Māori Battalion diary - November 1942

Overview

After their withdrawal from Miteiriya Ridge the Māori Battalion enjoyed a brief respite, relaxing in the Alam El Onsol area. On the last day of October, Kippenberger told 5 Brigade he thought they would remain in that locality until Rommel’s line was breached. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when the men learnt the next morning that their battalion was to be ready to move – there was going to be another attack that night. ‘For Christ’s sake, aren’t there any other battalions in this army,’ was the general retort from the men. The Māori, whose strength was the best of all the New Zealand battalions, was transferred to the command of the British 151 Brigade for the second thrust at Rommel’s line – codenamed Operation Supercharge.

During the attack the Battalion’s fourth CO, Lt-Col Fred Baker, was hit by a burst of machine-gun fire, a bullet going through his mouth. His second-in-command, a Pākehā, Maj. Irvy Hart, on his way forward to take over, was mortally wounded, which resulted in Temp. Maj. Charles Bennett of Te Arawa, the senior company commander, taking charge.

On the night of 3 November the Battalion learnt that the enemy was on the run. The Alamein line had been breached. Montgomery’s tanks poured through the enemy’s positions and the Eighth Army’s pursuit began, with the New Zealand Division and the Māori Battalion well to the fore. The German–Italian army staged a series of rearguard actions as they headed west. In mid-November the Maori Battalion eventually halted on the high ground above Bardia. There, some 96 km east of Tobruk, the Battalion bivouacked for a period of rest. When it was learnt that they could be there for some time while other units continued the chase, they dug trenches and fortified themselves against the cold that was setting in. Winter clothing was issued, and games of rugby, soccer and basketball were played.

