artillery

Apr

30

1944

In the trenches with nightingales and a dead German

a 155mm 'Long Tom' gun fires

The noise seemed to roll in on top of us — an awe-inspiring rumpus of cracks, crashes, thumps and then the muffled thuds of the shells exploding out in the distant German lines. Over five hundred guns are now crowded into the Beachhead, and our artillery fire is so perfectly synchronized that, in the central sectors, every single gun can be brought to bear on one selected target and send ve hundred shells smashing down on it in a matter of seconds. Flare after flare went up from the Germans side of the line to the north.

Apr

25

1944

Delivering harassing shellfire at Cassino

Front view of 240mm (9.4 inch) howitzer of Battery `B', 697th Field Artillery Battalion, just before firing into German held territory. Mignano area, Italy. January 30, 1944

The major got to work soon after breakfast. He was registering Horace on to some new places. His fifth round landed plumb on top of the southern wing of the Monastery. The effect was catastrophic. Stones and debris were cascaded into the air, and dust and rubble poured out of the windows like thick smoke. Both our other O.P.s excitedly came through on the ’phone to give graphic eye-witness accounts of the spectacle.

Apr

22

1944

Surviving harassing shellfire at Anzio

Fifth Army, Anzio Area, Italy. 101st Ordnance Co. M. M. placing the tube on the carriage of 155 mm rifle, a 10 ton carriage is used to swing the barrel into position while the crew of men guide the barrel into its cradle. Tube weighs 9000 lbs.

One small piece of A.P. entered/my hole, via the mosquito net. Several fell just outside. Mess dugout hit, RHQ office tent & about four bivvies. 42 Bty had one man killed. RHQ 3 wounded, incl 2 signalmen & Cpl Thorley, the cook. Sloped [?] about in the mist in the valley collecting stretchers & putting them into ambulance. Meanwhile a U.S. ammo dump nearby had been hit, & was going off continuously until about 0700 hrs, bits of metal whizzing all around. Another raid about 0615, fighter bomber quite low. Our O.P. saw one plane crash, bearing 7 deg about 0615 hrs.

Apr

1

1944

The Red Army chases the Germans out of the Ukraine

A Soviet 122mm Howitzer on the move in the spring of 1944.

A command to the battery followed, and a shell swept away the fleeing Fritzes. The soldiers kicked up an even louder row, and now each man was trying to point out to me the group of fleeing Germans to shell next. The joy of revenge quickly restored their energy, freed them from the fear that they had experienced in the attacks, and softened their sorrow over the comrades they had lost in the fighting. Watching the enemy die in front of them was like balm for their rattled nerves.

Mar

22

1944

Relieving the Gurkhas in front of the Monastery

German prisoners captured by New Zealand troops are held at gunpoint on a road beside a Sherman tank. After repeated unsuccessful assaults, the Allied offensive was again called off on 22 March.

As we worked our way up the terraced, shell-torn slope towards the ruin of a building that looked like the headquarters we were seeking, the smell of death – the old familiar smell – became increasingly powerful. The most immediate cause turned out to be a mule, in an advanced stage of decomposition, and black with feasting flies. (Wags later used the mule as a signpost for visitors. They used to say ‘bear hard right when the mule begins to smell really strongly’.)

Feb

21

1944

Fate and shellfire on the Anzio bridgehead

US artillerymen protect their ears as a 155mm 'Long Tom' gun fires from a dugout during fierce fighting resulting from German counter attacks.

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

US Army and captured German medics attend to a wounded German soldier, 6 February 1944.

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

A New Zealand anti-tank gun in action against German positions on Monastery Hill

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

A burning village somewhere on the Eastern front. The Germans shad adopted a 'scorched earth' policy as they retreated.

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

British 5.5 inch medium artillery in action during the night barrage which opened the assault on the Garigliano River by the British 10th Corp

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,