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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Across the Savio River

Across the Savio River

The aftermath of the assault nevertheless brought the Division to the eastern bank of the River Savio on the 21st and the next step was to support a Canadian crossing of that considerable obstacle. This took place in the night 21–22 October and, in pelting rain, the New Zealand field guns fired more than 13,000 rounds in concentrations and DF tasks and the heavy mortar battery helped to cover the right flank of the assaulting force. Conditions were utterly miserable, the river was rising, and it seemed likely that no secure bridge could be put across the river for some time. In such a situation DF tasks tend to proliferate and the morning of the 22nd was a busy one; but the afternoon was unexpectedly quiet.

It was all the more so for the field gunners because almost all the rest of the Division was on the way to a rest area in the Apennines well to the rear. When the field gunners would be able to follow was highly uncertain. Much depended on whether the enemy chose to stay and fight it out on the Savio or withdraw to the next river line.

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The Survey Battery had meanwhile spent a busy 10 days between San Mauro and Cesena. X Troop had bearing pickets to fix, under very difficult conditions, for each of the many moves the field regiments made on the way to the Savio. The flash-spotters established a base first at San Mauro and from it located more than 20 nebelwerfers and eight hostile batteries, despite conditions that were unfavourable in the extreme. Then, from the Cesena base, centred on Gambettola, they located more nebelwerfers and a few HBs, as well as many demolitions. The Savio base did not open until the 21st, but from it S (Flash-Spotting) Troop obtained the locations of two nebelwerfers and three HBs. The troop closed down in the afternoon of the 22nd and prepared to move back. Similarly R (Sound-Ranging) Troop worked first from a base running through Savignano and San Mauro on the 12th, obtaining dozens of locations of varying accuracies. Then on the 18th the troop tried out a new style of triangular base, ‘evolved by officers, past and present, of the Troop, proved by experiments and put into practice here at Gambettola’, according to the troop diary. It was found highly effective, but required ‘thoroughly trained and capable personnel’. The final base on the 21st ran north-eastwards from Cesena. The barrage that night made sound-ranging impossible until the early hours of the 22nd, but the troop obtained one good-to-excellent location and six fairly good ones. When the three troops closed down on the 22nd little did they realise that it was for the last time and that in the rest area the battery would be disbanded.

Q Troop meanwhile, in its reserve positions near Rimini, had been busy modifying a 17-pounder and succeeded superbly. The gun sat lower on the ground, a foot was cut off the top of the shield, it was easier to conceal in action and the crew were less vulnerable. All this was plain when Q Troop demonstrated it on 22 October to important Eighth Army officers, comparing Q1, the modified gun, with Q2. All agreed that the modification was a great improvement. Not to be beaten, 33 Battery did the same thing with a 6-pounder, with equal effect.

RHQ and 41 Battery of the 14th Light Ack-Ack stayed behind when the other two ack-ack batteries departed early on the 22nd. Captain Chance, an original member of the regiment, had been put in command of 41 Battery early in the month. When he ordered the battery out of action at 4 p.m. it was the end of the active service of the 14th Light Ack-Ack and there only page 662 remained the formalities of disbanding. The Division—and particularly its artillery—was changing.

The three field regiments in their positions north-east of Cesena and Artillery Headquarters a few miles back at the village of Macerone on the CesenaCesenatico road were meanwhile plagued by indecision on the part of the higher authorities. The possibilities of effectively bridging the Savio depended on the weather and the enemy, and what either of them was going to do was highly uncertain. Changes of plan were therefore to be expected. The burning question for the New Zealand gunners was whether their detached role would be brief or prolonged and to this, for an anxious day or more, they could get no answer.

The 23rd was a cold, bleak day and during it they prepared to support a night attack by two Canadian divisions. Then the project was cancelled and in its place there was to be an attack in the early morning of the 24th by the British 4th Division. The programme was ready by midnight and at 5.30 a.m., after busy hours of preparation, the guns opened fire in drizzling rain.31 For 42 minutes they engaged hostile batteries with concentrations and then for an hour carried out HF tasks on other HBs and nebelwerfers—a total of about 150 r.p.g. The attack soon gained ground and it was evident that the enemy had pulled back to a shorter defensive line between Cesena and Forli. All OPs had withdrawn earlier and there was none of the usual observed fire to follow up the fire plan. Artillery Headquarters signalled at 8.35 a.m. that the regiments would remain where they were under Canadian command until about the 27th. This was depressing news and there was no indication of what they would do after that. The hours passed uneasily until at 1.30 p.m. the BM, Major Nolan,32 passed on the welcome message, ‘Guns can come out of action 1700 hrs’. The evening was given over to parties, some of them pretty wild.

All ammunition above the G1098 scale—the normal holding—was dumped and in the afternoon of the 25th the artillery group began a long drive back on crowded roads and tracks. Heavy and at times torrential rain began in the evening, there page 663 were many delays on the treacherous roads, and for the early hours of the 26th the regiments bivouacked—comfortably in the case of those, like the 5th Field, who found houses handy; damply and miserably for the others. They set off again early and drove on through the rain to their various destinations. All but a few of the drivers found billets in houses and they spent a relaxed evening, many of them drinking the raw new-season's wine with its promise of later stomach upsets. Artillery Headquarters settled in a huge seminary high above the little town of Esanatoglia, where the 7th Anti-Tank were already established; the 4th Field were in the Piane-Colferraio–Rastia area south of Fabriano, the 5th Field at Macere and the 6th Field at Cerreto d'Esi. The 14th Light Ack-Ack had already established themselves in various places south of Fabriano—Collamato, Castiglione, Acquatina and neighbouring hamlets and farmhouses33—and 36 Survey Battery were in houses in or near the little town of Matelica.

31 In a task fired during the night the gun A4 of the 5th Field had its second premature within a month. Again there were no casualties; but gunners easily become superstitious about such conjunctions of near-disasters.

32 Lt-Col H. T. W. Nolan, DSO, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 23 Jul 1915; sheepfarmer; Adjutant, 5 Fd Regt, Dec 1940-Jun 1941; Bty Comd, 6 Fd Regt, Sep 1942-Dec 1943; BM NZA, Aug-Nov 1944; CO 4 Fd Regt Mar-Dec 1945; wounded 26 Feb 1942.

33 The 14th Light Ack-Ack had a bad journey. H1 struck a mine, injuring a sergeant and wrecking the tractor, though the gun was not damaged. Then a jeep became sandwiched between two lorries and was badly damaged.