Māori Battalion diary - September 1942

Overview

Field-Marshal Rommel could wait no longer for the fuel supplies that were vital to the success of his offensive. On 30 August, with a third of the petrol needed, he directed the Afrika Korps and three Italian divisions to start out. As they crossed the minefields to the south of Kaponga Box a sandstorm blew up, hindering their progress. General Montgomery’s response was quick, and the German Panzers were shelled mercilessly by the artillery and then broken up by the RAF. To make matters worse, south of the Alam Halfa Ridge Rommel’s force found 22 Armoured Brigade waiting for them, and the two sides clashed violently. On the morning of 2 September, with progress stalled and fuel running short, Rommel called off the advance. His army was now stretched out across the area south of Bare Ridge, its supply lines a tempting target for the Allies. Montgomery decided to assault the line from the side and so disrupt Rommel’s withdrawal route. The task of carrying out the assault (codenamed Operation Beresford) was given to the New Zealand Division, along with a British brigade (132 Brigade known as the Buffs) and two squadrons of tanks.[1]

As part of the operation the Māori Battalion, attached to Fifth Brigade, made a night attack on the enemy in the Munassib Depression. Despite sustaining 100 casualties, the Battalion’s attack was very successful. Their Brigade commander, Howard Kippenberger, afterwards referred to them as “the crack battalion of the British Army.”[2]

Days later the Battalion retired to Burg El Arab for a rest period ―well-earned after three months continuously in the frontline. For most of the second half of the month the unit was involved in training exercises. B Company returned to the Battalion, which had its full complement of companies again. In addition, 107 reinforcements from base joined the Battalion, taking its total strength to 32 officers and 717 other ranks. At the end of September, Fifth Brigade held a ceremonial parade at which Montgomery presented awards arising from the recent campaign. As the General inspected the brigade, Brigadier Kippenberger commented that every man was a veteran. ‘Yes,’ the Eighth Army commander responded, ‘trained to kill in the moonlight.’ This was no doubt a reference, in part, to the Māori Battalion’s performance at Munassib.[3] See report on conditions.

