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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The Breakthrough

The Breakthrough

There was a considerable delay in the opening of the attack by 4 Brigade, which did not leave the start line until 1.45 a.m. on 28 June. Then the assaulting battalions advanced in formation on the unsuspecting enemy until they were at close quarters, when pandemonium broke loose. There was consternation and little ordered resistance by the enemy, though some of the clashes were fierce. Enemy vehicles were set on fire, but this unfortunately gave the enemy light to see us and probably caused more casualties than we would otherwise have suffered. After the infantry had gone forward, hundreds of trucks from 4 Brigade followed them in tightly packed formation. Engines roared, shells exploded, and machine-gun bullets seemed to be coming from every direction. Some vehicles were hit, some exploded, but the column went on through the gap. As the vehicles cleared the gap the infantry of 4 Brigade reorganised and, with very little difficulty or confusion, embussed, loading the wounded in any available space. They had accomplished their breakthrough. Fire from the flanks was still considerable but most of it was high and ineffective.

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Meanwhile another breakthrough was made by 5 Brigade. The delay in starting 4 Brigade's attack limited the hours of darkness, and it was decided that the rest of the force would push on independently while the infantry attack was still in progress. The column accordingly moved off by wheeling to the right to make a detour from a point further south. A mile and a half to the south it ran straight into a German tank harbour. At close range the enemy opened fire wildly in his surprise. Had his fire been less hasty it would have been more deadly among the mass of transport moving nose to tail in the moonlight. The front vehicles of the column swung east to a route parallel with that of 4 Brigade, at a speed probably never improved upon by 3-ton trucks moving across open desert at night. Enemy fire continued against our transport as it came up to the wheeling point, but most of it was high and there were comparatively few casualties. Although the column passed through and over enemy troops for the first mile and a half of its eastward move, the Germans were so shaken by the mass of vehicles and guns boring through them that there was virtually no fire from them once the tanks were passed.

The New Zealand column had broken into three main groups during the move. One went due east, another wheeled back, then went south and then to the east. Another group got free by going to the north-west, resting overnight, and then returning east, and there were several smaller parties split from the main groups and making their own way out.