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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Operation dickens

page 567

Operation dickens

The next attack on the Cassino front was the much-postponed Operation dickens and it opened in the morning of 15 March with a tremendous bombing of Cassino itself. The medium bombers began it and the heavies completed it, so as to end with a crescendo. This was a mistake, as the mediums obscured the target with smoke and dust and the heavies, which were in any case relatively inaccurate, were made even more so.

The gunners who knew this best were those of 34 Battery. Bombs from the third wave fell all round them. Four P Troop 6-pounders had come forward to undertake indirect fire with HE ammunition when the bombing ceased. The crew of the forward 17-pounder, Q3, also intended to engage targets in Cassino. When the bombs began landing all round this gun the crew hastily withdrew; but they returned quickly and opened fire at 12.15 p.m., firing nine rounds at possible machine-gun posts near the Continental Hotel. The 6-pounders fired 101 rounds at posts below Hangman's Hill at about 4700 yards.

To the gunners farther back the scene was more majestic; but even for them the bombing was not without danger. The 6th Field lost Gunner McGuire32 killed and another man wounded by stray bombs. Then, at noon, the guns came to life. There were more of them supporting the 6 Brigade attack through the ruins of Cassino and the concurrent Indian operations above Montecassino than had ever been assembled before for a New Zealand operation,33 and there was a far greater page 568 variety of them. They included huge American 240-millimetre howitzers, some of the new 155s, and even three Italian 160-millimetre railway guns.

The New Zealand field gunners and the ack-ack gunners who had supported them had for a long time been aware that the Fifth Army artillery was very thick on the ground in front of Cassino. But none of them were quite prepared for the way, from midday onwards, the ground all round them seemed to be flashing fire and puffing up clouds of smoke as though it page 569 had suddenly turned into a vast and highly active volcanic region. Looking farther afield they saw Montecassino flashing and puffing in quite a different way until it was smothered with smoke and dust and the town became a blur that was jagged with fragments flung into the air, spotted here and there with hollow buildings, walls of irregular shape, and empty window-spaces like unseeing eyes. The violence of the bombardment was frightening to behold even from a safe distance and, as events were soon to prove, it was too much and the damage it did was more hindrance than help to the 6 Brigade infantry fighting their arduous way through the ruins. To the tanks that were supposed to be with them it was altogether too much, and most of them ended up facing impassable mountains of rubble or vast uncrossable chasms. The whole thing was grossly overdone.

black and white map of cassino


The programme began with a creeping barrage and timed concentrations. The barrage, fired on an 800-yard front by 88 guns including 6th Field and some mediums, was the thickest creeping barrage ever fired under New Zealand control—a gun to every nine yards. It lasted from noon until 2.10 p.m., allowing for 15 minutes on the first line and another 15 minutes on the finishing line. But even though its lifts were of 100 yards every 10 minutes, this proved far too fast for the conditions and the infantry were soon left far behind. The barrage was extended on the final line until 3.30 p.m., but still there was no sign of infantry there. The concentrations and other supporting fire covered every conceivable source of trouble and included harassing fire for six hours by the 4th Field on the slopes of Montecassino and CB fire by the 5th Field until 12.20 p.m., followed by opportunity targets interspersed with more CB fire. The final line of the barrage was repeated from 5.30 to 6 p.m. Much of the 4th Field fire on Montecassino was smoke, to blind the defence, but the wind kept lifting it from the hillside and allowing the enemy there to fire down into the attacking infantry. When nebelwerfers opened heavy fire on the north-eastern part of the town in the late afternoon the corps artillery came down on them with crushing force, guided by the invaluable air OPs, and the few German guns that fired attracted tremendous attention to themselves. Only German guns far away in the mountains to the north, in the sector of the French Expeditionary Corps, continued to fire into Cassino. These were tucked into inaccessible folds of the mountains and could not be silenced, but there were not many of them.

