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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Guns Firing Short

page 544

Guns Firing Short

In this period and also in the final stages of the fighting that preceded the stalemate at Orsogna, there were many complaints that the field and medium guns were firing short. The CRA and regimental commanders took these very seriously and always investigated them as carefully as they could. One such investigation on 21 December had shown that a 26 Battery gun had a defective range drum which caused it to fire 800 yards short; but shortly before this the same gun had been tested and found accurate. One explanation of ‘short firing’ was that the enemy would fire just beyond a standing barrage which covered the forming-up of New Zealand infantry for an attack and then, when it began to creep forward, he would fire through it so as to strike at the attacking force. In the Sangro-Orsogna fighting in which he had every advantage of observation and knowledge of the ground he could often do this.

Some of the short shooting was due to the configuration of the ground, especially in the area north of Castelfrentano. It was simply unsuitable for predicted shooting. Even so, precautions were taken, when there was plenty of time to plan bombardments, to avoid accidents. In other cases, when emergency calls for fire came in, risks had to be taken, the danger of a few short rounds being less than that which prompted the request for fire support. Nevertheless no cases were substantiated in which casualties were caused to New Zealand or Allied troops from such emergency shooting on this front.

Another cause was the inaccuracy of METEOR information supplied by Corps. Meteor telegrams came from near the coast every four hours and failed to reflect the rapidly changing atmospheric conditions in the vicinity of the vast Maiella massif which towered above the Orsogna front. Often the Meteor information was completely incorrect in this district; mostly it was ‘stale’. The most dramatic case of this was on New Year's Day, when reports of short shooting caused the 6th Field to test the Meteor information and it was found to cause a difference of 600 yards on the ground. The intense cold in the mountains following the blizzard was the cause. Variations of 100–150 yards at a range of 10,000 yards were commonly attributable to this deficiency and it was not until a meteorological section was established near San Eusanio that it was largely overcome.

page 545

A further source of error was the grid on the maps. Italian surveys were generally very accurate; but in this tangled mountain country it was easy to slip into error. The maps were poorly printed and it was not easy to read contours or spot heights. When they were checked the northings and eastings were found to be about 50 metres out in the 1: 50,000 series.

A final source of error related to the range-tables. These were compiled for the 25-pounder on the basis of experiments in the United Kingdom, where no such dramatic variations in atmospheric conditions were likely to be met as were experienced in the neighbourhood of the Maiella.

The extreme cold nevertheless affected the guns in other ways. One effect was that crystallisation of the steel at low temperatures caused the stop collar on the firing rod of the 25-pounder to slip from its attachment. Several guns were disabled in this way and were returned for repair to the Gun Bay of 2 Divisional Workshops—a most valuable institution. There the armament artificers overcame this trouble by manufacturing special firing rods in which the collar, originally sweated on, was replaced by a protrusion induced on the rod by heating it and hammering it in a jig until the requisite stop was obtained for the mechanism.