New Zealand Base Ordnance Depot, Egypt and Italy 1940-46

The 2nd NZEF Base Ordnance Depot(BOD) was the primary Ordnance organisation supporting the 2nd NZEF in its operations from Egypt to Italy from 1940 to 1946. Unlike the Infantry, Artillery, Engineers and even the Army Servicer Corps, New Zealand did not have an Ordnance component in the Territorial Army from which to draw upon when establishing the Ordnance services of the 2nd NZEF, this led to the NZ BOD having to be built from scratch. The two senior ordnance officers, King and Andrews were from the regular Army, some of the personnel were drawn from the civilian staff of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (NZAOC) with others having a clerical or warehousing background. With this diversity of experience, the men of the NZ BOD with the assistance of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) Depots in Egypt underwent a crash course in the intricacies of British military stores accounting, warehousing and distribution operations. Initially based at Maadi Camp on the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt, the NZ BOD would eventually grow into two Depots, one in Egypt and one in Italy. Not entirely a Base organisation the NZ BOD would also deploy an Advanced Ordnance Depot and conduct stores convoy operations. This article provides an introduction to the NZ BOD, another forgotten New Zealand Ordnance unit of the Secoend World War.

When given command of the NZDF, General Freyberg as the General Officer Commanding had been given a mandate and authority to “establish such administrative headquarters and base and line of communication units as are necessary for the functions of command, organisation, including training, and administration with which he has been invested”, with “the authority to procure equipment (shown on equipment tables) that cannot be supplied through official channels. Such equipment to be bought through Ordnance channels where possible”,[1]  this included the establishment of a Base Ordnance Depot to support the growing New Zealand Force

As the New Zealand Forces arrived in Egypt, the logistical situation was dire. The Middle East Command was in a period of transition from a peacetime to a wartime footing. The German victory’s in the low countries and France which saw the loss of much of the British Armies equipment in the subsequent evacuation resulting in the Middle East placed on a low priority for personnel and resources as the United Kingdom rearmed and prepared for invasion. The RAOC resources which the NZEF could draw upon were limited and consisted of;[2] [3]

  • A combined Ordnance Depot and Workshop at Abbassia
  • A Clothing and mobilisation sub-depot at Kasr-el-Nil
  • A sub-depot at Alexandra
  • Forward dumps of tentage, accommodation stores and ammunition at El Daba and Mersa Matruh.

The first Director of Ordnance Services (DOS) for the Middle East would not be appointed until late 1940 when Colonel W.W Richards was transferred from France to Egypt as a Brigadier.[4] Cognisant of the supply situation and also the international composition of the Middle East Command, Brigadier Richards would  oversee the rapid upgrade of infrastructure, personnel and capability of the combined Ordnance services of the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa ,India and New Zealand, creating effective Ordnance Field Force units supported by robust base facilities, shaped to meet the national requirements of each contributing nation.

Known as the New Zealand Ordnance Corps (NZOC), The embryotic New Zealand Ordnance organisation that arrived in Egypt with the 1st Echelon included;[5]

  • Lieutenant Colonel T.J. King NZAOC, DADOS
  • Captain A.H Andrews NZAOC, Ordnance Mechanical Engineer,
  • Lieutenant D.E Harper NZOC. OO Base Depot
  • Lieutenant G Langslow NZOC, 9 LAD, 4 Field Regiment NZA
  • Lieutenant G.D Pollock NZOC, 10 LAD, 5 Field Park Company, NZE
  • Captain J.H Mander NZOC, 11 LAD, HQ 4 Infantry Brigade,
  • Captain N.P Manning NZOC, 12 LAD, 27 Machine Gun Battalion,
  • Lieutenant J.O Kelsey NZOC, 13 LAD, Divisional Cavalry Regiment,
  • J.H England NZOC, 14 LAD, Divisional Signal Units
  • NZOC tradesmen, Clerks, Storemen and Drivers held under the Base Depot organisation.

