28 (Maori) Battalion
CHAPTER 8 — Parry and Thrust
Parry and Thrust
While components of 2 NZ Division straggled into Kaponga Box, or Fortress A as it was called militarily, on which 5 Brigade had laboured the previous September, the rest of 13 Corps ‘Stopped not for break and stayed not for stone’ in the last lap of what became known in the Eighth Army as the Gazala Gallop; 10 Corps around Matruh was encircled and lost heavily in cutting its way out; the business community of Cairo, which cared little what uniform its patrons wore, was, it was said, polishing up its German and Italian arithmetic. Headquarters Middle East worked on plans for another withdrawal—destination, Syria, or somewhere.
Fortunate, indeed, was the fact that Afrika Korps was almost as worn out chasing Eighth Army as Eighth Army was in keeping a jump ahead of it, because the force holding the forty-odd miles of the Alamein line was very thin on the ground. The 9th Australian Division was hurrying from Syria but was not immediately available, 1 South African Division was in the Alamein Box, and the New Zealand Division was grouped around the Kaponga Box. Between the two fortresses 18 Indian Brigade, newly arrived from Iraq, was holding the Deir el Shein, eight miles north of Kaponga. South of Kaponga, Fortress B on the edge of the Qattara Depression was incomplete and unable to stand a siege for lack of a permanent water supply. Instead of being in the centre of the fixed defences, 2 NZ Division, therefore, was really on the inland flank and open to attack from north, west, and south.
The troops were deployed, with 6 Brigade inside Kaponga and both 4 and 5 Brigades in Deir el Munassib, about nine miles south-east. The 28th Battalion came under command of 6 Brigade and moved into the rear of the Box. B Company remembered the move because it lost the services of a new but much-esteemed addition to its ranks. During the breakout from Minqar Qaim it was found that the company had acquired a German prisoner. He was handed over to the cooks and became a valued member of the culinary staff. They were sorry to lose him to the prisoner-of-war cage but such is the fortune of war.
No. 8 Platoon suffered a similar loss. A very dazed young page 198 German was discovered in its truck and, after he was scared almost to death with flourishing bayonets, he was given more cigarettes than he was able to smoke. He was promoted to ‘platoon rouseabout’ and part-time batman to Lieutenant Marsden, and in both capacities gave complete satisfaction. He was not, however, a very good linguist and mastered only three words of English—‘Come’, ‘Go’, and ‘Lav’.
July opened with another disaster—the Indians at Deir el Shein were overrun and German armour felt its way on to Ruweisat Ridge which, running east and west, was in effect a ten-mile-long spear thrusting through the Alamein line. The water supply for Kaponga was also disrupted, for the partially constructed pipeline was severed on Ruweisat. The now useless line of pipes became the centre of no-man's-land and a guiding mark for night patrols.
To the Maoris, shovelling away the sand that had fallen into the earthworks since their first digging, the enemy seemed to be comfortably far away, but in reality the position of the Division was again fast becoming untenable. The night was a rumble in the north with the usual German fireworks until midnight, when, with the moon lighting the desert, the RAF took a hand and kept on taking it until dawn.
The expected withdrawal order came in the afternoon but was countermanded before it could be acted upon; enemy movements suggested an all-in attack against the Alamein Box and it was decided to counter by exerting pressure from the south. A tank skirmish in the north-east ensued, with the result that the hostile armour withdrew to the north of Kaponga and patrols kept a watchful eye lest Rommel altered his intention and the direction of his thrust.
The following day (3 July) was a day of movement for nearly everybody except 28 Battalion; 4 Brigade, working with 4 and 5 Field Regiments, intercepted the Italian Ariete Division on Alam Nayil ridge and turned it back with the loss of most of its guns; 5 Brigade left to exert pressure by occupying the El Mreir Depression, five miles north of Kaponga; 6 Brigade went into reserve at Himeimat, but the Maoris were left behind in Kaponga as caretakers and passed to the command of 5 Brigade.
The only annoyance sufferd by the battalion came from the methodical attentions of a single heavy mortar. It caused no casualties, but its nuisance value was considerable and Colonel Love wanted it removed. It was a characteristic of the CO to give an order and leave to the person concerned the manner page 199 of its fulfilment. Also, when the Colonel was emphatic his voice could be heard a mile away. Lieutenant Hayward, now commanding the carrier platoon, was sent for and was met at the door of headquarters' dugout with a roar: ‘Get that mortar!’
‘In the late afternoon,’ he writes, ‘a column of tanks was observed approaching the box from the NE. (What appeared to be a tank battle had been going on to the N most of the day.) I was told to report to Bn HQ.
Col Love—“See those tanks?”
Col Love—“You're to find out whose they are. They could be ours or they could be theirs.”
Self—“Yes Sir. How do I find out?”
Col Love—“Take this blue flag. When you are close enough to be clearly seen stand up and wave it in a circular motion above your head. If they are ours they will reply in the same way.”
No more, no less. You will of course have guessed they were our own.'
From their position in the box the troops could see the flash of the 25-pounders supporting 5 Brigade at El Mreir and hear the dull rumble of explosions interspersed with the rat-tat-tat of machine guns, while the sky was illuminated with cascading flares and cut by coloured meteors.
Conditions continued to be peaceful in Kaponga although the reverse appeared to be the position at El Mreir. Late in the afternoon an Indian column called in for replenishment and said it was bound westward to harry the enemy flank. At last light Colonel Love was informed that he was again under command of 4 Brigade, so that within three days 28 Battalion had been attached to each brigade in the Division. That night was also noisy for 5 Brigade was still fighting at El Mreir, but at daybreak the enemy and 5 Brigade were again on opposite sides of the depression. Colonel Love returned from a conference in the morning (5th) with the news that 4 Brigade was to extend 5 Brigade's front and take up a position along a ridge on that brigade's left as part of a plan to reach around the enemy flank.
The Maoris left the shelter of the Box and joined 4 Brigade, which moved off in desert formation. Within the hour and page 200 without warning a number of enemy planes came in low from the south-west and roared down the lanes of vehicles. The attached anti-aircraft units were in action before their vehicles had stopped, but the surprise was complete and there were explosions all over the brigade area. The Maoris suffered worst of all, for out of the sixty-five casualties in the brigade, Major Chesterman, Lieutenant Hamiora, and fourteen other ranks were killed and twenty-one wounded. Another fatal Maori casualty was Lieutenant Maloney,1 LO at 4 Brigade Headquarters.
The dead were buried, the wounded cared for, and the brigade continued on to its destination, a ridge two miles south-west of 5 Brigade, which was reached in the late afternoon.
