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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Vulnerable Transport

Vulnerable Transport

The greatest danger to the Division at Minqar Qaim was from heavy air attack. The guns demonstrated again and again their ability to command the ground in front of them; but the position was compact and rather crowded and dive-bombing might have done much harm. A small force of enemy aircraft came over at 9.45 a.m. and 41 Battery engaged it; but it did not linger. In the afternoon the battery guns, all in anti-tank positions, fired 108 rounds at aircraft. In the 5 Brigade area 42 Battery had several guns well forward and some of these were heavily shelled and withdrew to the top of the escarpment. Other battery guns had to move several times to conform with movements of field guns or switches of their fire. One gun managed to fire four rounds at an Me109F which raced past overhead; but no air attacks developed. In Divisional Reserve area 43 Battery had to put up with heavy shelling aimed at the nearby field guns, the battery captain was wounded by a splinter, and a Bedford tractor destroyed; but the battery did page 321 not open fire. There was some compensation, however, when the gunners salvaged two 3-ton lorries in working order.

All vehicles not urgently needed had been sent to what it was hoped would be relatively safe rear areas. That of 4 Brigade, to the east-south-east above the escarpment, was quite quiet until mid-afternoon. The 5 Brigade transport area, however, below the escarpment east of the Division, soon came under fire from the north and was hurriedly moved three miles to the top of the rise. BHQ of 42 Battery and E Troop were involved. The Bofors did not fire; but a Wellington bomber crashed in the new area. About 2.30 p.m. the enemy, who had been working from north to east of the Divisional position, sent tanks probing forward to this transport area and caused the vehicles to scatter. The tanks fired from about 1000 yards with little effect other than to hasten the departure of the transport. Had the vehicles not scattered they would have presented the enemy artillery with a dream target; but discipline was soon evident in the way the drivers reassembled a few miles away. The only battery vehicle lost in this rapid retreat was a motor-cycle. The transport did not rejoin the Division at Minqar Qaim. As a result, wireless communications at gun and command posts deteriorated, because the battery chargers were with the transport. The troops of 32 Battery, moreover, had each sent at least two portées with the B Echelon transport, causing many headaches when the guns had to withdraw.

Lance-Sergeant Mantle13 of the 5th Field, with three gunners, had been repairing a truck when the tanks attacked the transport. They drove off in it and, while still threatened by the tanks, stopped to investigate three 6-pounders with portées which were standing unattended—possibly guns destined for 32 Battery. Rather than abandon these to the oncoming enemy, Mantle got out and drove one himself and ordered two of the gunners to drive the other two portées. Thus he saved three valuable guns, which could readily have been put to use by the enemy, from being captured. For this he was awarded an MM.

13 Sgt P. I. Mantle, MM; Hamilton; born London, 18 Jun 1914; driver.