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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery


page 688

WAS the second visit to the smiling valleys of the Apennines to be for training or for rest and fun? Higher authority said training; gunners said rest and fun. It was an amiable contest and ended in a draw, though for the first three days the gunners looked like winning all hands down. Smart parades were demanded, but, as a battery diary says, ‘TSMs tended to be increasily harassed with cunning and varied reasons why parades should not be attended’. Goalposts sprouted everywhere and there was much football and a little hockey. In 46 Battery Lance-Bombardier Boyes1 and Gunner Henderson2 painted attractive murals to decorate a troop bar and arranged for the services of an Italian orchestra. In Pioraco some anti-tankers were too warmly welcomed and a battery diary for 9 March says baldly, ‘Good weather. Many umbriaco soldati.’ The equivalent of ‘umbriaco’ in current rhyming slang was ‘out the monk’. Evenings were nearly all gay.

The 5th Field were billeted if possible with families they already knew. They were supposed to move to the new Lanciano Barracks south of Castel Raimondo, but Lieutenant-Colonel Sawyers thought these unfit for occupation and his gunners heartily agreed. The 6th Field, after several reprieves, moved to the barracks in the middle of March and found barrack life not as bad as they feared.

The 17th, St. Patrick's Day, started seriously with a full-dress rehearsal for a Divisional Artillery parade. The marching was for the first time to the music of the artillery pipe band. Brigadier Queree then lectured officers on the history of the Divisional Artillery. The afternoon was free and gunners made the best of it. At Headquarters there were the Gagliole Gambols, which included the Gagliole Gallops (complete with ‘tote’), a tug-o'-war, a tenniquoit match between gunners and signalmen, and a smoke concert. The ceremonial parade on the 22nd went off well. Generals Freyberg and Kippenberger were there, with the Rt. Hon. W. J. Jordan. Decorations presented included an MC page 689 won in the Solomons by Captain Blundell,3 who had joined the 4th Field. Concerts and parties followed.

Freyberg had briefed ‘lieutenant-colonels and above’ at San Severino on 18 March for the forthcoming crossing of the Senio.4 Training for this task with the newly-formed 9 Brigade5 was the main feature of the curriculum. After meticulous checking of every detail under their control that could lead to inaccuracy, the field gunners demonstrated the firing of divisional stonks and ‘murders’. They fell with remarkable precision. Then the 5th Field fired a regimental ‘murder’ with the seldom-used Charge 1 and it attracted much attention. This, too, fell very well. B Troop of 31 Battery with new DS 17-pounder ammunition6 penetrated the thick front glacis plate of a German Panther tank at 800 yards.7 The assembled 9 Brigade saw all this and was impressed. Then each battalion advanced behind a brief creeping barrage. Two of them, the Divisional Cavalry Battalion and 27 Battalion, had not previously done this and the gunners were on tenterhooks. But no shells fell short and the whole series of demonstrations was highly successful, inspiring confidence among the inexperienced infantry.

Doubts had been cast, before these demonstrations, on the accuracy of the gun B4 of the 5th Field, however, and B Troop was incensed. What is described in the 5th Field war diary as ‘an extremely accurate observed shoot’ took place again on the 29th; but it had a special point. Huck Sawyers had challenged the B Troop officers and they agreed that B4 should fire 20 rounds at a large but distant cross on the top of a mountain above RHQ. Large bets were taken by B Troop on whether or not one of the 20 rounds would land within 100 yards of the cross. When the verifying committee climbed the mountain and ascertained the results it reported that no fewer than 11 rounds had fallen within that distance, so B Troop won handsomely. It was lucky for them that the cross survived undamaged.

The expectation of a breakthrough followed by mobile warfare delighted the 7th Anti-Tank. It meant that 31, 32 and 33 page 690 Batteries would become real anti-tankers again. The M10s would advance in close support of the tanks and the 17-pounders would take over at every pause. The crews of both trained for direct fire. They conducted several reconnaissances and occupations of positions and carried out live shoots. The heavy mortar crews practised to increase their speed into and out of action and they, too, did much range firing. The survey troop worked hard for all the artillery and their surveying was swift and accurate.

Before Brigadier Queree got back from leave, Colonel Stewart had to visit 5 Corps at the front and a signal of 13 March stated that ‘Any matters arising at NZA are to be referred to Col Sawyers’. So in effect Sawyers was acting CRA for two or three days. Soon after Queree got back, however, he had to enter hospital and was there until 1 April. Stewart became acting CRA again for a week. After that Stewart went on to the New Zealand Roll. Major Nolan had returned from furlough on 28 March. He became CO of the 4th Field, and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel.

The 4th Field would miss Gordon Stewart. He had been longer as a battery commander with his unit and then CO than any other regimental commander. The others had mostly served in more than one regiment; but Stewart had been with the 4th Field throughout. Stern on formal occasions, inspiring in action, he could be agreeably relaxed at other times. His instructions to Tongariro men who had been celebrating and then learned that they had to parade before the GOC in Forli were that they were not to leave their trucks if they did not feel up to it. When Stewart himself farewelled them he said, ‘You seem to have the makings of first-class civilians. If you see me in Queen Street or Lambton Quay, don't forget to buy me a beer. I'll probably be selling shoe-laces.’

The 6th Field and 7th Anti-Tank also changed their commanders. George Cade was medically graded and thereby robbed of the distinction of leading the 6th Field in their final campaign. Shirley Nicholson replaced him on 30 March and Lieutenant-Colonel Pat Savage, an anti-tanker from the earliest days, took over the 7th Anti-Tank.

1 L-Bdr J. R. Boyes; Birmingham, England; born NZ 20 Aug 1904; commercial traveller.

2 Gnr R. Henderson; Te Awamutu; born NZ 20 Dec 1913; dairy farmhand.

3 Capt P. M. Blundell, MC; born Wellington, 10 May 1919; trainee newspaper administrator; killed in action 16 Apr 1945.

4 See Geoffrey Cox, The Road to Trieste (Heinemann, 1947), pp. 11-15.

5 The machine-gunners had been converted into 27 Battalion and were brigaded with 22 Battalion and the Divisional Cavalry Battalion.

6 DS = discarding sabot. The light sabot and the not-so-light base-plate fell off after leaving the barrel and the tungsten-carbide core with its hardened cap and ballistic cap carried on towards the target at a tremendous velocity.

7 Another type of anti-tank ammunition then available was APCBCHE—armour-piercing cap, ballistic cap, with delayed-action HE charge.