Māori Battalion diary - August 1942

Overview

The first Battle of Alamein ended in late July 1942 when the Māori Battalion had retired from the front line. At the beginning of August―high summer in Egypt― the Battalion marched under cover of darkness back to the front line. They positioned themselves opposite the El Mreir Depression, only a few hundred metres from the Italians’ front trenches and here they remained for the month. Lieutenant-Colonel Baker described the area as the worst the Battalion had been asked to occupy up to that time. “[It] was full of graves and these were constantly being hit by shells,” he wrote. “No Man’s Land contained a considerable number of burnt out trucks and tanks as well as corpses . . . .our area was strewn with debris of all kinds, including used food tins, old clothing, blankets, etc. The net result from these surroundings was an absolute plague of flies.” [1]

To combat the problems, cooked meals were eaten during the hours of darkness, rubbish was burnt, and strict supervision was maintained over sanitation and disposal of refuse. During the day it was extremely hot, and the men were often found shirtless on groundsheets in their trenches to avoid the scorching sand. The whole area was regularly shelled, and the Battalion continued to suffer casualties. At night the engineers brought in air compressors and drills to prepare proper slit trenches, while the Māori boys erected double dannert and apron wire in the outer minefield. This was a nerve-racking experience, for like clockwork, when the compressors started up so did the enemy guns. The platoons set up listening posts and maintained night patrols in their lines. Sometimes reconnaissance patrols of up to 18 men, usually led by a platoon commander, were sent forward to gain information about the enemy’s defences—the location of his machine-gun posts, weapon pits, wire and minefields.[2]. See report on climate and topography.

The Battalion began the month with 26 officers plus the new doctor, new padre and two subalterns, the latter four all being attached. It was still without Captain Awatere and D Company who remained at Maadi Camp for most of the month.

  • Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel: Fred Baker (CO)
  • Major: Irvy Hart
  • Captains: Chris Sorrenson, Terry Gilroy, Reta Keiha, Ben Porter.
  • Temporary Captains: Ruhi Pene
  • Lieutenants: Jack Ormsby, Tutu Wirepa, Henry Toka (LO 5 Brigade), Wai Awarau, Jim Henare, Ivan Howden, Syd Jackson, Reg Mariu, Tony Tikao-Barrett
  • Second Lieutenants: Peter Ornberg, Roy Te Punga, Harry Lambert, Rangi Tutaki, Jim Aperahama, Ted Hayward, Kuru Waaka, Meta Francis, Walton Haig, Duncan (AE) McRae, Don Mitchell.
  • Attached: Capt. D.G. Cumming (RMO), Capt. Chaplain Wharetini Rangi (unit padre), 2/Lt William Vercoe, 2/Lt Herbert Marsden

