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Māori Battalion diary - July 1942

Overview

The 2nd New Zealand Division, having escaped the enemy’s clutches at Minqar Qaim, withdrew to Kaponga. The Kiwis were placed around the Kaponga “Box” to slow Rommel’s advance but were then shifted into the El Alamein Line with the other divisions of the Eighth Army. The Māori Battalion was to remain relatively mobile, poised to move at a moment’s notice, while all the time trying to counter the movements of the German and Italian armies. Casualties were constant while the Battalion was in the front line. At Al Alam Nayil Ridge Lieutenant-Colonel Tiwi Love was mortally wounded. The men felt his death keenly. Captain Reta Keiha took over as temporary CO until Major Fred Bakerarrived to take over in the middle of the month. The Division suffered heavy casualties at Ruweisat Ridge and El Mreir Ridge but the Māori Battalion was in reserve in both these battles. [1]

The Battalion began the month with 30 officers plus the doctor. It was still without Captain Awatere and D Company who were LOBs back at Maadi Camp.

  • Temp. Lt-Col Tiwi Love (CO)
  • Temp. Maj. E. R. Chesterman HQ Coy
  • Captains: Chris Sorrenson (B Coy), Terry Gilroy, Reta Keiha (C Coy), Ben Porter (A Coy)
  • Temporary Captains: Ruhi Pene (D Coy), Ace Wood (adjutant)
  • Lieutenants: Rangi Logan, Jack Ormsby, Henry Toka, Wai Awarau, Jim Henare, Ivan Howden, Jack Reedy
  • Second Lieutenants:, Syd Jackson, Reg Mariu, Peter Ornberg, Roy Te Punga (IO), Harry Lambert, Ted Hayward, Kuru Waaka, Meta Francis, Walton Haig, Duncan McRae, Eddie Morgan, Rangi Tutaki, Jim Aperahama, Hupa Hamiora
  • Attached: Capt. R. McDonald (RMO)

 Diary

  • 1 Jul, Wed: 0430 hrs normal “stand to” period, but the enemy has not yet decided to make an appearance. 0830 hrs 20 trucks and an escort of two anti-tank portees and three Bren carriers left to collect more mines from El Alamein. 2/Lt Kuru Waaka was in charge of the trucks and Lt. Jack Ormsby was in charge of escorting the column, Lt Jones from the engineers also accompanied the party. Situation normal. 1710 hrs “stand to” was given as it seemed imminent that the enemy column was about to attack. 1715 hrs enemy shells started to fall 180 m west of this HQ. An enemy column of 60 vehicles was moving east in front of A Coy area, and another column consisting of 15 heavy tanks and 100 MET was observed moving away from the escarpment, distance 365 m. 1745 hrs unit on our right flank, the 4 KGG, sent out a strong patrol to engage the enemy forward of A Coy area.  The enemy shelling, though continuous, caused no damage. 1838 hrs A Coy opens up with machine guns, but the tempo of the battle has waned. 1900 hrs one enemy aircraft flew over the area headed north. Four men from A Coy reported to the RAP with slight wounds. 1910 hrs the 4 KGG and the 7 Motorised Brigade, to our right, moved into the Brigade Leaguer area within the Box. 1915 hrs our own air force take matters into their own hands and again enemy columns are bombed and strafed. 1935 hrs Coy Commanders conference in the CO’s dug-out. 2000 hrs 20 of our own bombers with escorting fighters fly overhead moving in a northerly direction. 2015 hrs the rumble of heavy fire can be heard to the north and to the immediate front of A Coy. A number of vehicles are left blazing by the attacks of our own planes. The 6 Field Regiment on our left has been, all through this period, firing round after round into the enemy lines. 2017 hrs one single white flare was seen in the north sky, and then all was quiet once again. 2030 hrs “last light” and the area settled down for the night. CO, however, advised all coys to keep a vigilant watch throughout the night.
  • 2 Jul, Thur: At midnight the customary German habit of firing flares from their positions at night prevailed for some time, but just at midnight the drone of heavy bombers filled the air. The moon had risen sufficiently to illuminate miles and miles of the area, and with visibility at its best a relentless bombing attack commenced on the enemy columns just forward of our positions. The planes flew into the attack at regular intervals until nearly daylight. Flares were dropped by the leading planes to guide the next wave of bombers on to the objective, and the enemy attack which Brigade HQ had advised us to expect was in all probability frustrated by the timely arrival of this force. A new type of flare was witnessed tonight. Our planes dropped several. A faint report was heard then a shower of rainbow coloured lights floated slowly to earth. The air force gave us a spectacular show. 0500 hrs light rain fell for several minutes. 0700 hrs two enemy fighters flew low over Bn HQ and fired a burst or two among the men who were at breakfast. No one was hit, and no one fired a shot at them as they were mistaken for our own. Our artillery is firing sporadic shots north. 0915 hrs it is very quiet again.1105 hrs one shell fired from the east landed in the area, and then followed a number more, mainly in the 24 Battalion lines. 1125 hrs an artillery duel is in progress. Sitrep from Brigade HQ stated that the friendly troops on either side of us have fallen back with the exception of the South African Division holding the sector near the coast. Very strong forces were however coming from the Delta. 1200 hrs there is a full lull in shooting. 1330 hrs spasmodic shelling from both sides commenced again. 1415 hrs six enemy bombers attack area near Brigade HQ causing minor casualties in that area. All our anti-aircraft guns opened up, but with negative results. 1505 hrs an unidentified column was seen approaching in front of A Coy and C Coy with some tanks, and preparations were made to meet them with a hail of fire should they be hostile troops. 1610 hrs column identified as our own. 1700 hrs a big tank battle is waging to the north east and sitreps showed 1st and 7th Armoured Divisions resisting the enemy on-rush with success; they are being forced to withdraw to the north-west. Later reports indicated the turning of the tank battle front more to the east again. 1900 hrs enemy column was observed 8-11 km away moving in a north easterly direction, The 6 Field Regiment which had moved from the “Box” to a position forward of C Coy outside the Battalion perimeter now commenced firing at the enemy, and at 1945 hrs returned inside the “Box”. As they pulled in an enemy barrage followed them all the way, shells landing mainly inside the 24 Battalion area. 2030 hrs in view of the cancellation of a proposed move this evening companies which had been previously instructed to lift some of the minefields were now told to relay them. Capt. Rangi. Logan, in charge of the anti-tank detachment, was asked to site some of his guns on the front facing A Coy and C Coy. 2040 hrs an officer of the tank unit engaging the enemy on our right called into this area to collect petrol as he had lost his POL column. He was given all that he needed. Patrols from A and C Coys were sent forward of the wire to watch out and signal back with flares should they make contact enemy tanks.
