Gabes and Wadi Akarit
As the main body of the N.Z. Corp advanced towards El Hamma there was very little opposition on the ground. But Air attacks on bunched up Vehicles caused quite a few casualties. Mainly to the Infantry. Once through the Pass - Djebel Habouga - the country started to open up into quite a pleasant landscape of cultivated patches.
Gabes was reached and entered after a little brush with the retreating Enemy. And what a reception the locals gave the Troops. For us who had been fighting in the Desert for a couple of years, it was the first sign of civilization we had seen for some time. Here the 5th Field reverted back to 5th Brigade and 6th Field to 6th Brigade.
After passing through Gabes we halted and put the Guns into action. At least 'A' Troop did but 'B' Troop dropped their Trails and off into Gabes to have a look at their first civilization for some months. From what I remember 'A' Troop stayed fairly well intact. Perhaps they thought after the little episode at the start of the campaign in Alex. that it would be tempting providence too much to take off again.
On Wednesday the 31st March it was fairly quiet and very little shooting done. During the day we moved a few miles forward and dug in. The digging here was good, and Pits were finished around midnight.
For the first few days of April the Artillery fired a few rounds, against Infantry and clusters of Vehicles. One night about the 3rd or 4th a Gun from each Regt went forward to a sniping position. The flashes from the Guns were soon picked up, and they were shelled fairly heavily.
At this stage our Air Force was fairly active by day. But at night we were subjected to a fair amount of dropping of Butterfly Bombs. This causing a loss of sleep and some bad tempered Gunners.
It was around this time that Snow Prebble came back to the Troop, and I wandered over to have a yarn with him. Whilst there, there was a great swish and all hit the floor of the Gun Pit. The walls of the Pit bulged, as a 170mm Shell landed just outside the Pit. Luckily for us, once again, the thing did not go bang. A little later after a dog fight a Jerry Pilot was seen floating down in a Parachute. Nearly everyone let their emotions go and had a shot at the man. This causing an order coming out that Enemy Pilots or Air Crew were not to be shot at, when Parachuting down.
At 3.30a.m. on the 6th April we were out of bed and making ready for the attack on Wadi Akarit. The night before the Indians and Gurkas took the High Features in a silent attack. The N.Z. Guns were supporting the 50 Division, 5th Field on the right and 6th Field on the left, with 4th Field superimposed. Very little fire came back as the task was fired.
At first light the whole front was covered in smoke and dust. But when it cleared there were the Indians and Gurkas climbing the hills, amongst fire from the Enemy. A great sight.
When the Barrage finished there was a bit of confusion in the centre of the attack. The Northumbrians were held up and made little progress for a couple of hours, so the rest of the day was made up by a few rounds to add to the destruction wrought by the main Artillery programme. There were several casualties, mostly among the O.P. Personnel, and one Gunner Hall was killed when his Vehicle was hit.
Bas. Mitchell was the O.P. Sig for 'A' at this time, and I was called over the Phone during a lull. All Bas. said was, "We have just been bombed by the Yanks. So look out!". Fortunately the Yanks left us alone, but the Jerries gave us a fair bit of curry.
It was at this stage the saying was going around that when the R.A.F. come over they are going to bomb the Jerries; When the Jerries come over they are going to bomb us; But when the Yanks come over, we don't know who they are going to bomb! So all duck!
On the 7th April we fired a few rounds early in the morning. But things were rather quiet in our area, and around 10 a.m. we packed up and began the move forward. What was in store for us, we did not know. But one thing the moral could not have been better. We had had a few reinforcements to make up the numbers, and all seemed to be fitting in well. We had Red Anderson come in as a Sig. Red I had known from days we had, what seemed years ago, in Kaiapoi. Also Ted Holmes had joined us on our Gun. Ted had a good voice, and was in demand to sing a song or two. So here we were still advancing and in great spirits.
This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.