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New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18


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After having held the line at Armentieres for three months, preparations were begun for the relief and departure of the Division, and almost immediately it was common report that its route would lie towards the Somme, where for over six weeks the British and French armies had been engaged in the most desperate series of battles which had yet been fought. The arrival of advance parties from the 51st (Highland) Division made departure a matter merely of days, and on the 17th of August the New Zealand battery positions were taken over by the batteries of the incoming Division, and detachments withdrew to the wagon lines. On this occasion the stir and incident attending a divisional relief were greater than usual. The New Zealanders displayed for the Scottish troops a regard greater than they had seemed to entertain for other Home troops with whom they had been associated; and this found expression in a great deal of fraternising in the streets and in billets as well as in the more congenial atmosphere of the numerous estaminets.

The 2nd and 3rd Brigades of Artillery and the Divisional Ammunition Column marched out from Armentieres on the 18th of the month, followed the next day by the 1st and 4th Brigades. All remained for a few days in the Blaringhem area, the time being devoted to "squaring-up" and ordinary routine duties. After this brief spell units marched to St. Omer and Arques, where they entrained and were taken to Pont Remy and Longpre, whence the 1st Brigade marched to billets at Erondelle, and the 2nd Brigade to Liercourt, the 3rd and 4th Brigades going to Fontaine-sur-Somme, and Bailleul, and Bellifontaine. The Divisional Ammunition Column was billeted at Longpre.

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With the exception of one bad day of drenching rain while some of the batteries were out on an all-day training exercise, good weather was experienced during the week that was spent in this quiet and sheltered corner of the Somme Valley. Most of the time was devoted to hard training; but apart from the value of the training, the rest was beneficial to men who were soon to be engaged in a prolonged period of fighting of the most severe and trying description. Although no time was given to sport there was plenty of swimming to be had in the big pools that marked the course of the river, and everyone was in good heart when, on the 29th of the month, they set out on the next stage of the journey which was to bring them to the threshold of the battlefield.

For the artilleryman, who travels in greater ease than the heavily-burdened infantryman, a trek through new country in fine weather provides a pleasant interlude from the vicissitudes of life in the lines. Reveille sounds with the dawn, or earlier, and by the time breakfast is ready the horses have been watered and fed, and harnessed ready for an immediate start. Brigades move together, with a good interval between batteries, and every unit must be on the road at the appointed time. The early morning air is cool and invigorating; the horses are fresh, and swing steadily along with taut traces to the tune of jingling accoutrements and the rumble of the heavy vehicles of the long column half veiled in the morning mist. Every turn of the road brings something new to wonder at or to admire; and the driver sitting easily in his saddle exchanges sage observations with the gunner marching in rear of his gun. The ten-minute halts mark the passing of the hours; and then, if the journey be not a short one, comes the mid-day halt to water and feed the horses, and munch what the orders term "the unconsumed portion of the day's ration." A column on the march is always preceded by a billeting officer, who, riding hot-foot in advance, has the available billeting accommodation ready to apportion to units by the time they arrive at the night's resting-place. Trekking in heavy weather is disagreeable for the men and severe on the horses, which very frequently have to stand in the mud in some exposed horse lines after a hard journey on heavy roads.

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Some such unfavourable conditions as these prevailed on the two days' march to Bonnay and Corbie. The first night was spent in Picquigny and neighbouring villages, whence on the next day the route lay through Amiens. It rained heavily both days, much to everyone's discomfort; and Amiens, which the Division was to know again under more tragic circumstances, looked sodden and grey as the columns swung down the slopes and wound through the outskirts of the town. Moderately fine weather was experienced during the week which was spent in the Bonnay-Corbie area before the artillery went into the line, and the men were able to dry their gear and clothing. Most of the guns were sent to the ordnance workshops at Heilly, and all equipment was thoroughly overhauled. The men were by this time wound up to a high pitch of uncertain but shoving expectancy; they had made the long journey down from Armentieres in easy stages, and for a week had waited on the very edge of the battlefield within close earshot of the guns, which filled the air with their incessant clamour and lit up the sky at night with their flashes.

