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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery


page 333

THE Eighth Army under Auchinleck suffered costly defeats at Matruh and Fuka and its prospects of holding the 30-mile gap between Alamein and the Qattara Depression looked anything but bright. Auchinleck reaffirmed the battle-group policy, again tried unsuccessfully to get the New Zealand Division1 to adopt it, thinned out the defending infantry, and set about meeting the oncoming enemy with an army he had encouraged to look over its shoulder.

The New Zealand gunners, however, were anything but downhearted. They enjoyed many cheerful reunions as units gathered their various detachments together in the Kaponga (or Qattara) Box, which was already occupied by 6 Brigade (with 34 Battery and 1 Survey Troop) brought forward from Amiriya. On the 29th most of them spent several hours stripping and cleaning their guns and maintaining their transport: broken springs were the main trouble. It was a hot day and flies were a constant irritation. ‘Jerry bombers were around us after dark’, an ack-ack gunner noted, ‘and we spent a fair portion of the night in slit trenches.’

The next day, the 30th, was busy for most batteries, with much movement and digging as the Division rearranged itself to meet the enemy at this last ditch before the Nile Delta. Only 6 Brigade with its usual artillery plus 1 Survey Troop and a detachment of the 64th Medium, RA,2 and the Maori Battalion were needed to man the Kaponga Box, also known as Fortress A. The other two brigades were to take up positions at Deir el Munassib, nine or ten miles away to the south-east, with the Divisional Cavalry and mobile columns forward covering the page 334 approaches to the Box. The consequent reconnaissances, moves, adjustments and readjustments, and the continual digging of slit trenches, gun pits and command posts in rocky ground kept the gunners busy indeed.

The 4th Field, after standing-to until after dawn on the 30th, had to detach 26 Battery for a mixed column before departing for the Deir (a shallow depression). A sandstorm blew in the new area in the afternoon and it was well after dark before the remaining two batteries dispersed and bedded down for the night. The quartermaster of the 7th Anti-Tank went off to collect another twenty-two 6-pounders and the ‘surplus’ men and vehicles of the regiment3 drove back to Amiriya, in accordance with the ‘thinning-out’ policy. The ack-ack gunners had mixed fortunes. ‘Bombed to blazes last night’, a member of E Troop wrote in his diary. ‘Our truck was hit for the third time.’ Another in the same troop recorded that he had enjoyed a good night's sleep and the day was peaceful, with no bombing. A third member of 42 Battery wrote that, after taking up a dual role in support of infantry, changing position twice, then digging two gun pits in the later afternoon and evening, the men ‘were done’. Gunners of 41 Battery were luckier: they had ‘easy digging’. And 43 Battery, either on this day or the next (1 July), shot down two aircraft, probably Ju88s.

1 Renamed the 2nd New Zealand Division from 29 June.

2 Lt-Col Walter, as CRA of the Fortress (the Box), welcomed this detachment of three officers and 20 other ranks with their three 4.5-inch gun-howitzers (or two 4.5s and one captured enemy medium gun, according to one account). The extra range and weight of the mediums would be especially valuable for counter-battery work. They stayed with the Division as honoured guests for a considerable time.

The 2-pounders still possessed by 33 Battery were transferred to infantry anti-tank platoons and there was talk of up-grading these platoons by re-equipping them with 6-pounders and thereby freeing 33 Battery for a mobile role under Divisional control.

3 Including the 2 i/c, Major Philp, who had been captured on the way back from the Minqar Qaim area and then rescued by a patrol of the Royals.