Royal Dragoons, had however achieved a notable success by getting through the bridgehead and beyond the enemy's anti-tank screen in the dawn mist; they then raided enemy communications, transport, and supply areas throughout the day, causing considerable damage and confusion, and were reported south of El Daba, about 15 miles behind the enemy's lines.
If the armour went through after a successful battle with the enemy armour, 5 and 6 Brigades were to be ready to embus and, as part of the motorised New Zealand Division, to exploit success.
Further attacks were made during the night 2–3 November to get the armour to the west of the Rahman track, which ran south-south-west from Sidi Abd el Rahman through Tell el Aqqaqir and was about 9000 yards west of 25 Battalion's position; the attacks were only partly successful.page 241
During the evening of the 2nd 6 Brigade relieved 151 Brigade at the western end of the corridor, the battalion receiving its warning order in the middle of the afternoon to relieve 8 Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. Sixth Brigade's front faced west and north on two sides of the bridgehead. Twenty-fifth Battalion reached its position, about 5000 yards to the north-west, before midnight and dug in. Contact was made with 24 Battalion (which was on the right and facing north) and with 26 Battalion on the left; all three battalions and also the Maori Battalion, which was on the right of 24 Battalion and under command of 6 Brigade, were forward, 22 Battalion (of 5 Brigade) being under command as the reserve battalion.
Twenty-fifth Battalion had all three companies forward, B right, C centre, and D left, the frontage being about 500 yards, facing north-west. Attached to the battalion were one troop of 33 Battery, six medium machine guns, eight six-pounder anti-tank guns and one company of lorried infantry (both from the Rifle Brigade). The battalion's strength was very low: B Company, 3 officers, 38 other ranks, and four men from HQ Company; C Company, 2 officers, 33 other ranks, and eight from HQ Company; and D Company, 2 officers, 29 other ranks, and twenty from HQ Company.
In the morning the battalion's position was spasmodically shelled but fortunately there were no casualties. The afternoon was enlivened by the approach of a Stuka formation which was broken up by fighters and anti-aircraft fire. There was also expectation of a move that night but it was postponed till the the next day, 4 November.
The Alamein battle had in fact been won and the enemy was in full retreat, covered by an anti-tank-gun screen and rear-guards. The first indications of an enemy withdrawal came early in the morning of 3 November and the evidence increased as the day progressed. Throughout that day the enemy had held his position along the Rahman track, but an attack during the night 3–4 November by 51 Division south of Tell el Aqqaqir (about 4500 yards south-west of 25 Battalion) forced the enemy anti-tank-gun screen back to the north-west.
This opened the way for the armour of 10 Corps (1, 7, and 10 Armoured Divisions) and the motorised New Zealand Division to break out to the west from the Alamein line. Tenth Corps was to swing northwards to the main road to cut off the enemy motorised forces at the bottlenecks of Fuka and Matruh page 242 while 30 Corps was to maintain contact with the enemy on its front. Thirteenth Corps in the south was to clear up and destroy the enemy in its area.
The New Zealand Division could not, of course, concentrate and move as a formed body from the forward localities, but would have to move through the breach in the enemy defences in a single line of vehicles and then take up its customary desert formation. Fuka was about 60 miles away and care was taken that the Division was more or less self-contained in case the supply line was interrupted. Eight days' water and rations, 360 and 200 rounds of ammunition for each 25-pounder and medium gun respectively, and petrol for 400 miles were carried, and arrangements were also made for supplies to be landed on beaches should that be necessary.
Shortly after midday, 4 November, the motorised New Zealand Division, with 4 Light Armoured Brigade and a composite regiment, the remnant of 9 Armoured Brigade, under command, was sent on a wide sweep to the south to operate to the east and south-east from Sidi Ibeid area (about 14 miles to the south-west) to block the tracks on the northern side of the Qattara Depression. The orders were amended, however, so that on reaching Sidi Ibeid the Division would advance north-westwards to the Fuka escarpment to block the enemy retreat through the gap where the road and railway crossed the escarpment.
