2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
Departures and Replacements
Departures and Replacements
February 1945 was the quietest month the artillery spent in action throughout the war, and for some of the gunners it scarcely seemed like war at all. The chief event was the departure for home of the ‘Tongariro’ men in the replacement scheme—all drafts up to the 5th Reinforcements, plus the ‘Coconut Bombers’. A camera calibration of one field gun per troop (in conjunction with No. 2 Calibration Troop, RA) was followed by a calibration of all 25-pounders at Bellaria—absolute for one gun per troop and comparative for the rest. For the three men per gun who were allowed to go this was an agreeable change for about a week and for those who stayed behind it was at least a rest. Several ‘Chinese attacks’ were mounted, the main one in support of 23 Battalion, to simulate serious attacks and provoke the enemy into wasteful response. The law of diminishing returns decreed that the enemy would tend to take them less seriously as time went by and he might in the end fail to respond when it was the ‘real thing’. Towards the end of the month artillery officers who had served with 3 New Zealand Division in the Pacific arrived as reinforcements— page 686 including the first senior officers to do so for a long time. They included Major McKinnon,30 who went to the 4th Field, and the Rev. W. Harford,31 who replaced the Rev. W. J. Thompson,32 padre of the 7th Anti-Tank since January 1943.
Many other replacements had meanwhile arrived for the Tongariro men and there were new faces everywhere. For the newcomers there was much to learn. Men who had served under very different circumstances in the Solomon Islands had to change many of their ideas and get used to new ways. The regiments conducted various informal courses of instruction. Huck Sawyers, for example, and his staff devised an exercise which a 27 Battery diary describes as follows:
‘Our spell as duty Bty ended and as things were pretty quiet the powers that be concocted a full-scale exercise, mainly to give as realistic training as possible to recently acquired sigs and to generally check up on Regimental, Battery and Troop routine. Nearly all R/T sets were on the air on Regt or Bty frequency. O.P.s passed down fire-orders and sitreps and Acks and G.P.O.s plotted and relayed the tasks to the guns—the gunners doing everything but send the rounds away. Exercise “BALONEY” was quite successful and many useful lessons were learned. Baloney messages, Baloney leave, Baloney fire-orders and Baloney advances on a lavish scale were reported. It is intended to repeat the experiment in the near future—a gunner's suggestion is to start the day off with a Baloney reveille. One Tommy officer at least is firmly convinced of the incurable insanity of all Kiwis. He happened to be passing when the Tannoys33 blared the orders for “Five rounds gun fire. Stand by. Fire.” He took up a crouching attitude, hands over ears, prepared for the worst, only to be greeted by a profound silence. Last seen he was hurrying away, muttering to himself, making for the nearest bottle of whisky.’
In the first week of March the artillery of 5 Kresowa Division took over the positions in front of Faenza and the New Zealand regiments came out of the line. The 6th Field did not get away unscathed. The enemy on the front became very lively after dark on 5 March and nebelwerfers harassed the area on an unusual scale. One rocket hit a casa occupied by a 6th Field OP and wounded two gunners; one of them, Gunner Masters,34 died soon afterwards.
The route was the familiar one through Forli and Cesena to Rimini and then along the coast and inland to the same region of hills in which the Division rested after the Gothic Line battle in October. The 5th Field went to the same place as before, Cerreto d'Esi. The 6th Field went to where the 4th Field had been before—Piane, Colferraio and Rastia. The 4th Field went to Castel Raimondo. The 7th Anti-Tank, like the 4th Field, was billeted in a village, Pioraco, which had been favourably impressed by other New Zealanders before and welcomed the gunners with open arms. There one of the first tasks was to see that F Troop received its long-delayed Christmas dinner. To the 5th Field it was a kind of homecoming. Artillery Headquarters, however, was in unfamiliar ground at Gagliole. It was rather small and the villagers needed some persuasion to find enough room; but they soon mellowed.
This time no artillery units or sub-units were to have the heartbreak of disbanding while the war continued; but there was to be less rest and more training. The object was to absorb the reinforcements fully and to polish up or recover the old skills in mobile warfare in the hope that the next offensive would lead to a breakthrough and a war of movement. This time, at long last and after much more hard fighting, the hope was to be fulfilled.