On September 1st the C.R.A. with the Brigade-Major motored to Pommiers' Redoubt, about half a mile east of Mametz, and proceeded on foot to an O.P. near Longueval Windmill, whence they looked across the country on which the Division, at dreadful cost, was shortly to win the right to rank equal with the premier divisions that England had placed in the field. Brigade and battery commanders also rode forward to view the country and inspect the positions which they were to occupy. On the morning of September 5th a section from each battery and from the Divisional Ammunition Column moved up to the wagon lines of the units they were to relieve, and on the same day the guns were taken up to battery positions. The remaining sections followed next day. All the main roads for some distance behind the front were crowded with slow-moving columns of traffic, and as they approached their destination the drivers of the ingoing sections got a first experience of the congestion and pressure of traffic which was to be such a marked feature of all the roads on the Somme. The seemingly endless lines of motor-lorries, wagons, limbers, and vehicles of every description, with here and there page 124bodies of marching troops, became at times so densely packed as to render movement slow and intermittent, much as a sluggish stream becomes at times completely dammed by some obstruction ahead of which no one can see the cause. The traffic control police did their best, but their task was a difficult one, and at times its magnitude seemed to have reduced them to a state of bewildered helplessness.

The guns of the remaining sections were taken up to battery positions on the afternoon and evening of the 6th September. The 1st and 2nd Brigades relieved two brigades of the 33rd Divisional Artillery, and were attached to the 14th Divisional Artillery, less the 15th Battery, which was placed under the orders of the 23rd Heavy Artillery Group, and during operations on the Somme was engaged on counter-battery work. The artillery of the 14th Division, with attached brigades, was commanded by Brig.-General Sandys, C.M.G., who was wounded by a shell on September 6th, close to the 9th Battery position, his command passing to Brig.-General G. N. Johnston, C.R.A. of the New Zealand Division. The 3rd and 4th Brigades formed a group under Lieut.-Colonel I. T. Standish, and relieved that portion of the 33rd Divisional Artillery which was attached to the 7th Division. The 7th Divisional Artillery was very shortly afterwards relieved by the 30th Divisional Artillery. The Divisional Ammunition Column relieved that of the 33rd Division.

Batteries of the 1st Brigade took over positions near Flat Iron Copse, and the 2nd Brigade batteries first went into positions due west of Montauban, in Caterpillar Valley. The 18pr. batteries of the 2nd Brigade assumed the formation of two six-gun batteries. The 6th (How.) Battery was in Caterpillar Valley about a thousand yards north of Montauban. The 3rd and 4th Brigades went into positions in the valley which lay a thousand odd yards south-west of Longueval. In misty or dull weather the road up to the guns was safe enough by day; and advantage was accordingly taken of the conditions prevailing to get most of the guns in during the afternoon of their arrival. For those that went up after dark, the obstructions on the roads or tracks that made locomotion difficult by day were enormously increased. Some guns got page 125stuck for an hour or more, during which time a good many lachrymatory gas shells fell in the vicinity, and assistance had to be obtained before they were got under way again. The 2nd Brigade reported having completed the relief by 5.30 p.m. on September 6th, the 3rd and 4th Brigades by 6 p.m., and the 1st Brigade by 7 p.m.

All wagon lines were situated in the neighbourhood of Dernancourt and Becordel-Becourt. The dumps from which supplies of ammunition were drawn were near by, and horses were watered at the long line of canvas troughs which had been erected in the valley below the wagon lines.

No. 3 section of the Divisional Ammunition Column and fifteen G.S. wagons of No. 4 section were to assist in the supply of ammunition to the batteries of the 3rd and 4th Brigades, while the remainder of the column was employed in supplying ammunition to the 1st and 2nd Brigades. The supply of ammunition to the Divisions was carried out in two stages. The first stage from railhead to the dumps was by motor lorries, supplemented by the wagons of the Ammunition Column; from the dumps batteries drew their ammunition and carted it to the gun positions with the assistance of the Ammunition Column sections allocated to their particular brigade.

To give some idea of the part which the New Zealand Division was called upon to play in the battle of the Somme, it is necessary to refer briefly to the tactical position which existed at the beginning of September, about which time the Division was moving up into the line. The Allied offensive on the Somme, which had opened on July 1st, after a week's violent bombardment, had been undertaken with a threefold object: to relieve the strain on Verdun, where the Germans continued to exert a persistent and powerful pressure despite their frightful losses; to stop the further transfer of German troops from the Western Front, and so assist the Allies in other theatres of war; and, finally, to wear down the strength of the German armies, with always the possibility of breaking completely through on the front chosen for the launching of the offensive.