Diary

  • 1 Aug, Sat: “Stand to” at “first light”. 1900 hrs COs conference of Battalion Orders Group. The Battalion is to take over the position now occupied by the 21 Bn and at 2100 hrs. Moved to 21 Bn HQ on a recce of the area. At night there are fewer enemy flares in the sky than we are accustomed to seeing. No doubt caused by the number of our aircraft which we hear passing over our heads headed for the enemy lines.
  • 2 Aug, Sun: “Stand to” at “first light”. 0615 hrs Our artillery shelling enemy to the north-west. 0800 hrs enemy artillery shelled area Bn Hqrs and C Coy. 1000 hrs RAF fighters overhead. 1200 hrs RAF bombers passed overhead headed for enemy lines. Slight artillery exchanges during the day. 1730 hrs Visibility poor. The Battalion prepares to move to 21 Battalion area. 2100 hrs Coys commenced to move –men carrying their packs with RMT trucks carrying Coy stores etc. Bn Hqrs was established at 8779 2762. The Battalion was now facing the enemy with about 1500 m separating the opposing forces. See sketch map.  2300 hrs the change over is now complete. The unit’s strength, excluding officers, was 606 ORs. 65 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength (D Company were LOB and back at base). The total number of officers was 30 (four of whom were attached).
  • 3 Aug, Mon: normal “Stand to” at “first light”. 0730 hrs enemy shelling of A and C Coy areas. Both A and C Coy are within sight of the enemy by day and so must stay in their silt trenches, restricting movement to an absolute minimum. Sporadic enemy shelling during the day, while our artillery engaged suitable targets reported by their OPs. 1900 hrs another concentration of enemy shelling on Bn Hqrs and forward areas. Compressors reported at the usual hour to continue work on Battalion Weapon pits etc.
  • 4 Aug, Tue: “Stand to” at first light. 0750 hrs Concentrated enemy shelling of A Coy area. 0850 hrs 20 RAF bombers flying overhead. 0950 hrs enemy shelling B Coy area, our artillery replied. 1630 hrs 12 Boston Bombers attack enemy to the west and north-west. 1830 hrs.  Our artillery opens fire. Enemy shelling the Bn Hqrs area 1900 hrs Another enemy concentration of shelling. 2030 hrs Coy Commanders conference. The following officers marched in today- 2/Lt Wally Wordley, 2/Lt Matt Swainson and 2/Lt Monty Wikiriwhi.  Wordley posted to Anti/Tank P1, Swainson assistant QM, and Wikiriwhi in reserve. An issue of four cans per man at 5 PT per can of beer was made on this day. 2230 hrs 2/Lt W. Te A. Haig with one p1atoon of C Coy went to approx. MR 87722764 as a fighting patrol. He struck heavy MMG fire from both flanks and was unable to make contact with the enemy. Returned 0030 hrs.
  • 5 Aug, Wed: “Stand to” at first light. 0700 hrs enemy shelling B Coy Area. Two RAF fighters heading east. 0820 hrs 12 Boston Bombers with fighter escort bomb enemy in El Mreir depression MR 872277. 0840 hrs enemy air-burst shells over B Coy. 1045 hrs 10 Bostons again bomb the enemy in the Mreir depression. 1500 hrs our bombers again attack transport concentration in the depression. 1840 hrs to 1930 hrs sporadic enemy Shelling of Battalion area. The front is now stabilised and activity is confined mostly to exchanges of artillery fire with our airforce frequently passing overhead to harass the enemy. All transport with exception of “Jeeps” is in the rear areas to afford the enemy as few targets as possible. Both sides are busy consolidating. 2200 hrs one platoon from each Coy commences a double dannert and double apron fence in front of our minefield. The enemy fires a few white flares at night and sends an occasional burst of machine gun bullets over our area which greatly hinders the work of our wiring party. We can hear motorised transport movement in the depression in front of us, but otherwise it is generally quiet.
  • 6 Aug, Thu During the night 5/6 Bn Hqrs moved to MR 87852759. “Stand to” at first light. 0630 hrs heavy enemy shelling of A Coy area. Our artillery retaliating. 0715-0845 hrs moderate enemy shelling of Bn area. Casualties from such shelling are practically nil because all men are well under cover and know approx. times when the enemy shells. 0915 hrs 20 Bombers and fighters over enemy in El Mreir depression. Heavy enemy anti-aircraft barrage but damage none of our planes. 1100 hrs enemy shells land in A Coy area. 1200 hrs our bombers are again over the enemy due west of us. 1845-1900 hrs shelling of B and C Coys and the Bn Hqrs areas. It is generally in the early morning and towards the evening that the enemy increases his artillery activity. Coys continue wiring at night while compressors worked on new Bn Hqrs position. The Battalion now rests by day as much as the flies and the heat will permit and work on Battalion defences throughout the hours of darkness.
