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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Action for the Bofors Gunners

Action for the Bofors Gunners

The 14th Light Ack-Ack, however, was first into action. Bofors guns were in too great demand for defence of the vital shipping and stores in the Canal Zone and the port of Alexandria to be spared exclusively for training purposes. Nine of them arrived on 19 August for 41 Battery and, with the previous three issued, brought it up to full strength; but Headquarters British Troops in Egypt, which was responsible for the Nile Delta and Canal Zone, meant them to be used without delay against enemy aircraft. On the 20th 42 Battery moved to the Alexandria area under the command of HQ, BTE, and took over guns at Ikingi Maryut and Aboukir from the Northumberland Hussars. Two days later the whole regiment came under the command of HQ, BTE, and 43 Battery relieved 88 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA, at Ismailia, Kantara and Port Said. RHQ of the page 175 14th Light Ack-Ack gained valuable experience of commanding and administering a mixed force of anti-aircraft artillery when it relieved the 25th Light Ack-Ack at the end of August at what was curiously called Spinney Wood, near Ismailia. Royal Artillery guns at Tel-el-Kebir, also in the Canal Zone, were taken over by 41 Battery and all three New Zealand batteries were soon in action against enemy aircraft. Firing was almost all by night and under conditions which made hits on enemy aircraft unlikely; but K Troop, heavily engaged at Port Said on 2 September, possibly helped to shoot down a German bomber. Early in September the other two troops of 43 Battery, G and H Troops, and BHQ left the Canal Zone and set up their guns to defend the huge Ordnance depot at Abbassia. K Troop came under operational command of an RA battery at Port Said. At Tel-el-Kebir 41 Battery was credited with bringing down a plane in the night 7–8 September. All G and H Troop guns fired when the enemy raided Cairo (including Abbassia) on the 15th-16th. For ‘Gussy’ Glasgow's men it was interesting and valuable experience.

The New Zealand ack-ack gunners and their associated Signals and Workshops sections (the ASC section remained at Maadi) had done much to improve gun positions and communications in the course of these operations and HQ, BTE, held them in high esteem. They had in fact done too well and a tug-o'-war began between Freyberg and Miles on one side and the Middle East authorities on the other for the services of the 14th Light Ack-Ack. The Middle East command wanted to keep the unit in action in defence of the rear areas until the last possible moment before the Division moved into its next campaign. It was almost certain, however, that this campaign would entail highly mobile operations and the Division was training with this in view. Anti-aircraft defence of infantry brigade groups moving over open desert was a matter of the first importance and Freyberg was just as anxious as Miles that the 14th Light Ack-Ack should have ample opportunity of practising this role before being called on to take it up in earnest. He wanted no last-minute dash from the elaborate fixed defences of the Canal Zone to fluid operations in the open desert. Moreover, Miles well knew that equipment received from Ordnance in the Middle East almost all needed thorough overhaul before it could be deemed desert-worthy. Freyberg would not budge from his position and by the end of September the 14th Light Ack-Ack was back in Maadi except for 41 Battery, on its way to Baggush in the page 176 Western Desert, and the ASC section, which was at Helwan. All batteries were more or less fully equipped for mobile operations.