Point 175

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Point 175
Part of the North African Campaign of World War II
Date 29 November – 1 December 1941
Location near Sidi Rezegh, Libya
Result Italian victory
Belligerents
Italy Italy  New Zealand
Strength
Ariete Armoured Division 2nd Division
Casualties and losses
heavy

Point 175 was a keenly contested feature in the Battle of Sidi Rezegh during World War II. The battle was fought mainly between Italian and New Zealand troops resulting in the near destruction of the New Zealand 2nd Division.

Events of 29 November – 1 December 1941[edit]

On the morning of 29 November 15th Panzer set off west travelling south of Sidi Rezegh. The remnants of 21st Panzer were supposed to be moving up on their right to form a pincer but were in disarray when Johann von Ravenstein failed to return from a reconnaissance that morning, having been captured. In the afternoon, to the east of Sidi Rezegh, the 21st Battalion of New Zealanders was overrun on the much contested Point 175 by elements of the Ariete Division.[1][dead link] The New Zealanders were caught wrong-footed, having mistaken the attackers for reinforcements from the 1st South African Brigade which had been due to arrive from the southwest to reinforce XIII Corps.[2] According to Lieutenant-Colonel Howard Kippenberger who later rose to command the New Zealand 2nd Division, "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." [3] [nb 1] 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.[5] The New Zealanders suffered heavily in the attacks: 880 dead, 1,699 wounded, 2,042 captured.

Meanwhile the leading elements of 15th Panzer reached Ed Duda but made little progress before nightfall against determined defences. However, a counterattack by 4th Royal Tank Regiment supported by Australian infantry recaptured the lost positions and the German units fell back 1,000 yards (914 m) to form a new position.[6]

During 29 November the two British Armoured Brigades were strangely passive. 1st SA Brigade were to all intents and purposes tied to the armoured brigades, unable to move in open ground without them because of the threat from the panzer divisions.

On the evening of 29 November 1st SA Brigade was placed under command of 2nd New Zealand Division and ordered to advance north to recapture Point 175. Meanwhile, radio intercepts had given Eighth Army to believe that 21st Panzer and Ariete were in trouble and Lieutenant-General Ritchie ordered 7th Armoured Division to "stick to them like hell".[7]

Following the resistance at Ed Dedu Rommel decided to withdraw 15th Panzer to Bir Bu Creimisa, 5 miles (8 km) to the south, and relaunch his attack northeast from there on 30 November aiming between Sidi Rezegh and Belhamed while leaving Ed Dedu outside his encircling pocket. By mid afternoon 6th NZ Brigade were being heavily pressed on the western end of the Sidi Rezegh position. The weakened 24th Battalion was overrun as were two companies of 26th Battalion although on the eastern flank of the position 25th Battalion repelled an attack from the Ariete moving from Point 175.[8]

At 06.15 on 1 December 15th Panzer renewed their attack towards Belhamed supported by a massive artillery effort and once again the New Zealand Division came under intense pressure. During the morning 7th Armoured Division were ordered to advance to provide direct assistance. 4th Armoured Brigade arrived at Belhamed and may have had the opportunity for a decisive intervention since they outnumbered the 40 or so 15th Panzer Division tanks attacking the position. However, they believed their orders were to cover the withdrawal of the remains of 6th NZ Brigade and precluded an offensive operation.[9]

The remains of 2nd NZ Division were now concentrated near Zaafran, five miles east of Belhamed and slightly further northeast of Sidi Rezegh. During the morning of 1 December Freyberg commanding 2nd New Zealand Division saw a signal from Eighth Army indicating that the South African Brigade were now to be under command of 7th Armoured Division. He drew the inference 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. Orders were issued by Freyberg to be ready to move east at 17.30. 15th Panzer, which had been resupplying, renewed its attack at 16.30 and the New Zealanders became involved in a desperate fighting withdrawal from its western positions. Nevertheless, the division, showing admirable discipline, was formed up by 17.30 and having paused an hour for the tanks and artillery to join them from the west set off at 18.45. They reached the XXX Corps lines with little further interruption and in the early hours the 3,500 men and 700 vehicles which had emerged were heading back to Egypt.[10]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The official history of the 21st Batallion omits to specify the nationality of the attacking party, while the history of the 26th Batallion 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.[4]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

  • German Map [1]