Colonel Love satisfied himself that there were no enemy within six miles of Qaret el Yidma, as the locality was named on the map, although the noise of battle could still be heard from El Mreir. The troops dug in and waited events. Nothing happened the following day, which was excessively hot, beyond regular RAF sweeps north and not so regular flights by the Luftwaffe going in the opposite direction. The situation is best described in the somewhat unorthodox phraseology of the battalion war diary: ‘The RAF is having a day out today. It is now the heat of the day and both sides, apparently overcome by the heat have ceased activity, except the RAF whose planes are still going to and fro.’
That night (6–7 July) Colonel Love was instructed to take position on the right of the brigade for the capture of Mungar Wahla. Mungar Wahla was high ground roughly in line with 5 Brigade; and it will be remembered that in the desert high ground is only about a dozen feet or more above the general level.
It was presumed in Battalion Headquarters that the enemy had moved in since the CO's reconnaissance, but a two-mile march ended in a bloodless victory and the troops dug in at their leisure. Small groups of high-flying enemy planes were about, probably in search of transport targets, and Colonel Love let it be known that although ammunition was not unlimited an odd pot-shot might ease the monotony of waiting. The Colonel's gesture was highly appreciated by the men and some entirely harmless firing took place.page 201
But let us look at the enemy's plans as we now know them. It was Rommel's intention, as he explained to General Headquarters, Rome, to remove the menace to his right flank by standing on his present position long enough to regroup with a view to encircling and destroying 2 NZ Division. In pursuance of this intention an Italian division had moved towards Mungar Wahla in a turning movement around 5 Brigade's western flank.
Colonel Love was warned to be ready to move at thirty minutes' notice and by late afternoon was back at Qaret el Yidma. That was only the start; besides the Italians, there was a threat of tanks from the west and 4 Brigade was ordered back into the Munassib Depression, south-east of Kaponga. It was a hard night, with much pushing and heaving to extricate the trucks from patches of soft sand, but the troops, somewhat bewildered at the apparently pusillanimous conduct of operations and not sure when the enemy would be on top of them, were much heartened by the quiet efficiency of the 4 RMT drivers. The battalion was safely in Munassib before first light. Fifth Brigade was also withdrawn behind Kaponga while 6 Brigade, which had come up and occupied the Box as reserve to a projected advance on Daba, was warned to leave a caretaker company behind and get back smartly to Amiriya.
Another dispositional shuffle that night (8–9th) placed 28 Battalion two miles north-east of Munassib. Captain Porter returned from a course of instruction and took over A Company, and Captain Sorensen went to Headquarters Company vice Major Chesterman. The arrival of ‘Ben’ Porter, as he was known to the Ngapuhi Company, was a great morale lifter. To the newer members of the company Porter was something of a legend and his appearance among his keyed-up tribesmen, arrayed in clean and highly pressed shorts and the latest in hair-do's, was worth a week's leave.
The 9th was a quiet day on the Maori front and opportunity was taken to catch up on some sleep that had lately been hard to come by. The new chaplain, Padre Rangi,2 marched in to the unit, and the day closed with a ‘goodnight melody’ provided by heavy bombers and two Stukas. During that afternoon, enemy forces that had been eyeing Kaponga very carefully took a deep breath and turned on a full-scale bombardment. The caretaker company left unobtrusively by the back door and the enemy, with armour and infantry, bashed a way into the empty Box.page 202
For Kaponga to fall without a shot fired in its defence was an ignoble end to a lot of hard work, although there were weighty reasons for its abandonment. The result was of course that, except at Alamein, there were now no fixed defences and 2 NZ Division was again fully mobile. And that was the way the Division liked it.
While these movements were taking place, 5 Brigade had been bickering with the enemy and was now withdrawing to the east of 4 Brigade. Colonel Love was instructed to occupy the southern side of Munassib Depression and take care of the rear of the brigade's area. The battalion was there before daylight and, though there was no employment offering from that direction, gunfire from the Alam Nayil ridge suggested the very dickens of a fight going on there.
The obstinacy of the New Zealand Division had bought time for the reorganisation of some armoured formations, with the result that a tank battle had turned the enemy back off Alam Nayil. A contributing factor that delayed Rommel's intention of destroying his tormentors was that the Australians and South Africans had commenced some diversions on their own account, with Sabrata Division as the chief sufferer.
The favourable outcome of the action on Alam Nayil had suggested the possibility of capturing the vital Ruweisat Ridge and reversing the situation by creating a threat against the enemy on the coastal sector. An Indian brigade was sharing the feature with the enemy who, however, held the greater part. The New Zealanders were given the job of evicting the intruders.
Ruweisat Ridge was only 160 feet above sea level and about 20 feet higher than the surrounding desert; in fact, it was a barely noticeable bulge in the arid flatness, but nevertheless was of the greatest tactical importance because it dominated many square miles of terrain.
The first phase of the attack on Ruweisat was an approach march on 11 July across the Alam Nayil ridge, where there was a heartening display of abandoned enemy guns and other equipment. The troops debussed about half a mile south of the ridge and formed up with B Company leading, A right rear, and C left rear; 23 Battalion was on the brigade's right and 20 Battalion on the left.
It was late afternoon when the troops crossed the top of the ridge and advanced into artillery fire that increased as they moved down the enemy side of the feature. A hull-down tank page 203 firing across the Maoris' front added a stream of armour-piercing shells and the battalion was ordered to halt. Lieutenant Marsden found the situation very trying:
The most harassing experience was lying prone in the hot sand and watching the shells come bouncing, screaming, jumping and whirring along the open front. No matter which way one rolled the jolly things seemed to jump that way too and at the last moment veer away or bounce over. Positively uncanny. My batman Pte Harry Fisher3 got one of these AP shells in the abdomen but lived long enough to smoke a cigarette.
Just before dusk Colonel Love drove up with his adjutant to see how the men were faring. The vehicle attracted still more fire and an airburst mortally wounded the CO and severely wounded Captain Wood. Colonel Love died that night. There was another star in the Maori sky.4
‘E te toa! Haere Ki te Iwi i te Po.’5
Captain Keiha took temporary command and Captain Sorensen became adjutant. The casualties, besides the CO and adjutant, were three killed, twenty wounded, and one missing.
The Maoris were very upset at the loss of their first Maori commanding officer and were unhappy about the outcome of the projected operation. In the days of tribal conflict such an occurrence would have been construed as the worst possible portent and the fight abandoned forthwith. That aspect of Maori psychology was probably not considered by Brigade Headquarters, and it was no doubt because of the loss of two key officers and the absence of the second-in-command that the battalion was moved during the night to cover the brigade's rear. The attack on Ruweisat was postponed and for two days the Maoris dug weapon pits under intermittent and occasionally heavy fire, listened to the running fights between opposing mobile columns in the south, absorbed some thirty-odd reinforcements and uncomplainingly endured heat, haze, and dust-storms because they reduced visibility and provided relief from shelling.
