Attack on Takrouna
The preparations for the attack on Takrouna were most thorough. This was so because the attack was on a most formidable Fortress and totally different to that which the Division had been used to in the Desert.
In fact the advance of 4000 yards on a 4000 yard front was similar to the attack which broke the Alamein line. But the terrain was so different. In fact Brigadier Weir had made his concern known at a Conference on the 18th April, when he pointed out that Guns would be in the Open and it had to be expected that we would have casualties from Counter-Battery fire, and there would be gaps in the Barrage. And it was certain, if the high ground, particularly Takrouna, remained in Enemy hands, the Gun positions would be untenable.
It was as we were preparing for the attack that a Battalion of the Black Cat Division (London) marched through our lines. This was very interesting as the 5th Brigade, whilst in England, had been attached to this Division. The 56th Division if my memory serves me right. And by the spit and polish of the Troops marching up to take their place in the line certainly showed they had not seen the action the NZ Div had seen in the 3 years since.
Also at this time, Mr Jones, Minister of Defence, was in the area. So around came someone calling for Volunteers to go back and see him. All our crowd said if he wanted to see us, let him come up to where we were. So then it was a case of detailing someone to go off back. And this was not a very popular move at all. The Gunners had been shifting backwards and forwards, and they were beginning to get quite testy. Although the morale was still quite high, they certainly were in no mood to be told they were to go back to hear one Mr Jones tell them what a great job they were doing. Hence not a popular move at all.
On the 19th April, when the Barrage started, the 6th Field was on the right and 4th and 5th Field on the left. With the two Brigades making the attack in line, there were two Barrages Rolling on, lifting 100 yards every two minutes. This seemed to be rather fast, but it was what the Infantry wanted. The right-hand Gun of the 65th Field and the left-hand Gun of the 5th Field fired smoke to denote the Divisional Boundaries. The Field Guns fired 238 rounds each and there was little fired back.
When word came that 5th Brigade had not taken the whole of Takrouna, the 6th Field and 47th Battery were withdrawn to a rear position by first light.
The F.O.O.S. of the NZ Units were well forward at dawn and Stan Catchpole reported back that the area he was in was heavily mined and booby-trapped. Also that prisoners were coming in from Takrouna. All day the Regiment fired Concentrations and a few observed fire targets, which was all reported as being effective.
An 88mm Gun had ranged to the West of 5th Field and dropped a few rounds in the 'E' Troop area as well as bracketing 'D' Troop, then seemed to lose interest. This encouraged the 6th Field and 47th Battery to move forward again.
The 21st April was a very busy day for the Guns, as the enemy artillery had been getting very aggressive. The CRA's policy of heavy concentrations on any hostile Battery that could be accurately located was making the Gunners work hard but also paying dividends. And on one of the concentrations the CRA ordered fire from 9 Regiments. The 5th Field this day fired 19 concentrations and six stonks, as well as Troop and Regimental targets.
Captain Harding and Muirhead had climbed Takrouna in the morning, and had both engaged close targets. In fact, Capt Harding engaged a Target only a matter of 100 yards from his O.P. Both Harding and Muirhead were awarded MCs for this action. The enemy in the lower village was hard to shift and in the finish a 17-pounder was brought forward and, firing solid shot, was able to shift the enemy.
On the 22nd April visibility was poor with low cloud and rain. Takrouna was now firmly in New Zealand hands, but was getting a fair old plastering from the Enemy Artillery. So much that at one stage the 'D' Troop O.P. signalled that things were rather sticky. Next morning, the CRA called for a 200 Gun stonk on hostile Guns and transport. This was followed up by fire by 14 Regiments onto a ridge called Djebel Froukr. This was a rather spectacular shoot, but owing to the nature of the ground, doubtful if successful.
During the night of 24th and 25th April, 6th Brigade put in a silent attack. This was hoped would be met by no opposition, but in the early hours, a few stonks by 8 Regiments was called for.
What a great way to remember Anzac Day! Never before had there been so many Guns and so much ammunition available. This in fact was the prime reason for the success of this phase of the War. The speedy and effective methods devised to bring down fire and without doubt, the success of the Artillery Fire was the reason the Infantry was able to progress as well as it did.
As the Enemy seemed to have plenty of ammunition, he too was pounding away. A last-ditch stand I suppose one would call it. Only the near certainty of massive replies to the Enemy's fire served to restrain him, but at no stage was he fully neutralised.
On the 26th and 27th things were a little quieter, and each Regiment was given permission to withdraw a Battery for a brief rest and maintenance. Then on the 28th all three Regiments moved forward to new positions in the Olive Groves (much better than the Cactus). Here we were to support the 56th Division. Later in the morning this lot of Infantry came streaming back in some disorder. Brigadier Weir then ordered the Gunners to man what small arms they had in defence of the Guns. No threat developed and the 4th Indian Division, which had been resting in the 4th Field area, was able to take up covering positions.
Then on the night of 1st/2nd May, 4th and 5th Field were withdrawn for a day's well earned rest. The 6th Field stayed in action to support the 56th Division. During the few days' rest, I wandered off up to Takrouna to have a look. When one gazed at the havoc that had been wrought by the Shell Fire, one could only wonder at the tenacity of the Enemy. And then also one had to remember what a valiant effort our Boys had put in, to be able to capture such a Stronghold. Takrouna must go down as one of the hardest fought battles and all thanks to the Gunners who manned the Guns, and Signallers who had to keep up communications in such a torrid battle.
This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.