  • 7 Aug, Fri: “Stand to” at “first light”. 0815 hrs slight shelling of C Coy area. 0920 hrs 22 bombers and fighters passed overhead and bombed the enemy a few miles north-east. It was a very quiet day. Both sides seemed listless and affected by the flies and the sun. 1910 hrs a live exchange of artillery fire. 2030 hrs engineers of the 7 and 8 Field Coys, NZE lay a new minefield. Wiring parties continue with the fence. The enemy is making it increasingly hazardous for the wiring parties, and uses mortars as well as machine guns to harass the working men.
  • 8 Aug, Sat: “Stand to” at “first light”. 12 Bostons escorted by fighters headed west at 0715 hrs. Another very quiet day. We continued our unequal fight with the flies. 2/Lt Jim Aperahama was evacuated sick.
  • 9 Aug, Sun: “Stand to” at “first light”. 0845 hrs one solitary enemy bomber dropped four bombs 3 km east of us. Enemy artillery has noticeably decreased during the last few days, and our bombers are making fewer raids. 1400 hrs slight dust storm arises thus restricting visibility. 1945 hrs enemy infantry can be seen moving into their night positions, about 1500 yards away. Wiring was continued during the night and once again we can hear the rumble of MT in the depression the occasional rattle of his MG bullets and once again mortars on our wiring party. 2/Lt Meta Francis and 4 ORs from B Coy went on leave this day. Leave is being granted to 5 per cent of all units at a time. One sixth of five per cent leaving each day. Leave is for six days two of which are in transit, remaining four spent in either Cairo or Alexandria. Padre held communion service at 0300 hrs in A Coy area. This time is most suitable for service.  The unit’s strength, excluding officers, was 585 ORs 72 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength (D Company were LOBs and back at base). The total number of officers was 32 (four of whom were attached).
  • 10 Aug, Mon: “Stand to” at “first light”. There was no enemy artillery activity this morning. It has been exceptionally quiet throughout the day, except for some half dozen shells. Enemy artillery activity in the area was nil. 1830 hrs our artillery fired on a target west of us.  On the night 9/10 at 0100 hrs 2/Lt George Marsden with one p1atoon of A Coy went out on patrol to get prisoners. He hit the enemy wire 600 m west of our main defences at MR 87682768. From here he continued through the enemy minefield when a parachute flare gave away his position to the enemy. Machine gun fire from both flanks caused him to withdraw and although he waited some hours in the hope of waylaying an unsuspecting German he was unsuccessful. Five ORs of A Coy leave on leave this day. On the night 10/11 Lt John Tikao Barrett with one p1atoon from C Coy went out on a fighting patrol to attack enemy positions vicinity MR 87682765, where movement had been observed. The patrol was approaching its objective but when about 200 m away heavy machine gun fire was concentrated on them. He reports that the enemy is very alert in our immediate front with light machine gun posts and numerous sentries constantly on the lookout for our patrols. It is virtually impossible to surprise an outpost while the enemy is so wary.
  • 11 Aug, Tue: “Stand to” at “first light”. 0745 hrs enemy shelling around Battalion area.
    0959 hrs two enemy bombers dropped a number of bombs several miles east of us. Artillery activity very slight during the day. Five ORs from C Coy marched on leave today.
    Night 11/12 coys are engaged in digging company defences and in erecting a triple dannert and double apron fences in front of the Battalion minefield.
  • 12 Aug, Wed: 0500 hrs “Stand to” at “first light”. There is very little activity today. There are a few artillery exchanges but no shells fell in our area. 1400 hrs usually desert storm covers the front making observations practically impossible. HQ and Battalion HQ Coys send five ORs on leave. There’s an issue of four cans of beer per man at the price of PT 5 per can. 2200 hrs Coys continue with the fencing and digging of weapon pits.
  • 13 Aug, Thu: “Stand to” at “first light”. 1245 hrs 15 shells land in B Coy area. No casualties.
    1320 hrs two enemy aircraft flying very high passed overhead flying north-west. 1830 hrs Our artillery is shelling the section of the depression in our immediate front. 1915 hrs the machine gun p1atoon, attached to the Battalion, fire on enemy troops moving in the vicinity of sangars approx. 1000 m west of Battalion field defences. There is a pay of PT 50 per man. Five ORs of B Coy marched out on leave. Once again it has been a quiet day, with only the heat and the rifles to cause us any worry. During the night Coys continue the wiring and digging of defensive positions. The enemy is very alert at night, harassing our wiring parties with mortar and MG firing.
  • 14 Aug, Fri: “Stand to” at “first light”. 0730 hrs three enemy shells fell in the vicinity of the RAP.
    0745 hrs our artillery replies with a heavy concentration on the depression to the west. Our artillery has been very accurately shelling enemy motorised transport which has been moving along the track 868278. 1815 hrs Slight artillery exchanges but none fell in our area. Usual wiring and digging continues during the night. One officer and four ORs A Coy marched out on leave this day.
  • 15 Aug, Sat: “Stand to” at “first light”. 0630 hrs artillery observation post reports considerable enemy movement, forward of the depression to the west. MMG open fire, followed by the artillery heavy concentration which soon drove them to ground. 0725 hrs several enemy aircraft circled the area at a great height. 1300 hrs there is a haze over the desert which continued until 1700 hrs. 1725 hrs our artillery is shelling targets to the north-west. Three ME 109 are engaged by our AA. 5 ORs C Coy marched out on leave. Coys continue wiring and digging during the night. During the day the 2 IC and Coy Commanders made a recce of alt position 22 km west of Battalion. 2330 hrs our artillery opened heavy barrage on MR 875277. When the barrage lifted enemy machine guns along the front opened up piercing the night with vivid trails of tracer and Anti/Tank shells. Although much of the fire was directed on our forward Coys no casualties were suffered.
  • 16 Aug, Sun: “Stand to” at “first light”. 0825 hrs numerous RAF fighters are circling overhead. There has been no enemy shelling this morning and our section of our front is very quiet, except for the drone of an enemy recce plane, occasionally, or the deeper note of our bomber formations which are active today. 1000 hrs the Padre celebrated Holy Communion with 40 ORs of the Battalion. 1600 hrs Our artillery is again shelling to the north-west. About this time every day the visibility is at its best when the dust has subsided and dispositions of the enemy can be more accurately seen. 1845 hrs four enemy recce planes passed overhead heading north-east. Our artillery still continues occasional shelling. The CO and Coy Commanders went to a tank and infantry co-operation demonstration a few km behind the front line. 2100 hrs 2/Lt Don Mitchell accompanied by Battalion IO and 17 ORs of B Coy passed through A Coy wire on a recce patrol. The patrol went due west and struck the pipeline with a metal road alongside at MR 87672778 continued south-east down pipeline to MR 87642776 and reconnoitred the area returning at 0200 hrs. 
  • 17 Aug, Mon: “Stand to” at “first light”. There is a heavy mist over the area which did not lift till 0900 hrs. 0915 hrs our artillery shell enemy motorised transport in the depression. 1230 hrs about every half hour an enemy recce plane flies overhead at a great height. 1300-1700 hrs usual afternoon dust-storm obscures visibility. 1835 hrs Our artillery is again busy shelling enemy targets. During the day word was received by Battalion that the present area was to be made into a fortress, with extra rations, ammunition etc.  Considerable work was done by the Battalion digging ration dumps and cook houses etc. 2230 hrs 2/Lt Meta Francis went out on patrol to M.R. 87632774. See patrol report. Captain R. Logan returned to the Battalion becoming OC Anti/Tank. Pt and Lt. Tutu Wi Repa returned to C Coy. Five ORs from B Coy marched out on leave.
  • 18 Aug, Tue: “Stand to” at “first light” 0630 hrs A Coy has fixed an Italian 75-mm gun which is about 20 m in front of our wire. This Maori artillery is sighted by the simple method of peering through the barrel at the target and fired by guessing and a lot of luck. The registered target is enemy sangars 600 to 800 m away. This gun, though violating all rules of artillery, is quite effective in keeping the enemy from moving about. Apart from this there is no shelling until 1730 hrs when our artillery open up on occasional targets. Visibility poor all day. B Echelon under Maj. Chris Sorenson moved back to Burg El Arab during the day and with them went six ORs of A Coy and one Officer and five ORs of C Coy proceeding on leave. The night was quiet with one or two enemy flares and a few bursts of enemy MMG fire.
  • 19 Aug, Wed: normal “Stand to” at” first light”. 0530 hrs an Italian deserter complete with toilet gear and arms was taken by A Coy and sent to Division. He was a Slav and in 10 Coy 3 Battalion 39 Regiment Bologna Division. See interrogation report.   0930 hrs 4 enemy planes passed at a great height overhead; the usual dust and haze covers the area at noon.  1530 hrs 19 enemy Mortar shells fell in A Coy area.  No casualties. 2/Lt Don Mitchell and 2/Lt Wikiriwhi with 17 ORs of B Coy went out on recce patrol. During the day six ORs of Bn Hqrs and HQ Coy marched out on leave. 2/Lt William Vercoe marched out to an ADM course and 2/Lt Roy Te Punga became acting adjutant and 2/Lt Wikiriwhi took over duties Battalion IO. 1830 hrs our own artillery commenced a shoot for five minutes. As night closes in the usual enemy MMG fire remained inactive until 2330 hrs when they opened up along the usual fixed lines. 2330 hrs What appears to be a tank battle can be heard due north 3 to 5 km distant.
