artillery

Feb

21

1944

Fate and shellfire on the Anzio bridgehead


21 February 1944: Fate and shellfire on the Anzio bridgehead

That night I was off duty for a few hours and slept in my personal slit trench which was as narrow as I could bear, about two feet deep but warm enough. I managed a fair night’s sleep disturbed only by some shelling and bombing. However the trouble with sleeping alone was that during the shelling I tended to develop an uncontrollable tremble. This never happened at other times and was no doubt a manifestation of fear.

Feb

6

1944

Under mortar fire on the Anzio bridgehead


6 February 1944: Under mortar fire on the Anzio bridgehead

Then the “moaning minnies” started. “Slit trench!” I shouted to Michael. The nearest was the one with the dead German in it: “Not that one!” Five yards further back was an empty trench; we leapt in, shoulder to shoulder. The moaning minnies grew louder; to drown them Michael sang his song, “The sons of the Prophet were hardy and bold and quite unaccustomed to fear”, “Abdul the Bulbul” his favourite.

Feb

5

1944

Under shellfire in the shadow of Cassino


5 February 1944: Under shellfire in the shadow of Cassino

Sleep under such conditions was a problem but there was plenty of rough red wine so each night we sat around the stove in the light of a hurricane lamp drinking and talking until sodden with wine we would go to bed on the floor and fall asleep. But the shelling always woke us up; no one could sleep through the noise and there was nothing we could do except grin and bear it.

Jan

26

1944

Surviving a Red Army gun barrage


26 January 1944: Surviving a Red Army gun barrage

We had only seconds to grab our weapons and clothes andto dive into a deep, narrow ditch which, as a precaution, we had dug out behind our house and covered with wood beams, dirt, and a thick layer of straw. A few minutes later, our cottage was already broken into pathetic pieces. From now on we could do nothing but crouch in our trench and hope.

Jan

18

1944

Disaster as shell hits Royal Artillery battery


18 January 1944: Disaster as shell hits Royal Artillery battery

I helped beat the flames out. His face and hands were badly burnt, I helped him up the ladder to the command post and I blurted out to those within, “there’s been a direct hit on the guns.” I realised then I was late with the news, wounded gunners were already being attended to. Everybody looked very tense, behind me flames were leaping twenty feet in the air,

Jan

17

1944

Canadian infantry assault behind artillery barrage


17 January 1944: Canadian infantry assault behind artillery barrage

This time, we were directly under the flight paths of the shells at the point in the trajectory where they were on their downward journey. It was ten minutes of listening with awe and fearful doubts as they whirred over our heads and plunged into the target area with a drumbeat roll. And then we were on our way for what we thought would be the decisive thrust that would end the agony our regiment was going through.

Dec

30

1943

Monte Cassino appears in view


30th December 1943: Monte Cassino appears in view

That night we were introduced to our mules, one per post. What staunch friends these gallant hybrids have turned out to be, never flinching come what may, and never hesitating in any weather. ‘Heads, he bites you; tails, he kicks you!’ was a libel invented by field artillery drivers. In the same class of faithfulness we must put the muleteers, too. They all came from North Italy and were of the best type. If they were afraid of anything on this earth, they never mentioned it to anybody.

Dec

21

1943

Speer visits the Finnish frontline


21st December 1943: Speer visits the Finnish frontline

Immediately afterward a lance corporal right beside me collapsed without a sound. A Soviet sharpshooter had hit him in the head through the observation slit. Oddly enough, this was the first time I had been confronted with the reality of the war. I had been acquainted with our infantry howitzers only as technical items to be demonstrated on a shooting range; now I suddenly saw how this instrument, which I had regarded purely theoretically, was used to destroy human beings.

Dec

1

1943

Soviet trench warfare on the Eastern front


1st December 1943: Soviet trench warfare on the Eastern front

Dugouts were normally 4 meters square and 1.3 meters high, though in swampy terrain they could be as low as a half-meter. Boots were removed and left in a depression by the entrance, and hay or straw covered by capes served as the bedding on the floor. Rucksacks served as our pillows. There was enough room for six or seven men to lay down side by side, covered by their overcoats. Or they could sit in a crouch with their heads against the ceiling.

Nov

28

1943

New Zealand gunners in attack across Sangro


28th November 1943: New Zealand gunners in attack across Sangro

This was New Zealand at war! Give them hell, the bastards! Give them hell! One sometimes felt like that when all revved up. We were a small but intensely proud nation and we knew the country was right behind us; every man, woman, child and dog. We were its spearhead, and although we moaned, cursed and got drunk occasionally, we wore its shoulder tabs with honour, a little like our All Black rugby teams, proud to be its representatives.