After passing through the enemy defences, the Division assembled two miles east of Tell el Aqqaqir, a very complicated and difficult movement as formations and units were widely separated and a good many of them were in positions on the battlefield. There was much congestion, with clouds of dust. Fortunately enemy aircraft were unable to take advantage of the wonderful target presented. Throughout the movement the armour and other troops provided a protective screen against any enemy enterprise.
Sixth Brigade moved last, after its relief by 154 Brigade, and reached the divisional deployment area in the evening of 4 November. The leading troops of the Division had already left the area during the afternoon and by 5 p.m., before 25 Battalion had started to move, had halted for the night in the El Agramiya area, 15 miles south of Daba and 18 miles south-west of the deployment area, leading the battalion by a little over 20 miles by the route taken.page 243
As was to be expected, the formations of the Division were miles apart, scattered along the line of advance as darkness fell. Difficulty was experienced in guiding units into the concentration area, Very lights and radio-telephony being used to accomplish this. The move was not completed without some contact with the enemy: 4 Light Armoured Brigade overran an enemy position near Sidi Ibeid and captured 200 prisoners and twelve anti-tank guns; Tactical Headquarters, 2 NZ Division, came under some shellfire; 5 Brigade was twice attacked from the air without casualties and, after reaching the concentration area, its tail was attacked by some escaping Germans and Italians. About fifty casualties resulted.
Meanwhile 25 Battalion, relieved at 2 p.m. by two companies of the Black Watch and moving off in the early evening, travelled all night and halted for breakfast near the divisional concentration area.It had been a rough and dusty journey, with many delays and much digging and pushing to extricate vehicles from the many patches of soft sand. The route had been marked by the Divisional Provost Company with diamond signs on iron pickets and with green lights. These diamond signs were destined to show, at about 700 yards' intervals, the way to Tripoli, 1400 miles to the west.
There were many signs of a defeated enemy in destroyed tanks, guns and vehicles, some of the last still burning, and here and there were groups of prisoners marching east, some under escort, others with large flags and no escort, but controlled by their acceptance of utter defeat. The Italians generally were rather buoyant and anxious to please, the Germans sullen. Salvage parties were busy recovering knocked-out British tanks.
Sixth Brigade had now reached the rear of the Division, having arrived shortly after the attack on the tail of 5 Brigade had taken place and being guided by a blazing ammunition vehicle. The leading formations of the Division had been held in the Agramiya area; and with the concentration more or less complete a little before dawn on the 5th, the advance towards the escarpment west of Fuka was resumed. Well dispersed in desert formation, 25 Battalion moved on about 9 a.m. until, some four hours later, the advance was held up by strong resistance from the high ground eight miles south of Fuka. A minefield extending some miles to the south was reported there but on investigation was found to be at least partly dummy. A gap was made farther south and the leading troops of the Division page 244 passed through, though the enemy covered the gap with artillery fire and it was necessary to deploy the artillery to assist the passage. The approaches to the main road were strongly defended.
During the morning enemy reconnaissance aircraft had appeared and were engaged by anti-aircraft fire, and a little after midday two fighters had attacked 5 Brigade without result. Twenty-fifth Battalion was not disturbed in any way and had little knowledge of what was happening, though it could see the enemy shelling in the west and south-west early in the afternoon. Fuka lay about 12 miles to the north-west, and the battalion, moving on again at dusk, covered another five miles before halting for the night.
