Māori Battalion diary - March 1943

Overview

During March the Māori Battalion was involved in two battles. The first was a defensive one at Medenine (6 March) where the Battalion repulsed the full weight of a Panzer attack. Lt-Gen Montgomery called it “the perfect example of a defensive battle in its setting, its conduct and its outcome.” He suggested his senior commanders visit the Māori Battalion area and for a time, the area swarmed with colonels and brigadiers.[1]

The second battle was an offensive one at Tebaga Gap (26-27 March). In January 1943, Rommel had retired to the Mareth Line on the border between Tunisia and Libya. It was considered impossible to outflank the barrier west of the Matmata Hills because the terrain was so rough, and 240 km of waterless desert had to be crossed. The Long Range Desert Group, however, found a passage through, which was then used to loop part of the Allied forces behind the Line in a ‘left hook’. While 50 Division kept up pressure on the coastal sector of the Mareth Line, Montgomery sent the newly formed New Zealand Corps – the Second New Zealand Division (14,500 men including the Māori Battalion) plus 6000 British and 6000 Free French – to carry out his left hook. By 19 March, they were approaching Tebaga Gap. This was a 10-km-wide valley through which a road connected Matmata with El Hamma and Gabes. By this route Montgomery hoped the New Zealand Corps would fall on the German–Italian army’s rear.

On 25 March, the eve of the battle, 5 Brigade took over 6 Brigade’s positions – the Māori Battalion relieving 26 Battalion – facing the eastern end of the Gap. Montgomery’s immediate plan was for the Corps to mount a large-scale frontal assault (code named Supercharge II), allowing the armoured division to push through and take El Hamma. During the assault C Company found themselves assaulting an under feature forward of a hill identified as Pt 209. Here 2/Lt Moana Ngarimu and 21 others were killed. The battle is well known in the 28th Māori Battalion’s history because Ngarimu was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross in recognition of the bravery he exhibited during the engagement.[2]

At the start of March the Battalion had 30 officers plus the doctor, chaplain, and YMCA driver of Te Rau Aroha canteen truck – the latter three were attached to the unit. 

  • Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel: Charles Bennett (CO)
  • Temporary Major: Reta Keiha (Bn 2 i/c), Rangi Logan (OC HQ Coy), Ben Porter (OC A Coy).
  • Captains: Peta Awatere (OC C Coy), Mervyn Mitchell (Anti-tank Platoon), Ruhi Pene (2 i/c B Coy), Chris Sorrenson (OC B Coy), Tutu Wirepa (2 i/c HQ Coy).
  • Temporary Captains: Ted Hayward (Carriers Platoon), Jim Matehaere (OC D Coy), Ted Pohio (2 i/c D Coy), Roy Te Punga (Adjutant).
  • Lieutenants: Jim Aperahama (A Coy), Walton Haig (C Coy), Syd Jackson (C Coy), Harry Lambert (D Coy), Eddie Morgan (B Coy), A. E. (Duncan) McRae (Transport Platoon), Peter Ornberg (D Coy), Matt Swainson (Quatermaster), Pine Taiapa (C Coy), Wally Wordley (HQ Coy)
  • Second Lieutenants: George Katene (Mortars Platoon), Herbert Marsden (A Coy), George McDonald (Signal Platoon), Moana Ngarimu (C Coy), Kara Rika (A Coy), Jerry Smith (D Coy), William Vercoe (B Coy)
  • Attached: Capt. Cam, D’Arcy (RMO), Capt. Chaplain Tunoa Wanoa (unit padre), Mr Charlie Bennett (YMCA)