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The positions held by the enemy along this front possessed great natural advantages for defence; and labouring for nearly two years, he had done almost all that human ingenuity and endeavour could do to render them impregnable. In spite of these formidable obstacles, in spite of the enemy's desperate resistance and the heavy losses sustained by the attacking divisions, rapid and almost substantial progress had been made on July 1st, the opening day of the offensive. By midday Montauban had been carried, and the whole of the ridge to the west of the village was cleared a little later. Mametz had also been entered, and Fricourt surrounded on three sides. It is true that these villages had been absolutely obliterated by a devastating series of bombardments and counter-bombardments; but their possession was coveted and fought for none the less bitterly despite that fact. At Thiepval, and north of the valley of the Ancre as far as Serre, on the left flank of the attack, the attack had made no headway, and terrible losses had been suffered. The nature and magnitude of the preparations which had had to be made for an offensive such as this had of course rendered concealment impossible; while the enemy, apparently, had considered himself secure in his heavily wired and labyrinthine system of trenches and dugouts. But the successes on the right and centre of the attack, and the vigour and resolution with which they had been followed up during succeeding weeks, quickly dispelled this feeling of security, and awakened him to a sense of his imminent danger; he had in consequence increased his gun power, and thrown picked divisions into the line in a desperate resolve to stem the tide, which ebbed and flowed a little, but always threatened to overwhelm his defences.

The position, as it stood at the end of the first week in September, was that practically the whole of the crest of the main ridge behind the enemy's original positions had been gained on a front of some five miles from Delville Wood to the road above Mouquet Farm, about a mile east of Thiepval. In those places where British troops did not completely hold the crest of the ridge they had most of the advantages of observation; while a firm footing had also been established on the ridge east of Delville Wood as far as Leuze Wood. It will page 127thus be seen that the greatest measure of success had been won in the centre; on the flanks there was still difficult ground which had to be secured in order to avoid the creation of an awkward and dangerous salient. Events were now in train for a general resumption of the offensive on September 15th, to be preceded on September 9th by a preliminary attack mainly designed to straighten the line in certain places where it had been found impossible to conform to the general advance.

At the outset brigades expended anything from 800 to 1,000 rounds every twenty-four hours on normal shooting, and quite exclusive of any special tasks. Hostile batteries were very active round Longueval and Delville Wood, and in addition artillery areas were subjected to a fair amount of shelling with high explosive and gas shells, both lethal and lachrymatory. The 1st Brigade area was heavily shelled by 8in. howitzers from 7 a.m. till 1 p.m. on the 7th, while the 4th (How.) Battery lost a gun almost before the gunners had time to settle down into action. The enemy was slowly searching the valley with a few big shells when by an unlucky chance he got a direct hit on one of the gun-pits, destroying gun, ammunition, and pit, and killing one man and wounding five.

On September 8th orders were issued that the 4th Army would resume the attack on the following day at 4.45 p.m. The attack was preceded by a deliberate bombardment, which commenced at 7 a.m. on the 9th, with no intense fire previous to zero. The 1st and 2nd Brigades supported the infantry of the 3rd Corps, and the 3rd Brigade Group assisted in the support of the infantry of the 14th Corps. The bulk of the gains were on the right, where Ginchy was captured; otherwise the gains were inappreciable, and little or no progress wag made at High Wood and east of Delville Wood. A counter-attack on Ginchy was repulsed.