  • 20 Aug, Thu normal “Stand to” at” first light”. 0630 hrs the usual artillery duels are resumed but it is very desultory and sporadic. 0820 hrs nine enemy mortar shells landed in a spot just forward of C Coy. No damage was done. 0915 hrs a small party of enemy infantry were observed moving on a 300 degree bearing from OP. Our artillery immediately lobbed a few shells among them. 0945 hrs two RAF fighter-bombers moving east. 1530 hrs four enemy recce planes flying north-west at a great height. 1900 hrs Our artillery commences a short shoot on Infantry positions on El Mreir escarpment. Pay to the troops this afternoon. One or two enemy machine guns open fire along A Coy front, and otherwise it is very quiet. 2045 hrs visit by GOC;Night patrol led by 2/Lt Herbert Marsden.
  • 21 Aug, Fri: normal “Stand to” at “first light”. The usual artillery exchanges occur, but the enemy is very passive and submissive. 0745 hrs there has been no enemy troop movement and on the far escarpment very slight motorised transport movement only. 1000 hrs four enemy fighters flying west. After midday lunch visibility deteriorates because of whirlwinds of dust and sand. 1740 hrs our artillery awaken from the siesta spell and commence shooting into the Mreir depression for a few minutes. 5 Brigade Group visited by Corps Commander.
    Night 21/22 0215 hrs A half-an-hour bombardment by our artillery commenced and in the darkness the shells could be seen bursting along the wadi leading to the El Mreir Depression and the high escarpment along grid 278 and easting 873. The unit night patrol IC party 2/Lt George Marsden had a few unhappy moments when this barrage went over. They had to beat a hasty retreat. No casualties. See patrol report
  • 22 Aug, Sat: normal “Stand to” at first light. 0625 hrs the enemy commenced the day by shooting 26 mortar bombs into C Coy area. No damage done. Our artillery immediately counter-fired. The enemy ceased shelling. 0645 hrs One RAF fighter possibly on recce flew overhead in a westerly direction. Enemy anti-aircraft guns tried to shoot it down with no success. 0800 hrs 12 unidentified planes heading west were fired upon by the enemy. They may have been American as the formation was new three files with four in each file. They made a fine picture in the clear morning sunshine. 1230 hrs four enemy fighters patrolling overhead. In the haze and dust which is just commencing to reduce visibility the usual enemy motorised transport movement is discernible along escarpment 5 to 6 km distant. 1800 hrs A Coy LMGs fire upon infantry positions on their front. Some 1500 m off. 1830 hrs enemy fighters overhead but are flying too high for our Bofors to do much good. The customary enemy truck comes down to visit their front line troops – the object apparently being to bring the evening mess. 1845 hrs two enemy recce planes fly from an easterly direction and our anti-aircraft fire forces them to sheer off. 1900 hrs the artillery shells enemy positions 3 km away in the depression. 1930 hrs several enemy air-burst shells explode above Bn Hqrs area and two shells (calibre 88mm) landed in the Battalion zone. 1935 hrs another enemy registration followed shells with black smoke, followed by a vivid flash of sparks busting along the ground in the sector on our left. 1937 hrs our artillery shells the wadi where it is thought that a heavy MK 4 Tank was moving. When night fell the usual quiet was pleasantly shattered by the arrival of heavy RAF Bombers. Guided by their own flares they unloaded a few tons of bombs on the enemy lines in the depression region. Our attack ceased at 0200 hrs. It had commenced at 2300 hrs. Brigade HQ moved forward this day to a new position at MR 88202735.
