The Battalion remained in Syria for the first half of June. They enjoyed a week’s vacation at a ‘Change-of-air’ camp on the coast near Beirut before returning to the Djedeide fortress. There Major Chesterman joined the unit as the new OC of HQ Coy.
In mid-June, along with the rest of the 2nd New Zealand Division, the Battalion rushed back to Egypt to face Rommel’s onslaught. They spent five days at Mersa Matruh, then the LOBs plus D Company, under the command of Captain Peta Awatere, left for Amiriya. Following a new policy of resting one rifle company, D Company would not be going up to the front line. The remainder of the Battalion went south to Bir Abu Batta and before the month had ended took part in the spectacular breakout at Minqar Qaim. Here the Division mounted a desperate escape after being surrounded by the Germans. They squeezed 13,000 men through a mile-wide gap in the enemy lines at night and under heavy fire.
The Battalion had a full complement of 33 officers plus the doctor, chaplain, dentist and four Māori subalterns, the latter seven being attached to the unit.
- Majors: Tiwi Love CO, Fred Baker (2 ic)
- Captains: Chris Sorrenson, Terry Gilroy, Reta Keiha, Ben Porter.
- Temporary Captains: Jim Tuhiwai, Ruhi Pene, Peta Awatere, Ace Wood (adjutant),
- Lieutenants: Rangi Logan, H. T. Maloney, Jack Ormsby, Henry Toka, Wai Awarau, Jim Henare, Jim Matehaere, Tony Tikao-Barrett, Ivan Howden.
- Second Lieutenants:, Syd Jackson, Reg Mariu, George Marsden, Peter Ornberg, Roy Te Punga, Harry Lambert, Ted Hayward, Kuru Waaka, Meta Francis, Walton Haig, Duncan (AE) McRae, Ben Ropata, William Vercoe, Eddie Morgan.
- Attached: Capt. R. McDonald (RMO), Capt. Chaplain Kahi Harawira (unit padre), 2/Lts Rangi Tutaki, Jim Aperahama, Hupa Hamiora and Jack Reedy.
- 1 Jun: 0500 hrs reveille. Work on Battalion Defence Scheme as per Works Programme. Coys route marched to Laboue WP for showers.
- 2 Jun: 0500 hrs reveille. 0730 hrs Mortar P1atoon commenced a practise shoot. Coys were still engaged on improving weapon pits etc within the Battalion fortress area. 1930 hrs Cinema screened by YMCA Mobile Unit in the area near QM Store.
- 3 Jun: 0500 hrs reveille. During the day the Battalion made preparations for the move to Change of Air Camp at Beirut. Coy areas were evacuated and coys settled temporarily in Bn HQ area. Coys slept in the open that night. 1900 hrs informal Battalion parade was held after evening mess when short talks were given by the CO, the 2ic and the RMO regarding the standard of conduct required at the Change of Air camp. 2000 hrs tattoo in view of early reveille.
- 4 Jun: 0200 hrs reveille. Battalion less the adjutant and 50 ORs (who remained in camp as guards) moved to Change of Air camp at South of Beirut. 0330 hrs first convoy of 4 rifle Coy departed in motorised transport for Rayak Station en route to Change of Air Camp. 0530 hrs second convoy of HQ Coy and Bn Hqrs left Battalion for same destination. 1400 hrs second convoy arrived Beirut Station after an interesting journey through the Lebanon range. Coys settled in, in tents situated but a stone’s throw from the sea. Leave commenced immediately after Coys had been informed of regulations regarding routine PAD etc.
- 5 Jun: 0900 hrs check parade. Remainder of the day was spent by the Battalion either on leave at Beirut or idling on the beach. 1930 hrs the officers of the Battalion with a few local residents who had been in NZ had a formal dinner at the hotel St. George. The function was a great success. See photo of dinner.
- 6 Jun: 0900 hrs check parade. After check parade a Battalion parade was held where men were warned that absence from check parade would entail return to Arsaal of the offenders. Continuation of leave.
- 7-9 Jun: 0900 hrs check parade. Continuation of leave.
- 10 Jun: 0900 hrs check parade. On this day 105 all ranks of the Battalion made a trip to Tripoli in the Battalion transport. This diversion was much appreciated by those selected to go in view of the fact that most men were feeling the pinch of financial stringency.