Diary

  • 1 Sep, Tue 0300 hrs D Coy on the Battalion left flank successfully beat back an enemy column of 14 vehicles. Probably the intention this enemy column had was to lift the minefield in front of our area. Approx. 100 infantry debussed some 400m from the wire and advanced on the positions held by D Coy’s forward platoon.  Two Spandau MGs were brought up to cover their approach plus a great deal of other small arms fire and anti-tank weapons. The engagement ceased at 0500 hrs with the enemy beating a hasty retreat under the accurate fire of our artillery, and MMGs. A large number of them were very badly wounded as their cries for attention could be heard along their line. Later investigation showed that the dead and wounded had been taken away.
    D Coy suffered one casualty: Pte George Goodwillie wounded. One 37mm anti-tank gun was captured and destroyed, three METs were put out of action by the MMGs and artillery. 0830 hrs enemy with four guns shell D Coy and C Coy areas fairly heavily – no damage done. 2/Lt Ted Hayward with three sections of carriers moved out to make a reconnaissance (recce) and observe enemy movements forward of our minefields and FDL. His route out was through the gap in front of 23 Battalion on our left. Intercom was maintained by wireless operators speaking in Māori. 0930 hrs 20 Junkers 87Bs passed over the battle area flying in a south-easterly direction.
    1300 hrs Bren Carrier patrol returned from its recce having confirmed the presence of fairly strong enemy positions on our immediate front in the Muhafid area  - 885264 - innumerable enemy bombers constantly pass overhead their bombing being directed mainly at positions to our rear. Our Artillery is actively shelling concentrations of enemy MET and infantry well to the south. Several shells land in Battalion area but no damage is done by hostile batteries.
    The RAF is busy to the south and east of Division area as the enemy thrust is in that region, and at night they continued their attack on enemy Columns. All troops are warned to keep a sharp watch for the German troop carrier plane the Junkers 52. The day ends with no major engagement on our front, with the enemy forging forwards with tanks and considerable MET approx. 16 km south of our front, and through our southern minefields.
  • 2 Sep, Wed “stand to” at first light. 0630 hrs our Artillery shells enemy infantry positions 3-5 km south westerly direction. 0655 Four enemy fighters on patrol high overhead flying East. An enemy gun from the Munassib area lobs six shells into C Coy area. No damage. 0700 hrs an enemy tank which had been left behind in the engagement yesterday was repeatedly shelled and set on fire by our artillery. 0730 hrs eight Junkers 87Bs – the Stuka dive-bomber with 12 fighter-escort planes flying east. 1030 hrs nine Stukas with 15 fighters escorting them were headed east. Division anti-aircraft guns blazed fiercely at them as did a large number of LMGs, MMGs and rifles. One ME 109 crash landed 3 km south west from the Battalion area as a result of the fire from a Vickers MG. It had been flying very low and unfortunately it passed directly in line with the MMG post that shot it down. 1130 hrs both our field and medium guns actively pound enemy concentrations of MET and infantry in the areas Deir El Munassib and Deir El Muhafid. 1138 hostile batteries shell the Battalion area, 20 to 30 shells landing in rear of C Coy. The YMCA van, presented to the Battalion by the Māori school children, was doing its usual rounds among the rifle companies when a shell landed not 15 m from it. Two ORs were wounded. The van itself was riddled with shrapnel holes and a couple of tyres were blown up. The damage was quickly repaired and the van was at work again within an hour. The troops have a very soft spot for the YMCA staff for they have driven their van right into the foremost defended positions, oblivious to danger – carrying on with the task which the little children at home we feel sure have silently asked them to do – for what troops anywhere in the world can say that these little comforts supplied by the YMCA are not a welcome addition to the army fare. Happy memories come to us when we see our children’s most useful gift. We owe them a million thanks. 1250 hrs eight Junkers 88 with escort fighters make the grave error of flying under 300 m above our area. The anti-aircraft guns, LMGs and rifles open up. Two are shot down, one is badly hit and falling rapidly with smoke pouring from it. Three pilots bail out. 1400 hrs heavy columns of smoke observed coming from enemy lines in the Muhafid area, the result of a bombing attack by our planes. Prior to last light our batteries bombard the enemy lines to the south and south-west. 23 Battalion patrol goes out to recce the area in the minefields between us and the projected objectives for tomorrow night’s attack. 2/Lts Ben Ropata and the Acting Intelligence Officer Monty Wikiriwhi accompany them to bring up to the minute information of the enemy’s probable dispositions etc.