page 570

The weight and vigour of the artillery was not matched by the weight of the infantry attack. All this tremendous supporting power was exerted on behalf of a mere two battalions of infantry, climbing steadily through the ruins, meeting resistance here and there, coming under strong flanking fire in places, and finding in the course of their advance that they were outnumbered at key points such as the convent. The defending paratroops fought bravely and skilfully; but there was no need to present them with opposition on the ground commensurate with their own strength. They could and should have been overwhelmed with numbers. When the tanks were denied passage through streets blocked with rubble—and this was soon apparent—there was only one answer: more infantry. But none came and the enemy was allowed to recover and consolidate and convert the battle from a swift assault to a series of slowly resolving encounters between clusters of determined men yard by yard through the rubble and wreckage of Cassino. As the outcome of weeks of preparation and a gigantic air and artillery effort it was vastly disappointing.

Next morning 25 and 26 Batteries found themselves on the familiar task of firing smoke, this time with all points of origin in the southern half of the town. At 11 a.m. 26 Battery began another series to screen the area of the railway station and the road junction where Route 6 entered the town. Other targets were nebelwerfers, and by the end of the day the 4th Field had fired the considerable total of 5746 rounds of HE and 5003 of smoke.34 After dark the 5th Field joined in a concentration designed to punish nebelwerfer crews and it caused several heavy explosions and some fires.

Things seemed to be looking up on the 17th. New Zealand tanks picked their way towards the railway station despite strong opposition. At one stage some of them were attacked by paratroops with anti-tank support and 26 Battery brought down fire all round the tanks—even over them. When the smoke cleared the paratroops had disappeared and the tanks were unharmed. With considerable difficulty the infantry followed and occupied the station. A further effort won the hummock 200 yards beyond the station; but that was all.

On the 17th, however, the enemy artillery showed renewed interest in the gun areas and the 4th Field suffered a sad loss. Unlucky 25 Battery was again the target and in the afternoon page 571 Gunner White, who had won an MM a month before, was killed and two others were wounded. In 46 Battery B2 suffered a premature in the barrel, but the crew escaped harm. Two FW190s bombed and strafed the gun areas and 42 Battery was credited with one of them as a ‘probable’.

Next day the guns fired more smoke, most of it around the Continental Hotel and the Baron's Palace. By this time the interweaving of friend and enemy in the ruined town and various points outside—the Colosseum, Hangman's Hill, the abbey, Castle Hill and the rest—made close artillery support hard to provide. The effects of frequent massive concentrations on selected targets such as the Colosseum were usually disappointing. The heavy work, moreover, particularly the smoke, caused much wear and tear on the guns.

black and white photograph of survey

a bearing picket prepared by x (survey) troop for the 4th field at cassino

This day, 18 March, for example, one of the guns of A Troop, 29 Battery, broke its firing rod. This would usually have caused much delay awaiting a replacement rod; but the troop mechanic, Gunner Mathieson,35 with the few tools at hand, set about making a firing rod from a length of salvaged steel. Within a few hours he succeeded and for the next five days the gun was in action with its home-made firing rod and fired more than 1000 rounds.

The German artillery was ominously reviving and infantry calls for anti-nebelwerfer fire were also becoming more frequent. page 572 Areas apparently cleared of German infantry seemed to fill up again by some unfathomable sleight of hand. The enemy in Cassino seemed, if anything, to be growing stronger.

The 4th Field fired almost as many smoke shells on 21 March as on the unforgettable 18th of February when the lives of the Maoris depended on them. The war diary gives the total for this day as 10,105 smoke (as well as 1178 HE). Most of the smoke was fired to screen the amphitheatre near the Colosseum and Monastery Hill to hamper the enemy there in his efforts to make the station and the hummock untenable for the New Zealand infantry. Smoke was also used to blind enemy mortars in an area known as ring contour 55, south of the railway line. Infantry had captured most of the town, with what aid the tanks could give them; but they were overlooked in most places by enemy on higher ground and they continued to have need of lavish smoke screens. This need continued even after the 23rd, when the offensive was officially halted, and the gunners therefore could not relax.

By this time both gunners and guns were feeling the strain. The 4th Field crews had worked themselves to the point of exhaustion, and on the 22nd 33 Anti-Tank Battery sent 33 men to help at the 4th Field guns. In the next few days the crews had to work harder still in some ways as the enemy was allowed to regroup and recover his confidence.