- 11 Jun: 0900 hrs check parade. The last full day of leave was one of feverish activity when everyone endeavoured to complete the numerous things that would bring their leave to a happy end.
- 12 Jun: 0900 hrs check parade. 1000 hrs The Battalion vacated the tents and moved out to the beach. 1115 hrs Lunch. 1300 hrs Battalion embussed and returned to Arsaal, arriving back in camp before “last light”. The general opinion prevailing was that the leave, which was the first that the Battalion had had as a unit, was very successful and worthy of repetition. All ranks expressed their approval of the facilities provided them during their stay at the Change of Air Camp.
- 13 Jun: 0500 hrs reveille. During the day coys returned to their respective areas and spent time settling in cleaning lines and individual equipment. B Coy sent a detachment of 20 ORs - Cpl Riini ic as a guard for the picquetting of area around the DID in the Laboue Valley. Capt/Temp. Maj. E. R. Chesterman was attached to the unit today.
- 14 Jun: 0630 hrs reveille. Divine services conducted. 1000 hrs medical inspection of all members of the Battalion was carried out by the RMO. Normal for the remainder of the day. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 761 ORs. The total number of officers was 40 (7 of whom were attached). 8 ORs were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength.
- 15 Jun: 0500 hrs reveille. Coys route marched to Laboue WP for hot showers. Within the Fortress Area measures were taken for the construction of 56 pits – two dumps for food and petrol and ammunition, approximately 1.5 km in rear of Bn Hqrs in wadis along new road to Laboue. Instruction received for move and rifle Coys closed in to Bn Hqrs area having packed everything for removal.
- 16 Jun: 0430 hrs reveille. 0700 hrs An informal Battalion parade was held beside the YMCA, and the CO gave a talk to the Battalion on the probable immediate movements of the unit, including the possibility of being once more “under fire” in the near future. We were going back to Egypt. The remainder of the day was spent in completing the packing of all stores and the thorough clean-up of the area. An advance party from a Greek Battalion arrived in this area this afternoon. 1915 hrs Battalion road party departed, ic party Maj. Chesterman.
- 17 Jun: 0500 hrs reveille. 0800 hrs Battalion commenced the return journey to Egypt. 1715 hrs arrived at Tiberias and after a short halt continued reaching Hesher at 2015 hrs where after a hot meal the Battalion entrained and departed at 2130 hrs. The journey continued throughout the night.
- 18 Jun: Dawn found the Battalion still in Palestine and the train was besieged at each stop by native vendors selling fruit with huge grapefruits topping the list for popularity. The countryside was golden in colour with the ripening crops of wheat and barley, while the huge lemon and orange groves with crops of waving corn contrasted in splendid shades of green. 1300 hrs arrived at Gaza and then commenced as it seemed a steady descent as if one were rushing into a heated cauldron so hot were the reflecting sands along the long rail route into Kantara beside the Suez canal in Egypt, which was reached at 1600 hrs. A hot meal was served to all ranks at 2000 hrs. After walking across the canal the final stage of the journey was resumed along a line that was familiar to the Battalion. We were speeding through the Nile Delta towards Alexandria.
- 19 Jun: 0800 hrs arrived at Amiriya and after a hot breakfast departed passing El Alamein at 1300 hrs and finally reaching Mersa Matruh at midnight. An air raid was on as we detrained, the thud of bombs were heard and the sky was lit up by several searchlights. The raid was ineffective. Battalion route marched approximately. 0.8 km from the station where all coys bedded down for the night at 0100 hrs.
- 20 Jun: 0530 hrs reveille. 0615 hrs breakfast, after which the move to new camp area commenced with A Coy leading followed by B, C, D, Bn Hqrs and HQ Coy. As the transport available was limited it took practically the whole day to move the Battalion. In the new area coys settled in and completed the digging of slit trenches before “last light”. Battalion bedded down in the open.
- 21 Jun: 0700 hrs reveille. The CO and the Adjutant arrived in the forenoon and the road party at 1730 hrs. 1900 hrs divine services were conducted within the Battalion perimeter. 2100 hrs orders were received that the Battalion was to move, and an advanced party consisting of the 2ic Major Fred Baker and the IO and Intelligence Section left for the new area to allocate coy positions. Location an area in the South Western corner of the township of Matruh.
- 22 Jun: 0100 hrs Battalion arrived in motorised transport and settled in immediately. Some coys bedded down in the buildings. 0330 hrs Battalion “stand to” until 0430 hrs. 0530 hrs breakfast. 0700 hrs an advance party guided by two SA guides moved out to lead the way into Fortress Area designated “C”, which was to be occupied by the Battalion. Remainder of the day spent in settling in. The new area was a fortress in “C Sector”.
- 23 Jun: 0430 hrs “stand to” until 0530 hrs.Inspection of arms carried out by Section Commanders, and orders were issued re Air Raid alarms. Double air sentries were to be ready for emergencies.Tents were to be dug down, range cards drawn up, and during “stand to” the two fwd Coys – A Coy and B Coy – were to arrange standing patrols.2130 hrs all arms were to be thoroughly cleaned. The Battalion commenced move into “B Sector” and Bn Hqrs was established in portion of the Egyptian barracks. Coys were facing west with A Coy on left flank C Coy on right B Coy in centre and D Coy in reserve. This area was similarly constructed to the “C Sector” fortress.During the night enemy artillery (EA) bombed the area but little damage was done. See Sketch of B Sector
- 24 Jun: 0430 hrs “stand to” until 0530 hrs.0615 hrs one enemy bomber flying low dropped 4 bombs close to Bn Hqrs. No damage done. Remainder of the day spent by Coys settling in.2000 hrs Coy Commanders conference. D Coy detached from the unit and with LOB personnel returned in motorised transport to Base Camp, Maadi. Pay issued to all ranks. 50 piatres ORs -100 piastres Officers.
- 25 Jun: 0430 hrs “stand to” until 0530 hrs. Battalion standing by in readiness for next move. 1000 hrs The advance party of the 5 Indian Division arrived to take over the Battalion area.1500 hrs the Anti-tank detachment moved out on special recce job in vicinity “Charing Cross” i/c party Lieut Jack Ormsby. 1530 hrs Battalion less D Coy and LOB personnel proceeded in column of route to the Divisional forming up area. At “last light” Battalion bedded down for the night on and below escarpment.
- 26 Jun: 0430 hrs “stand to” until 0530 hrs.0715 hrs Battalion moved to area facing west with C Coy on right flank – B Coy in centre and A Coy on escarpment. Coys immediately dug in. During the day an encouraging feature of the campaign was the continual passing of our own bomber formations with escorting fighting flying west towards enemy columns which were reported as being approx. 50 km away. 1545 hrs Battalion with the Brigade group moved to Bir Abu Batta. Facing West the Battalion consolidated positions. 2030 hrs one enemy plane flying over area dropped two red flares.2045 hrs low-level bombing attack by approximately 10 enemy planes. The area was blinded by smoke and dust and bursting bombs. There was a little strafing. Casualties: 3 ORs wounded. Throughout the night flares were visible in the noth-west sky. The bombing attack was the first experience in this campaign and lasted about 20 mins.
- 27 Jun: 0330 hrs Battalion prepared to move to next area.0345 hrs move commenced, Coys marching on foot, line of march due west. Motorised transport followed in rear, distance travelled approx. 2700 m.
Bn Hqrs dug in with A Coy on left, C Coy in centre, B Coy on right flank facing north approximately 1.5 km forward of Bn Hqrs. Intelligence reports indicated that the enemy was advanced less than 9000 m north of our positions. We prepared to meet the attack.0720 hrs Column on a bearing of 15 degrees approached and passed this HQ at 0810 hrs. It was a portion of an armoured brigade consisting of 12 Crusader Tanks. 0815 hrs MMG Fire heard from the north.0845 hrs long column of dust clouds visible on a bearing of 345 degrees, while on a three degree bearing a huge column of black smoke was discernible. Battalion area was rapidly consolidated, although the digging was a laborious task with large patches of the desert floor consisting of hard rock. The escarpment upon which Bn Hqrs was situated provided a fairly good view of the battle area. 0910 more clouds of dust were visible on a bearing of 139 degrees. A number of shells landed in C Coy area, and from our left flank one gun fired a shot.0940 hrs another heavy pall of dust clouds appeared on a bearing of 355 degrees, and seven minutes later 4 enemy aircraft circled high over the Brigade Group sector. One series of dust clouds materialised into one of our own columns which passed the HQ at 1045 hrs travelling east. At 1010 hrs a further cloud of dust was observed approaching in front of A Coy, and 2 enemy aircraft flew from an easterly direction into the west.