The initial Base Depot found in the embarkation rolls was not the Base Ordnance Depot but a convenient use of the War Establishment to place personnel who were not allocated to existing units on the establishment. On mobilisation Army headquarters was sure that a base function would be required, and Base Depot was the only suitable unit that could be found on British War Establishments that could be used for the personnel filling many if the anticipated base roles in the NZEF. Under General Freyberg’s mandate to “establish such administrative headquarters and base and line of communication units” The Base Depot was disestablished in April 1940 and Headquarters NZEF Base formally established as a unit of the NZEF with personnel distributed to functional subunits, including NZOC Stores and clerical staff to the NZ BOD.[6] At this stage, NZ BOD would also manage some of the Base Workshop functions in conjunction with 31 LAD (Base)

Maadi Camp 1941

View of the working area of the Ordnance Depot at Maadi Camp in 1941. Photo H.J Gilbertson

Maadi Camp 1941.1

View of the working area of the Ordnance Depot at Maadi Camp in 1941. Photo H.J Gilbertson

The 2nd NZEF had arrived in Egypt with the bare minimum of equipment, but by August 1940 the NZ BOD was in the routine of receiving and issuing new equipment to the force; and in fact, the equipping of New Zealand Forces was proceeding far better than with comparable United Kingdom units in the area. As the accounting system was still in a peacetime system the British authorities were most generous in providing what equipment was available to the Commonwealth. At this time issues of equipment had to be checked and signed for, with the arrangement with the United Kingdom that the initial issues to the New Zealand Forces would be paid for at the actual value.

The 2nd NZEF had arrived in Egypt with the same uniforms and web equipment as the NZEF of 1918. As stocks became available the NZ BOD began to issue the new 1937 pattern ‘Battledress’ and ’37 pattern webbing’ to all New Zealand Troops. Additionally, as each draft arrived issues of theatre specific clothing and equipment had to be issued to each soldier;

  • Helmets steel 1,
  • Respirators Anti Gas 1,
  • Armbands (white) 1,
  • Shorts Khaki Drill 2,
  • Shirts tropical 2,
  • Drawers cellular short 2,[7]
  • Hosetops (long socks) (prs) 1

This was a considerable amount of clothing and equipment to bring into stock for issues and for stockholding, not forgetting that the old uniforms and equipment that was been exchanged had to be sorted, stored and disposed of. To manage the workload, infrastructure would be required along with additional personnel. To supplement the NZOC military personnel, civilian labour would be utilised. Under the control of a supervisor know as a Rais (Arabic: رئیس‎; also spelled Raees), teams of workers known as Fellaheen (Arabic: فلاحين‎, fallāḥīn) would come into the BOD each day,[8] Over time locally employed civilians would not only carry out labouring work but also more complex warehousing and clerical functions providing a level of continuity that soldiers because of the demands of soldiering are often unable; to maintain.

Liaison with the RAOC depots was the key to the success of the NZ BOD. Held on the establishment of the NZ BOD, NZOC Liaison staff were attached to RAOC depots for the duration of the war, NZOC liaison staff would serve in both clerical and stores positions with a dual role; first the NZOC had no combined corporate history of ordnance procedures so the attachment would enable NZOC members to become familiar with current RAOC procedures, and secondly it allowed NZOC staff in RAOC depots to directly manage and process New Zealand demands.[9]

In June 1940, Lt Col King departed for England where he would facilitate the Ordnance support for the 2nd Echelon of the 2NZEF which had been diverted to England rather than Egypt, this would leave Major Andrews managing all the NZOC maintenance and supply functions in Egypt. With the 3rd Echelon arriving in Egypt in September 1940 planning on the future of the NZ BOD and the overall NZOC commitment to the NZEF with the drafting of new establishments underway. Correspondence between Andrew and King describes the growth of the NZ BOD into a quite large depot.[10]

BOD October 1940

Base Ordnance Depot Staff, Maadi, October 1940. Back Row clerks: Geoffrey Gilbert-Smith, LCpl Walter William Thomas, G Duane, O McKibbon. Front Row Storemen: Mark Edwin Ivey, R Watson, W Mooney. Photo W.W Thomas

