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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

The Bofors Gunners Defend Tripoli Harbour

The Bofors Gunners Defend Tripoli Harbour

A party of 1200 gunners under Major Nicholson moved into Tripoli on 11 February to help control the operation of the docks and provide working parties. They were preceded by all but a few rear parties of the 14th Light Ack-Ack which deployed its guns on the 10th in positions vacated by an RA regiment in defence of the harbour. For operational purposes the regiment now came under the command of 2 Anti-Aircraft Brigade, RA. A harbour barrage had been worked out and, after several false alarms, it was fired at 7.15 a.m. on the 14th. It was highly spectacular and included heavy ack-ack guns as well as Bofors. But communications were inefficient and there was considerable delay in getting the guns to cease fire. By the time they did page 465 stop the regiment had fired 2460 rounds. No bombs were dropped, but the heavy guns claimed one aircraft shot down. Several more air-raid warnings were issued that day and at 8 p.m. the guns again fired, getting away 1923 rounds all told.27

The harbour was crowded with shipping, a compelling target for enemy bombers; but such was the weakness of the enemy air forces that for the next five days no attack developed. Then a few aircraft came over in the early morning of the 19th and the harbour barrage was fired three times between 5.45 a.m. and 6.20 a.m., each time for about 20 seconds. Very few bombs fell, but one narrowly missed the guns E3 and E4 and another seriously damaged the HQ of D Troop. It caused no casualties, but badly damaged two trucks and a jeep. The regiment fired 2939 rounds all told. Between 8 and 11 p.m. on the 21st the harbour barrage was fired eight times and the 14th Light Ack-Ack expended 5413 rounds. One bomb dropped 50 yards from RHQ and blew in all the windows; but it caused nothing worse than scratches to the gunners. Next morning, between 5.20 and 6.15, 11 harbour barrages were fired, 7225 rounds in all, and the regiment was credited with sharing one aircraft shot down by light anti-aircraft guns (the heavy ack-ack brought down two more and the RAF another one). The gun B1 suffered a premature which broke the breech casing and gave the crew a shaking. Seven other guns suffered various disabilities, but all were repaired where they were. The ack-ack defences relied mainly on radar for early warning; but several times it failed and enemy aircraft were over the harbour while the lights were still on and some of the ships unloading were also illuminated. Just before midnight an aircraft was heard diving on the harbour and the Bofors at once opened fire, followed by the heavy guns. Two bombs which fell beside a wharf failed to explode. The 14th Light Ack-Ack fired 3848 rounds.

There was very little warning of a raid which began at 4.10 in the morning of 26 February and which ended when dawn was breaking at 6 a.m.28 The regiment fired 8968 rounds: one aircraft was reported shot down and possibly a second. Five guns suffered minor accidents, in one of which (when E4 had the breech cover blown off through not waiting long enough after a misfire) two men were injured and had to be evacuated. By 10.30 a.m. the same day the 14th Light Ack-Ack completed page 466 the handing over of its responsibilities to the 30th Light Ack-Ack, RA, and by 2 p.m. all batteries were back in their former area near Suani Ben Adem. In defence of Tripoli harbour the regiment had fired something like 35,000 rounds. The results in terms of aircraft shot down were small; but in terms of reassurance to the troops working the ships and lighters in the harbour, some of them handling ammunition, high-octane aviation fuel, and other dangerous cargoes, this ack-ack activity was well worth while.

For most of the New Zealand gunners the highlight of their stay at Tripoli was their service as ‘wharfies’ unloading cargoes into lighters or unloading the lighters at the wharfside. They worked hard and helped to keep up a fast flow of stores of all kinds to the depots ashore. They also played hard when the opportunity offered. When they came upon them in the course of their work, they helped themselves liberally to some kinds of rations which did not normally get as far forward as the fighting formations. Some replenished their battleworn wardrobes from clothing intended for officers' shops. Few cases of rum came their way and even fewer got past them.

27 This rapid fire was too much for some guns after arduous desert travel and not enough time for maintenance. E5 suffered a broken rammer spring and D6 a broken crankshaft.

28 Clocks had been put back an hour at midnight on the 22nd.