Kiwi desert bat­tle site un­cov­ered

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Janie Smith

For Bren­dan O’Car­roll, trav­el­ling thou­sands of miles and cross­ing a scorch­ing desert was a small price to pay to un­cover a piece of New Zealand his­tory.

The Mt Roskill ama­teur his­to­rian went on an ex­pe­di­tion to Libya to find a World War Two bat­tle site, where a lit­tle-known New Zealand unit took on en­emy forces.

“It’s such a unique Kiwi story,” he says.

“They were the fore­run­ners of the SAS and trained the SAS when it was formed a year or so af­ter. They did work be­hind the lines.”

The unit was called the Long Range Desert Group, made up of Kiwi and Bri­tish sol­diers.

Its main role was re­con­nais­sance and gath­er­ing intelligence on en­emy forces.

Mr O’Car­roll has a longheld fas­ci­na­tion with the group and ar­ranged the trip to south­ern Libya, where three Kiwi army trucks re­main un­touched in the desert since the 1941 bat­tle.

“The Ki­wis were spot­ted by the Ital­ians, who had a spe­cial force. They met by ac­ci­dent. It was the first spe­cial forces bat­tle of the war.”

One New Zealan­der and one Ital­ian were killed in the fra­cas.

The site had been re­dis­cov­ered by oil ex­pe­di­tions in the 1960s and 1980s, but had since been forgotten.

Be­cause of its re­mote lo­ca­tion the trucks es­caped be­ing turned into scrap when Libya cleaned up its bat­tle sites in the 1970s.

“It’s prob­a­bly the only bat­tle site in the world that is as it was left af­ter the bat­tle, which makes it very in­ter­est­ing for his­to­ri­ans.”

Mr O’Car­roll ar­ranged to meet two over­seas friends in Libya for the ex­pe­di­tion.

A television crew heard of the ven­ture and went along to doc­u­ment the jour­ney and dis­cov­ery.

Af­ter gru­elling days cross­ing the desert in 4WD ve­hi­cles, they came across the trucks.

Al­though burned out in the bat­tle they were in­tact.

“Be­ing the first New Zealan­der there to see the bat­tle site was quite mov­ing. There was still am­mu­ni­tion ly­ing around. Ev­ery­thing was still there. The desert pre­serves things,” Mr O’Car­roll says.

He also found a but­ton from a Long Range Desert Group tu­nic and brought back am­mu­ni­tion shells, pieces of a rum jar and a bot­tle.

They held a small cer­e­mony for the two dead men, lay­ing flags on their graves, and Mr O’Car­roll buried a tiki for the New Zealan­der.

He has writ­ten three books about the Long Range Desert Group and is co-writ­ing an­other about the trip.

The doc­u­men­tary of the ex­pe­di­tion is ex­pected to screen next year around Anzac Day.

Staff sergeant Bren­ton Beach of the Waiouru Army Mu­seum says it has had sev­eral dis­plays on the Long Range Desert Group.

“It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand the hard­ships our fore­fa­thers went through. About half the group were Ki­wis.

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Bat­tle sou­venirs: Bren­dan O’Car­roll brought back am­mu­ni­tion shells and an old bot­tle from the Libyan desert.

Kiwi his­tory: Bren­dan with one of trucks left in the desert since 1941.

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