How the guns responded to this continued over-exertion is illustrated by the 4th Field experience. The gun F1 blew its packings on the 18th. On the 22nd C3 did the same and C2 was under repair for two hours. D3 blew its packings on the 23rd. Next day F3 had its piece condemned and the gun had to be evacuated to the Gun Bay of Divisional Workshops. D3 sprang oil leaks in the buffer cylinder on the 25th. Wear and tear on the rifling of gun barrels from the constant firing of smoke was also a source of worry. And so the story went on. Before the end of the month the field regiments began a rest scheme, sending selected men to the wagon lines for four days.

Early in March 43 Battery had relieved 41 Battery in defence of the field gun areas. A3 and A4 were too hard to move and remained in position, and their detachments took over H3 and H4 from the incoming gun detachments. Even this changeover was an ordeal because of the mud. The tractor of G4 broke an axle in trying to leave the reserve area and the G1 tractor developed faulty steering. Then on the 8th B Troop of 41 Battery relieved E Troop of 42 at Divisional Headquarters and page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page break page 573 A Troop went into position covering heavy American guns. So there was no rest. In turn 42 Battery moved forward to relieve 71 US Anti-Aircraft Brigade and deployed between Trocchio and Porchia and northwards almost to Cervaro.

black and white photograph of soldiers sitting down

Steve Weir addresses his officers in the Volturno Valley

black and white photograph of soldiers repairing artillery

A major repair of a 25-pounder in the Volturno Valley

black and white photograph of view from Monte Trocchio

Looking north and north-east from Monte Trocchio. In April 1944 most guns were sited between A (Vallerotonda) and B. Terelle is distant left. In the foreground Route 6 leads to Cassino, off the picture to the left

black and white photograph of smoke

Smoke-screening 26 Battalion near the Cassino railway station—taken from a 36 Survey Battery post on Trocchio

black and white photograph of smoke

Smoke canisters screening Route 6 as it enters Cassino

black and white photograph of soldier sitting beside artillery

C Troop, 5th Field, on upper-register shooting behind Trocchio

black and white photograph of soldier surveying

A 36 Survey Battery post on Trocchio, overlooking Route 6

black and white photograph of soldiers standing for inspection

Jack Mitchell conducts the Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser on an inspection of some of the 7th Anti-Tank after the Cassino battle. The RQMS, Darky Smith, is in the foreground

black and white photograph of soldier surveying

K. J. Retter using a director on the Cassino front

black and white photograph of gun fire

Field and medium guns on the Cassino front

black and white photograph of artillery fire

Montecassino abbey dominates the guns as they shell Cassino

black and white photograph of soldiers planning

I. E. Gilbert and W. S. Tuck at a 6th Field artillery board near Sora

black and white photograph of soldier flash spotting

D. J. Ryan at a flash-spotting post near Sora

black and white photograph of soldier with children

R. T. Stewart of the 6th Field hands washing to children near Sora, two days before the trouble starts

black and white photograph of hills

A ‘stonk’ falls on the hills above San Michele in the Florence battle. Taken from Tac HQ of the 6th Field, with Cerbaia in the foreground

black and white photograph of soldier bending

A sound-ranging microphone being sited by N. Hansen in the Florence battle

black and white photograph of soldier operating sound ranging equipment

L. N. Richards operating sound-ranging equipment in front of Florence

black and white photograph of tank

An Mio at San Casciano

black and white photograph of artillery and soldiers

The Bofors which sank a German motor launch off Rimini, October 1944

black and white photograph of soldiers on jeep

A 5th Field jeep at Riccione: W. O. Duncan, A. E. Davis, I. O. Little and D. H. Pachnatz

