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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

The Composite Battalion is Relieved

The Composite Battalion is Relieved

The 23rd was a livelier day at Galatas. The enemy had infiltrated during the night into the gap between 5 Brigade and 4 and 10 Brigades, and a party of 160 men had reached the village of Stalos. A few had got through as far as Ay Marina. Two strong patrols, one from the RMT and one from the 4th page 143 Field, went forward to snipe and observe. One of these sent a detachment forward towards Stalos and it engaged in a skirmish which lasted for an hour, caused the enemy the loss of 14 men and two machine guns (at a cost of one RMT man wounded), and ended only when a company of 18 Battalion arrived to take over. (A platoon of this company attacked and brilliantly captured the village, driving out or killing the strong enemy force.) While this action was going on the Composite Battalion formed a forward line of standing patrols to guard against further infiltration in this area.

The Prison Valley remained fairly quiet, though there was heavy bombing on the southern approaches to Galatas. Such targets as F Troop engaged this day were mainly those indicated by Captain Bevan from Ruin Hill. There was no significant reply to this fire until the evening, when a heavy mortar bombardment started up. This set cordite alight in the ammunition dump, igniting surrounding trees and thereby causing a crisis. The fire was got under control; but valuable charges had been lost, the enemy mortars were now sure of their target and hammered it relentlessly, and the foliage which had covered F Troop from aerial observation was burnt away, leaving the gun position out in the open. The outlook for F Troop was most unpromising.

Colonel Kippenberger had meanwhile formed the impression that the Composite Battalion could not be relied on and he arranged for 18 Battalion, which had been in reserve, to change places with it after dark. In fact all its elements had carried out at least adequately, and in some cases in exemplary fashion, all that had so far been asked of them. The patrols had done splendidly and none of the artillery officers concerned will concede that their men were even at this late stage downhearted. They were anxious to do more and were sorry that they had not been allowed to carry out the active role in the defence of the Prison Valley for which they had trained under Oakes. Moreover, elements of Composite Battalion remained in the line and were among its most stalwart defenders when the pressure reached its peak. But the relief was ordered and in due course it was carried out. The 5th Field under Sprosen, the RMT group under Veale, and Divisional Supply under Boyce moved back to Ruin Ridge, a feature running north from Galatas (and not to be confused with Ruin Hill, to the west). The 4th Field moved to the northern exit of the town and Major Lewis set up his headquarters in what was called the page 144 NAAFI building, just outside. Dill's platoon from Ruin Hill strengthened Divisional Petrol between Pink Hill and the southern end of Galatas.

The relief had one lamentable feature: Ruin Hill was not taken over by 18 Battalion. Whatever the explanation of this, it was a serious mistake. This feature covered the flank of Red Hill on the right and Wheat Hill on the left and enemy on it could enfilade both.

The changeover coincided with the retreat of 5 Brigade behind the Galatas front, now held by 4 Brigade (with what was left of 10 Brigade under its command). Strutt reported to Divisional Headquarters at 10.30 p.m. on the 23rd that he had brought back from the Maleme front four French 75s (actually, of course, only two), four Italian 75s, two 2-pounders and two Bofors—welcome news, for all these had been reported lost. But communications were such that a 4 Brigade operation order for the defence of the Galatas front, issued at 12.50 a.m. on the 24th, listed the available artillery as ‘One tp 5 Fd Regt, One tp 75 mm guns’. It gave this small contingent the following ambitious instruction:

‘Guns to be superimposed on the whole front and to be located in depth for anti-tank role.’

This was like a poor man pretending his pennies were pounds. What made the outlook even more uncertain for F Troop was that the stock of accurately weighed propellant charges was almost finished. When these were gone charges would have to be made up by careful guesswork. Already in the afternoon of the 23rd the gunners had experimented with makeshift charges, to Bevan's astonishment. He had called down fire on the prison area and was startled to see one round fall far short of its predecessor. It was far short of where he thought the foremost enemy positions were and it was a revelation to him when several Germans rose up and ran from the vicinity of the shellburst.