10 COAST REGIMENT
Recollections of L.W. Wright, Brigadier
INTRODUCED TO THE REGIMENT
My introduction to 10 Coast Regt was brief and then only to attend the last Regular Officers' Coast Artillery course which was conducted by the Regt from 6 Jul to 8 Aug 47. All those attending were either field or anti-aircraft trained and they included those ex-2NZEF officers enlisted into the RNZA after the war. The programme covered gunnery and fire control at the Palmer Head Battery and at the Wright's Hill Battery.
Gun handling at Wright's Hill provides the only clear memory that I have of this course and to recount this anecdote it is necessary for me to 'paint' a brief background picture for those readers unfamiliar with the 9.2in naval gun. The traverse and elevating energy for the turret mounted 9.2inch guns was supplied by oil pumps through pipelines charged at 1250 lbs/sq in and these lines were fixed to the inside wall of the turret. Two 'chain and bucket' hoists separately delivered shell and propellant to the gun loading position from the magazines below the turret floor and that for the shell is at the crux of this story. Within the turret where a mass of fast moving machinery was housed, crew safety measures were of a high standard as one would expect However, there was one area of exception, that concerned the mechanism which permitted the delivery of the shell from its hoist bucket to the hydraulically operated loading tray.
The 360 lb solid shot we were using, while travelling on the hoist, was retained in its bucket by a small plunger-type trip lever which could aptly be likened in its operation to a marksman's "hair trigger", it was very sensitive to the slightest touch of a finger. The lapse in safety measures existed because there was no interlocking device to prevent the plunger-lever from being operated before the loading tray was in position to receive the shell. Needless to say the Master Gunner Instructor (WOI H. Cashmore), went to great lengths to emphasise this operational shortfall and also needless to say there was at least one of our number who could not believe that such an elementary lapse was possible and decided to test it!
Capt John Pountney, one of the RNZA's characters, barely touched the plunger permitting the unrestrained shell to drop four feet to the turret floor where it merrily bounced for a while before coming to rest against the turret wall having sheered all the pipelines and gained a good coating of oil in the process. In the few seconds it took the Master Gunner to shut down the pumps several gallons of oil had coated the turret and trainee crew. There was a short period of silence before the MG summed up the situation remarkably calmly by announcing "you made the mess, you clean it up and put the shell back in the magazine, I'm off home for the night." The rest I leave to the reader's imagination! John Pountney certainly made this a Course to remember.
I was posted as Adjutant of the Regiment in June 1949.
10 COAST REGIMENT
At the time I joined the Regiment it consisted of:-
The Dorset and Ballance Batteries had been de-activated. The guns had been stripped to the pieces and mountings which were in long term preservation, the Dorset Battery searchlights and engine room were maintained in operational state for training purposes. The Palmer Head and Wright's Hill Batteries were maintained at operational readiness and all the gunnery, observation post and plotting room fire control machinery for those two batteries was run and tested by the cadre staff, at least once per week.
Although the two batteries were kept in readiness only the Palmer Head 6in Battery was manned and this by Territorials and the Regiment's Regular Force Cadre and it carried out live shell practices within the training programme. Target towing was undertaken by hired Harbour Board tugs except on one occasion my memory is that the 9 Coast Regt Harbour Defence Motor Launch "Bombardier" was deployed from Auckland for a shoot. I have since learned that "Bombardier" was crewed for the Auckland to Wellington and return passages by the RNZAF Marine Section Hobsonville
The manning arrangements of the Regiment (an Army Unit) were somewhat different from those common to the manning of the Divisional field force units because the Regiment performed two broad functions. Firstly, it was a Coast Arty Regiment and secondly it fulfilled 'base' type functions such as being 'home' to single personnel employed at Army HQ accommodating them in the Regimental Officers' and Sergeants' Messes and the RNZA Barracks, providing office, storage and training etc facilities for the Divisional LAA Regt, garaging and servicing facilities but not manning for the Army HQ RNZASC Transport Pool and similar facilities for an RNZEME vehicle workshop section. In addition the Regiment was the home of the Army School of Artillery, Coast Artillery Wing, based on and located at Palmer Head Battery. This mixture of tasks and functions had consequences for the management of the Regiment. The Commanding Officer, Lt Col KW Fraser, a Territorial (and former CO 5 Fd Regt, 2NZ Div), although nominally in command of the whole of the Regiment's activities, exercised little or no command responsibilities beyond those of running the RHQ and Palmer Head Battery (TF). The Regular cadre was held answerable for all the functions and responsibilities outside the purely Regimental Coast Artillery activities and they exercised these in two directions. They answered to HQ Central Military District for the 'base' operations and functions and to the Director, RNZA, at Army HQ for the operation and running of the Coast Arty Wing of the School.
