2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
Spaniel: a Masterpiece of Planning and Administration
Spaniel: a Masterpiece of Planning and Administration
The Division passed from 5 Corps to 13 Corps on 14 April and 2 AGRA stayed with the former. A great weight of artillery consequently came directly under the CRA's command, straining his resources and those of the Divisional Signals, particularly H Section. At the same time the Division was attracting enemy reserves away from the Argenta Gap to the north-east and from the Bologna front. This clearly meant more heavy fighting, and both the CRA and General Freyberg called for even more artillery. The CCRA of 5 Corps responded vaguely to their requests at lunch on the 14th. Queree therefore took the matter up directly with Eighth Army Headquarters, asking for the 75th Medium, the 2nd RHA, a survey battery and a meteorological section. To Freyberg he reported that he hoped to have a heavy battery of 7·2s and another of 155s by nightfall.
Infantry losses were already considerable (though remarkably light in relation to the strength of opposition overcome) and 9 Brigade therefore came into the line on the left as 6 Brigade sidestepped into 5 Brigade positions, 5 Brigade going into reserve. Freyberg had hoped to stage a set-piece attack—Operation Spaniel—to crack the Sillaro line in the night 14-15 April. When he learned that the 75th Medium and 2nd RHA would not arrive until next day he postponed Spaniel for 24 hours: ‘… we are not competing for a prize’, he remarked.
The inexperienced infantry of 9 Brigade were heartened by the confident deployment of A Sub-battery of heavy mortars in their support. Major M. M. Robertson reconnoitred under small-arms page 712 and shell fire in front of the leading tanks and got his mortars into action on the forming-up line of the infantry. His gunners were able to give support over the full distance of the attack—the first staged by 9 Brigade—and the infantry were greatly reassured. For this and similar efforts Robertson gained an immediate MC.
In Sesto Imolese a church tower gave excellent observation over the left of the Divisional front and A Troop of 31 Battery was called forward to deal with it. The M1os fired 17 rounds and scored 17 hits, breaking down one side of the tower and rendering it useless as an OP. On the 14th, too, Major Macindoe,31 25 Battery commander, who had served with 3 Division in the Pacific, was slightly wounded. Another shell struck the window of a room in which he was awaiting medical attention, however, and mortally wounded him. The 5th Medium fired at very close range into Sesto Imolese and its 5·5-inch shells did enormous damage and helped to destroy six tanks.
The CRA's staff had meanwhile been working very hard indeed on the fire programme for Spaniel. H Section Signals were reinforced, but they had to lay lines to 15 units now under the CRA's command and to many sub-units. Even with an extra line detachment from 4 Signals Squadron and a maintenance detachment from 13 Corps, it was as much as H Section could do to keep up with demands. Telephone exchanges were overloaded. Wireless worked well though there were 25 stations on ‘forward control’ and 25 more on ‘stagger net’. Despatch riders had their busiest time of the war.
To the new corps commander, Lieutenant-General A. F. Harding, and his CCRA, Brigadier V. C. Green, it seemed impossible that Queree's staff could complete in just over 24 hours a programme very nearly as heavy as that of Operation Buckland, which had taken a far larger staff weeks to prepare and promulgate. Harding had told Freyberg by telephone the previous evening that he would supply all the additional artillery the Division needed and was sending forward the 152nd and 154th Field, the 75th and 78th Medium, a survey battery and a meteorological section. But at lunch with Freyberg and Queree on the 15th Harding and Green urged a further postponement of Spaniel. Queree would not hear of it. Everything was well under control, he assured them, and all would be ready in good time. Even Brigadier Parkinson had misgivings. ‘It will be an page 713 “amateurish” shoot because the regiments are just getting into position now’, he pointed out to Freyberg after 3 p.m. in relation to flanking fire from the Indian division on the right. But by 6 p.m. the last ‘t’ was crossed, the last ‘i’ dotted, and all was ready. As a feat of planning, administration and signalling it was superb, and probably, of its kind, equalled only by Austin which followed three nights later.
spaniel began at 9 p.m. on the 15th with a barrage fired by the three NZA field regiments, the 1st and 12th RHA and the 104th and 152nd Field; concentrations fired by the 142nd Field (SP), the 5th and 75th Medium and a Polish medium regiment; a CB programme by the 76th Medium and 61 Battery (155s) of the 32nd Heavy; and a CM programme by a battery each of the 142nd Field and the 55th Heavy Ack-Ack. Bofors guns marked the boundaries and also make-believe boundaries beyond the flanks to make the enemy think the attack was on a wider front than the 3000-odd yards covered by the barrage. Everything went like clockwork. It was a flawless performance. The infantry nevertheless had a hard fight in places, especially on the left flank, and they were not surprised to find out in the morning that they were up against the still-formidable 4 Parachute Division. Several DF tasks were called for after the barrage ceased at 11.50 p.m.
Captain Bain32 of 26 Battery was with 22 Battalion, and when the infantry struck heavy opposition he quickly established an OP. From this he controlled the fire of the 4th Field and also of other regiments and did much to break down resistance. About 100 prisoners were taken. Then Bain moved on and after dawn he again brought down accurate fire which helped the infantry to capture about 50 more paratroops. For this and for later work at the Gaiana canal Bain earned an immediate MC.
Another 4th Field decoration earned in this period was that of Gunner Anderson33 of 25 Battery. He was a wireless operator in an OP also in support of 22 Battalion. For three days he worked his set in an open troop-carrier, passing not only fire orders but messages for the infantry when their own communications failed. Most of this time he was under shell and mortar fire. Anderson gained an immediate MM.page 714
The 4th Field began to move forward at first light on the 16th to positions just behind the Sillaro, in a heavy ground mist which delayed the survey for a short time. The 5th Field followed a little later, crossing the river and deploying in a large field much obstructed by ditches. The 6th Field moved in the afternoon to gun positions also near Sesto Imolese across the river.