  • 3 Sep, Thu normal “stand to” at first light. 0630 hrs the heavy rumble of guns could be heard to the East of our positions. It appeared that our armoured forces were in conflict with  Rommel’s column that had bypassed our positions to the south. 0700 hrs 20 Boston bombers make an impressive attack on this enemy column south and to the East of us. 0830 hrs another flight of 20 Bostons come over bombing the same area then at 1100 hrs there is yet another raid by our planes. 1200 hrs our artillery is very active sending some well-placed barrages into enemy positions in the south. 1400 hrs an air-battle is fought over-head. We can see our planes but the enemy are still playing their own game of keeping up high, diving down and then climbing out again. 1500 hrs yet another sortie by 20 Bostons – the attack is pressed home on the same area. The sky seems to be full of RAF planes. The Battalion now prepares for its attack with the cooperation of all the sector units. 23 Battalion patrol of night 2/3 September is of the opinion that the task may be an easy one, however, the attack commences as per Operation Order issued by 5 Brigade.
    Night 3/4 Sept. At approx. 2130 hrs enemy bombers came over dropping bombs indiscriminately over the Divisional area. What seemed like MG fire from their rear gunner cockpits added to the din of the crump of heavy bombs. Towards midnight a more determined effort was made at neutralizing some of our artillery guns. Incendiary bombs were dropped in wide circles, which made a rather terrifying spectacle of brilliant fire rings on some parts of the sector. A form of chain bomb was dropped which reported with the determination like hand grenades but in such numbers as to resemble MMG fire. Thence they sent a plane which was fitted with a siren. It careered madly across our positions screaming in an eerie fashion, intended perhaps to panic our troops. It sounded bad but one gets used to it and their total efforts this night were negligible.
  • 4 Sep, Fri from first light onwards a steady stream of Italian and German POWs were being brought back from the area of the attack. Māori Battalion was still holding the points reached in the night’s operation, but at 0830 hrs a withdrawal was called for. A Stuka raid took place, bombs landing in A Coy area, but there was no one there. 22 Battalion moved into the area as the Battalion withdrew, and at approx 1500 hrs the Battalion moved to the area held by  23 Battalion. Māori Battalion, however, did not remain long in this position and by 2100 hrs had moved a second time to the 22 Battalion area. They bedded down for the night in well constructed trenches made by 22 Battalion. Enemy searchlights were observed endeavouring to pick up RAF night bombers. Final sitreps from Brigade indicated the complete defeat of Rommel’s southern thrust. The enemy was turning homewards protected on the northern flank by 90 Lt Division and Trieste Division.
  • 5 Sep, Sat 0500 hrs 5 Brigade and the Buffs have completed their withdrawal from the southern salient, and the 132 Brigade is now assembled in the area about 883276 – 884276.  The day is spent easy, the Battalion resting after their successful attack of the night 3/4. A special message is received by all the troops from His Majesty the King of England.
    “THE KING’S MESSAGE TO THE EIGHTH ARMY.”
    I pray that God may bless the Desert Army in the important battle which has now begun, from which great results may flow to the cause of the United Nations in every part of the world. I have the utmost confidence in the troops from all parts of my Empire and in their Commanders. My thoughts are with you. GEORGE R.I.
  • 6 Sep, Sun normal “stand to” at first light. Another easy day for the unit, the time being spent in checking, cleaning and maintaining weapons, and vehicles. A dog-fight ensued overhead. Three planes crashed in flames. One of our fighters successfully force landed in our own minefield. The pilot was unhurt. Our area is very quiet, but the NZ artillery is still pounding positions. Four Stukas were shot down over Division area, and a pilot taken prisoner.  Our Divisional Cavalry made a recce of the Deir El Muhafid Depression, returning only when further progress was arrested by heavy mortaring and shelling.
  • 7 Sep, Mon normal “stand to” at first light. A mild dust storm sprang up in the afternoon, and at 1745 hrs nine enemy bombers made an attack on gun positions approx. 3 km east of us. RAF fighters swooped out of the blue and three planes crashed in flames. Two were definitely identified as enemy. Three heavy shells, possibly from the Qattara Area, landed in unit lines. No damage. It is thought that this was the German 210mm Morser 18. One shell narrowly missed our unit’s most faithful friend – the YMCA wagon. Brigade sitrep:- Conduct of battle for today – NZ Division will dominate with artillery and SA (small arms) fire the areas outside the southern and western flanks of the Division’s formation. NZ Divisional Calvary will push patrols west as far as possible beyond the 884 easting between the southern flank NZ Division and 260 northing.