Dairy

  • 1 Mar, Mon The following routine will be observed throughout the week. 0630 hrs reveille. 0645-0715 hrs PT. 0745 hrs Breakfast. 0845-0900 hrs Company inspection. 1200 hrs lunch. 1700 tea. 1745 hrs sick parade. Training syllabus to be notified from day to day. 0900-1000 hrs Battalion lecture by Captain ‘Sandy’ Thomas (MC) 23 Battalion, subject “Prisoner of War”. Location C Company amphitheatre. Immediately following the lecture the Lt-Col Charles Bennett was detailed to Brigade HQ with other unit commanders and to be prepared to move forward to the front to the Medenine Area. 1130 hrs Brigade Officer Group consisting of Brigadier,  COs of 21, 23 and 28 Battalions and CO 5 Field Regiment left Suanni Ben Adem and proceeded forward. Officer Group reached 30 Corps HQ at 1800 hrs and was met by a guide who took them up to the area in which the Brigade will be disposed. Meanwhile the Battalion under temporary command of the 2 i/c Maj Reta Keiha had to cancel the programme laid down for the afternoon and pack up preparatory to moving forward. 1900 hrs the Battalion attended a cinema show provided by the New Zealand YMCA and consisting of Nos. 81, 82 and 93 War Pictorial News and two NZ Scenic Views. 2030 hrs Carriers mounted on transporters moved out and headed for the front. 2330 hrs Battalion embussed and assembled on road facing Castel Benito and passed the start line at 0045 hrs. The Brigade order was 21, 23 Brigade HQ and 28 Battalion. Weather: fine and sunny.
  • 2 Mar, Tue Brigade Officer Group located HQ 2 Buffs (from who we are taking over) at 0830 hrs and proceeded on a reconnaissance of the new positions which was completed at 1000 hrs and stood by awaiting the arrival of the GOC. 1200 hrs GOC. Lt-Gen Freyberg arrived at detailed 5 Brigade boundaries right and left. The Brigadier in turn laid down positions the Battalions would take up and roughly the Battalions faced west and south with 28 Battalion on the right and adjoining 201 Guards Brigade sector: 21 Battalion in the centre and 23 Battalion on the left. These positions are 5 to 6 km southwest of the village of Medenine. Officer Group returned to a previously arranged RV (rendezvous) 16 km east of Medenine and waited the arrival of the Brigade. 1545 hrs the leading elements of the Brigade reached RV and were rushed off to their various unit sectors. 1745 hrs first vehicles of the Māori Battalion reached RV and were led forward.  At this stage only A & B Companies had arrived and the CO decided not to move up to the Battalion area but halted and awaited the arrival of C, D and HQ Companies. 2230 hrs C, D and HQ Companies finally pulled in but owing to the lateness of the hour and the darkness it was decided not to move any farther forward. But that the Battalion would be more or less dug in on their positions not long after first light tomorrow. Weather: fine and sunny.
  • 3 Mar, Wed 0515 hrs reveille and the Battalion immediately moved up to its defensive area while B Echelon remained in area we stayed in last evening. T/Maj. Rangi Logan evacuated to 5 Field Ambulance i.e. advanced dressing station (ADS). Battalion Officer Group was called together by the CO at 0630 hrs and Companies allotted their areas and supporting arms, i.e. light Anti-Aircraft, Anti-Tank and MMGs. The remainder of the day was spent in the organisation and co-ordination of the defences and the tying up with our neighbours on the right – the Coldstream Guards. Only essential troops to remain in the area remainder to return to B Echelon. Intention: 28 Māori Battalion will beat off any attacks made on this area by the enemy. 1730 hrs CO called up a conference of Officers Group and gave them the latest Sitrep, which was to the effect that from a Corps appreciation of the general situation it was evident that the enemy intended to make an attack on Medenine in the very near future. As a result all ranks of this Battalion will be “on guard” and troops will stand too at first and last light. Stand to this evening from 1830 to 1930 hrs.
  • 4 Mar, Thurs 0545 hrs Stand To. The whole of this day was spent in further organisation of the defences. A Company were moved and took over positions previously held by a Company of the Coldstream Guards making the Battalion frontage now approximately 5000 m with a depth of about 2000 m. 1805 hrs CO to Brigade conference at which the Brigadier stated that the impending enemy attack appeared to be fairly certain tomorrow. Tac-R reports showed considerable movement of MET and tanks in the Zeltene Toujane areas and north at Mareth and appeared to be a double pronged thrust from the Toujane Gap and the north sectors. Brigade was reinforced today by eight17-pounder anti-tank guns (i.e. Pheasants), four of these guns going to the Māori Battalion and two each to 21 and 23 Battalions. Units were also to lay dummy minefields in wadis decided suitable and where roads or tracks passed through FDLs. Real mines were to be laid but at no other points as 8 Armoured Brigade intended to make a counter attack and did not want to be hampered by our own mines. 1945 hrs CO called up Officer Group and passed on the above information. Stand to was observed from 1745 – 1845 hrs. Weather: fine and sunny and very warm.
  • 5 Mar, Fri  today everybody fully expected to meet our old friend the Hun again but were disappointed as he did not show up and so the day passed without anything of note happening. There was some aerial activity but with very little from the enemy side. Tac-R once again reported considerable movement of MET and Tanks in the Jebel and surrounding country. Reports show that the enemy may have three Armoured Divisions in his thrust against our positions although they may not be up to their normal tank strength. These Divisions being 10, 15 and 21 Panzer Divisions and can put into the field approximately 300 tanks, 90 of which are Italian. They may have some of the new Mk 6 “Tiger” tanks. With these three Divisions there are also our old friends (or what remains of them) of Alamein 90 Light Division, 164 Division and the Italian forces of Pistoia, Trieste and Young Fascists. Against them we have the force referred to a week ago in the House of Commons as the “Finest instrument of war ever created” – the Eighth Army consisting of 51 Highland Division, 2 NZ Division, 7 Armoured Division. We are fully confident of holding our own. Topography: our positions lie on undulating featureless country facing the very high country which forms the Jebel and which is typical to Tunisia and not unlike Syria. The low country is ideal tank country and the wadis which run through it form good lines of approach. We have one high feature to our right Pt 270 and which we are using as an OP. Weather: fine but rather cloudy and overcast in fact threatening and looking like rain towards the evening.
  • 6 Mar, Sat “DER TAG” doubts and disputes as to the enemy’s intentions were swept away at an early hour this morning. Fairly heavy shelling of our forward positions began about 0600 hrs and for the next hour and a half MT guns and tanks were debouching from the hills between Toujane and Kreddache. Parties of leading tanks numbering from 5-25 were engaged by our Artillery. About 0900 hrs the main attack went in roughly along the axis of the road Medenine – Toujane but with a main thrust then as later in the day along the north of the road and with point 270 as the objective. We put down heavy concentrations on visible enemy tank groups. The enemy however succeeded in reaching the dummy mine-field which more or less marked our FDLs in A Company area. 0905 hrs the four tanks Mk 3 specials which succeeded in reaching this point were rudely interrupted from taking any further part in the war by a fusillade from two 6-pounder anti-tank guns of an attached Royal Artillery unit which knocked the four tanks out more or less simultaneously with a brilliant piece of shooting. 15 Prisoners of War were taken. They were identified as belonging to 3 Company, 1 Battalion, 7 Tank Regiment, 10 Panzer Division. They were fairly shaken. This had the effect of forcing the Hun to withdraw slightly and no second serious attack developed during the morning. Meanwhile the Battalion area to the rear of it was subjected to fairly heavy shelling. There was much movement of enemy tanks and MT in preparation for the next thrust. Four Mk 6 “Tigers” were seen. A report stated that the Hun was using Shermans presumably captured during the recent offensive in central Tunisia.  