‘Charlie YM’ was also wounded at this time. He had acquired a carrier, Te Rau Aroha, and visited the area daily page 204 bringing cigarettes, soft drinks, chocolate and tinned fruits. In some ways Te Rau Aroha was a great nuisance on account of the dust it raised, but the good cheer it brought was considered ample recompense for the shelling that invariably followed. Another change in dispositions on 14 July required the Maoris to hand over to 18 Battalion, which in turn was relieved by 26 Battalion. The last unit took over all the Maori desert-worthy vehicles and left in their places 2-ton rear-wheel-drive trucks which, in Army terms, were ‘unreliable in soft going’.
Rear-wheel-drive trucks were being gradually replaced in the forward areas because, once the back wheels lost grip in soft sand, within a matter of seconds they had scoured a hole and the vehicles were sitting on their differentials. And then the twenty or so occupants heaved, hauled, pushed and swore for maybe ten, a hundred yards, perhaps even further, until hard going was found again.
After the swop-over of trucks was completed the battalion reported to Rear Headquarters 2 NZ Division and was told to move back to Alam el Halfa ridge. The unreliability of the two-tonners was not overstated, for by dusk the whole unit was bogged down and by dawn was widely spread over the desert. Lieutenant-Colonel Baker, ordered forward to take command, was waiting on Alam Halfa when, on 15 July, one by one the trucks made the rendezvous and the unit reorganised.
Meanwhile, the attack on Ruweisat had been mounted. The assault was initially successful but 15 Panzer Division counterattacked, overwhelmed 4 Brigade, and forced 5 Brigade to relinquish its hard-won objective. There were some in the ranks of 28 Battalion who were not surprised at the result but were amazed at the temerity of generals in disregarding the omen of Colonel Love's death.
The battalion's job on Alam el Halfa was, with other troops, to lay out a brigade box as part of a divisional defensive area should the Ruweisat-Alam Nayil line become untenable, but three days later (the 18th) it moved forward and took over 22 Battalion's transport. Most of that unit's assault troops had been captured at Ruweisat and the rest were going back to Maadi to reorganise. It was small concern to the rank and file of the Maori Battalion as to which brigade they were in, but at Alam Halfa they had been in 6 Brigade and were now posted, for the last time, to 5 Brigade, where they stayed for the duration.page 205
Meanwhile, Major Hart6 had marched in as second-in-command to Colonel Baker. He was an original member of 22 Battalion.
Fifth Brigade was now deployed with the Maoris facing north-west towards the enemy-held part of Ruweisat Ridge, 21 Battalion on their right rear, and 23 Battalion on their left flank. The Indians were preparing for another attempt to push the enemy off the ridge while the rested 6 Brigade attacked El Mreir.
For three days the Maoris were kept busy with a variety of jobs—improving defences, burying dead Italians, laying minefields, dodging fifteen-plane dive-bombing raids; hoping our own planes were finding suitable targets; cursing the flies, the enemy gunners, and the terrific heat of high summer.
Guns for the support of the infantry attacking El Mreir were scattered over the Maori sector, and during the height of the preliminary concentration (21–22 July) a draft of 100 reinforcements reported. Most of them were new to battle and the red flashes of the muzzle blasts, the appalling noise of the departing shells, and the enemy flares rising in a constant cascade were an overwhelming introduction to the front line.
The attack on El Mreir, like that on Ruweisat, was unsuccessful through circumstances beyond the scope of the history of a unit not involved. It is sufficient to say that the close integration of infantry, artillery, and armour was a concept yet to be applied in the Eighth Army. Some time before daylight urgent steps became necessary to re-form the divisional line, and within three hours of the warning order 28 Battalion had left its area and occupied the vacant pits of 26 Battalion on the southern flank.
It was a hard day. Odd parties of 26 Battalion filtered back from the disastrous attack on El Mreir, while enemy dive-bombers and artillery concentrations sought the guns and tanks still in the vicinity. Two Maoris were killed and fifteen wounded before nightfall. Further realignment followed that night. The southern sector of the Maori line was taken over by 23 Battalion, and 21 Battalion plus the remnants of 26 Battalion moved up on the right flank. The following night the battalion was shifted back to the vicinity of its previous position south of Ruweisat. The remaining week of July was static. The New Zealand Division was in no shape to attack and the enemy was in all page 206 probability thankful for the respite. In addition, the Australians and South Africans were hitting back with some success on the northern sector.
August 1942 was a month few will forget. The pakeha troops found the heat almost insufferable and even to the Maoris, whose darker pigmentation was some protection, it was distressing. Both sides were consolidating and there was little activity, and that mainly when the troops concentrated for meals. Mealtimes were accordingly altered so that the enemy would have no encouragement for desultory shelling, which was not only of a nuisance value but also extremely unpleasant to endure. Breakfast came up before first light and tea after dark, while the midday meal of dry rations was eaten in the shelter of the men's slit trenches, which were covered with groundsheets to afford some protection from the burning sun and cloudless sky. There was no protection from the myriads of flies breeding and battening on the corpses and filth of the Italian battlefield. The battalion diary, with the Maori flair for the picturesque, is vivid:
Even more trying than the heat were the flies which infested the area in countless thousands. They were everywhere, shared our meals, committed suicide in our tea, and used our bodies as playgrounds for the remainder of the day. As is usual in the desert the nights were a compensation for the trials of the day. Brilliant moonlight nights and cooler temperatures and absence of flies were much appreciated.
The night was one long thud of picks and whirr of compressors biting into the rock beneath the shallow sand. Minefields were laid and wire obstacles erected between the opposing armies while patrols kept a vigilant eye on the enemy preparations. Doubtless enemy patrols also ended their reports with such remarks as that, on account of the moonlight and the vigilance of the enemy listening posts, little detailed information could be obtained.
Once more, during the night 2–3 August, the Maoris moved and changed places with 21 Battalion opposite the eastern end of El Mreir Depression. The Italians opposite did not appear to like Maori patrols poking about their wire and the battalion mortars did their best to increase the tension. At odd times during the nights the mortar teams, accompanied by bursts from the machine-gunners in the vicinity, slammed a dozen or so bombs into the El Mreir Depression. Even if they were fired page 207 on the blind, the sound was heartening to the Maoris, who liked to hear trouble being exported; of late, they had been overmuch on the receiving end.
A section of amateur gunners in A Company did its best to maintain morale. Sergeant Ritchie Davis,7 platoon sergeant of No. 7 Platoon, found a derelict Italian ‘seventy-five’ and organised a team to work it. As an artillery piece it had some drawbacks for one wheel was missing, there were no sights, and the moving parts were reluctant to move. The volunteer gunners found enough rocks to lever their weapon more or less upright and enough ammunition to put them in a strong offensive position.
