2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
Guardiagrele and Orsogna
Guardiagrele and Orsogna
The next objectives were Guardiagrele to the west and Orsogna to the north-west, and their tactical importance was curiously intertwined. The enemy's winter line had been pierced and perhaps shattered and no great trouble was expected from either town. Yet in the end both defied the New Zealanders, and Orsogna remained unconquered months after they had left the scene. Orsogna's natural strength was immense, yet it took much fierce fighting to demonstrate this even to the defenders. To a New Zealand command long accustomed to victory the question was not whether Orsogna would fall but when. It took bitter experience to teach that this was not really the question at all, once the fleeting opportunity was lost of taking the place by storm in the evening of 2 December, before it was properly defended.
The ground was white and hard with frost at dawn on the 3rd and the snow on the heights glistened in the sun. Captain Edgar18 of 46 Battery went forward with 18 Armoured Regiment and a company of 22 Battalion which attacked the hamlet of Melone on the Guardiagrele–Orsogna road. The 4th Field fired for three-quarters of an hour on this little place and the ridge above it—the same ridge as that on which Orsogna huddled. But opposition was far too strong. Edgar conducted several shoots and registered two targets. Other concentrations fell on Guardiagrele itself. In mid-afternoon Melone, Guardiagrele and defences between them were heavily shelled. But the defence held firmly.
Both the 4th and 6th Field had moved forward again and were well placed to support the left flank as well as the Orsogna front. The previous night the 6th Field had been asked to fire one stonk across the road to Orsogna—presumably the road from page 530 the east along which 6 Brigade was advancing—and it did so. But somehow on the 3rd the regiment and the brigade did not co-operate closely and an attack on this innocent looking but page 531 vital town went in without proper preparation or support. At Division and Brigade there was much optimism. When infantry got into the streets of Orsogna in the morning there were no tanks in close support. During the attack Major Nolan of the 6th Field entered the village in a jeep, but an anti-tank shell hit it and wrecked his wireless set. The jeep had to be abandoned and Lance-Sergeant Murray19 was fatally wounded. In the afternoon the Air OP attached to the 6th Field ranged 48 Battery on to the road north of Orsogna to impede the flow of reinforcements to a hastily arranged defence. By that time, however, the chance—if indeed there had been one—was lost.
Artillery Headquarters was preoccupied with high-ranking visitors and arrangements concerned with a major strengthening of the artillery on this part of the army front. The 6th AGRA with the 111th Field and 66th Medium, RA, came under the CRA's command in the afternoon and also the 1st Air-Landing Light Regiment, RA. Next day, 4 December, 152 Battery of the page 532 51st Heavy Ack-Ack also arrived. On 6 December the CRA placed it under the command of the 14th Light Ack-Ack and its commander, none other than Major Downing, formerly commander of the redoubtable Mac Troop in Tunisia, duly reported to the acting CO, Major Sawyers.
The intention was to break through beyond the Orsogna-Ortona road to Chieti and Pescara, to keep the enemy on the run—to do, in short, on the Adriatic coast what it was hoped that the American Fifth Army would do on the Tyrrhenian coast. But the intention and the hope were unrelated to reality —they were tied to political rather than military thinking—and a winter campaign of constant aggression in that part of Italy offered no worth-while rewards except, possibly, in relation to the war in Europe as a whole.
All now depended on breaking through Orsogna. The 4th Brigade had probed again towards Melone early on 4 December, again with strong artillery support, and was firmly repulsed. In the afternoon it was told that the artillery could no longer carry out other than counter-battery tasks on the left. Apart from this all guns would support the two infantry brigades on the Orsogna front.
In the night of 4–5 December the 4th and 6th Field gun areas were heavily bombarded by ‘88’ airbursts and massive 170-millimetre shells for two ear-splitting hours. The worst hit was 26 Battery of the 4th Field. A gun crew of D Troop was occupying a tent of the type called R.D. and had not bothered to dig it in or sandbag it. A terrible price was exacted for this neglect. Six men were killed and one wounded.20 For the rest of the night the gunners were kept busy with CB tasks and a DF task called for by 22 Battalion.
20 Those killed were Sergeant D. J. L. Power, Bombardiers H. N. Boyd and P. V. Burlace, and Gunners V. A. B. Cameron, J. B. Elliot and R. H. Hughes.