Rather confused activity of tanks and MT shelling and air attacks continued throughout the early afternoon. Enemy being kept at an accurate distance by a concentrated artillery fire. 1630 hrs enemy Infantry forward of the Battalion was observed deploying and moving forward with tanks in preparation for an attack. This attack reached its climax at 1730 hrs when 1000 infantry and 40 tanks attacked at 6383. This was dealt with by a most formidable concentration of artillery fire which completely flattened out the attack, the infantry were swamped by thousands of shells and the tanks moved smartly south. Some tanks which approached the Battalion area towards last light with machine guns blazing also decided better and withdrew westwards. 1800 hrs heavy artillery duels by both sides but it was becoming apparent that the Hun had had enough for the day and was withdrawing back towards the hills. This actually terminated operations this day in which although the enemy drew very close to our positions at no stage did we engage him from a small arms range. Our 3-inch mortars fired during the afternoon on some tanks which came within range. The MMGs also fired for some periods during the days. Casualties: One wounded (A Company), one concussion (C Company). Both evacuated. 1 Concussion (C Company) but remaining with unit. Double guards were ordered for this evening in preparation for a further possible enemy attempt on our positions. See sketch map.  The unit’s strength, excluding officers, was 688 ORs, 6 of who were attached from NZEME. 73 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength. The total number of officers was 35 (three of whom were attached). Weather: fine but cloudy and overcast with light showers and heavy mists in the Jebel.
  • 7 Mar, Sun 0545 hrs – 0645 hrs although this period was laid down for “Stand to” the Battalion stood to by weapon pits ready for instantaneous action throughout the night. During the night a continuous rumble of enemy MT etc was heard but it was difficult to ascertain at the time whether it was coming or going. It was revealed later in the day that the movement during the night was the Hun packing up and heading back to his hide-outs in the hills from whence he came and by noon areas forward of the Battalion were cleared. Patrols of ACs and carriers sent out during the day reported no movement for at least 8 km forward of our positions and an earlier report that the enemy infantry appeared to be digging in forward of us was proved unfounded. All in all the Hun came, saw, but did not conquer; in fact he got a real “bloody” nose instead. As a result the Battalion more or less relaxed this day. Mr CM Bennett of the YMCA attached to the Māori Battalion came up today and companies detailed section representatives to do the shopping at set times during the day. This was to avoid congestion at the canteen. Goods included cigarettes, chocolate and tinned goods which are very appreciated by the men at times such as these. An enemy gun continued to make a nuisance of himself at periods during the day but did no damage. Stand to this evening from 1845 hrs-1945 hrs. Weather: Fine and sunny, visibility much better. The GOC sent troops a congratulatory message about yesterdays defence.
  • 8 Mar, Mon 0545 – 0645 hrs stand to - one section per platoon detailed. There was not much activity during the day. The general situation seems not very clear and until definite instructions to hand not much can be done. 1400 hrs XXX Corps Commander Lt-Gen Leese visited the Battalion area. Brigadier Kippenberger was also with him. CO took the party around the Battalion area and showed them the scene of the clash with tanks in A Company area. Army Commander General Montgomery issued a special message congratulating troops on the fine show against the Hun. See appendix 4. Leanne, this is on pp.41-42. Weather: Fine and Sunny.
  • 9 Mar, Tue quiet day. 1200 hrs a certain number of officers and men from Companies and the Anti-tank platoon went out to a 17-pounder demonstration shoot. It was rather disappointing from the spectator point of view as no hits on a 1400 m target were registered out of 10 shots, but we were informed that it was only a zeroing shoot. 1800 hrs CO’s conference and he gave us the story and circumstances which led to what is now to be known as the Battle of Medenine. General Montgomery did not dream that Rommel would attack but when Rommel did he was absolutely confident that we would beat him and therefore he was not concerned about the battle but was looking forward to our own offensive in the future. The grand total of enemy tanks knocked out in the recent battle has now reached 52.  Our own tank losses was nil, in fact our armour was never at any stage engaged. It is now also revealed that on our own Battalion front the enemy lost five tanks (four Mk 3 specials and one Mk 2), one Bren Carrier and two Troop Carriers. These latter three vehicles were presumably captured in the recent central Tunisian offensive. The two Troop Carriers being of American make and one of which our fitter section salvaged and repaired and has been issued as an Ammunition Carrier for our Anti-tank platoon. Weather: Fine and sunny with strong northwesterly winds.
  • 10 Mar, Wed another quiet day and all troops observed instructions issued in Routine Order No. 26, see Routine Order no.27, Leanne, this is on p. 31. published on 8th Mar. 1600 hrs our Anti-tank platoon under Capt. Mervyn Mitchell held a demonstration shoot in A Company area using 2-pdrs together with the 6-pdrs issued at Tripoli. NCOs and officers watched the shoot. The targets selected were the Mk 3 specials knocked out in A Company area and it proved a very good shoot. Even the 2-pdrs registered hits clean through the frontal armour of the tanks. Currency: all our present monies ie. BMA notes were changed today to francs, the francs being in 5, 20, 50, 100 and 500 franc notes. Conversion is based on 200 francs to £1. 1830 hrs CO’s conference and he merely warned us that the Battalion and the Brigade would be moving from this area to an area in the south on the 12th. Weather: Fine and sunny.
  • 11 Mar, Thur another quiet day generally. 1100 hrs LOB personnel consisting of 2i/cs of Battalion (Maj. Reta Keiha), A Coy (Capt. Jim Henare), D Coy (T/Capt. Ted Pohio), HQ Coy (Capt. Tutu Wirepa), and 50 Other Ranks left for LOB area at Suanni Ben Adem near Tripoli. 1630 hrs CO’s conference at which he issued verbal orders concerning the move tomorrow – for particulars concerning route etc. see Brigade Movement Order  no. 16.  Captain Pene took over Command HQ Company this day. Weather: Fine and sunny.
  • 12 Mar, Fri 0600 hrs Reveille.0630 hrs Breakfast. The Battalion was packed up and ready to move by 0900 hrs and made its way down slowly towards the RT area in E 7377 in column of route in the order Command Group – IO, Commanding Officer, Signals, A, B, Battalion Anti/ Tank, C, D, MMGs, NZ Anti/Tank, Mortars – Battalion HQ – HQ Company. This order was maintained throughout the move. 1015 hrs passed the Brigade start line. Passed through Ben Gardane at 1345 hrs and reached the staging area at 1645 hrs where the Battalion pulled off the road and had tea. 1945 hrs left staging area in the same order,  both Brigade and Battalion. The route or the axis of advance was from here on lit with Red Lights. Passed through the township of FoumTatahouine at 2315 hrs. The route swung sharply westwards at approximately K 4596. We were met by a Brigade Representative at 0400 hrs who led us to our position of desert formation on the right flank of the Brigade. There was some confusion at this stage caused by some vehicles not being able to sort themselves out and it was decided to regroup at first light which was now only an hour or two away. Total distance  travelled approximately 210 km. Weather: fine and sunny.
  • 13 Mar, Sat 0800 hrs the Battalion more or less had itself reoriented. The CO issued the routine to be observed this day see Routine Order. Men were rather fatigued after the night march and welcomed the morning rest. For Company dispositions see sketch map attached appendix. 1800 hrs CO’s conference and discussed chiefly matters of local policy.  (a) all ranks were to make an effort to conceal this now apparent flanking move by the NZ Division and with that in view the following instructions were to be strictly adhered to: - no speed greater than 10 mph (16 kph) in Division area, no open fire by day or night, all diggings to be camouflaged with brush wood, no bedding or clothing outside bivvys, all camouflaged nets will be used. The CO then went on and discussed the fact that sentries had been slack of late and in order to tighten this up a system was introduced commencing tonight in which guard posts will be inspected four times during the night, twice by the Platoon Commander and twice by the Platoon Sergeant all at different times. The Platoon Commander reported his inspections to the Coy Commander, and the Platoon Sergeant to the Platoon Commander. In the case of Battalion HQ the Intelligence Officer and the Adjutant were to be considered as Platoon Commanders (reporting to the CO) and the RSM and the Pay Sergeants as Platoon Sergeants. The unit’s strength, excluding officers, was 686 ORs, six of who were attached from NZEME. 75 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength. The total number of officers was 31 (three of whom were attached).Weather: fine and sunny.