At daylight next morning the Division advanced on Baggush with 9 Armoured Brigade leading, followed later in the morning by 6 Brigade. Apart from a screen provided by the Divisional Cavalry for 9 Armoured Brigade, the remainder of the Division did not move till later in the day. Before moving, however, 6 Brigade was engaged in a small action. Just before first light, about 7 a.m., a hostile column, including four German armoured cars, a 50-millimetre gun, twenty captured 3-ton trucks, and several other vehicles, suddenly opened fire and met with immediate retaliation. Guns from 34 Anti-Tank Battery of the Divisional Reserve Group, firing from their laager position, knocked out a Scammel, a tank transporter, a 3-ton truck, and a motor-cycle and side-car, and a chase by Vickers guns of 3 MG Company, two-pounders of 26 Battalion, and carriers of 25 Battalion resulted in the capture of 400 or more prisoners (mostly Italians but including about 100 Germans of 90 Light Di vision) and two 3-ton trucks. Fifty men of 22 Armoured Brigade who had been taken prisoner the previous evening were released and no New Zealand casualties were reported—a very satisfactory affair, which Captain Robertshaw, commanding B Company, witnessed:
‘During stand-to at first light 6-11-42 a few bursts of LMG fire and a lot of confused shouting was heard about a thousand yards to the left of the Battn lager. B Coy and Lieut Mouat's section of 2-pr A Tk guns moved 200 yards to the flank and occupied fire positions. Subsequent inquiries revealed that the noise was made by a party of Italians, who had been cut off, capturing a small English LAD unit in order to use their transport to break through. When large numbers of men were seen running and climbing on trucks and moving westward, page 245 fire was opened, 26 Bn doing likewise. Numbers of the enemy were killed and wounded and several of the RASC personnel made their escape. Some of the enemy however got away westwards. During the next three hours several bodies of the enemy came in and surrendered.’
For the move on Baggush 25 Battalion was ordered to pass through the gap in the minefield 13 miles south-south-west of Fuka, and then proceed 22 miles on a bearing practically north-west to the top of the Baggush escarpment. Moving off at 10.45 a.m., the battalion passed through the minefield half an hour later, progress being very slow because of a traffic jam at the gap. Heavy rain commenced to fall early in the afternoon, just as the battalion approached the telephone line four miles south of the escarpment, and continued for the remainder of the day and throughout the night. As will be seen, this rain was to have a very important effect on the operations and for the enemy-was to be literally one of the ‘fortunes of war’.
The day's journey ended at 7 p.m., eight miles south-west of Baggush and five miles short of the escarpment, when the battalion settled down for the night. The New Zealand Divisional Cavalry and 9 Armoured Brigade, which had preceded 6 Brigade and had seen no sign of the enemy at the Baggush Box, had been ordered to push on to the west; after difficulties due to the escarpment and the rain, they were halted, though somewhat widely dispersed, three miles south-west of Sidi Haneish and about four miles to the north of 25 Battalion.
The remainder of the Division had spent the morning on the high ground south of Fuka and in the early afternoon moved off to the north-west. Much difficulty was experienced in negotiating the sodden desert which the heavy rain was rapidly transforming into a bog. The Division had instructions to see that the landing grounds in the Baggush area and the coastal strip in the vicinity were clear of the enemy and so available to the RAF; another task was to clear the enemy from between Baggush and Charing Cross (the road junction south-west of Matruh and about 30 miles north-west of 25 Battalion).
Baggush and Sidi Haneish were found to be clear and by nightfall 5 Brigade was halted, bogged down, about four miles to the south-west of 25 Battalion, while the armoured formations were generally to the west of Sidi Haneish. Five miles to the west of the battalion, 7 Armoured Division had during the afternoon been engaged with enemy tanks and at dusk fighting was still proceeding.page 246
Dawn on 7 November found the desert a quagmire after all-night rain; the whole Division was bogged and so, too, were the supply vehicles some miles back. Without petrol, quite apart from the impossible state of the going, the Division could not move. It was a most unpleasant day, the frustration of the high hopes, or indeed of the certainty of cutting the enemy line of retreat, accentuating the gloomy conditions. But Private Hawkins found some humour to relieve the gloom. ‘We had something to grin about,’ wrote Hawkins. ‘With all the trucks potentially bogged, we stood listening to the BBC-“Rommel is in full flight for the Egyptian border with the NZers in hot pursuit”.