Diary

  • 1 Nov, Sun 0001 hrs Battalion comes under command 151 Infantry Brigade. 0615 hrs Stand to. All Coys prepare to move as per verbal orders given. 0740 hrs Commanding Officer and Coy Commanders depart to recce forward areas. 1435 hrs Battalion under Adjutant moves forward in the following order: Battalion HQ group, D C B A Coys, Battalion HQ Cooks, RAP, Mortars, Anti-Aircraft, D C B A, “A” echelon, Battalion Anti-Tank, Anti-Tank 6 pounders, Medium Machine Guns, Carriers. 1700 hrs arrives at Diamond Track and Coys debuss, transport moves back to rear areas. At last light Coys move forward to starting line. Fighting transport moves forward under Battalion 2IC to assembly area. 0100 hrs Battalion ready on starting line, when word is given to advance. The Artillery opens up with a tremendous barrage equaled only by the barrage of night 23/24 October, and the Battalion goes forward under cover of barrage. Approx. 200 m from start line CO Battalion, Lt-Col Baker, was wounded and had to be evacuated.
    ORDER OF ADVANCE: D Coy on the left, C on right, B Coy mopping up A Coy rear in reserve. The Battalion reached its objective after advancing through very heavy small arms and mortar fire, from the front and the right flank. After taking objective the Coys moved forward and began consolidating. First Light Coys completed digging operations and are subject to very heavy mortar fire and machine gunning. Casualties: See Company Commanders’ reports
  • 2 Nov, Mon Major Hart Battalion 2 i/c is now in command of the Battalion. Battalion comes under command 6 Brigade. Artillery duel goes on for the greater part of the day. 1430 hrs Maj. Hart is wounded and evacuated; Maj. Bennett assumes command of the Battalion.
  • 3 Nov, Tue Stand to at first light. Counter battery work goes on all day. Enemy heavily shelling armour on our left.  A noticeable change in the situation could be seen during the latter part of the day. Word is received that Maj. Hart had died of wounds. A total of two Stuka raids concentrated on our Armour to the left of the Battalion. 1900 hrs hot meals were brought up to the men, Battalion’s first hot meal since the attack began. 2000 hrs officers conference at Battalion HQ when word is given that the enemy is on the run and that the Battalion as part of 5 Brigade would be moving South West in pursuit.
  • 4 Nov, Wed Stand to at first light. 1000 hrs transport reports to Battalion and A and B echelon joins the Battalion. Hot breakfast and unexpended portion of rations are given to the men. 1200 hrs Battalion embussed and move to “Boomerang” track. 1330 hrs Battalion joins Brigade Group at Division assembly area. 1500 hrs Battalion on right flank of Brigade in three columns moved off on a 216 Degree bearing, speed 8 km per hour. Continued in south-west direction all night then turned north headed for Fuka.
  • 5 Nov, Thu 0200 hrs Italians raided the convoy causing the death of 62714 Pte Henry Dickey and 16691 Dr. Ashton Mana of 4 NZ MT Coy and they are buried Map Reference 82612935 (Ras El Kanayis East) 1/100,000). The convoy moved again just before first light following our Armour. First light convoy still moving in south-west direction.1000 hrs Convoy was the object of a Stuka raid. 1200 hrs Lunch on the move. 1700 hrs column is subjected to very heavy enemy shelling. Battalion is ordered to move in column of route. 5 Brigade Group harboured in area Harf Un Igeir. Battalion in Brigade reserve in position facing west with Coys formed up for an all-round defence and Battalion HQ in the centre.
  • 6 Nov, Fri 0605 hrs Battalion stand to. 0700 hrs The men were given hot breakfast. 1000 hrs Brigade Conference. Decided to continue advance at 1500 hrs. Route 35 km bearing 312 degrees. 1230 hrs Battalion moved off to Brigade start line in three columns with Rifle Coys leading. 1500 hrs Brigade moved off from start point, continued for 25 km and halted. The Brigadier decided to “harbour” in this location (Map Reference 75653107) for the night. The Battalion closed in to no interval. CO allotted Coys defensive roles for the night and doubled sentries. Unidentified Units forward of 5 Brigade came under some enemy shelling. 39282 2/Lt Monty Wikiriwhi marched into the Battalion as IO at 1000 hrs Lt Reg Mariu, detached to 5 Brigade as IO. Lt. Roy Te Punga took over adjutant duties in lieu of Lt Mariu. Weather: Most inclement. Dull and sultry with showers.  Heavy rain set in at 1500 hrs and continued for the greater part of the afternoon and into the night. The desert was transformed from its dusty conditions and became a quagmire. Prisoners: ‘D’ Coy and the Carrier Platoon brought in some prisoners (Italian) with 10-12 Germans who were immediately forwarded to Brigade. Exact numbers not known owing to hasty preparations then in progress for pending move.  Approximate numbers 200 Italians (identified of Pavia Division).
