It is worth noting that, in addition to the 2-th New Zealand Division and expedition support units, the New Zealanders also served in the famous Desert Long-Range Groups (LRDG) - the legendary reconnaissance and sabotage units, which even according to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel himself inflicted troops damage comparable to the losses from the actions of the main army forces of the enemy. Back in June, 1940, analyzing the specifics of warfare in the desert, British Major Ralph Bagnold, who was not only a soldier, but also a scientist who studied the Sahara, concluded that it was necessary to form special groups in North Africa that could conduct reconnaissance and sabotage operations against the Italian forces in Libya. He met with General Archibald Wavell, who led the command in Alexandria, and enlisted his support.
The general, who himself had a great experience of service in North Africa, perfectly understood and supported Major Bagnold, giving him the go-ahead for the creation of such special forces. Then it remained only to staff them with suitable personnel. Just being a good soldier in order to participate in reconnaissance operations in the desert was not enough. It required not only good military training and physical form, but also psychological stability, the ability for a long stay in the hot desert. Considering the possible ways to replenish the Long-range Patrol, as the special forces unit was originally named, Major Bagnold chose the 2's personnel of the New Zealand division.
According to the major, the soldiers and officers of the division who grew up in New Zealand could become excellent candidates for the division they are creating. As was to be expected, many New Zealand soldiers volunteered to join the Long-range Patrol. However, Major Bagnold made a strict selection, working primarily with the soldiers of the 27 machine-gun battalion of the division and a separate division cavalry regiment. As a result, 2 officers and 85 sergeants and soldiers were selected, including 18 technical specialists and logistics services. Thus was formed the backbone of the units, which were to not only extract secret information about the disposition of the enemy troops, but also commit sabotage, destroy the personnel and equipment of the enemy. In November, 1940. Long Range Patrols were renamed the Desert Long Range Group, after which volunteers from the British and Rhodesian units were added to the New Zealand volunteers. Quite a lot has been written about the actions of patrols in the Sahara desert, so it makes no sense to dwell in greater detail on their structure, features of weapons, equipment and training. It is worth noting that the patrols operated in the entire Libyan desert - from the Mediterranean Sea to the Tibesti Highlands in Northern Chad. The New Zealand servicemen proved to be excellent during the actions of the “desert groups”, demonstrating both great courage and good military training.
Meanwhile, in June 1942, Field Marshal Rommel’s troops managed to defeat the Allies and break through the defenses, moving east. In a hurry, the main units of the 2nd New Zealand Division were deployed from Syria, which took part in the famous defense of El Alamein. During the offensive to the east, the power of Field Marshal Rommel's army significantly decreased - huge losses were affected both in personnel and equipment. By the time of the decisive battle near El Alamein, the Nazi forces had only two tank divisions and 270 tanks. Two more tank divisions and 300 tanks were at the disposal of the Italian command, but most of the Italian tanks were so outdated that they could not play an important role in the upcoming battle. Unlike the Nazis and Italians, the Allies had more than 1000 tanks, which created an enormous advantage in armored vehicles.
From 23 October to 4 in November 1942 the famous Battle of El Alamein continued, ending with the retreat of Erwin Rommel from Egypt. During the retreat, Rommel took the road transport from the Italians, which led to the surrender of 4 Italian divisions totaling 30 thousands of troops. But the losses of the Allies were very large. British forces lost 13 560 people killed, wounded and missing. 58% losses were for the British, 22% for the Aussies, 10% for the New Zealanders, 6% for the South Africans and 1% for the Indians.
The famous 28 Battalion of the New Zealand 2 Division, staffed by representatives of the indigenous New Zealand Polynesian Maori people, showed themselves well during the battle of El Alamein. As is known, Maori have always been distinguished by militancy and high fighting spirit, but before that it was associated with wars of the past — intertribal and against the colonialists. The battle of El Alamein has once again shown that the Maori are perfectly capable of fighting in modern warfare. In the gorge of Tebag, Maori warriors completely destroyed the Wehrmacht's motorized infantry battalion. Second Lieutenant Moana-Nui-a-Kiva Ngarimu for showing bravery in battle, he was posthumously received the Victoria Cross.
Rommel's grand defeat in the second battle of El Alamein led to a complete fiasco of the German-Italian forces in North Africa. Already 20 November 1942, the British troops took Benghazi, and then moved on to Libya, occupying Tripolitania and going to the borders with Tunisia. The New Zealand division also participated in the offensive in Libya, and then in the Tunisian operation. In May 1943, the German forces in Africa were forced to capitulate. Began a new stage in stories the presence of New Zealand troops on the western front. After the Nazi capitulation in Africa, the New Zealand division received an order to move to Egypt, where it was to prepare for the transfer to the European theater of operations. It was also possible to calculate the losses of the New Zealand troops from the moment they began participating in the hostilities in Africa until the surrender of the Nazi troops. They made 2989 soldiers and officers killed, about 7 thousands of people - wounded. 4041 New Zealand soldier was captured by the enemy.
