Point 175

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Point 175
Part of the Western Desert Campaign of World War II
Tobruk2Sollum1941-de.svg
Tobruk–Sollum area 1941 (in German)
Date 29 November – 1 December 1941
Location near Sidi Rezegh, Libya
Result Italian victory
Belligerents
Italy Italy  New Zealand
Commanders and leaders
Mario Balotta Bernard Freyberg
Strength
132nd Armoured Division Ariete 2nd New Zealand Division
Casualties and losses
Operation Crusader: 3,567 Operation Crusader: 879 killed
1,700 wounded

Point 175 was a keenly contested feature in the Battle of Sidi Rezegh during Operation Crusader in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The battle was fought mainly between Italian and New Zealand troops, resulting in the near destruction of a brigade of the 2nd New Zealand Division.

Prelude[edit]

On 23 November, the 6th New Zealand Brigade of the 2nd New Zealand Division advanced westwards along the Trigh Capuzzo to Point 175, preparatory to descending the valley to Sidi Rezegh. Minefields delayed the move and the last leg began at 3:00 a.m. on 24 November. As dawn broke the New Zealanders realised that they had arrived at Bir el Chleta by mistake; the Headquarters staff of the Afrika Korps discovered that they had been inadvertently surrounded by the New Zealanders and were captured.[1] By 25 November the 6th and 4th New Zealand brigades had advanced westwards from Point 175 along the Trigh Capuzzo and the valleys either side and along the Sidi Rezegh ridge.[2]

The 4th Brigade reached Zaafran by dawn and the 6th Brigade via a blockhouse 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Point 175 to the airfield. After a night attack on Sidi Rezegh ridge on 25 November, Belhamed was captured. The 6th Brigade was partly pinned down on the airfield and partly forced down the escarpment near the Sidi Rezegh tomb. The Tobruk garrison broke out and captured Ed Duda on 26 November, as the New Zealanders repulsed a German counter-attack. During the night the 6th Brigade attacked again and annihilated the 9th Bersaglieri Battalion, during the capture of all of the Sidi Rezegh ridge. The 19th Battalion made a flank march to Ed Duda and linked with the Tobruk garrison.[3]

Battle[edit]

Main article: Operation Crusader

29 November[edit]

On the morning of 29 November the 15th Panzer Division set off west travelling south of Sidi Rezegh. The remnants of the 21st Panzer Division were supposed to be moving up on their right to form a pincer but were in disarray when Generalmajor Johann von Ravenstein the divisional commander, failed to return from a reconnaissance that morning, having been captured at Point 175 to the east of Sidi Rezegh, by the 21st New Zealand Battalion (21st Battalion). Just after 5:00 p.m., the 21st Battalion was overrun by elements of the 132nd Armoured Division Ariete.[4] The New Zealanders were caught wrong-footed, having received a 250-lorry supply convoy earlier in the day and then mistaken the attackers for reinforcements from the 1st South African Brigade, which had been due to arrive from the south-west to reinforce XIII Corps.[5] Kippenberger wrote after the war,

About 5.30 p.m. damned 132 Armoured Division Ariete turned up. They passed with five tanks leading, twenty following, and a huge column of transport and guns, and rolled straight over our infantry on Pt. 175.

— Kippenberger [6]

The 24th and 26th Battalions met a similar fate at Sidi Rezegh on 30 November and on 1 December a German armoured attack on Belhamed practically destroyed the 20th Battalion.[7][a] In the attacks, the New Zealanders suffered 880 dead, 1,699 wounded, 2,042 captured. The leading elements of the 15th Panzer reached Ed Duda but made little progress before nightfall against determined resistance. A counter-attack by 4th Royal Tank Regiment (4th RTR) and Australian infantry, recaptured the lost positions and the German units fell back 1,000 yards (914 m) to form a new position.[9]

During 29 November, the two British armoured brigades were strangely passive, with the 1st South African Brigade tied to the armoured brigades, unable to move in open ground without them, because of the threat from the panzer divisions. In the evening, the 1st South African Brigade was placed under command of 2nd New Zealand Division (Major-General Bernard Freyberg and ordered to advance north to recapture Point 175. Wireless intercepts had led the Eighth Army Headquarters to believe that 21st Panzer and Ariete were in trouble and Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie ordered the 7th Armoured Division to "stick to them like hell".[10]