  • 7 Nov, Sat 0610 hrs first light Battalion opened out to desert formation of five columns facing north-west approx. bearing 321 degrees. 0800 hrs hot breakfast. Stayed on present location pending further developments. Decided to spend another night in present area. The Battalion closed in to no interval at 1700 hrs. Normal defensive measures were taken this night. There was little doing this day Regimental Quarter Master Lt Ian Howden left at 1830 hrs with 4 RMT troop transport carrier to procure rations and petrol but did not return until approx. 0700 hrs 8/11/42. Clocks went back one hour at 0700 hrs
  • 8 Nov, Sun 0610 hrs Battalion opened out to desert formation. Hot breakfast. 1130 hrs Brigade Conference following orders issued: 2 NZ Division will attack and capture Matruh. 6 Brigade to make the attack from the west. 5 Brigade to make feint attack from the south.  The Brigade moved off at 1300 hrs on a bearing of 280 degrees, halted after covering 27 km at 1730 hrs, harboured up for the night. Permission was granted to the Battalion to light fires during the periods of darkness after dusk and before the dawn for cooking purposes. As a result the Battalion and Brigade area, with many fires alight, much resembled the bright lights of towns and cities with which we had been so unfamiliar.  Code Word for the putting into action of the Matruh operation was “Railway” and since “Railway” had not been received by 2100 hrs we surmised Matruh operations off. Eighth Army Commander issued an ‘Order of the Day’ in which he stated that a complete victory was in sight and that all ranks were to strain all to achieve same. The weather improved considerably this day being fine and sunny but ground conditions still muddy and sticky. Vehicles had some difficulty in many places.
  • 9 Nov, Mon 0545 hrs reveille and breakfast and Battalion opened out to normal desert formation facing north-west. 0630 hrs Brigade conference: Intention: 5 Brigade will proceed to Sidi Barrani and will attack and capture if necessary. 0730 hrs Brigade moved off on approx. 280-290 degree bearing. 1100 hrs temporary halt on eastern side of main road running south from Charing Cross while Brigade broke into column of route formation in order to negotiate minefield running parallel to and along west side of main road. Brigade continued in column of route to main Matruh – Sidi Barrani Road continuing along main road to K 71 where we turned south off the road and reformed in Brigade desert formation and harboured for night approx. 3.2 km south of road. 1745 hrs Battalion closed in for the night. Warned to prepare to move at 0545 on morrow. Chaplain Capt. Tunoa Wanoa held a brief service this evening at 1930 hrs. Temp. Major Reta Keiha and Capt. Peta Awatere re-joined the Battalion this day, the former appointed temporarily 2 i/c Battalion, the latter to be officer in Command of C Coy. Weather: Fine and sunny, ground conditions once again back to normal with desert roads very dusty.
  • 10 Nov, Tue 0130 hrs Battalion ordered to move. 0245 hrs Battalion moved off in column of route following 21 Battalion along main road. Brigade halted, dispersed and breakfasted at K 105 at 0700 hrs. 1000 hrs Brigade once again moved off, route running along south of main road but running parallel to it and heading roughly westwards. Temporary halt at 1230 hrs when it was made known that 5 Brigade was to attack and capture certain enemy positions in vicinity of Sollum. 1630 hrs Brigade halted and had tea. 1930 hrs Brigade moved off in column of route and rejoined main road. 0130 hrs Brigade halted and pulled off onto south side of main road approx. 19 km from Sollum. Harboured for night. Weather unchanged.
  • 11 Nov, Wed 0700 hrs breakfast. 0900 hrs Battalion moved off onto main road in column of route. Originally to proceed via Sollum Pass but enemy demolition of part of Sollum Pass compelled a detour via Halfaya Pass. There was some congestion of traffic at foot of Halfaya Pass which caused delay and slight confusion in the passage of the Battalion. 1300 hrs Foremost elements of the Battalion reached the top of the hill halted and awaited arrival of rear elements. 1500 hrs Battalion moved off again following Brigade HQ Group. Travelled along road via Capuzzo thence moved off road in a north-westerly direction and formed desert formation. Halted at approx. Pt 210 (MR 508388 near Sidi Azeiz) Decided to harbour for night. The Battalion now occupies a forward position across the Brigade front. 1700 hrs C Coy temporarily detached and attached to NZE and proceed to Sollum to assist in the clearing of Sollum Pass. Weather: Cloudy but fine. General: During the ascent of Halfaya Pass 12 unescorted Italian POWs were passed marching down the road carrying a white flag of surrender commented upon in a later issue of Egyptian Mail as a typical Italian idiotic symbol of surrender. Enemy aircraft bombed and strafed parts of Halfaya Pass.