  • 3 Jul, Fri: 0430 hrs “stand to” 0710 hrs the party which had gone to fetch mines from El Alamein returned safely. They had been delayed by the 30th Corps to take mines for the South African Division and finally had to go to El Hamman, approx. 40 km East of El Alamein, to collect mines from the dump there. They spent the night 2/3 July with 20 Battalion. 0740 hrs slight shelling from enemy guns commenced. An armed recce party consisting of B Coy went out through the northern gap in the defences. 0755 hrs an enemy recce car approached the area but was quickly driven back. 0804 hrs B Coy was recalled and an enemy column of approx. 60 vehicles were observed moving east 10-11 km away. 0930 hrs mortar shells fell within the Battalion area. No damage. B Coy reported two tanks moving in a south-east direction. 1015 hrs our artillery fires consistently at columns passing our front. 1200 hrs reports are cheering 5 Brigade who have made a scoop of 300 prisoners. And we are still being shelled by hostile guns. 1215 hrs 11 of our bombers with 10 fighters pass overhead, and further columns are observed moving west. In the hazy atmosphere and the undulating nature of the country identification of columns is difficult. 1330 hrs adjutant Capt. Ace Wood, with three Bren carriers and 2-pounder anti-tank guns, moved out of the “Box” to make a recce of the forward areas. The noise of the battle could be heard 7 or 8 km north and north-east. 1510 hrs Capt. Wood’s party returned. One member of the crew was wounded by a low level bombing attack from enemy aircraft. What is believed to be an enemy FOP is being shelled by our Battery. There are large numbers of planes in the air and two enemy aircraft fighters are seen to land to the north of our area, and immediately take off again flying west. 1616 hrs Capt. Wood’s party is being shelled and they withdraw. A 24 Bren carrier patrol moved out west with the patrol from this unit. The heavy roll of the tank battle to the north-east indicated that it was at its zenith. 1740 hrs 18 of our bombers flew north-west and the escorters chased out of the sky a lone enemy plane which attempted to make an attack from the rear. More of our planes appeared and they strafed and bombed enemy columns in the north. 1800 hrs our carrier patrol was still 7-8 km north looking for action. 1837 hrs heavy bombing was heard to the north-east. 1839 hrs carrier patrol returned to the “Box”. 1915 hrs carrier patrol arrived.  2015 hrs 6 Brigade moved forward and the Battalion is left by itself in the “Box”. 4 Brigade was coming in and we were to be attached to it once more. A small party left the area to collect a number of trucks for the unit. At “last light” the Battalion was ordered to be ready for possible action at any moment as we were holding the defences on our own.
  • 4 Jul, Sat: 0430 hrs “stand to” – the night passed quietly. 0530 hrs the roll of heavy gunfire could be heard to the north and north-east. 0700 hrs OP reported that a battle was raging in the east. 0720 hrs a number of our own planes flying west. 0905 hrs heavy shelling on 4 Brigade area, and two enemy aircraft flew west. 0914 12 Stuka Dive Bombers with 10 fighter escorts bombed the unit on our right flank. 0923 hrs air activity increased over the area, our own bombers are reported to be bombing the area near El Mreir and the artillery is also very active. 0925 hrs our planes are bombing the enemy in the vicinity of El Mreir. Enemy shelling is falling 270 to 360 m short of the “Box”. 1000 hrs CO orders that north and south gap in the “Box” are to be put under guard, officers only to be allowed and must report immediately to Bn Hqrs. Supplies are not to be issued except by order from Division. 1030 hrs Battalion had difficulty in making contact with Division because 6 Brigade had taken our No. 11 set. Finally managed to contact Division by L/T. 1055 hrs enemy aircraft overhead flying very high and 5 Brigade to the north-west are shelling enemy very heavily. 1146 hrs two Me 109s flying low over B Coy area. 1150 hrs enemy air activity is increasing. Eight Stukas passed overhead and bombed 5 Brigade. There is a slight enemy MET movement in our immediate front. 1410 hrs 4 Brigade on our right again bombed. 1455 hrs at about this time every day the enemy becomes very active, shelling our positions and harassing us with bombing raids. This usually continues until “last light”. 1620 hrs OP reports seven tanks unidentified, 3 km out, travelling north-west. A and C Coys “stand to”. A lone enemy dive bomber just released four bombs on Bn Hqrs. There was one casualty, Capt. R. A. McDonald - the RMO, who was slightly wounded. 1630 hrs the tanks are reported to be ours. 1735 hrs 5 Indian Division who is a few km south-east of us have just come in for 25-pounders ammunition, water and petrol. They say they are about to move west to cut off enemy columns. 2000 hrs 18 enemy bombers bomb 4 Brigade on our right 1.6 km east of our position. They were intercepted by our fighters but so far as we could observe none of the enemy aircraft were put out of action. 2015 hrs Battalion was informed of the 5 Brigade attack north of the “Box”. We could observe the flash of the 25 Pounders, the dull rumble of explosions interspersed with the rat-tat-tat of LMGs. Half an hour later we could see the enemy tracer, the skyline illuminated by multi-coloured enemy flares and tracer shells of their artillery. They seemed to be putting up a terrific barrage. 2359 hrs the battle seemed to have ceased. The enemy was still putting up flares but everything around the Battalion area is quiet. At “last light” on this day we were informed that the Battalion would again come under command of 4 Brigade. Within three days the Battalion had the unique experience of being attached to three brigades in turn.
