2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
Another Big Barrage
Another Big Barrage
Another push was now planned to widen the salient south-westwards, the field regiments prepared for it on the 2nd, and ammunition was dumped on a liberal scale. By the original plan the New Zealand field guns were to play a major part; but this was later changed and their main task was to support an attack by an Indian brigade. The daylight hours of 3 November were relatively quiet and the three field regiments did little firing, while harassing fire on the 4th Field gun lines did no harm. The field gunners enjoyed a brief rest which they badly needed; but the CRA's staff was extremely busy.
The 5th Field nevertheless scored a success this day which reflected credit on the regimental commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Sprosen, and was largely instrumental in gaining him an immediate DSO. He was visiting his OPs and from one of them, which was under heavy shellfire, he saw a group of 88s engaging tanks. He went from the OP to his own wireless set some way away, regardless of the fire falling close all round, and brought his guns to bear on the target, personally correcting the fire. Then he brought down a full regimental concentration and ‘succeeded in neutralising the battery’, according to the citation (which also refers to his bold and skilful handling of his guns throughout the offensive).
The Indian attack was part of a series of operations and the preparation of the artillery programme had been going on for some time. There were some last-minute complications, however, and the CRA personally made arrangements to deal with them. The Indians, for one thing, had a very long drive along congested tracks to get to the front and only one battalion arrived on time. The brigade had not been trained to follow a barrage and Brigadier Weir had to persuade the brigade commander to accept this form of support (in conjunction with the usual timed concentrations). He had had to demonstrate in page 415 daylight to the brigade staff by laying a line of smoke on the start line and showing how the fire would lift. In so doing it became evident that the New Zealand field guns from their existing positions would be unable to reach the final objective. At very short notice, therefore, the scheme had to be changed and the medium guns had in effect to finish off the barrage for the field guns. This was on top of much other work in connection with other parts of the night's operations and it directly affected not only the three New Zealand regiments, but those of 1 Armoured Division and the Highland division as well as the medium guns. A further elaboration was that Weir decided to fire for one and a half hours on the opening line to indicate it clearly to the infantry of the Indian brigade and allow them to form up correctly. Then the barrage would unroll with 100-yard lifts every three minutes. Bofors were to mark the boundaries as usual.
Because of the late arrival of two of the battalions the start was postponed an hour, until 2.30 a.m. on the 4th. The 5th and 6th Field each had half of the front to cover and the 4th Field was superimposed over the whole front as in the earlier barrages. Word of the delayed start did not reach the 6th Field, however, and for 25 minutes it fired all alone, to the amazement of its gunners and many onlookers, until told to cease fire.
At the correct time all regiments opened fire and in due course the barrage rolled inexorably onwards, battering the defence and leaving little for the Indian brigade to do but gather up the dazed enemy in their line of advance. The barrage paused twice on the way to the final objective and then the guns fired several concentrations to cover the digging-in at the end. Once properly started it all went like clockwork, the Indians performed admirably, and Steve Weir and his staff gained many more admirers.