2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
A White Christmas on the Senio
A White Christmas on the Senio
The weather was now bitterly cold, snow was lying thinly on the ground, and an attack by flanking formations on the left had to be postponed. There was little likelihood of a major move until early January and the gunners settled down as well as they could to enjoy the festive season.
The 5th Field had already arranged to have batteries successively ‘off duty’ for 24 hours, and 27 Battery therefore had a Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve, 28 Battery had one on Christmas Day, and 47 Battery on Boxing Day. Christmas dinner, however, was served on the proper day. The 27th Battery, for example, was allowed from 1 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. for what the diary describes as ‘a first-class Xmas dinner of chicken, potatoes, peas, cabbage and carrots followed by plum pudding, oranges and nuts’. The 4th Field also spread the hours for dinner so that two batteries were always on call for emergencies. In the afternoon they fired two regimental tasks. The 6th Field expected to move forward on Christmas Day and therefore had Christmas dinner the day before. It was a wasted precaution: the move kept getting postponed and a month later the guns were still in the same position.
The 7th Anti-Tank gathered as many of its members as it could into the various B Echelons in Faenza or Forli for Christmas Day and they celebrated royally. The M10 crews of A Troop were with the 5th Field just west of the town and they, too, dined and wined appropriately, though with rather more reserve. The 17-pounder crews of F Troop (which missed its Christmas dinner) and the four 4.2 mortar troops of 34 Battery were deployed well forward north-west of the town. They sent all who could be spared, particularly those most in need of a rest, to Faenza. Those who had to stay on duty also celebrated, but much less noisily, though the G Troop casa attracted enemy attention somehow or other, for it sustained a direct hit and several near misses during dinner, much to the disgust of the mortar crews.24 None of them, however, was hurt.page 679
Artillery Headquarters, after the early upsets, was most comfortably ensconced in Faenza and the officers' mess was luxurious. The CRA held a small reception on Christmas Eve attended by General Freyberg and representatives of the various regiments in the area. In the morning of Christmas Day he visited the 4th Field, the 1st RHA and the 4th Medium. Except for the shelling of G Troop of the mortar battery and a few bombs dropped in the night on Faenza, the enemy did not interfere with the festivities and the gunners enjoyed what was for many of them their first white Christmas.
The policy was still to force the Senio line; but it was unsound and unrealistic. Artillery ammunition was in almost desperately short supply all along the front. This was reason enough for a change of policy. The infantry were too few and too tired. The weather was already severe in the mountain sectors. For one reason or another more and more thought was given to the establishment of a winter line. Brigadier Queree engaged in earnest debate on this subject between Christmas and the New Year, emphasising the ammunition requirements for any major move and the restrictions imposed by the mud on the handling of guns. General Freyberg thought the enemy would shell Faenza with heavy guns and withdrew his headquarters some miles back towards Forli. Artillery Headquarters conformed, to the disgust of the B Echelon of 46 Battery, which had to move out of its spacious quarters in the Villa Archi, three miles back along Route 9, when the CRA's staff returned there on the 29th.
The past fortnight had brought its expected crop of complaints about guns firing short. One way of checking this, when the weather permitted, was by means of shoots conducted by Air OPs. One such shoot on the 27th by all the 4th Field batteries ‘to see how the guns were shooting’ (as the regimental diary puts it) gave ‘very satisfactory’ results. The 5th and 6th Field guns were checked in the same way. ‘AOP co-operation watching the fall of shot has not found any gun guilty’, the 6th Field diary states, ‘and as yet no offender has been tracked down in this area. The continual checking of work between Bty and Tp CPs obviated any error in mathematical gunnery and the daily checking of sights and the frequent measuring of bores have kept the guns as accurate as is humanly possible’.
The enemy still held the high stopbanks of the Senio and had not yet been pushed back to the near bank in the north and north-west of Faenza. He therefore held ground on which he could easily assemble for a counter-attack on the bridgehead page 680 over the Lamone. To guard against this the Division prepared to retreat behind the Lamone if this became necessary and also, on the other hand, staged a thrust to reach the stopbank on the 6 Brigade front and thereby minimise the danger of a surprise attack. Both caused the gunners work—the first in returning ammunition from gun positions to B Echelons, preparing alternative positions, and reconnoitring withdrawal routes; the second in firing a supporting programme with guns and heavy mortars. The thrust to the stopbank failed; but by degrees Canadians and 56 Division edged forward to a more secure line.
The New Year came in quietly on the Faenza side of the river; but on the other side there was much evidence of high spirits and gaiety. This time the New Zealand gunners were the spoilsports, checking the noise of celebration with a few well-directed rounds. On 1 January 1945 a sniping 17-pounder of D Troop, carefully emplaced well forward by the little village of Casale, fired seven APC25 rounds into a culvert 1800 yards to the north-east, just across the river. Infantry had reported two tanks sheltering there and an early-morning reconnaissance confirmed that they had not moved. Five rounds were seen to go under the culvert.
C Troop of 214 Battery of the 57th Heavy Ack-Ack came under the command of the 5th Field and went into position in front of the 25-pounders for ‘ground shooting’. The 3.75, properly handled, could engage mortars, nebelwerfers and the new German rocket guns rapidly and effectively with airbursts and there were more than enough guns in an ack-ack role to deal with the very few hit-and-run raiders which the Luftwaffe sent over.
The counter-mortar organisation was by this time highly efficient and worked closely with the infantry to locate targets and with the 3.7s to destroy them. Captain Vivian had an assistant CMO with him at Artillery Headquarters and an ACMO with each of the three New Zealand brigades. The infantry were delighted with the prompt and effective fire Vivian's organisation and the heavy ack-ack gunners produced against mortar and nebelwerfer locations and they co-operated eagerly.