21 Battalion, 2NZEF History


The 21st battalion was one of the three Auckland regional battalions formed as part of the expeditionary force in 1940. It was raised from recruits mainly in Auckland city and north Auckland but also from Waikato and Hauraki districts. The volunteer recruits were ordered to report to the Rutland Street barracks on 12th January 1940, to meet their officers and NCOS who had been in training at Narrow Neck camp. The unit then underwent a rapid period of training, including drill, route marches, rifle range practice and undertaking night exercises. The Battalion gained a reputation for unruliness however when a government order was made that no service man could buy off-licence alcohol. The men went on strike with placards proclaiming "No beer, no drill." Lt- Colonel Macky addressed the men who were milling on the parade ground and stressed the gravity of situation, the men then returned to their barracks.

The battalion had a regimental mascot "Sergeant Noodles" - a white terrier belonging to Private (Tubby) Ryan of C Coy. "Sgt. Noodles" wore a scarlet and khaki cover, rank chevrons and an NZEF Badge and accompanied the battalion on all marches and parades while the unit was in New Zealand. The battalion also paraded through Auckland twice - Firstly for the funeral of the Prime Minister Michael J. Savage and secondly on an embarkation parade from the War Memorial Domain to the wharves, on the conclusion of the parade the men were given leave for six hours before entraining south. However being short of time to go home, many of the troops just stayed in town drinking at the pubs. Needless to say, at the end of that time the returning troops arrived late, drunk, untidy, and picked up the wrong equipment. It was a scene of military chaos. 21 battalion was eventually transported to Wellington to set sail for the war in Europe with the rest of the 2nd echelon 2NZEF.

Greece and Crete

The 2nd echelon comprised mainly of 5th Brigade was diverted to England as invasion there seemed imminent. After the threat subsided they rejoined the rest of the division in Egypt, just in time to be sent to Greece. The 21st Battalion was involved in many hard fought rear guard actions and at one point held up half a German panzer division for 36 hours in the Peneios gorge. With the collapse of Greece now certain, the battalion was withdrawn to Crete with the bulk of the 2nd NZ Division where it fought as part of Creforce, an adhoc formation tasked with defending the island against a full scale German airborne invasion. The battalion performed well even though the defenders had poor air defence, artillery, transport and weapons. After many days of close quarter battle the battalion along with what remained of the 5th brigade was withdrawn to the embarkation point at Sphakia before being evacuated back to the Egypt.

North Africa

The Battalion then saw action in the Western desert at Sidi Rezegh where they suffered heavy causalities and were then withdrawn to Syria for rest and refit. The New Zealanders later fought in many of the North African battles the 21st battalion was responsible for the capture of the 2IC of the Africa Corps Major General Von Ravenstien in November of 1941, at El Alamein the kiwis were to play a leading role and following their breakthrough of the German/Italian positions, advanced after Rommel's forces all the way to Tunisia, where the 21st supported the 28th Maori Battalion to tackle the hill top fortress of Takrouna.

With the fighting over in North Africa, the New Zealand Divison was withdrawn from combat for resting and a refit. The Battalion was once again brought up to full strength, and the brigade reorganised. At this time there were calls for the Kiwis to be moved to the campaign in the Pacific, however the European war was far from over and the logistics of relocating the New Zealanders back proved too difficult.


Redeployment to Italy saw the New Zealanders fight tenaciously at Sangro and Orsogna before taking part in the famous battle at Monte Cassino. The 21st were sent in with the support of American tanks and much bloody hand to hand combat ensued as they fought for every inch of the ruined town against a determined foe. The campaign in Italy was long and difficult as the New Zealanders had to contend with not only a desperate enemy but also rough terrain and extremes of weather.

The Kiwis were fortunate to have General Freyberg in command and he invigorated morale with competitive sports and also by securing prominent hotels for the use of recreation for New Zealanders along the lines of advance. It was during the closing stage of the war that Lt Col McPhail's unit was confronted by a force of about 4000 Germans landing from boats across a river. He quickly convinced them that his battalion, (only 500 men) was actually a much larger force and was able to negotiate the German surrender. Later the 21st Battalion were part of a force that occupied Trieste, remaining in Italy until October 1945.


Lt-Col N. L. Macky12 Jan 1940 - 17 May 1941
Maj E.A. Harding (Acting)20 April 1941 - 17 May 1941
Lt Col. J.M.Allen17 May 1941 - 28 Nov 1941
Maj T.V. Fitzpatrick28 Nov 1941 - 3 Dec 1941
Maj R.W. Harding3 Dec 1941 - 7 Dec 1941
Lt-Col S.F. Allen7 Dec 1941 - 10 May 1942
Maj R.W. Harding10 May 1942 - 12 June 1942
Lt-Col S.F. Allen12 June 1942 - 15 Jul 1942
Maj H.M. McElroy15 Jul 1942 - 18 Jul 1942
Lt- Col. R.W. Harding18 Jul 1942 - 30 Apr 1943
Lt-Col. M. C. Fairbrother30 Apr 1943 - 14 May 1943
Lt- Col. R.W. Harding14 May 1943 - 4 June 1943
Lt-Col. H.M. McElroy4 June 1943 - 21 June 1944
Lt-Col. A.C. Trousdale21 June 1944 - 9 Jul 1944
Lt-Col. J.I. Thodey9 Jul 1944 - 30 Oct 1944
Lt-Col. E.A. McPhail30 Oct 1944 - 25 May 1945
Lt-Col. J.I. Thodey25 May 1945- 2 Dec 1945