  • 5 Jul, Sun: 0430 hrs normal “stand to” period. There was generally a heavy mist shrouding the desert at this time. CO attended a conference at Brigade and returned with the news that the Battalion was to prepare to move. Battalion was to be on the right flank with 140 m between vehicles. Battalion formed up in desert formation outside the “Box” and had joined the Brigade Group by 1030 hrs about 3.2 km east of the Battalion position. 1115 hrs Brigade commenced moving due south through rather difficult, waddied country. After negotiating the escarpment in the vicinity M.R. 262873 the Brigade turned west continuing along the comparatively flat but stony desert. 1215 hrs everything was proceeding smoothly and suddenly diving out of the sun about 12 bombers, possibly Dorniers, roared straight down the lanes of the column. Observation of them was almost impossible until we heard the shattering explosion of the bombs all around. It was a sad hour for the Battalion. We could see two of our trucks on fire and Maj. Chesterman’s “P.U.” riddled with shrapnel. A check on casualties was made immediately. Casualties: 2 officers killed: Maj. Chesterman and Lt Maloney, together with 14 ORs. Maj. Chesterman had commanded the Maori Training Depot at Maadi and so was well known to the members of the Battalion. As OC HQ Company he had done sterling work in moulding that unwieldy group into a unit. His death is a great loss to the Battalion but we will remember him as the tall ubiquitous figure with a joke and a word of advice for those of his Coy. Those killed were laid to rest at El Diyura. Wounded: Lt Jack Reedy - 2IC C Coy, and 2/Lt Hupa Hamiora - 2IC B Coy and 19 ORs. 2/Lt Hamiora later died of wounds. After attending to the wounded the Brigade Gp pushed on, finally arriving at destination at 1640 hrs. The Battalion took up position with A Coy on the left flank, C Coy on the right in squares 861270, with B Coy in reserve and Bn Hqrs located at M.R. 86062688. We experienced two more dive bombing attacks before “last light”, no casualties. 1900 hrs the CO made a recce fwd to Trig 103 (M.R. 860273) and ascertained that there were no enemy within 10 km of unit. A and C Coys had patrols forward of their positions during the night as a precaution.  Otherwise nothing happened in the night. The 5 Brigade was forward along the 279 Northing grid line from 867 easting to 872 E approx. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 499 ORs. 160 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength (D Company were LOBs and back at base). The total number of officers was 31 (2 of whom were attached).
  • 6 Jul, Mon: 0430 hrs “stand to”. 0530 hrs we could hear the sound of shells and battle from 5 Brigade. 0625 hrs the welcome sight of RAF fighters overhead. 1015 hrs RAF bombing north of area. 1120 hrs RAF overhead. Sporadic exchange of artillery fire within area. 1235 hrs nine RAF bombers again bombed out the enemy north of our positions. The RAF is having a day out today. It is now the heat of the day and both sides apparently overcome by the heat have ceased activity. Except the RAF whose planes are still going to and fro. 1425 hrs RAF again bombed enemy about 10 km north. 1600 hrs the RAF bombers are over again and the enemy is receiving full payment for yesterday’s raid. 1745 hrs nine Stukas bombed but missed our area.
    NIGHT 6/7
    We have received instructions for a night attack and the Battalion prepared accordingly. Infantry fighting equipment. Transport to follow later. The Battalion moved from A Coy area at 0130 hrs proceeding to Brigade start line.
  • 7 Jul, Tues: 0300 hrs Battalion deployed at start line with A Coy on left flank and C Coy on the right flank with a Battalion front of 360 m. B Coy in reserve. We could see the enemy flares ahead of us. The advance commenced after marching 3000 m due north we reached the objective and found no enemy. It was getting towards “first light” so companies were allotted positions and commenced digging in because we knew that the enemy could not be more than 5 km north. C Coy on left flank at M.R 86132773, B Coy vicinity square 862276, A Coy right flank square 862275, Bn Hqrs 86182753, and the Battalion facing east. 0700 hrs Battalion transport had moved to a position just north of Trig103 fully dispersed. 0815 hrs artillery was putting over a terrific barrage on enemy positions and the Germans and Italians are replying. Some shells landed uncomfortably near. No casualties. 1222 hrs RAF is bombing the enemy ahead of us. 1335 hrs enemy recce plane overhead. The heat is stifling but throughout the morning the artillery has steadily pounded the enemy positions.1430 hrs notification to move back to former area within half an hour. 1445 hrs the recce plane has done its work and enemy bombers work over the area.  1635 hrs Battalion is back in the area it occupied before the night advance. All coys are at the alert. 1715 hrs we observed eight enemy aircraft travelling west. 1935 hrs 23 bombers passed overhead flying north-west. Once again the Battalion prepares to move. The Battalion was in three columns and formed up on the side of the Brigade Group facing due south. 2200 hrs Brigade commenced to move proceeding due south for 5.6 km thence on a bearing of 113degrees for 24 km, then north to Deir El Munassib. (M.R. El Alamein 1:100,000 hrs 883262) The speed was necessarily slow due to the darkness and treacherous patches of desert.
  • 8 Jul, Wed: we had travelled all night and at 0630 hrs had arrived at our new area – Battalion HQRS at M.R. 88522612 A Coy left flank, B Coy centre, and C along edge of escarpment. It was a quiet day. We saw one or two RAF planes after the men had dug their positions. 1730 hrs once again the Battalion gets the order to move. 2030 hrs Coys move to new area approx. 3 km to the north-east Bn Hqrs established M.R 88622648 with A Coy M.R 88622664, C Coy on the right flank facing east. B Coy left the Battalion at 1800 hrs in a mobile column with the 25 Battery of 4 Field Regt..
  • 9 Jul, Thur: 0430 hrs normal “stand to” period. Coys completed positions and proceeded once more to wait for the enemy. Sporadic shelling by the artillery during the day and the batteries 3 km north of us severely pounded enemy concentrations. 1740 hrs another “goodnight” melody by heavy bombers and two Stukas’ bombs straddled Bn Hqrs area - one man wounded. 2005 hrs C Coy sent a raiding party consisting of 2/Lt Wai Awarau and his platoon. They were conveyed in transport and moved towards their objective which was a dump, vicinity M.R. 878276 square. The CO accompanied them to M.R 88052692. This evening the new padre arrived - Capt. Wharetini Rangi of Rūātoki. Up till then the Battalion had been without a padre at a time when his presence was most needed. Others marching in at this period included Capt. A. E. Erenstrom who marched out again when Capt. D. G. Cummings arrived on the 8th instant to take over the appointment of unit MO.
    NIGHT 9/10
    Quiet excepting for the drones of planes overhead which commenced at 2200 hrs.  A warning order was issued to all troops to expect a heavy barrage of artillery fire from our own guns at 0330 hrs.
  • 10 Jul, Fri: 0330 hrs our artillery opened up on an enemy concentration in area M.R. 878278 / 882278. 0430 hrs normal “stand to” period and the calm which has prevailed during the past two days has been broken by the incessant interchange of gunfire rumbling from the north and north-west. It commenced before “first light” and continued for about two hours. Possibly it was a tank battle. The remainder of the day passed away quietly with coys consolidating positions. B Coy had returned from its patrol, and when they did meet up with an enemy column with tanks the timely barrage put up with our own guns allowed B Coy to withdraw safely without casualties. They occupied the area between A and C Coys. 0800 hrs 2/Lt Awarau with his Platoon returned to the Battalion area. He reported that he had moved to his objective but had found nothing there. He had reconnoitred around the area but apparently the vehicles etc. had been moved back at “last light” He then returned to the Brigade area resting at 19 Battalion area and then returned to the Battalion.  2030 hrs we expected the usual “Stuka raid” but on this night a screen of fighters and Tomahawks circled over the area and kept away enemy. 2200 hrs CO attended a conference at Brigade and returned informing us that 5 Brigade, who were west of us, had been attacked by tanks and infantry from the south-west and were withdrawing to a position east of the Battalion area. Since an attack was expected from the south the Battalion was given the task of defending the Brigade rear.
    MIDNIGHT 10/11
    C and B Coys prepared to move to the area on the south escarpment. 0100 hrs C Coy followed by B Coy moved in fighting order to their positions and consolidated awaiting the attack. “First light” passed safely so coys moved into their correct positions. A Company moving to their position in transport after 5 Brigade had taken over their area. Positions were C Coy M.R. 884265, A Coy 886262, B Coy in the centre and in reserve. Bn Hqrs at 88572637. Battalion OP was on a high feature flanking C Coy positions.
  • 11 Jul, Sat: 1100 hrs coys completed consolidation. Planes flew overhead but unidentified. 1420 hrs planes which have been passing overhead, apparently ours, because we can hear enemy anti-aircraft guns to the north. 1530 hrs CO attended a conference at Brigade. Battalion was to move again. This time to go into attack. 1634 hrs Battalion moved from this area towards Brigade start line in vicinity M.R. 883267 facing north-west. 1730 hrs Battalion on the right flank of the Brigade Group moved off travelling to M.R. 882269 approx. Here rifle coys debussed, taking fighting equipment only and formed up. B Coy is vanguard in contact with the right flank of 20 Battalion, C Coy in the left rear, A Coy right rear. Mortar truck is 730 m in rear. The stage was now set. 1830 hrs three whistle blasts and the Battalion moved to its correct positions on right of 20 Battalion, halted and down. 1833 hrs the advance commenced bearing 318 degrees. We crossed Alam Nayil Ridge and are now in sight of the enemy. 1910 hrs we have now advanced approx. 1300 m. The enemy opened up with a terrific barrage with both heavy and light guns. The shellfire was very accurate and it continued incessantly. 1935 hrs Battalion halted and commenced digging in to get some cover from the enemy shelling. Unfortunately the Battalion was on the forward slope of a slight rise and was given particular attention by the enemy batteries. 1950 hrs both the CO and the adjutant were badly wounded by shellfire and were evacuated to MDS. Capt. Reta Keiha took command of the Battalion and Capt. Chris Sorensen became adjutant. It is now getting towards “last light” and the enemy shelling is dwindling away to occasional bursts. The last hour of light was employed in digging in. We can see the enemy flares to the north-west appearing in the vicinity of El Ruweisat Ridge. 2130 hrs Capt. Keiha left Battalion to go to a Brigade conference. Besides the customary yellow, green and red flares there is another type – a large red globular type which appears for a very short time only. We can hear the drone of planes overhead moving north and west. They are probably our own on their way to bomb enemy rear supplies etc.
