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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

The 14th Light Ack-Ack Arrives

page 168

The 14th Light Ack-Ack Arrives

The 36th Survey Battery had reached Egypt with the ‘4th Reinforcements’ (actually the first reinforcement draft from New Zealand), but it remained a non-divisional body and did not become part of the Divisional Artillery until more than a year later.1 The 5th Reinforcements in May, however, brought a valuable addition to Miles's command: the 14th Light Anti-Aircraft (Ack-Ack). This unit, formed on 7 January 1941 at Papakura Camp under the temporary command of Captain Aldridge,2 was the subject of much discussion and negotiation at various levels to decide what establishment it should adopt and what duties it should perform. Like the Second Echelon anti-tank batteries, it could not get its proper guns and equipment until it reached a theatre of operations. The guns were to be 40-millimetre Bofors and the main questions about them were the number to be allotted and the number of predictors3 that were to be supplied. It was not British Army policy to allocate its scarce light anti-aircraft resources permanently to divisions, but to place them at all times where they were most needed. Miles naturally objected to this, and his experience in Greece greatly strengthened his resolve to have the regiment under his command at least when the New Zealand Division was in action. At other times it might be used for the defence of rear areas; but he certainly did not want it attached to another division in action. Freyberg concurred and in the end Miles won the argument. The establishment had been provisionally for three 12-gun batteries, with a fourth to be added later. A War Establishment table providing for three batteries had been drawn up on 20 April and it made the 14th Light Ack-Ack, even on this smaller organisation, by far the largest unit of the Divisional Artillery in terms of manpower and vehicles. The strength, excluding the attached Signals, Workshops and NZASC (transport) sections, was to be 881 all ranks, with 70 motor-cycles and 127 other vehicles.

After elementary training at Papakura, the unit moved at the end of January 1941 to Ngaruawahia, a far less comfortable camp. There the gunners trained with 18-pounders, in default page 169 of any weapons at all like the Bofors they were to receive overseas. Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel Carty4 assumed command and in due course the regiment sailed from Wellington on 7 April in the Nieuw Amsterdam. At Sydney, three days later, the troops had to stay on board, to their great disappointment; but they more than made up for it in the three days (16–19 April) that they spent at Fremantle. For the first two days they had leave to visit Perth and sample the warm hospitality of the Western Australians. In a voyage of exceptional interest they left the main convoy on the 22nd, experienced a violent electrical storm at sea, and docked at Singapore two days later. A tiny warship escorted them through the anti-submarine booms, they sailed past the huge floating dock, and tied up in front of the Aquitania. Australians left the convoy to serve in Malaya, a fateful task, and on the 25th the New Zealanders disembarked, marched through the yards of the naval base, bathed in an open-air swimming pool, and then embarked in the Aquitania, a larger but much less attractive ship. Sailing on the 27th, they docked at Colombo on 1 May, and there, too, had ample opportunity to see the sights before they sailed on the 6th. Two days later they heard of the New Zealand cruiser Leander's capture of the armed Italian merchantman Ramb II no more than 200 miles away. They sailed in close to the coast of Italian Somali-land to enter the Red Sea and docked at Port Tewfik on the 13th. An epidemic of influenza had struck the troops in the Aquitania and the stretcher cases and walking patients disembarked first, entrained in a sandstorm in the late afternoon, and began their journey to Helmieh Hospital before midnight. Next day half the fit men went ashore and reached Maadi Camp, where Lieutenant-Colonel Glasgow5 took command. The remainder disembarked on the 16th.

With a total strength, including the sick ones but not counting the Signals, Ordnance and NZASC sections to be attached, of 920 all ranks, they constituted the largest unit of the Division. They were organised into four batteries, but the new establishment decreed only three and they were rearranged accordingly on the 18th. The regiment from then onwards consisted of RHQ and 41 Battery (A, B and C Troops), 42 Battery (D, E and F Troops) and 43 Battery (G, H and K page 170 Troops). The RSM was WO I Holland.6 The authorised strength (including reinforcements) was 910, but for the time being the unit retained three officers per troop, one above establishment. ‘Q Area’ of Maadi Camp, which the 14th Light Ack-Ack occupied, was like an oven and the thermometer in the RAP tent reached a daily peak of between 114 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Besides the 14th Light Ack-Ack, the 5th Reinforcements included 546 other gunners, a useful number, though not nearly enough to replace losses in Greece and Crete, as was soon to be discovered.