The contribution of the New Zealand troops in the fighting in North Africa was rated by the British command highly enough. Despite the relatively small number of New Zealand troops involved, a small island nation in the South Pacific, to the best of its ability, participated in the defeat of the German-Italian troops and the liberation of the North African territories from the Nazi and Fascist occupation. However, the actions of the 2 division of the New Zealand division in North Africa did not end. In July 1943, the Allied command launched a very successful Sicilian operation, as a result of which Sicily was liberated from the German and Italian troops, after which all the prerequisites for the landing of the Allied forces in Italy proper were ripe. 3 September 1943 g. Units of the British 8 Army began to force the Strait of Messina, and then landed in the south-west of Calabria, in the vicinity of Reggio di Calabria. 8 September 1943 Italy capitulated, but the numerous German troops stationed on its territory did not intend to capitulate to the Allies and were ready for long-term resistance. Therefore, the fighting in the Apennine peninsula continued.
The New Zealand division was to support the 8 Indian Infantry Division in advancing from Sangro. 28 November 1943. New Zealand units took an active part in the attack on enemy positions. 2 December 1943 New Zealand units took Castel Frentano. After the stabilization of the front line, by the spring of 1944, parts of the 2 of the New Zealand division were redeployed to the west coast of Italy. The fights at Monte Cassino, the storming of Arezzo, the liberation of Florence, Faenza, Padua, the exit to the river Po - all these pages of the Italian campaign are inscribed in the honorary history of the 2 of the New Zealand division. Thus, the New Zealanders played a leading role in the capture of Florence, managing to suppress the fierce resistance of the enemy.
The specifics of the fighting in the Apennine Peninsula demanded that the New Zealand command reorganize the 2 division. In particular, the 22 Battalion and Divisional Cavalry Regiment were transformed into regular infantry units. It was also decided to disband the anti-aircraft regiment, and also to transfer its personnel to the infantry units. The rear units were reduced, but, most importantly, a new replenishment came to the division. These were New Zealanders, who served in the Pacific, but after the need disappeared in numerous New Zealand parts, transferred to Europe. Thanks to the arrival of the recruitment of many tired soldiers managed to replace and send home. By the time of the fighting in Italy, the structure of the New Zealand Infantry Battalion looked as follows: 1) the battalion headquarters - 51 soldier and officer; 2) staff company - 236 man, including company management, communications platoon, machine-gun platoon, mortar platoon, armored troop platoon, anti-tank platoon and administrative platoon; 3) three rifle companies, each with 123 man, including 5 officers. The total number of infantry battalion 2 of the New Zealand division was 779 military personnel, including 33 officer.
As during the North African campaign, the Maori warriors showed themselves well in Italy. The 28 Infantry Battalion, formed from the aborigines of New Zealand, suffered such serious losses that only by the summer of 1944 was it completed and returned to service, continuing to participate in combat operations. The "bussiness card" of the Maori battalion remained the incredible courage of its servicemen, who, without a second thought, marched to superior units of the enemy. There are many examples of the heroic behavior of Maori warriors on the battlefield during the Italian campaign. For example, Private Nia-Nee destroyed eleven Nazi soldiers with a grenade. During the battles at Cassino, companies A and B of the 28 Infantry Battalion lost the dead to 60% of personnel, holding positions in front of the superior enemy forces for 24 hours. In April, 1945, on the outskirts of Bologna, part of the 9-th brigade, which was part of the 2-th New Zealand division, engaged in battles with the units of the elite 4-th parachute division of the Wehrmacht. For the New Zealand military, the battle with paratroopers was of particular importance. Indeed, in the distant 1941 year, it was the paratroopers who “knocked out” the New Zealand units from positions on the island of Crete, therefore the New Zealand command had their own scores to the German paratroopers. And this time, New Zealand was able to recoup. Many German paratroopers, including an officer, were taken prisoner.
The feeling of a close victory significantly lifted the spirit of the New Zealand soldiers who were tired of fighting at the other end of the world from their homeland. Moreover, every day the position of the Nazis became increasingly depressing. In Italy, partisan formations became active, which also liberated settlements, and often allies who entered a city were already met by partisans who had liberated it before. By the way, it was the New Zealand division that occupied the city of Trieste - the subject of long-standing disputes between Italy and Yugoslavia. 2 May 1945 New Zealand units under the command of Major General Freiberg quickly entered the city of Trieste and occupied key positions in it. The German garrison of Trieste, who was in an ancient castle, was forced to capitulate, and the commander of the 22 battalion accepted the surrender of the fortress. The capture of Trieste was one of the last "touches" to the participation of the New Zealand division in hostilities in Europe. Between 1 April and early May 1945, the 2 Division suffered significantly smaller losses - 241 people died, 1150 people were injured. The victory over Nazi Germany, the New Zealand soldiers, who were in Italy, was received with great enthusiasm.
Major General Freiberg, who commanded the 2 th division of the New Zealand division during World War II - from fighting in Greece and ending with the liberation of Italy, later said that his subordinates had played a role in the war with Hitler Germany, far surpassing that prepared by New Zealand modest strength of its armed forces. The contribution of New Zealand soldiers to the victory over the enemy and the coalition allies were highly appreciated. As for the enemy, the German generals paid tribute to the courage and military training of the New Zealanders.
For the New Zealand army, fighting in Europe and Africa was only one of the episodes of the Second World War. No less heavy battles had to endure those New Zealanders who remained in the Pacific Ocean to fight against Japan. We will tell about them in the following material.