2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
The attack opened on 6 April with a tremendous artillery programme by 18 field regiments and four medium regiments, a total of 496 guns, starting at 4.15 a.m. This was a greater concentration of fire than had ever before been achieved in North Africa, since the main front was no more than 10–12 miles long—running from the sea on the right at the Wadi Akarit to a complex of lofty and precipitous hills inland. Most of these heights had been seized by Indians and Gurkhas in a silent attack in the night, before the guns began their storm of fire against the wadi and the defences which linked it with the hills.page 491
The New Zealand guns supported 50 Division. The three field regiments fired for 25 minutes at selected targets and then, at ‘Z plus 30 [minutes]’, they fired a 31-lift barrage in two phases, in the first of which the 5th Field fired on the right, the 6th Field on the left and the 4th Field was superimposed over both. In the second phase, starting two hours later, only the 5th Field fired on the right and the 4th Field on the left, while one battery of the 6th Field fired a series of 12 tasks. At the same time the 2nd RHA, also under the CRA's command, and the 124th Field fired tasks. The barrage ended at Z plus 299—9.14 a.m. on 6 April—and the 6th Field tasks went on until 9.41 a.m. The New Zealand field guns each had 300 rounds above their normal complement and this programme called for a maximum of about 210 rounds per gun; but the programme also included a series of stonks to be fired if needed to cover the period of consolidation after the attack. The 64th and 69th Medium fired tasks and were also ready to fire the stonks. The 6th Field was to fire at intervals during the day to mark the bomb-line for the Allied air forces; but there is no record that it did so in the event. Captain Carson and Major Bretherton were responsible for liaison with 69 Infantry Brigade and the 4th County of London Yeomanry of 22 Armoured Brigade respectively.
Very little fire came back at the guns as they carried out their long programme, but once again Mac Troop was unlucky. One of a series of bombs scored a direct hit on one gun, killing two of the crew and wounding three others. Bombardier Shearer,20 a medical orderly of the 4th Field, rushed to help the crew while bombs were still falling—one of several such actions on his part.
At first light on the 6th the whole front was covered with smoke and dust, but it soon began to clear. When it did so a thrilling spectacle unfolded itself on the hills to the left, where the Indians and Gurkhas could be seen mounting towering rock faces undeterred by the white puffs of smoke speckled with vicious-looking flashes which opened up everywhere among them as the enemy artillery concentrated on them.
When the New Zealand barrage and associated tasks ended there was much confusion in the centre of the front and the Northumbrians made little progress for several hours. The rest of the day was eaten up with bursts of fire to supplement the page 492 destruction wrought by the main artillery programme. In the afternoon the 4th and 6th Field moved forward and went into action again close to a large minefield. There were several casualties, mainly among OP personnel. Gunner Hall21 of the 5th Field, for example, was killed when his OP vehicle suffered a direct hit. The 6th Field had three men lightly wounded, two of them in OPs. In another raid by fighter-bombers of the USAAF an RASC truck was set on fire and its two occupants badly burnt. Anti-tankers nearby narrowly escaped harm. One bomb landed a few feet from a portée but failed to explode. Then, just before dark, six Ju88s made a low-level attack on the New Zealand gun positions, only to run into scorching fire from the Bofors22 which sent two down in flames and two more were smoking as they flew away—the 6th Field says three were shot down. It was a spectacular episode and the field and antitank gunners gave their ack-ack colleagues a stand-up round of applause. There were mines everywhere, and after dark the truck X2 of X (Survey) Troop struck one and was destroyed and a sergeant and two gunners were wounded. After dark, too, there were more butterfly bombs, particularly in the gun areas.
22 At least one battery of the 53rd Light Ack-Ack, RA, was forward with the 14th Light Ack-Ack.