  • 14 Mar, Sun the routine carried out was 0715 hrs Reveille, 0745 hrs breakfast, 0845-0915 hrs inspection by platoon and from 0915 hrs-1700 hrs Companies carried out a two-hour route march by platoons, ensuring that no two platoons of one Company were out at the same time. A period of 50 minutes was also allotted for the cleaning of arms. Sick parade 0815 hrs. The Padre conducted church services for A & C Companies at 1830 hrs.  A team of officers from the Battalion consisting of Capts Jim Matehaere, Ruhi Pene, Roy Te Punga, Lts Eddie Morgan, Syd Jackson, Harry Lambert, 2/Lts Jerry Smith, R Stevens and George Katene (team captain) played a Brigade Officers team at softball. We lost although the final scores were not definitely known. Corrigendum: Re Church service, A & C Companies did not have church parade this day but had it instead yesterday. Church parades were conducted by the Padre this afternoon by Companies as follows: 1600 hrs Battalion HQ – 1800 hrs HQ and D Companies – 1900 hrs B Company. Other than this there was very little of note. Weather: fine and sunny but with strong variable and dusty winds.
  • 15 Mar, Mon the Battalion carried out the routine laid down see Routine Order. Rev. Father Henley conducted a Roman Catholic Church parade at 0900 hrs in C Company area. The afternoon was easy. Thus another quiet uneventful day passed. Weather: fine and sunny and very warm.
  • 16 Mar, Tue as per routine which was similar to that of yesterday except that the fall in, inspection and route march was held in the afternoon instead of the morning. 1000 hrs All officers of the Battalion proceeded to Division HQ (NZ Division now known as NZ Corps) where Brigadier Kippenberger outlined the plan of operations in the near future. Although we more or less knew that another outflanking move was pending, this lecture given by the Brigadier definitely established that fact. The intention was to drive a wedge into the Mareth Line at its western flank between Jebel Tebaga and Jebel Melab with the axis of advance along the Hamma – Kibili South. This point was believed to be not strongly held by Italian Saharan Troops. We were due to leave this area on Friday 19th instead. The Brigadier requested that the men be not informed of what he had told us because he intended to speak to the men personally later. 1545 hrs the GOC General Freyberg paid an impromptu visit to the Battalion. An enemy recce plane flew over the Corps area around 1130 hrs, this being the first time the Hun had sent a recce over. With the mass of transport there is in this locality at the moment it is more than likely that this plane went home with some rather useful information. Weather: fine and sunny.
  • 17 Mar, Wed Battalion carried out the usual routine, with the route march from 0900-1100 hrs. Once again the afternoon was free and another uneventful day passed. Weather: the weather took a turn for the worse today with strong constantly changing winds, one minute blowing one way and the next another. A good deal of annoying sand.
  • 18 Mar, Thur again the routine was adhered to i.e. reveille 0715 hrs, no PT, breakfast 0745 hrs, Company fall in and inspection 0915 hrs followed by an hour’s route march from 0930 hrs to 1030 hrs. 1330 hrs full Battalion muster parade in Battalion HQ area. Brigadier spoke to all ranks as he did the other day to the officers at Corps HQ. He gave a most interesting talk giving the relative strengths of our own and enemy forces. 1500 hrs the CO called an Officer Group conference and spoke about the details concerning the move tomorrow. The main points were the order of march – Corps, Brigade, Battalion. The Battalion will move in nine columns with A and B forward C and D in rear of A Company and HQ in rear of B Company. Sufficient rations and water for six days were to be carried, petrol for 480 km at 4 miles per gallon (1.7 km per litre) and ammunition to G 1098 scale. Weather: fine with strong cold westerlies till 1500 hrs when steady rain set in which continued into the night. Visibility nil.
  • 19 Mar, Fri the Battalion carried out the routine as for yesterday see Routine Order. The afternoon was spent in packing and generally preparing for a move. 1330 hrs the CO called an Officers Group conference in which the main points:  Our air force was grounded yesterday on account of bad weather. 50 Division now well up to Mareth Line on costal sector. The 201 Guards Brigade took a heavy knock in a recent night attack and suffered heavy casualties. Our plans now believed to be known to the enemy as a Tommy artillery officer was taken as a POW with a marked map including NZ Corps “left hook”. Battalion to embus at 1730 hrs and to close in to A & B Companies at 1600 hrs. Brigade Order of Mar 21Battalion – Brigade HQ Group – 23 Battalion – 5 Field Regiment – 28 Battalion – 7 Field Company – 5 Field Amb – W/Shops. 1900 hrs the Battalion finally got into positions on the main Corps axis of advance (marked by red lights by night and by our black diamonds by day) behind the 5 Field Regiment and away we go on another phase of our long trip from Alamein. The catch word this time being “Tunis or the bush.” Progress is very slow but the going was not good in many places. MIH was laid down 5 VTM was laid down 18 m between vehicles by night and 90 m by day. We finally reached the lying up area at 0140 hrs. Travelled 50 km and halted. Instructions bed down but be prepared to move at 0630 hrs. Weather took a turn for the better this day being fine and sunny with a bright moonlight night until 2330 hrs.
  • 20 Mar, Sat 0600 hrs reveille. Breakfast 0630hrs. 0830hrs the CO and IO reported to 5 Brigade HQ and stood by with remainder of the Brigade Officer Group awaiting instructions. During the absence of the CO Major Ben Porter (MC and Bar) took temporary command of the Battalion. 1330 hrs the Brigade moved off again and continued throughout the afternoon. The entire column narrowed its front and closed up in order to negotiate a minefield. 1630 hrs a halt during which time the Battalion took the opportunity to boil up. 1730 hrs the column continued the advance but did not proceed very far and finally halted. At 2015 hrs the CO then returned to the Battalion and instructed the men to bed down for the night. A Company was detailed to do outpost guard on our right flank as a protective measure from any surprises from the Mareth Line. The Battalion is only some 30 km from the line. It was an uneventful day for us. There was some aerial activity but we seemed well covered by our fighters. The armour and mobile forces leading the Corps were observed to have come under enemy shell fire, but this has not delayed the advance to any appreciable extent. During the night a single enemy aircraft made a nuisance raid on the Battalion. It dropped one heavy bomb and numerous butterfly bombs across the Battalion front. A spare portee was hit and set on fire and the driver, Pte Jack Davis of Towai, was killed. He was buried near the burnt out portee. Map reference of grave E 0575. Other than this the Battalion has suffered no casualties. The unit’s strength, excluding officers, was 673 ORs, six of who were attached from NZEME. 81 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength. The total number of officers was 28 (three of whom were attached).Weather: fine and sunny.
