Desert War: The Battle of Sidi Rezegh – New Zealand’s costliest battle


Desert War
The Battle of Sidi Rezegh
Peter Cox

Published by Exisle Publishing
RRP $34.99 in paperback

This book is the latest in the ANZAC Battles Series edited by Glyn Harper and published by Exisle.

Author Peter Cox undertook a detailed study of the battle of Sidi Rezegh to write his first book, Good Luck to All the Lads (2008), which told the wartime story of his father, Sergeant Brian Cox, who fought at Sidi Rezegh with the 27th Machine Gun Battalion. Typically for his generation, Brian Cox spoke little of his wartime experiences before he died in 1976, aged just 59.

In this book, Peter Cox has written a more complete account of the battle, acknowledging the considerable challenges he encountered in the amount of conflicting information in the various records he researched. He has twice visited the battlefield in the course of his research, which he describes as an unforgiving and inhospitable landscape.

In November 1941, at a crucial time in the Desert War in North Africa, 20,000 New Zealand soldiers crossed the border from Egypt into Libya. They would help fight one of the deadliest battles of World War Two, yet one which is relatively unknown: the battle of Sidi Rezegh. Sidi Rezegh is a barren, stony ridge outside Tobruk. The battle was an important part of the allies’ crucial Operation Crusader, which would bring much needed relief to Australians and other allied troops who had been trapped at Tobruk.

Nearly 900 New Zealanders were killed or died of wounds, 1700 men were wounded and 2000 men captured. More New Zealanders were killed or taken prisoner in Crusader than in any other campaign that the New Zealand Division fought in World War Two, and its casualties were the highest of any of the Eighth Army Divisions involved. The objective of Crusader was to retake Cyrenaica, the eastern region of Libya, and ultimately drive the Italians and Germans out of North Africa. The campaign also involved British and South African troops, and did achieve the badly needed relief of Tobruk.

Despite the New Zealand Division’s major role, and the importance of this campaign in achieving British victory in North Africa, it has largely been neglected by historians, failing to receive as much attention as Crete, El Alamein or Cassino. Yet more New Zealand soldiers were killed or taken prisoner during Crusader than in any other campaign fought by ‘the Div’ during the war.

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