2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
The Coriano Ridge
The Coriano Ridge
By 11 September the guns were back in the line under the Canadian Corps. This time the 14th Light Ack-Ack and the Survey Battery were included and the 7th Anti-Tank provided 31 Battery, some members of which were far from pleased to be detailed for a smoke-screening task on the lines of the one they had undertaken at Cassino. The 654th Air OP Squadron (less two flights) was also under the CRA's command and the New Zealand sappers provided a special grader to go forward with the 4th Field to help construct landing strips for the Air OP aircraft.4
The guns drove through Fano, past the elaborate concrete defence works of Pesaro, staged at Gradara, and deployed halfway between the fishing village of Cattolica and the little seaside town of Riccione. Behind them 6 Brigade, with 33 Battery and B Sub-battery of heavy mortars, went into reserve by Gradara.page 642
Gun crews worked hard on the 12th on pits and camouflage and preparing ammunition. They were not allowed to fire until 6 p.m. and they were still forbidden to wear cap badges or shoulder titles. Their presence on the Canadian front was to be kept secret. Then they began a programme in support of 1 Armoured Division. It was of the same kind of fire at irregular intervals as that which the 5th and 6th Field had provided for the Gothic Line attack. It was not until 1 a.m. on the 13th that they began to fire stonks and ‘murders’—in support of a Canadian attack on a ridge running southwards from Coriano. The attack succeeded and after it they were allowed to resume wearing New Zealand insignia. Evidently the stonks and ‘murders’—very different from Canadian methods—were regarded as trademarks of the NZA. Ammunition expenditure all told averaged about 250 r.p.g.
The capture of the Coriano ridge did not, however, open the way into the Romagna as had been hoped. It led instead to a week of severe fighting. The next phase began with a series of tasks starting at 5.45 p.m. on the 13th; but the infantry failed to reach their starting line and after 15 minutes the tasks were cancelled. They were resumed again at 6.30 a.m. on the 14th— page 643 a series of ‘murders’ on both side of the River Marano. The enemy still resisted and in the afternoon the field gunners found they were once more supporting New Zealand infantry—22 (Motor) Battalion, which had gone through to support 3 Greek Brigade. The 4th Field sent two FOOs up to this battalion, Captain Robinson5 and Lieutenant Eccleton,6 and they found themselves in the thick of a fierce struggle for Rimini airfield, concurrent with a Canadian onslaught on the ridge of San Fortunato, which was the key to the battle.
All of the 14th Light Ack-Ack but 43 Battery had gone back into reserve. In the night 13–14 September a shell hit H5, and wounded four of its crew, none of them seriously, as well as doing minor damage to the gun. Enemy aircraft had made a few quick raids by night; but by day the RAF monopolised the skies and the Bofors gunners found no targets.
The smoke party of 31 Battery had stayed close to the fighting inland, ready to carry out their disagreeable and dangerous task. They were shelled on the 14th near Coriano; but after dark machine-gunners relieved them and they gladly returned to their battery lines. On the return journey, however, they suffered a nasty accident. A dozen of them were trapped in the back of a lorry when it overturned in the darkness. Petrol drained into their little prison and several of them suffered so badly from fumes before they could be released that they had to be evacuated for medical attention. ‘It was just like a very bad morning after’, one of them said later, ‘with none of the pleasure of the night before.’7
4 Landing strips were as close as possible to the guns. They were operated by a joint army-RAF team, the pilots being RA officers. The weather and the tempo of operations decided the type of strip. If time allowed and the ground was boggy, matting or perforated steel plates (PSP) would be laid.
By this time Air OPs were highly expert and the enemy was most respectful of them. The sight of a little Auster in the air was often enough to keep all HBs [hostile batteries] in sight quiet.