  • 21 Mar, Sun the Battalion stayed in this position all morning after shaking out to 90 m interval at first light. 1100 hrs a carrier patrol was detailed to move out to our left flank to make a recce of the Soltane – Rhezene road. Capt. Ted Hayward commanded the patrol. For the purpose of the patrol he took out an armoured carrier borrowed from 5 Brigade HQ.  It was blown up by a mine on the road. No serious casualties. CO once again spent another day at Brigade HQ. 1300 hrs Warning order to move. 1440 hrs once again we move off heading generally northwest. 1650 hrs we have another of many uncertain halts. The enemy observed shelling our forward elements. 1600 hrs 35 Kittyhawk fighter bombers flew over heading northwest. Air support does not seem to be lacking and we wish the RAF good hunting. 1800 hrs received word to bed down in present location ie D 9788. 1815 hrs the CO returned to Battalion and called up Officer Group. Main points were: B Company to do outpost guard, other Companies to have two listening posts per Company, 6 Brigade was attacking tonight with 25 and 26 Battalions. Zero hour is 2200 hrs, at a line running northwest by southeast Y 8704. The barrage was plainly heard from here. Some enemy bombers were again active over our area this night dropping bombs and strafing.  No hits were observed and we suffered no causalities. Weather: mainly fine and sunny during the day but towards evening became overcast, cloudy and much colder
  • 22 Mar, Mon 0730 hrs breakfast. 0830 hrs CO left for Brigade. Information on last night’s 6 Brigade show - good. 8 to10 hundred prisoners were taken and identified as belonging to Italian Saharan units.  Minefields were encountered but gaps were cleared and our armour went through. The tanks however were halted by shelling and 88-mm anti-tank guns, after which there was no further news from forward. Meanwhile the Battalion is still standing by in its present location for further instructions and the men are given opportunity to rest. There was some aerial activity this afternoon when fighters of both sides met overhead. In the ensuing dog fights no aircraft were observed hit. The 21 Panzer Division is reported to have moved some tanks onto our sector and as a result we sent out forces of tank-busting aircraft. Results were good and the RAF claimed to have knocked out some Mk3 and Mk4 tanks in sorties this afternoon. The numbers of Italian prisoners taken have gradually mounted during the day to over the 1000 mark. The morale of the POWs was non-existent. 1700 hrs CO returned to Battalion and instructed Officer Group that Battalion would be staying here another night with no probability of further move this day. Outpost guard for the night was to be supplied by C Company. Again the Hun sent over his nuisance bombers during the night but the Battalion is dug in more or less and there was little sleep lost. Weather: Fine and sunny.
  • 23 Mar, Tue Battalion still situated in the same locality and still awaiting orders. 1015 hrs a column of some 779 Italian Prisoners passed through our lines route marching rearwards. One POW was literally “caught with his pants down” and had no trousers on. 1100 hrs CO and IO proceeded to Brigade and thence to Corps HQ where Brigadier Kippenberger outlined a temporary defensive measure in view of an intelligence report of a possible threat on our southwest flank by 10 Panzer Division which is believed moving south towards Gabes and west. 1145 hrs CO carried out recce of Battalion area. Our front to extend from D 8793 (on southwest point of 234 feature) to D 8595 both included. see sketch map. 23 Battalion on our right and 21 Battalion on our left. 1300 hrs Officer Group reported to the CO on new Battalion position. 1445 hrs the IO brought up the Battalion from its position to the new area. 1530 hrs Coy Commanders took over their companies and positioned them on the ground. Battalion HQ established at D 8694. Battalion was in position by 1800 hrs. 1915 hrs the CO called Officer Group and gave them the little general information on what is happening on our front which was actually very little.  The normal hours of meals to be followed with stand to from 0545 hrs – 0635 hrs. Weather: fine and sunny.
  • 24 Mar, Wed 0545 hrs – 0645 hrs “stand to”. 0730 hrs breakfast. Battalion spent the day in digging and general tying up of defences. Battalion front being approximately 6000 m with a depth of about 2700 m. There was considerable aerial activity by both sides during the day. Battalion made the most of this day resting and cleaning arms. At 1630 hrs a raid by Ju 88 Bombers was met by heavy anti-aircraft and one bomber was observed to crash and burst into flames about 1.6 km north of Battalion positions. Of the crew of five, two baled out and were taken prisoner and the other three were killed. 1800 hrs the CO called up Officers Group with which he made a quick recce of the position the Battalion would take up tomorrow morning; this position being about 2.4 km northwest of our present positions. Meanwhile, the Battalion was to remain here and bed down for the night. Sentries for the night as usual. One section of the carriers platoon is two miles forward of the Battalion with line laid out. “I” Section all night OP watch. Weather: fine and sunny.
  • 25 Mar, Wed 0715 hrs breakfast. 0830 hrs the Battalion commenced to move to new area by companies. All their transport having previously reported to them to take the troops up. All movement was completed by 0930 hrs and now the Battalion lies in five columns facing northwest. 1100 hrs Officer Group were instructed to report to 26 Battalion area recce the company positions and be prepared to take over the FDLs sometime this night. 1145 hrs Officer Group arrived at 26 Battalion area see sketch map and had to look over the Company positions and the FDLs. Meanwhile the Commanding Officer had been busy attending Brigade conferences and at 1700 hrs he called a muster of all Battalion Officers to whom he gave the story of the attack which was intended tomorrow. The attack was to be done in three phases: (a) 21 NZ Battalion were to attack and capture the hill feature Pt184 Y 9205 in order to secure our right flank. Zero 0100. (b) tomorrow zero laid down 1600 hrs at Z 1500 hrs a heavy air blitz on enemy positions with concentrated Artillery fire. (c) heavy tanks scheduled to cross start line at 1600 hrs. Tank formation to be followed by infantry. For details of operation see 5 NZ Brigade Commanding Officer No. this operation to be known as “Supercharge” 1730 hrs the Battalion moved off in five columns along the Corps Axis of advance and following in rear of 21 NZ Battalion. Last light found the Battalion still travelling along axis of advance which was by now lit by red lights. There was slight confusion at 2030 hrs on account of a light system which had been laid down by NZ Division Pro Sec and which was not known to us but the Battalion finally reached 26 Battalion HQ area at 2200 hrs. The Commanding Officer called up Officer Group and instructed B and C Companies to take over the positions of their opposite numbers A and D Company to debus troops in vicinity of present Battalion HQ are Y898046. HQ Company to return to B Echelon area with all surplus RMT and Company transport. The Intelligence Officer in conjunction with Brigade Intelligence Officer laid out the Battalion start line running on a 136 bearing with the axis of advance running 46 degrees Mag Brigade Cookhouses had a hot breakfast ready for the men at 0300 hrs. 0300 hrs the Battalion moved onto the start line by Companies in the order D, A, and B. (For start line positions see see sketch map) the positions on the start line were the positions they were to lie up until Z (1600 hrs) tomorrow. It will be noted that C Company were in position more or less on the start line and therefore did not have to march after debussing. A and D Companies marched a distance of 2000 yards to their start line positions. B Company had a much greater distance to reach the start line as was intended. As a result they were ordered to lie up for the day some 900 m short of the start line but to move to their position on start line at zero minus 30. Weather: Fine and sunny.