black and white photograph of soldiers in water

A waterlogged 5th Field gun pit near Forli

black and white photograph of ammunition

Empty 25-pounder cartridge cases at Faenza look a bit like a church organ

black and white photograph of soldier moving beside ammunition

J. D. McGregor of the 4th Field on a causeway of ammunition boxes at Faenza

black and white photograph of artillery

A 17-pounder in front of Faenza covers the Via Emilia

black and white photograph of soldiers on truck

On the final advance: approaching the Idice River

black and white photograph of artillery crossing river

A 17-pounder crossing the Po

black and white photograph of soldier with artillery

The 4.2-inch mortar J2 in action

The CRAs

black and white photograph of miles

Reggie Miles

black and white photograph of weir

Steve Weir

black and white photograph of parkinson

Ike Parkinson

black and white photograph of queree

Ray Queree

black and white photograph of thornton

Bill Thornton

Air activity in the first fortnight of the month was almost exclusively friendly. A fleeting target presented itself on 17 March to D6 of 42 Battery, and Sergeant Thomson's36 detachment engaged the two FW1905 which flew over at a mere 500 feet. A shell hit amidships and the plane seemed to be thrown over and to fall slightly, but it recovered and flew off. It crashed beyond Trocchio, however, and D6 got full credit for it (though this was later challenged). On the 22nd there was a sudden increase in enemy air activity and 41 and 43 Batteries both found targets. This occasioned special interest because several guns had recently been fitted with new correctional sights popularly called Stiffkey Sticks—by the end of the month 28 guns had them—and everyone was anxious to see how well they worked. Over 20 Me109Fs and FW1905 came over at 1 p.m. to dive-bomb the rear areas and both batteries engaged them vigorously, 41 Battery firing 135 rounds and 43 Battery 675 rounds. The result was a headache for Lieutenant-Colonel Sprosen when he had to adjudicate on the various claims. A3 under Sergeant Kerr37 claimed a hit on a plane that passed overhead. It was already smoking, but a flash came from the engine and it departed smoking profusely. Then Kerr fired two bursts at the leading one of another group of these planes and scored two hits, causing flashes. Bombardier Ujdur38 of A4 saw one of 24 shots strike forward of the cockpit of an FW190 and it was trailing smoke when it disappeared. Sergeant Hare39 of A5 fired 20 rounds and scored hits on one plane. This was smoking badly when it vanished behind the hills. Sergeant Kenah40 of A6 saw one of his rounds strike a fuselage. Sergeant Mortland41 of B6 engaging with predictor control saw ‘one definite hit by naked eye and also through telescopes’. Finally Sergeant Healey42 of G6 watched a Spitfire chase a plane, and when it broke off the engagement he opened page 574 fire and a hit on the fuselage caused smoke to come from the enemy aircraft. The battery commander, Captain Hollis,43 pointed out that G6 was in a particularly good position to engage this aircraft and that, as it was seen to crash, he thought Healey's detachment should get the credit. Sprosen scratched his head and in the end awarded one Category 1 (aircraft destroyed for certain) to the regiment as a whole; but opinion in the unit was that at least two other aircraft were damaged. The Stiffikey Sticks passed their first test with honour.44

The smoke tasks continued and the regularity of this fire gave the enemy all the information he needed to bring down extremely accurate fire on the New Zealand gun areas. The 6th Field suffered most, losing Bombardier Rashleigh45 on the 22nd, Lance-Bombardier Tullock46 on the 24th, and Bombardier H. R. Brown47 next day, and then, on the 27th, in a fierce onslaught by hostile guns on the 30 Battery area, a sergeant and two gunners.48 The 5th Field received 20 170-millimetre shells in quick succession in the afternoon of 25 March and Sergeant Fulford49 was mortally wounded. The 4th Field had its turn on the 27th and again it was unlucky E2 that suffered, Gunner Warnock50 being killed. page 575 In the 14th Light Ack-Ack the death of Sergeant Mortland on the 27th upset his many friends.51 It occurred as his gun was being taken into a forward position vacated by American guns guarding bridges at Cassino. Gunner F. G. Smith,52 who was helping him, was seriously wounded and died next day; three others were badly wounded and two more lightly wounded.

