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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

A Merciless Bombardment of 25 Battery

A Merciless Bombardment of 25 Battery

The trouble in 4 Brigade this day largely stemmed from the proximity of Divisional Headquarters, which was still expecting a heavy attack from the east, in accordance with plans taken from a captured German general. Any evidence which seemed to support this was taken very seriously and the troops on the eastern flank were constantly being alerted to the danger. There was plenty of activity in the east, as it happened, but no real danger from there.

The first action, after the firing of the early morning concentration on Point 175, was when three Italian tanks appeared on or near that vague feature and Major Bevan was able to bring them under direct fire from three D Troop guns in the Sciuearat strongpoint, setting one of them on fire. The strongpoint was under close enemy observation, but the gun positions were well chosen and the enemy had much trouble trying to range on them. His mortars were most effective, however, killing a gunner of D Troop and another of F Troop in the morning. page 266 Eventually the enemy brought three guns close to the edge of the escarpment east of Point 175 to get a better aim; but they were visible to F Troop, which carefully engaged them and hit all three. Bevan's battery was particularly enterprising in its efforts to gain observation over enemy said to be approaching from the east, establishing an OP at the eastern end of Zaafran with line communication and another for flash-spotting purposes four miles to the east, well behind the enemy's flank.

The merciless bombardment of 25 Battery continued unabated. For long periods the gun positions were quite untenable. With careful searching fire Captain Shortt38 of A Troop silenced the most troublesome hostile battery, but at the cost of a direct hit on one of his guns. Lieutenant Widdup39 at the gun position reported heavy shelling from another battery. Later he asked the battery commander, Major Kensington, if he could withdraw a short distance as the position was untenable. In the end Kensington agreed; but meanwhile the gunners had been repeatedly called to the guns for ‘emergency tasks’ (an exaggerated classification). By 3 p.m. all guns were in an anti-tank role to meet the attack from the east which did not come. A little later Shortt got quads to pull three guns out and tow them to ‘a more covered position’. By this time all A Troop guns had suffered damage of some sort and none was properly fit for action. The C Troop guns were brought out under fire by Second-Lieutenant Varian,40 Sergeant Wheeler41 and Bombardier Hutchinson.42 Only two of them were fit for action and these went into position with E Troop of V/AA Battery. (Hutchinson, who had already behaved splendidly, played a leading part in getting the guns out under terrible fire and for this and later brave efforts he was awarded an MM.) Shortly before dusk C Troop hurriedly went into an anti-tank role, this time facing the Mosque where the real danger lay, and the sole remaining useful gun of A Troop did likewise.

What puts this action, with its many alarms about attacks along the Trigh Capuzzo, in proper perspective is the diary of the 8th Field, which was well placed to observe to the east. page 267 It says' Quiet day'. Both batteries of the 8th Field suffered attention from enemy guns, though not nearly so much as 25 Battery. The diary of Artillery Headquarters logs the messages from the 8th Field and from Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes of B Group and they are not alarmist. In mid-afternoon Oakes was mortally wounded, a serious loss indeed, for he was a brave and skilful gunner and a striking personality. The main action was a long-range anti-tank shoot by F Troop from the Sciuearat strongpoint. Major Bevan posted an officer at each gun and did ‘single gun ranging’ on individual tanks, though the lack of good binoculars did not favour this type of shooting. By 4 p.m. all was quiet, the enemy having retired, leaving five tanks on the field, one of them burning from a hit by the gun F3.

Miles himself came forward later, surveyed the scene, and decided that all that was needed was to prepare a defensive fire task on a north-south line east of the Sciuearat strongpoint, and by 5.50 p.m. this was done. His headquarters had at long last busied itself arranging more anti-tank support for 6 Brigade and was also preparing to despatch all non-essential vehicles to Tobruk during the night.

In due course the vehicles were assembled and made their way through the night to Ed Duda and beyond. They included the bulk of the B Echelons and practically all of Miles's own headquarters, as well as the whole of B Group, with the headquarters of the 7th Anti-Tank and 14th Light Ack-Ack and several battery headquarters. They did not, by an unlucky chance, include the non-fighting vehicles of the 6th Field or any of the mass of transport of 6 Brigade, which remained to clutter the fields of fire of the guns and greatly hamper their effectiveness against the attack which they had to meet in the morning.

38 Maj G. M. Shortt; Auckland; born Dunedin, 28 Nov 1909; merchant.

39 Maj M. Widdup; London; born Nelson, 6 Sep 1917; schoolteacher.

40 2 Lt F. A. H. Varian; born London, 9 Jun 1910; theatre manager; killed in action 1 Dec 1941.

41 WO II G. O. Wheeler; born Auckland, 16 Oct 1915; bank clerk; died of wounds 29 Jun 1942.

42 Sgt T. M. Hutchinson, MM; Invercargill; born Napier, 14 Mar 1912; clerk; twice wounded.