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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

A Hasty Move to the Arezzo Front

A Hasty Move to the Arezzo Front

An unexpected order in the evening of 7 July for the Division to concentrate near Lake Trasimene for an operational role caused a rush of activity, including the usual and useless removing of New Zealand markings and insignia—particularly page 610 useless since the route was marked with the well-known black diamond signs. The Division covered the 200 miles in two stages by way of Valmontone and Rome to Civita Castellana and then, over rough, dusty roads past the pretty town of Narni to the lakeside. The M10s travelled on tank transporters.

Artillery Headquarters moved to just west of the ancient walled city of Cortona, picturesquely overlooking Route 71, on 12 July and the 6th Field moved through in the night to positions around the town of Castiglion Fiorentino. The 4th and 5th Field followed next day and the 14th Light Ack-Ack deployed to defend the gun areas and other possible targets of the Luftwaffe between them and Cortona. Two troops of 39 Battery, under fairly heavy shell and mortar fire, relieved a British mortar battery three miles farther along Route 71.

A line of scrub-covered heights rising sharply to 3000 feet or more and linked by a series of narrow saddles ran diagonally from the right rear to the left front, barring the way to Arezzo. On the right was Monte Maggio, in the centre Monte Camurcina, and on the left Monte Lignano. The intention was that 6 Brigade should stage a quick attack to seize these peaks and hasten the enemy's evacuation of the city of Arezzo, the home of Petrarch and now an important communications centre.

In broiling heat on the 14th the field gunners prepared ammunition, when not registering zones. There was little other firing, though an air OP controlled 29 Battery shoots against five selected points. FOOs were well forward and found the ground extraordinarily difficult. To support an infantry advance over the network of saddles and crests would be something like firing on the intricate battlements of Le Quesnoy, but with the added complication of a profusion of crest-clearance problems, some of them very awkward indeed. These could all be resolved, given time; but Operation Order No. 1 of 14 July was not signed until 1.30 p.m. and then had to be reproduced and distributed. It specified that ‘Care will be taken in computing correct Angle of Sight for individual guns during fire plan’; but by the time it reached CPOs there was little time left. The programme began at 1 a.m. on the 15th. Long lists of DF tasks were issued in the interim and these, too, had to be processed at command posts and gun positions. All computations were nevertheless carefully made and checked. At the command post of 26 Battery, for example, Lieutenant Black,4 in checking DF tasks, discovered that two of them could not be fired safely page 611 because of double crest-clearance trouble, and he reported accordingly at 10 minutes past midnight on 14-15 July.

The sound-ranging troop of 36 Survey Battery had established a base on the slopes of Monte S. Savino, some miles to the west on the other side of the valley which opens out southwards from Arezzo, and hostile batteries located by the troop were dive-bombed on the 13th. No suitable positions could be found, however, for the flash-spotters and this turned out to be unfortunate in more ways than one.

black and white map of action locations

action in front of arezzo

Castiglion Fiorentino is on Route 71 due south of M. Camurcina

The only additional artillery was 20/21 Battery of the 5th Medium, RA, sited just south of the field guns with an OP well forward on the slopes of Monte Lignano and ready for business at 9.15 a.m. on the 14th. By this time all three field regiments had FOOs forward. One of them, Captain Wallis5 of D Troop, was with a company of 26 Battalion facing Monte Opino, well advanced on the right, and was with the leading platoon in an attack on that feature in the evening of the 14th. Approaching the nearer of two crests, he called down fire, the enemy ran down the reverse slope, and the platoon occupied page 612 a house at the top. Then, in a sudden and unexpected counter-thrust, the enemy recaptured the crest. Wallis called for fire around the house and as it was falling he and his ‘acks’ escaped through a window. Either this fire, however, or simultaneous fire from hostile artillery caused four casualties in the company, including two killed.

4 Maj M. J. Black; Paremata; born London, 23 Aug 1919; warehouseman.

5 Maj K. P. Wallis; Auckland; born Auckland, 24 Jan 1919; clerk.