The new battalion arm was ready for business just when the pukka gunners were engaging targets some few hundred yards behind the enemy FDLs and proceeded to lend its active support. The artillery O Pip officer nearly collapsed when he saw a shell burst a thousand yards short of the set target. The crew sighted their gun by peering down the barrel and for some hours brought heavy fire down on Heaven only knows how many square miles of Italian-held North Africa. The enemy got fed up with the annoyance and retaliated so violently that Colonel Baker had to prohibit the use of the weapon.
Meanwhile, Field-Marshal Rommel, who had no intention of sitting indefinitely almost within sight of Alexandria, had reinforced and re-equipped his army. Signs were not wanting that he proposed to continue his conquest of Egypt at no distant date.
Generals Alexander and Montgomery, newly arrived, were also rebuilding their forces and taking steps to frustrate the German and Italian intentions prior to taking the offensive. In the New Zealand sector, as with others, the plan was to construct a fortified area capable of all-round defence from which there would be no retreat. The intention to hold under any circumstances was emphasised by the removal of all but the most necessary transport to Burg el Arab, some 40 miles to the rear—a modern equivalent of burning your bridges. Headquarters 5 Brigade issued an operation order on 18 August which made the position quite plain to everybody concerned. The operative sections laid down that:
5 NZ Inf Bde Gp will hold present posn against attack from any direction.page 208
Minefields will be extended by the CRE until the whole area is enclosed, except for 1000 yds gap in the NE corner. Units are responsible for closing gaps in minefields on their front in the event of E [enemy] attack.
Units will be prepared to counter-attack either with or without Army Tk support, and will prepare plans accordingly.
The Maori Battalion ‘prepared accordingly’. Reserve rations, water, and ammunition were buried in company areas, cook-houses were brought forward and dug in, more minefields were laid both within and beyond the battalion boundaries to break up the thrust of any attack, and more wire was erected.
By the last week in August the Maoris were ready for any emergency and distinguished callers were dropping in: General Freyberg, recovered from his wound at Minqar Qaim, made an inspection of the forward areas by moonlight on the 20th; the next day all battalion commanders met the new 13 Corps commander, General Horrocks; and on the following day the new Eighth Army commander, General Montgomery, visited Battalion Headquarters and met all the senior officers.
By this time the Inteligence forecasts were that Rommel would open the campaign for the reduction of the Alamein line and the final conquest of Egypt by an outflanking move through or around the New Zealand area. The most likely attempt would be the breaching of the minefields south of the New Zealand Box, as the area had been christened, the folding up of the line, and the encirclement and destruction of the Eighth Army.
It was thought that the German attack would start with the full moon on 25–26 August, and Brigadier Kippenberger indicated to Colonel Baker that a really purposeful raid on El Mreir would have the two-fold result of identifying the occupants and possibly diverting some strength from, or even delaying, the main project.
The Maoris, tired of inactivity, were keen to oblige. It would be the first Maori attack under the command of Brigadier Kippenberger, the first offensive action of Eighth Army under General Montgomery, the first time Colonel Baker had directed the battalion in action—and the CO decided to make it a personal matter. He led a reconnaissance party, selected the point where the battalion wire would be cut, and fixed the location of the start line. Finally, the party worked up to the enemy wire and, with the help of a bright moon, got a fairly clear picture of the terrain.page break page 209
The configuration of El Mreir with its narrow salient had suggested that instead of an orthodox frontal attack, in this case from east to west, the raiders should approach from the south and by attacking north take the enemy in the flank. The element of surprise might then be added to the overwhelming artillery support arranged by the Brigadier.
The day (the 25th) was spent by A and B, the two raiding companies, in making preparations—oiling weapons, testing magazine springs, loosening grenade pins and putting really sharp points to bayonets. It is the point that counts in a bayonet, the rest is muscle and wrist action.
Battalion Headquarters also was very busy; orders conforming with the artillery programme were prepared and given; an engineer detachment to blow holes in the wire was briefed; C Company was to place a platoon in each of A and B Companies' areas while the tenants were away; two platoons from 23 Battalion were to act as covering party while the start line tapes were put out and were to remain out until the Maoris withdrew. The setting up of a forward RAP and a dozen other details were attended to.
The scene where the companies assembled was, in the eyes of Brigadier Kippenberger, an impressive one:
Half an hour before zero I went up to see them off. Both companies, Ngapuhi under Porter and Arawa under Pene, were ready, waiting together at the near end of the tape. I walked about among them and was amazed and amused by the number of weapons they were carrying. Every other man had an automatic, mostly captured Spandaus or Bredas, they were loaded with grenades, many had pistols, very few had rifle and bayonet only. Otherwise they were lightly equipped. The Maori padre spoke to them, most eloquently and impressively. Then he said a prayer, very moving in the utter silence. Baker asked me to speak. I did so briefly. I said how many guns would be in support—there were grunts of satisfaction—that I was confident they would do well, wished them all good fortune and concluded by saying: ‘The fame of your people and the honour of your battalion are in your hands to-night.’ There was a pause and a moment's silence, broken by a long burst from a Spandau in the salient. A man said: ‘Let her go, boy, that's your last.’ Baker said: ‘On your feet, men,’ said ‘Goodbye’ to me, and they moved silently off and disappeared into the gloom.8page 210
The ‘I’ section had made a good job of the start line, with each platoon area clearly defined and lacking only individual place cards. Captain Porter (A Company) on the right was to sweep around the lip of the depression behind the enemy wire then wheel right and return direct to his own lines, while Captain Pene (B Company) was to keep abreast of Porter, go down into the depression and up the far side, return over his own route, then back home via the gaps he had entered by.
At precisely 4 a.m. the concentrated fire of two divisional artilleries fell with an overpowering whine-roar-crash on the eastern tip of El Mreir and the raiders closed up towards the barrage. The guns lifted their range, the engineers streaked forward into the dust and smoke with bangalore torpedoes, and the Maoris leant forward like runners waiting the starting pistol. The flash of the exploding bangalores was the signal for a race for the resulting holes in the wire. The enemy defensive fire came down across his own eastern front, which was quite the wrong place. It also fell in the battalion defences, which it will be remembered were occupied by C Company, who also considered the fire to be in quite the wrong place.
The reserve platoon with Battalion Headquarters was just through the wire when the first prisoners appeared. Lieutenant Waaka writes:
One was a huge fellow, well over six feet and who appeared larger still in the dust and smoke haze. The smallest chap in my platoon, ‘Hoot’ Hapimana,9 who stands at five feet nothing, immediately ran forward and circling around the bloke rummaged at his clothes. The Italian looked down amazedly at this little chap apparently unconcerned at the sight of a gigantic enemy and only interested in his waist line. I was also wondering what Hoot was up to until he burst out disgustedly, ‘No bloody luger’ and kicked the Itie in the seat of his pants, or as close to the seat as his short legs could get. The old tale, loot at all costs.