The only consolation about this unhappy episode was the selfless devotion of Gunner Lee53 to his comrades when this trouble struck them. Lee, a driver, was wounded on the way into the position when he passed through shell and mortar fire. He received first aid and then continued until his gun was in position. When the others were wounded he did all he could for them and then drove some of them and two wounded infantrymen back to an ADS. There his own wound was dressed and the staff wanted him to stay for further treatment; but he refused. On the way back to the wagon lines he drove his tractor over a demolished bridge which was not barricaded and the tractor overturned. Some Americans rescued him and helped him to an MDS, where he spent the night. Next morning, at his own request, he returned to his unit. In due course he was awarded an MM.

In the period that the New Zealand Corps was in existence—it was disbanded on 26 May—the 14th Light Ack-Ack was associated with the following units for the ack-ack defence of the corps area:

The 49th Light Ack-Ack, RA, of 78 Division: 26 guns

The 57th Light Ack-Ack, RA, of 4 Indian Division: 15 guns

The 167th Light Ack-Ack, RA, relieved by the 39th Light Ack-Ack, RA: 15 guns

The 5th US Army Ack-Ack Group: 27 guns.

The success of A1 on the 29th brought the regiment's total of aircraft destroyed to 67½, not counting the score for October 1942, on which there was no agreement.

The enemy was evidently infiltrating reinforcements into Cassino along Route 6, past the Colosseum and the Baron's Palace, to the Hotel des Roses and beyond. This area was a source of much trouble to 6 Brigade and the New Zealand page 576 tanks, and the Hotel des Roses in particular seemed to resist all kinds of fire. A heavy ‘murder’ on it on the 25th seemed to leave it almost unscathed. Medium guns did a little better. Then on the 26th Brigadier Weir, in his last few hours as CCRA, went to a vantage point near Cervaro with the commander of the American 936 Field Artillery Battalion, and personally conducted a shoot with a 240-millimetre gun on the Hotel des Roses, scoring many hits and doing a good deal of damage to it. Several hits were described in reports from the New Zealand infantry, some of whom were excited spectators at no great distance, as being ‘dead centre’ and airbursts immediately following them caught enemy fleeing from the building.

As a change from the continual CB and counter-mortar tasks and the frequent long spells of firing smoke—and putting up with the almost inevitable retaliation from the enemy artillery—the most interesting feature of the field gunnery towards the end of March was an essay in ‘upper-register’ shooting. This was a method based on experiments carried out by the 166th (Newfoundland) Field, RA, and it entailed digging the gun trails down and securing them safely so that the gun could fire at a very acute angle. This enabled the guns to reach hostile batteries tucked in closely behind high ground and similar targets. Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart personally conducted the first shoot by D Troop of the 4th Field. Several targets were engaged with some success and the enemy showed his concern by searching the area with 170-millimetre fire and putting down a very heavy concentration which was evidently meant for D Troop, but which actually landed about 200 yards away. C Troop of the 5th Field engaged hostile batteries this way with some success. It was interesting and instructive; but the idea did not catch on. The method was slow and difficult. FOOs, for example, had to use stopwatches because of the long time of flight of the shell—about one minute—and the consequent difficulty of knowing when to expect the fall of shot. There was also a fear that equipment might be damaged.

The anti-tankers, little-needed in their normal role, showed their versatility and made themselves useful in many ways.54 A troop of 32 Battery was deployed and remained thus in the Sant' Angelo sector facing west. Two more guns of this battery were deployed between the railway yards and Route 6 and these page 577 were relieved by 33 Battery and, late in March, strengthened by three 17-pounders. The 33rd at the same time deployed J Troop as infantillery, taking over two posts from the Buffs 100 yards south of the railway station. N1 and N3 of 34 Battery were emplaced at the northern end of Cassino, where the rest of the battery remained in its infantillery role. Another task, carried out by a party from 32 Battery, was to maintain a beacon near Venafro in the upper Volturno valley. This was to guide night bombers and was in the shape of the letter Z. It seemed an easy job until the party discovered that the beacon burned more than 200 gallons of diesel oil each night.