  • 12 Nov, Thu 0600hrs Battalion opened out and prepared to move. 0800 hrs Brigade moved off - 28 Māori Battalion occupying forward positions across Brigade front - and moved on a bearing of 355 degrees for 19 km. 1030 hrs informed that we would probably be staying in this area for two or three days. Battalion set to dig in and erected tents and bivvys. 1830 hrs Brigade conference. Brigade to stand by and to be prepared to move at first light.  Destination Tobruk (codename: Polly). 2000 hrs IO detailed to proceed to Sollum to collect and guide C Coy back to Battalion on account of pending move. 67646 Pte Kupu Pene Wiripo accidentally shot himself at 0730 hrs Court of Enquiry to be held. President: Maj. Keiha Members: 2/Lt Kuru, Waaka, 2/Lt George MacDonald. Findings: Death through misadventure. No blame to be attached to anyone other than the deceased. Map Reference of grave: 50683975 Sheet No. 30 Marsa Lucch Ref:1/000,000. Weather: Unchanged.
  • 13 Nov, Fri move to ‘Polly’ cancelled. C Coy re-joined Battalion at 0930 hrs. Battalion now to stay in this locality indefinitely. 50% of the Battalion permitted to go to Bardia for swim.  Remainder of Battalion engaged in cleaning of weapons and general maintenance of vehicles and equipment. A Syllabus of training was published this day by the Commanding Officer. See Appendix A. Weather: Fine and Sunny.
  • 14 Nov, Sat as per syllabus. Brigade informed not any move from this area before 16th. Weather: Fine and Sunny. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 586 ORs, plus 6 attached from the NZ Ordinance Corps. 169 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength. The total number of officers was 29 (3 of whom were attached).
  • 15 Nov, Sun 0930 Brigade paraded for church service conducted by Chaplain Capt. Wanoa. Text of Sermon ‘Liquor and its Attendant Evils’. Service was conducted throughout in Māori and this helped considerably to bring home facts about the evils of drink which would not have had the same effect had the sermon been conducted in English. 1045 Battalion was issued with battle dress and an issue of woollen clothing, i.e. vest, drawers and two shirts. Issue of winter clothing for ORs only. Officers to be issued, if possible, later. A further syllabus of training was issued this day. See Appendix B.  Weather: unchanged.
  • 16 Nov, Mon as per syllabus. 1600 hrs an order from 5 Brigade was issued warning the Battalion to prepare to move (destination unknown) at 1700 hrs. This order was immediately countermanded. Informed that the Brigade would now remain in this area indefinitely. 2/Lt Jerry Smith marched in to Battalion and to D Coy. 1700 hrs CO Maj Bennett held an officer’s group conference in which the Battalion was warned to be prepared to move to Bardia for proposed manual labour purposes. Code word for move ‘Sherman’. Officers issued with Battle Dress this day. Weather: Fine sunny, with moderate cold south-easterly winds.
  • 17 Nov, Tue as much of syllabus as was possible was carried out this day. Pay rate of 50 piastres per man this day. There was also an issue of beer at rate of 1 can per man, but owing to a slight surplus some men received 2 cans. Price 6 piastres per can. Weather: showery during the day with a torrential down pour from 1930 hrs to 2000 hrs which water-logged surroundings and caused much inconvenience to men whose bivouacs were not as well constructed as others.
  • 18 Nov, Wed as per syllabus. Weather: Dull and overcast till late afternoon when it cleared slightly. Intermittent sunshine.  PS: a further syllabus of training was issued this day. See Appendix C. 
  • 19 Nov, Thu as per syllabus. 0800 hrs A and B Coys temporarily detached and proceeded to Bardia or thereabouts to assist in road repairs. Capt. Ben Porter (OC A Coy) OC party, Capt. Ruhi Pene (OC B Coy) 2 i/c party. Nature of work: filling in part of the road which had been washed out by heavy rains. Main road Sollum, Tobruk. Remainder of Battalion as per syllabus. See appendix D. See also Routine Order No. 1. Weather: wet and showery with intermittent sunshine.
  • 20 Nov, Frias per syllabus. The road party this day was composed of C and D Coys. Weather: Fine and sunny with strong cold southerlies.
