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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Rain Delays the Offensive

Rain Delays the Offensive

Rain came pouring down again on the 2nd, converting soft tracks into impassable morasses and delaying a resumption of the offensive. For the field gunners the main task was to develop effective responses to the harassing fire from enemy guns and mortars which plagued the defence on the coast and in the central sector. A CB programme worked out by the CBO's staff served this purpose well, though its effect was as a rule shortlived. On receipt of the code words ‘Mustard Red’ all known hostile batteries were heavily engaged. For a week or more on this front and afterwards on other New Zealand fronts, ‘Mustard Red’ was frequently signalled. When the sound-rangers located two heavy guns on 3 October at least five field and three medium regiments and two heavy batteries fired so that their shells began landing simultaneously in a devastating pinpoint concentration, the Time on Target (TOT) being 2.45 p.m.25 It was an event that any surviving members of the German gun crews are not likely to forget. They did not fire again from that position.

Despite such measures as this, the German guns and mortars remained formidable, prompting many NZA gun crews to go to extraordinary lengths to protect their gun pits and living quarters. The most exposed of the 4th Field gun pits were reinforced and built up above the ground with heavy timber and other materials, and some of the gunners copied the German page 655 trick of digging sleeping accommodation under the floors of the casas they occupied. It was a lot of trouble to go to for what was understood to be a temporary position; but it kept casualties low in a period which for weight and accuracy of fire on the gun positions was reminiscent of the worst days of the desert war.

Two ammunition limbers, an ammunition dump, and two haystacks in the 29 Battery area were set on fire by shelling in the night 2–3 October and Bombardier Buchanan's gun was gravely endangered. He tried to save it by manhandling it out of the front of the pit, but the heat of the fire and the frequent explosions of ammunition drove his gun crew back. For the next three hours Buchanan and his crew laboured, regardless of harassing fire and occasional heavy concentrations of shelling, to remove all the ammunition they could get at. In the end they got the fire under control and saved hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Buchanan's leadership and determination were rewarded with an MM. At the battery wagon lines two men were wounded, and next night two more were wounded by shelling at the 6th Field RHQ.

For men of the Survey Battery the task of maintaining line communications was almost too much and the No. 22 wireless sets just received by the flash-spotters were most useful. Two trucks and the equipment for one sound-ranging post were destroyed by shelling on the 2nd. Two days later a flash-spotting post was shelled out and its instruments destroyed. Sound-ranging was difficult because of the weather and the profusion of friendly guns, and also because the enemy's policy was to fire salvoes from guns of different calibres in widely-scattered positions.

Shelling of the 4th Field caused 25 Battery to ask to be excused firing HF tasks at night—an extraordinary request—and E Troop of 46 Battery withdrew 800 yards after getting two men wounded in fierce shelling by Bellaria. The Left Section of H Troop of 43 Light Ack-Ack Battery was severely shelled on the 3rd, a truck was damaged, and the gun H5 suffered a direct hit which damaged the barrel, automatic loader and Stiffkey Stick. On the 4th three more men of 29 Battery were wounded and several vehicles were hit, one of them being destroyed by fire. The barrel of F1 of the 5th Field was damaged on the 3rd by a shell splinter.

There was trouble, too, from the sodden ground conditions and overworked guns. The rain and mud caused some charges page 656 to become damp, which could cause short-shooting, and charges had to be examined carefully to guard against this. Many 25-pounder barrels were badly worn. ‘Gun C1 has now fired 9700 EFCs’,26 47 Battery reported on the 4th. ‘GPO thinks barrel will not stand up to a barrage. Can EME look in?’ Another worrying feature was a series of prematures, though no deaths resulted. A3 of 27 Battery, for example, had one four feet in front of the barrel on the 4th. Nobody was injured and the gun remained in action; but the jarring ugliness of it was not easily forgotten by the crew. Then, early on the 6th, a shell burst two feet from the muzzle of A4, putting the gun out of action. Again there were no casualties; but the gunners of A Troop might have been forgiven if their handwriting was a little shaky for the next few days.

25 A TOT shoot required the shells from all guns engaged to start bursting on the target simultaneously—or as nearly so as could be arranged. When mediums and heavies were included this, of course, had the effect of delaying the engagement of the target by the 25-pounders. For HB shoots, however, the TOT method could be most damaging.

26 EFCs = effective full charges—the total rounds fired with various charges, reduced to the equivalent number (in terms of wear and tear in the barrel) fired with full charges.