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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Getting Ready for Greece

Getting Ready for Greece

The reunion of the two contingents of gunners was heart-warming, though the new camp made a disagreeable setting page 20 for it and a strong wind whipped up the sand and dust. Attention soon centred on new equipment which began to arrive. The field gunners were excited about the first of their 25-pounders, Mark II: the 25-pounder proper. In the 4th Field Colonel Parkinson supervised a hand of draw-and-show poker to decide which battery was to have the first four and 26 Battery won. By 16 January 25 Battery was fully equipped with the Mark I variety and 26 Battery with Mark II. Manoeuvres in the surrounding desert with live shell were marked for the gunners by the realisation of a gunner's perpetual nightmare: a premature burst of a shell in the barrel of a gun. Fortunately it was a smoke shell and only one member of the gun crew was wounded; but it was a sobering event.

The days at Helwan passed quickly with training schemes, course shooting31 for the field gunners and calibration of the new guns, and a rush of preparations for putting the units on a war footing. The 25-pounder shoots were mostly controlled by junior officers, to give them experience and confidence, and 1 Survey Troop worked under the wing of a Royal Artillery survey regiment.

The tempo increased in February and Divisional Artillery Headquarters, which had been taking shape at Maadi and had been reinforced from England in December, was particularly busy. The union of the Divisional Artillery was close at hand and full equipment and an active role were also promised. There was therefore a last-minute rush to complete preparations. On the 18th the 5th Field and 7th Anti-Tank reached Helwan—the Cook's Tourists, as they were called. None were more delighted than the anti-tank gunners, stationed at Mahfouz Camp, between Helwan Camp and the town of Helwan. The 31st and 32nd Batteries, with Regimental Headquarters, met for the first time 33 Battery from New Zealand and 34 Battery which had preceded them in England (having enlisted there). Within a few days the first combined church parade of the whole Divisional Artillery was held and Brigadier Miles proudly took the salute at a march past.

Miles knew something of what was in store for the men who marched past him, though he could not yet disclose it to all. It was not until the 17th that General Freyberg had been told that the Division was to go to Greece, and the wheels of diplomacy were still turning as furiously at an inter-government page break page 21 level as the wheels of administration were in the formations32 concerned. Makeshift was the order of the day in both spheres; but the administrators emerged in the end with more credit. The strategy behind the move to Greece was fundamentally unsound.

colour map of greece

The gunners were for the most part confused by the welter of preparations and rumours, by the issue of mosquito nets and pith helmets, and by the official obfuscations. The wise ones got their information from Cairo bootblacks and Greek restaurateurs, who proved remarkably accurate.

The Divisional Artillery left Helwan and Mahfouz in the first half of March, Headquarters and the 4th Field first, other units later. In road convoys they drove through Cairo, past the Pyramids, and on along the road to Alexandria to halt overnight at the Wadi Natrun. A short drive then took them to Amiriya transit camp, a few miles outside the city. The camp was on a stretch of desert much afflicted with dust-storms and gunners worked there in considerable discomfort repacking loads on vehicles to decrease their height for a sea voyage. When the transport parties arrived at the docks and saw the vessels they were destined to sail in they realised that the precaution was fully warranted. The class of ship involved was much below what the three echelons had come to expect—especially the newly-arrived Second Echelon gunners. The Brattdal, which took the first lot of guns and transport, was small and awkward, and the motor vessel Devis, which took the next lot, was no better. The dockside labour, moreover, was clumsy and careless in the extreme and the embarkation staff seemed undismayed—scarcely even concerned—when guns or vehicles were damaged.

The 4th Field sailed in a rough sea in a grubby little Greek government steam yacht called the Hellas on the 9th, with men packed tightly into every conceivable space. For a day they were hove to in the storm. Brigadier Miles and his brigade major, Queree, sailed in HMAS Perth on the 17th. The motor vessel Cameronia which carried the 5th and 6th Field gunners was larger and tidier than most, but like the others was greatly overcrowded. The survey troop sailed among strangers in the Ulster Prince. Last of all, the 7th Anti-Tank embarked in the 2625-ton Korinthia, which was in a shocking condition. Lieutenant-Colonel Duff made many representations to the embarkation staff about this and kept asking for the Officer Commanding Troops on board until he learned that he himself had been page 22 given this appointment, in charge of 1900 men including his own. While the Korinthia was at sea the Battle of Cape Matapan took place, causing some delay to the convoy, much damage to the Italian navy, and sheer delight to the Greeks, as the gunners soon learned.

