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North Africa New Zealanders at Tebaga Gap
“A” Company, 24th New Zealand Battalion – Tebaga Gap, Tunisia 1943

Raised in 1940 from recruits from the Auckland province, “A” Company of the 24th NZ Battalion first saw action in Greece with other units of the New Zealand Division in 1941. In late-1941 “A” Company fought at Sidi Rezegh, where it was almost wiped in ferocious fighting. Rebuilt, the 24th Battalion was almost wiped again in July 1942 when it was overrun by panzers at El Mreir.

Rebuilt once more, “A” Company, commanded by Captain E.W. (Ted) Aked, took part in the battle of Alamein in October 1942 and in the pursuit of Afrika Korps back to El Agheila. In March 1943 the company was part of the “left hook” by the New Zealand Division outflanking the Afrika Korps defences at the Mareth Line. At Tebaga Gap, however, Italian and German resistance stopped the Kiwis’ advance.

Left: The Left Hook of the Mareth Line.
   
On 26 March “A” Company was ordered to take an important objective – a ridge studded with German strongpoints - as part of the massive attack that was intended to “kick in the door” at Tebaga Gap and allow the British armour through into the rear of Afrika Korps. Unusually, the attack would be made in daylight, but it was covered by low level air attacks and a creeeping barrage including smoke.

“A” Company moved off at 4p.m., preceded by Sherman and Crusader tanks of 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, then the Battalion’s own Carriers.

The Left Hook of the Mareth Line
3rd Royal Tank Regiment massing for the break-through

50 minutes later, it was on the first objective, where two other Rifle Companies from the battalion were already mopping up German resistance. “A” Company would have to attack the main objective – a ridge 1000 yards ahead held by German strongpoints.

The tanks of 3rd Royal Tank Regiment were supposed to have overrun the objective first, with “A” Company mopping up after. However, a minefield in front of the ridge caused the tanks to veer away and by-pass the ridge – “A” Company would have to do the job by themselves.

With 7 and 8 Platoons in front, and 9 Platoon in reserve, “A” Company worked their way forward, covered by the company’s 3” mortars.

7 Platoon on the left were held up by enemy fire, but 9 Platoon was committed to the right flank, where 8 Platoon was having greater progress. At sunset, Captain Aked ordered 8 and 9 Platoons to form a line, and assault the strongpoints with the bayonet.

Covered by the mortars, the enemy’s defensive fire was ineffectual, and the Aucklanders took the position at the point of the bayonet. The two platoons then exploited forward down the ridge for three hundred yards. More than 90 prisoners from I/125. Panzergrenadier Regiment, 32  MG-34 machine-guns and four 7.5cm anti-tank guns (PaK40) were captured. Captain Aked and Lieutenant I. Walters were awarded with the Military Cross for their part in this battle. With Tebaga Gap kicked in, the British armour flooded through onto the flank of the retreating Afrika Korps.

This battle can be refought using Hold the Line or No Retreat mission, with the Kiwis based around a Rifle Company with armoured support, attacking Panzergrenadiers, with a low ridge the main objective.

Paul Goldstone

24th Battalion’s role in Tebaga Gap
Men of the 24th Battalion with one of the captured 7.5cm PaK40s at Tebaga Gap

2nd New Zealand Division symbol

Right: Men of the 24th Battalion with one of the captured 7.5cm PaK40s at Tebaga Gap


Last Updated On Monday, August 31, 2009 by Wayne at Battlefront