1025 hrs our artillery commenced to shell the column forward of A Coy positions, which had approached quite close, and definitely identified as enemy, the column after five minutes of shelling from our guns decided to fall back out of our range. A number of enemy shells fell within the Battalion area but no damage was done. Two enemy planes flew high over area and our 3-inch mortars began a practise shoot at maximum range. A large convoy of enemy MET was just visible on the skyline moving from east to NW at 1145 hrs. The enemy party commenced to shoot back subduing opposition temporarily. Visibility was poor over the battle area and it was difficult to identify columns within the sector. Capt. Jim Tuhiwai, who was in charge of the Carrier Platoon, was recalled from his FOP with three Bren Carriers and having been warned of the minefield newly laid down by the engineers was sent forward to investigate and patrol our immediate front at 1425 hrs. He reached a point approximately 6400 m forward when a tank with one shot disabled 1 carrier. An enemy AFV dashed forward to collect our men but the reserve carrier was faster and having collected Capt. Tuhiwai and his crew returned to this HQ at 1521 hrs.1505 hrs four Tomahawk fighters fly over this area.
1535 hrs an enemy column in open formation made another attempt to pierce our Brigade perimeter defences this time approaching on our right flank. 1600 hrs they have engaged the 20 Battalion and there is fierce artillery fire in progress. An enemy vehicle is blown up by a direct hit from one of our shells. Several other vehicles are left on fire. One of our anti-aircraft (AA) gun is put out of action. 1620 hrs 12 of our bombers with escorting fighters fly out towards the enemy lines. This enemy column is again forced to turn back to the shelter of the escarpment in their rear. A third attack commenced shortly afterwards when another column advanced in font of C Coy which was in the centre of the Battalion sector. Infantry was seen to debus and to approach on foot. Our artillery received a heavy barrage from the enemy guns, the approaching infantry strength – approximately one company – came steadily on. The CO, Tiwi Love, instructed C Coy to withhold their fire until the very last possible moment and thence to take prisoners, especially officers. This was at 1715 hrs. At 1720 hrs a MMG Section on our left flank opened fire at the enemy sending a section of them to the ground. C Coy however still held their fire, for another five minutes. 1730 hrs the oncoming infantry in front of C Coy were fired on by C Coy and in a rapid sortie by 14 P1atoon, led by 2/Lt Syd Jackson, 10 Germans were captured, 3 of whom were NCOs. Enemy shells were landing all over the Battalion and adjoining areas. Several bursts of SA from enemy weapons sprayed over the top of Bn Hqrs area but this did not last long. The artillery guns on the flat in rear of our rifle coys were being heavily shelled and at 1735 hrs they withdrew to the entrance of the wadi on the immediate right flank of the HQ. The enemy barrage lifted and followed the path of the withdrawing artillery guns and the whole area around Bn Hqrs was subjected to a severe pounding. Dust smoke and flying shrapnel completely obscured all visibility but for 30 mins this artillery battery held its ground giving as much as we were getting. The infantry attack was repulsed and excepting for the artillery duel in progress the situation for the moment was in hand. Until “last light” the enemy confined its attacks to a series of well placed artillery barrages which caused several casualties within the Brigade sector upon both men and vehicles. Just after 1800 hrs the guns beside this HQ were withdrawn, and with its departure the shelling practically ceased. Other parts of the sector were then shelled methodically with slight damages. Enemy anti-tank shells fired from practically due east instead of north proved the fact that the enemy were gradually encircling our whole area, and further shells directed from a southerly direction gave further evidence of this feature of the enemy’s disposition. When darkness settled over the desert, flares of red and green and white practically surrounded us on all sides: this also marked the end of the battle. CASUALTIES: - 1 killed – Cpl Albert Tohara of the Bren Carrier P1atoon; 8 or 10 wounded ORs. Prisoners taken totalled 10 ORs. Some were lorried infantrymen, others artillery, belonging to the 21st Panzer Division.
