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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Field Regiments under CRA's Command

Field Regiments under CRA's Command

Brigadier Weir assumed command of all the field regiments as they arrived and meant to keep them under his personal control, though the 4th Field was to support 201 Guards Brigade of 7 Armoured Division to the right (north-west) of the New Zealand Division and 4 Light Armoured Brigade to the left rear. To the British armour, used to having field guns battery by battery, if not troop by troop, under direct command of squadrons and armoured regiments, this was not a popular doctrine; but Weir was determined that the forthcoming battle should demonstrate beyond doubt the power and flexibility of divisional control. Twelve stonks were worked out to cover the immediate front of 5 Brigade west and south-west of Medenine and another was later superimposed on this scheme. The area of each stonk was deepened by a further area in which the fire of medium guns and heavy ack-ack guns could be brought to bear. Nine more stonks were designed to support 7 Armoured Division to the north-west and a further five to the north and north-east of Medenine guarded against an enemy breakthrough on the coast in the sector of the relatively inexperienced 51 Highland Division. For further strength the CRA linked his page 471 artillery with that of the armoured and Highland divisions and 5 Army Group, RA,2 which provided the medium guns.

In an arc from north-west to south-west of Medenine the 4th Field deployed on the right and the 5th Field on the left. The 6th Field, arriving at 10.30 a.m. on 3 March, deployed in the rear, north-east of Medenine in the 6 Brigade area, and dug its guns in and camouflaged them in the heat of the afternoon. Gullies running mainly east to west gave good cover for the guns, there was plenty of water, at least for the time being, and the ground was carpeted with spring flowers, some of them scented like cinnamon. The gaiety of the scene matched the spirit of the gunners: they were confident that the enemy, if he attacked, would get a thrashing.

For three days 36 Survey Battery worked hard, surveying bearing pickets and fixing them on a permanent grid, then surveying OPs. S (Flash-Spotting) Troop established three posts well forward, two of them on high ground west of the village of Metameur, which was nearly five miles west by north of Medenine, and one south of the village. A fourth was later added farther south. The 4th Field had OPs on the same high ground and 46 Battery was just east of the village. The surveyors and 4th Field men found Metameur a strange place, its honeycomb houses dominated by a mosque, and with a central courtyard strewn with straw and filth and infested with huge fleas.

The 7th Anti-Tank was deployed with 32 Battery supporting 5 Brigade, 31 and 33 Batteries with 6 Brigade, and 34 under the command of 4 Light Armoured Brigade on the left flank, south and south-east of Medenine. The 73rd Anti-Tank, RA, also came under the CRA's command and its three batteries all supported 5 Brigade. The Pheasants had been held up at Suani Ben Adem to have clamps fitted to lock the elevating gears while the heavy 17-pounders were travelling. The clamps proved a failure; but gunners somehow tied the heavy breechblocks firmly to the trails to take the strain off the gears. Thirteen Pheasants arrived early on the 4th and the remaining three later. D Troop, the 17-pounder troop of 31 Battery, joined 5 Brigade, and Q Troop of 34 Battery went to 22 Armoured Brigade, behind the centre of the front. When H Troop of 32 Battery arrived this, too, joined 5 Brigade.

page 472

Lieutenant-Colonel Mitchell of the 7th Anti-Tank was pleased to have this great anti-tank strength available and looked forward to trying out the 17-pounders. Accordingly he instructed the battery commanders to site the 17-pounders well forward to guard a wadi which was the right boundary of 5 Brigade and an obvious avenue for tank penetration of the position. When he mentioned this to the CRA, however, Weir was much concerned. He pointed out that the 17-pounders—the only ones on the front—were still highly secret and must not be risked in forward areas for fear of capture. They had to be sited in depth. Mitchell pleaded with him but to no avail. The wadi was in the area of 131 Brigade and Mitchell would have much preferred to have it in his area so that his own battle-hardened gunners could cover it. But the gunners of the 73rd Anti-Tank and the infantry anti-tankers of 131 Brigade were keen and he did not want to indicate lack of confidence in them. The page 473 wadi was nevertheless a source of worry. He asked the sappers if they could lay a minefield across it, but they did not have time to do so. In the end a dummy minefield was erected—a wire on pickets with metal triangles suspended from it.

black and white map of brigade position

5 brigade positions at medenine
Stonk areas are shown in front of the infantry positions

For two years the German 88-millimetre gun had dominated the tank battlefields of the desert. Now, belatedly, the British army was prepared to use its even more powerful 3.7-inch heavy ack-ack guns against ground targets.3 Brigadier Weir had been much impressed by a demonstration of 3.7s in a field role south of Tripoli and General Freyberg was enthusiastic. There were eight 3.7s guarding an airfield to the left flank and rear of the Division and Weir had them included in his DF scheme. But he also gave them an anti-tank role and considered that, if the opportunity presented itself, they would give the enemy armour a most unpleasant surprise. Since the three divisions in the line had 467 6-pounders, 16 17-pounders, and these formidable heavy ack-ack guns, to say nothing of the British tanks, the anti-tank strength of the defence was very great indeed. To strengthen the rather open left flank in the 6 Brigade area, Major Nicholson of 31 Battery commanded a mobile reserve of his own guns (less the Pheasant troop) and an MG company. A final increment of gun power came on 5 March when ‘Mac Troop’ (named after Brigadier ‘Mad’ McIntyre of 2 Ack-Ack Brigade, RA) arrived under a Captain Downing, RA, with four German 88s and came under the CRA's command.

The guns of the 14th Light Ack-Ack had been in action and dug in since the 3rd, 42 Battery with 5 Brigade, 43 Battery with 6 Brigade, and 41 Battery around Medenine itself. Me109Fs came over early on the 4th, but Spitfires of the latest type intercepted them and in the ensuing dogfights three of the intruders were shot down. Later in the morning Lieutenant-Colonel Sprosen reconnoitred gun positions for Mac Troop when it arrived. More Messerschmitts came over at midday, but the Spitfires again engaged them and the Bofors had to remain silent. The 3.7s engaged high-flying aircraft, however, and a man of 30 Battery was wounded by a 3.7-inch shell which exploded on hitting the ground, the time fuse having evidently failed. Two 170-millimetre guns, far beyond the range of the defending artillery, shelled Medenine from time to time and the landing ground to the south.

2 An AGRA provided not only artillery additional to the normal divisional artilleries, but appropriate command and staff personnel and facilities for control and administration. This AGRA controlled 7, 64 and 69 Medium Regts, RA, and 4 (Durham) Survey Regt, RA.

3 They had been used thus in emergencies in defence of Tobruk during its eight-month siege; but the idea did not then catch on.