At 9 a.m. in Libya, the 2nd NZ Division is laying mines when enemy tanks appear 4,000 yards away, and shell the mine-laying party. The Kiwis finish their job and pull out, and the tanks come no nearer. Instead, the Germans bring up 105mm guns, shelling the New Zealanders while their vehicles move east past the Kiwi defenses, shelling the defenders as they go.
One shell splinter wounds Gen. Freyberg in the neck -- his 30th scar -- and Brig. Lindsay Inglis has to take over.
The 21st Panzer Division surrounds 2 NZ from the north, while 15th Panzer drives south of Minqar Qaim. The reliable but battered 50th Northumbrian Division counterattacks from the north to open a corridor to the Kiwis, but runs into superior German fire. The 9th Durham Light Infantry is completely destroyed. But 1st Armored Division, south of Minqar Qaim, holds off 15th Panzer all day.
British Gen. "Strafer" Gott, commanding 13th Corps, exhausted from the retreat, orders 13th Corps to pull out. Gott is out of touch with the situation, and believes 2 NZ Division has been destroyed. 1st Armored can withdraw, which denies 2 NZ its armored protection on the southern flank. The message reads, "It's all over. The New Zealand Division doesn't exist."
Inglis shows this message to the groggy Freyberg, who, despite his wounds, is livid. He believes (rightly) that Gott, ignorant of the situation, is leaving 2 NZ to die.
At 8 p.m., Inglis summons his officers and reveals that the division is surrounded. The only possibility is a breakout to the east. 4 Brigade will attack by bayonet, and the rest of the division will drive through in a solid column. The division will have to use every vehicle it has, even water carriers, to break out.
Zero hour is 10:30 p.m. Brig. Howard Kippenberger assembles his 5 Brigade, packing his trucks to the limit. Men squeeze onto Bren carriers and anti-tank gun portees. 4 Brigade attacks the enemy at Bir Abu Batta, the 28th Maori Battalion leading the assault. In the battle, 4 Brigade destroys 1st Battalion of the German 104th Infantry Regiment.
During the battle, Capt. Charles Hazlitt Upham, a Christchurch farmer in the 20th Battalion, leads an assault on German positions. For his exceptional valor, Upham receives the Victoria Cross. It is his second of the war, and Upham goes down in history as the only combatant to twice earn the decoration, thus making him the British Commonwealth's greatest single soldier.
Upham will later be captured by the Germans, and be sent to... Colditz prison (from which Airey Neave escaped, mentioned earlier). He will return to New Zealand after the war, refuse honors and knighthoods, and quietly tend his farm, march in parades, and help the families of wounded veterans until his death in 1994.
During the battle, 5 Brigade runs smack into enemy tanks, and a small and spectacular battle results, the night filled with tracer, shot and shell. Freyberg himself, head swathed in bandages, jumps out of the front of his truck, and, in his squeaky voice, remarks, "My God! Another Balaclava!"
Another high-ranking officer hops out of his truck to fight. Kippenberger later writes:
For a few moments we ran on amid a pandemonium, overtaking and being overtaken by other frantic vehicles, dodging slit-trenches, passing or crashing into running men, amid an uproar of shouts and screams. I recognized the men as Germans, pulled out my revolver and was eagerly looking for a target when suddenly there was silence and we were out running smoothly on level desert. We were through.
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