The Development of Artillery Techniques by 2 NZ Divisional Artillery of World War 2
MajGen RDP Hassett CB CBE and Brig J Burns DSO MBE BSc
In New Zealand the period between the Wars was characterised by Artillery training rarely if ever going beyond Battery level. Although barrages and heavy concentrations had often been a feature of the battles in which the New Zealanders were involved on the Western Front during WW1 their practice had lapsed by the late thirties.
The advent of World War 11 with the declaration of war on Germany introduced the new organisation of a Field Artillery Regiment of twenty-four of the new 25 pounder QF guns (gun howitzers as they were then known). The Regiment was organised into two field batteries each of three troops of four guns succeeding the WW1 Field Artillery Brigade of two batteries each of six QF 18 pounders and one battery of six QF 4.5 inch howitzers.
Experience of the Western Allies in France and Greece proved the two-battery arrangement to be unwieldy and on evacuation to Egypt the three New Zealand Regiments were reorganised by the CRA Brig. R. Miles into three batteries each of two troops. 4th Field Regiment consisted of 25, 26 and 46 Batteries, 5th Field Regiment of 27, 28 and 47 Batteries and 6th Field Regiment of 29, 30 and 48 Batteries. This organisation proved satisfactory and survived WW11 and Korea.
Senior New Zealand Officers had become seriously disenchanted with General Auchinlech's insistence that the Eighth Army should split its composite divisions into brigade groups for operations. The New Zealand experience in Greece and later in Libya saw the conduct of battle crying out for greater centralised control of resources particularly for maximum Artillery support. Auchinlech, however refused to acknowledge the need for centralised control of the guns and in fact issued a directive that Headquarters Divisional Artillery be reduced to assume a solely administrative role.
General Freyberg subsequently used his authority, delegated by the New Zealand Government, to challenge the GOC on this count. When Freyberg's wishes were declined he requested that the Division should be released from Egypt and replace the Australians in Syria. They were scheduled to embark for the Pacific to counter the Japanese threat to Australia. This course was agreed and the New Zealanders went into reserve as a barrier against Nazi aggression through Turkey and on notice to return to the Desert should Rommel attack.
It was in the Syrian Desert that the CRA, Brigadier C.E. Weir, who had replaced Brig Miles (captured during the Crusader Campaign) began the task of welding his three Field Regiments into a single all-powerful fighting machine under divisional control. Forgloss is the area where the bulk of this training and exercising took place. It was here that the almost forgotten techniques of laying the Barrage in its several forms (Creeping Box, Quick/Standard) and providing Smoke Screens were revived. (Late that year the first creeping barrage of WW11 was fired at Alamein at the instigation of Brigadier Weir).
There were also some lasting innovations devised and practised at Forgloss. Later some of them were to be adopted and disseminated through the Artilleries of the Eighth Army and elsewhere.
(ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS METHOD A). This was a concentration of all the guns of either a Regiment or the Divisional Artillery on a pin-point target.
(Possibly not widely adopted at Regimental level but became the basis of RUMPUS). This was originally a Regimental concentration of rectangular shape with a Battery frontage (i.e. 200 yds) for use against small company localities. The Batteries' tasks were echeloned along an axis 100 yds apart. If more than one round was ordered the Batteries searched 50 yds by 25yds.
This was a Linear Target along a Regimental front of 600 yards identified by its centre point and vertical axis.
This was a Divisional Artillery variation of the original Regimental METHOD R. It went through several standardisation stages. The first Regiment covered a normal frontage of 600 yards the other Regiments 100 yards apart on the vertical axis. Given more than one RGF the Regiments searched 50 yards by 25's. this was modified later with two Regiments side by side and one superimposed on a frontage of 1200 yards, all searching on the vertical axis 150 yards by 50's covering a depth of 300 yards.
As the War developed in North Africa it was at the further suggestion of Brigadier Weir that as reinforcing Artillery Regiments and Batteries came available they be formed into Army Groups Royal Artillery AGRAs complete with controlling staffs drilled in the reinforcement role. The first to appear in support of the NZ Division was at Enfidaville.
A further innovation is attributed to Captain John White (later Sir John White) a staff officer on Freyberg's Headquarters who developed the idea of using 40mm Bofors Light Anti-Aircraft guns to illuminate unit boundaries with tracer during night attacks. Further innovations were developed later in the war. Coloured smoke was used to identify targets for fighter bombers. The Senio crossing on 2 April 1945 involved, prior to the crossing, an air bombardment by a large number of medium and heavy bombers on German positions along the axis of the assault. The line of the Forward Defended Localities was marked in the sky by 3.7inch airburst fired at about 8000 feet. The boundaries of the target area were marked by white smoke and the axis of the bombing run was marked by coloured smoke.