2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
The 4th Field Moves Up Behind the Armour
The 4th Field Moves Up Behind the Armour
There was to be no rest, however, for men of the 4th Field. Their next task, if all went well, was to move forward (with page 386 31 Anti-Tank Battery) in support of 9 Armoured Brigade as it pushed beyond the objective to exploit the success. The brigade commander, Brigadier Currie, had been most anxious that the field guns would be in close support at dawn on the 24th and that their FOOs should be forward with the tanks; he had not been satisfied that there was close enough co-operation between the 4th Field, the CRA, and his own staff to ensure this, and he had therefore written on the 23rd to Freyberg himself.9 He had been led to believe that the 4th Field OPs, which now operated in White armoured cars or Stuart tanks, would meet his regiments on the Qattara Track and go forward with them. Brigadier Weir had said nothing to the contrary when the two met in the morning of the 23rd and it was not until he, Currie, had returned to his own headquarters that he learned that this was no longer intended. Freyberg entirely agreed that the OPs should go forward as Currie proposed and instructed the BM at Artillery Headquarters accordingly (in the absence of Weir); but he was reluctant to send the soft-skinned vehicles of the 4th Field forward of Miteiriya Ridge at first light, as Currie seemed to wish. He promised that the guns would go forward as soon as possible and thought that ‘when you have been in action with the gunners, and certainly after any battle at 0700 tomorrow morning [24 October], you will be happy with the arrangements’. The misunderstanding seems to have arisen from a discussion between Weir and Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart of the 4th Field in which the latter took mere suggestions related to certain contingencies to be firm orders. It was soon rectified. Weir ordered the OPs to do as Currie wished and further instructed the 5th and 6th Field to do all they could to support the armoured brigade on the 24th.
The 4th Field was as a result even more determined to fulfil its support role satisfactorily. Its quads came forward at the earliest possible moment after the barrage ceased, though traffic congestion delayed them a little, and the guns were hooked on. They had barely begun to move, before 3 a.m., when they were suddenly ordered back into action and telephone lines were hurriedly relaid. The emergency—probably in the area of a flanking division—soon passed and the 4th Field moved on, though at an irritatingly slow pace because of the mass of vehicles pressing towards the minefield gaps. The gaps were narrow and the gunners saw several vehicles of other units page 387 blown up on mines. They themselves kept closely to the tracks and suffered no harm. By an extraordinary effort the ground ahead was reconnoitred and Stewart got his guns deployed before dawn at the foot of Miteiriya Ridge and well inside the former enemy FDLs.
The field gunners had not failed the armoured regiments; but they now found themselves perilously placed in an area thickly sown with Teller mines and booby traps, some of which were heavy bombs fused to explode through trip wires. All the armoured OPs had gone forward with the leading tanks; but unarmoured ones followed at first light and engaged hostile batteries beyond the ridge and infantry who were still holding up the advance of the South African division to the south. Many tanks came to grief on mines and the armoured brigade was in no position to exploit the almost complete success of the New Zealand infantry, who had gained all but the southeastern corner of their objectives. It was a tight and touchy situation. E Troop of the 4th Field came under fire soon after dawn at very close range until South African infantry, attacking boldly and skilfully, overcame the German pocket. Then, at 10 a.m., heavy shellfire came down on the gun positions and the 4th Field transport and caused heavy loss: 10 killed, including Captain Bell10 of E Troop, and 21 wounded. Bell and two gunners were standing by the RE truck and all were killed by one shell. A signals truck ran over a mine and was completely destroyed, causing four more casualties.
The enemy pocket which bothered E Troop of the 4th Field at first light also troubled 41 Light Ack-Ack Battery, which had accompanied the regiment from the Qattara Track and managed to get its trails on the ground and its Bofors ready for action by this time. Sergeant Goeffic11 of B Troop turned his gun towards this enemy, was wounded in so doing, but continued his preparations to fire. Menaced thus by an automatic cannon at very short range, the enemy lost heart even before the Bofors crew could open fire and after a single shot 20 men surrendered. They were handed over to South African infantry and in due course Goeffic was evacuated. His prompt and cool action was much admired by observers and for it he was awarded an immediate DCM. Later in the day a battery ammunition truck was damaged by mortar fire and had to be sent back.
9 Currie pointed out in his letter that he had been a gunner for 27 years, a regimental commander in Crusader campaign, and a CRA since then, ‘so I do think I can be trusted not to throw my guns away.’