The bad weather also hampered the operations of the Desert Air Force, but fighters patrolled the roads between Matruh and Sidi Barrani and engaged various targets, including a landing ground, a formation of dive-bombers, and a number of transport planes, and bombers continued to attack transport at night.
On 8 November the weather cleared and the battalion received its petrol and supplies. An order early in the day required 6 Brigade to attack Matruh from the west and to occupy it, but 1 Armoured Division had entered the town at 9 a.m. Following 26 Battalion, 25 Battalion moved off in the morning and a a little before noon formed up with the remainder of the brigade, in desert formation, before proceeding to the concentration area. Next morning, after the leading armour of the Division had passed through, the brigade headed for Matruh, 25 Battalion following Brigade Headquarters, but was halted an hour later to allow other formations of the Division to pass in single file through a minefield gap. This caused a delay of about six hours, and after a short run the brigade halted for the night. During the evening the battalion Transport Officer and eighteen men who had been missing since the night move of the 4th rejoined the battalion.
The following morning, 10 November, the minefield was crossed in single file and the Eastern Barracks in Matruh were occupied. The rest of the day was spent in settling in, cleaning up, and, of course, swimming from the very attractive beaches. There was much work to do in Matruh. A great deal of cleaning up was necessary and considerable quantities of foodstuffs and other stores were salvaged. The battalion also assisted in unloading trains at the railhead and ships arriving in the small port. A little routine training, including route-marching, was page 247 carried out and reinforcements of two officers (Captain Weston and Lieutenant Finlay16) and fifty-three other ranks, mostly men who had been evacuated to hospital, were absorbed into the unit.
From 29 October to 9 November the only casualties suffered by the battalion were 12 men wounded and 3 officers and 27 other ranks evacuated sick; reinforcements of 6 officers and 83 other ranks had been received, making the unit strength 25 officers and 435 other ranks. Lieutenant-Colonel Bonifant, evacuated wounded on 28 October, rejoined the battalion on 19 November.
The Division (less 6 Brigade) had experienced little difficulty in its advance, the first real resistance being encountered at the formidable Halfaya Pass, which was captured by 21 Battalion in a surprise attack before daybreak on 11 November, about 600 prisoners and many vehicles and guns being taken at a cost of one man killed and one wounded. The Division found an amazing congestion of traffic on the main road from Sidi Barrani, especially at the foot of the pass, and it was fortunate that the enemy air force was in no condition to attack it. Menastir, six miles north of Sidi Azeiz, was reached on 12 November. There the pursuit by the New Zealand Division ended and was continued across Cyrenaica towards El Agheila by other forces.
During the period spent at Matruh there was a good deal of uncertainty as to when the brigade would rejoin the rest of the Division which had halted at Bardia, but on 20 November the brigade began to leave just after midday, with 25 Battalion, followed by 19 LAD, at the rear of the column.
The Siwa road was followed for 20 miles to a point where a telephone line from the west joined the Siwa-Matruh line. Here desert formation was adopted and the brigade column of 502 vehicles, carrying 2700 men, moved off to the west for a further 15 miles before closing to the usual close interval for the night. Next day 85 miles were covered and the night was spent near Conference Cairn, 28 miles south of Sollum. The divisional area near Bardia was reached the following afternoon, 25 Battalion's bivouac area being in the vicinity of Sidi Azeiz.
3 Lt I. R. J. Dickson; born Stratford, 10 Apr 1909; grocer; killed in action 24 Oct 1942.
9 Lt-Col H. M. Reid, MC and bar, m.i.d.; Christchurch; born Auckland, 21 Mar 1904; civil engineer; OC 6 Fd Coy Jun-Aug 1942; 8 Fd Coy Aug-Dec 1942; NZ Forestry Gp (UK) Jul-Oct 1943; twice wounded; wounded and p.w. 16 Dec 1942; released, Tripoli, 23 Jan 1943.