2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
The Final Attack
The Final Attack
The final attack on the Orsogna front began at 4 a.m. on Christmas Eve. The object was to turn the position from the north, and the first step was to attack north-westwards on a front of 3500 yards, covered by 272 field and medium guns of 5 Division, 6 AGRA and the New Zealand Division. The shape of the creeping barrage had to follow the shape of the ground. It was therefore divided into a large right wing, pivoting on the left for the first four lifts, and a much smaller left wing. The right half of the right wing was fired by the artillery of 5 Division, the left half by the 4th and 5th Field. The left wing, facing west by south, was fired by the 6th Field and the 111th Field. Both wings lifted 100 yards every five minutes, which was too fast. The infantry soon fell behind. Two further barrages were to be fired if all went well, to support advances by 4 Armoured Brigade. But all did not go well and the work put into this part of the programme was wasted. Five 5.5-inch troops of 5 AGRA fired for two hours and 20 minutes on targets beyond the infantry objectives, but low cloud with mist and rain restricted air attacks on Orsogna and on the roads to the northwest which were planned for the early hours of daylight. Three Bofors of 42 Light Ack-Ack Battery had come forward to the Sfasciata ridge and they fired tracer along the battalion boundaries as usual.
In the first 10 minutes of the barrage a few rounds fell short on the right and landed among a company of 21 Battalion, causing several casualties and delaying the company, so that it lost at the outset the protection of the line of bursting shells. page 538 The infantry had to cross steep-sided gullies in the dark and in their upward climb overcome stubborn German paratroops. In some cases they had to fight their way along heavily defended crests. In such country by night the gunners could do little to help them. But after dawn the guns responded to a flood of calls for DF tasks to help stabilise precarious lodgements, in some cases by firing smoke to cover men digging in. On the extreme left the Maoris in furious fighting worked their way on to a little plateau where several ridges converged just north of Orsogna, their final advance being covered by gun and mortar fire, ending with a smoke screen as they dug in short of their objectives but very close indeed to strong defences. Several times in the day what looked like threatening moves by the numerous enemy in front of the Maoris were met with thunderous stonks. New Zealand tanks, too, were helped out of page 539 difficulties by smoke screens as they pushed forward to support the infantry.
The 6th Field, under orders to move forward, decided to have Christmas dinner in the evening of the 24th. The day was cold and wet and the men at the guns were heavy with fatigue. But the cooks rose to the occasion and the roast turkey and pork and Christmas pudding they sent forward were excellently cooked and did much to cheer up the men in the muddy gun areas.
Christmas Day of 1943 was as festive as the gunners could make it. It rained slightly in the morning as units held church services and the newly arrived ribbons of the Africa Star were issued to those who had qualified for them. ‘Approaching dinner time’, the diary of 46 Battery notes, ‘the enemy pushed a few into the area but they mostly failed to work.’
‘Xmas dinner was an epic by the cooks [the diary continues].
War very quiet and afternoon & evening fairly social.’
In general the batteries had dinner at midday and the COs and officers went the rounds and waited on the gunners. Then RHQs dined in the evening. The 14th Light Ack-Ack welcomed Lieutenant-Colonel Sprosen, back from furlough, and prepared to farewell ‘Huck’ Sawyers, now a lieutenant-colonel. In 43 Battery dinner was deferred until evening and the battery entertained members of ‘45 Scottish Bty’. The 7th Anti-Tank deployed A and C Troops and two 17-pounders of D Troop about 2000 yards east of Orsogna under the command of 6 Parachute Battalion. The demands of war overrode those of peace and goodwill even on this day. The 6th Field move was cancelled not because it was Christmas, but because the guns were bogged down in the mud.