By March 1941 the 2nd Echelon had arrived in Egypt from the United Kingdom and the New Zealand Division was complete for the first time. Although some units had been involved in operations against the Italians, the Divisions first real taste of battle would be the disastrous Greek and Crete campaigns. Although ad hoc NZOC workshops would be sent to Greece to support the LAD’s, the NZ BOD would only play a supporting role in these campaigns. In the months after the Greek and Crete campaign, the NZ Division would retrain and reorganise.

From April 1942 the DOS for the Middle East was weighing up the option of pooling all British and Dominion Base Ordnance units into one organisation under the DOS GHQ Middle East. Whilst retaining their national identity’s they world services all units regardless of nationality on a geographic basis. Stocks of common items would be demanded from the main British BOD, provisioned for and demanded by the DADOS (P) from the United Kingdom or the Eastern Supply Group. Items peculiar to each nation would be demanded independently by each national BOD. The NZEF replied that the NZ BOD at Maadi Camp had materially reduced the work of the RAOC Depots and that excellent liaison between the RAOC and NZOC existed and the proposed system was in effect the system in place and working quite satisfactorily.[11]

As a consequence of the NZ Divisions reorganisation, Divisional NZOC units were to be formed, with personnel from the NZ BOD, NZOC reinforcements and transfers from within the 2nd NZEF transferred to the following NZOC Field Force units prior to their formation; [12]

  • The New Zealand Divisional Ordnance Field Park (NZ OFP), formed 28 July 1941,
  • The NZ Divisional Salvage unit, formed 16 August 1941.
  • The New Zealand Divisional Mobile Bath Unit, formed 6 September 1941,
  • The New Zealand Divisional Mobile Laundry and Forward Decontamination unit, formed 22 September 1941.

Concurrent with the reorganisation of the 2nd NZEF after the Greek Campaign, the NZOC maintenance services would start to be formalised into a fully functional workshop system of Base, Divisional and field workshops. Following closely behind the British who with the increased mechanisation of the battlefield reformed its maintenance and repair organisations and form them into a single Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME) on 1 October 1942 assuming responsibility for all RAOC, ASC and Royal Engineer Workshops, Recovery Sections and LADs.  New Zealand and Australian would follow suit on 1 December 1942, followed by India on 1 May 1943 and Canada on 22 February 1944.[13]

Maadi 1941

An Italian trailer put to use in the NZ BOD at Maadi in 1941. Soldier is Jack Thompsom. Photo: H.L Gilbertson

In addition to the Divisional NZOC units, a New Zealand Advanced Ordnance Depot (NZAOD) was formed as sub-unit of the NZ BOD to facilitate the holding of stock closer to the forward areas. No additional personnel was authorised for the NZAOD, so when raised its personnel and equipment would be drawn from NZ BOD resources.[14]

BOD 41

The NZ AOD was initially located with an RAOC AOD at El Daba during Operation Crusader, [15]  with the NZ Division withdrawn back to Egypt in December 1941 the NZAOD had just unloaded its stock at the Tura caves when it was ordered to move with the Division to Syria where it set up in the vicinity of Baalbeck.

March 1942 would see the establishment of the NZ BOD increased to five Officers and 95 other ranks.

BOD MAR 42

Returning to Egypt with the NZ Division in June 1942, the NZAOD would gradually morph into a mobile depot and accompany the NZ Division the pursuit of the Axis forces into Tunisia.[16] On three occasions it would ground its stocks, at Bardia, Tripoli and Enfidaville. Due to its mobile nature, the NZAOD ended up utilising many of the NZ BOD’s limited holding f vehicles

Replenishment for the NZAOD would be direct from the NZ BOD for NZ specific items of supply. For items of a generic nature, replenishment would be from the closest supporting RAOC AOD, Forward Depot or Dump, if those units were unable to satisfy the indent, it would be pushed to the supporting RAOC BOD. New Zealand liaison staff in the RAOC depots would process the New Zealand indents and forward on the next available transport for delivery.

