Bardia to Enfidaville
Back to Egypt
Back to Egypt
It has already been recorded why the New Zealand Government could not give approval for the Division to take part in the invasion of Sicily, or at least could not give a decision within the time limits involved. First Army was now to take over from Eighth Army, and the formations of the latter were to move back, some to prepare for the Sicily operations. In the circumstances, there was no point in holding 2 NZ Division anywhere in the forward area. For some time it had been understood that when it did move, the Division would return to Egypt. Furthermore, concurrently with the recent operations, there had been discussions between the United Kingdom Government, the New Zealand Government, and 2 NZEF overseas about the commencement of a furlough scheme, sufficient agreement by the two governments being reached towards the end of the campaign. It was now the responsibility of 2 NZ Division to get back to its main base as soon as possible, in order that the furlough scheme might be implemented.1
Arrangements for the return journey had been under discussion since 11 May, and it suited all concerned that the Division should move promptly. As a first step 56 (L) Division relieved 6 Infantry Brigade by 3 p.m. on 13 May, and the whole Division assembled in areas south of Enfidaville, groupings being ended and units reverting to their parent corps.
At this point the association with 8 Armoured Brigade ended, to the regret of all. General Freyberg later sent units of the brigade a copy of his despatch to the New Zealand Government on the recent campaign, in which the services of the brigade were recognised.
On 14 May Lieutenant-General Horrocks returned to 10 Corps, Lieutenant-General Freyberg reassumed command of 2 NZ Division, Brigadier Kippenberger of 5 Brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Harding of 21 Battalion. Lieutenant-Colonel Fairbrother assumed command of 23 Battalion in place of Lieutenant-Colonel Connolly.2page 370
There was a daily quota for leave to Tunis, the very small one of 200 all ranks, but it is certain that many more, one way or another, managed to visit the city. However, the journey to Egypt was to start on 15 and 16 May, so that there was little time for sightseeing. Large parties risked the mines and booby traps on Takrouna to visit that already historic feature, and others searched areas for as yet unburied bodies. Most formations had thanksgiving services, including one in which for the first time all units of Divisional Artillery paraded together from a common laager area. The NZASC staged a ‘donkey derby’ with the animals of the Mule Pack Company, so providing much enjoyment for some thousands of men. And everyone collected souvenirs from among the accumulations of enemy equipment, in direct proportion to the opportunities for concealment, for there were strict orders that all enemy equipment was to be handed in.
Some interest was found also in watching the thousands of healthy-looking German prisoners who came out of the hills to give themselves up. They had been well-fed and well-equipped up to the last, and given the chance could have resisted for many days and even weeks ahead. But the blitzkrieg had overcome its inventors.
There was no doubt in anyone's mind about the most desirable destination in Egypt. In fact there was unanimity that somehow or other the Division must squeeze into Maadi Camp, and a squeeze it would be, for there were 12,800 extra personnel with their 3100 vehicles to be accommodated. To allow for this, most of the troops already in the camp—training depots and reinforcements—were moved out to Mena camp near the Pyramids.
For the move to Egypt the Division was divided into five serials, each with its due proportion of troop-carrying vehicles, maintenance units, medical units and provost. The serials were:
NZASC less detachments with other serials.
HQ 2 NZ Division
Provost Company less detachments.
5 Infantry Brigade
NZ Medical Corps less detachments.
6 Infantry Brigade
27 MG Battalion
NZ Ordnance Corps
NZ Electrical and Mechanical Engineers less detachments.
The serials were then grouped into flights, the first three constituting Flight ‘A’, and the last two Flight ‘B’. Tanks were handed in to a British tank reception depot. Bren carriers went back to Egypt on transporters or by sea under separate arrangements.
Flight ‘A’ left Enfidaville on 15 May, staged at Wadi Akarit and Ben Gardane, and arrived at Suani Ben Adem near Tripoli in the evening of 17 May. Flight ‘B’ followed one day later at each stage. Flights halted for a day at Suani, and then, still moving a day apart, staged at Misurata, Buerat, Nofilia, and Agedabia, and arrived at Benghazi on 23 and 24 May. Again after a day's pause, flights continued on 25 and 26 May, staged at Lamluda, El Adem, Buq Buq, Mersa Matruh, El Daba, and Amiriya, and arrived in Maadi on 31 May and 1 June. Administration for the move had worked smoothly throughout, and there were no difficulties over replenishment. The age of the vehicles and the supply of tyres presented the only trouble, but the LADs worked hard and kept the vehicles moving. Only thirteen were evacuated, and only fourteen arrived on tow, out of a total of 3100.
The troops enjoyed the journey, for the stages were easy and the places they passed through had associations with the many movements of the Division in the past. Mobile cinemas and the Kiwi Concert Party provided entertainment at intervals. National Patriotic Fund parcels were distributed and beer was issued from time to time. And when they arrived in Maadi, units were told that up to 40 per cent of each unit at a time would be given the opportunity of a fortnight's leave in Cairo or Alexandria.
But what was even more heartening was the news that a furlough scheme to New Zealand was to be put into effect at once. For a while at least the war was over, and the future shone bright.