The attack itself was a gory business. A Company overran sixteen machine-gun posts, half of which fell to 9 Platoon led by Sergeant Jack August,10 who was awarded an MM for his aggressive leadership. Lieutenant Waaka's most vivid memory page 211 is overtaking Lieutenant Hamilton, NZE,11 standing with his hands on his hips and swearing disgustedly because he had a spare bangalore and nothing in sight to blow up. The two sappers carrying the torpedo eventually ditched it. Thirty-five minutes had been allowed for the raid and A Company, with time on its hands, found its immediate vicinity on the far side so peaceful that cigarettes were produced and lighted one from the butt of the other, after which Captain Porter gathered up his sixteen prisoners and, hands firmly and deeply in his pockets, led his men home. A bar to the MC awarded for his leadership in the Libyan campaign was later announced.
B Company on the left, and deeper inside the enemy positions, found dugouts and slit trenches from which twelve prisoners were taken. After the platoons reached the far side of the depression they were joined by Colonel Baker, and then retraced their steps, attending to any posts that had been overlooked on the sweep across.
Captain Pene included in his report his men's admiration for the fine work done by the engineer detachment. Maori losses were two killed, two died of wounds and sixteen wounded, while, besides a final count of 41 prisoners of war, at least one hundred, probably more, Italians were killed or wounded.
The prisoners, all Italians, were identified as belonging to III Battalion, 39 Regiment, Bologna Division. They were physically of a poor type, badly shaken and, as Colonel Baker's report had it, ‘were in no condition to offer proper resistance.’
Brigade and Divisional Headquarters were well pleased with the bag and it was thought that it would be a good thing to occupy the area permanently. Brigadier Kippenberger asked Baker if it would be possible to collect the battalion and return immediately, but it was pointed out that the troops had dispersed and that if transport was handy it would be quicker to bring up some of the reserve battalion, which course was decided upon.
An officer from the Maori Battalion who had been in the raid was to guide a platoon of 21 Battalion into the depression, and as Lieutenant Waaka writes:
I was the goat who was given this doubtful honour…. My batman runner Jimmy (Whiti) Ratema, on hearing what was cooking immediately donned his kit and said he was coming with me. No argument would stop him so I took him along, page 212 thankful that I had some one dependable in case of emergencies. A 21 Battalion platoon duly arrived under Lt Eady12 whom I at once made fully aware of the position by forming contour replicas of the depression on the ground.
If anything could be flatter than a billiard table it was that 1000 yards or so between our wire and the depression. We were about half way there when machine gun fire opened up on us but we pushed on forward until we were less than 100 yards from the enemy wire when mortar fire also came down on us. We all went to ground, making use of whatever dent there was in the ground.
After being subjected to heavy fire for some time Lt Eady and myself managed to get together. I pointed out that I was there to guide him into the depression and would do so if he was prepared to commit his platoon to the rather sticky situation in front of us. He decided to wait a little longer and after being plastered some more gave the signal to his platoon to withdraw. I think it was a wise decision.
The 26th August was still expected to be zero hour for Rommel's final thrust that was to win the Nile valley; all leave had been stopped for some days and the need for extra vigilance was stressed by Brigadier Kippenberger in a talk to the officers and men near Battalion Headquarters. His theme was, ‘the position was good and there was to be absolutely no retreat.’ Other information was that the signal ‘Twelvebore’ and the firing of red and white over green Very lights would indicate the start of the enemy offensive.
The troops waited expectantly, but all that happened that day was a stream of congratulatory messages pouring in to Battalion Headquarters from Corps, Army, and neighbouring units concerning the previous night's raid.
For a time it did look as if the forecast for the start of the offensive was only a day out because the next afternoon was ushered in with the heaviest bombardment the unit had stood under for some time; within an hour approximately two thousand shells landed in the battalion area, all telephone wires were cut, and everything indicated an infantry follow-up. Nothing happened, however, and a nil casualty return was sent in to Battalion Headquarters, a tribute to the deep, narrow digging of slit trenches and the dispersal of sections. There was some argument as to which company had the greatest number of shell holes in its area.page 213
Two more days went by with air activity increasing in tempo. Spitfires made their first appearance in numbers and there were dogfights, bomber sweeps, fighters on patrol, planes plummeting out of the sky, some with black crosses on their wings and some with roundels. D Company came back to the battalion from Base while B Company in its turn went out for a rest.
A rumour swept the unit that all hands were going out of the line for a rest but it was based on the very insecure foundation of a change in dispositions. Fifth Brigade was to change places with a brigade of 44 Division which was holding the south face of the New Zealand divisional area. The 44th Division was new both to battle and the desert—so new that a subaltern taking over from Lieutenant Tikao-Barrett13 brought his camp stretcher with him and was amazed to learn that if he wished for a reasonably long life the safest place to sleep was in a nice deep slit trench.
The relief of the Maoris by 4 Royal West Kents on the evening 30–31 August was a harassing experience for the troops. Enemy shelling of considerable intensity began half-way through the operation and was followed by an attack on the neighbouring West Yorks. It was only a diversionary attack and was thrown back at daylight, but the noise, the fireworks, and other concomitants of a night attack completely upset the battle-raw troops moving into the Maoris' area. The changeover was still going on at 2 a.m. when the signal ‘Twelvebore’ came through with the Maoris partly in the new area, partly in the old, and partly somewhere between the two. The attack on the West Yorks did not spread south and the Maoris had settled in before daylight. The troops spent the day preparing for the German assault slowly bashing its way through the elaborate system of minefields to the south. The spearhead was ten miles away, but the air was full of dogfighting planes and the bark of the Bofors was incessant. That night was one long throb in the air and thunder on the horizon where the British light forces were back-stepping from the German armour. A special message was received from General Montgomery:
TO OFFICERS AND MEN OF EIGHTH ARMY
The enemy is now attempting to break through our positions in order to reach cairo, suez, and alexandria, and to drive us from egypt.page 214
The Eighth Army bars the way. It carries a great responsibility, and the whole future of the war will depend on how we carry out our task.
We will fight the enemy where we now stand; there will be no withdrawal and no surrender.
Every officer and man must continue to do his duty as long as he has breath in his body.
If each one of us does his duty, we cannot fail; the opportunity will then occur to take the offensive ourselves and to destroy once and for all the enemy forces now in egypt.
Into battle then, with stout hearts and with the determination to do our duty.
And may God give us the victory.