An example of the efficiency of the replenishment system is that when at Enfidaville the NZAOD sent a signal to RAOC 557 AOD, then at Tripoli, over 600km away. Within five days those stores were being issued to units if the Division.

Sys of Sup

 

October 1943 would see the NZEF begin operations in Italy as part of the 8th Army. The NZAOD would remain deployed forward in support of the NZ Division. Major Harper the DADOS of the NZ BOD also deployed into Italy to conduct an appreciation of the future NZ Ordnance Support required.  At the time of Major Harper’s appreciation, there was only one RAOC depot operating in support to the 8th Army. This was an ad hoc organisation called Eight Army Field Stores and was operating using stocks from the initial Ordnance Beach Detachments. The RAOC 500 AOD was in the process of getting organised at Bari on the Adriatic coast, with its limited stocks steadily been built up, few demands could satisfactory be met.[17] To improve the situation for the NZ Division and the NZEF, Harper recommended that rather rely on already stretched RAOC depots the NZ BOD be reformed into two Depots;

  • One part to service the NZEF in Egypt and to hold reserves of clothing for the whole NZEF,
  • The other part to be in Italy to service the NZ Division and other NZEF units in Italy, such as hospitals and the advance base.

Major Harper envisaged only a small increase in personnel and that the liaison staff with RAOC Depts remain incorporated in the new establishment.

As one of the factors of the NZ Divisions good equipment state was that it had always had its own BOD, which was now located far away in Egypt, and to maintain the NZ Division in a comparable manner as it had been in North Africa, Harper’s recommendation that the BOD be split into two sections was approved by the GOC  2 NZEF on 4 Nov 1942. Major Harper was instructed to make arrangement to obtain the required buildings and stores accommodation in Bari and then return to Egypt to assist in the arrangements to split the NZ BOD for the move to Italy.[18]

From 10 November 1943, the NZ BOD split into three distinct sections

  • Ordnance Depot at Base (Egypt)
  • Ordnance Depot at Advance Base (Italy), and
  • NZAOD

The significant change is that the NZAOD was established as a standalone section, whereas in the previous year’s its personnel and equipment had been taken out of the establishment the NZ BOD, the NZAOD was now recognised separate section with its own personnel and equipment.

A change in the boot repair contract in Maadi had also necessitated an increase on the establishment of Shoemakers and Bootmakers to enable the NZ BOD to become self-sufficient in the area in boot repair.

The NZ BOD would also be the reinforcement depot for the NZOC. Reinforcements from NZ or individuals injured in units and withdrawn to the rear to convalesce would be held in the reinforcement depot until appropriate vacancies became available in forward units.

NZOC personnel on liaison duties with ROAC depots also cease to be held in the establishment of the NZ BOD.

BOD NOV 43

BOD Staff Dec 1943

Main Office Staff, 1 Base Ordnance Depot, Maadi, Egypt, December 1943. Standing: Ike Dabscheck, Stone, Lieutenant Stroud, Major Cordery, Lieutenant Barwick, Unidentified. In front: Jack Picot, Geff Rees, Falloon. Photo: J.D Picot

Early in 1944, it was decided that given the distance between Egypt and Italy that the NZ BOD Ordnance Depot at Advance Base in Bari should be upgraded to full Base Depot Status. With effect 16 February the following changes to establishments were made;

  • NZ BOD was renamed 1 NZ Base Ordnance Depot, (1 NZ BOD)
  • 2 NZ Base Ordnance Depot was formed as a unit of the NZEF (2 NZ BOD)
  • The NZAOD was disbanded.