At midnight the CO returned from a conference at Brigade HQ and instructions were given to the Battalion to prepare to move out forthwith.
- 28 Jun: 0030 hrs Battalion transport formed up in night formation near escarpment with head resting on grid Eastings 730 on a bearing of 118 degrees. Meanwhile the Bn consisting of rifle coys and a skeleton Bn Hqrs marched on foot with fighting kit to a forming up line 73103090 with the rest of the Bde. The Bn being allotted the task of clearing the feature on the right flank beside BIR ABU BATTA. The intention was for the Bde to fight its way out of the ring formed by the enemy around us.
0130 hrs The Inf of the Bde had quietly assembled and moved off toward Abu Batta. After marching approx. 1.5 km the enemy opened fire and the Bn with fierce cries and all weapons in action including bayonet went into the attack. We carried all before us suffering very few casualties. 0215 hrs The success flare was fired which was the signal for the Tpt to move up and carry the coys away from the encircling foe. The move by the Bde Tpt was carried out successfully. Vehicles being approx. 9 m front and rear intervals although in the din of the break through the Tpt did a good job of work. MMGs, rifles, anti/Tank guns were blazing in all directions while the convoy made its dash for the gap created by the Inf. 0230 hrs the Tpt halted to collect the infantry and while the troops embussed sporadic shelling and MMG fire caused minor casualties several trucks including the Bn Sig P1 truck being set on fire. 0240 hrs The Bde was on the move – MIH as fast as was possible travelling east. After 1.5 km a number of enemy shells fell amongst the convoy from position ahead so the convoy turned south to avoid casualties. The danger area was soon left behind, then the axle of the march once more to the east was resumed. It was intended to move to Fuka, but the enemy had already reached that objective so the Bde continued east until a halt was called for at 0700 hrs to reorganise and sort out vehicle lanes ect. The march was resumed over very stony desert country, featureless, hot, arid. 1100 hrs a formation of 20 tanks was passed on the way. They were also moving east protecting our left flank. Steady progress was maintained throughout the day and at “last light” the Group bedded down for the night in the Kaponga Area. Enemy bombers dropped a number of bombs nearby but no damage was done. The nights have been as light as the days with the brilliant moon shining over the clear desert wastes.
- 29 Jun: Kaponga: “stand to” until 0530 hrs and the remainder of the morning was spent easy. Coys digging in and checking up on arms and equipment. The movement just completed was a successful one. Casualties being very slight. Capt. Tuhiwai missing believed to be wounded and 4 ORs. 1330 hrs Battalion with the Brigade Group moved to next area on a bearing of 210 degrees for 4 km, Coys facing west and positions were consolidated. 1 German PW was taken to Bde. He had been taken the night before on a motorcycle.
- 30 Jun: 0530 hrs normal “Stand to” period at 0430 hrs. Battalion embussed and moved to take a position in Dier El Quattra box being detached from 4 Brigade and attached to 6 Brigade. Bn Hqrs was established in area familiar to some of the Battalion as our earlier desert training had been carried out here, prior to the Libyan campaign of 1941. 0700 hrs Coys went to their respective areas, and although still tired from the preceding days of fighting, set once more to wiring, mining and generally making the Battalion position as strong as possible. Being on the right flank of the Brigade Group coys were facing north and east with C Coy on the left, A Coy centre, and B Coy on right. 1530 hrs Sitrep from Brigade showed that strong enemy columns were only a few km away. There was no interference from enemy action and the remainder of the day was spent in hard work consolidating fighting pits and living quarters etc. “Stand to” at “last light” and the Battalion settled down for the night, the month of June had ended with its eventful days of quiet restfulness on the mountains of Syria and Lebanon, and in sudden contrast – the torrid fighting on the dreary sands of the Egyptian desert. The unit had 32 officers at the end of the month (2 of whom were attached).
Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
28 NZ (Maori) Battalion Diary, WAII 1 1664 DA 68/1/30