  • 23 Aug, Sun: normal “Stand to” period at “first light”. Divine services were held within Coy areas after last light, the Chaplain visiting the respective areas at: B Coy -1815 hrs, Bn Hqrs and HQ Coy -1900 hrs, A Coy -2045 hrs. This deviation from the normal church hours is due to the present situation of the Battalion - In the front of the line held by the Division, and the impossibility of abiding by the regular routine owing to enemy activity the troops are grateful for the energetic manner in which our chaplain Capt. Wharetini Rangi is carrying out his work, as he also visits the B Echelon which is 100 odd km in the rear of our present location. 0500 hrs machine gun fire from both sides commences the day. 0645 hrs machine guns cease firing and the enemy send over three air-burst shells into A Coy area. 0705 hrs three shells (88 mm) land 100 m from this HQ.  Another six shells follow four of which are duds. 0730 hrs our artillery lobbed several shells into the depression. 0830 hrs nine enemy mortar shells land in C Coy area but no damage is done. Another brace of four shells (88 mm) burst beside Bn Hqrs – no damage. Our artillery shoots back in return. Two RAF recce planes flying west. 0850 hrs four enemy fighters flying south at a very high altitude. Seven RAF fighters flying south-west. 0855 hrs there is quite a jumble of planes overhead but they do not fight it out. Our Bofors opened up. 0900 hrs six ME 109s flying very high in a southerly direction, and 15 mins later they return. 1015 hrs our artillery shells depression area, also area to the west of C Coy. More enemy fighters overhead and three RAF planes come in from the west flying north-east. There is spasmodic shelling by our artillery and slight enemy motorised transport movement is observed on the Barrel track, vicinity 87202780. 1430 hrs four enemy fighters flying at great height around Battalion area and then turned to the west. Until 1700 hrs visibility is poor. Three ME 109s flying in a southerly direction, and they turn back again several minutes later.  From 1815 hrs to 1930 hrs our artillery is actively shelling enemy positions around the depression and along the escarpment. 1600 hrs this afternoon a special visit is paid to the area by the Eighth Army Commander Gen. Montgomery. He was very freely dressed wearing an Australian hat with a New Zealand badge, and the description of him in a Cairo paper as “the most pugnacious officer in the British Army” appeared to be well in keeping with his manner. We wish him every success and hope for victorious days for the Eighth Army. 2200 hrs another bombing attack by the RAF is carried out on the enemy positions 10-11 km away. This attack continued until 0100 hrs 24 August.
  • 24 Aug, Mon: Normal “stand to” at “first light”. 0630 hrs our MGs fire several bursts into the enemy Infantry positions on the brink of depression. Our artillery also fire several rounds. 0645 hrs enemy lobbing several 88 mm shells (nine) into 23 Battalion area to the rear of C Coy. Approximate bearing of enemy guns 270/275 degrees. 0710 hrs Two RAF fighters flying in from the north headed south then east. The enemy set up a terrible anti-aircraft barrage. No damage. 0800 hrs our artillery shell far escarpment for 10 minutes MR 874277. 0850 hrs an enemy twin-engine double fin tailed bomber of recce plane strongly escorted by ME 109s flying in a southerly direction.  0930 hrs enemy fighter planes generally active over whole sector. 1015 hrs our artillery shell lightly area south-west of C Coy. 1210 hrs six RAF fighters flying north-east. 1655 hrs two enemy fighters flying in a south-westerly direction and although our Bofors opened up they were too high up. 1855 hrs 12 RAF fighters fly in a south-easterly direction from the west, and five minutes later six enemy fighters appear to be following in their wake. The night sets in, and all is quiet until we once more hear the drone of RAF Bombers overhead apparently on a job in the vicinity of the Qattra region.
  • 25 Aug, Tue: Normal “stand to” at “first light”. 0630 hrs our artillery fire several shots wide out over enemy lines. Two RAF fighters flying from the north-west headed east are subjected to fierce enemy anti-aircraft fire but are undamaged. 0715 hrs three ME 109s flying south at a great height. 0930 hrs artillery shell enemy FDLS on brink of the depression lifting 10 minutes later to targets well to the rear. 1000 hrs the wind increases and whips up the dust until visibility at noon was practically nil. Nine RAF fighters overhead flying south-west followed a little bit later by another two headed east. 1415 hrs 11 Boston bombers flying in from the west headed for the enemy Lines. 1515 hrs unusual clouds of dust along far escarpment indicating perhaps, enemy motorised transport movement into the Qattra Area. 1610 hrs visibility improving and by 1700 hrs it is normal. 1730 hrs the usual enemy movement of several vehicles along Barrel Track in square 871278, and the remainder of the day is filled in by the artillery shelling sporadically, the Depression and the far escarpment.
    Night 25/26 The Battalion less C Coy carried out a very successful operation against the enemy located directly in front of it. At least 16 MG posts were destroyed and a large number of enemy killed. 31 Prisoners of War were taken. Our casualties were - two killed. One died of wounds, 2/Lt Don Mitchell and two ORs wounded, missing, believed POW, two ORs missing and 15 ORs wounded. Read reports on operation.
