Husband of Alison (w.1), Lynne (w.2); father of Margot, Murray, Mary.
Lt R. T. Masefield, MC; Hamilton; born NZ 1 Jun 1918; clerk; wounded 16 Dec 1942. (Source: Burdon, R.M. 24 Battalion. p.147.)
'It seemed fairly certain that the best part of three German divisions—90 Light, 15 and 21 Panzer—were still east of 6 Brigade's position. Our armour was pressing on their rear and the New Zealand Division made ready to intercept their retreat. The 4th Light Armoured Brigade concentrated its heavy tanks west of Bir el Merduma. Fifth Brigade extended its forces some distance north to lessen the gap between it and 6 Brigade, which stood facing east, north-east, and south-east. Without doubt the trapped enemy would make desperate efforts to break out; by which route only daylight would disclose.
In the darkness Conolly had imagined that his battalion was in a position to overlook the road, but dawn revealed another ridge, higher than the one his men occupied, between them and the sea. Taking Captain Aked and Lieutenant Masefield with him, Conolly walked forward to the intervening ridge and saw enemy transport moving westward in three columns both on and off the highway. And not only this. To ensure against flank attack, enemy infantry followed by tanks were advancing to occupy the very ridge on which he and his officers were standing. He at once ordered Masefield to occupy and hold the forward ridge with his platoon, at the same time telling Aked to bring up his company.
Masefield lost no time in getting to work, but the enemy, having started first, beat him to the ridge crest by about twenty yards. In spite of this he coped successfully with the German infantry until four tanks and three 20-millimetre anti-tank guns arrived on the scene. Masefield behaved with great gallantry, calling on his men to stand fast and fire at the slits of the tanks, but he himself was badly wounded in the hand and his platoon forced to retire. An artillery Forward Observation Officer came up to Battalion Headquarters, but all observation over the road was lost for the time being. Though asked for, armoured support was not forthcoming. Enemy tanks and anti-tank guns now came into action on the forward ridge, but were driven off by the fire of our own anti-tank guns. About ten o'clock an attack under cover of smoke developed on C Company's front. Two platoons of A Company took position in support in case the enemy should break through, but the forward troops were well able to deal with the situation. This proved to be the enemy's last aggressive attempt. It was found soon afterwards that the forward ridge was no longer occupied, and when 24 Battalion moved up to take possession and looked down over the coastal road it was only to discover that the birds had flown. All movement to the west had ceased. The carriers went forward to investigate and found the Wadi Matratin bridge blown, but it was possible for motor transport to cross on either side of it.
Though a portion of the trapped divisions had escaped along the main road, another force had broken out through the gap between 5 and 6 Brigades. The enemy had probed westward, withdrawing whenever he encountered opposition, and then probing again in a fresh place, till at length he came upon a hole in the encircling line. But he had not gone unscathed. Since the start of the El Agheila operation twenty of his tanks had been destroyed or captured, and about 500 prisoners remained in Eighth Army's hands, of which 13 were taken by 24 Battalion from 200 Panzer Grenadier Regiment.
At 5 p. m. 6 Brigade moved off towards Merduma and camped for the night. Its casualties had not been severe. The 24th Battalion, the unit most heavily engaged, had had two officers and twelve other ranks wounded. Next morning (17 December), for the first time since Operation Guillotine began, fires were allowed for cooking breakfast, and before dawn the darkness was lit up by countless flares. Moving on westwards, 4 Light Armoured Brigade led the pursuit, with 6 Brigade bringing up the rear. During the afternoon our armour attacked the enemy outside Nofilia, while 6 Brigade passed south of the town and took up a position in reserve to the south-west. Fifth Brigade went farther on and tried to cross the coastal road, but was checked after sharp fighting and forced to remain on its southern side. As darkness fell the armour lay close outside Nofilia itself, on the western side, to contain the enemy rearguard which, however, in spite of these precautions, broke away during the night.
In due course the Aucklanders reaped a reward of two decorations for the action at Wadi Matratin. The exploit which earned Lieutenant Masefield an MC has already been mentioned.' (Source: Burdon, R.M. 24 Battalion. pp. 147-148.) AWMM