A battle to win : an analysis of combat effectiveness through the Second World War experience of the 21st (Auckland) Battalion : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Defence and Strategic Studies at Massey University, New Zealand.
This study analyses the Second World War experience of the 21st (Auckland) Battalion to
create a combat effectiveness model of unit-level ground combat for modern application.
Most of the literature concerning combat effectiveness of land forces, and why combatants
win or lose, has analysed very large military organisations, often of American, British or
German origin. Little analysis has been set at battalion level or lower, and none on New
Zealand troops. Much of the most important research has emphasised formulae, factors and
coefficients to construct a mathematical model of combat to either account for victory in past
battles, or to predict it for those in the future. This approach provides realism to computerbased
simulations and games and is of assistance to Operations researchers, but it does not
help historians or the general reader account for victory, nor does it help soldiers prepare for
combat in the future.
This research uses combat analysis methodology to examine eight battles fought by the 21st
(Auckland) Battalion in Egypt, North Africa and Italy between April 1941 and December
1943. It found that the 21st (Auckland) Battalion was raised specifically for war service, and
was prepared for combat largely by its own men, some of whom had a modicum of inter-war
Territorial army service, and a very few had First World War combat experience. It found
that the battalion was ineffective in its earlier battles, but as it gained in experience, its
combat effectiveness improved, despite changes in personnel due to casualties and furlough
drafts. The research shows that novice Italian and German infantry units exhibited the same
lack of combat effectiveness as the 21st (Auckland) Battalion did in its initial battles.
The study found that no battle examined was alike. Each was a battle to win, despite the odds.
Superior strength was found to be a reasonable determinant of victory, but leadership and will
to fight, along with the tactics employed and the terrain over which the battle was fought, all
impacted significantly on the outcome of the battles analysed. The study found that the 21st
(Auckland) Battalion, as a microcosm of all of the 2nd New Zealand Divisions infantry units,
evolved towards a preference for night operations as a means of reducing vulnerability to
enemy small arms fire, and as a way of achieving surprise over the enemy. It discovered that
the willingness of New Zealand infantrymen to take over, rather than take cover, once their
leaders had become casualties, was also a significant contributor to combat effectiveness.