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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Increased Anti-Tank Strength

Increased Anti-Tank Strength

There were other encouraging developments, too. A surprising order early in April that all portées of 34 Anti-Tank Battery, complete with guns, were to be returned to the ordnance depot at Abbassia in Cairo was duly complied with. It was followed by news that all four anti-tank batteries were to be re-equipped with 6-pounders. These guns, mentioned at first only guardedly by code-names, would certainly be more powerful and therefore very welcome. The much-maligned 2-pounder had in truth served well against enemy tanks in the Crusader battles, but a few German tanks with specially hardened armour had caused some concern, more were certain to appear (as indeed they had already done in the Libyan desert), and anti-tank guns which could engage them at longer range and with more destructive effect were most desirable.

The course of the Crusader fighting, moreover, indicated that the allotment of C4 anti-tank guns was insufficient for all-round protection in mobile operations, in which many more or less isolated detachments would be subject to tank attack. This point had been strongly urged by senior New Zealand officers after the campaign and their urgings now bore fruit. All the 2-pounders were to be handed over to the infantry and more still were to be provided so that each infantry battalion would have two four-gun anti-tank platoons, making a total of 80 infantry anti-tank guns. The 7th Anti-Tank, when fully re-equipped, was to have 64 6-pounders. This huge increase in the anti-tank strength of the Division would allow far greater tactical flexibility in mobile operations.

The task of training infantry to man the 2-pounders was undertaken by 34 Battery, which in the early days in Egypt had trained Australians, Indians and RA gunners. It was the sort of thing this battery did extremely well. It still retained many of the ‘old hands’ recruited in the United Kingdom, page 308 more widely-experienced and rather better educated than average New Zealand recruits; it had been on active service longer than any other sub-unit of the Division, and its present commander, Major Hall-Kenney, probably knew as much about anti-tank gunnery as anyone in the Middle East. The six-weeks' course he provided, with every detail meticulously planned, gave representatives of all 10 infantry battalions, a total of 21 officers and 88 NCOs who were to form the nuclei of the infantry anti-tank platoons, a thorough grounding in their new roles. The camp at Zabboud resounded to their gun drill, the course included many lectures and demonstrations, and it ended late in May with a field exercise and a live shoot.11