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History of 14 NZ LAA Regt NZA

by LtGen Sir Leonard Thornton, 1999

On the outbreak of war in Sep 1939, New Zealand agreed to provide an Expeditionary Force of one infantry division and, as in WW1, the accepted principle was that NZ would provide the men, and Britain would provide the equipment, on payment.

It was clear that we would have little difficulty in filling the field artillery component, but anti-aircraft personnel were another matter. New Zealand had recently purchased a handful of 3-inch 30 cwt weapons, but had no experience of lighter weapons.

At that stage, RA policy envisaged close-in AA defence as an area matter, and the standard infantry division would not be entitled to its "own" LAA regiment. It was agreed, ad interim, that the NZ Div would rely on RA resources for anti-aircraft protection.

Experience in the overseas theatre soon indicated that such a policy would not suffice, and the 14th LAA Regiment was formed at Papakura in January 1941; the wisdom of that decision was to be very shortly confirmed by the bitter experiences of the Division in Greece and Crete under Luftwaffe attacks.

The new Regiment had no weapons at all like the Bofors to train with, and had to fall back on the old 18-pounders. So it was a very partially trained Regiment which reached Egypt in mid-May 1941 as a four-battery unit, to be re-organised at once as RHQ and three batteries -- 41, 42 and 43. A First Echelon officer, Keith Glasgow, took command as CO, and three officers already in the Middle East were appointed as battery commanders. Dutch Holland, a regular soldier, remained as RSM.

A vigorous training programme was started, with much willing help from British LAA units in the theatre. Before their own guns became available, the NZ batteries were able to take over operational roles with British units providing fixed defences along the Suez Canal. 43 Battery was credited with bringing down an enemy aircraft on 7 Sep 1941.

The prospect of the Regiment being fully equipped brought on a serious disagreement within Middle East Command, which was planning an offensive into the Western Desert. The British wished to keep the NZ guns in action in the rear and communications areas until the last moment before the advance began, but General Freyberg and his CRA (Brig Reggie Miles) were equally determined that they should move as an integral part of the Division. A compromise was reached, and the NZ batteries made a contribution to area defence before moving to Divisional concentration areas. The whole Regiment participated in the "Crusader" operation --- and in all subsequent activities of the NZ Division.

By now the Regiment consisted of just over 1000 all ranks, including Sigs, Workshops and ASC sections. It was the largest unit in Div Arty, and indeed in the Division as a whole. Its equipment consisted of 40 mm light AA guns, supported by rather clumsy "predictors", intended to provide course and speed of attacking aircraft. These were not very effective in mobile operations, and most gun crews tended to rely on a rough-and-ready circular "open" sight.

The Bofors gun made one unexpected contribution to the control of major attacks throughout the war. Difficulty had been experienced in directional guidance for infantry in the confusion of battle. It was found, however, that one Bofors, located on a divisional boundary, firing single rounds at low trajectory along the boundary, provided an excellent aid. (This application was not thought up by a gunner or an infantryman, but by the PA to Gen Freyberg, Major John White.)

The activities of 14 LAA Regiment throughout the war are well documented in W.E. Murphy's "2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery" 1966. It continued to make a valuable contribution until the late stages of the Italian campaign, being credited with the destruction of 67 enemy aircraft. However, it became apparent that the Luftwaffe could no longer intervene in the land battle; meanwhile, the Division was fighting what had become essentially an infantry campaign, and with only two infantry brigades, was experiencing difficulty in mounting successive attacks. It was decided to provide more foot-soldiers, and that some of the units which could most readily be spared should be disbanded, and the personnel transferred to infantry.

So ended the proud history of 14 LAA, never to be forgotten in later years by those who had served in its ranks or shared a battlefield with them.

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