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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

M10s in Action

M10s in Action

The M10 troop, in its first action, helped the infantry to seize Strada, oblivious of the fact that the Shermans of the armoured regiment nearby were striking much trouble and suffering loss from one or two powerful Tiger tanks. The FOOs of the field and medium regiments found it hard to gain good observation and needed to be well forward. One of them, Major Paterson16 of 25 Battery, went forward near San Donato when the infantry were held up by intense shell, mortar and machine-gun fire. In full view of the enemy he pushed on 200 yards ahead of the infantry FDLs and set up an OP. The enemy reacted with even heavier shell and mortar fire; but by skilful control of his guns he managed to neutralise this fire and allow the infantry to resume their advance. He, too, moved forward and was wounded in the leg by a machine gun at a range of about 60 yards. But he refused to be evacuated and kept his OP operating until relieved next day.

The M10 crews, ill-trained though they were, managed to bring down indirect fire as well as direct fire to overcome opposition from a large castle near Strada. While forward on foot observing this fire Second-Lieutenant Reeves17 was killed by a shell splinter. It was a hot fight and the New Zealanders pushed forward with tremendous zest, which was fully matched by that of the OP parties of the Royal Artillery serving with them. It meant a lot of hard work, however, for the heavy mortar crews and the field gunners—firing, moving forward, deploying again, firing, moving forward and so on. The 5th Field fired 2000 rounds in the first 24 hours and the 4th Field fired 1310 on the 23rd.

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Approaching San Casciano on the 25th the M10 troop was in the forefront of a special force, Armcav, together with the OP parties of the 4th Field and 75th Medium. The 4th Field fired stonks and other concentrations incessantly and with good results.

Return fire in the forward area was heavy and an OP party of the mortar battery was pinned down for a considerable period. Next day A Sub-battery of mortars went into an excellent position below the road near the village of Lucignano. Though it was well forward, all vehicles could reach this position by a covered route; OPs went ahead, and by noon the mortars had fired hundreds of rounds. In so doing G3 suffered a near miss which set many charges on fire and caused two bombs to explode. The crew miraculously escaped harm; but the smoke and flames attracted attention and in the afternoon the troop position was heavily bombarded. Many shells hit pine trees forward of the position and exploded, showering the mortar pits with fragments of casing. Gunners Herries18 and Toovey19 were killed and three others were wounded.

It soon became clear that the enemy proposed defending San Casciano in considerable strength. The left section of A Troop M10s came up against strongpoints in two large houses covering a crossroads north of Montefiridolfi. With an anxious eye open for mines, the crew of A3 went into action in a field to the right of the road and engaged with slightly delayed-action HE at 1200 yards; A4 did the same from farther back. After firing about 20 rounds A3 drove farther forward to a well-chosen position to engage the second of the two houses. Three Shermans then appeared to the left of the road and they and A3 fired over 100 rounds at the house. By this time night was falling, the tanks and M10s had no infantry cover, and they therefore pulled back a little.

The first fire plan of the Florence campaign was fired on the 26th in support of a 5 Brigade attack towards Cerbaia, northwest of San Casciano. It included eight stonks by the 4th and 5th Field, the 142nd Army Field (SP), and the 70th and 75th Medium, starting at 9.50 p.m. The mortar battery also contributed, by a last-minute arrangement with the infantry. The BSM, WO II Kilmore,20 worked prodigiously with the troop page 622 sergeants to get enough ammunition forward and the battery fired some 800 rounds. With this support the attack succeeded.

Next day the 6th Field went into action for the first time on the Florence front. The action was warming up and ammunition expenditure was rising all the time. The 5th and 6th Field fired a programme starting at 1 a.m. on the 28th to help 6 Brigade cross the Pesa River by Cerbaia, and the 70th and 75th Medium fired HF tasks. The enemy began a series of fierce counterattacks and calls for DF multiplied rapidly. The 46 Battery diary for the 28th is typical:

‘Extremely busy day and night with no rest for anyone at the gun position. OPs flat out 24 hrs a day and doing a good job. Excellent shoot by Bty on A/Tk gun in house. Harassing fire all night. Florence in sight of OPs.’

The 142nd Field with its 105-millimetre howitzers on tank chassis was in close support of the New Zealand armour, and on the 28th Captain R. M. Clarke of that regiment was FOO with a squadron of 19 Armoured Regiment in the crossing of the River Pesa near Cerbaia. In the morning a company of infantry, a few tanks, and Clarke's OP were in and around a farmhouse under intense fire from mortars, SP guns and German tanks. Several of the New Zealand tanks were knocked out and the rest withdrew; but Clarke volunteered to stay with the infantry. He had been directing fire against many targets and helped to break up many counter-attacks. Clarke's wireless operator, Lance-Bombardier W. Gray, transmitted the fire orders calmly and kept open the vital communications regardless of the storm of fire directed at the farmhouse and its environs. Towards dusk the enemy directed heavy concentrations of shell-fire at the farmhouse and moved tanks and infantry close to it. After firing AP shot through the walls the enemy tried to overrun the position with infantry. Clarke continued to bring down shellfire on the enemy to within 200 yards of the farmhouse. Then a rifle grenade set his tank on fire and wrecked the wireless set. When this happened Clarke and Gray joined the infantry and helped to drive off the Germans with small-arms fire. It was one of many such gallant performances by the Royal Artillery gunners with whom the New Zealand gunners were associated throughout the Italian campaign.

The surveyors had had a hard time laying telephone cables and maintaining them. With so much fire falling throughout the area and so many tracked vehicles on the move, this work page 623 was never-ending. The flash-spotting troop did reasonably well from the start, obtaining many useful locations. But the sound-ranging troop had some frustrating days with very few locations of hostile batteries. On the 26th, however, on a new base in front of Fabbrica and a few miles short of San Casciano, the sound-ranging improved and next day nine locations were obtained. On the 28th Gunner Crossman21 of the sound-rangers was killed while lifting mines. The flash-spotters in their plotting centre in a mineral water factory on the road to Casciano were much shelled; but they worked busily throughout the night.

16 Maj K. W. Paterson, MC; Dunedin; born Dunedin, 14 Nov 1918; survey cadet; twice wounded.

17 2 Lt C. S. Reeves; born NZ 10 Jul 1911; sharebroker; killed in action 24 Jul 1944.

18 Gnr E. W. Herries; born NZ 10 Nov 1905; fellmonger; killed in action 26 Jul 1944.

19 Gnr A. C. Toovey; born NZ 3 Mar 1906; farmer; killed in action 26 Jul 1944.

20 WO II C. A. Kilmore; born NZ 23 Jan 1915; Regular soldier.

21 Gnr T. A. Crossman; born Blenheim, 26 Aug 1921; theological student; killed in action 28 Jul 1944.

Next day three anti-tankers seeking fresh vegetables for 31 Battery were caught on an anti-personnel minefield and Gunner W. W. Hodgkinson was killed and Gunners C. J. Causer and L. G. Bradley badly wounded.