B. L. Montgomery
September the 1st followed the same pattern, with the enemy still advancing and the defence stepping back. Before dawn sentries reported that there were men lifting mines near 18 Platoon area, and as platoon commanders had been told to fire three coloured Very lights if they required supporting artillery, Lieutenant Tikao-Barrett decided that this was an appropriate occasion.
I instructed the boys not to open fire until these signals were fired and then to let the whole works go and spray the area. Meanwhile the work of lifting the mines was still being carried out by Jerry…. I then fired the signals and … five brens went into action and the din was terrific. Being night the sound of fire seemed louder. I waited for the stonk but nothing eventuated. ‘Say, Tomoana,’ I asked, ‘What the Hell's happened to the Artillery?’ ‘You've fired the wrong signal,’ he replied. ‘OK, we'll try again.’
The second time the colours were fired in the correct order and brought down a divisional ‘stonk’ which ended that particular mine-lifting job. An inspection at daybreak disclosed that a 25-yard-wide path had been opened through the minefield, but all that remained of the lifters were three burnt-out' trucks, an anti-tank gun, and two bodies identified as belonging to 90 Light Division.
September the 2nd. The enemy was now through the protecting minefields and some miles east of the New Zealand defences, but was finally held up in front of the Alam el Halfa ridge where, it will be remembered, 28 Battalion had in July com-page 215menced constructing a brigade defensive area. Since then Alam Halfa had been strengthened and expanded and was now manned with fresh troops and the main armoured formations of Eighth Army. Here the leading enemy forces came under constant punishment; Rommel decided to withdraw and the crisis of the battle passed.
Back in the Maori sector it was the mixture as before—our planes flying low and theirs flying high; anti-aircraft guns blazing and machine guns and rifles joining in whenever a divebombing raid came in; field and medium guns pounding Munassib and Muhafid depressions, which were full of hostile vehicles and infantry; enemy shells meant for the tormenting guns falling in the Maori area. ‘Charlie YM’ was doing his usual round of the rifle companies when a near miss riddled his vehicle with splinters and two tyres were damaged beyond repair, but he was moving again within an hour. The battalion war diary in mentioning the fact takes time off to record the battalion's appreciation of the Maori school children's gift and of the staff who operated it:
The tps have a very soft spot for our YMCA staff for they have driven their van right into the foremost defended posns, oblivious to danger—carrying on with the task which the little children at home we feel sure have silently asked them to do—for what tps anywhere in the world can say that these little comforts supplied by the YMCA are not a welcome addition to the army fare. Happy memories come to us when we see our children's most useful gift. We owe them a million thanks.
Colonel Baker attended a brigade conference where a plan was discussed to assist Rommel in deciding to withdraw by attacking his flank. This was confirmed the next morning (the 3rd) when Intelligence reports suggested that the enemy was already beginning to pull out. To German officers the mirage of a river flowing past pyramids and the dream of sitting at ease in Cairo on the balcony of Shepheard's had faded into the reality of getting back into the open desert as fast as the Eighth Army would permit.
A silent attack with the bayonet was to be put on that night: 26 Battalion of 6 Brigade, on the right, to move south and west; 132 Brigade of 44 Division (under command of 2 NZ Division) centre, to move south; and 5 Brigade, left, to move south and east.
The plan was for 21 Battalion to secure the open left flank while the Maoris, between 21 Battalion and 132 Brigade, would page 216 consolidate on a line stretching from a track junction in the middle of the north side of Munassib to the right flank of 21 Battalion resting on the neighbouring Muhafid Depression. The country between the two depressions would be mined by engineers while the battalion carrier platoon, plus two sections from 21 Battalion carriers, would exploit into the hollows where the enemy transport was sheltering. The supporting tanks would be under brigade command until sent forward.
Colonel Baker, having learnt from patrols that only minor opposition was likely during the approach march, ordered Captain Keiha (C Company) to cover the battalion front, about 1500 yards, until he met the main resistance, when the men would lie down and he would send a runner back to Battalion Headquarters, which would be moving immediately in rear of C Company. The assault companies, D (Captain Awatere) on the right and A (Captain Porter) left, would pass through the screen, which would then reorganise and dig in as battalion reserve.
Before describing the action it should be mentioned that in previous battalion attacks the ruse of using the Maori language for communications was often employed, but this time Maori signallers were lent to Brigade Headquarters and the other units in 5 Brigade so that signals during the fighting could be sent in clear but in Maori instead of English. The Germans were not good Maori linguists. Captain Bennett, the Maori Battalion liaison officer at Brigade Headquarters, was to be on duty at the control set.
There was some delay at the assembly area occasioned by part of D Company moving directly forward to the start line, but the advance began at the appointed time, 10.30 p.m. C Company kept in touch with 21 Battalion until it turned left towards its objective, but no contact was ever made with a battalion of the Buffs of 132 Brigade which should have been on the right flank.
Nearly two miles were covered before enemy patrols or reconnaissance parties were met by the screen and were dealt with in summary fashion. C Company had been instructed that, as the forward screen, it was not to bother about prisoners and the men construed the instructions somewhat differently to what was intended.
Suddenly the darkness was split by machine-gun tracer across the battalion front. The RAF, which had been bombing further south, dropped flares that lit the battlefield and the enemy replied with mortars, artillery, and anti-tank guns.page 217
It was now about midnight and C Company had closed with the main enemy defences; Colonel Baker sent runners to the assault companies and at the same time whistled for the attack, but neither whistle nor runners were necessary for both companies charged the nearest posts. The Colonel reports:
Unfortunately the RAF picked that time to drop right over us a whole string of flares which lit up the battle field and put our troops, who were attacking above ground, at a big disadvantage. On the other hand it enabled me as CO to get a very good close up view of the attack which the two companies now delivered with a will. The enemy's defensive fire was very intense and was assisted by two enemy armoured cars which came forward amongst our attacking infantry. These were in A Coy's sector and perhaps fifty yards from where I stood on a small rise shouting ‘Sticky bombs!’ The men of this Coy ignored me and scrambled on over these cars with their brens and other automatics firing persistently at anything that looked like a hole or crevice. Sparks were flying everywhere as the bullets ricochetted off the outside but this procedure paid dividends in the end as they were finally able to shoot up the occupants of both cars and put them out of the fight. At the same time the others rushed into the enemy infantry positions, throwing first the HE grenade and as they got nearer the grenades of the bakelite type. They then got in with their bayonets with much shouting and generally terrific noise and confusion. Above this I could hear shouts of ‘Kamarad!’ from one side and ‘Kamarad be b …’ on the other.
This was too much for the men of C Company to watch without taking a hand and a number of them forgot their instructions about staying where they were. Some joined the assaulting companies, causing Captain Keiha to lose touch with a large part of his company until next morning.
