New Zealand Division on Zaafran, 1 Dec 1941

New Zealand Division on Zaafran, 1 Dec 1941


On 1 Dec 1941 the New Zealand Division was subjected to violent attacks while trying to hold open the corridor into Tobruk. The Axis forces, led by the Afrikakorps, managed to smash 6 NZ Brigade, and to push the New Zealand Division north and out of the battle, severing the corridor.

Ed Duda

Commonwealth map showing Zaafran at 4441, east of Belhamed. Rommelsriposte Collection.

This success led to Rommel’s premature victory claim (see translation at this link), and it led to the NZ Division passing out of the battle , with only its reconnaissance regiment (Divisional Cavalry) and 5 NZ Brigade remaining active on the battlefield after this time, except for 18 Battalion and 2 companies of 19 Battalion which continued to fight under 32 Army Tank Brigade on Belhamed for a few more days.

Nevertheless, in Brigadier Inglis view, 4 NZ Brigade, having suffered serious casualties only to 20 Battalion, was capable of continued action on 1 December, provided it had been possible to replenish ammunition and join the two battle groups into which it had split. 5 NZ Brigade needed a headquarters, which had been overrun at Sidi Azeiz a few days early, and also had lost most of 21 Battalion there, but was otherwise fine. 6 NZ Brigade however had to be completely rebuilt, and the same applied for 6 NZ Field Regiment.

Large 000000 NZ and Tank

Infantry of the 2nd New Zealand Division link up with Matilda tanks of the Tobruk garrison during Operation ‘Crusader’, Libya, 2 December 1941. IWM E6198

The war diary of the division has a very detailed statement on which elements of the division were on the Zaafran outside Tobruk, and this maybe of particular interest to wargamers. 

  • Battle HQ NZ Division (most vehicles of the actual HQ had been sent into Tobruk the night of 30 November/1 December)
  • HQ 4 NZ Brigade
  • 19 NZ Battalion less two companies
  • Approximately 120 South Africans of 5 SA Brigade who had attached themselves to 4 NZ Brigade on 23 November and were formed into a company, equipped with captured rifles and kit, as well as kit from NZ casualties. 
  • small part of B Echelon transport of the Brigade[3]
  • HQ 6 NZ Brigade
  • 25 NZ Battalion
  • B Echelon transport of 6 NZ Brigade
  • Artillery
  • 4 NZ Field Regiment
  • 6 NZ Field Regiment (One troop) 
  • 6 2-pounders, 6 18-pounders, 7 NZ Anti-Tank Regiment
  • One battery less one section 14 NZ Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment
  • Engineers
  • 5 NZ Field Park Company (approx. 50 men)
  • 6 NZ Field Park Company
  • 8 NZ Field Park Company


  • British forces
  • Artillery
  • 8 Field Regiment RA (16 guns)
  • 65 Anti-Tank Regiment RA (some guns) 
  • Armour
  • 44 R.T.R. 5 Mark II (Matilda) tanks
  • 8 R.T.R. 2 Mark III (Valentine) tanks[4] 

A total of some 700 vehicles and 3,500 troops.

Many thanks go to Jon for providing me with copies of the war diaries and the narrative by Brigadier Inglis. The former is kept under WAII 1 DA 21.1-1-24 latter under WAII 1 DA 46-10-13 in the New Zealand archives.

[1]actually just 87, according to Brigadier Inglis, who were what remained of the 127 (7 officers, 120 Other Ranks
Their commander, Major Cochran of the South African Irish regiment, was recommended by Brigadier Inglis of 4 NZ Brigade for a Military Cross.
[3]the major part of it had been sent into Tobruk by Brigadier Inglis on 28 November
[4]The Valentine tanks get a very bad review in Brigadier Inglis’ report