2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
The 5th and 6th Field fired for an hour and a half from 1 a.m. on the 29th to help 6 Brigade seize the little town of San Michele, north of Cerbaia, and then prepared to fire the inevitable DF tasks as the enemy counter-attacked. Within 10 minutes of the start of the programme the infantry reported that shells were falling short, and Artillery Headquarters signalled to the 5th Field as follows at 1.10 a.m.:
‘695 607. Inf report shells landing at the above Map Ref. Please check up. Do not think they are ours.’
The reference point was between the right-hand infantry company and its objective. Only 27 and 28 Batteries of the 5th Field were firing at that time and a check found them firing correctly.22 Captain French,23 commander of E Troop of the 6th Field, drove forward with 26 Battalion; but an anti-tank gun disabled his armoured car, luckily without harming the crew.
When the 5th Field fired concentrations at breakfast time 26 Battalion was ‘very pleased’ in the first case and described the second as ‘Just perfect’. The 5th Field, however, suffered a serious loss when Major Carson was taking the newly-appointed commander of F Troop forward to the OP. A shell struck the page 624 scout car and killed the troop commander, Lieutenant Graves,24 and mortally wounded Gunner Henry.25 Carson himself had to be evacuated. (Bill Carson had been one of the stalwarts of the NZA from the earliest days and his wounds on this occasion and a consequent sickness later caused his death.)
The right section of A Troop M10s was deployed in San Casciano on the 29th and D Troop was also forward, but with three of its four M10s temporarily out of action. In San Michele the 6-pounder J3 of 33 Battery was stationed outside the church, having followed the infantry along a narrow and winding road in the pitch dark. German infantry, working their way back through the buildings of this vital hilltop village, made the position very hot and an SP gun out of sight of the anti-tankers shelled the company headquarters. In the end Sergeant McKnight,26 who stopped a bullet in the shoulder, had to disable his gun and join the surviving infantry at the last possible moment.
Next night J1 and J4 of 33 Battery went forward with tanks and a relieving company of infantry to re-establish the position in San Michele. They followed the same dark, narrow route and the tanks attracted machine-gun and mortar fire. Dead Germans lay on the cobblestones and a burning building lit up the road for some distance. A disabled Sherman blocked the route and it took two hours under fire to find another route into the village, along a way so narrow that the portées could not avoid driving over the bodies. Level with the church the J4 portée broke down. J1 went on to a position 300 yards past the church, beside a large building, and its portée truck returned for J4. The building turned out on closer inspection to be a Chianti wine store.
The 4th Field OPs had an excellent view of hastily arranged supporting fire for an infantry-and-tank attack on Sant' Andrea, on the extreme right of the Divisional sector north of Casciano, at dawn on the 30th. ‘stonk falling very well’, the A Troop OP reported at 6.15. Several DF tasks were fired to help the consolidation, and at 7.50 the 26 Battery OP reported that infantry had claimed that one gun on the first task had fired 300 yards short.
22 In R. M. Burdon, 24 Battalion (War History Branch, Wellington, 1953)' p. 271, it is stated that the infantry ‘moved forward close behind the barrage until obliged by one of the guns firing short to stop for a time under cover’. There was, of course, no creeping or lifting barrage, as this account implies.