The Left Hook and Tebaga Gap
Monday the 8th March we moved out and back to Ben Gardane, and then into the Hills South of Gabes. There, around about the 18th March Brig. Kippenberger gave a talk about what was expected to happen and what would happen if it did not come off as expected. This was to become known as the Left Hook, where the Division was to outflank the Mareth Line. These talks by Brig. Kippenberger did a lot for the morale of the Troops, as at least everyone knew what was going on.
The first stage was to drive back along the Coast to Ben Gardane, then through a place called Foum Tatahouine, to the assembly area some 25 miles farther to the south-west. The 6th Brigade moved first, followed by the 5th Brigade next day. All N.Z. insignia were to be removed and Vehicle markings covered. From Foum Tatahouine onwards the movement was to be done at night. Most Gunners drove through Gardane by day, and Tatahouine by night. So as we travelled the Road got worse, and in the finish only the drivers were awake.
The plan was to attack around the Mareth Line where Jerry was entrenched, thereby forcing the evacuation of the defences. But unlike the advance at Wadi Matratin and Nofilia, this time the Troops would attack from the front, so that if everything went according to plan, the enemy would be unable to swing around and escape.
Like the road. the weather deteriorated. The temperature was dropping, but not the wind and rain. Even though all the Vehicles were being lashed with the wind and rain, the Division moved on. Those that finished the approx. 30 miles ended up facing due North towards Tebaga Gap. If my memory serves me right, a chap from 47th Bty fell of a truck and suffered concussion, and that would be the only casualty on the trip.
The morning of the 20th March dawned much better as far as the weather was concerned, and in the sunshine a vast assembly of Vehicles could be seen. Besides the millions of locusts flying around, many Gunners had their first sight of the Free French Forces from Lake Chad.
After breakfast we were on the move again, to the sound of Gunfire in the distance. As we moved towards the sound of Battle, rocky Gullies, and mine Fields caused the columns to converge. Once clear of the Gullies the pace quickened, until about mid afternoon when shells started to arrive amongst us. It was here that the Yanks bombed Artillery H.Q., killing one, and wounding a couple, along with the M.T. Truck carrying the Petrol reserve going up in flames.
For the next day or so it was a case of occupying a position and moving on. Plenty of air activity with Enemy Planes over most of the nights, straffing and bombing. It was around this area we saw Hurricanes which had been armed with Guns to knock out Tanks. These were known as Tank Busters and were quite effective.
Around this time during a Bomb attack, Jack Fox and Norrie Mitchell were wounded, both lying under a Truck in the Wagon Lines. A pity as both had left N.Z. as original members of 'A' Troop. Jack being the M.T. N.C.O., and Norrie being one of 'A' Troop to escape off Crete.
For the next few days it was a case of firing and moving. All the time there was plenty of Air activity. A lot of swooping in by the Jerries letting go a few bombs and straffing. Then we had a bit of air support ourselves, and this was always greeted with a few cheers.
By the 27th March, except for the Maoris who were having a little trouble with some stubborn Enemy on their objective, which after a few stonks were cleared up, the Tebaga Gap was almost cleared. The Armour was pouring through towards El Hamma. This battle field was most unlike the Desert. Here it all seemed a little more concentrated. and the result of Guns could clearly be seen.
The N.Z. Corp at this stage moved forward with the exception of 5th Brigade. The 6th Field stayed behind with 5th Brigade and the 5th Field moved forward with 6th Brigade. At Wadi Marteba, well on the way to El Hamma, there was a little opposition. After a few rounds the resistance collapsed and there was something like 700 Italians taken prisoner.
This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.