    NIGHT 11/12
    The Battalion moved to a rendezvous point near A Coy of 20 Battalion waiting until 0300 hrs when the three rifle Battalions moved in a column of route 700 m to the east. From here the Battalion moved a further 700 m south-east and took up a position covering the Brigade rear. A Coy on the right flank, C Coy 700 m away on the left flank, B Coy in reserve, Bn Hqrs at M.R. 88152705. All coys consolidated before “first light”.
  • 12 Jul, Sun: “first light” 10 Tomahawks are protecting us from any enemy bombers.Unit’s strength excluding officers was 487 ORs. 178 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength (D Company were LOBs and back at base). The total number of officers was 25 (2 of whom were attached). 0700 hrs the enemy Battery are systematically ranging over the whole area. 0830 hrs our anti-tank guns have come from the rear to take up position. During the morning sporadic shelling of the Battalion area. Reinforcements have arrived Lt Tutu Wirepa of C Coy and 2/Lt Don Mitchell of B Coy and 30 ORs. Their welcome was a spasm of heavy shelling which caused more casualties. 1800 hrs another 10 minutes of heavy shelling.
    NIGHT 12/13
    After “Last light” B and C Coys changed position and moved to the reverse slopes of shallow wadis vicinity main Alam Nayil Ridge. Battalion front facing south and west. A Coy right flank approx. M.R. 88112699 B Coy centre, 88112695 C Coy 88172692 and Battalion Hqrs 88182692. A and B Coys sent out patrols as a precautionary measure but contacted no enemy. Usual Enemy flares gave an indication that there were still enemy forces to the south-west once again we could hear our bombers passing overhead. Casualties for 11 and 12 July: - Officers: Lt-Col. Tiwi Love died of wounds, grave M.R 1:100,000 EL MAGHRA Sheet 84/36 88632648. Wounded: Capt. Wood. ORs: Killed 2, M.R 87852735. Wounded 19. Missing 2. Shellshock 1. To date the Battalion has been most unfortunate in that it has lost several of its key officers. The CO, the Adjutant, OC HQ Coy and 2 Coy 2ICs.
    Lt-Col. Love was the first Maori to command the Battalion. He had over 15 years’ service as a territorial officer, during the latter part of which he was a Coy Commander in 1 Battalion Wellington Regt (CWO). At the outbreak of war he was appointed to the N.Z. Temporary Staff and transferred to the 28 NZ (Maori) Battalion in November 1939. He was with the Battalion in Palmerston North as OC HQ Coy, passed through England with it and took part in the intensive training there. In Greece and Crete he was with the Battalion when it had its first severe test under fire in the grim and torrid fighting there. In Nov 1941 he had temporary command of the Battalion when Lt-Col. George Dittmer was wounded until Lt-Col. Humphrey Dyer arrived to take command. During this time he led the unit in two successful operations. Later in the campaign he was wounded and rejoined the Battalion at Zaboud, Syria, in March 1942 as 2IC of the Battalion. In May 1942 he took over Command of the Battalion and returned with it to the Western Desert in the middle of June. In the “Break through” at Abu Batta the Battalion acknowledges that his leadership was instrumental in bringing the Battalion out of a difficult situation with comparatively few casualties. The CO desires on behalf of all ranks of the Battalion to place on the record the deep sense of loss occasioned by his unfortunate death; not only for his qualities as a soldier, but also for his personal qualities as a man which made him popular, not only with the Battalion but also with personnel of other units. Of a cheerful and sympathetic nature he was beloved by all ranks in the Battalion. We will remember him and his career with the Battalion will have a prominent place in any history dealing with this unit, after the war. “E te Toa Haere ki te iwi i te Po”
  • 13 Jul, Mon: 0530 hrs “stand to” period.  The battlefield is shrouded in heavy mist. A few “overs” fall within the Battalion area during the day, but inflict no casualties. 1400 hrs slight dust storm combined with the heat haze reduced visibility to a few hundred metres. Over 30  of our own tanks moved across the Battalion area proceeding nor-north-east and are being shelled by enemy guns from the north-west. The RAF is still striking at the enemy positions north of us. Eighteen bombers have just flown over after their attack. 1730 hrs rapid fire by all the field guns in the Division at enemy concentration. The noise of the bursting shells was terrific, and made us realise what tremendous fire power our artillery has. The results were satisfactory as enemy shelling in that vicinity has ceased. “Last light” the enemy is retaliating but with little success. RAF fighter sweeps are overhead thus making possible the “raid free” days we are now enjoying.
    NIGHT 13/14
    Heavy and rapid artillery fire from our guns, the gun flashes lighting up the eastern sky. Our bombers continue flying overhead at intervals.
  • 14 Jul, Tues: “first light” normal “stand to” A and B Coy moved to positions on the left of C Coy. Once again a few enemy shells land in the area. There is no damage. 0940 hrs the RAF is here again. 12 bombers and several fighters passed overhead. There is a lull in the artillery duel and the desert is quiet under the enervating rays of the hot African sun. 1100 hrs 18 bombers and seven fighters flying east overhead. 1145 hrs 10 enemy bombers attacked Brigade. Change over commences.1520 hrs Battalion has vacated positions and moved to rendezvous point at M.R. 884263 where all desert worthy vehicles, carriers, 2-Pounders and Portees are handed over to 26 Battalion and in return took over 2–tonner trucks. Enemy air raid on Deir El Muhafid left six blazing vehicles. 1805 hrs orders received to move and Battalion in column of route, because 2-tonners are poor in the sand, moved east. Harbouring at “last light” south of Deir El Agram M.R. 436875. Over to the west we could hear the staccato rattle of machine gun fire and could see the usual enemy flares. A quiet night for the Battalion.
  • 15 Jul, Wed: “First Light” normal “Stand to”. A recce party is sent fwd to contact CRE 13 CORPS at Alam El Khadim, M.R. 446887. 1030 hrs Coy Commanders go forward to Alam El halfa M.R. 437885 which was the area the Battalion was to commence work on. Officer Reinforcements have arrived. Acting Lt-Col Fred Baker, Capt. Keiha returned to C Coy. Capt. Terry Gilroy OC HQ Coy, 2/Lt. Herbert Marsden A Coy, 2/Lt. Rangi Tutaki B Coy, and Lt. Tony Tikao Barret C Coy and 2/Lt. William Vercoe assistant adjutant, 2/Lt. Waaka 2IC B Coy, 2/Lt Awarau 2IC Coy, and Lt. Henry Toka liaison officer. This is the new arrangement of officers in the Battalion. 1400 hrs Coys arrived in new area with A Coy left flank, C Coy right flank, B Coy right rear, with Bn Hqrs at M.R. 43658845. The intention was for the Battalion to construct a fortified “Box” with the assistance of 8 Field Coy NZE. In vicinity Trig 132 slit trenches were dug, vehicles dispersed and coys settled down for the night.
  • 16 Jul, Thur: 0530 hrs “stand to.” 0900 hrs CO left for Amyria to contact 6 Brigade. Battalion spent a quiet day cleaning weapons and equipment and general acronym title="equipment inspection">IE as far as water supplies would permit. Frequent RAF sweeps over this area.
  • 17 Jul, Fri: 0530 hrs “stand to.” 1100 hrs 18 RAF bombers flew north-west bombed enemy positions and returned. 1200 hrs heavy enemy bombers bombed 4 Brigade south-west of our positions. RAF fighters intercepted the raiders and in the resultant dog-fight one unidentified plane was shot down.
    1500 hrs CO goes to Division for orders and returned at 1930 hrs. 2030 hrs conference of the Battalion order group. Coys prepare to move and settle down for the night.
  • 18 Jul, Sat: 0545 hrs Battalion departs from area Alam El Halfa in order C-A-Bn Hqrs-B and HQ Coy arriving at M.R. 42448818 at 0730 hrs where battalion vehicles dispersed and off-loaded in readiness for a changeover with the 22 Battalion. The intention is that the Battalion re-equip completely and return to the front-line attached to the 5 Brigade. 1000 hrs there was a pay of one pound per officer and 10 shillings per man. 1930 hrs Battalion receives warning order to move positions to vicinity M.R. 882275.
    2015 hrs Battalion in night formation moved approx. 10 km on 280 degree bearing thence to a bivouac area M.R. 888274. Major Irvy Hart marched in 2IC POW.
  • 19 Jul, Sun: 0500 hrs our artillery bombarded enemy positions to the north-west. 0600 hrs Battalion in coy groups moved to positions occupied by 18 Battalion. See map. 0910 hrs RAF bombing enemy lines north-west of Battalion area and 5 Field Regiment shelling enemy positions north-north-west. 1030 hrs 17 Stuka dive-bombers bombed our fwd positions. Spasmodic enemy shelling especially on C Coy area. 1400 hrs sandstorm prevents observation during the afternoon. Our artillery continues shelling at intervals. 1830 hrs Battalion received news that 43 enemy aircraft were destroyed by the RAF this day. This is some compensation for the morning’s bombing raid. 1900 hrs artillery still continuing. 6 enemy dive-bombers flying from the south bombed the 5 Indian Division which is occupying El Ruweisat Range. 2130 hrs 6 Royal Tanks with 14 General Grant tanks harbour in the Battalion area. Except for the drone of the occasional aircraft overhead and a few enemy flares to the west and south-west all is quiet. Since we have been in position the Battalion has become attached to 5 Brigade. Capt. Sorenson became OC HQ Coy.  The unit’s strength excluding officers was 474 ORs. 191 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength (D Company were LOBs and back at base). The total number of officers was 33 (4 of whom were attached - the doctor Capt. D. G. Cummings, the padre Capt. Chaplain Rangi, 2/Lt William Vercoe and 2/Lt Herbert Marsden).
  • 20 Jul, Mon: “first light” normal “stand to”. Our artillery is continuing its harassing fire. At intervals there is enemy shelling mostly in B and C Coy areas. 1300 hrs a heat haze spreads over the desert causing mirages and distortion of objects in the distance. The day has been spent by men improving their weapon pits and cleaning equipment. 1912 hrs the enemy has decided to give us a final shelling before night falls. A number of shells landing in C Coys area probably intended for the tank harbour area. 2200 hrs the RAF is here again and we can hear the heavy detonation of bombs in the enemy positions.
