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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Difficult Gunnery at Galatas

Difficult Gunnery at Galatas

Lieutenant Clark at his OP on Red Hill soon discovered on the 24th how haphazard gunnery can be when propellant charges have to be made up by the handful. He could see several enemy groups moving on his front at dawn and quickly took advantage of one target that was offering: machine guns set up on a hill to the south-west. Directing one gun at them, he soon put the machine-gunners to flight. Later in the day page 145 the enemy reoccupied this hill and he tried again; but the accurate charges were by this time all used up and with the made-up ones he found that more often than not F Troop missed the hill altogether. In the end he gave up trying to dislodge the machine guns. When more and more enemy appeared on the scene and their activity centred on the coast road, there was nothing he could do to hamper them; for not one gun of F Troop could be switched far enough round to fire on the road.

Bliss's 4th Field group of the Composite Battalion had begun to dig in on the northern outskirts of Galatas, and rations had just arrived in the morning when Bliss was ordered to go at once to reinforce the line between the company of 18 Battalion on Wheat Hill and Divisional Petrol facing Pink Hill. Before his men could move off they came under mortar fire. Moving forward and expecting it to get worse, they were agreeably surprised to find Captain Rowe42 of the NZASC company quietly reading a book. The front was quiet. Bliss therefore sent parties back to pick up the rations. One of these, under Bombardier Johnson,43 came under mortar fire on the way back and took cover. Messerschmitts came over almost at once and strafed the area. The men moved on and the same thing happened again, making it clear that the mortars were acting as markers for the German fighter aircraft. At the reserve position Johnson was told to get back quickly with the rations. He did so and found things much livelier. Divisional Petrol and some of the 4th Field gunners were in action. All afternoon the word was passed from post to post, from olive tree to olive tree: ‘Are we in touch with 18 Battalion?’ The infantillery were determined to do their job properly.

They might have been reassured had they known what the enemy thought of them. The Germans in the Prison Valley had long since decided that they were up against a highly skilful force and suspected that they were picked marksmen, because so many of their own casualties had been shot through the head. They intended to take no risks they could avoid. All afternoon they watched the dark gushes of earth and smoke among the trees and vines and agave thickets as Stukas bombed the hillsides by Galatas. The paratroops (now being strongly reinforced by alpine troops) thought they faced cleverly entrenched positions page 146 constructed by first-class infantry. Men of the Composite Battalion, poorly endowed even with picks and shovels, would have been flattered had they known. The storming of Galatas was expected to be costly and demanded careful and thorough preparation and the Germans were not yet ready. The Luftwaffe had not yet done its job.

F Troop had suffered so badly from mortar fire on the 23rd that the guns and remaining ammunition had been moved back, and the gunners laboured until 5 a.m. creating a new gun position 300–400 yards north of the old one and out of sight of the enemy. C Troop and the rest of 27 Battery had been told they would have a day of rest on the 24th. But in the afternoon Captain Beaumont, who now commanded the battery, was told to supply crews for six Breda heavy machine guns which were to take up anti-tank and anti-aircraft roles with the three brigades of the New Zealand Division (4th and 5th and 19th Australian). Second-Lieutenant Sunley44 and 10 men therefore went to 5 Brigade, Second-Lieutenant Francis with a similar number to 4 Brigade, and Second-Lieutenant Woolley45 likewise to 19 Australian Brigade. Only three Bredas arrived, one for each of these detachments. During the night Lieutenant Gibson reconnoitred positions for the two C Troop guns, which duly went into position, one on the road from Galatas to the coast, guarding a concrete bridge, and the other a mile west of the Galatas turn-off. The troop of four Italian 75s of 2/3 Australian Field Regiment—also C Troop, under Captain G. Laybourne-Smith—was sited by Major Bull 500 yards north of F Troop to bring down fire on the coast road to the west of Red Hill and its OP was set up alongside Lieutenant Clark's. The two Bofors also went into position at Galatas and one 2-pounder was sited at the southern exit from the town. Communications were bound to be uncertain and little could therefore be expected of this small gun group when the enemy attacked in full force, as he was certain to do on the 25th.

Meanwhile the afternoon of the 24th had seen much activity on the right of the New Zealanders, from Galatas to the sea. The 5th Field infantillery under Sprosen, having spent a quiet morning in reserve on Ruin Ridge, were warned that they would have to relieve the Divisional Cavalry south of the town. page 147 They were ready and willing to do so, and Major Lewis was discussing details with Sprosen when the latter was wounded by a mortar burst. Captain Hardy46 succeeded him; but before he could move word came that the relief was cancelled.

The infantry who had relieved the 4th Field and RMT groups on the right of the line gave way under pressure in the afternoon—partly through their failure to take over Ruin Hill, from which their positions were enfiladed by alpine troops. The centre company on part of Red Hill was pushed back some 300 yards and the battalion commander asked for reinforcements. MacLean's 4th Field patrol went first, followed after dark by the rest of Bliss's group (excepting Dill's platoon) and Divisional Supply, a total of about 120 men. They stumbled through the darkness, illuminated intermittently by German flares, and somehow fitted themselves into a complicated defensive layout, partly on Murray Hill just behind Red Hill and partly on Ruin Ridge behind it. With no digging tools to protect their positions, their situation was anything but enviable.

42 Capt H. A. Rowe, MC; Piha; born Hokitika, 12 Aug 1914; salesman; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

43 Bdr H. E. Johnson; born Dunedin, 9 Nov 1904; clerk; p.w. 1 Jun 1941; died Lower Hutt, 5 Jun 1954.

44 Capt H. M. Sunley; London; born Wellington, 26 Apr 1917; accountant's clerk; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

45 Maj P. Woolley, ED and bar; Auckland; born Carterton, 19 Sep 1918; warehouseman; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

46 Capt B. Hardy; born NZ 13 Jan 1911; accountant; died while p.w. 1 Jun 1941.