MANNING - TERRITORIAL FORCE
The three war time Coast Artillery Regiments 9th, 10th and 11th, were being retained as Territorial Force units whilst the post-war Government defence policy was finalised and implemented. In addition to the Regulars posted to 10 Coast the Regiment was manned by Home Defence war time officers, NCOs and other ranks who at the end of the war transferred from Home Defence lists to the TF, except for the CO who had transferred from the 2 NZEF Officers' list to the TF. Whilst active recruiting was not undertaken for officers and NCOs, other rank strengths were maintained through Compulsory Military Training intakes. The CO was the only TF appointee to RHQ others were on the strength of Palmer Head Bty. Of these I can recall the names of only three of the officers. They were:-
MANNING - REGULAR FORCE
The Regular Force component of this Regiment's manning detail was somewhat larger and stronger than the Divisional Artillery Regimental Cadres because, in addition to maintaining the operational readiness of the Palmer Head and Wright's Hill Btys it also had 'base' unit functions for which it answered to HQ CMD and Army HQ. My memory is short of some names, those that I do recall, with ranks, were :-
COAST ARTILLERY WING - SCHOOL OF ARTILLERY
This School was established to provide basic coast artillery training for personnel drafted to the three Coast Artillery Regiments under the Compulsory Military Training Scheme. Palmer Head was manned with the appropriate catering and accommodation staff for the School to be self contained at Palmer Head but it was dependent upon the Regiment for all other administrative and support services. The instructional staff was drawn from the 10 Coast Regt Cadre and the Adjutant had the additional title and duties of Chief Instructor. Intakes ranged between 40 and 60 Gunners each.
THE WHARF STRIKE - 1951
The advent of the wharf strike brought much of the Regiment's normal activities to a halt. Capt N.B.Mitchell was appointed OC Wellington wharf operations, I became the defacto Camp Commandant of the Fort Dorset 'base camp' which accommodated all the Army personnel assigned for duty on the Wellington wharves and 10 Coast Regiment provided all the administrative support and services required to maintain them. The RNZA Barracks, the war-time barracks below the Dorset guns and the Officers' and Sergeants' Messes were bulging at the seams during this period. Cadre staff not required for essential Regimental tasks helped run the base camp and some were assigned to wharf details. This anecdote might be of interest to some readers. The management of the provision of home and housekeeping facilities, although time consuming was relatively routine. However my duties as 'Paymaster' were more demanding. At that time everyone was paid in cash and the denominations ranged from notes through half-crowns, florins, shillings, six and three pence pieces and pennies. Pay scales had basic rates to which were added all manner of increments for skill and time spent in rank and allowances for living away from home, to mention but a few. Each entitlement was calculated and noted on the individual's pay envelope which was subsequently filled from bulk cash. This bulk cash drawn from the bank on pay day was made up of the denomination breakdown needed to fill all the individual envelopes. Each envelope was filled with the appropriate amount, by denomination, and bulk cash balances were completed, to the penny, before pay time. This bulk cash amounted to a considerable sum of money and its safekeeping in those uncertain times created conditions unique in my peace-time service. During the period between the drawing of cash and the disbursement of pay I used an armed escort of two and was armed myself when outside the confines of Fort Dorset. In hindsight I suspect that this was a security 'overkill' for I cannot recall any unpleasant incidents between the servicemen and the strikers. To the contrary, I think the wharf workers gained some benefits which may otherwise have been slow in coming. There were several safety features concerning work about the ships which Capt Mitchell found wanting at the outset. For example the chain and clip slings used for the crane handling of 44 gallon drums were so worn that the clips slipped and after the first incident of a drum falling from the crane hoist work stopped until new slings were made available. Corrective action by the stevedores was very prompt because time lost cost them dearly.
Detailed records covering the manning of the wharves and ships were carefully maintained as the basis of the Governments' claim for reimbursement for dock-side services at the going rates for wharf work, from the industry. It is interesting to note that after the Government took from these proceeds all its actual costs for pay and services etc there was sufficient money remaining to pay all ranks a bonus of 50 pounds, to furnish junior ranks messes with non-issue items such as radios and to still have enough left over to acquire the first leave centre motels and establish a fund for their future maintenance needs.
During the period 21 Aug 51 to 5 Oct 51 I was detached to Linton Camp to undertake the command of the Kayforce Training Battery and on 31 Oct 51 my posting to 10 Coast came to an end. I was overseas for the next four years and have no knowledge of the disbandment of the Coast Regiments but I believe the painful task of overseeing the dismantling of 10 Coast Regt fell to Capt Mitchell.
Brig. LW Wright, January 2004