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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

A Shortage of Gunners

A Shortage of Gunners

This abundance of ammunition, however, contrasted with a shortage of gunners. No reinforcements had reached the Middle East since October 1941 and the losses of the winter campaign in Libya and the summer in Egypt, as well as the normal ‘wastage’ from sickness and other causes, had to be made up as far as possible by sending forward every available gunner from Maadi Camp and other rear areas. Wounded and sick men returned to their units, in many cases before they had fully recovered—sometimes at their own request. Even with these, the strengths of all units were well below establishment, though all but the 4th Field stated in their Field Returns that they did not consider the full establishment was really required in the desert. In almost every case there was a gap between posted strength and what was thought to be needed for the coming offensive. The following figures give some idea of the deficiencies:

Officers Other Ranks Officers Other Ranks Officers Other Ranks
HQ NZA 8 40 6 28 6 21
4th Field 42 644 36 497 39 549
5th Field 42 653 29 408 38 478
6th Field 42 644 38 474 38 511
7th Anti-Tank 49 699 31 462 35 465
14th Light Ack-Ack 32 962 27 549 28 540
1 Survey Troop 3 41 3 35 3 41

The Posted Strengths are those recorded in Field Returns on a date close to the opening of the offensive. The discrepancies between them and the Ration Strengths arise mainly because the latter (which are less reliable) include attached personnel.6

page 381

It would seem from these figures that the 14th Light Ack-Ack was disastrously depleted; yet it considered that five officers and six other ranks were all that were strictly needed, not the more than 400 by which it fell short of its establishment.7 The 4th Field, which was four officers and 147 other ranks below authorised strength, considered that 156 other ranks (nine above establishment) were required in the field—presumably because of the mobile role allotted in support of 9 Armoured Brigade, which might call for more liaison and administrative staff. All other units indicated that something less than the full establishment would be adequate. Even so, what they thought was barely sufficient was almost invariably greater than what they had to make do with in the event. For the gigantic labours ahead their resources of manpower were destined to be overstretched.8

The field regiments were sited so that the 5th Field could support 5 Brigade on the right of the divisional attack, the 6th Field could do likewise for 6 Brigade on the left, and the 4th Field could fire the barrage over the whole front and then follow the tanks of 9 Armoured Brigade through the minefield gaps. At the outset, with Headquarters of the 7th Anti-Tank and 14th Light Ack-Ack and 1 Survey Troop, they formed the Divisional Artillery Group under the CRA's command. The 7th Anti-Tank had 31 Battery with the armoured brigade, the 32nd with 5 Brigade, the 33rd with 6 Brigade, and the 34th with the Divisional Reserve Group. The batteries of the 14th Light Ack-Ack occupied areas close to the field regiments, ready to defend them and also the minefield gaps when these were formed. The gunners were briefed on the battle plan as a whole and their various tasks. The diary of the 14th Light Ack-Ack has the following entry for 1700 hours on 23 October: page 382 page 383 ‘From this time onwards there were definite signs that something was about to happen’. Had the signs proved wrong—and there were myriads of them—2600-odd New Zealand gunners would have been bitterly disappointed.

black and white map of artillery attack position

the second day of the alamein offensive

6 The attachments included for field regiments an officer from each of the Signals, Ordnance and Medical Corps and the Chaplains Department (two Ordnance officers, an RMO and a padre for the 7th Anti-Tank and, in the case of the 14th Light Ack-Ack, only an RMO and a padre), and various Signals and Ordnance other ranks: 45 in the 4th Field, 46 in the 5th, and 49 in the 6th (the last including 34 Signals personnel, 14 Ordnance, and one man from HQ NZA); the 7th Anti-Tank had 15 Ordnance other ranks attached.

7 The 14th Light Ack-Ack, unlike the other NZA units, consistently kept separate war diaries for RHQ and each battery. The 41st Battery, which was 67 other ranks short of establishment, thought six more were needed; the other two batteries, the 42nd and 43rd, which were 49 and 50 short respectively, felt they could make do with what they had. This was largely because the cumbersome predictors and their crews had been dispensed with.

8 The manpower shortage affected the manning of guns only in the 7th Anti-Tank. F Troop of 32 Battery and N Troop of the 34th had been so hard hit by battle casualties and sickness—mainly jaundice—that they had to be temporarily disbanded, their remaining members going to reinforce other troops until their troops could be re-formed. These two batteries therefore entered the battle with only three troops each. For the gunners thus distributed among other troops it was as if their own families had gone on holiday and they had to live with relations—tolerable, even agreeable, for a day or two, but they looked forward with increasing eagerness to the re-establishment of the troop that was their family and their home.