2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
Divisional Headquarters under Attack
Divisional Headquarters under Attack
Divisional Headquarters received various indications that the Africa Corps was on its way back; but earlier reports of the tank fighting with which Crusader began so greatly exaggerated enemy tank losses that no great danger to the Division was apprehended. Moreover, a South African brigade was expected almost from minute to minute to reinforce the Division. But Headquarters, too, had a taste at dusk of what was in store; the Germans made a quick thrust northwards and seized the huge New Zealand MDS, in effect a vast field hospital with more than a thousand patients, and liberated prisoners held in a nearby compound. On the escarpment itself they clashed briefly in the gathering dusk with part of Divisional Headquarters below—the ‘scrap’ Bevan reported to 4 Brigade.
‘B Group’ of Divisional Headquarters was still in existence as a defence force under Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes of the 7th Anti-Tank, though it had no great strength: only whatever the various headquarters could muster in makeshift infantry, plus O Troop (2-pounders) and Q Troop (18-pounders) of 34 Anti-Tank Battery and half a troop of 43 Light Ack-Ack. In this ad hoc force Captain Savage,29 adjutant of the 7th Anti-Tank, acted as' company commander' and the RSM, WO I Gilberd, was a ‘platoon commander’. Trouble was not expected because, apart from the misinformation about enemy tank strengths, it was believed that a British armoured brigade was guarding the southern flank (though the Africa Corps had in fact pushed it aside) and the rear, along the Trigh Capuzzo, was guarded (as it was—stoutly) by a rearguard commanded by the 8th Field.
When fire from the escarpment started up without warning, O and Q Troops began to reply and Gilberd's' platoon' boldly attacked up the escarpment. The response daunted the enemy, armoured cars which had accompanied the attackers quickly disappeared, and Gilberd had no trouble in occupying the top of the ridge. In a matter of minutes firing died down and a few moments later it was quite dark. A vehicle on the crest was in flames. The gun Q1 was given credit for having, as the battery report says, ‘obliterated one MG post and immobilised one page 257 truck’. Spare personnel, gunners among them, then formed posts along the top of the escarpment. The Headquarters of 13 Corps, which had been driving along the Trigh Capuzzo, passed through during the night and entered Tobruk, leaving with the Division as it did so a few infantry and some more guns of the 65th Anti-Tank.
Staff officers of Divisional Artillery Headquarters had spent an interesting afternoon watching enemy approaching from the east along the Trigh and seeing W/X Battery of the 8th Field engage them with evident success. The 8th Field had reported back throughout the day and was the chief source of reliable information on what was happening in the rear of the Division. A further rearguard was formed after dark under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Walton of the 8th Field, with 10 tanks, two cavalry troops, his own guns and almost a company of infantry. This little force set itself up astride the Trigh and well to the rear. It was well over a mile from the strongpoint then being set up around Bir Sciuearat, the easternmost defended locality in the main Divisional area.
A large supply column led by Colonel Clifton30 drove from the south during the night, regardless of enemy detachments, and descended the escarpment somewhere near W/X Battery, which was by that time very short of ammunition. Clifton therefore left six lorries of 25-pounder ammunition with the battery when he drove on westwards. It was a timely move; for the battery was engaged soon after dawn on 29 November with enemy pressing along the Trigh Capuzzo and above the escarpment parallel to it. In mid-morning Walton's guns came under heavy fire, several men were hit, and the tank component of the rearguard was completely destroyed in a series of clashes in defence of the guns. It was only when the rearguard drew back far enough to be helped by the Matildas of the 44th Royal Tanks from 4 Brigade that the situation eased, and a new front was slowly established between the Sciuearat strongpoint and the escarpment which fell away to the north—near Ed Dbana, east of Zaafran. By this time ‘B Group’ of Divisional Headquarters was almost in the front line and Lieutenant-Colonel page 258 Oakes was in his element. The ammunition provided by Clifton's convoy was most welcome and an even larger consignment arrived from Tobruk the same night.
30 Brig G. H. Clifton, DSO and 2 bars, MC, m.i.d.; Porangahau; born Greenmeadows, 18 Sep 1898; Regular soldier; served North-West Frontier 1919–21 (MC, Waziristan); BM 5 Bde 1940; CRE NZ Div 1940–41; Chief Engineer, 30 Corps, 1941–42; comd 6 Bde Feb-Sep 1942; p.w. 4 Sep 1942; escaped, Germany, Mar 1945; Commander, Northern Military District, 1952–53.