2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
The Tebaga Gap
The Tebaga Gap
The Tebaga Gap was now almost in sight. The 4th Field deployed at last light with orders to put out OPs at first light on 21 March. F Troop of the 4th Field was still out in front with the KDGs, and 8 Armoured Brigade began to push forward in the morning towards the Gap. The enemy there was bombed at 8 a.m., but, though the KDGs put up the orange smoke which was the agreed recognition signal, the Kittyhawks—RAF this time—strafed the group on the way back, wounding an F Troop man and destroying the troop ammunition and petrol lorries. The armour advanced slowly over bad ground and the 4th Field, which had opened fire at 9.40 a.m., also edged forward.
A section of X (Survey) Troop surveyed bearing pickets for the 4th and 6th Field, the 111th Field, RA, and the 64th Medium and by 10.30 a.m. had them fixed on the permanent grid. A lucky chance helped the accuracy of this work. A Trig List for Tunisia had been found in Tripoli. From it a trig station page 481 was located on an aerial photograph. This morning it was seen on the ground. It was tested by shooting and soon found correct.
The 64th Medium had been busy since breakfast time, engaging targets at 19,000 yards. But many obstacles, including minefields, barred the advance of the armour, and until it got farther forward the details of the defences confronting the Corps could not be accurately ascertained.
The 6th Field drove forward, came under the CRA, and fired in the afternoon, attracting fire in return. Mac Troop (with the 4th Field), which seemed to act as a magnet for enemy fire, suffered nine casualties. Even the ACV of Artillery Headquarters, edging forward, came under fire and one man in the area was killed and another wounded.
After dark there was much air activity on both sides as 6 Brigade moved forward to attack. At 10 p.m. two battalions attacked, covered by an artillery programme designed to make the most of the limited ammunition. The 4th and 5th Field, the 64th Medium and one battery of the 111th Field fired on page 482 the enemy FDLs for 21 minutes. Ending this with smoke, they lifted about 300 yards and then 300 yards again for a total of about 50 minutes for the field guns and 92 minutes for the mediums. It was thin, but it was enough and the attack succeeded. The foremost infantry were now up to the Roman Wall across the Tebaga Gap. A quick push through by the armour and exploitation in the morning might have seen the end of the fighting in this region; but it did not happen thus.
J and K Troops of 33 Battery were both forward and deployed by daylight on the 22nd. They saw no enemy tanks, but they engaged transport and each troop knocked out an anti-tank gun. In turn they suffered one man killed.
Counter-battery fire during the 22nd was very effective and the work of the CBO (Captain Spring) and his small staff was evidently efficient, while the FOOs, almost cheekily far forward on high ground captured in the night, also demonstrated their skill. A sound-ranging troop at this stage nevertheless could have provided valuable information and saved a good deal of ammunition that was expended on inaccurate ‘fixes’ of hostile batteries.
It was a day of much air activity and many attacks were made on the guns. One attack early in the afternoon was by Messerschmitts bombing from very low down indeed, so that the Bofors found it hard to engage them without hitting friendly troops. The bombs skipped along the ground before exploding, and though they did no damage they caused acute anxiety to gunners in the neighbourhood. New types of German aircraft were appearing. The Focke-Wulf 187 was already becoming known and in the evening a Focke-Wulf 190 came over and dropped a single bomb.
The Matmata Hills on the right flank gave the enemy excellent observation and on the 23rd he made good use of it. First A Troop and then C Troop of 25 Battery received thorough attention and were forced to move; the battery suffered three killed and a dozen wounded.9 Even in their new positions the 25 Battery men suffered much shelling by day and by night. With hostile batteries so active, Artillery Headquarters ordered a series of 10 concentrations, mainly on hostile batteries. No sooner had these ended, however, than the enemy began to shell 46 Battery heavily. Much harm would certainly have resulted had not the shellfire fallen short because of a false page 483 crest. A scout car of B Troop of the 6th Field was set on fire and the signaller wounded. In the late afternoon the 5th Field came forward and went into action under the CRA's command. More FW190s came over and 43 Battery scored two hits on one of them, while 41 Battery hit a Ju88.
9 Those killed were Lance-Sergeant W. R. A. Hill and Bombardiers A. R. King and R. B. Starky.