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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

The Rimini Front

The Rimini Front

The field regiments moved forward again late on the 15th, this time to flat areas in the outskirts of Riccione. The 4th Field was packed and ready to move when 10 rounds gun fire were called for. The gun crews rushed back into action, fired this ‘murder’ on a point less than three miles from their new gun area, and then occupied their new positions. Twice in the night the 5th Field fired on orders from Major Angell of the 6th Field. Angell had been forward for several days with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. His own regiment was not available after dark page 644 and, as pre-arranged, he called on the 6th Field. Four armoured SP guns had come forward and were shelling the Canadians. The 5th Field fired four more ‘murders’ at each of these troublesome guns in the morning and then the 6th Field joined in, firing heavy concentrations. But the SP guns went on firing at the Canadians and the New Zealand fire (as the 6th Field diary remarks) had ‘No visible effects’.

Armoured SP guns, plentiful on the Rimini front, could do much damage and were hard to deal with. The enemy had also emplaced several Panther turrets, with long-barrelled 75s of exceptional velocity and accuracy, in concrete posts flush with the ground and hard to hit. Many thousands of 25-pounder rounds were fired at them in often-unavailing efforts to keep them quiet. Tank attacks with close artillery support would have been better; but the Shermans were not suitable for this—hence the frequent requests for ‘murders’.

It was already painfully clear that the high hopes of rapidly exploiting a breach of the Gothic Line were not to be fulfilled. With subtle anti-tank and anti-personnel mines and powerful mobile weapons to impose delay, the enemy could strengthen a succession of defensive lines and make each step towards the Romagna arduous and costly. The British, Canadian, Polish and Greek infantry were enmeshed in a bitter struggle. To lighten the human cost of the advance Eighth Army had to pay in metal and high explosive. Air and artillery support were lavish. Guns crowded in wherever they could. There were the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 11th and 17th Canadian Field, the 8th Canadian Field (SP), the 24th Army Field (SP), the 4th, 5th and 6th Kresowa Field, the 3rd Greek Field, the 1st Canadian Medium, the 3rd and 10th Medium, RA, the 57th Heavy Ack-Ack, the 32nd Heavy, RA, and many other guns besides the New Zealand ones. All were feverishly active. Their OP parties pushed compulsively forward at the heels of the infantry—even, on occasions, in front of them. Artillery boards sprouted like mushrooms in the lee of buildings. Artillery transmitters crowded the wireless waves. Artillery telephone cables thickly draped the roadsides. Ammunition lorries congested the roads and proliferating tracks. Shells whined and shrieked incessantly, turning walls into rubble and making ugly gashes in the ground. But to infantry who had need of them they made the sweetest music on earth.

The enemy counter-attacked strongly on the San Fortunato ridge and held grimly to the western edge of the Rimini airfield. page 645 Canadians praised the 5th Field for a smoke screen maintained on the ridge on the 16th. The 4th Field fired a small programme in support of a Canadian attack and the 6th Field did likewise for the Greeks. Enemy artillery replied strongly, wounding a 5th Field officer and killing a Canadian LO and a member of the Royal Corps of Signals attached to the 6th Field. On the 17th a shell struck F2 of the 5th Field and damaged the barrel. The 4th Field lost B2, wrecked by a premature, and next day the 5th Field, still on a heavy smoke programme, also suffered a premature—a smoke shell which wounded one man.

The 5th Field smoke tasks continued until late on the 20th and the 4th and 6th Field concurrently fired heavily in support of further attacks on the San Fortunato ridge. Between them they fired 24,281 rounds on the 18th. By night ‘artificial moonlight’ created by searchlight batteries cast a strange light on the battlefield and the clouds above it. Supplies of both smoke and HE ammunition began to run low on the 19th, so heavy was the programme. The 6th Field surpassed their previous record for 24 hours by firing 13,301 rounds, the 5th Field fired 11,026 rounds, and the three regiments fired over 35,000 rounds all told. By the time the ridge was firmly in Canadian hands on the 20th and the firing eased, the gun crews were robot-like in their actions as they served their guns. They richly deserved a rest; but the weather conspired with a resolute defence to rob them of one.

In the afternoon and evening they moved forward, and as they did so the skies suddenly began to release the rain that had been threatening for days and soon turned the loamy soil into a morass. Even reconnaissance parties had trouble getting forward. When hundreds of other vehicles followed, the going became even worse and there was endless trouble. For gunners already bone-weary from heavy fire programmes the struggle with clinging mud made the night of 20–21 September an unforgettable ordeal. The 4th Field was sited near the Ausa River in ploughed fields and one quad after another as it turned off the road went down to its axles. The crews had to get out, unlimber guns and trailers, and winch everything slowly through the quagmire. The rain continued as they laboured to get the guns ready for action and, in the 5th Field, 47 Battery was further upset to learn that Gunner Dorreen,8 who had been wounded in the Florence campaign, had died.

page 646

Rimini fell on the 21st, a battered treasury of Roman and Renaissance art, its Ponte d'Augusto unbroken, but its Tempio Malatestiano severely damaged. The drunken walls and jagged masonry of this ancient city conveyed no welcome to the Romagna—a region muddily criss-crossed with rivers and canals guarded by stopbanks. The 5th Field moved forward again through the mud, using tyre chains, to the south-western out-skirts of the town late on the 21st and the 4th and 6th Field followed next day, digging in close to the enemy. At midnight they fired a barrage of 225 r.p.g. in support of a 5 Brigade attack, the first of many such programmes for the crossing of rivers or streams in the Romagna. All went well; but the enemy shelled the gun areas quite heavily. One shell struck a house in the B Echelon area of 46 Battery and killed Gunner Louden9 and wounded three others.

Meanwhile on the 22nd the Eighth Army commander, General Leese, signalled to Brigadier E. C. Plow, CCRA of 1 Canadian Corps, as follows:

‘I congratulate you and all ranks of the Royal Canadian Artillery, Royal Artillery, New Zealand Artillery and Greek Artillery fighting under your comd on the fine performance of their guns throughout our recent operations. Your supporting fire for the infantry attacks was on a high level. Its effectiveness is further shown by the numbers of enemy dead found and the demoralisation of prisoners captured. The shooting of the AGRAs was accurate and most effective. The Divisional Artilleries achieved a high degree of flexibility and worked well together. The general efficiency reflects great credit on the gun drill and calibration of all regiments. Please convey to all ranks my congratulations on a notable achievement.’

This arrived on the 23rd.10 It related mainly to the fighting from 8 September to the 21st in which the guns fired 1,470,000 rounds, weighing all told 14,000 tons—1,200,000 of them 25-pounder rounds.11

8 Gnr I. W. Dorreen, m.i.d.; born Hamilton, 22 Jan 1916; farmer; wounded 1 Dec 1941; died of wounds 16 Sep 1944.

9 Gnr E. T. Louden; born NZ 1 Aug 1918; labourer; killed in action 23 Sep 1944.

10 A similar message was doubtless sent to the CCPA, the artillery commander of the Polish corps.

11 These figures are cited in the Eighth Army News of 3 October 1944. They might be compared with the 1,000,000 rounds of field-gun ammunition and 200,000 medium rounds fired in 10 days in the Alamein offensive and 500,000 rounds fired in the first three days of the final Cassino offensive.