Author(s): Tristan Brehaut
Why revisit Minqar Qaim? Some writers ignore it; some regard the action as merely part of a broader canvas. Others, using it as an example of unrestrained brutality, seek to place it in a context from which to make a political argument. The artillery battle at Minqar Qaim on 27 June and subsequent break out during the very early morning of 28 June 1942, is regarded as one of the New Zealand Division's best actions in World War II. Minqar Qaim Day, 27 June, is now also the defining moment, the anniversary date for 2 Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast Regiment. Currently (1994) the official Australian position is that the atrocities which reportedly occurred have been caused by the New Zealand troops. It is doubtful now if any of these claims can be fully substantiated, except perhaps in the case of Minqar Qaim. As the authors point out, During the night breakout of Minqar Qaim, at the time of Mersa Matruh, the frenzied New Zealand troops bayoneted wounded and surrendering Germans when they burst into their laager. Frenzied and burst are emotive words. They need a full and proper context. A similar accusation has been echoed in 2004 by Sir Max Hastings in his Introduction to Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-45. There is a growing assertiveness in Germany about the war crimes of Allies. The author shares the view of German historians, such as Georg Friedrich, that the British and Americans should more honestly confront their undoubted lapses, some of them serious New Zealanders massacred medical staff and wounded men at a German aid station in North Africa in 1942. No one was ever called to account, though the episode is well documented. Indeed it has been but Hastings use of the word massacre not only creates a wrong impression but it also suggests that the action at Minqar Qaim was solely against a German RAP and nothing else. It ignores the fact that New Zealanders were in the midst of a battle. Fix Bayonets: Minqar Qaim does not seek to pour oil on troubled waters. We have presented the available facts as we see them with the intention of allowing the reader to make his or her own judgement. We do ask you to bear in mind that in the noise and confusion of adrenalin-pumping action, many things occur which later may draw criticism. Hindsight, some sixty years after the event, may be conducive to scholarly as well as popular analysis but it must also take into account the passion of the moment and the culture of the time. Despite the calls for peace, the 1930s and 1940s were decades of extreme violence world-wide. The action at Minqar Qaim needs to be viewed in that context.