  • 26 Aug, Wed: in view of the fact that the expected attack by the Axis Forces along the whole front was imminent the usual “stand to” periods were rigidly adhered to.  A special memo from the Corps to this effect was received and announced to all troops. 0700 hrs an enemy ambulance van was observed moving into the depression vicinity of the area raided by the Battalion last night. Obviously a number of their troops were seriously wounded by the surprise attack staged last night. We sincerely hope that 2/Lt Don Mitchell who was only recently commissioned was among those collected and safely treated. 0730 hrs enemy commenced to shell the right flank of A Coy, and our artillery retaliated. Our bombardment also served the double purpose of covering the advance of 1 Platoon from the 21 Battalion which was allotted the task of denying the use of the area mopped up by the Battalion on night 25/26, to the enemy. This platoon was forced to retire after reaching objective by heavy mortar and machine gun fire being concentrated upon them. 1000 hrs 21 Battalion patrol and occupational platoon successfully reaches our own lines, but the enemy continued shelling with mortars and light guns A Coy area. Our MMGs also assisted in covering both the advance and the withdrawal of this platoon. 1140 hrs four enemy bombers drop bombs to the north of our positions. Several enemy fighters flying overhead, and our day ends with our artillery shelling once more the depression region. Further to the need at this time for vigilance and steadfastness along the whole line, the Brigadier of 5 Infantry Brigade spoke to all the officers of the Battalion and to all troops in the vicinity of Battalion HQRS on the present role of the Division, in conjunction with the impending assault upon the Eighth Army. The position was good, there was to be “no retreat” and as long as each and every man did his job the line was impregnable. Great lessons had been learned from the operations in Cyrenaica and these lessons were being employed now. The importance and the truth of the old fundamentals of concentration and dispersion still held good. This was vividly illustrated throughout the Libyan Campaign; we had erred on that occasion but there will never be a repetition of so costly a failure. Brigade HQ also advised us of the alarm signal by verey lights of red and white over green to be fired from the vicinity of Brigade area if and when the enemy was ready to make a bid for the rich prizes of the Nile valley. The normal privilege leave of six days to Cairo or Alexandria of the unit has been cancelled. Towards last light two ME 109s fly very low over the area from east to west.
  • 27 Aug, Thurs: normal “stand to” at “first light”. Artillery again commenced to shoot a few rounds into the depression, and two RAF fighters fly south-east from the north-west. 0730 hrs four ME 109s flying south at a great height. 0845 hrs Pte Wiwi Pirini 39162 was killed while riding his motorcycle across A Coy area. He was laid to rest by the unit chaplain in the Brigade cemetery MR 88312737. 1000 hrs enemy bomber with smoke pouring out of it is losing height rapidly falling in the direction of Ruweisat Ridge. 1325 hrs enemy commenced a general bombardment of the Battalion, their front shells bursting heavily in front of our outer minefield and in and around A and C Coy’s areas. After one hour’s shelling the barrage stopped and despite its intensity there were no casualties. This was the first time the enemy had shelled us in such a way for weeks. Thinking it may have been a prelude to an attack all weapon pits were manned. However, it turned out alright, the enemy is not game enough yet, because we are more than ready for anything he might try and turn on. 1500 hrs nine RAF fighters overhead on patrol. 1740 hrs three enemy fighter planes flying in a north-westerly direction. 1830 hrs 12 RAF fighters fly due west. Fifteen minutes later they return through a heavy enemy anti-aircraft barrage. Four ME 109s appeared on their tail two minutes later. 1940 hrs our artillery intermittently shell the forward areas.
  • 28 Aug, Fri: normal “stand to” at “first light”. Throughout the day the usual artillery shoots are continued. Most of the shooting by our own artillery. A and C Coy LMG opened up on infantry positions on edge of the depression and for a number of minutes a duel raged between it and two Fiat MGs. The OP reported the location of a mortar gun on a bearing of 300 degrees approximately one mile away. Our artillery was immediately informed and the area was promptly shelled. Air activity was markedly on an increased scale.
