2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
Some Units are Disbanded
Some Units are Disbanded
Lieutenant-Colonel Sprosen visited each of his troops on the 24th to tell them that the 14th Light Ack-Ack was now to be disbanded. Each troop held a party that evening; but for the ‘old hands’ memories were apt to flick shadows across the gaiety. Next day batteries and then the regiment as a whole practised for a farewell parade. A generous disbursement of regimental page 665 funds for entertainment enlivened battery parties and dances held on the 25th. Then came an inspection and march-past led by the 5 Brigade band on the 26th near Collamato. General Freyberg took the salute1 and then called the gunners round him and spoke impromptu, recalling incidents of the desert days and the early fighting in Italy and praising the record of the regiment. It was a moving occasion. Then, after the parade was dismissed, Freyberg personally met every officer, warrant officer and sergeant. The original members had been mainly 5th Reinforcements and so a great many had taken part in the first as well as the last parade of the regiment and their stern appearance on this occasion disguised a welter of feeling. In his diary Freyberg noted that he had never seen a finer parade.
There was much to do. Guns, transport and equipment had to be inspected and disposed of. Free beer and free canteen goods to the value of 3s. 6d. per man on the 27th further reduced regimental funds. Padre West2 conducted his final church services for the batteries on Sunday the 29th. Major Duignan3 joined RHQ to act as second-in-command for a day or two and then to command what was left after the regiment formally dissolved on the 31st. Sprosen and his adjutant, Captain Beresford,4 both left on the 28th to take over as commanding officer and adjutant respectively of the 7th Anti-Tank.5 For a day or two Sprosen was in the novel position of commanding two regiments at once—his final routine orders to the 14th Light Ack-Ack were dated 1 November.6 The regimental orchestra under the baton of Gunner Brown7 was much in demand for the parties and dances that followed. When officers page 666 of the regiment were entertained to a buffet dinner at RHQ on the 30th the Marsala flowed freely and, in the words of the sober war diary, ‘joy was unconfined’. Brigadier Queree spoke briefly and appropriately.
For ack-ack gunners and those of 34 Anti-Tank and 36 Survey Batteries, also due to be disbanded, the first question was what was to happen to them. The few who had returned from furlough and those of the 5th Reinforcements, due to leave in the replacement scheme, were to go to Advanced Base. Of the remaining ack-ack men, 157 bombardiers and gunners picked by ballot went to serve as infantry in the newly formed Divisional Cavalry Battalion—and the gunners liked this no more than the troopers did.8 It was in fact an even harder wrench for the ack-ack men; for they not only had to lose their identity as gunners and members of a regiment in which they felt at home: they had to take over the black berets and nomenclature of the cavalry— squadrons, troops and so on. The troopers retained at least these morsels of their individuality and corporate existence. The same also applied to men of N Troop and a few of O Troop of 34 Anti-Tank Battery, who joined the cavalry battalion when their battery disbanded. It made them sick at heart.
The rest of O Troop reinforced Q Troop of 34 Battery and this 17-pounder troop became B Troop of 31 Battery. The 7th Anti-Tank ended up with the following components:
|31 Battery||A Troop||M1os|
|32 Battery||C Troop||M1os|
|33 Battery||E Troop||M1os|
|39 Battery, redesignated 34 Battery||G, H, J and K Troops||4.2-inch mortars 5 Survey Troop|
The 6-pounder troops were dropped from the establishment and each battery had one M10 troop and one 17-pounder troop.9 The survey troop—two officers10 and 23 others—was all that survived of 36 Survey Battery, 115 members of which went to page 667 Advanced Base and the other 67 to artillery units as reinforcements. The inspecting and transferring of vehicles and equipment, the drawing or handing in of other equipment, the re-locating and billeting of gunners affected by the various changes, and the start of extensive retraining programmes filled the last days of October and the early ones of November. On the 31st the ack-ack contingent for the Divisional Cavalry Battalion paraded in the piazza at Collamato and then was driven to the San Severino area to join the battalion. For most of the men it was a miserable journey.
However hard these changes were on gunners who had served well and deserved well of the Division, it had been plain for many months that the enemy in Italy had so few aircraft at his disposal that the ack-ack regiment had become an expensive luxury. Its record of at least 67 ½ aircraft shot down had not been added to since the Cassino days and its only notable subsequent success had been the K-Boot sunk off Rimini. Similarly, the anti-tank regiment had fired only twice at tanks throughout the Italian campaign and the only tanks it was now likely to meet were too heavily armoured for 6-pounders even with sabot ammunition. The 17-pounders (which were now also going to get sabot ammunition) could be used for many other tasks on the battlefield and the M10 crews, by developing their ability to bring down indirect fire, were making themselves more and more useful. The heavy mortars were invaluable. More could be said for retaining the flash-spotting and sound-ranging troops of the Survey Battery, which had done valuable work in Italy and could continue to do so. But there were several survey regiments on the Adriatic front and many other means, also, of locating hostile batteries. The New Zealand gunners much preferred to work with their own surveyors and would continue to do so for ordinary surveying—fixing bearing pickets and suchlike. But they would have to do without their own flash-spotters and sound-rangers. Besides these changes, the remaining regiments replaced all their 8-cwt pick-ups with 15-cwt trucks and made many other changes in their establishment of vehicles.
The 7th Anti-Tank were also sorry to lose Jack Mitchell, who was going to become the second-in-command at Maadi Base Camp with the rank of colonel. He had commanded the regiment, except when on furlough, since December 1941 and had endeared himself to everyone by his bravery, selflessness and fairmindedness. Nothing that was likely to help his men was ever too much trouble for him to undertake and the general page 668 page 669 opinion among the gunners was that he was ‘one of Nature's gentlemen’.
Mitchell turned up at the break-up party of 34 Battery in the municipal theatre at Esanatoglia on the 31st, to which all former members of the battery were also invited. It was wellorganised, with great piles of sandwiches, scones and sausage rolls, free wine and cigarettes, and an Italian orchestra. A handful of ‘old originals’ who had joined up in England in 1939 were present, including at least one who was in the battery to the end.11 Jack Mitchell addressed them warmly and modestly, saying that all he knew about anti-tank gunnery was what Jimmy Hall-Kenney of the 34th had taught him. Like the farewell parties of the ack-ack regiment, it was a bitter-sweet occasion. The old hands let their memories run riot and some of the new ones cast their thoughts forward unhappily to their forthcoming conversion to infantry.
Leave from the rest area to Rome, Florence and other places was generous and for those who stayed behind there were many organised entertainments—the Kiwi Concert Party (still with three 34 Battery ‘originals’), a Canadian concert party, an ENSA show, mobile cinemas, and even orchestral concerts. In a series of rugby matches to decide which artillery team should contest the Freyberg Cup, the 5th Field won. Training for most troops took place in the morning only; but for those who had to learn new roles and become used to new weapons—the new M10 crews in particular—a solid programme of training was essential. The weather remained unsettled and on 10 November the countryside was white with snow. When the time came to leave, towards the end of November, there were many tearful farewells.