Captured barracks at Sollum, Libya

The Italian army barracks at Upper Sollum, near the Libyan-Egyptian border, were captured by the Māori Battalion on the early morning of 23 November 1941. More than 250 German and Italian prisoners were taken, but the Battalion lost 20 dead and 33 wounded, mainly to retaliatory artillery fire from Halfaya. The foreground shows the type of rocky, flat terrain across which the attack was made.

Reference:

Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: DA-8889
Photographer: W Timmins
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Submitter:
Submitted by mbadmin on Mon, 22/06/2009 - 14:01

Takupu (1)

MAORIS IN BATTLE - ATTACK AT SOLLUM - CAPTURE OF BARRACKS -  TOWNSHIP ISOLATED (Official War Correspondent, N.Z.E.F.) CAIRO, November 23 The cries of Maori hakas broke through the dawn as the Maori Battalion swarmed to a spectacular attack near Sollum, on the morning of November 23 under heavy machine-gun, anti-tank, and artillery fire. Heavy artillery fire from Halfaya Pass continued, but the Maoris refused to budge, and the Germans were shelling their own troops cut off in Sollum township. Screened by British tanks, the Maoris moved up under cover of the pitch black night, through the ruins of Fort Capuzzo. In front was a squadron of tanks, paving the way for the main attack. At dawn, the tanks made a sortie towards strongly-defended barracks overlooking -Sollum, which lies in a bay at the foot of the hills. The heavy German artillery at Halfaya Pass laid down a solid barrage and I forced the tanks to withdraw, but not before they had routed several German machine-gun posts in the barracks. Back went the tanks to the attack again, but they were again driven off by the German artillery. When within a mile of the hill of the Sollum barracks, the Maoris debussed and prepared for the main attack. Again pur tanks withdrew, to let the Maoris through, and in the first grey light of dawn, with bayonets fixed and led by the commanding officer, the battalion rushed in to a swift and demoralising attack. SHORT AND DESPERATE FIGHT Mortars and hand grenades were the chief weapons of attack. In the face of artillery barrage from Halfaya, and machine-gun, rifle, and anti-tank fire from the barracks, the Maoris pressed on. The Germans continued to fire until they were at the very walls of the barracks, and then threw up their hands in surrender. Many scattered in confusion and were chased down the road into Sollum township, terrified by the bloodcurdling yells of the Maoris. Most of the solid fighting took place on the road leading from the barracks down into the township. It was short and desperate while it lasted. When the Germans realised they were up against inspired Maoris who knew no fear, they withdrew from the barracks and retreated smartly down the road. On went the Maoris, until they had driven the enemy from the valuable high ground and down into the township. The prisoners captured in the barracks by the Maoris total close on 150 Germans and Italians. GERMANS SHELLED OWN MEN On the outskirts of Sollum I stood watching the bombardment of the township from Hellfire Pass. All the old German ruthlessness was again displayed, for he was shelling his own men in Sollum as well as the Maoris.  Back came the Maori walking wounded, laughing and triumphant. One young Maori with four bullet wounds in his arm was impatient to have them dressed and get back into the fray. The Maoris were crouched against the walls of the barracks, sheltering from the shellfire. Up and down the shelled Capuzzo-Sollum Road Maori dispatch riders and trucks raced all morning. It was amazing that none were hit, for the shells were bursting on the roadway all the time. Out of barracks marched a column of grey and khaki-clad Italian and German prisoners, escorted by half a dozen Maoris, with bayonets fixed, and into Capuzzo. Isolated and without a water supply, though they may have some reserves, the Germans in Sollum and Halfaya cannot hold out for ever. 'Maoris in Battle - Attack at Sollum'. The Evening Post,  28 November 1941.  URL: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz