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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Plenty of Work for the Bofors

Plenty of Work for the Bofors

The 6th Brigade infantry withdrew as arranged, thereby increasing the proportion of guns to infantry in the rest of the Division. The gunners who welcomed this most were those of the 14th Light Ack-Ack, who were well aware that their defensive responsibilities were far greater than their resources. They could not hope to provide an umbrella of ack-ack fire wherever it was needed. Any decrease in the size of the concentrations of New Zealand vehicles was therefore all to the good.

The Bofors were far more active on the 4th. E Troop gunners had just finished digging and were getting their guns into position when dive-bombers came over—26 according to one account—and bombs were bursting about them by the time they managed to open fire. The target seemed to be the guns of the 64th Medium in Deir Alinda, some of which were damaged. Bombs also fell among the vehicles of the 5th Field and 1 Survey Troop and several men were hit.5 One Stuka crashed. Then 42 Battery moved to better positions on the lip of the depression and dug new pits. When the next raid came they were ready and their fire clearly deterred the enemy from pressing his attack. Several hits were observed. In the 4 Brigade area 41 Battery shot down one of two fighters which attacked early—excellent shooting against such difficult targets. In the Kaponga page 339 Box 43 Battery, which was still short of four guns, destroyed a Stuka. The 14th Light Ack-Ack claimed six aircraft shot down this day, at a cost to the regiment of one killed and about 20 wounded. All told 41 Battery fired nearly 1700 Bofors rounds, 42 Battery 1509 rounds, and 43 Battery over 1000. As a 43 Battery sergeant wrote in his diary, there were ‘appreciative comments from infantry and arty chaps’.6

While driving westwards next day 41 Battery was bombed on the move by seven Stukas, which killed two gunners and wounded two more, and later in the day the battery suffered two more casualties and had a tractor destroyed. Many of the attacking planes flew out of the sun and E Troop of 42 Battery reported that two Me110s also cut off their engines and glided in to bomb and strafe. The German and Italian air forces had evidently been taught a lesson and they were now much more careful, though 42 Battery claimed two hits on the 5th-one by D5 on a D0215 bomber and one by D6 on a Ju88.

The raid which hit 41 Battery on the move, however, did much other damage. It killed 4 Brigade's commander and his BM and the 4th Field lost two killed and 14 wounded, as well as one of its guns. The brigade nevertheless pushed westwards and disposed itself to the west in the afternoon, while 6 Brigade reoccupied the Kaponga Box. Both the 4th and the 6th Field fired frequently during 5 July at transport, mortar positions and other targets and they did likewise next day, with added fire from the 5th Field. The CRA ordered a sweeping barrage by the 5th and 6th Field in the late evening and concentrations by these regiments and the detachments of the 64th Medium on widely separated targets in an arc from Ruweisat through El Mreir to Deir el Shein. This was believed to be in support of a British armoured thrust along Ruweisat from the east; but no such thrust took place. To General Inglis, when he heard this, it seemed a waste of ammunition; but it fell on the headquarters of the German Africa Corps, on 15 Panzer and on 90 Light and was most unwelcome.

In the same night, 6–7 July, 4 Brigade moved forward to draw level with 5 Brigade and west of it, and the 4th Field leapfrogged its batteries forward so that they could quickly bring down fire at any stage. After some bickering on the 7th the 4th Field brought down heavy fire on infantry to the north page 340 and dispersed them. The move was only a tentative one, however, and in the afternoon the brigade drew back to the south. Instead of retiring, as expected by Eighth Army, the enemy was well-placed to thrust between 13 and 30 Corps and cut off the New Zealand Division. Major Snadden patrolled with 28 Battery and some infantry to the west in the afternoon, fired at some vehicles in the distance, and then withdrew. After dark there was a complicated and difficult rearrangement of the whole Divisional position, in the course of which 6 Brigade again withdrew southwards from the Box and 4 and 5 Brigades formed up east of it in the areas of Deir Alinda and Munassib.

At the end of it the gunners were baffled by the turn of events and dog-tired—the Bofors gunners especially. They had to be in a state of constant readiness from dawn to dark, whether on the move or not. E Troop was directly attacked on the 6th, the guns E4, E5 and E6 each being dive-bombed by three or four Stukas. The gunners fired back furiously throughout, scored several hits, D1 claimed a Stuka, and later reports credited the regiment with four planes shot down this day. Luckily none of the bombs struck their targets. The ack-ack batteries had even more action on the 7th, despite frequent moves, and D1, which was building up a fine record, claimed a hit on a Ju88, while E Troop claimed two hits on each of two other aircraft and 43 Battery shot down a CR42 Italian fighter. Enemy aircraft were few and far between on the 8th and the ack-ack gunners rested gratefully.

Columns each with a battery of the 4th Field and an antitank troop went forward to Alam Nayil and ground south-east of it on the 8th and other anti-tankers patrolled with the Divisional Cavalry. After dark the Division side-stepped again to the east so that 4 Brigade on its right ended up at Deir el Muhafid, narrowing the gap between 13 and 30 Corps. Afternoon temperatures had risen sharply and the gunners had more digging to do in the burning heat, relentlessly pestered by flies until driven almost to distraction. In the afternoon of the 9th the 4th Field brought down observed fire on tanks probing towards Alam Nayil and destroyed two of them without provoking much return fire.

Heavy gunfire rumbled all night to the north, where Australians were attacking on the coast; but enemy activity on the New Zealand front did not slacken. OP parties of the 4th and 5th Field had to retire in the morning when tanks and lorried infantry approached. Several regimental concentrations halted page 341 the advance briefly, but three tanks and more lorried infantry came on in mid-morning. The 25-pounders again engaged, this time decisively, knocking out a tank and two lorries and driving the enemy back. G Troop of 32 Battery also engaged. G1 was machine-gunned by an armoured car from the right flank and three of its crew were wounded. Then G4 developed buffer trouble and could not fire. G2 and G3 covered their withdrawal and then returned to the attack, the latter, under Sergeant Kavanagh,7 scoring a brilliant hit with its first round on the base of the turret of a hull-down tank at long range. The turret came right off. Several more tanks then took up hull-down positions to engage G3 and the two 6-pounder portées manoeuvred to gain the advantage. G2 destroyed one tank and hit a third. A massive intervention by the field artillery ended the action. The heat haze from noon onwards so violently distorted observation that activity died down. In the night 5 Brigade crossed to the eastern side of 4 Brigade and the latter readjusted its open left flank.

5 In the survey troop Sgt K. J. H. Snell, Bdr F. Thomas and Gnrs N. B. Mills, R. W. Glendinning, W. A. Leyland and T. P. Morton were killed on 4 July and Sgt D. B. Marshall, L-Bdr P. R. Shadwell and Gnrs D. McMillan and A. S. Roe wounded.

6 D1 claimed its second and third victims in this position, an Me109 and a Stuka. D2 claimed an He111K medium bomber. D4, which suffered three stoppages, hit a Ju88, and D5 claimed a Ju87 and a Ju88. It was splendid shooting.

7 Sgt F. J. Kavanagh; Lower Hutt; born Wellington, 12 Feb 1913; builder's labourer.