Preparations were now being completed for the general resumption of the offensive on September 15th. Fresh troops were being brought in ready to take their place in the line, and the artillery were getting up stocks of ammunition for the prolonged bombardment which was to commence on the 12th. The general idea for the advance of the British armies page 128was to pivot on the high ground south of the Ancre and north of the Albert-Baupaume road; while the Fourth Army devoted the whole of its effort to the rearmost of the enemy's original system of defence between Morval and Le Sars. Given success in this direction, the left of the attack was to embrace the villages of Martinpuich and Courcelette. The French were to co-operate by continuing the line of their advance from the Somme to the slopes above Combles. but their main effort was to be directed against Rancourt and Freigicourt so as to complete the isolation of Combles, already dominated by the British at Leuze Wood, and by the French to the south-east, and open the way for their attack upon Sailly-Saillisel. The whole of the Fourth Army, under General Sir Henry Rawlinson, was to take part in the attack, as well as the 1st Canadian Corps on the right of the Fifth Army. The New Zealand Division was now in the Fourth Army as part of the 15th Corps, which comprised also the 14th and 41st Divisions. In the attack on the 15th the New Zealanders were to be on the Corps' left and on the right of the 47th Division 3rd Corps. The objectives assigned to the 15th Corps were, first, the Switch Trench line; second, the line of Flers and Fat trenches extending along the front of Flers village, and practically parallel with Switch Trench; third, Flers village and a line extending from Flers support on the left up to Abbey road and then across the rear of the village and along Bull's road to the right; fourth, the final objective, which was to take in the village of Guedecourt and its outskirts and the intervening country and trench systems. In the New Zealand Division the 2nd Infantry Brigade and the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade were to take part in the attack, and the 1st Infantry Brigade was to be in Divisional Reserve. The artillery of the 14th Division with the attached 1st and 2nd Brigades of New Zealand Artillery was directly to support the New Zealand Infantry, which commenced to relieve in the line on September 11th. The 3rd and 4th Brigades N.Z.F.A. continued in support of English troops on the right.

On the 10th, battery commanders of the 2nd Brigade selected more forward positions for their guns. The two sixgun 18-pr. batteries were placed down the slope of the crest five page break page break
Lieut.-Colonel I. T. Standish, C.M.G.. D.S.O.. (d)

Lieut.-Colonel I. T. Standish, C.M.G.. D.S.O.. (d)

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Lieut.-Colonel N. S. Falla, C.M.G., D.S.O., (d)

Lieut.-Colonel N. S. Falla, C.M.G., D.S.O., (d)

page break page 129hundred yards due north of Bazentin-le-Grand, and the 6th (How.) Battery near the Bazentin-le-Grand-Longueval crossroads. On the 11th the 15th Battery moved up to a new position near Longueval. New positions had also been reconnoitred for the other batteries of the 1st Brigade on the ridge between Bazentin-le-Grand and Longueval, and these were occupied on the afternoon of the 13th, batteries resuming their part in the bombardment in progress as soon as they were established in the new positions. Before the commencement of the bombardment battery commanders and their subordinate officers had made themselves familiar with the country over which the advance was to take place, by close study of the map and by visual observation from carefully chosen observation posts.

The bombardment opened on the morning of Tuesday, September 12th, all along the line from Thiepval to Ginchy, and continued steadily for three days. The 18-prs. were employed chiefly in cutting wire, searching communication trenches etc., while the 4.5in. howitzer batteries which were not engaged on counter-battery work directed their fire on enemy trenches, observation posts, and machine-gun emplacements. Each battery was given its programme of shooting; but its activities did not end there. Observing officers were constantly on the look-out for suitable targets, and any sign of life or movement in the trenches or on the roads behind the enemy line was instantly the target for several batteries. The whole enemy system of trenches for a great depth was battered with high explosive and sprayed with shrapnel, and any belts of wire entanglements that could be observed at all were methodically wiped out; roads and communications were shelled by day, and even more vigorously by night, when they carried most traffic, and groups of heavy guns concentrated their efforts on the destruction of enemy batteries; in short, the whole area behind the enemy lines was kept under a continuous and destructive fire, blocking the movement of troops and stopping the supply of water, rations, or ammunition. Gas shells, fired by the 4.5in howitzers, were here used for the first time by the New Zealand batteries. On the nights of September 13th-14th and 14th-15th the allotment of ammunition page 130to 18pr. batteries for the shelling of communications, road junctions, and similar targets was increased by 50 per cent.; but no limit at all was set to the expenditure of ammunition necessary for wire-cutting.

An order issued to the troops on the eve of the attack read:—"For the last two and a half months we have been gradually wearing down the enemy. His morale is shaken, he has few (if any) fresh reserves available, and there is every probability that a combined and determined effort will result in a decisive victory."