  • 26 March, Fri By 0630 hrs Battalion was dug in and lying up after a sleepless night. Instructions being that there be the minimum movement until 1600 hrs all ranks to lie low and sit in their trenches. On our left we have the 23 Battalion and beyond them the 24 Battalion, we three Battalions constituting the infantry elements of the attack. On our extreme right the 21 Battalion has attained its objective and is situated on the high ground of Point 184. The Battalion front on the start line is 1300 m. We have been given two objectives, the total distances to final objective being 4500 m. 1300 hrs the CO called up Coy Commanders and gave them final instructions and good luck. During the day and prior to zero the enemy periodically shelled our areas D Coy suffering one slightly wounded casualty. The operation this day was peculiar in as much as that tanks and aircraft were to co-operate so closely with infantry. We notified the RAF of our FDLs by a system of orange flares and punctually at 1530 hrs the first wave of fighter-bombers was overhead bombing and strafing enemy positions on our immediate front. Meanwhile the tanks detailed in support of us were forming up on the Roman Wall behind us ready to pass through us and onto the start line at zero. Zero 1600 hrs: Our Artillery both mediums and Field opened up with terrific concentrated fire on enemy positions forward of us. B Company had moved up 20 minutes prior to zero, and were in position but not dug in on the start line. The Battalion start line formation was thus B Company on left, A Company on right, C Company mopping up behind A and B Companies, and D Company reserve Company on the right rear of the Battalion behind A Company and behind right of C Company. Battalion HQ moving with D Company. Our No. 11 wireless set on 8 cwt truck was our Brigade link and moved with D Company. The tanks paused for some unknown reason for a period of eight minutes on the start line. They must have been spotted by the enemy at this stage as the Hun put over some quite heavy concentrations of artillery fire onto them. As the infantry were also on the start line at the time we suffered a very uncomfortable eight minutes. We suffered out first causalities at this stage. At zero plus 15 the wave of carriers which were following the tanks passed through and the infantry prepared to advance. Our artillery barrage and RAF bombing and strafing continued without slackening. At zero plus 20 A and B Companies crossed the start line and advanced at a distance of about 200-300 m behind the carriers and company sections widely dispersed across the front. C Company moved up a few minutes later 300 m behind the forward Companies and D Company a few minutes later the same distance behind. Some of our carriers were instructed particularly to watch our right flank which was considered the dangerous flank. On our left we observed 23 Battalion advancing according to our own rate of advance. The advance for a distance of 1400 m was uneventful except that it was an advance under continual enemy shell fire. We reached our first (and what eventually turned out to be final) objective at approximately 1700 hrs. The Armoured elements ahead of us were then stopped by unexpected Anti-tank fire and could not proceed. We lost four tanks. The line now reached ran from Pt Y918088 to 923082. 1700 hrs the CO ordered C Company to swing right and take hill feature Pt 209 Y 932080. This plan had been previously arranged with C Company.
    C Company then swung right and attacked the hill feature at Y 924082 which lay between it and 209. This hill feature (for purpose of quick reference called Hikurangi) was later discovered to be held very strongly by Battalion 433 Panzer Grenadier Regiment 164 Lt Division. The Huns were well dug in on the crest with numerous automatic weapons, and they made this advance most difficult for C Company. Undaunted C Company struggled up this steep face of Hikurangi and by 1800 hrs had fought their way to the top – not without causalities – and had come to grips with the Huns in close hand to hand fighting. They inflicted heavy casualties on the Hun and forced him to withdraw onto his northern side of the hill. C Company however could not exploit their initial success beyond the top of the hill as the Hun now opened up on Hikurangi with terrific fire from 209. The Hun made several counter attacks in an effort to regain the top of Hikurangi, but each time C Company drove him back and inflicted many fatal casualties to the Hun. This attack was completed with surprisingly few casualties to C Company owing to the rocky and steep face on which the Company was now situated. Digging was well nigh out of the question and realising he could not retake the hill the Germans put over terrific mortar concentration on C Company now more or less lying on exposed positions but on a reverse slope. Casualties gradually mounted and by night fall C Company was much reduced in strength. OC C Company Capt. Peta Awatere was wounded during the fighting. He received instructions from Battalion HQ to hold Hikurangi at all costs. (this hill in fact commanded the whole of not only the Battalion front but the front of the entire division and it was therefore vital that this ground be held. Capt. Awatere replied that C Company would hold Hikurangi at all costs and would deny the enemy all use of the same hill. 1900 hrs Capt. Awatere, whose wound was now worsening, was evacuated and Lt Jackson took over command. 2/Lt Moana Ngarimu was also wounded but continued, remaining with his platoon.
    Meanwhile A, B and D Companies were instructed to reorganise on the ground on which they were situated, A and B Companies on the left of the Battalion front and D Company on the right and slightly to the rear. Battalion HQ was established on the low ground about 900 m behind the forward Companies at Y 920082. Companies were to dig in and be prepared for any counter attacks during the night. 2000 hrs Capt. Pene arrived with the cookhouses and all Companies enjoyed a much welcomed hot meal. Ammunition trucks also came forward and replenished company deficiencies. We also commenced at dark to evacuate wounded and generally ascertain casualties, but conditions did not permit a full report on total casualties to date. However lines were laid to all Company HQs and by 2100 hrs communications were established. Contact with our left flank 23 Battalion was for the moment lost but our left Company (B Company) was instructed to tie up with 23 Battalion right this night. On our right flank 21 Battalion was now to the rear of us on Pt 184 but it was arranged that 21 Battalion send a company forward to tie up with our right, i.e. D Company. Thus after all arrangements had been finalised the Battalion consolidated in this area. It is now fairly definite that these positions are our final objectives for the day: the enemy holds 209 and some of the country between it (209) and Hikurangi and exchanges of small arms (SA) fire were frequent by both sides. Our supporting arms i.e. 6-pdr and 2-pdr Anti-tank guns and a platoon of MMGs also came forward this night and were established in the Battalion area. Weather: fine and sunny and hot. Visibility fair.
  •  27 March, Sat Troops enjoyed a hot breakfast and then the cookhouses returned to B Echelon in rear. 0730 hrs Lt Jackson reported to Battalion HQs that owing to casualties C Company would have difficulty in holding Hikurangi. Further attempts by the Hun to take this hill at first light were all repulsed. At times so close was the fighting that both sides frequently used hand grenades. During one of these attacks 2/Lt Ngarimu was killed. Though badly wounded in the fighting yesterday this officer remained and fought with his men to the very end. 0800 hrs the CO instructed OC of D Company T/Capt. Jim Matehaere to despatch two sections to reinforce C Company on Hikurangi. During periods of the early morning the enemy sent over very heavy concentrations of mortar and artillery fire onto the Battalion area. A good deal of enemy MG fire was also coming from the direction of 209. We reported our FDLs to our artillery and as much of the enemy situation as we knew, and on our request Divisional concentrations of artillery fire were brought to bear on the positions ahead of us. 1000 hrs two Germans were observed to surrender and came over the top of Hikurangi to our lines. This marked the beginning of the end for the Hun as one POW reported that his whole Battalion were prepared to surrender. Before midday another four Germans surrendered and were taken prisoner. 1300 hrs the CO proceeded to a conference at Brigade where the Brigadier laid down that 5 Brigade would be taking up new positions but which would not affect 28 Battalion. 1430 hrs the CO returned to Battalion. D Company progress to 209 was originally intended to be assisted by artillery but at the last minute the artillery was called off. The Hun sitting on 209 made the D Company advance most difficult and Capt. Matehaere requested carrier assistance from Battalion HQ. Accordingly Capt. Hayward OC of Carriers despatched two carriers to D Company. The carriers proceeded up the Wadi between Hikurangi and point 209. About 1100 m from point 209 they came under heavy MG fire. The two carriers then adopted another course one swinging to the right flank and the other swinging in nearer to the left. The right carrier being in command of Sgt Paki Walters and the left under Sgt Hepi Harding. Capt. Matehaere then decided to push his company on in conjunction with the very useful support given by the carriers, and by 1630 hrs elements of the enemy on point 209 were observed to Kamerad! Our Vickers, however, were handily situated and continued to bring fire to bear on Point 209 and it was not until 1700 hrs that the Hun finally surrendered. Over 200 prisoners were taken and at last light 178 were marched back to Brigade. Their CO Major Meisser, his Adjutant and three Coy Commanders were taken. They were identified as belonging to 2 Battalion 433 PGR 164 Lt Division.