The Divisional Artillery needed only the light anti-aircraft regiment to complete its establishment as then authorised. There were few serious deficiencies of equipment, though a slight shortage of men in the field regiments and a considerable shortage in the anti-tank unit. Headquarters was a small band of six officers and 22 other ranks, with seven cars and trucks and two motor-cycles. It included a Counter-Battery Officer, but no Counter-Battery organisation. With such a small staff it could only hope to supervise in a very general way the work of the units, and the intention evidently was that control of these should be largely decentralised to infantry brigade level. The field regiments each numbered roughly 45 officers and 590 other ranks, including those attached from other corps (Signals, Ordnance and Medical), and they each had 112 cars and trucks (of which 36 were 25-pounder ‘quads’, the odd-looking towing vehicles for guns and limbers), 48 ammunition trailers, and 29 motor-cycles. Each regiment had two batteries, numbered as follows:

4th Field 25 and 26 Batteries
5th Field 27 and 28 Batteries
6th Field 29 and 30 Batteries

Each battery in turn had three troops (A, B and C Troops for the first battery in the regiment and D, E and F Troops for the second). One troop per battery, however, was a ‘swinging’ troop, dependent on one of the other two (or both of them) for certain facilities and work. All had either Mark I or Mark II 25-pounders. The anti-tank regiment had 122 cars and trucks and 37 motor-cycles. It had, of course, four batteries and each of them had three four-gun troops of 2-pounders. All but those of 34 Battery were towed behind trucks; the 34th had ‘portées’, which were 30-cwt (later 3-ton) trucks converted to carry 2-pounders ready for instant use (though with restricted traverse) in emergency action, though the guns would normally be lowered to the ground and dug in before action. The troops were lettered A, B and C (31 Battery), E, F and G (32 Battery), J, K, and L (33 Battery), and N, O and P (34 Battery). The missing letters (excepting I, which was not to be used) were reserved for the fourth troop eventually intended for each page 23 battery. The survey troop was trained and equipped to carry out flash-spotting (to locate hostile batteries) and for surveying regiments or batteries in on a grid, providing bearing pickets, and suchlike tasks. Each regiment had a section of Divisional Signals to provide and maintain communications, a Light Aid Detachment of Ordnance to maintain vehicles and guns, a medical officer and a padre. The grand total for the Divisional Artillery was therefore some 185 officers and 2500 other ranks with 475 cars and trucks (among them 108 ‘quads’), 130 motor-cycles, 144 ammunition trailers, 72 field guns and 48 anti-tank guns.33

31 Course shooting was a training programme to teach junior officers in particular the routines associated with directing the fire of the guns.

32 A formation is an army organisation larger than a unit.

33 The main appointments were:—Commander, RA (CRA): Brig R. Miles, DSO, MC, RNZA; BM: Maj R. C. Queree, RNZA; Staff Captain: Capt L. N. McKay, RNZA. 4th Field: CO: Lt-Col G. B. Parkinson, RNZA; Second-in-Command (2 i/c): Maj A. Ainslie; E Sec Div Sigs: Lt N. W. Laugesen; 9 LAD: 2 Lt H. A. Bauchop; Medical Officer (RMO): Maj G. H. Thomson. 5th Field: CO: Lt-Col K. W. Fraser; 2 i/c: Maj M. A. Bull; F Sec Div Sigs: Lt H. W. Robins; 16 LAD: 2 Lt E. F. Cooper; RMO: Lt J. M. Tyler. 6th Field: CO: Lt-Col C. E. Weir, RNZA; 2 i/c: Maj C. L. Walter; G Sec Div Sigs: Lt A. S. D. Rose; 18 LAD: 2 Lt B. A. McConnell; RMO: Lt B. M. Hay. 7th Anti-Tank: CO: Lt-Col C. S. J. Duff; 2 i/c: Maj T. H. E. Oakes; H Sec Div Sigs: Lt T. M. Paterson; 15 LAD: 2 Lt J. W. Neale: RMO: Lt W. G. Cook. I Survey Troop: OC: Capt E. T. Kensington.