The morning of Friday, September 15th, dawned fine, but cool and: misty—a typical autumn morning. For three days now the bombardment had gone on with unwavering persistence, neither diminishing nor increasing in volume, suggesting nothing so much as a giant machine controlled by a single mind; but at six o'clock, twenty minutes before zero hour, it seemed to increase in intensity and violence. One thought that nothing could exist under this annihilating storm of shells; but when at 6.20 a.m. the infantry left their trenches and moved forward behind the barrage, the enemy was manning his machine guns, and his artillery put down a heavy and accurate barrage. That day the new armoured cars or tanks, as they became universally known, were used for the first time, lanes being left in the barrage for their advance. Despite the fact that some of them broke down before they reached their front line, and that, of the twenty odd which managed to cross the German line, about a third were almost immediately crippled through some cause or other, they did very good work in fighting machine gun nests and strong points, and in flattening out belts of German wire. As yet, however, they were only in the experimental stage; and, undoubtedly, their greatest success that day lay in their moral effect, as they lumbered up to the German trenches, looming huge and uncertain in the half light.

All the objectives were reached on almost the whole front attacked, the chief exception being on the right flank, east of Ginchy. The New Zealand Infantry took Switch Trench, and finally fought their way into Flers, passing through it, and establishing their line a considerable distance beyond the village, page 131where they refused to yield ground, and bloodily repulsed one counter-attack after another. The 1st and 2nd Brigades of Artillery, which were assisting to support their advance, kept in touch by sending forward observation officers accompanied by telephonists and linesmen. Switch Trench had been carried by 7 a.m., and by 9.30 a.m. observing officers from both brigades had succeeded in establishing communication with their batteries, and by observation were lending the best possible support to the advancing infantry Valuable work was done also during the day by these officers in spotting hostile batteries, reporting their location to Divisional Artillery Headquarters, and so securing for them the attention of the "heavies," and later by engaging, with every available gun, the enemy's troops as they mustered for the counter-attack.

On the front covered by the 3rd and 4th Brigade Group, English troops captured and consolidated their allotted portion of Switch Trench, closely supported by 18-prs. of the group. On pushing on to their third and final objective, however, the infantry had been unable to withstand the German counter-attacks, and had fallen back on to what was known as the Bull's Road line. In this case it had been deemed necessary to push the 3rd Brigade forward on the heels of the advancing infantry, and for this reason the brigade had moved its waggon lines forward from Becordel to the slopes of the high ground behind Montauban on the night preceding the advance. The 4th Brigade reverted to the command of the Brigade Commander, Lieut.-Colonel N. S. Falla, and remained in action behind Longueval awaiting orders to advance. Batteries of the 3rd Brigade commenced to move forward about 9 a.m. on September 15th, the advance of each one being covered in turn by the remaining batteries. The positions chosen were on the forward and reverse slopes of a long shallow valley, which extended eastwards of the road running from Longueval to Flers, and 1500 to 2000 yards in front of Longueval. The 11th Battery moved forward at 9 a.m., and was followed at hourly intervals by the 12th, 13th, and 4th (Howitzer) Batteries in succession. Each battery carried a light, portable platform in two sections, designed for use in crossing trenches, but they were not required page 132that day. Early though the hour was, men of the Labour Corps and Pioneer Battalions had filled in the trenches that intersected the road, or what could be seen of it, and had removed the most formidable obstacles. Sandbags in such small quantities as it had been possible to procure, necessary tools, and, of course, ammunition, were taken up with the guns; while in some cases the gunners themselves, with wise prevision, had secured odd pit-props and baulks of timber, which they had lasted to the limbers. Thus burdened there could be no quick running of the gauntlet along the heavily shelled road, even had it not already been almost crowded with, the parties of troops going up to the line and with the others who also had gone up so full of life but a little before, and were now being borne slowly back to the busy dressing-stations on the edge of Longueval. The drivers took their straining teams steadily along, while the gunners plodded in rear of the vehicles half curious, half apprehensive, and wholly alert.

Of those still living who went with the guns through Longueval that day, and down the tortured road that led on to Flers, assuredly none will forget it while memory lives. From the battery positions they were just leaving, a rough track led up the slopes and joined the main road that led into Longueval. There was but little shelling there, and only an occasional big shell fell into the village itself, but from High Wood, right along the crest to Delville Wood and beyond, the German gunners had laid down a deep, heavy barrage from seemingly every known calibre of gun. And through it ran the road to the forward positions. It might have been thought an impassable barrier; but the infantry had gone through it, and were fighting away in advance of it; and the guns went through. Battery after battery wound through the tumbled ruins of the village, and down past the ragged remnants of Delville Wood, a ghastly place where the big high explosive shells were sending up great gouts of black earth and pieces of wood, and Heaven only knew what else.