  • 8 Sep, Tue normal “stand to” at first light, 1000 hrs. 67 all ranks temp/detachment from unit on six days’ leave. The rest of the day is very quiet. 1700 hrs orders are received for the move from this area to the rest area location, vicinity of Burg El Arab, kilo 59 to kilo 60.7-road Alexandria-Matruh, by the sea. NIGHT 8/9 Sep. Move commenced as per Movement Order No 11. See Movement Order 
  • 9 Sep, Wed 0300 hrs the forward elements of the Battalion arrived at rest area, and well into the morning the remainder of the Battalion gradually rolled in. Contact along the route was difficult despite the lights used at intervals to show the way. Soft sand in many places led to the separation of the column of route convoy some vehicles being held up and delayed until the hours of daylight. By last light, however, the Battalion was intact and some members had already enjoyed the refreshingly blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • 10 Sep, Thu 0700 hrs reveille. 0800 hrs breakfast. 0900 hrs inspection of all arms. 0930 hrs a two hour route march for all personnel. 1230 hrs lunch. Afternoon spent easy. 1830 hrs dinner and all ranks were to dress properly. This was the daily routine for the unit in this rest area. Cool sea breezes, clean sands, a good feed and bathing brings the day to a too speedy end. At night the only sounds to remind us of the war is the drone of heavy bombers and night fighters of the RAF riding the skies to their allotted tasks, and by day fighter patrols on the alert, on the roads the stream of MET moving in an endless chain. Beer was made available this evening.
  • 11 Sep, Fri Normal routine. 0700 hrs Departure of six days’ leave personnel to Cairo and Alexandria.  0830 hrs A further small percentage of unit leave for day leave in Alexandria. An issue of deficiencies was made to the troops remaining in camp. Owing also to the fact that the beach was declared unsafe for free-for-all swimming on account of a strong under-tow a permanent Beach-Patrol consisting of one NCO and four ORs was commenced. Their duties commenced at 0630 hrs and ended at 1800 hrs. Beer was again made available at the usual ration of two bottles per man, 8 piastres (currency) per bottle.
  • 12 Sep, Sat normal routine. 0700 hrs more six days’ leave personnel proceeded to Cairo and Alexandria. 0830 hrs day leave people left the camp.
  • 13 Sep, Sun 1000 hrs divine services were held in the small fig garden above Bn Hqrs. Roman Catholics had left at 0830 hrs for mass. 1600 hrs the welcome re-appearance of the Kiwi Concert Party which staged a brand new show in the 23 Battalion area next door to this unit. For two hours they gave us a brilliant performance of singing, joking, sketches and music in all of its shades. If you are “browned off” see the Kiwi Concert Party, is a slogan that may well be flashed through the whole of the NZ Division.
  • 14 Sep, Mon normal routine. Usual percentage of day leave personnel proceed to Alexandria.  A morning performance is staged by the Kiwi Party, and again in the afternoon a second showing was given. Six days’ leave party return.
  • 15 Sep, Tue  normal Routine. Day leave to Alexandria. More concerts by the Kiwi Party.
  • 16 Sep – 17 Sep normal routine. Day leave to Alexandria. Six days’ leave party return.
  • 18 Sep, Fri normal routine. Day leave to Alexandria. The CO, Lt-Col Fred Baker, returns from leave. There is no more leave granted, even to Alexandria as the Battalion is to move. Every advantage is taken this day by the troops to have a good long swim in the sea. A very happy and most enjoyable time has been spent by all. Once more refreshed the men are eager for more hard work.
  • 19 Sep, Sat 0600 hrs reveille. Preparations for striking camp area are made immediately and by 0930 hrs the Battalion is once more aboard transport and ready to leave for training area. A Coy in column of route followed by C Coy, Bn Hqrs, HQ Coy and D Coy. Arrived at training area noon.
  • 20 Sep, Sun 0600 hrs reveille. 0700 hrs breakfast. 0830 hrs Commencement of training.
    In the forenoon the rifle companies A, C and D proceeded in motorised transport to practise Desert Formation and debussing for attack. 1300 hrs to 1700 hrs Coys practised in turn the attack on objective, motorised transport advancing then troops debussing for the attack. Returned to bivouac area for evening meal.
  • 21 Sep, Mon 0830 hrs normal routine until 0830 hrs. Battalion proceeded to training area and practised desert formation manoeuvring in wheeling, turning etc. 1300 hrs in the afternoon the Battalion advanced to the attack in motorised transport, took objective and reorganised. Full supporting arms were included in the stunt – Anti tank guns, mortars, Carriers Platoon etc.
