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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Planning supercharge

Planning supercharge

Lieutenant-Colonel Walter of the 6th Field, the IO and two draughtsmen had meanwhile been called by the CRA (who was already there) to the artillery headquarters of 30 Corps to page 402 work on fire tasks for a proposed attack by the New Zealand Division to break through the Alamein line between the coastal position and Miteiriya: Operation SUPERCHARGE. The 4th Field left the Australian sector, starting at 6 a.m. on the 31st, and drove nine miles to a new area just south-west of Tell el Eisa proper (not the station). Before the batteries were ready for action 34 ammunition lorries arrived. Parties from the other field regiments followed and at 10 a.m. the 6th Field began to move by troops. The 4th Field was heavily shelled in this position and a direct hit on a 25 Battery gun killed three men and wounded two. A Stuka attack at dusk was aimed at the RHQ area and 43 Battery, which fired briskly, had three men wounded by bomb splinters. Most of the 42 Battery guns were out of range and those within reach ceased fire when their crews saw the RAF was about to intercept the dive-bombers.

Planning for SUPERCHARGE went ahead rapidly. It was to be an infantry attack at first under a powerful creeping barrage, and then the armour would break out beyond the minefield area and the enemy gun line and end the Alamein fighting. The infantry, however, were not to be New Zealanders, though Freyberg was to command the operation and his staff did the detailed planning. He had to reserve his own infantry for the pursuit which would follow. A brigade from 50 Division and another from 51 Highland Division would carry out the initial assault, with supporting fire from 13 field regiments and three medium regiments. With such a huge concentration of artillery in a small area, the siting of guns had to take precedence over all other requirements. From Brigadier Weir's point of view it was in one way an advantage that very little was known about enemy dispositions in the area: timed concentrations on ‘known’ localities could not therefore be provided with real confidence and a creeping barrage was essential. He was anxious to demonstrate to Corps and Army how effective this method could be when used with enough guns

The 6th Brigade (with 33 Anti-Tank Battery) relieved a Highland brigade late on 30 October, while the attacking force began to concentrate to the east. The forward area was cluttered with artillery vehicles and guns were going into position on almost every patch of ground that had been cleared of mines. When the many ramifications of the operation dawned on the planners it became clear that Operation SUPERCHARGE could not begin until the night 1–2 November. Even with this delay, the staff work had to be rushed.

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As it finally emerged, the plan was impressive. The infantry brigade through which the attacking force was to pass would move back 1500 yards and the barrage would start on the line of its FDLs. From 20 to 17 minutes before zero all artillery would fire on these. From 12 to five minutes before zero the guns under the direction of the Commander, Corps Medium Artillery (CCMA), would fire counter-battery tasks. Then the New Zealand programme, starting with a creeping barrage, would be fired. The fire of the medium guns would be superimposed on this, though the CCMA would be able to call on them at any time for other tasks. DF tasks in front of the infantry objective were part of the New Zealand programme. A storm of bursting shells was to rage across the flat desert in front of the advancing infantry.

To plan such a programme was a heavy responsibility; but Steve Weir and his staff delighted in it. For the first time they had a relatively straightforward infantry attack—a front of 4000 yards and a depth also of 4000 yards—and something approaching the concentration of guns that they thought were needed to give really effective support to the infantry. Five regiments were to open on the first line, a gun to every 33 yards. They were the 4th and 78th Field, RA, on the right, and the 5th and 6th, with the 4th Field superimposed over the two of them, on the left. Two hundred yards beyond this the 97th Field, RA, on the right, the 104th RHA in the centre, and the 5th RHA on the left (all from 10 Armoured Division) would open, giving depth to the barrage, and they would continue lifting until they reached the final objective. To give even greater depth the 64th and 69th Medium, RA, would fire to the same plan but starting 800 yards beyond the first line. All told, therefore, there would be nearly one 25-pounder to every 20 yards of front and two medium regiments would add further weight. The lifts were to be 100 yards every two and a half minutes. The main statement of this plan appeared in New Zealand Artillery Operation Order No. 43 of 30 October; but modifications were added until the last moment and some changes were made, in the event, while the programme was being fired.

Besides this barrage, there would be concentrations on the flanks and also in the path of the barrage and DF tasks would cover the infantry while they dug in. Then, just before first light, the 5th and 104th RHA on the right and the three New Zealand field regiments on the left would fire a second and slightly slower barrage, with a medium regiment superimposed page 404 for the last seven lifts, to cover the advance of 9 Armoured Brigade from the final infantry objective until it crossed the Rahman Track. This would be deep into the enemy gun line, if not right through it. A subsidiary barrage was to cover a flanking infantry attack to the south and further support would be needed for a thrust by the Maori Battalion on the northern flank. The second barrage, covering the tank attack, would lift 100 yards every three minutes, giving the tanks time to deal with the guns they met in the darkness before dawn.

black and white map of operation positions

operation supercharge

At a high level the plan seemed very complicated, as it must be to provide for the participation of a large number of regiments on a relatively small front. But at regimental level it was in fact remarkably simple and for GPOs and their assistants the details were easy to work out—far simpler than the series page 405 of concentrations that the normal Eighth Army method called for. The New Zealand GPOs were on that account very pleased with it.

The anti-tank batteries were allotted as in the Miteiriya attack with the addition that 34 Battery came under the command of 151 Infantry Brigade, which was to attack on the right. The ack-ack batteries were retained under the CRA's command for tasks in the following order of priority: marking boundaries, covering forward gaps in minefields, protecting gun areas, and protecting headquarters. For the first of these, two E Troop guns and one gun of H Troop drove forward in the evening of 1 November. They were to fire one round per minute to mark the boundaries.