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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Edging Towards the Sangro River

page 523

Edging Towards the Sangro River

Slowly the 5th Field edged its way forward on the 14th with 28 Battery leading. The guns went into position beside the road to Atessa and a mile and a half from the village, RHQ was set up half a mile back along the road, 47 Battery laagered on the east side of the road level with RHQ, and in the afternoon 27 Battery took over the positions of R Battery of the 52nd Field, RA. At the Aliakmon River in northern Greece E Troop of 28 Battery had been responsible for the first NZA 25-pounder rounds fired in earnest in the Second World War and the first on the mainland of Europe. Now it was the turn of D Troop of 28 Battery, and when this troop began to register targets at 2.08 p.m. it opened the NZA account in Italy. The enemy also opened his account against the NZA, rather more effectively, by shelling 27 Battery as it crossed a bridge below Casalanguida, hitting a quad, and damaging two guns. Several gunners were slightly wounded, but they stayed in action. At 10 a.m. the 3rd Field, RA, had come under the CRA's command when the New Zealand Division took over the sector of 8 Indian Division and one of the Indian brigades. The 41st Ack-Ack Battery had deployed in bright moonlight the night before covering the bridge and also the village of Casalanguida, together with another bridge in the area and the gun positions now occupied by 27 and 28 Batteries.

The enemy was slowly falling back under pressure from Indians and the Essex Regiment, but he knew the ground and had it well taped, and on the 16th he shelled Artillery Headquarters accurately with a single gun all afternoon and part of the night. He hit several vehicles, but caused only light wounds to one or two men, including the Staff Captain, Myers.10 Meanwhile the 5th Field guns had fired concentrations on the village of Archi, north-west of Atessa, and also shelled two crossings of the Sangro in the evening of the 15th in support of an attack on the left flank. An FOO of 28 Battery accompanied the Punjabis who attacked. B Flight of 651 Air OP Squadron came under the CRA's command on the 16th, the first of many such attachments, all of them most valuable in hilly country.

The 4th Field went into action just east of the 5th Field and both regiments fired smoke and concentrations in support of a thrust by the Punjabis and 19 NZ Armoured Regiment in which page 524 the village of Perano was seized, opening the way to the Sangro itself. This was the first time the New Zealand field guns were able to support the New Zealand armour.

black and white map of perano

the capture of perano, 18 november 1943

Meanwhile the 6th Field had been moving forward and on the 18th it suffered its first casualty in Italy, Gunner Graham,11 wounded while on reconnaissance. Next day the guns went in well forward, no more than a mile and a half from the Sangro. On the 20th they fired their first rounds.

A heavy programme was planned to support a crossing of the Sangro and Indians and men of the 14th Light Ack-Ack helped to bring forward an adequate supply of ammunition for the 6th Field. The 4th and 5th Field moved forward in readiness. The river was running too high, however, and the crossing had to be postponed. All the field regiments could do in the meantime was to engage hostile batteries; but the enemy soon denied even this by moving most of his guns back out of range. A troop of the 80th Medium which came under the CRA's command for CB work on the 23rd was therefore most welcome. The need for it—and the limitations of the 25-pounder against page 525 existing enemy equipment—was underlined later in the day when F Troop of 47 Battery was heavily and accurately shelled and forced to move.

Early on the 23rd all three New Zealand field regiments and also the 3rd Field supported an extremely difficult attack by the Indian brigade on Sant' Angelo beyond the Sangro. The enemy counter-attacked and the guns fired many DF tasks. In the course of these the gun A3 of 25 Battery suffered a premature which damaged the breech ring and block and burst the eardrums of Sergeant Burden.12 Two days later RHQ of the 5th Field was heavily shelled, at least one man was killed,13 and five or six men were wounded.

The enemy artillery was outnumbered, but not outranged and certainly not outclassed. The RAF was active in bombing hostile batteries, but in such rugged country it was hard to hit them. On the 24th the CRA himself conducted a shoot against an enemy OP beyond the Sangro. He started at 10 a.m. and after a 46-degree switch from zero line in eight rounds he established a verified short bracket in record time. By 10.35 a.m. the 4th Field engaged the target with three rounds gun fire. ‘Major Fisher [of the 5th Field] was duly informed’, according to the Headquarters diary.

The rain which kept the Sangro flooding also damaged the overtaxed roads throughout the area and turned gun positions and HQ areas into quagmires. E Troop of 46 Battery had got into position on the 20th by manhandling guns one at a time, each with about 100 men on drag ropes. In the next few days the ground got worse, and the 14th Light Ack-Ack had large parties out under frightful conditions labouring to keep the roads and tracks open. On the 24th a TSM of 41 Battery, WO II Kidd,14 was seriously wounded by a shell splinter through the face which caused him the loss of an eye. Two days later the 14th Light Ack-Ack opened its Italian account when A4 briefly engaged two Messerschmitts. On the 27th Lieutenant-Colonel Kensington reconnoitred with the commander of 41 Battery positions from which the Bofors could fire along the brigade and battalion boundaries to guide the attacking infantry, and also to protect the Bailey bridge which was to be erected across the Sangro in the big attack.

10 Capt K. B. Myers, MBE, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 5 Mar 1907; merchant; wounded 16 Nov 1943.

11 Cpl A. Graham; born Dunedin, 18 Jul 1911; surveyor; wounded 18 Nov 1943.

12 Sgt E. W. R. Burden; Nelson; born England, 30 Sep 1906; carpenter; twice wounded.

13 Gunner K. R. Osborn.

14 WO II K. M. Kidd; Dunedin; born Dunedin, 8 Jan 1918; clerk; wounded 24 Nov 1943.