  • 22 Sep, Tue 0600 hrs reveille. During the day companies went out to a range and fired rifle practices. HQ Coy did specialists training. During the day the Medical Officer. inoculated those members of the Battalion requiring inoculation. 2030 hrs Battalion practised a night attack, advancing 3700 m to an objective. HQ Coy provided an ‘enemy’ who fired white verey flares to indicate MG posts. On the success signal being given Battalion supporting arms came forward and the Battalion took up a defensive position, returning at 0300 hrs. There was a beer issue two bottles per man, 8 piastres per bottle.
  • 23 Sep, Wed reveille 0700 hrs range firing by rifle companies continued. Pay of PT 50 per man was made and further beer issued. 1600 hrs conference of orders group at Bn Hqrs in connection with Division exercise. 
  • 24 Sep, Thu 0600 hrs. Reveille. Battalion moves out on divisional exercise as per 5 Brigade order. See Operation Order No 5.  1800 hrs B Coy re-joined the Battalion.1930 hrs Battalion in three columns moved to Brigade forming up line and from there to dispersal area as per 5 infantry Brigade CO O.No 6. 2200 hrs the head of the Battalion dispersed as per operation order. See Operation Order No. 7. The route for the night move was very sandy, many trucks getting stuck with the result that the Battalion was not complete until 0800 hrs the following day.
  • 25 Sep, Fri reveille 0800 hrs special memo from Brigade stated that full battle precautions were to be adopted and the troops given maximum rest during the day. 1600 hrs Orders Group conference at Bn Hqrs. Battalion was to be Division reserve and must march to a new area and take up position that night. Orders Group went to new area on a recce. 1930 hrs Battalion commenced march to new area. 2315 Battalion arrived and companies took up position. D Coy right flank B Coy left flank, A Coy left rear, C Coy right rear with Battalion front facing west.
  • 26 Sep, Sat 0600 hrs reveille. During the day the men rested. Since the Battalion was reserve the CO decided that all ranks be prepared for battle in case the Battalion should be called on to take part in the exercise. 1400 hrs CO called a conference of all officers and explained the Division exercise to them. Officers then returned to companies and explained it to the men.
    2100 hrs all companies assembled at Battalion and the Lt-Col Baker delivered a short talk on the exercise. It was also announced that Capt Ben Porter had been awarded a Bar to his Military Cross, Capt Reta Keiha and Lt Tony Tikao-Barrett Military Crosses, Sgt Rihimona Davies Distinguished Conduct Medal and Sgt John August Military Medal. All decorations were won in the El Mrier Depression or Munassib attacks made by the Battalion. 2200 hrs companies took up vantage points in vicinity of Bn Hqrs and watched the Division attack. Artillery and Bofor tracer could be easily observed and we could hear the rumble of the artillery. At about 0130 hrs 5 and 6 Brigades had fired success signals and the CO ordered companies to return to their areas but to be ready to move at a moment’s notice.
  • 27 Sep, Sun 0600 hrs reveille. 0930 hrs all officers, less company second-in-commands and sergeants attended a divisional conference. 1200 hrs orders received that the transport was to come up from dispersal area, men to embus and be prepared to move by 1300 hrs. 1330 hrs Battalion, in three columns, moved off to Brigade forming up area. On route the Battalion formed a column of route to pass through minefields. By 1630 hrs Battalion was formed up in desert formation in Brigade area on the right flank of Brigade Group facing north-east. 1700 hrs the Battalion in column of route followed 23 Battalion on return journey to Brigade training area. 2030 hrs the head of the Battalion arrived at old Battalion area. Since the route was rather sandy, many vehicles did not report until the following morning.
  • 28 Sep, Mon 0600 hrs reveille. The day was spent in equipping the men for ceremonial parade and cleaning of weapons.
  • 29 Sep, Tue 0600 hrs Reveille.1000 hrs Battalion practise for ceremonial parade. 1300 hrs Battalion move to Brigade practise for ceremonial parade. 1830 hrs 2/Lt Jim Aperahama and 2/Lt Rika and 107 reinforcements arrived from base.
  • 30 Sep, Wed 0600 hrs Reveille. 0800 hrs Battalion Parade. 0830 hrs Battalion marched on to ceremonial parade. See ceremonial paradeinstructions. Battalion was inspected by Army Commander Lt-General Montgomery. Medal ribbons were presented to Capt Ben Porter Bar to MC, Capt Reta Keiha and Lt Tony Tikao-Barrett MC, Sgt Richmond Davies DCM and Sgt John August MM. There was an issue of beer of two cans per man.

REFERENCE

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

FOOTNOTES

[1] Nga Tama Toa, p. 230.

[2] Nga Tama Toa, p. 224.

[3] Nga Tama Toa, p. 224.

Submitted by mbadmin on Thu, 16/02/2012 - 14:41

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