2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
Thrusting Along the Foothills
Thrusting Along the Foothills
The enemy was already responding to advances in the foothills and pulling back from the strong Fiumicino position. A river crossing was therefore effected with little effort and no artillery fire plan, and the New Zealand Division began to veer to the left from San Mauro towards Gatteo and Gambettola. This, too, was flat land criss-crossed with watercourses and would have been as hard to conquer as the coastal region but for outflanking pressure exerted by the British and Canadians to the south-west.
Opposition on this new thrust line began at the village of Sant' Angelo, north of Gatteo, in the early hours of 13 October. The 5th Field (now commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholson, Huck Sawyers having gone to hospital) had gone into position west of the Fiumicino and very close to the infantry the day before, in positions so soft that guns had to be protected by barricades instead of pits. A brief programme and several additional tasks failed to overcome the defence and a company page 659 thrust failed. The 4th Field moved up on the 13th north-east of Gatteo and both regiments fired briefly at night in support of a Canadian thrust. Before this, however, all field and medium guns in the corps fired one round to mark the capture of Athens, the New Zealand target being the little town of Gambettola.
In mid-afternoon of the 14th the enemy suddenly began to throw everything he had at 46 Battery and a neighbouring RA regiment—shells of various calibres, mortar bombs and nebelwerfer rockets. For 25 minutes the ground shook and the casas trembled violently. BHQ of 26 Battery was shaken when a shell hit the roof of its casa. Few of the gunners had experienced anything nearly so concentrated as this bombardment. All that resulted, however, was that two sergeants of B Troop were wounded, B2 was put out of action for several days, and two other guns were slightly damaged, while the RA regiment had two ammunition lorries hit. The 5th Field and 1 Canadian AGRA at once replied; but strict limitations on 25-pounder ammunition expenditure prohibited the kind of response the gunners would have liked to make.
Sant' Angelo fell to an attack in the night 14–15 October under the cover of concentrations from the 5th and 6th Field, two Canadian field regiments and a Canadian medium regiment. For the 25-pounders the tasks consumed 100 r.p.g. in 90 minutes. The 4.2 mortars also supported the attack and it soon gained ground. More ground was gained in the next few days without formal attacks and the artillery, chafing under ammunition restrictions, could give little help. The 4th and 5th Field moved across the Scolo Rigossa on the 17th to positions near Gambettola. Captain MacKay's E Troop OP of the 5th Field came under intense shelling in the early afternoon which killed his assistant, Bombardier Miller,29 and wrecked his jeep.
The next step, in the night 18–19 October, was a thrust northwards across the River Pisciatello, to widen the right flank and prepare for a subsequent Canadian assault along the Via Emilia to Cesena. It was a major step—a full-scale river crossing—and the fire plan was impressive. It began with a 10-minute counter-mortar programme by the three New Zealand field regiments. Then they joined two Canadian field regiments in firing a creeping barrage, the right, centre and left boundaries of which were marked by A Troop of 41 Light Ack-Ack Battery. page 660 The 4.2 mortars of 39 Battery fired in direct support of 6 Brigade. A battery of SP guns took up the counter-mortar programme for 75 minutes. An SP regiment and a medium regiment fired concentrations. Finally six medium regiments and two 155-millimetre batteries brought down a crushing weight of CB fire.
In the event it seemed like using a sledgehammer to kill a mouse. The attacking infantry met negligible opposition and were chiefly worried by mines and by what they thought were barrage shells falling short. But there is no knowing what it would have been like with a more modest fire plan. What was unusual about the operation was that the enemy did not shell or mortar bridge sites or otherwise hamper the movement of supporting arms and supplies into the bridgehead, and the tremendous CB programme surely had something to do with that. When 4 Armoured Brigade tried to carry on in daylight on the 19th towards the River Savio it soon struck trouble from a rapidly stiffening defence. On the same day 39 Battery, close on the heels of the infantry, ran into strong opposition and Gunner Williams30 was killed.