  • 21 Nov, Sat as per syllabus. The road party today consisted of A and B Coys. Weather: Fine, sunny and warm. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 584 ORs, plus 6 attached from the NZOC. 171 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength. Of these HQ Coy required the following specialists: 3 signallers, 11 mortar details, 5 men for carriers, 18 anti-tank gunners and 4 for various other roles. The total number of officers was 30 (3 of whom were attached).
  • 22 Nov, Sun as per syllabus. The service was conducted by Chaplain Capt. Wanoa. 1400 hrs sports: A Battalion officer team consisting of Lt-Col Bennett, Maj. Logan, Capt. Sorenson, Capt. Awatere, Lt. Waaka, 2/Lts Wikiriwhi, Stevens, MacDonald, and  Katene played a Brigade officers team which included the Brigadier, Brigade Major, Staff Captain, IO, and LOs at baseball. The Māori team won by 15 runs to 10. Cinema: a percentage of the Battalion was allowed to attend a cinema at the ADS at 1900 hrs Film: The Kid from Texas and musical supports. Weather: Fine and sunny.
  • 23 Nov, Mon as per syllabus. See appendix E. HQ Coy went out this day on road work. Battalion HQ, A, B, C Coys out on route march, distance approx. 22 kms. 1915 hrs Cinema Unit gave another showing this evening at which another percentage of the Battalion attended. Weather: Fine, sunny and warm and added considerably to the discomfort on the march. Lts Ted Pohio and Matt Swainson marched in from the Maori Training Coy (ie. base).
  • 24 Nov, Tue As per syllabus. Patriotic parcels were issued this day, on a basis of one parcel per man. These parcels were much appreciated and consisted in the main of tinned foods i.e fruits, meats, boiled sweets, toilet accessories etc. Weather: fine and sunny. See also Routine Order No. 2
  • 25 Nov, Wed As per syllabus. A and B Coys completed road work this day.1330 hrs the CO called a conference of all Battalion officers at which the following main points were brought to their notice:
    The enemy is forming a strong line of defence from Aghelia, Southwards
    NZ Division will prepare to move westwards in the near future. Men will be trained to the highest standard of physical fitness. Training to include route marching, physical training (PT) and athletic sports. Re latter, a comprehensive sports programme has been laid out which includes inter-platoon, inter-Coy and inter-Battalion and eventually inter-Brigade sports competition.
    Weather: Fine and sunny. Lt-Col Bennett issued orders regarding weapons. See orders. 
  • 26 Nov, Thu 0800 hrs all members of the Battalion attended a hot shower parade at Field Hygiene Section. The parade was conducted in the following order: Battalion HQ, C, D, HQ, A, B Coys. 1245 hrs batch of reinforcements marched in this day from CTD. 1 Officer 2/Lt Eddie Morgan and 85 ORs. 1400 hrs C Coy played D Coy in a rugger match, resulting in a win for D Coy by 9–nil. A consignment of parcel mail reached the Battalion this day. Weather: Mainly fine and sunny but with showers. Lt Howden marched out.
  • 27 Nov, Fri as per syllabus. The afternoon was devoted to a “Possible” vs “Probables” rugby football match in which A, B, C and D Coy teams took part. “A & C” teams won. Weather: Fine and sunny. Lt-Col Bennett issued orders regarding dress. See orders. 
  • 28 Nov, Sat as per syllabus. The afternoon was devoted to a rugby football match. The Battalion “A” team vs “B” team from which match the Battalion team was selected. Weather: Fine and sunny. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 584 ORs, plus 6 attached from the NZ Ordinance Corps. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 667 ORs, plus 6 attached from the NZ Ordinance Corps. 88 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength. Of these HQ Coy required the following specialists: 3 range taker, 3 mortar details, 5 men for carriers, 11 anti-tank gunners and 4 carpenters. The total number of officers was 32 (3 of whom were attached).  See also Routine Order No. 3.
  • 29 Nov, Sun as per syllabus. 0900 hrs Battalion church parade. Chaplain Capt. Wanoa officiated. Brigadier Kippenberger DSO with others of 5 Brigade also attended the parade. The afternoon easy.
  • 30 Nov, Mon as per syllabus.  See Appendix G - training syllabus. The afternoon was devoted to sports based on Brigade sports programme. The sports contests were held with a view to the final selection of the various Battalion sports teams. The programme was very well run and was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Weather: Fine and sunny.  See also Routine Order No. 4.

REFERENCE

Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.
28 NZ (Maori) Battalion Diary, WAII 1 1665 DA 68/1/35-36

 
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