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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

OPs Under Fire

page 388

OPs Under Fire

The other two field regiments and the 69th Medium also had OPs operating on Miteiriya Ridge by first light and they found plenty of targets throughout the day: tanks, transport and infantry. They engaged them freely; but there was another misunderstanding with Brigadier Currie, who reported to Freyberg at 10.32 a.m. that 9 Armoured Brigade needed artillery support, that there were two OPs available, but they were under orders not to shoot except on Brigadier Weir's orders. Perhaps some FOOs had become indoctrinated too narrowly with Weir's creed of divisional control; but Weir when he heard of it a few minutes later was mystified. He had already sent every OP forward and ordered them to shoot at anything they saw.

The main trouble was to maintain communications. Tanks kept damaging artillery telephone lines and wireless did not work well. Even the crews of the armoured OPs of the 4th Field found things lively, for they were up with the leading tanks in a situation in which even the heavy Sherman tanks could advance no farther. Anti-tank fire was heavy and accurate. For the unarmoured OPs it was highly hazardous.

The 5th Field had two OPs per battery forward, but both those of 47 Battery were put out of action through mines and Captains Parkes and Smith12 were killed (and two gunners also). Major Cade, who was acting as liaison officer at Headquarters of 5 Brigade, heard this and went forward himself to open an OP. The area was heavily mined and under constant mortar and small-arms fire. He completed his journey on foot and set up his post in front of 22 Battalion, bringing down covering fire as the infantry consolidated. Enemy fire forced him to change position frequently and his own selfless determination prompted him to reconnoitre boldly. In so doing he discerned several important targets and engaged them effectively. It was an action reminiscent of his splendid performance at Maleme in Crete and for it he was awarded the DSO.13

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The 6th Field OPs, from first light onwards, engaged enemy positions; but the FOOs soon perceived that the anti-tank guns which were holding up the advance of the armour were not easily dislodged by long-range 25-pounder fire. Two officers were slightly wounded by a mine and an anti-tank shot killed an FOO, Lieutenant D'Arcy.14 RHQ and 29 Battery were much hampered by masses of vehicles which had come forward during the night, and late in the afternoon Lieutenant-Colonel Walter moved them into the former 4th Field area. The guns of 43 Battery were nearby, except for the Left Section of G Troop, which went forward at 2 a.m. to guard a gap in the minefield. One gun of this section suffered damage from a 50-millimetre anti-tank shot and had to be sent back to Workshops. In RHQ of the 14th Light Ack-Ack a gunner was killed by a booby trap. More elbow room was urgently needed; but the minefields were vast and clearing them required skill, courage and patience. It was not a job that could be rushed. Operation Lightfoot (as the first phase of the offensive was called) had reached a most awkward stage.

12 Capt F. E. Smith, m.i.d.; born Dunedin, 15 Dec 1914; journalist; died of wounds 24 Oct 1942.

13 One of the two OP vehicles destroyed, a Bren carrier of F Troop, had run over a mine before dawn. With the troop commander and driver seriously wounded (mortally, as it happened), the wireless operator, L-Bdr A. G. Peterson, and Gnr R. H. Finlay got out under heavy mortar and shell fire and carried the two casualties clear of the minefield. Then Peterson ran a long way and after much trouble got in touch with another OP, reported what had happened, obtained a vehicle, and in it carried the two wounded men to an RAP. Later in the day he went forward under shellfire and helped to salvage the wireless and other equipment from the wrecked Bren carrier. He gained an immediate MM.

14 Lt D. C. D'Arcy; born Wanganui, 4 May 1908; accountant; killed in action 24 Oct 1942.