By far the most arduous task of the anti-tankers, however, was that of the ‘smoke party’ of 31 Battery under Major Tipping,55 numbering in the end well over 40 men. They had to place and light smoke canisters to screen the five Bailey bridges on Route 6 and the entrance to Cassino. Early types of canister weighed 45 pounds, and one account points out that this meant a man could carry ‘only three of them’. The work was dangerous and disagreeable. Machine guns fired on fixed lines through the smoke to make the task hazardous and mortars frequently fired furiously into the area. Slit trenches and even dugouts had to be close at hand. Gunners serving the six posts on the right or northern side of the road slept in a casa some distance away and came forward by jeep in the morning. They started their smoke at first light and then spent two hours bringing more canisters forward. On the left of the road, however, the canisters had to be carried forward by night, the six posts on that side being too near the enemy for much daytime activity.

The wind was for the most part kind and blew the smoke towards the enemy; but it could be fitful, and when it dropped or veered the smoke would pour sideways or backwards, filling the slit trenches and dugouts and almost choking the gunners even when they wore gasmasks—as they did much of the time. Several gunners were badly ‘gassed’ and had to be evacuated for medical treatment. When the smoke persisted in its waywardness the party would telephone the field gunners and they would send over smoke shells which often burst over the heads of the smoke parties and cascaded shell casings around them. Basuto troops took over this task on 4 April, but they performed it so badly that the 31 Battery men were at once called back to carry on, which they did until the night 8-9 April, by which page 578 time all the rest of the regiment, in company with all Divisional Artillery units, had withdrawn to a rest area near Venafro.

The most important task of the Survey Battery in March was flash-spotting to calibrate field and medium guns, and this continued throughout the month. All the New Zealand field guns were thus checked and all the guns of the 5th Medium, RA, as well as many other guns. One particularly interesting check was on different charge lots. The 76th Medium fired five groups of three rounds at a certain target, each group from a different lot. In each case the three rounds fell close to each other and three of the groups were close together. The fourth was 400 yards short and the fifth was even worse. This showed, as the flash-spotting diary says, ‘that differences in charges may affect gunnery greatly and reduce accuracy’. It could explain, for example, the failure of a number of rounds to clear Trocchio when the barrage and timed concentrations were fired on the 15th. It could also explain some of the authenticated cases of short shooting in support of the infantry. At all events, the variation between charge lots was ominously large.

The flash-spotting base centred on Trocchio was manned for a total of 52 days and nights. Lance-Sergeant Keppell56 was in command of one OP at the southern end of this feature and he did not leave it once. It was shelled almost every day and on 29 March the enemy scored a direct hit, wounding two men and causing much damage to equipment. Keppell had the wounded attended to and then arranged for a reserve instrument to be brought forward. In a very short time the post was in full operation. In the Orsogna operations he had similarly kept a post in action for 40 days. For this and his work at Trocchio he won an immediate MM. When the battery withdrew to Venafro its record of flash-spotting and sound-ranging locations throughout the period of 52 days was excellent. Flash-spotting locations averaged seven per day and sound-ranging 7.4 per day. Moreover, they were to a considerable extent complementary rather than repetitive, since most flash-spotting locations were obtained when Fifth Army guns were extremely active and no sound-ranging locations could be obtained, while most sound-ranging locations were of guns using flashless powder or in positions with good flash cover.

‘Never were visitors to the position more kindly received or welcomed’, a 4th Field man remarked of the occasion when page 579 officers of the 2nd RHA inspected the positions preparatory to taking them over. The 4th Field fired their last ‘Nebel Blitz’ at 1.46 a.m. on 3 April, their last morepork counter-mortar programmes—four of them—in the morning, their last HF and CB tasks, and then the guns came out, after a struggle, and bounced and lurched behind the quads on the way to Venafro.

The 5th and 6th Field were less lucky. On the 4th they both suffered accurate attention from enemy guns. A party of the 5th Field went out mending telephone lines after the first bombardment and two were killed, Lance-Sergeant Reeves57 and Gunner Hart,58 and a third man was wounded. On 5 April the 5th Field moved by night to Venafro. The 6th Field spent another fortnight behind Trocchio and then withdrew swiftly and gladly to Isernia, higher up the Volturno valley than Venafro, to what the regimental diary calls a ‘Pleasant area beside swift cold river’.

