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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Gruesome Effects of Artillery Fire

Gruesome Effects of Artillery Fire

Roads were jammed with vehicles and these moves were slow and dusty. The 5th Field were in what had been their own barrage lane and they were at once thrilled and appalled to see their own handiwork. Enemy machine guns and mortars were still in position. A group of houses in the 27 Battery area had been in course of preparation as a strongpoint when the barrage hit them like the wrath of a tribal god. Dead were lying in all directions, with wounded here and there among them and equipment scattered in utter confusion. The gunners formed burial parties and worked hard to clear the area. The wounded were cared for and evacuated. The casas were, as the war diary says, ‘heavily knocked’. A German SP gun fired a few rounds but did no harm, and for the rest of the day there was little firing. The 6th Field found the village of Sesto Imolese in ruins, with many dead among them. There were several knocked-out tanks or armoured SP guns in the neighbourhood; but they had fallen victim either to medium guns directed by Air OPs before the attack or to the infantry in the course of it.

The 4th Field relieved OPs in the afternoon and in so doing found that Captain Blundell was missing. Only a few weeks before he had paraded at Castel Raimondo to receive his MC for bravery at Vella Lavella in the Solomons. In the end a search party found his body on the bank of a canal. He had been killed by a stray shell. The 25th Battery was much upset and several members attended his burial at Massa Lombarda.

The heavy mortars were well forward, as usual, and lost three men wounded on the 16th by mortar fire. The survey troop of the 7th Anti-Tank had a busy time indeed, establishing bearing pickets this day not only for the NZA regiments, but for the 1st RHA, the 5th and 76th Medium and 61 Heavy Battery. In flat land with visibility restricted by vines and hedges this was not easy work.

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The 5th Brigade now relieved the 6th and 43 Lorried Infantry Brigade of Gurkhas joined the Division.34 Together with the attached artillery and strong air support, this gave Freyberg a force of great power and mobility. But the profusion of canals and ditches defended by a stubborn enemy did not permit rapid movement. Eighth Army, moreover, placed a restriction on the supply of ammunition until Freyberg objected strongly. He sensed that there would be at least one more sharp fight before he could break through into open country.

The little town of Medicina on the left had already fallen to the Gurkhas and on the 17th the guns moved forward again, the 6th Field to the town, the 5th Field a little to the north-east, and the 4th Field farther back at Crocetta, short of the Scolo Sillaro. Artillery Headquarters was in front of the 4th Field and across the Scolo. The infantry were lining up facing the Gaiana, an insignificant canal feeding a tributary of the Idice some miles to the north. But it was to prove a nasty obstacle.

These moves took the gunners through scenes of even greater destruction than before. They passed many German paratroops dead in their weapon pits. Equipment had been abandoned in great quantities, especially in and around the town. The 6th Field saw some gruesome sights in the battered streets, and the enemy was adding to them by long-range shelling with heavy guns. In the 5th Field area were many destroyed SP guns, and the office of 27 Battery was beside three 150s disabled by bombing.

The infantry were having a sticky time and many calls reached the 6th Field for supporting fire. It was therefore vital to get communications established and to maintain them. Throughout the afternoon 48 Battery was harassed by shells and mortar bombs. But Lance-Sergeant Farthing,35 in charge of the battery signals, mended many breaks in the lines regardless of the fire and inspired his men to do likewise. A signals sergeant of the 5th Field ‘cut a magnificent figure’, according to a battery diary, as he did his rounds on horseback.

One of the astonishing features of the situation at this stage was the liveliness of the enemy artillery despite the serious losses page 716 inflicted on it in the past few days. ‘We must get CB going’, Freyberg remarked in a conference on the 17th; ‘they have a lot of guns.’ He asked for even more guns. Then, to the CRA, he said,

‘Anything we can do in the next four hours to discourage this fellow opposite us is all to the good. They are fresh from the mountains and haven't been shelled for some time. We will have to educate them.’

This was at 10.30 p.m. A quick barrage had already been planned to support a thrust across the Gaiana and all was ready when it was cancelled. DF tasks had already been drawn up and were being fired; but more were now provided on the Gurkha front.

34 Artillery specially attached for Spaniel had departed. The arrival of 43 Brigade brought the field artillery up to six regiments and a battery: the NZA regiments, the 23rd Army Field, the 1st RHA (SP 25-pounders), the 142nd Field (SP 105s) and a battery of the 15th Field. Besides these there were a regiment of 4·5s, five regiments and a battery of 5·55, a battery each of 7·25 and 155s, and the 307th Heavy Ack-Ack (3·7s). It was a formidable array.

35 L-Sgt J. R. Farthing, m.i.d.; Christchurch; born Christchurch, 19 Aug 1908; accountant.