    The Germans left many dead on the battlefield and we treated many of their wounded; in fact as a result of this action this Battalion was entirely wiped out. The action was practically all that happened on the Battalion front this day and other Companies took more of a spectator role. In this action D Company lost only four men slightly wounded. During the day Battalion casualties were summed up and the dead were taken back to ADS location at Y8805 near the main Haidia – Kebili Road where they were buried. Total Battalion casualties, killed: one Officer- 2/Lt M.N. Ngarimu. Other Ranks 18 – 65663 L/Sgt W. Silva, 62770 Cpl J. Parkes, 62583 Lt/Cpl H.K. Taupe, 65389 L/Cpl H. Taipu, 65461 Private H.T. Anderson, 65272 F.R. Brooking, 15131 H. Brown, 39347 H. Hema, 65153 M. Karanga, 62591 R. Keelan, 25917 J.A. Lloyd, 67435 K. Mauhana, 67599 W. Porter, 62894 R. Tai, 67550 P. Tanirau, 67586 W. Tawhai, 62820 W. West. Wounded: two Officers – Capt. J. Matehaere, Capt. A. Awatere, and 71 Other Ranks. The total number of prisoners taken by the Battalion amount to 231 all ranks. The D Company action terminated operations for the day and more or less terminated the fighting by the Division in this particular sector, and was a grand finale to the actions of the Battalion since zero yesterday. Once again at last light, our cookhouses came forward and we enjoyed a hot meal and settled down for the night. Normal sentries posted. Weather: the weather today was monotonously the same with blue skies, sunshine and was very warm. N.B. 1100 hrs enemy aircraft flew very low over the Battalion area and included Ju 88 bombers. No bombs were dropped on Battalion area. The unit’s strength, excluding officers, was now 587 ORs, six of who were attached from NZEME. The total number of officers was 28 (three of whom were attached).
  • 28 March, Sun 0730 hrs we enjoyed our first breakfast at leisure this morning. D Company spent most of the early part of the morning generally cleaning up the area on point 209. There was quite a deal of enemy equipment lying around, which we duly proceeded to put to our own uses. A survey of the front revealed the fact that as a result of yesterday’s action we captured three 75-mm and two 50-mm Anti-tank guns only one of which was serviceable and eight 81-mm mortars one of which was completely destroyed by a mortar bomb. There was little if any ammunition left for these weapons. Among other weapons taken were numerous LMGs and MMGs, in fact Point 209 may quite well be termed a fortress. It was chiefly owing to the fact that supplies were not forthcoming that hastened the Huns surrender. 1000 hrs the Battalion received a warning order to move. Brigadier Kippenberger with his Brigade Major came up to the Battalion area and had a look over some of the recent fighting. 1130 hrs all RMT and own transport had reported to the Battalion and we prepared to move immediately with the objective for the day Point 136, code worded ‘GIN’. The Brigade order of march being KDG, 21 Battalion, HQ 5 Infantry Brigade, 23 Battalion, 6 Field Regiment, and 28 Battalion. We commenced the move in five columns. It was a slow and tedious march, the column halting very frequently during the afternoon. The Battalion order of march being B, A, D, C and HQ Companies. The original intention was to proceed along the road running from Z 0012 to Point 136, but owing to some error in navigation we finished up 16 km to the south on the road running from Point 152 Z 0907 northeast. The Battalion finally halted at map reference Z 123094 and formed up off the road in three columns facing north and on the right of the Brigade formation. We passed through one or two enemy minefields which caused much of the delay during the day but which were dealt with by our sappers. Carriers and Anti-tank guns were posted on the Battalion right flank and facing east. Total distance travelled 30 km. Weather: fine and sunny with strong southwesterlies.
  • 29 March, Mon Battalion was up at first light and prepared to move. Breakfast 0645 hrs. ‘GIN’ was reported as having been taken by the KDGs. 0900 hrs the Battalion was informed that we were to push through and take the Gabes. 1130 hrs the Battalion moved forward following 21 Battalion and heading northeast. A report was read at midday that our leading forces had been held up by anti-tank guns at approximately Z 2827 but the opposition was soon cleared and we continued our advance in three columns. Progress again was very slow but was realised by us in the rear that the rate of advance was entirely governed by the opposition encountered by our forward troops, the opposition being chiefly anti-tank guns and minefields. However, eventually at 1400 hrs we reached a point Z 237212 not far from El M’Dou about 11 km south of Gabes. We were halted in this area for most of the afternoon until 1800 hrs when once again we proceeded forward onto the main Gabes – El M’Dou road still following 21 Battalion. News from forward very scrappy but this much we do know that Gabes was occupied by our forces about midday. The head of the Brigade had already passed through and was beyond the town but progress was slow owing to a bridge which had been blown by the Hun in the town itself. As a result darkness found us still on the outskirts of Gabes and heavy rain which set in about 1600 hrs did not add to the pleasantness of the journey. It took us 5 hours to cover a distance of about 6 km but by 2300 hrs the CO decided to halt and bed down as best as possible for the night about 3 km north of Gabes. A good deal of the Battalion transport kept gradually coming in all night and it was not until 0400 hrs that the Battalion was finally through the town. Weather: fine and sunny until 1700 hrs when it became cloudy, overcast and threatening. Heavy rain setting in from 2000 hrs to 0100 hrs.
  • 30 March, Tue 0600 hrs Battalion moved off and straightened itself out after a hectic night and reorganised into five columns by Company on the flats next to the railway line at Z 308368. At 0800 hrs we received instructions from Brigade to be prepared to move in one hour’s time to a position where the Brigade was forming in desert formation, in area west of Dj Ed Dissa Z 2234. 0900 hrs the Battalion moved off in column of route and crossed the main road Gabes – Sfax at 1115 hrs. Reached Desert formation area at 1130 hrs and halted after forming desert formation of nine columns facing north on the western slope of Dj Ed Dissa. Battalion lunched in this area and it was not until 1630 hrs that we moved off again as part of Brigade desert formation, we being our normal right flank position, 21 Battalion across the Brigade front, 23 Battalion on the left with 5 Field Regiment and Brigade HQ Group in the centre and all facing north. Battalion halted at 1730 hrs at Z 194394 3 km south of the village of Oudref. Informed to bed down for the night. The CO issued usual instructions for Anti-tank gun protection on right flank. Normal sentries. As it is not known how long our stay here will be all ranks are to be prepared to move at shortest notice. Listened in to BBC news session which made mention of the success achieved by the NZ Division in its outflanking attack of the Mareth Line. To date 8000 Italian and German prisoners had been taken. Weather: Fine and sunny.
  • 31 March, Wed 0700 hrs reveille. 0730 hrs breakfast. We were informed by Brigade that there would be no likelihood of moving from our present position for at least two days. Although news of the situation forward is very limited we believe that the Hun has decided to dig in and is strongly entrenched in positions extending from the sea along Wadi Akarit and running westwards to Jebel Fatnassa (Z 2357 - Z 0955). The CO laid down that men should rest but that a period be devoted to cleaning of arms and equipment. There was nothing to note this day. Weather: Fine and sunny. Thus another month has passed.