The first serious opposition met by D Company on the right flank was two machine guns firing on a fixed line between 18 Platoon (Lieutenant Tikao-Barrett) and 16 Platoon (Lieutenant Ropata),14 thus separating the two forward platoons. No. 18 Platoon charged the guns and bayoneted the crews but not without loss. Tikao-Barrett wrote:page 218
Several of my men in 18 Platoon were hit rather early in the piece. I well remember two men being hit from Jerry's first burst of machine gun fire. In battle these boys were easy to control. For instance, when these two men were hit Dave McDonald15 of Blenheim started flat out with bayonet at the ready for this machine gun post. I did not notice him until he was well past. I called him immediately to rejoin the line. Automatically McDonald stopped and waited until the first line came abreast of him. Later I was standing about a yard from McDonald when a heavy machine gun burst blew his left arm off at the elbow. I shall always remember McDonald when he fell. He was so worked up that when he hit the ground he picked up his arm and in his fury threw it at the machine gun post—of course this post was silenced by grenade and bren gun fire.
A flare disclosed a low ridge in front of 17 Platoon, which went straight at it with bayonet and grenades, closely followed by 18 Platoon. The ridge was cleared from left to right, with the result that D Company had changed direction and was moving at right angles to its original axis. Tikao-Barrett wheeled his men left and thus back on the proper axis. Another strongpost opened on them, pinning both platoons down until Sergeant Pitama17 took a section from 17 Platoon and dealt with it. He quietened one machine gun himself by killing the crew, while the section accounted for the other two guns. Pitama was awarded an MM for his leadership in this action. Mounting casualties and the absence of one platoon decided Captain Awatere to try to find Battalion Headquarters. This was done after some searching, whereupon he was ordered to reinforce Captain Porter, presumably on the edge of the depression but actually down in it.
A Company, after the affair with the armoured cars, kept on until it was fired on by a nest of spandaus. Sergeant Davis, who it will be remembered had a weakness for enemy artillery, page 219 spotted an 88-millimetre gun and rushed it singlehanded. He had to kill the crew before he could take possession. This he accomplished with expedition and was later awarded an immediate DCM. No. 8 Platoon (Lieutenant Marsden) was sent to quieten the spandaus, and succeeded only after some trouble as the machine guns were supported by a dug-in ‘eighty-eight’. The platoon then found itself in the midst of parked vehicles, many of which were fired and the drivers killed. Sergeant Wanoa,18 with a party of C Company at his heels, joined Marsden, who, unable to find A Company, again eventually contacted Captain Keiha.
Captain Porter was now leading his men diagonally across Munassib to take advantage of high ground on his right and was in consequence moving west towards 132 Brigade's objective. That formation had been disorganised by the defence and never approached the depression. Porter wrote:
[We] then arrived at a small island if one may call it such, as this particular knoll was on its own in a vast depression. The enemy had their vehicles parked by it and the men were kept quite busy with the usual earnestness for looting. Spent two or three hours on this knoll listening for movements of trucks etc. Had men sitting and lying on the top keyed to fire at the command and this was done with my Very pistol. The flare gave us enough light to fire at various moving targets.
It was here that Lieutenant Ropata with 16 Platoon, separated from his own company, joined A Company, and it was about this time that Porter thought it advisable to get out of the depression and consolidate on the proper objective before daylight. It was about 3 a.m. when Captain Awatere met A Company returning.
The arrival of the signals jeep, which had started the advance with Battalion Headquarters but had been delayed by suspected minefields, permitted Colonel Baker to order the carriers forward. Lieutenant Hayward advanced with his carrier force for nearly four miles and accounted for seven strongpoints en route. He eventually found himself among transport, which was shot up, but as he could neither locate friendly troops nor raise anybody on the air he decided to return and join the tanks of B Squadron 50 Royal Tank Regiment which were under brigade command. On the way back he met Captain Keiha and Lieutenant page 220 Marsden with a number of wounded but with no clear picture of the battalion situation. Two carriers were loaded with wounded, one was damaged on a mine, and the rest joined the tanks. Keiha accompanied the wounded as far as Brigade Headquarters, near the start line, and reported for instructions. He was told to return, gather what men he could, and dig in. During his absence Lieutenant Marsden had tried unsuccessfully to find 21 Battalion.
Brigade had ordered the tanks, anti-tank guns, and other support arms forward, but unfortunately the tanks were nearly all either put out of action by anti-tank guns or blown up by mines. The battalion carriers and anti-tank guns at the rear of the stricken armour eventually ended up in 21 Battalion area.
Colonel Baker, anxiously waiting their arrival, sent out patrol after patrol searching for them. When A and D Companies returned to the lip of the depression, Battalion Headquarters was moved about half a mile farther back.
At first light Baker left in his jeep to try to locate the column, for the infantry could not stay much longer without anti-tank support. He had gone some distance when he saw two Valentine tanks on his right and directed his driver, Te Wake,19 to turn towards them. As the gap closed he noticed some men on the nearer tank waving to him. There was a terrific roar and the jeep stopped dead in a cloud of dust. The front wheel had hit a mine but both the CO and his driver emerged unhurt, the former complaining bitterly about the careless way Jerry left his mines lying about and the latter lamenting a large hole in his teapot which had been hanging on the bonnet. They made their way to the tank, to be told that the waving was to warn them off as the tanks were there only because they had run over mines and were immobilised.
Back at Brigade Headquarters there was anxiety tinged with apprehension, and Captain Bennett had been sent forward in his jeep to guide the tank squadron to the Maori Battalion. In addition, 22 Battalion was ordered to bring its companies forward ready at hand to form a line from 21 Battalion's exposed flank across to 132 Brigade's area. What little news had come in was mostly bad; the engineers had not been able, on account of opposition, to mine the gap between Munassib and Muhafid depressions; 21 Battalion, although securely in position, was not in touch with the Maoris, who, according to vague reports by walking wounded and prisoner escorts, had gone past their page 221 objective into enemy territory. This, coupled with the failure to get the armour through, suggested the possibility that the Maori Battalion might be surrounded and annihilated. The 132nd Brigade had definitely been shot to pieces and the right flank of the Maori Battalion was completely unprotected. Captain Bennett in the forward area had found Colonel Baker on foot and they drove rapidly to Brigade Headquarters, where the situation was discussed. The Brigadier promptly decided to send 22 Battalion forward to form a firm base line and to put down an artillery smoke screen through which the Maori Battalion could withdraw to its original position to reorganise.
While the CO hurried back with his instructions, the forward troops were having an uncomfortable time—they had dug pits in soft sand, and when shelling began and anything landed close the sides of the pits caved in on top of the occupants. A most unusual incident occurred during this period. Captain Porter, who was involved in it, writes:
Sometime during the morning we had quite an interlude. I thought Rommel had decided to call the war off and declare an armistice. We noticed the firing had ceased, and walking towards us was someone with an oversized white cloth stretched out in front of him. About a couple of hundred yards away I instructed one of my men to walk out and meet him. He was searched for arms and allowed to advance to my Hdqtrs. It was very disappointing. He was a young fellow from the Buffs captured that night—ordered by the Germans to ask us to surrender or else? Asked whether he was keen to get back to take a message from me? Shook his head.