Change to 1BOD

2 BOD Formed

Changing from NZ BOD to 1 NZ BOD, this unit’s establishment would be reduced to two Officers and 37 Other ranks, retaining responsibility as the bulk holding depot for items peculiar to NZ and the reaming base units in Egypt, No1 NZ BOD would be the Reinforcement Depot for NZOC and would also include Includes a Officers shop detail.  An Officers Shop detail was also added to the responsibilities of 1 NZ OFP. Officers shops were an organisation developed by the British in North Africa. Centrally provisioned by the Central Provision Office, Officers Shops allowed Offices to buy at reasonable rates, authorised items of kit such as clothing, camp kit, travel bags, Leather jerkins and shoes.[19]

The NZAOD would be also disbanded and its functions absorbed into the NZ OFP mobile AOD section.[20]

NZAOD DISBANDED FEB 1944

From the existing NZ BOD Ordnance Depot at Advance Base in Bari, 2 NZ BOD would be formed as a unit of the NZEF. Carrying out the same role as the NZ BOD in North Africa 2 NZ BOD would be a Reinforcement Depot for NZOC Personnel and include a Stores Convoy Unit.

Stores Convoy Units were a capability that was generated by the early lessons of the desert war, and although utilised by both the NZ OFP and NZAOD during 1942/43 the system was not formally organised as a unit in the NZEF until 1944. The supply and transportation of Ordnance Stores is something which was not always understood and more complex than the supply and transportation of Rations, Fuel and Ammunition. Except for a small range of fast moving items, Ordnance stores consist of a very large range of stores, for which the actual need of the users cannot be anticipated with any certainty. It is impractical to hold stocks close to the forward units as the assets required to move these stocks are not realistic, therefore a reliable and fast service was required to supply urgent requirements from the nearest stock holding unit – often the BOD. Rail had many limitations which made urgent deliveries impactable as was the use of Army Service Corps (ASC) assets who on regular runs failed to meet the delivery requirements. Therefore, it became necessary to introduce a road convoy service dedicated to the transportation of Ordnance Stores. Originally operated by using reserve vehicles from the RAOC 1 OFP and 1st Cavalry Division OFP, the system originally operated between Cairo and Mersa Matruh supplementing the existing rail system. The system proved successful and was extended to the delivery of vehicles other urgent fighting stores direct to divisional OFP’s across the Middle East theatre form Persia to Tunisia. [21]  The New Zealand Stores Convoy Unit would operate from 1944 into 1945 along the entire axis of the New Zealand’s Divisions advance through Italy from Bari to Trieste.

2NZEF Ordnance

A group of NZAOD personnel Italy 1944. Front Row: H.D Bremmer, R.G James, 2nd Lieuteant H.J Mackridge, N.G Hogg, G.P Seymour. Back Row: WO2 Worth, D.S Munroe, G Caroll, Charles Joseph Moulder, Francis William Thomas Barnes, H Rogers, C.W Holmes, W Wallace, N Denery Photo: Defence Archive Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.

As the NZ Division advanced up the Italian peninsular HQ 2 NZEF also wised to shorten the lines of communication and remain close to the Division, and on 11 September HQ 2 NZEF relocated to Senigallia. The headquarters move to Senigallia was soon followed by many of the administrative units including 2NZ BOD which established an Advanced Section of Depot of one Officer and 20 Other Ranks.

2 BOD OCT 44

Although the Officers shop details have been active since February 1944, formal approval for the establishment of Officers shops was not granted in April 1945 with the following officer’s shops to be added to establishments;

  • 1 NZ BOD – One Officer Shop Detail
  • 2 NZ BOD – Two Officer Shop details, (Bari and Senigallia)
  • NZ OFP, AOD Section – One Officer Shop Detail.

Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945, bringing hostility’s in Europe to a close, but in the Pacific and South East Asia the war against Japan was still in progress and discussion of the future of the NZEF and its future in the war was underway. By June 1945 the decision had been made to maintain NZOC units in the NZEF at full strength to facilitate the handing back of vehicles and equipment by Divisional units as they were demobilised or reorganised for service against Japan. In June 1945 103 personnel from Divisional NZOC units were placed on the establishment of 2 NZ BOD but attached to RAOC units, the bulk to the RAOC 557 BOD at Naples to facilitate the handing back of equipment and also the distribution of new equipment for the force been raised for operations against Japan

2 BOD NOV 45

The August atomic bombing of Japan and their subsequent surrender in September 1945 brought what was going to be a long war to a sudden end. Japan would be occupied by allied forces and New Zealand would contribute a Brigade group (J Force) based on the 9th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd NZEF.[22]

By November the 2 NZ BOD Advanced Section of Depot at Senigallia had been disbanded and the establishment of 2 NZ BOD reduced to five Officers and 42 Other ranks. The personnel of the 2 NZ BOD Advance Section of Depot were transferred to Florence where they married up with the NZ OFP to form a final NZAOD to support the demobilisation of the 2nd NZEF. The liaison staff to the RAOC depots had also been reduced from the original 103 to five Officers and thirty-eight Other Ranks.[23]

Both 1 and 2 NZ BOD would spend the remaining months of 1945 packing and returning equipment to New Zealand, clearing Depots and returning stocks to the ROAC. By 1 February 1946 after close to six years of providing Ordnance support to the 2nd NZEF the Base Ordnance Depots and the NZAOD of the NZOC were formally disbanded and the final NZOC troops headed for home or to Japan for service with J Force.

1946

Like all of the NZOC units of the 2nd NZEF, the role that the NZ BOD played in supporting the 2nd NZEF has hardly rated a mention in many of the contemporary histories of the 2nd NZEF. But considering that it was a unit started from scratch and had to learn its trade on the job under wartime conditions it is a unit worthy of recognition. Providing the 76000 New Zealand Troops that passed through Maadi Camp, and maintaining the NZ Division over vast distances with all manner of war material was a huge achievement and one never to matched in the history of the New Zealand Army.

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018

Notes

[1] W. G. Stevens, Problems of 2 Nzef, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45 (Wellington, N.Z: War History Branch, Dept of Internal Affairs, 1958, 1958), Non-fiction, 93.

[2] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945 (London: Royal Army Ordnance Corps, 1965), 110-11.

[3] 1939-1948 New Zealand Army WWII Nominal Rolls, “Roll 1: 1939 – 31 Mar 1940,”  https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1832/31839_224118__0001-00003?backurl=https%3a%2f%2fsearch.ancestry.com%2fsearch%2fdb.aspx%3fdbid%3d1832%26path%3d&ssrc=&backlabel=ReturnBrowsing#?imageId=31839_224118__0001-00042.

[4] Frank Steer, To the Warrior His Arms: The Story of the Raoc 1918–1993 (London: RAOC, 2005), 73.

[5] Peter Cooke, Warrior Craftsmen, Rnzeme 1942-1996 (Wellington: Defense of New Zealand Study Group, 2017), 72.

[6] Stevens, Problems of 2 Nzef, 21-22.

[7] Short cellular drawers or underwear were issued to British and Commonwealth troops for wear in summer and for general wear in tropical areas. They were white open-weave ‘cellular’ fabric, featuring a two-button fastening to the front opening and a pair of horizontal cloth loops to either side of the front waistband.

[8] Major J.S Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (Trentham: RNZAOC, 1992), 106.

[9] Ibid., 102-03.

[10] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Base, Item Idr20107591 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/22 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

[11] Ibid.

[12] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field Item Idr20107590 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/21 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

[13] Cooke, Warrior Craftsmen, Rnzeme 1942-1996, 72-122.

[14] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Base.

[15] Listed in some records as the RAOC 508 AOD it might actually be 500 AOD as no record exists of an RAOC 508 AOD.

[16] It is assumed that the NZAOD was co-located with the NZ OFP when in the mobile role.

[17] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 243.

[18] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Base.

[19] History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 205.

[20] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[21] History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 120.

[22] Matthew Wright, Italian Odyssey: New Zealanders in the Battle for Italy 1943-45 (Auckland, N.Z: Reed, 2003, 2003), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 166.

[23] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Base.

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