Thus ended the greatest artillery battle of the war so far as the New Zealand gunners were concerned. For most of them it was as if the cares of the world had suddenly dropped from their shoulders and Venafro or Isernia were other names for paradise. The dark brooding menace of Montecassino with its myriads of gimlet eyes boring into hiding places, the black hills above and beyond the ruined town, the leafless trees, the pitted and muddy landscape, the cramped gun positions, the never-ending crack and boom of the guns, and the sound of shells in the air (everything from a gentle rustling to a suddenly expanding heart-stopping shriek)—all these were of the past. For the 6th Field that past had lasted 74 days, one after the other, plodding slowly and heavily by in the cold and the mud. The present was short and must be enjoyed. Already in the first morning beside the ‘swift cold river’ reconnaissance parties were leaving for a new area, a new battle—but surely not a battle like Cassino!

For Artillery Headquarters it was as if a town council had for two months been managing the affairs of a great city and was now back in its own town. Captain Myers, for example, the Staff Captain, had had to administer seven different groups of artillery, at least 12 natures of guns and their gunners. He had had to see they had ammunition enough and of the right kinds. He had had to concern himself with their vehicles and page 580 weapons. There were countless instances in which he had had to attend to what the army calls ‘A’ matters relating to British units under the command of the New Zealand Corps. All this he had done without extra staff. Twice daily he had been able to furnish a detailed account of ammunition stocks and expenditure for all the different guns. He had done all this cheerfully, so that people enjoyed dealing with him, and underneath this cheerfulness were organising ability and driving energy. He too had had to work in the mud and under shellfire. For it all, from 5 February onwards, he was awarded an MBE. Higher up the scale, Colonel Queree for what he did as BGS of the New Zealand Corps—and he was calm, able, modest and profound—earned the CBE.59

For gunners of the 5th Reinforcements, many ‘old originals’ of the 14th Light Ack-Ack among them, 7 April was a big day. It marked the end of their third year overseas and therefore made them eligible for furlough. Soon afterwards the three field regiments and the 7th Anti-Tank welcomed men who were back from furlough—the relatively few Ruapehu men who returned from New Zealand. In the 4th Field they numbered 21 and in the 7th Anti-Tank they included the popular RSM, WO I ‘Les’ Auty.60 All were bombarded with questions about home.61

32 Gnr G. D. McGuire; born NZ 24 Jan 1913; waterside worker; killed in action 15 Mar 1944.

33 How many guns all told took part is not clear. Weir in one account gives the figure of 890 guns, but does not specify whether he includes antitank and ack-ack guns other than the few which had a role in the huge programme of supporting fire. Another careful estimate is 610 guns. But both of these probably include guns far from the Cassino battlefield, either deep in the mountains to the north or among the Aurunci Mountains to the south-west. In more or less direct support of the Indian and New Zealand attacks the following seem to have been committed:

804.55 and 5.5s
130US guns—105s, 155s, 8-inch and 240-millimetre
12French 155s
4French 8-inch
3Italian railway guns, 160-millimetre

Also there were some American 90-millimetre heavy ack-ack guns and some others, among them 10 6-pounders firing HE and four 17-pounders of the 7th Anti-Tank.

34 Lance-Sergeant G. A. Ravenwood of the 4th Field mended over 50 breaks in the telephone lines of his battery this day, always under fire, and in due course was awarded an MM.

