NZEF Times reports on Māori Battalion in North Africa and Italy

This article appeared in the April 1986 The Battalion Remembers II booklet.   

The following are extracts with dates from the NZEF Times issued by Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force:

CHARGE BY MAORIS CHASE ENEMY IN TO SALLOUM - CAPTURE OF BARRACKS, NZEF TIMES, DECEMBER 1, 1941

In Greece and Crete the New Zealand Maori Battalion demonstrated that the bayonet is still one Of the most effective arms. The Maori Battalion is now fighting in Libya and a dispatch received during the week from one of the New Zealand Official War Correspondents indicates that the Maoris are maintaining their reputation.

"Cries from Maori hakas broke through the dawn as the Maori Battalion swarmed to a spectacular attack near Solloum on the morning of November 22," writes the correspondent.

Screened by British tanks the Maoris moved up under the cover of a pitch black night through the ruins of old Fort Capuzzo twice previously held by British and Imperial troops and now held by New Zealanders. In front was a squadron of tanks paving the way for the main attack. As the first rays of dawn broke the tanks made sorties towards the strongly defended barracks overlooking Solloum which itself nestles in a bay at the foot of the hills.

Heavy German artillery, from Hellfire Pass, laid down a solid barrage and forced the tanks to withdraw but not before they had routed several German machine-gun posts in the barracks. Then the Maoris came on the scene.

When within half a mile of the barracks the Maoris left their lorries and as the tanks withdrew to let them through charged with fixed bayonets. Led by their commanding officer the Maoris did not, however, come to within bayonet distance. Mortars and hand grenades were the chief weapons of attack. In the face of the artillery barrage and heavy small arms fire the Maoris pressed on until they were at the very walls of the barracks when the Germans holding the post either threw up their hands and surrendered or incontinently fled. Many of them were chased into the township itself terrified by the' blood curdling' yells of the Maoris.

SHORT AND SHARP

The grimmest of the fighting took place on the road leading from the barracks into the township. It was short and sharp but it was desperate while it lasted. But the Germans could not stand against the impetus of the Maori charge and were very quickly driven from the high ground into the township below. Over 450 German and Italian prisoners were taken by the Maoris in the barracks.

On the outskirts of Solloum I watched the bombardment of the township from Hellfire Pass. The Germans displayed their usual ruthfulness for they were shelling their own men as well as ours. Back came the Maori walking wounded many of them laughing and triumphant. One young Maori with his arm shattered by machine-gun bullets was impatient to have his wounds dressed and to get back into the fray. The Maoris were crouched against the walls of the barracks sheltering from the German shellfire. Up and down the shelled Cupuzzo Solloum Road, Maori dispatch riders and trucks raced all the morning. It was amazing that none of them was hit for shells were bursting on the roadway all the time.

Out from the barracks marched a column of grey and khaki clad Italian and German prisoners escorted by half a dozen Maoris with fixed bayonets. Down the road they marched into Capuzzo to the assembly point for removal to the rear.

All the morning I watched this feverish activity until word came back that an enemy raiding party was moving up from the road to counter-attack. A German patrol was sighted but so far no counterattack has been launched.

Solloum is now without water. The pipeline to the township was cut by the New Zealanders at the same time as the line to Hellfire Pass. Both of these German posts may have reserves of water but they will not last forever.

WHEN VOICE YELLED "JA JA" NAZI WALKED INTO MAORI TRAP - NZEF TIMES, JANUARY 22, 1945

FAENZA, January 8 - The taking of seven prisoners by a company of the Maori Battalion yesterday enlivened an otherwise quiet spell in the line. When movement was noticed round a supposedly unoccupied casa less than 200 yards from one of the company's posts, a seven-man patrol stalked the place, surprising six Germans there. They took four prisoners immediately found a fifth hiding under the rubble in one room and wounded and captured the sixth when he tried to make a run for it.

Finding that the party expected a runner at dusk with rations, the Maori manned the casa in strength hoping that a larger party would appear. Only the runner came.

He watched the casa from a distance for half an hour and then approached cautiously unaware that many hidden Maoris were appraising every move of his fieldcraft and that enough weapons were trained on him to rout a company. Hesitating outside the casa the runner called out an inquiry. A voice inside answered: "Ja, Ja". The runner entered. He paused suspiciously on finding the room deserted and the house silent. Then he felt a tommy-gun held by a Maori prodding his back.

Finding that the runner had brought orders to evacuate an NCO and six men tracked back his footprints in the snow hoping to be mistaken until they were close enough to surprise the next German position. The ruse just failed, the Germans recognising them and opening fire.

The Maoris withdrew and directed murderous artillery and mortar fire on this position. They heard the cries of several wounded. For the last few days activity on the New Zealand sector has been confined to patrols and occasional artillery fire by both sides and when the weather has permitted planes have flown sorties over the enemy positions.

Two days ago and again today snow fell heavily and the country is now one great expanse of white.

Submitted by mbadmin on Thu, 18/06/2009 - 11:01

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