Following the rebuff at Ed Duda, Rommel withdrew the 15th Panzer to Bir Bu Creimisa, 5 miles (8 km) to the south for an attack north-eastwards on 30 November, aiming between Sidi Rezegh and Belhamed, leaving Ed Duda outside the encirclement. By mid-afternoon the 6th New Zealand Brigade, whose four battalions were down to about 200 men each, was attacked at the western end of the Sidi Rezegh position. The 24th Battalion was overrun, as were two companies of 26th Battalion, losing 600 prisoners and several guns. On the eastern flank, the 25th Battalion repulsed an attack from the Ariete Division moving from Point 175. Freyberg requested to withdraw the remnants of the brigade into the Tobruk perimeter but this was refused as the 1st South African Brigade was due to recapture Point 175 with a night attack from the east. By dawn the South Africans were 1-mile (1.6 km) short, having knocked out about 19 tanks of the Ariete Division.[11][12]

1 December[edit]

At 6:15 a.m. on 1 December, the 15th Panzer attacked again towards Belhamed, supported by a massed artillery bombardment, to drive the New Zealanders back from the Tobruk perimeter. The 4th Brigade was eventually forced back and the 20th Battalion overrun, cutting the division in two. During the morning 7th Armoured Division had been ordered to advance and "counter-attack the enemy's tanks at all costs" and the 4th Armoured Brigade arrived north of Sidi Rezegh and the 6th New Zealand Brigade at around 9:00 a.m., outnumbering the c. 40 German tanks attacking the position. New orders were received from Gott to cover the withdrawal of the remains of the New Zealanders to the south but the New Zealanders, under bombardment from both flanks, retired north-east to Zaafran.[13][14]

The remnants of the division concentrated near Zaafran, 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Belhamed, slightly further north-east of Sidi Rezegh. During the morning, Freyberg had seen a signal from the Eighth Army HQ, indicating that the South African Brigade were now to be under command of 7th Armoured Division. He inferred that Army HQ had given up hope of holding the Tobruk corridor and signalled mid-morning, that without the South Africans, his position would be untenable and that he was planning a withdrawal. The 15th Panzer Division, which had been replenishing, renewed its attack at 4:30 p.m. and the New Zealanders became involved in a desperate fighting withdrawal from their western positions. The division was formed up by 5:30 p.m. and having paused an hour for the tanks and artillery to join them from the west, set off at 6:45 p.m. The division reached the XXX Corps lines with little further interruption, where Freyberg concluded that the division must withdraw from the battle and refit, which was agreed by Norrie the corps commander. In the early hours the 3,500 men and 700 vehicles which had escaped were sent back to Egypt and the 19th and part of the 20th Battalion joined the Tobruk garrison.[15][16]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The official history of the 21st Battalion omits to specify the nationality of the attacking party, while the history of the 26th Battalion claims that the Italians thought that Point 175 was in German hands and were as surprised as the New Zealanders, although this is contradicted by the diary of the 8° Reggimento Bersaglieri war diary.[8]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Pitt 1980, pp. 91–93.
  2. ^ Pitt 1980, p. 119.
  3. ^ Pitt 1980, pp. 119–120.
  4. ^ Playfair 1960, pp. 64–65.
  5. ^ Murphy 1961, pp. 400–402.
  6. ^ Kippenberger 1949, pp. 94–95.
  7. ^ Mason 1954, p. 105.
  8. ^ SM 2007, pp. 36–43.
  9. ^ Murphy 1961, p. 406.
  10. ^ Murphy 1961, p. 411.
  11. ^ Murphy 1961, pp. 418–422.
  12. ^ Playfair 1960, p. 67.
  13. ^ Murphy 1961, p. 452.
  14. ^ Playfair 1960, pp. 67–68.
  15. ^ Playfair 1960, pp. 67–69.
  16. ^ Murphy 1961, pp. 458–464.

References[edit]

  • Kippenberger, H. K. (1949). Infantry Brigadier: The author's experiences in Greece, North Africa and Italy from 1939 to 1944. London: Geoffrey Cumberlege. OCLC 603957785. 
  • Mason, W. W. (1954). Kippenberger, H. K., ed. Prisoners of War. The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. Wellington: War History Branch, Dept. of Internal Affairs. OCLC 4372202. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  • Murphy, W. E. (1961). Fairbrother, M. C., ed. The Relief of Tobruk. The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. Wellington: War History Branch, Dept. of Internal Affairs. OCLC 8000753. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  • Pitt, B. (1980). Auchinleck's Command. The Crucible of War II (Cassell 2001 ed.). London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-304-35951-3. 
  • Playfair, Major-General I. S. O.; with Flynn R.N., Captain F. C.; Molony, Brigadier C. J. C. & Gleave, Group Captain T. P. (2004) [HMSO 1960]. Butler, J. R. M., ed. The Mediterranean and Middle East: British Fortunes reach their Lowest Ebb (September 1941 to September 1942). History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series III. Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-067-X. 
  • "8° Reggimento Bersaglieri war diary". Storia Militare (in Italian) (Roma: Società Italiana di Storia Militare) (164). May 2007. OCLC 224746666. 

External links[edit]