Miteiriya Ridge, Thompsons Promontory, Breakthrough
You are going West. Sounds ominous, but what it was all about was that members from each Troop had to go forward - and at night dig holes to bury and camouflage ammunition and supplies for the big show at Miteiriya Ridge. From 'A' Troop there was Towhead Allen, Alex Johnson, Lin Rowell, Stevie and myself. There must have been one other because as I remember it, there were six from a Troop.
When we clambered on to the truck we had no idea where we were going. In the finish, we were in the Australian's lines and there we were for a week, going out at dark, digging and having to finish the hole, the ammo trucks came up and had to be unloaded, the ammo had to be camouflaged, and we had to be well away before daylight. This took five nights as we buried 640 rounds per gun and rations. Talking about rations, it was quite a pleasant surprise for us to eat N.Z. butter and lamb at the Aussie Position, while we had been living on Bully Beef and biscuits in our own lines. After the digging was over, it was back to our own lines.
Then it was a case of starting our move towards what was to become known as the Alamein Barrage. At one of the stops I went off to the R.A.P. to have some Desert Sores attended to, and when I arrived back at the Troop Position there were few of the personnel around. Apparently they decided to have a day in Alexandria before going into action again. It would have to be when Sam Widdup had taken over as Troop Commander. Sam called a parade to presumably introduce himself, and all who could muster were Micky Hackett and myself (both having been to the R.A.P.), Stevie (Troop Sgt. Major), Sam Widdup and Nip Lee. Guess Sam did not get a good impression of 'A' Troop. Any rate, Stevie was instructed to take trucks into Alex and round up the boys. Stevie upset me a bit as he would not take me, his excuse being I would laugh and think it was a joke. If it had not been for the R.A.P. guess I would have been with them.
Eventually the Troop was gathered up and the trek began. At one staging area the guns were camouflaged as tanks to deceive the enemy. No movement during the day, and on again at night, until we eventually arrived at our Gun Positions. Here great care was taken with the camouflage of the guns, and absolutely no movement during the day.
There was great excitement throughout the Troops as they knew this was it. The day of 23rd October 1942 arrived, and with more activity than usual around, we were taken to the sea for a swim. At this stage it was needed, as there were some queer smells around.
As soon as dusk appeared the activity around the place was terrific. Gunners were flat out preparing ammo, the Acks and officers preparing gun programmes, and to add to it all, the start line for the Infantry was right in front of our Gun Position. Then at 2140 Hrs the guns opened up on a bit of counter bombardment, a prelude to the Fire Plan which was to commence at 2200 Hrs.
It was unfortunate that at this stage of the War the Artillery had plenty of ammunition and willpower. Unfortunately, there was a shortage of manpower. There had been no reinforcements since before what we called the 1st Desert show so what with casualties and sickness we were fairly light on the ground, and to overcome this there was a sweep through Base which led to all sorts appearing at the guns to make up the numbers, and although a lot of them were not too happy about being shifted up to the guns, all did a great job.
The 5th Field was the most forward of the Regts and was supporting the 5th Brigade on the night of the attack. The 6th Field was supporting 6th Brigade on the left, with the 4th Field superimposed, and to go forward in support of the Tanks.
After the counter bombardment, which was under Corp Command, we went to C.R.A. Command, this being Steve Weir. Our guns opened up at a range of 2700 on Charge III. This as all good Gunners would know, would be hard on one's ears. Especially the later. And as we fired on Tasks for 283 minutes with lifts every three minutes, one can imagine how the head was. What a magnificent sight it was. Flashes all over the place, with machine guns chattering and the smell of cordite in the air. Really made one feel good that at least we were getting our own back.
While the guns were firing, everyone was hot and sweaty, but once the main programme had been fired, one could feel the cold. I for one went to put my greatcoat on but found it missing. So, after telling that fellow in the sky about all the thieving so and so around the place when a man was busy, I put a jersey on and wondered how I was going to replace the coat. Later on, Bas Mitchell, who was a Line Sig. at this stage, came in and brought my coat back. Said he had to go out on the line and did not think I would mind him borrowing the coat. The moral being, I suppose, that one should not complain before one is hurt.
All day on 24th October there was action. 5th Brigade had gained their objective, and 6th Brigade had a little more trouble before gaining theirs. The 4th Field had gone forward and deployed under Miteiriya Ridge to support the tanks. In doing so had suffered a lot of casualties.
The Artillery gave great support to the Armoured, but the enemy hung on and handed a lot back. So the breakthrough which was expected by the Tanks was not to be, and on the night of 27-28th October the N.Z. Artillery handed over their positions to the South Africans and moved to support an Australian attack, while the Infantry went back for a well earned rest.
