2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
Return to the Front
Return to the Front
The CRA and a small party moved on the 16th, to take over from the artillery of 56 Infantry Division of 5 Corps in the Forli area. Another major river line had been crossed while the Division was resting; but there were many more to come. The next were the Montone and then the Lamone River with terraced stopbanks of soft earth. Beyond them was Faenza, and beyond that the Senio River. And winter was fast approaching. As a 4th Field man noted, ‘conversation was not exactly sparkling’ as the field regiments drove forward on the 17th.
Artillery Headquarters opened in Forli itself and the 5th, 6th and 4th Field were respectively north, north-west and west page 670 of the city, the 4th practically in the suburbs. Good casas were plentiful, no OPs were called for at first, and for three days there was little to do. Early on 21 November the 4th and 6th Field and the 77th Field fired a 200 r.p.g. barrage, and the 5th Field fired concentrations to help 4 Division across the River Cosina and the 5th Field followed up with HF tasks. The attack failed and was repeated with variations the next night. This time the 4th Field followed with counter-mortar tasks and the 6th Field with HF, and in the morning they fired smoke briefly to screen the crossing of the river by tanks. This crossing succeeded and the enemy began to fall back to the line of the Lamone.
The New Zealand Division was needed for the next stage and came forward from the rest area. The field guns crossed the Cosina–Montone canal and got into cramped positions mainly north of the straight Route 9, entering into strong competition with other units for the few suitable casas in the area. Heavy rain in the afternoon emphasised the importance of shelter. The approach roads to the gun areas were narrow and had deep ditches on both sides and the fields were seas of mud. When lorries broke up the roads and in places filled the ditches, the water banked up and made the gun areas so soft that even hens bogged down in the ooze.
Here the guns remained for three wet weeks, with the gunners constantly battling against mud and the signallers having endless trouble keeping communications open. There was, however, one consolation: across Route 9, no more than a mile from the 4th Field, there was what soon became widely known as the vermouth factory. The quality of the vermouth was very good and the quantity, until the MPs mounted a guard over it, was virtually unlimited. It had to be rationed at the gun positions; but large stocks accumulated in the B Echelons. Members of gun crews were frequently sent back for spells and they found the B Echelons highly convivial.
The proximity of the gun areas to Route 9 occasioned many misgivings on the part of those who could foresee trouble from enemy artillery harassing the road. The 5th Field suffered late on the 27th and WO II Hobbs12 and a gunner were seriously wounded. On the 29th the 6th Field RHQ and battery areas received some 170-millimetre shells, more 150s, and many 88s; but they did little more than splash the mud around. There page 671 was considerable fire in support of 10 Indian Division at the end of the month and some very effective observed shooting by the 5th Field, as well as DFs by the 4th Field, in support of 5 Brigade thrusts. Meanwhile several B Echelons had to be moved because they were outside the divisional zone and it was far from easy at that late stage to find casas or, in fact, any shelter at all.
Discrepancies had been discovered between map references of targets and their corrected co-ordinates deduced from observed shooting. On 2 December, therefore, Air OPs shot all the NZA regiments on certain targets to try to overcome this problem. The 4th and 6th Field fired a ‘Chinese barrage’ in the evening of the 3rd to distract attention from an attack by 46 Division, and next morning continued the deception with smoke screens at the approaches to Faenza. The enemy was taken in and reacted violently. Meanwhile the 5th Field directly supported the attack to the extent of 2800 rounds. A further smoke screen in the late afternoon drew further heavy DF from the enemy which fell mainly on empty ground. The M10s of C Troop, 32 Battery, also fired in this deception plan. At the end of it all 46 Division had its bridgehead south-west of Faenza. When the enemy counter-attacked it on the 8th and 9th the NZA regiments fired DF tasks.
One 6th Field OP was a mile and a half east of Faenza and 200 yards from the southern bank of a loop in the Lamone River. Lance-Sergeant Ralston13 reached there with a signals maintenance party in the afternoon of the 7th to relieve the existing party. A heavy mortar bombardment coincided with his arrival and the driver of his jeep was wounded. He left the safety of the OP building and helped the man to cover. Then he saw that urgent medical attention was needed and at once drove the man back along the road to an RAP, regardless of the heavy fire that was still falling. Then he returned and repaired a damaged line under fire and quickly re-established communications to the guns. For this he earned an immediate MM. Back at the guns Sergeant Melville14 of B Troop set a good example of steadfastness under fire when the gun position was shelled heavily on the 9th and again on the 11th, in the neighbourhood of the hamlet of Corleto, and his inspiring influence spread far beyond the members of his own gun team.page 672 page 673
The next step was to relieve 46 Division in its cramped bridgehead. Accordingly 5 Brigade, by means of tracks as muddy as any of those in use on the Cassino front the previous winter, moved into the bridgehead on 10 December with A Sub-battery of heavy mortars and aided by four half-tracked M14s from the 7th Anti-Tank which towed the infantry 6-pounders into position. The 6th Field next day occupied gun positions perilously close to Faenza—so close that night firing was forbidden until the big attack to capture the city. The M10s of C Troop, 32 Battery, came forward with the supporting armour; but the 17-pounder troop, which was extremely hard to move even with M14 half-tracks, was held in reserve.