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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Surprise Attack West of Faenza

Surprise Attack West of Faenza

For the attack on the night 14–15 December, which was directed on the key village of Celle west of Faenza, 5 Brigade and associated armour had the support of 256 guns, including a heavy battery, a heavy ack-ack battery and three medium regiments. In addition four medium regiments and three 155-millimetre batteries fired CB tasks on the New Zealand and 10 Indian Division fronts.

The essence of the plan was to give the enemy no reason to suppose that anything special was afoot until the guns crashed into action at 11 p.m. on the 14th and the tanks and infantry surged forward. The three NZA field regiments and a field regiment of 46 Division fired a 400 r.p.g. barrage lasting three and a half hours and RA Bofors marked the boundaries. All other field guns and the mediums and heavies fired concentrations, and many DF tasks were prepared in the certain knowledge that the enemy would fight back vigorously. Both heavy mortar sub-batteries fired concentrations and, in so doing, B Sub-battery, which was in 6 Brigade area, attracted return fire which killed three men and wounded a fourth.15

The surprise that was sought was fully achieved and, under the hammer blows of the artillery, the enemy soon yielded ground to the infantry, advancing under artificial moonlight M10s of C Troop harassed the bridge on Route 9 over the Senio across which the enemy would have to pass any reinforcements he cared to commit. By the evening of the 16th, however, page 674 the M10s had reached Casale and were close enough to the bridge to deny the enemy the use of it. By that time there was serious talk of effecting an immediate crossing of the Senio as well.

After firing in support of the initial attack, A Sub-battery of heavy mortars pushed forward behind the infantry and responded quickly and effectively to every call for fire. Lieutenant McCliskie,16 the GPO, reconnoitred difficult terrain twice under enemy observation and selected gun positions well forward. To occupy them without suffering heavy casualties seemed impossible. He nevertheless managed to deploy the two troops and they fired heavily from both positions without suffering casualties or damage to their equipment. McCliskie thereby demonstrated that he had a good eye for ground—an invaluable attribute in such circumstances. But he also demonstrated, in this action and later, driving energy and powers of leadership and in due course he was awarded an MC.

Laying lines from OPs to gun positions under such circumstances is one of the most demanding tasks of all. Lance-Sergeant Pulford17 of B Troop of the 6th Field and his men laid a line in the wake of this attack through an area not fully cleared of enemy. It passed over the only bridge completed, which was under severe shell and mortar fire. For their own safety he ordered his men back to the battery and for several hours stayed forward to maintain the line himself regardless of the heavy fire. Another B Troop man who showed unusual courage in this attack was Gunner McCardle,18 a jeep driver of the OP party. He delivered equipment to the OP under heavy shell and small-arms fire and seemed heedless of his own safety.

In the 5th Field Captain Horrocks,19 of A Troop, appointed as representative at the headquarters of 22 Battalion, volunteered instead for the more hazardous task of FOO. The advance was over two miles of open country on foot, carrying a heavy No. 22 wireless set. The battalion met strong resistance and took seven hours to capture its objective. Just past the start line Horrocks saw some wounded infantry on a minefield and, regardless of the danger, rendered assistance to them, saving the life of at least one of them. With Horrocks were Bombardier page 675 Liggins20 and Gunner Nicol,21 and between them they carried heavy batteries and sections of the wireless set over muddy hill-country in the dark in very bad weather. They came under fire; but pushed on regardless of it and had the OP working and communications established within a quarter of an hour of the capture of the objective. The infantry advanced again, towards the Senio, on the 16th, and this OP party kept up with them. Horrocks set up his OP in a church tower among the foremost infantry in the Casale area. The tower was heavily shelled, but the OP remained there until the church was almost completely destroyed. Then Horrocks carried on from a nearby house until relieved on 18 December. In a letter of 4 January 1945 to Huck Sawyers, the battalion commander ended up thus:

‘At all times, Capt Horrocks was cheerful and unflurried. He made a very great impression on my men and under conditions which were often most difficult, he proved to be reliable, conscientious and co-operative. I am grateful to you for the services of so excellent an officer.’

Horrocks won an immediate MC.

The 4th Field had reconnoitred positions south-west of Faenza before the attack and occupied them on the 16th, with RHQ to the west in what appeared to be the house of the Count of Faenza. It was a good area, with sandy ground for the gun pits and plenty of good casas at hand.

The M10s of E Troop were called forward on the 17th to support a thrust across the river by Route 9 and they destroyed a sandbagged house which an enemy rearguard was holding. Before noon the Lamone was bridged. Artillery Headquarters had meanwhile sent a reconnaissance party into Faenza as early as the 16th; but the town was not cleared. Early on the 17th the reconnaissance continued and a location near the railway station was chosen for Artillery Headquarters, which drove into the town in the afternoon. It proved a more exciting move than expected. Snipers were still abroad, especially after dark, the new area was mortared at intervals throughout the night, and a machine gun firing along the street past the entrance to Headquarters caused visitors to step very lively indeed on occasions. Headquarters staff were astonished when Gurkhas, on a house-to-house search of the neighbourhood, routed out a number of page 676 page 677 Germans from buildings close at hand. In the afternoon of the 18th a heavy concentration of 105-millimetre fire scored a direct hit on the clerks' truck, set a scout car of the Indian division on fire, wounded Gunner Peddie22 and killed Signalman Scott23 of the attached Signals section.

black and white map of attack plan

night attack north of faenza, 19-20 december 1944

The 5th Field had meanwhile moved to positions in the western outskirts of Faenza on the 17th. A heavy mist hampered the survey, however. The enemy was some distance away to the west; but to the north he was close at hand—900 yards from 27 Battery—and the nearest DFs were at a range of 1200 yards. The CRA therefore laid it down that the regiment would not answer calls except in an emergency. A Gurkha-manned Vickers gun was no more than 10 yards from D Troop.

The policy of silence, however, did not last long. Another impressive fire plan was drawn up to support a 6 Brigade and Gurkha attack northwards in the night 19-20 December. It included a huge creeping barrage on a very wide front fired by the 4th and 6th Field, the 1st RHA, the 23rd Army Field, and two regiments each from the 10 Indian Division and the 56 London Division. In addition the 5th Field and four medium regiments and a battery fired concentrations and the third field regiment of 56 Division fired a counter-mortar programme. The heavy-mortar battery also had a role and the C Troop M10s carried out HF tasks. Again RA Bofors marked the boundaries, as well as indicating the times the barrage lifted or paused. To cover the final objective 21 stonks were drawn up.

The opening of this huge fire plan, with well over 300 field and medium guns firing, was impressive indeed and the infantry followed close behind the barrage. The enemy reacted quickly and strongly with shell and mortar fire and nebelwerfers were active. The Gurkhas on the right were ahead of 6 Brigade and the barrage on their part of the front started on the pause line. They therefore had to be silent spectators for the first 16 lifts until it came time for them to join in the advance and the barrage extended to cover their front.

The main objectives were taken; but there was no sign of an enemy collapse and no possibility of forcing the Senio line. The strength of this line became plain when 26 Battalion put in a small thrust at 6.45 a.m. on Christmas Eve with the 4th page 678 and 6th Field and the heavy mortars in support. The infantry gained the stopbank but soon found their situation hazardous and were recalled.