The postions were gained at last with surprisingly few casualties. The guns were unlimbered, the gear and ammunition dumped on the ground, and the teams with their lightened page 133waggons set off to run the gauntlet again as fast as the broken ground permitted. The gunners set to work at once with feverish energy to get their guns into action, and to provide themselves with some cover from the flying splinters; but in this they were not always successful, and it was during the hours that followed, and before the fall of night intervened and brought a little quiet to the tormented valley that so many of the casualties were suffered by the gun crews. Battery commanders had preceded their commands by an hour or more, had marked out the positions, and laid out the lines of fire for the guns, so that once a platform was prepared from which the gun might shoot with some degree of stability, it was ready for action. A wooden platform for the gun was an essential, as the country everywhere had been riven and shaken with the concussion of the bursting shells, and nowhere could a solid foundation be found for a gun on the earth itself. Meantime the enemy unceasingly shelled the length and breadth of the valley; he was, of course, perfectly familiar with the country from which he had just been driven, and even had he not observed in the distance the ant-like activity which dotted the surface of the valley, he probably already had it set down as a likely location for the British field batteries.

Meanwhile the efforts of the 3rd Brigade observing officers to get their batteries into touch with the attacking battalions had not in all cases been successful. Infantry units had got mixed up in the advance, and could not be located in the confusion. Observation posts were established, however, and many targets effectively engaged, among them several hostile battery positions which were shelled by the 4th (howitzer) Battery. The difficulties of maintaining communication were common to all brigades. The wires laid forward from the batteries were continually being cut by bursting shells, and the maintenance of communications was terribly difficult No sooner was one break in the line repaired than a bursting shell would gap the line somewhere else, and fling the loose ends perhaps half a hundred yards apart. The linesmen stuck to this apparently hopeless task with resolute courage, and the fact that communication was maintained at all is the highest testimony both to their contempt of danger, and to the value of page 134their work. Similar difficulties were experienced in maintaining the vital link of communication between) batteries and the headquarters of their brigade. In other battles, in later days, the system of communications in forward areas was made more secure by the provision of buried wires, which were laid down before the commencement of operations, but on the Somme the Division was entirely dependent on ground wires or visual signalling.

Towards the fall of evening the fury of the enemy's gun-fire seemed to have somewhat spent itself, work on the advanced battery positions, occupied, and in course of preparation, was pushed on during the night, and a great deal was accomplished before the shelling began to quicken up again with the first streaks of dawn. The tired teams were given no respite, being employed throughout the night bringing up supplies of ammunition to the guns. The 1st Brigade, which had kept its teams standing by on the afternoon of the 15th, in readiness for a move, had received orders to advance its guns on the morning of the 16th. By dawn the 7th Battery was in its new position to the east of High Wood, and close to the wood itself. As soon as this battery had registered, the 3rd Battery commenced to move up, and its guns were in position and registered by 1.50 p.m., upon which the 1st, and also the 15th (howitzer) Batteries advanced, the whole Brigade being in position by 6 p.m. The 2nd Brigade batteries did not move forward until the 18th and 19th, when they occupied positions to the south of High Wood.

On the 19th also, the 10th and 14th batteries of the 4th Brigade, with the 8th battery, which had hitherto been held in reserve, commenced to move into position in "Devil's Gully," near the 3rd Brigade batteries. The weather had broken on the 18th, a depressing, wetting rain having fallen almost incessantly from the Monday to the Wednesday. The roads were in an almost indescribable state. Wherever they had been constructed off the route of the one original paved road which ran through the area, it speedily became impossible to distinguish them from the surrounding sea of mud and shell holes. To bring up the guns was a task of some magnitude. The 10th page 135Battery, which started off with one section, reached the new position, only after many hours struggling on the road, and with twenty horses hooked on to each gun. It was impossible to do more this day with exhausted men, and thoroughly exhausted horses; bat on the 20th the guns of the 8th Battery, and the second section of the 10th, were got up and by dawn of the 22nd the 14th Battery guns were in position, and the move of the Brigade was complete. The rain had a ruinous effect on the gun-pits. The ground was so completely disintegrated by the bombardments that it would not hold, and when the rain came the sides of the pits slid in, and the platforms simply sank into the mud. The men suffered from constant exposure to the heavy rain, were up to their knees in mud, and slept in it when they got time to sleep. Under the weeping skies the battlefield, with its battered trenches and tangle of broken wire, its debris of smashed transport, dead horses, and unburied men, presented a scene of desolation, suffering, and death that must have awakened sombre and questioning thought in the mind of even the most war-hardened soldier as to the end and the purpose and the meaning of it all. But there was no time for melancholy reflections, and none were entertained. Quite cheerfully the men set to work and cleared out the pits and rebuilt the walls. Exercising a predatory instinct awakened by pressure of circumstances, they were soon in possession of timber and sandbags, and even sheet iron, and with these materials contrived to defy the elements, and restore their pits to a workable condition, and provide some cover for their ammunition. The weather commenced to clear on the 20th, but the ground was slow to dry.

