2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
The Race to Padua
The Race to Padua
The 12th Lancers, under New Zealand command and with the OP of D Troop of the 6th Field, made fast progress on the 28th, and 9 Brigade and the Gurkhas followed as fast as they could. Rain came on quite heavily, but it did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the welcome accorded the ‘liberators’ as they passed through villages and towns. ‘We reckon the field [gunners] can have their quads, the tankies their Shermans and the infantry their 3 tonners’, the diarist of G Troop, 34 Battery, remarks; ‘when it comes to “liberating” there is only one vehicle and that is the good old jeep.’
Gunner Guthrie47 had driven the OP vehicle of D Troop of the 6th Field from the Senio. It was out in front with the 12th Lancers approaching Padua on the 29th when it suddenly came under heavy machine-gun fire and the OP party quickly dismounted and took cover. The fire intensified and it seemed likely that the vehicle would be destroyed, thereby breaking contact with the guns. Guthrie therefore climbed back into the vehicle under fire and drove it to a place of safety. For this and similar efforts during the advance he was awarded an MM.
The field gunners, and especially the surveyors, were already getting tired of occupying positions from which the guns did no firing. The 4th Field did this again on the 28th before Este, then pushed on through the town in the evening, intending to page 725 stay the night halfway between there and Padua. But partisans now claimed to have seized control of that ancient city and called for help. On went the tanks and guns, therefore, in bright moonlight. Nicholson of the 6th Field describes it thus:
‘Tension was very high now and at 2200 hrs we started out on an eerie move to join the great column racing through the night for Padua. It was a weird thrill to see enemy signal flares, red, orange and green, going up in the hills to our left, some ahead, some close by and others far behind. But the great mass of transport, tanks and guns roared steadily on. Away twelve miles or more to the south the glow of searchlights and flashes of guns from 5 Corps sector showed where the Adige and the main front still lay. Ahead stretched the straight road to Padua and by midnight we knew that our forward elements had reached the town.’
At midnight the moon disappeared and the rain poured down. At 3 a.m. in pitch darkness the 4th Field entered the city. They were vaguely aware of arcaded streets, and in them an exultant populace was still very much awake. At the outskirts 25 Battery deployed.
Next morning the 4th Field prepared to move on; but the remnants of a panzer division, rumours and reports had it, were approaching from the south-east. Lieutenant-Colonel Nolan deployed 46 Battery in an anti-tank role covering the road. page 726 After hours of exuberant celebrations and processions and bonfires and whispered greetings in the dark streets of Padua, the gunners had to wrench themselves back into a more warlike mood. The guns of 25 and 26 Batteries went down on their platforms and their crews began hastily to dig trenches, aided by the ubiquitous partisans. A few shells whistled overhead and the 4th Field replied with scarcely a pause for a full hour. The approaching column broke up, three tanks caught fire, and the threat was removed. But in the course of the action some men of 25 Battery set about cutting down trees which affected the field of fire of their guns. When one of the guns, A4, had a premature in front of the barrel it killed one of these men, Gunner Dawber,48 and wounded three others.
Through cheering crowds the 4th Field moved on in the afternoon along a fine road towards Mestre. The civilian population was effervescent with joy at all places along the road. Venice was no more than a tantalising vision to the right. The oncoming traffic was mainly of prisoners, walking or driving, escorted by partisans, or unescorted. On beyond Mestre the columns hastened and at nightfall the regiment went into action by Musile di Piave, ready to aid a crossing of the Piave River. There the gunners learned that strafing fighters had mistakenly attacked 46 Battery transport and killed Second-Lieutenant Coleman49 and wounded two others. The 4th Field was living up to its reputation for bad luck: neither of the other two field regiments had so far had even one man killed since the crossing of the Senio. In 24 hours the 4th Field had advanced 80 miles from the Adige, including the pause at Padua in which they fired off 337 rounds.
The 6th Field had deployed by Battaglia when the 4th Field engaged the enemy at Padua; but no targets appeared. Then there was delay in getting through the city, but the regiment made good progress in the evening, passing through the defences of the Venetian Line—the strongest of all the German fortifications in Italy—and halted at the River Sile, eight miles short of the Piave. The D Troop OP entered Venice with the 12th Lancers and next day 6th Field gunners were allowed there on leave while they awaited the bridging of the Piave.
47 Gnr L. F. Guthrie, MM; Napier; born NZ 20 Feb 1916; farmer.
48 Gnr C. Dawber; born Greytown, 18 Jan 1922; labourer; killed in action 29 Apr 1945.
Another 4th Field gunner, S. J. Wendleborn, disappeared in the course of the advance and was presumed dead.
49 2 Lt R. H. Coleman; born NZ 6 Jun 1914; insurance clerk; killed in action 29 Apr 1945.