Living Conditions: Battalion bivvied wherever possible but during the Medenine and supercharge operations men lived chiefly in silt trenches or in the open. Rations: All ranks during this month were on normal M.E. hard ration scale. There were no complaints about the general standard of the food or of its quantity.

Topography: a study of maps embracing the country Medenine/ FouamTatahouine/ El Hamma will show that practically the whole of the area which the Battalion and the Division travelled during this month was partly along main roads but mainly over low lying undulation desert. The going chiefly was good although some very difficult sand was encountered in the desert prior to reaching the Hamma – Kebili Road. At all times we had very hilly high country on our flanks particularly the Jebel which composes the southern end of the Mareth Line (Toujane – Kreddache – Hallouf – Matmata) and the high range of the Jebel Tebaga which runs northeast between Kebili and Hamma. The country round Gabes appears to be gradually showing signs of more cultivation than we have seen for some time. The digging in these parts is good.

Climatic Conditions: there were very few days (already mentioned) of rain, there however was some very windy days and the sand was very annoying.

Reference

Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara a te Kāwanatanga
28 (Maori) Battalion War Diary, WAII 1 1666 DA 68/1/39

Footnotes

[1] Te Mura o te Ahi, p. 111.

[2] Nga Tama Toa, pp. 246–249.

Submitted by mbadmin on Thu, 14/02/2013 - 15:58

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