The break in the weather so hindered operations that the offensive was not resumed by the British armies until Monday, 25th September, but this delay in no way interfered with the activity of the guns. Despite the unfavourable conditions for observation the field guns were ever busy, night and day, while the "heavies," screened by camouflage netting, and disposed round about the slopes near Longueval, or ranged in imposing lines behind the crest that ran west from Delville Wood, were continually sending over their big shells that went rushing through the air like giant birds in flight. The brigades page 136covering the New Zealand Infantry assisted in supporting a small and highly successful advance by the 2nd Infantry Brigade on the evening of the 20th. All batteries also assisted in the breaking up of enemy counter-attacks which were reported by the infantry or by artillery observing officers.

Orders issued on the 17th regarding the expenditure of ammunition, laid it down that for night firing the nightly expenditure for brigades was to be five hundred rounds for the 18-pr. batteries, and one hundred and twenty rounds for the howitzers. Day firing consisted chiefly of careful registration to enable future barrages to be as accurate as possible, of wire-cutting, destruction of strong points, counter-battery work, and firing on hostile movement and dead ground.

On the morning of the 21st, the C.O. 1st Brigade and the Officer Commanding 1st Battery reconnoitred a wire-cutting position close to Flers, from which the battery had to cut wire in front of a portion of Gird Trench for the attack on the 25th. Digging was commenced and the guns moved up after dark. The battery registered soon after daylight, and at once commenced to cut the wire, a task on which it was still engaged on the 24th, while the bombardment for the attack on the following day was taking place.

Losses at the guns were continuous and heavy, brigade areas frequently being subjected to destructive shelling both of high explosive and gas; and, in addition, a number of casualties were also caused by prematures or faulty ammunition fired by other batteries in rear of the 1st and 2nd Brigades. One of these shells penetrated a gun emplacement in the 5th Battery scattering the ammunition, but fortunately no casualties resulted. In a gas shell bombardment on the 21st the 1st Brigade had four men killed and eleven wounded, and a little later the 3rd Battery was heavily shelled, and had one officer and three men killed and four men wounded, two guns put out of action, and a large quantity of ammunition blown up. Waggon lines were also shelled, and sometimes bombed at night, and as a consequence of the shelling some batteries which had established their waggon lines in more forward positions were compelled to withdraw them behind Montauban.

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Showing the Progress Made During the Period the New Zealand Artillery Was in Action (The black line I represents approximate line when the New Zealand Division went on to the Front in September, 1916, and black line 2 that covered when the New Zealand Artillery withdrew in October).

Showing the Progress Made During the Period the New Zealand Artillery Was in Action (The black line I represents approximate line when the New Zealand Division went on to the Front in September, 1916, and black line 2 that covered when the New Zealand Artillery withdrew in October).

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The attack on September 25th, which had been delayed by bad weather, was general along the Allied front, from the Somme to Martinpuich, and the objectives set for the attacking divisions included the villages of Morval, Les Bœufs, and Gueudecourt, and a belt of country about 1000 yards in depth, curving round the north of Flers, to a point midway between that village and Martinpuich. The New Zealand Divison was on the left of the 15th Corps with the 55th Divison on its right, and the 1st division of the 3rd Corps on its left, and was assigned as its objective, Factory Corner, and the establishment of a line thence to the division's junction with the 3rd Corps. The 1st Infantry Brigade made the attack, the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade and the 2nd Infantry Brigade being in reserve. The attack was preceded by a bombardment which began at 7 a.m. on September 24th, and continued until zero hour, 12.25 p.m. on the 25th, with no intense fire before zero.