  • 29 Aug, Sat: normal “Stand to” at “first light”. 0915 hrs a barrage, duration five minutes, was fired by our artillery. 12 Hurricane fighter-bombers flying west at 0930 hrs. 1100 hrs a fierce dog-fight was fought over Battalion area, a mixed RAF squadron including Spitfires mixing it with ME 109s. Three planes crashed, identity unknown. 2200 hrs enemy artillery shells A Coy and C Coy and areas around OP. No damage done. Air activity is increasing in tempo – by night RAF Heavy Bombers plaster targets west and south of our positions, and by day innumerable fighters on patrol over the enemy lines. In the forenoon the Commanding Officer, Company Commanders and the Intelligence Officer went to recce the area which was being held by the 132 Infantry Brigade of the Royal West Kents. We were to occupy this area in the near future. 1640 hrs Battalion LOB Coy arrived at the 22 Battalion Lines having moved up from Maadi. This was D Company which had left the unit at Mersa Matruh in June, and when they moved into Battalion area on the same evening B Coy whom they relieved pulled out returning to Base. B Company was relieved because it’s strength was then only 77 all ranks.
  • 30 Aug, Sun: Normal “Stand to” at “first light”. A warning order was sent out to all Coys for the “change over” with a Battalion of the 132 Infantry Brigade. This move commenced in the afternoon but owing to the limited number of transport available for moving the troops it was not completed until 0340 hrs of 31 Aug. The whole of the 5 NZ Infantry Brigade had switched over positions with the Royal West Kents - 132 Infantry Brigade. Present location - MR 88382707 with D Coy on left flank C on right and A Coy in reserve.
  • 31 Aug, Mon: “Stand to” observed by all ranks irrespective of their duties as the attack by the enemy commenced, as expected by the whole of the Eighth Army. All through the greater part of the night and the early hours of the morning fierce artillery duels raged along the southern and central sectors of the front. 0700 hrs Penetration at one point by the enemy was quickly repulsed and by dawn the situation was well in hand along the front. The enemy, however, was making a wide sweep around our southern flank, but was being engaged by our light armoured forces. The usual German tactics of employing large numbers of aircraft commenced the day’s activities and dive-bombers were once more in evidence. Junkers 88 were also seen but their bombing was confined more towards the rear areas. Our Anti-Aircraft defences were very effective. Enemy Fighters and bombers kept sweeping over our line. 1000 hrs one Stuka dive bomber with smoke travelling in its wake passed low over the Battalion area losing height rapidly, finally crashing just within its own lines. 1115 hrs an enemy pilot was forced to bail out as his plane was badly damaged by Anti-Aircraft fire. 1117 hrs sporadic shelling over the area by the enemy caused no damage. 1155 hrs two ME 109s flying low over area released a number of small bombs, looking very much like sausages which fell very close to our OP but no damage was done. This was the “Butterfly” AP bomb, used for the first time against us. 1345 hrs an enemy recce plane, possibly the Dornier 215, flew across the battle are flying south. 1425 hrs six Stukas flying south-west were forced to sheer away thanks to the accurate Bofor barrage from the Division guns. 1830 hrs slight enemy shelling on Battalion area, no damage. An enemy column was observed moving south-south-west along the route which had been taken by one of our rifle brigades earlier in the day when it was forced to withdraw before superior enemy forces. The day ends with a batch of 45 Junker Ju 87bs, German dive-bombers flying south-east. They are still confining most or all of their attacks on our rear left of C Coy.

Of casualties on the 26 August: One OR of C Coy killed by a mortar bomb was buried in Platoon area MR 87732759. One OR of B Coy died of wounds and laid to rest in the Brigade cemetery M.R. 88282734. One OR of HQ Coy killed in a minefield buried by the unit chaplain in the Brigade cemetery.

The end of the month finds the enemy on the attack attempting to break through the strongly defended El Alamein Line. His defences are very slim. We are ready. The following special message is circulated among the troops. It is written and signed by the newly appointed commander of the Eighth Army:

  1. The enemy is now attempting to break through our positions in order to reach Cairo, Suez and Alexandria, and to drive us from Egypt.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Into battle then, with stout hearts and with the determination to do our duty. And may God give us the Victory.

REFERENCE

Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.
28 NZ (Maori) Battalion Diary, WAII 1 1665 DA 68/1/32-33

FOOTNOTES

[1] Report by Lt-Col Baker on Period 13th May 1942 to 17th January 1943, written c. 1953, MA 52/4d, 28 Battalion History, ANZ.

[2] Nga Tama Toa, pp. 227–229.

 

Submitted by mbadmin on Tue, 14/02/2012 - 14:36

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