The War Illustrated, No. 223, Vol. 9, January 4th 1946

IN the First Great War the New Zealand Expeditionary. Force established a repu­ tation-second to none as a gallant and efficient fighting unit. It is, I think, well known that the reputation o f the 2nd .Z.EN .F. stands as high, and that it has displayed the same qualities as those o fits predecessors. In addition, it has had opportunities o f acquiring a versatility denied to the first N .Z.E.F. which, like other troops, had to suffer the restrictions o f trench warfare. Now that a connected account o f the exploits of the Force is available (though not in general circulation in this country), a picture can be given o f the part played by its 2nd Division in Greece and North Africa, where this Division's characteristics were developed and its reputation established before it took part in the campaign in Italy. When the Second Great War started it was intended that the N.Z. 2nd Div. should assemble and complete its training and final organization in the Middle East. The first con­tingent arrived in Egypt in February 1940, but the second was diverted to England when the threat o f invasion developed. The third con­tingent later joined the first in Egypt, but this left the Division insufficiently organized and trained to take its full part in WaVell’s vic­torious Libyan campaign. Us engineers, signals and transport, however, were used and rendered service o f immense importance. The transport carried to their assembly areas the infantry which stormed G raziani's Sidi B arrani defences— in one phase o f the battle they debussed their passengers within a hundred yards o f the Italian positions, and the drivers left their vehicles to join in the assault. Later the transport in its more normal role gained an outstanding reputation for delivering food and water punctually, whatever the conditions. The other ancillary units also rendered notable service. T P HEY Were the First to Join Hands With Garrison of Besieged Tobruk But perhaps the greatest tribute paid to the adaptability and toughness o f New Zealanders was their selection to provide personnel for the Long-Range Desert Group formed on the initiative of Major Bagnold, and under his comm and, when Italy entered the war. The G roupcxplorcd immense stretches o f waterless unmapped desert and harassed the enem y's outlying detach-ments and communications. The selection o f New Zealanders for the experiment was all the more curious because they had less experience of desert conditions than any o f the other troops available (sec page 19). thefT Division were disappointed at losing a chance o f chasing Italians they soon had an opportunity o f prov­ing their metal against a more for­midable antagonist. Brought up to establishment by the arrival o f the 5th Brigade from England, the Division constituted a large part o f the army sent to fulfil our promises to Grecce. There opportunities for offensive action were denied it. but troops entering battle for the first time have seldom experienced more testing conditions— defence against greatly superior forces, which turned into along retreat fol­lowed by a difficult evacuation, with the enemy possessing vastly superior armour and complete command of the 'air. The battle in Crete, where the New Z ealanders fought hard for theM alem e aerodrome, was a variant of the same experiences, with the enemy still holding all the trumps. Reassembled and reorganized in Egypt, the Division played an im- B y MAd.-GE N ARE L SIR CHARLES GWYNN K .C.B., D.S.O. portant part in Auchinleck’s 1941 Inoffensive. the whirlpool battle of Sidi Rezegh the Division became split up into Brigade groups, alter­nately fighting offensively or on the defensive in desperate situations. It had the satisfaction o f being the first to join hands with the garrison of Tobruk, and it developed a technique for retrieving apparently hopeless situations by bayonet attacks at night, in which Maoris frequently showed special aptitude. But casualties were heavy, and when Rommel was compelled at last to retreat to his El Agheila stronghold the Division was withdrawn to Syria to reorgan­ize and to absorb reinforcements. T then summer of 1942, an urgent call came A for the Division to cover the retreat o f the 8th Army after its loss o f the swaying battle o f G azala and Tobruk. Covering 900 miles in five days, a wonderful feat on the part of the staff and lorry drivers, the Division took up a position o f readiness south of M atruh Win avell's old defence line. The intention was to threaten the flank of Rom m el’s pursuit rather than to hold a defensive rallying line for the 8th Army, which continued to retreat to El Alamein. Here Mat ingar Quaim, Rommel attempted to surround the Division, and nearly succeeded, but an astonishing night assault by the 4th Brigade cutaway out the Germans being surprised by what they complained had been an attack by “thousands o f drunken New Z ealanders.” This action checked the momentum of Rom m el’s pursuit, and when he arrived at Alamein he was unable to breakthrough the rallying position there. During the summer the Division took a leading part in defensive and counter-offensive actions, and when Rommel at the end of August made his last great effort to break iiito the Nile Delta the Division was on the southern side of the trap which Alexander and Montgomery, now in charge, had laid, and came in for heavy fight­ing during Rom m el's attack and withdrawal. Lt.-Gen. Sir BERNARD FREYBERG, V.C., K.C.8., K.B.E. J'rom the portrait painted in file Western Desert by (apt, Peter M cIntyre In the final Alam ein battle two brigades o f the Division (the third having been with­drawn to be equipped and organized as an arm oured brigade) took a leading part in making the breach through which the Arm oured Corps broke out. It had, however, been earmarked to form a mobile pursuing force. N o sooner had the armour passed through than trucks for the two brigades came up into line and the Division came under the commando f the Arm oured Corps for the pursuit. A freak storm which halted the pursuit for a day enabled Rommel to escape utter disaster, and with the advantage o f a metalled road he had little difficulty in reaching his El Agheila stronghold. Before he could be attacked there, Mont­gomery had to pause to closeup and to consolidate his communications. But he now had in the mobile force o f which theN .Z. Division was the substantial nucleus (the whole under General Freyberg's comm and) an instrument with which to carryout his left-hooks round the enem y’s open desert flank. During the pause, the force was organized at Bardia as a self-contained formation carrying water and food for twelve days and petrol for 350 miles. Then, when all was ready for the frontal attack, the force was brought forward and dispatched on a 250-mile desert march to income on the rear o fRomm el’s “impregnable ”fortress. ASTONISHING Left-Hook Brought Off by Freyberg's H ard-Fighting Force It was an amazing effort which only failed to achieve complete success because Rommel had taken alarm ,and because the heavily armed tanks forming his rearguard succeeded in breaking through Frey berg's force, for which only a small number o f heavy tanks had been available. Nevertheless, it was a great achievement to have m anoeuvred the enemy out of-an immensely strong position. Similar m anoeuvres deterred Rommel from making a determined attempt to cover Tripoli in the strong positions available, and his retreat continued to theM areth online the Tunisian frontier. Here it seemed that he intended to stand while looking for oppor­tunities to strike back at the armies inclosing on him. Though he failed in such attempts to achieve his full object he was still confident in the strength of his position. But again Freyberg's force brought off an astonishing lel't- hook which, after a hard fight, opened the way to the rear o f the position and, when Montgomery sent reinforce­ments to ex’ploit the success, rendered it untenable. Having suffered heavy- defeat in theM areth line and in the Akarit position. Rommel (or rather Messe, now in comm and) had no alternative abut rapid retreat to join AVon rnim in the north. In the final battle theN .Z. 2nd Div. made gallant attacks on the prac­tically impregnable Enfidaville position which misled AVon rnim as to the real danger point, but robbed the Division o f the chance o f playing its usual leading part in the decisive attack. In the Italian campaign the Division con­tinued to give notable service. “The part o f the New Zealand Division,” said Lt.-G Siren. Oliver Leesc, “has been as prominent as its reputation and quality deserved their people at home may justly be as proud of their part in the Italian campaign as they were o f their previous ex­ploits.” But undoubtedly it is as masters o f desert warfare and as troops that could be relied onto cope with the most difficult conditions that the 2nd .Z.EN .F. will always be famous.
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