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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

An Odd Assortment of Guns

An Odd Assortment of Guns

The 200 unarmed men of the 5th Field, working in the 5 Brigade area, were suddenly recalled to Ay Marina on about 10 May to form two troops to take over three Italian 75-millimetre howitzers and two British 3.7-inch howitzers, the first instalment of what was hoped would become a complete field regiment. (A party from 16 LAD under Second-Lieutenant Cooper10 had gone back towards Suda earlier in the month to overhaul guns of various calibres and makes which were page 110 parked under the trees.) Captain Beaumont,11 newly arrived after escaping from Greece by way of Kea Island and then in the caique used by Patterson's party of the 7th Anti-Tank, took a group through Canea on 11 May and collected the guns. The same day, 27 Field Battery (reconstituted with these two troops) came under the command of 5 Brigade and next day Major Philp left Oakes Force to command it. In the neighbourhood of Galatas 28 Battery under Major Sprosen was preparing to revive itself in its proper role, but only one troop came into existence, F Troop under Captain Duigan,12 with three 75- or 77-millimetre howitzers which were to support 4 Brigade facing the Prison Valley.

Philp's task called for much ingenuity, for the characteristics of the howitzers were unknown and had to be found out in a hurry, as his diary relates:

‘… we set out to decide if these guns will fire, what range they have, and as they have four charges we must compile a range table in lieu of the gun rule. We select a trig. point on our left and a high feature on our right, both in line with our guns and giving good conditions to produce at intersection out at sea. Signal communications are arranged, 23 Bn warned, and bang goes our first round. Leaves our end all right and arrives well out at sea, the time of flight being recorded. About 60 blokes are seen hurriedly to leave the water down on the beach.

‘Making up the ammunition is quite a job of work. Quite a collection of cases around the place. Shell must be fuzed, charge arranged, and if the case has been fired a new primer is inserted and the case is used again. Shooting consistent, results good. We have the data for our range table, which Capt. Beaumont compiles the next day.’

The howitzers went into position on the 13th and 14th, the 3.75 in the area of 21 Battalion, south-east of the airfield, and the 75s with 23 Battalion east of it. Yet another troop was on the way and Captain Snadden, who was to command it, arrived in the 5 Brigade area to reconnoitre positions for four French 75-millimetre guns which were to become the property of C Troop. Already 1 Light Troop, RA, under Captain J. Dawnay, had taken up position south of F Troop to support page 111 4 Brigade with four 3.7-inch howitzers. These were all the guns or howitzers that could be spared at that time for the New Zealand Division. Only 49 usable guns had reached the island and these had to be deployed among all sectors of the defence, a task undertaken by the CRA, Creforce, Colonel J. H. Frowen of the 7th Medium (though Philp dissented strongly and successfully from Frowen's proposal to site Snadden's guns on the beach).

The battalions of Oakes Force had dwindled in strength and from the 15th it became known as the Composite Battalion under Major Lewis, part of Colonel Kippenberger's 10 Infantry Brigade. Captain Veale commanded the 275-strong RMT Group, Captain Bliss the 200-odd of the 4th Field Group, and there were also 150 of the 5th Field under Major Sprosen, 250 of the Divisional Petrol Company under Captain McDonagh13 and 140 of the Divisional Supply Company under Captain Boyce.14

Though Oakes's training programme was still in force, Oakes himself had gone back to Egypt. This was a serious loss. It needed someone of his experience and dominant personality to maintain an aggressive policy and ensure that the infantillery were used to good effect. In the end the idea of sending out fighting platoons to deal with parachutists was dropped and the Composite Battalion was expected to do no more than hold the line in the event of invasion, leaving the counter-attack role to trained infantry. Parachute attack was still, of course, a novelty and it was hard to know how to meet it. Looking back, it seems that senior infantry officers failed to appreciate how keen the gunners were on their mission of ‘getting stuck into’ the paratroops before they could organise themselves, how well they had prepared for this, and how hard it would be to sustain morale in a completely passive role. Paratroops are never more vulnerable than when in course of landing. Some gunners and drivers, moreover, who did undertake aggressive operations after the landing, did so with great success—notably Carson's RMT patrol. The passive policy was doubtless reinforced by the Creforce instruction, which had the effect of undermining the defence of the Prison Valley.

Equipment of various kinds was slowly coming to hand. Digging tools never became plentiful and men had to make page 112 do with what they could get. Wire was used extensively, however, to strengthen positions. Two Lewis guns became available for the Composite Battalion on the 15th. Three days later another detachment of the Supply Column, organised as three platoons, came under the command of Captain Bliss, bringing the battalion strength to about 760.

10 Capt E. F. Cooper, m.i.d.; Auckland; born England, 4 Jan 1911; consulting auto-engineer; p.w. 1 Jun 1941; escaped, Greece, 19 Jul 1941; safe in Egypt, 8 Oct 1941.

11 Capt G. M. Beaumont; Greymouth; born Dunedin, 19 Sep 1908; civil engineer; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

12 Maj J. L. Duigan, ED; Gisborne; born Wellington, 8 Jun 1910; insurance inspector; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

13 Capt W. G. McDonagh, m.i.d.; born Ireland, 13 Oct 1897; motor engineer; killed in action 20 May 1941.

14 Capt A. H. Boyce, ED; Seddon; born Blenheim, 8 May 1905; farmer; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.