In a way it was a pity for it deprived history of a modern version of Rewi's reply: ‘Ka whawhai tonu matou, ake ake ake!’ to a similar suggestion at Orakau. Porter's reply would probably have been shorter—and perhaps rude.
The smoke screen was building up when Colonel Baker got back to his headquarters and called for volunteers to take a message recalling A and D Companies. There were several volunteers, and he picked out two who he knew were reliable and gave them careful instructions. Both went off at the double into the area where the smoke was already drifting, but one seemed to be having trouble with his pants which were torn, split down one side, and flapping around his legs. He stopped for a moment and, with a vigorous tug, ripped them right off, threw them aside in the sand, and made off at high speed into page 222 the fast-thickening smoke with his shirt tails flapping. A minute later he reappeared at an even faster speed. The Colonel yelled out, asking if he'd got cold feet or lost his way. ‘No sir,’ he yelled back, ‘Just forgot my paybook.’ He scooped up his discarded pants, yanked the paybook out of the hip-pocket and poked it into his shirt breast-pocket—all without stopping—and disappeared again into the smoke.
The smoke was just in time, for enemy tanks were approaching. The troops withdrew through 22 Battalion, which waited for the counter-attack which came in soon after midday. It was smashed by artillery concentrations, but the Maori Battalion was not unrepresented. Captain Logan, commanding the anti-tank platoon, reported after the action:
On the morning of 4th September the 28th Bn A/T Pl. had taken up a defensive posn, facing south in support of 22 NZ Bn on the right flank of 21 Bn.
At 13.30 hours approx. the E attacked with some tanks and infantry. The Pl A/T guns were sighted on the reverse slope of a hill feature and so not open to E observation and tank fire.
The first tank to appear was an M.13 and was immediately engaged at 150 yards approx by one gun. After the third shot the crew jumped out. Immediately two more M.13 tanks appeared on the right of the tank knocked out and they were engaged by two other guns. They were immediately stopped and the crews jumped out. A fourth M.13 which appeared at the same time on the right of these two tanks was similarly knocked out by a fourth gun. Thereafter no further tank attacks were made.
All tanks were engaged head on, the closest being 150 yards and the furthest 250 yards approx. Three were eventually set on fire by subsequent shots. All Amn used was HV. Given HV amn the Pl is confident of carrying out their role against any of the E tanks at present used in the desert.
The next few days were spent in reorganising, cleaning arms, and resting. Rommel made it plain that his thrust around the New Zealand flank was really only a reconnaissance in force and not to be taken seriously. A special message to the Eighth Army from the King was read to all ranks:
I pray that God may bless the Desert Army in the important battle that has now begun, from which great results may flow to the cause of the United Nations in every part of the page 223 world. I have the utmost confidence in the troops from all parts of my Empire and in their Commanders.
All my thoughts are with you.
George R. I.
The following message from the Army Commander was sent to all units:
The battle of Alamein has now lasted for six days, and the enemy has slowly but surely been driven from 8 Army area. Tonight, 5 September, his rearguards are being driven west, through the minefield area north of Himeimat. All formations and units, both armoured and unarmoured, have contributed towards this striking victory, and have been magnificently supported by the RAF. I congratulate all ranks of Eighth Army on the devotion to duty and good fighting qualities which have resulted in such a heavy defeat of the enemy and which will have far-reaching results. I have sent a message to AOC, WD [Western Desert], expressing our thanks to the RAF for their splendid support.
And finally a message to all ranks from the CO:
The following message from GOC to Comd. 5 Inf. Bde: ‘I send 5 Bde my congratulations on the successful attack of night 3/4 especially to Lt-Col. Baker and Maori Bn. for their exploits in the Munassib depression.’ Message ends.
In addition the Corps Commander has asked me to convey to the Bn. his warmest congratulations on what he describes as the magnificent operation carried out by this Unit. He stated that the Eighth Army Commander is of the opinion that the operation of 5 Bde. on the night 3/4 Sept. and particularly the part played by 28 Bn. forced Rommel to make a quick decision to withdraw to approximately his old position and to give up, at least for the moment, his intention to advance into Egypt.
Our Bn. casualties in the action were 5 killed, 54 wounded, 3 wounded and missing and 15 missing. In addition we lost a certain amount in LMGs etc. and one carrier. Enemy losses on our Bn. front were over 500 killed or very badly wounded plus 108 prisoners. Coys. destroyed 36 enemy MGs, 4 A/Tk. guns and one heavy mortar as well as a large number of MT. It is known that the 120 Grenadier Regt. (German) was so badly mauled in the attack on the whole front that they have had to be absorbed into other units. (One German Regt. equals one of our Bdes.)page 224
I congratulate every Platoon individually on its splendid effort and am proud of the command which I hold. When our losses are compared with those of the Enemy and when we consider the effect it had on the Enemy plans, the operation cannot be regarded as anything but an outstanding success.
The above message is to be conveyed to every member of the Battalion.
Fredk Baker, Lt-Col.
During the night 8–9 September 5 Brigade was relieved by a Greek brigade and went back to a rest area at Burg el Arab.
1Lt H. T. Maloney; born NZ 26 Feb 1914; school-teacher; died of wounds 5 Jul 1942.
2Rev W. Rangi; Taneatua; born Tolaga Bay, 30 Jul 1891; Anglican minister.
3Pte H. Fisher; born Awanui, 5 Oct 1909; labourer; died of wounds 12 Jul 1942.
4It was a belief of the Maori in olden times that when a chief died he became a star.
5Brave one! Go to the People of the Night.
6Maj I. A. Hart, m.i.d.; born NZ 24 Oct 1904; barrister and solicitor; died of wounds 2 Nov 1942.
72 Lt R. Davis, DCM; born Opotiki, 12 Mar 1912; surfaceman, NZR; died 28 Oct 1947.
10WO II J. August, MM; born NZ 2 Apr 1909; slaughterman; killed in action 2 Nov 1942.
142 Lt E. J. Ropata; born NZ 9 Mar 1911; motor driver; died of wounds 26 Oct 1942.
17Sgt E. T. M. Pitama, MM; born Tuahiwi, 12 May 1918; farmhand; killed in action 27 Oct 1942.
18WO II A. H. Wanoa; Tolaga Bay; born Tikitiki, 27 Aug 1918; labourer; twice wounded.
19Pte G. Te Wake; Panguru; born Panguru, 12 Jul 1910; labourer.