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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Attack on the Gothic Line

Attack on the Gothic Line

Always on the Adriatic front the gunners were the first to go into action and the last to come out of it. On 30 August Artillery Headquarters and the three field regiments came under the command of 1 Canadian Corps for an impending attack by Eighth Army on the Adriatic sector of the Gothic Line, a powerful set of defences which had been under construction page 639 for more than a year. The same day the field gunners drove 40–50 miles over narrow and congested roads in a fog of dust to the village of Saltara, 11 miles south of Pesaro, the coastal anchor of the Gothic Line. Guns were booming in the distance; but in the vineyards around the village the grapes were ripe and the New Zealand gunners relaxed.

black and white map of advance

breaking through the gothic line, september 1944

The 4th Field came under the command of the British 46 Division on the left and the 5th and 6th Field under 1 Canadian Division in the centre; but the three regiments had no part in the initial attack, no barrage to fire, and the forward positions of the Gothic Line were shattered before they were fully committed. It was a queer situation at first. Brigadier Queree took Sawyers and Philp forward on the 31st to select gun positions. The Canadians they were supposed to support knew nothing of them. ‘No provision for gun areas’, Philp noted later, ‘and damned little help from anyone.’ For the 4th Field it was equally uncertain, as Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart realised when he reported to 46 Division. Both groups were told that there was no need for OPs. There was evidently a superabundance of artillery for the operation.

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The 5th and 6th Field positions, near the villages of Monteciccardo and S. Angelo, were in countryside criss-crossed with deep ravines and suitable ground was extremely scarce. A task called for at 6.15 a.m. on the 1st proved out of range of the 5th Field and no more fire orders arrived until mid-afternoon. For an hour from 4 p.m. the 5th Field fired 20 r.p.g. at irregular intervals on the Monteluro feature, 10,500 yards to the north-north-west. The capture of this would make the enemy's left flank at Pesaro untenable and the Canadians attacked strongly, supported by fighter-bombers and a tremendous weight of shells. From vantage points handy to their gun positions New Zealand gun crews watched huge concentrations of artillery fire and could just see in the distance Canadian tanks advancing until they disappeared behind dense curtains of dust and smoke as the attack reached its climax in the late afternoon. At 6 p.m. the 6th Field began to add to the swirling, ever-thickening cloud over Monteluro. At breakfast time on the and both regiments were told to cease fire. The Canadians had succeeded.

To Philp it was mystifiying. So far as he could judge the Canadians just picked likely looking centres of resistance and fired on them for long periods, stopping and starting in what seemed an eccentric fashion. They had very different ideas about gunnery and had apparently not fired a single creeping barrage. The weary hours on a dusty and difficult road and the heavy labour of getting the guns into position did not seem to have been warranted by the small amount of long-range shooting carried out by the 5th and 6th Field.

The 4th Field had dug pits and then waited for fire orders. Then they were told that 46 Division was through the Gothic Line. The only tasks ordered required supercharge and the ammunition available was all Charge III.2 In the evening of the 2nd the 5th and 6th Field returned to Saltara, and the following morning the 4th Field climbed up from its positions in the bed of the River Apsa and in heavy rain also drove back to that village. It was a Sunday, the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of war, and special church services marked the occasion.

The rest of the artillery had been resting near Iesi, sending swimming parties to the beach at Fano, and listening to radio news of successes by Allied armies in France, Belgium and Holland. With the breaking of the Gothic Line it seemed as page 641 though the end of the war was in sight. Another source of pleasure for the gunners on the 4th was the appointment of Steve Weir as temporary commander of the Division, General Freyberg having been injured in an aircraft accident.

By 6 September all regiments were stationed near the coast road south-east of Fano, the 7th Anti-Tank being farthest inland near the village of San Costanzo. The region was rich with purple grapes and for the moment the war seemed far away. A party of 43 Battery under Second-Lieutenant Harvey had the worst task: sweeping mines in an area close to Fano to be occupied by 6 Brigade. They found that tempting tomato patches in the area were booby-trapped like the cherry trees near Sora.3

2 Charge III could be reduced to Charge II or Charge I by taking out either one or two bags of propellant explosive. It could not, however, be increased to supercharge.

3 New self-propelled Bofors guns were tried out by the 14th Light Ack-Ack, with the help of flash-spotters from the Survey Battery. A and B Troops were equipped with these guns and the results were satisfactory.

The 4th Field received six new OP armoured cars called Foxes in place of Honey tanks.

The 7th Anti-Tank practised loading 6-pounders and jeeps into the amphibious craft called DUKWs (or Ducks) with a possible crossing in mind of the River Po. The trial was ‘most successful’ according to 33 Battery; but RHQ reported otherwise. In any case the River Po was many more months away than anyone then cared to think.