The enemy made strenuous efforts to lessen the weight of this bombardment by heavily shelling battery areas, especially on the morning of the 25th, when he opened a searching fire with guns of all calibres on the 3rd and 4th Brigade positions in Devil's Gully. His fire was accurate and destructive, and a great number of casualties were caused. Captain F. S. Robinson and Second Lieutenant L. Jardine were both killed; both officers belonged to the 12th Battery, Captain Robinson having been given command on the death of Captain H. A. Davies, who was killed by a shell on September 15th. Fortunately the enemy's fire slackened before zero hour, and batteries were able to complete their programme of shooting.

A feature of the day's work was the employment against the enemy of two guns of a 77mm. battery which had been captured in the advance of September 15th, and which lay on the outskirts of Flers. There was a plentiful supply of ammunition, and an officer and a party of men from the 13th Battery went forward, manned the guns, and opened fire on a stranded tank which lay within the German lines, and which it was believed the enemy had converted into a strong point. Eighty rounds were fired at a range of 700 yards, direct laying, and a considerable number of direct hits were obtained. Hostile page 138shelling wounded some of the detachment and caused a temporary withdrawal; but fire was opened again after half an hour's interval, and after about fifty rounds had been expended in enfilading an enemy trench, hostile fire put one of the guns out of action, and finally compelled the detachments to withdraw. Both these guns were subsequently repaired, and were used by the 13th Battery until the New Zealand Artillery was withdrawn from the Somme. Early in October they were placed in fresh positions west of Piers; there was a plentful supply of ammunition, and, possessing a greater range than the 18-prs., these guns were able to engage targets beyond the reach of the Division's field batteries, including the town of Bapaume itself, which was shelled with German gas shell.

The barrage for the advance was effective, and the New Zealand infantry reported it as being even and regular. Advancing behind it they carried their objectives; and consolidated their position in characteristically workmanlike fashion. When night came on the advance along the front had reached its limits, except at Gueudecourt, where a stout and successful resistance had been offered by the enemy from a section of his fourth main system of defence. The fall of the village on the following day came as the sequel to an interesting little adventure, in which a tank was the principal actor. The tank started out from the line in the early morning, followed by bombers, and lumbered down the trench which had kept the English infantry from reaching their objective on the previous day. At the same time an aeroplane appeared on the scene, and promptly taking in the situation, sailed down the length of the trench, briskly machine-gunning the occupants as it went. Against these embarrassing attentions only one decision was possible, and presently the usual tokens of surrender were displayed. The tank rolled on and routed out a lot of machine gunners from their lairs in the village; the infantry followed up this advantage, and after some stiff fighting the village was cleared of the enemy. Batteries of the 3rd and 4th Brigades assisted in this operation by direct observation, and throughout the day observing officers were afforded some splendid shooting.

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At one stage of the day enemy troops were observed massing for a counter-attack from behind Gueudecourt to Factory Corner; every available gun was immediately directed on the locality, and the attack broke down at its inception. On this day the enemy was being harassed at many points, and the right wing of the Fifth Army was attacking Thiepval and the Thiepval ridge. A great deal of movement could be observed in the enemy's back areas, and traffic was very dense along the main Bapaume-Peronne Road, out of range, of course, for the field guns. Officers from some of the 4th Brigade batteries, however, improvised communications to some heavy batteries, and directed their fire while they shelled the road. The fact that heavy artillery groups seldom maintained communications to the more forward observing stations must, on many occasions, have diminished the accuracy and effectiveness of their fire.

Throughout this day, the 26th, the 1st and 2nd Brigades were busily engaged cutting wire in front of Gird Trench, which the infantry were to assault on the following day. At the hour of assault, 2.15 p.m. on the 27th, both brigades co-operated in establishing a creeping barrage in front of the advancing infantry. The objective was gained by 3 p.m., and from that hour until 9 p.m. a protective barrage was put down, while the new positions were being consolidated. Throughout the night, also, the batteries searched and swept all the country in rear of the ground which the enemy had lost, in order to prevent any possibility of counter-attack.