The position 'A' Troop took up was, as far as I can recall, called Thompsons Promontory, and had been an Aussie Gun Position. We went into their pits and used their slitties. Just after we had put the gun into action, Henry Foote, who had rejoined us, had a call of nature. So off he went with his shovel. Unfortunately, at the same time the stukkas came over dropping flares and butterfly bombs. This Henry did not enjoy, and to this day I can see Henry standing in the glare of Flares, his trousers on the ground and a shovel in his hand, yelling and screaming about not being allowed to have his call to nature in peace.
The next thing which happened, and I thought quite funny, was at breakfast next morning. Ted Holmes was Mary for the day, so had duly crushed up the biscuits and lit a fire in a slit trench to make the porridge. Unfortunately, the Aussies had buried their spare cordite bags in the hole and up they went, catching our camouflage net on fire. Out front of us was an apron of barb wire, and Harry Hill went through it as if it was not there.
After we had supported the Aussies in their attack where Doug Wiggins was O.P. Ack with Sam Widdup, and they had had a rather torrid time up front, someone then told me that along with an officer and a couple of others, which included Eric Allen, we were off to recce a Gun Position for another attack. All was quiet as we travelled to a place called Tell el Eisa. When we got out of the truck there were a few what they called Priests in the area, these being 25 pds on a Valentine Chassis manned by the English. These Priests fired a few rounds and then took off. Apparently the Germans did not like this much, as they opened up with 88s firing air bursts. Must say I was not too keen on it either, as we spent a most unpleasant half hour hugging the ground. After that was over we sorted out the Gun Positions and then the story came through that there were 40 German tanks coming down the railway line. Someone could not have liked me because I was sent off to the Aussie lines to find out what was happening. Nothing did happen luckily, and we went off back to the guns. Our casualties up til now had been quite light considering, and were:
The move to the position for the operation (called Surcharge) was a daylight move. Very precarious as I remember as we were under observation from Tell el Eisa Station. Nevertheless, we were able to sight the guns without trouble. although 4th Field were not so happy.
This attack was to be by the Infantry, but not N.Z. The 50 Division and the 51st Highland Division would carry out the initial attacks with supporting fire from 13th Field Regts. and 3rd Medium Regts. In the front we had something like a gun every 33 yards.
The tanks were to exploit the breakthrough, followed by the N.Z. Infantry. So there on the evening of 1st November 1942 all was set for what was to be the historic breakthrough at Al Alamein. The barrage went off according to plan and was finished on the final objective at around 0340 hrs. Then began a good ding dong with the Tanks and our Anti-Tank having a rather torrid time of it. With the Tank battle going on the Artillery Commanders and Observers were having a hard task giving covering fire.
All the day while the Tank battled it out, 4th Field were up supporting the Armour, but 5th and 6th were too far back to do much more than a lot of harassing fire. All the time there were continuous bombing attacks from JU 87s and JU 88s. Then the Stukas came in, but by the evening of 2nd November it appeared we could be on the winning side.
On 4th November the Barrage behind which the Indian Brigade was to attack was fired. This barrage was so successful the enemy was left in a dazed condition and there was little the Indian Brigade had to do but gather up prisoners.
The morning of 4th November disclosed that the enemy was defeated. The 4th Field came under command of the Armoured 5th Field under command of 5th Brigade and 6th Field under command of 6th Brigade for the purpose of pursuit. Everything started moving forward and one had not seen such a conglomeration of vehicles and equipment for some time. During the night of 5th November 5th Brigade was ambushed, and 5th Field unfortunately had one killed and five wounded. The Gunner killed was one Fred Le Compte. He had lived down the road from my family in the early days of my life and had gone into camp at the same time. When we reached Ngaruawahia Fred was one of the few drafted into the Anti-Tank, and except for the odd time in England, it was to my surprise I ran into him when we went for our swim before the show at Miteiriya Ridge. Here he told me that he had transferred to the 5th Field and was pleased to be out of the Anti-Tank. Such is life.
As we moved forward we were engaged by enemy guns around Fuka. 'A' Troop went into action, and Sam Widdup observed from his truck. We could see 2x88s to our front and for a while we had a ding dong go. 'A' Troop had two guns knocked out but we do not know what damage we did to the 88s as they moved off.
Earle Cross was 'A' Troop Tiffy at the time, and we thought he did a marvellous job in repairing one gun out of the two in the field. But the hierarchy thought otherwise, and poor old Earle got a bollicking.
Unfortunately it was thought we had the enemy bottled up at Fuka, but the rains came and the Division became bogged down and allowed the enemy to escape. At this stage everyone was sorely in need of a rest and time to clean up. This happened on the plateau above Bardia, and the troops were able to bathe and gather their strength for the push into Libya. Casualties :
This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.