2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
The Forthcoming Offensive
The Forthcoming Offensive
The outcome of the operation was not a foregone conclusion. Eighth Army, with resources little greater—except in artillery and air support—than those it had had for the Alamein offensive, now proposed to deliver the coup de grace to a far stronger army than Rommel's. The German Tenth Army had more than nine divisions and there were two more in reserve behind it. News of a succession of military disasters on other fronts had not robbed the German Army in Italy and its allies of their resolution and resilience, and they still numbered over 600,000 men (all but 100,000 of them reliable) and had more than 2000 guns. An Indian division on the right, the New Zealand Division in the centre and a Polish division on the left were to attack across the Senio and then the Santerno, if possible in such a way as to keep the enemy unbalanced so that the front could page 693 not again crystallise and no more costly set-piece attacks would be needed. Success on the Eighth Army front would allow the Fifth Army to stream down from the mountains and overrun the western part of the Po Valley and the Plain of Lombardy.
The New Zealanders could see this grand panorama only through their imaginations. All their eyes showed them, on the two miles they held up-river from south of Cotignola, was the near stopbank, in places some way off, and the tops of a few casas and other buildings beyond it. The infantry therefore spent the first few days of April pushing forward through the vineyards which stretched like bowling alleys towards the stop-bank, infested with trip-wires and mines and covered by ‘Span-dau Pete’, until they reached it—not without loss. In this the gunners could give little help, though the 6th Field fired DF and counter-mortar tasks. The four troops of heavy mortars, deployed 1000 yards from the river, were strictly forbidden to fire. The stopbank and enemy-held buildings beyond the river could easily be seen from the upper windows of their casas. Nebelwerfer rockets and mortar bombs landed all round them from 3 April onwards and they had four men wounded; but they could not reply.
The same silence was imposed on the M10s and 17-pounders of the 7th Anti-Tank. Though this irked the anti-tankers, it turned to their advantage when the enemy staged his heaviest bombardment for many months in the night 6–7 April. Most of it was directed at known gun positions, and the New Zealand guns, as yet unlocated by the enemy, attracted no attention. The M10s of C Troop, however, stationed under trees well behind the 4th Field, were in one of the target areas. A shell, striking a tree above C2, burst downwards into it and set it on fire. Sergeant Hill9 at once climbed down into the open turret, grabbed the fire extinguishers, and tried to put out the fire. Small-arms ammunition was exploding around him as he did so, the air was filled with choking fumes, and there was grave danger that the charges of the 3-inch ammunition would ignite. The extinguishers were not enough and Hill called for water to be handed down to him. With it he managed to quench the fire. While he was doing so another shell exploded under the gun. Had Hill not acted so promptly and persisted as he did the M10 would undoubtedly have become a total wreck. For his efforts he was awarded an MM.