35 S-Sgt H. F. Mathieson, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 24 Apr 1907; plasterer.

36 Sgt A. D. Thomson; Auckland; born Warkworth, 3 Aug 1902; civil servant.

37 Sgt A. H. Kerr; Auckland; born Ashburton, 4 Jun 1912; bank clerk.

38 Sgt B. Ujdur; born NZ 5 Jan 1917; labourer, P.W.D.; died on active service 13 Jan 1945.

39 Sgt J. C. Hare; Tauranga; born Napier, 13 Oct 1913; law student.

40 Sgt A. R. Kenah; Te Puke; born Nelson, 29 May 1909; grocer's assistant.

41 Sgt J. P. Mortland; born Taihape, 16 Jul 1910; accountant; killed in action 27 Mar 1944.

42 Sgt J. M. Healey; Milton; born Milton, 11 Jan 1919; labourer; wounded 22 Sep 1944.

43 Maj R. A. C. Hollis, MC; Masterton; born Wellington, 12 Mar 1910; public accountant.

44 The final claim of the month, duly allowed, was by Sergeant J. R. Allen of A1, who engaged three aircraft on the 29th and saw the last of them explode violently and scatter wreckage widely.

45 Bdr G. A. Rashleigh; born NZ 7 Apr 1915; sharemilker; died of wounds 22 Mar 1944.

46 L-Bdr L. H. Tullock; born NZ 4 May 1910; motor mechanic; killed in action 24 Mar 1944.

47 Bdr H. R. Brown; born Auckland, 12 May 1912; milk vendor; killed in action 25 Mar 1944.

48 Those killed were Sergeant L. J. D. Brown and Gunners R. E. Scott and K. R. Shaw. These men, with three others, were in a building in which the telephone exchange of 30 Battery Command Post was installed. A heavy shell struck the building and it collapsed, burying the occupants. All six men would almost certainly have died had it not been for a party of Americans of C Battery, 985 Field Artillery Battalion, who rushed over from their own guns and worked to the point of exhaustion clearing the rubble and moving heavy beams and masonry to rescue survivors. This they did regardless of the shelling, which continued intermittently throughout the afternoon.

49 Sgt G. H. Fulford; born Napier, 6 Jun 1911; accounts clerk; died of wounds 25 Mar 1944.

When shelling set an ammunition trailer of 27 Battery on fire WO II B. K. Bassett rushed up and tried to extinguish it. The shelling continued; but Bassett worked on regardless of it and managed to localise the blaze and overcome the danger to nearby dumps of ammunition. This was typical of Bassett's actions throughout the campaign and for it he was awarded an MM.

50 Gnr D. W. Warnock; born NZ 14 Jun 1921; patternmaker; killed in action 27 Mar 1944.

51 Jack Mortland was an original member of 41 Battery and popular throughout the regiment. He had been New Zealand foursomes champion at golf for three years running.

52 Gnr F. G. Smith; born Blackball, 25 Oct 1918; goldminer; wounded 1 Sep 1942; died of wounds 28 Mar 1944.

53 Gnr F. W. Lee, MM; Waipawa; born Bulls, 10 Aug 1918; labourer; twice wounded.

54 The 7th Anti-Tank had been commanded by temporary Lieutenant-Colonel S. H. Dawe; but on 18 March Lieutenant-Colonel Lambourn arrived (after a nine-month tour of duty in command of the training regiment at Base) to take over and Major Dawe became second-in-command.

55 Maj J. R. Tipping; Wellington; born Hastings, 5 Oct 1909; bank clerk; wounded 21 May 1941.

56 L-Sgt M. A. Keppell, MM; Invercargill; born NZ 15 Mar 1919; chainman.

57 L-Sgt C. Reeves, MM, m.i.d.; born England, 29 Jun 1919; petrol station attendant; killed in action 4 Apr 1944.

58 Gnr M. K. Hart; born NZ 18 Sep 1921; farmhand; killed in action 4 Apr 1944.

59 At the regimental level Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert, who had been recommended for an immediate DSO for conspicuous gallantry at Medenine, at last was awarded one for his tireless efforts with the 6th Field in support of 6 Brigade. While the infantry were locked in their bitter struggle among the ruins Gilbert did not relax his efforts to locate and overcome with his guns enemy posts, mortars and anti-tank guns which opposed them.

60 WOIL. J. Auty, MBE; Auckland; born Timaru, 11 May 1916; Regular soldier.

61 Artillery casualties in the battle for Cassino were:

Killed or Died of WoundsWoundedPrisoner of WarTotal
4th Field113041
5th Field41115
6th Field124557
7th Anti-Tank21223
14th Light Ack-Ack72532