The area to which 1/6 Surreys wete to move comprised a series of bare hills on a feature called Djebel Zebia, mostly in full view of the enemy. Little movement was possible by day and transport was quite unable to reach any of the forward companies at any time. It was here that the Battalion made its first contact with mule transport; all supplies, ammunition, food, water etc being sent up at night on pack mules. Djebel Zebia was a mountain nearly two thousand five hundred feet high and the positions looked across a pass at the German-held face of the equally lofty Djebel ben Drar.
During the night 4/5th April the Battalion moved into their positions and at first light were able to appreciate the barrenness of the area. C Company positions were well forward and completely under observation by the enemy with A and B Companies on the hills behind. D Company and Battalion Headquarters were further back in reserve. There was an excellent artillery Observation Post in B Company's area and any suspected enemy movement was heavily shelled. There seemed to be no lack of ammunition - one man seen moving down a track was sniped by the gunners with thirty shells which missed him, but finally a rifleman in C Company shot him.
On the night of 6/7th April 10 Brigade mounted a 'diversionary attack' on the Guessa el AId farmstead. This operation was to coincide with 78 Division's attack on the high ground to the north of the road Oued Zarga-Medjez. Captain L Brown of 1/6 Surreys led two sections of carriers towards the farm making as much noise as possible, and Churchill tanks of 25 Army Tank Brigade clattered around behind the Brigade lines. In addition field guns, medium machine-guns and mortars opened fire on various targets and Verey lights were fired off at intervals all along the Brigade front. The purpose of this noisy demonstration was to induce the Germans to move troops towards 10 Brigade's front and thus to soften up some of the objectives due to be attacked by 78 Division at 0400 hours on 7th April.
Much patrolling was now carried out. During the first night's patrolling no contact was made with the enemy but Sergeant Clarke and Private Horsman of A Company were wounded by a booby-trap during their return to the Company's lines.
However daylight observation and night patrolling still produced little sign of the enemy, and Lt Col Bruno came to the conclusion that the hill in front, Djebel den Drar, nicknamed Spion Kopje, was either unoccupied or thinly held. Consequently a more ambitious programme of patrols was arranged. A Company under Captain J Watson, DCM was to patrol to the top of Spion Kopje, whilst B Company patrolled to a farm where the enemy had been seen moving. This patrol was led by Lieut W G Spencer. A Company's patrol reached the top of the hill unmolested, but B Company's patrol was fired upon confirming that the enemy were still in position at the farm. As the Brigade Commander was still convinced the enemy were in occupation of Spion Kopje, Major G G Maggs, MC., was ordered to take a patrol to the top of the hill the next night and to shine a light there on two given bearings at a given time to prove the top had been reached and that it was indeed unoccupied. This operation was carried out successfully, although L/Cpl F J Webb, Ptes S J Lines, G R Hearn, L J Johnson and H L Jiles of the covering party were missing. They were assumed to have been taken prisoner although no firing occurred. Major Maggs, Lieut A G Frost and L/Cpl A Colley remained searching the hill for them until 0300 hours but without success. During the same night a patrol of A Company, led by Captain P M Plastow with Lieut A W F Paskins, located some enemy standing to in their 'positions, and heard an explosion which proved to be the enemy blowing up a culvert on the road.
On the 10th April two strong patrols were ordered to go to Spion Kopje. One patrol from A Company led by Captain Plastow with Lieut Paskins and 8 Platoon was ordered to operate on the northern slopes of the mountain. Another from B Company led by Major Maggs with an escort of 11 Platoon under Lieut Frost together with a Gunner Forward Observation Officer, to give artillery support if necessary, was to occupy the top. One section of 11 Platoon under Sergeant J E Deane was detached to take up a covering position. This section came under fire and Sergeant Deane, who led his section with great determination, charged the enemy post killing one German and taking four prisoners. The remainder of the patrol now advanced to the top where they captured five more prisoners by 1500 hours. For his leadership in this operation Sergeant Deane was awarded the Military Medal.
A Company patrol also made contact with the enemy, killing three and capturing ten including one wounded man. They turned out to be the engineers who had blown up the culvert the previous night. No further enemy were found and the remainder of B Company was now ordered forward to occupy the top of Spion Kopje where the Company dug in waiting for a counter-attack which did not materialise.
Orders were now given for 10 Brigade to advance towards Sidi N'sir which lay ten miles north-east up the valley known as Hunt's Gap. The Brigade plan was for 1/6 Surreys to advance on the left with 2 Bedfords on the right. 2 DCLI were to follow up in reserve. The intention was to clear the whole valley and the high ground on either side.
|Major R C Guy MC
|Lieut C W Deayton-Groom
|Lieut A W F Paskins
|Lieut F C Ridger