  • 21 Jul, Tues: “Stand to” at “first light.” 0730 hrs RAF fighter cover overhead. 0820 hrs 18 Bostons with fighter escort flying west passed overhead. 0830 hrs we can hear the result of our bombers work. 0900 hrs Battalion ordered group moved forward to contact the 5 Indian Division and make a recce of forward areas. 0950 hrs more of our bombers flying overhead. 1050 hrs 18 bombers of RAF and fighters flying west. 1200 hrs more RAF bombers flying west at a great height passed overhead. RAF activity has increased tremendously. 1400 hrs 12 Bostons are heading west. RAF bombers pass overhead at hourly intervals. 1830 hrs artillery shelling is continuing and has elicited an enemy concentration on our area. For the past five days rum has been issued and today every man was given a small issue of beer. 2030 hrs 120 reinforcements arrived. Their welcome is the fearful din created by the concentrated efforts of the whole Corp’s artillery on enemy positions to the north and north-west. There are gun flashes everywhere and we can hear the din as the shells reach their mark. RAF is adding to the din by relentlessly bombing the enemy. 2200 hrs 6 Brigade and the Indians on Ruweisat Ridge have commenced their attack. We can hear the quick rattle of machine guns, the booming of artillery fire and can see the enemy flares to the west and their tracer bullets and anti-tank shells crisscrossing in the sky. The noise of the battle continued late in the night. One man was killed in the Battalion today: 67519 Pte Michael Toopi, Grave M.R. 88082748 (El Mreir 1/50,000)
  • 22 Jul, Wed: First light and the Battalion has received orders to move to a new area. 0600 hrs Battalion moving in coy groups on a bearing of 255 degrees moved to the old 26 Battalion area. Enemy is shelling the area quite heavily but by 0900 hrs all Coys are in position. 1000 hrs 12 to 15 bombers bombed C Coy area where tanks were also harboured and wounded Capt. Logan and 10 ORs and destroyed C Coy tonner cookhouse and damaged two others. Enemy is lobbing occasional shells into our areas but slacked off towards midday. 1300 hrs another Stuka attack this time forward of C Coy. 1600 hrs 15 Stukas bombed the area forward of B Coy. They seem to be aiming for the tanks. Throughout the day stragglers from 26 Battalion have come into the Battalion and are being sent onto Brigade. 1800 hrs 15 Bostons passed overhead to return the Stuka’s compliments. 1825 hrs enemy shelling has increased. 1910 hrs about 20 Stukas dive bombed approximately 1.6 km north of A Coy. 1920 hrs 12 Dorniers attacked the same area. Our anti-aircraft guns seemed to have bagged one of them. Casualties today: 26096 Private Sonny Wolfgramm, grave M.R. 87742730. El Mreir 1/50,000 and Corporal Hirini Heke, grave M.R. 87792727. Total wounded : 1 Officer Temp. Capt. Logan and 11 ORs. 2100 hrs 2 P1s of A Coy under 2/Lt Jim Aperahama and 2/Lt George Marsden to Squares 873276 / 874276 to endeavour to contact remnants of 6 Brigade reported in that area. They succeeded in crossing enemy wire and minefields but discovered two enemy tanks and numerous infantry digging in that area. At this stage RAF dropped parachute flares over the area thus restricting our patrols movements. The patrol returned after ascertaining that there was little likelihood of any of our troops being in the area. Read patrol report.  B and C Coys sent patrols as far as the enemy wire which is approx. 1.6 km to the west and runs north-east to south-east across the front. Both patrols reported enemy tanks, and motorised transport with infantry digging in vicinity Trig 74, M.R 87592748. See sketch map
  • 23 Jul, Thur: normal “stand to.” 0900 hrs 10 Stukas bombed forward of A Coy area. Odd enemy shells falling in our area prove that the Germans are still alert. 1530 hrs Stuka attack north of the Battalion area after which a dogfight ensued and one plane was shot down unidentified. 1730 hrs CO attends conference at Brigade HQ. 1815 hrs conference of Battalion Officers’ Group. The Battalion was to be relieved at 2130 hrs, the 23 Battalion to take over A Coy area and the 26 Battalion to take over remainder of the Battalion area. Battalion itself was to move to vicinity M.R.879275 and link up with 21 Battalion on left flank.1900 hrs CO, liaison officer, and coy commanders moved off to make a reconnaissance of the new area, coys to follow after being relieved and move into new areas. All transport with the exception of jeeps was to be out of the area by “first light” to eliminate as far as possible targets for enemy shelling. 2200 hrs coys guided by 2ICs commenced move to new area.  2330 hrs coys in position and commenced digging (see attached sketch) transport returned to A Echelon under Major Hart.
  • 24 Jul, Fri: normal “stand to” period at “first light.” Enemy shelling on B Coy area at 1015 hrs. One casualty evacuated to RAP. Heavy shelling continued on A and B Coys. These two coys are in a shallow wadi on which the Enemy carries out registered shoots. 1810 hrs 24 enemy aircraft and RAF fighters had a dog fight overhead. One plane shot down – unidentified. 1915 hrs our fighter-screen is circling overhead and remained until 2030 hrs. Slight artillery activity on both sides. Usual enemy flares seen to the west and north-west.
  • 25 Jul, Thur: normal “stand to” at “first light.” 0920 hrs enemy shelling on A and B Coys. Seven Tomahawks and Hurricanes circling overhead.1153 hrs 12 Bostons escorted by 12 Fighters heading north-west.1219 hrs two unidentified planes flying very high overhead presumably enemy recce planes. Slight wind with its concomitant dust storm reduced visibility to nil. 1930 hrs our artillery has been steadily shelling enemy positions west and north-west all day, but is now slackening off to an occasional shell. 2300 hrs drone of the planes heading north-west can be heard. RAF flares over enemy lines. 2330 hrs a very heavy bombing attack by the RAF is in progress. The bombs must be very large judging by the tremendous explosions in enemy occupied territory. The attack continues for three or four hours at intervals and must have caused enemy troops considerable anxiety.
