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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Field and Anti-Tank Batteries are Reorganised

Field and Anti-Tank Batteries are Reorganised

The three-battery organisation of the field regiments, adopted in late August, besides involving many appointments, promotions and transfers, entailed getting used to new roles, new ways of doing business, and new systems of communication. Each regiment, moreover, had its own way of effecting the changeover, so that there was no standard designation of troops in the two-troop batteries. The 4th Field, for example, decided page 178 to extract the middle troop of existing batteries to form the new battery, which therefore contained B and E Troops. The 6th Field took the last troop of the first battery and the first troop of the second battery, C and D Troops, to form the third battery. The 5th Field took the last troop from each former battery, C and F Troops. The numbering of the new batteries had to await advice from New Zealand so as not to duplicate numbers used there and the final listing was as follows:

4th Field 25 Battery: A and C Troops
26 Battery: D and F Troops
46 Battery: B and E Troops
5th Field 27 Battery: A and B Troops
28 Battery: D and E Troops
47 Battery: C and F Troops
6th Field 29 Battery: A and B Troops
30 Battery: E and F Troops
48 Battery: C and D Troops

For the ‘old hands’, long used to the old numbers and letters, it was as if their brothers had all changed their names by deed poll and it was not easy to get used to it.

The anti-tankers had to put up with changes only slightly less confusing. In Greece only 34 Battery had had portées; now all batteries had them and had to master gun drill appropriate to them and learn a new set of tactics. The policy was to carry the guns into the forward area (the 2-pounders suffered damage when towed far over rough ground), but to dismount them when action threatened and engage the enemy from ground positions. Only in an emergency were the guns to be fired from the portées. This had seemed, on the flimsy basis of some of the experiences of 34 Battery in Greece, to be the best way of handling this equipment; but conditions in the desert were different and there was more to be said for portée action there. The 7th Anti-Tank could not leave Mahfouz Camp until late in September, because it was still in course of being re-equipped when the other regiments left for Baggush. Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes therefore had more time to consider the move and decided that, instead of the rather monotonous drive along the Cairo-Alexandria road and then the coast road, he would take his regiment in ‘desert formation’ across country from Mena. It was a good idea; but he found it hard to convince the Middle East Movement Control authorities of this and get their permission. In the end he succeeded and on 25 September the page 179 regiment moved through Cairo, out towards the Pyramids, and then off the paved road and into the desert. Careful checks were made of the petrol, oil and water consumption of the various kinds of vehicles, the gunners had each to make do with three-quarters of a gallon of water per day, and drivers gained valuable experience of changing desert conditions. The journey took three days, and in the course of it the LAD handled only two major repair jobs and 11 minor ones, as well as helping to pull seven vehicles out of soft sand.

Four-troop anti-tank batteries had already been provided for in a revised war establishment of 10 May. But Brigadier Miles's recommendation of heavier equipment bore fruit when 18-pounders were provided for the extra troops in place of the 2-pounders listed in the establishment table. These guns, adapted for use on Beach platforms in an anti-tank role, and fitted with telescope and open sights, were rather cumbersome, but would provide a useful and versatile addition to anti-tank resources, for they could fire HE shell as well as AP shot. They were manned mainly by gunners who had arrived with the 6th Reinforcements in July. After a course in anti-tank gunnery at the Artillery Training Regiment in Maadi, they were formed into detachments under NCOs sent for this purpose from the 7th Anti-Tank and drilled with the converted 18-pounders. The new troops, totalling 152 all ranks, joined the regiment at Baggush towards the end of October and brought the batteries up to their four-troop establishment as follows:

31 Battery A, B and C Troops (2-pounders)
D Troop (18-pounders)
32 Battery E, F, and G Troops (2-pounders)
H Troop (18-pounders)
33 Battery J, K and L Troops (2-pounders)
M Troop (18-pounders)
34 Battery N, O and P Troops (2-pounders)
Q Troop (18-pounders)

So great was the demand for Bofors to defend the huge dumps, railheads, and other centres of activity concerned with preparations for the forthcoming offensive, that even Freyberg's and Miles's sternest resolve could not deny the use of some of the guns of the 14th Light Ack-Ack for this purpose. The regiment did not move to Baggush until the end of the first week in October; but the senior anti-aircraft officer of Eighth Army had asked Miles a fortnight earlier if 41 Battery could supply page 180 guns to defend the forward depots and A Troop was at once despatched to the busy area known as Charing Cross. All its guns fired in the course of a bombing raid on the 10th. Two days later 42 and 43 Batteries each sent a troop to take up an operational role—F Troop to Similla, 10 miles east of Matruh, to guard the railway sidings, and H Troop back to Fuka for the same purpose. Other troops relieved these in due course and all took part in the brigade manoeuvres which were the main feature of the training at Baggush. A long argument about the number of predictors that the regiment was to have and the way they would be controlled was settled before leaving Maadi: the issue would be four per battery and they were to be under the control of the three battery headquarters. At the last possible moment—9 November—the batteries were reorganised to have two troops each of six guns, with the troops divided into sections of three guns.

All three infantry brigades carried out large-scale manoeuvres in the rough hinterland of Baggush; but Freyberg's and Miles's headquarters took part in the three main ones and made them in many respects divisional manoeuvres. The 4th and 6th Field and anti-tank and light anti-aircraft guns accompanied 6 Brigade on 9 October and took part in its attack on the simulated strongpoints ‘Sidi Clif’ and ‘Bir Stella’ two days later. The 4th Field and the 5th Field (after working on the Alamein defences) took part in the next manoeuvre with 4 Brigade on the 16th, with the Survey Troop and a different lot of 2-pounder and Bofors troops. The final exercise on the 20th was carried out by the 5th and 6th Field in support of 5 Brigade, with further anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. A troop from each of the field regiments took part in a final exercise with the RAF on the 9th and carried out a shoot in co-operation with aircraft.