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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

A Rapid Advance towards the Po

A Rapid Advance towards the Po

The infantry did not push on fast enough on the 21st for the reconnaissance party of 34 Battery, Major M. M. Robertson and Lieutenant Bates,39 and they took nine Germans prisoner when they entered a house in the early afternoon. They handed them over to a rather surprised infantry platoon when in due course it reached the scene. Next day the heavy mortars travelled nearly 15 miles and went into action on the banks of the Reno, a much bigger river even than the Idice, and the 4th Field were not far behind. The M10s of 31 Battery deployed on the flank of 9 Brigade and the 17-pounders dug in. The 32nd Battery reached the Reno at 2 a.m. on the 23rd. The M10s of 33 Battery clashed briefly with paratroops at S. Giorgio, killed 10 of them and captured five, and then moved on. Infantry clung to both the M10s and the tractors of the 17-pounders as they drove on.

It was a triumphal march, the like of which had not been seen before in Italy. ‘The countryside was virtually untouched by the war and was a pleasure to look at’, the 4th Field diary says. ‘The Casas are getting bigger and better…. The people are obviously glad to see us and stood in groups with flowers and Vino ready to regale any who were fortunate to halt near them.’ G Troop of 34 Battery were astounded to find tables set out and a meal waiting when they reached their deployment area. The villagers had learned from the reconnaissance party how many men were in the troop and had catered accordingly. By the time the mortars40 were set up all was ready and the troop sat down to a feast of eggs, bread and wine.

The Division, now moving in brigade groups,41 did not cross the Reno where the gunners first struck the river; it turned northwards and put across two bridges south of the town of page 721 Bondeno on the 23rd. ‘There is much impatience by everyone to chase Jerry a little further and a little harder’, the 5th Field diary says this day. Next day the guns and heavy mortars crossed the river and drove towards the Po. The mortars went into action about 1000 yards from this great river, and the 5th and 6th Field moved into gun positions east or north-east of Bondeno on the 24th. The 5th Field found that the British 6 Armoured Division was already in the area and that another armoured brigade was moving in. By a rapid occupation of a gun position the 5th Field ‘squeezed 7 Armd out presto’, as the diary puts it.

In the course of these moves the regiments had run ‘off their maps’ and were in urgent need of sheets covering the Po and the Adige beyond it. The CRA, in discussing fire support for a crossing of the Po, thought he could supply just enough maps for regimental use; but the map situation was serious until maps were flown forward on the 25th.

39 Capt J. C. Bates; Auckland; born Christchurch, 23 Jul 1915; company director.

40 The 34 Battery gunners always called them guns.

41 The 4th Field and 31 Battery supported 9 Brigade, the 5th Field and 32 Battery 5 Brigade, the 1st RHA and 33 Battery 6 Brigade, and presumably the 23rd Army Field supported 43 Brigade (of Gurkhas). A and B Sub-batteries of 34 Battery would support whichever of the brigades were forward. The 6th Field remained with a gun group directly under the CRA. This included the 5th Medium and various other units and sub-units.