  • 26 Jul, Fri: normal “stand to” period at “first light.” 0930 hrs The CO, IO, coy commanders, mortar officer and OC anti-tank reported to Brigade. From here proceeded to Alam El Halfa to the position occupied by the Battalion before returning to the line and sited coy positions down to weapon pits, Coy HQs, Battalion HQ etc. To enable engineers to carry out digging. The party returned at 1900 hrs. 1000 hrs westerly wind arose followed by severe dust storm. 1410 hrs very little activity on either side. Even our artillery has decreased its activity. The dust storm continues. Two war correspondents visit Battalion HQRS. 1730 hrs slight enemy shelling over B Coy. 1930 hrs Battalion received orders to send out a fighting patrol to square 876276 to investigate enemy wire and dug positions. 2200 hrs artillery fire on enemy positions to the west was commenced. 2359 hrs artillery fire has reached its crescendo, the flashes of bursting shells lighting up the sky to the north-west. Added to this our bombers were very active during the night bombing areas nor-north-west of our positions. The unit’s strength, excluding officers, was 577 ORs. 79 ORs were required to bring the unit to full strength (D Company were LOBs and back at base). The total number of officers was 31 (4 of whom were attached).
  • 27 Jul, Sat: 0100 hrs one p1atoon of C Coy under Lt Tikao-Barrett moved from B Coy to contact 21 Battalion. Their patrol was hampered by the moon light but achieved its objective. Read patrol report0700 hrs a stray enemy shell landed near Bn Hqrs and wounded two men. 0750 hrs A and B Coys have been subjected to occasional shelling during the night which has increased in intensity. 0855 hrs enemy planes apparently dive-bombers bombed approx. 3.2 km north. 1035 hrs 18 Bostons bombed enemy positions to the north-west. 1435 hrs our artillery firing at intervals. Enemy shelling of A and B Coys, then heat haze makes visibility poor. 1455 hrs approximately 12 shells in rapid succession forward of C Coy. 1615 hrs nine RAF fighters headed due east. 1830 hrs Coy Commanders conference at Battalion. 1850 hrs heavy enemy concentration on Indian positions 2.4 km north of C Coy. 2000 hrs Bn Hqrs shifted to Map Ref. 88062739. Casualties: one killed, two wounded for the day. Grave Map Ref. 87982743.
  • 28 Jul, Sun: 0100 hrs one platoon of B Coy under 2/Lt Francis moved out on patrol but was hampered by the moonlight and enemy machine gun fire. Read patrol report. “First Light” normal “Stand to” there is a heavy mist over the area. Occasional enemy shelling over the Brigade area, mainly in 21 Battalion area. A and B Coys being subjugated to occasional bursts of concentrated shelling but suffered no casualties. The enemy tactics seemed to be to range with air burst shells followed by 10 to 12 shells in rapid succession on a comparatively small area, instead of the usual desultory fire during the day. Generally it was a quiet day. Towards last light the enemy put over the customary shelling with which we were getting quite familiar. Two compressors from the 7 Field Coy NZE report to the Battalion at last light and go to forward. Coys to dig coy positions. The noise of the drilling attracts a certain amount of machine gun fire but work on Battalion area has progressed steadily. Since the move to this area the men have been resting during the day and digging throughout the night, when it is cooler and less likelihood of suffering casualties.
  • 29 Jul, Mon: 0100 hrs one p1atoon of A Coy under 2/Lt Herbert Marsden moved out on patrol on reconnaissance of the forward areas. Read patrol report.  Normal stand to at first light. 0730 hrs shelling on B and A Coy areas. No casualties. Throughout the morning our artillery fired on enemy targets to the north-west. Otherwise there was little activity along the whole front, both sides are now consolidating their positions and except for slight artillery exchanges and very little air activity, mostly ours, there is little to indicate that the enemy is but a few hundred metres forward of us. During the day the heat and the flies are rather unpleasant, especially about midday. 1930 hrs CO’s conference with coy commanders. This conference is held regularly each night when commanders receive the latest sitrep and any information from patrols etc. 2230 hrs 2/Lt Syd Jackson with one platoon of C Coy took out a recce patrol. Read patrol report.
  • 30 Jul, Tues: stand to at “first light.” 0915 hrs shelling in A and B Coy areas – no casualties. 0955 hrs RAF in formations passed overhead flying north-west.  There are 10 to 12 bombers in all. 1235 hrs our artillery is shelling at intervals but dust and sand make visibility difficult. 1245–1700 hrs very quiet. 2/Lt Harry Lambert is transferred due to sickness. 1500 hrs there was a pay of 50 Piastres per man and an issue of two cans of beer per man at 5 Piastres per can. 1930 hrs CO’s conference with coy commanders. 2145 hrs one p1atoon of B Coy under 2/Lt Tutaki and 2/Lt Roy Te Punga moved out on reece patrol Read patrol report.
  • 31 Jul, Wed: “stand to” at first light. Usual enemy shelling at 0900 hrs on A Coy and the rear of C Coy. No casualties. See map showing Battalion dispositionsOur artillery shell suitable targets to the north-west during the day to which the enemy replied at intervals for short periods of concentrated shelling, mostly out of the battalion area. During the day the front was generally very quiet. 1930 hrs conference of coy commanders. 2130 hrs 2/Lt George Marsden went forward on recce patrol. Read patrol report.   Two compressors report nightly at last light and have now completed Bn Hqrs, B Coy and most of A Coy.

REFERENCE

Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
28 NZ (Maori) Battalion Diary, WAII 1 1664 DA 68/1/31

FOOTNOTES

[1] Nga Tama Toa, p. 224-225.

 

 

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