79 Medium Regiment: 108 Battery, 109 Battery 4.5 inch guns

 

Regimental No.185

 

10 october 1944 the Regiment went to its suport. A long eastward march over roads broken down by the passage of armour took us to St Oedenrode north of Eindhoven, here we found the fields strewn with gliders and parachutes, evidence of the southernmost of the three landings in the great airborne operation of the previous month. The unusual shape of the front line in the "corridor" was sharply brought home to the gunners, who found themselves at one moment firing at a range of little more than two thousand. Some fine destructive shoots were carried out here by single guns, one especially on a suspected enemy O.P in a church tower at Schijndel.

It is the inveitable lot of artillery in a modern war to do an enormous amount of damage to targets where the enemy is not in fact present; but discrimination is still possible, and this was a case in point, a good example of the proable target which must be engaged if infantry lives are to be saved.

The Highland Division could claim us only for a week; on 18th october we returned to Antwerp.

On 29th the Scottish Horse was placed in support of the new arrivals and spent a stenous week with them (104 US Division), pushing northwards through Zundert and to the west of Breda. One day an American "cub" plane spotted a German gunboat firing on the river. It was out of range to the US artillery, and so the American fire orders were "translated"for the Scottish horse and the boat was hit and silenced.

The further north we went, the worse became the mud. Steel strips had to be used in order to give the guns satis factory platforms from which to fire. The drivers, and especially the drivers of the big and vulnerable gun tractors, had an appaling job; but as always, every one of them rose to the occasion. Life on the gun positions in those days is recalled by one who took part in it:

 

"On 6th November, when 108 battery was ordered to move to Klundert (very close to the Maas), none of the gunners thought it was possible to move to worse ground. As it was, we were in a much worse position. Two fo the guns were reasonably placed, one on each track leading on to the position. It was necessary for the remaining guns to be deployed in fields behind the track ... first a gun sank into the mud up to the axles, then a tractor got bogged down, a second tractor went to the rescue, suffered a similiar fate, and so it went on until nearly all the guns were embedded in mud and it was a case of faaling to on drag ropes and the whole troop manhandling a single gun. All the time OP's and air OP's were caaling for fire on enemy supply routes and gun positions, and it is a tribute to the spirit and tenacity of the gunners that in those first few hours the guns fired and answered the calls made upon them".

 

"After midnight on the first day there was a chance of a sleep and the gunners just threw themselves down on their beds which had been unrolled on a layer of straw in the ten-man tent set up behind each gun. Outside it was intensely cold, and the gun detachment on duty trod up and down in mud and water to keep warm and alert whilst in the tents their comrades slept the sleep of bodies weary with fatigue".

 

"In the morning the two half-sections changed over, and those coming off duty were glad of the chance to lie down within a comfortable distance of the portable coke stove which was the only source of warmth for each tent, secure in the knowlegde that unless there is an order to advance or more ammunition comes in they are to get some sleep until after dinner time. About 11 o'clock the ammunition trucks roll up carrying another fifty rounds per gun and everyone turns out to help unload and stack the shells. By the time this is finished dinner is ready; mail from home arrives and everyone is eager to give up his afternoon's sleep to answer letters from home. Tea time, and once again the eternal change-over of sections; and so it goes on unending, with the guns calling day and night for service and getting it gladly".

 

It was with an unsoldierly sigh of relief that we left the desolation of mud and water at Klundert, the task at the mouth of the Maas completed, and moved eastwards once more across Holland, only to find ourselves in the middle of the Groot Berg marsh, a scene as water-ridden as the last. The Regiment's excursion in mid-October had taken it to the western side of the long Nijmegen "corridor;" this time it had come to the eastern side, where VIII Corps was engaged in closing up to the Maas from Nijmegen south to Venlo. Once this operation had been completed, the front would no longer be in the shape of a narrow letter "U," but would have been broadened into a wide and firm semi-circle following the line of the Maas.

 

On Armistice day the guns came into action in their new area to the east of Helmond. Here for a fortnight they remained, firing on numerous targets in support of 11th Armoured Division, the Highland Division and 53rd (Welsh) Division. One shoot carried out with observation by an R.A.F. plane was particularly successful. The target was an enemy anti-aircraft battery, and four hundred rounds were fired at it. Photographs showed that three of the seven guns were seriously damaged, and that the enemy had pulled out of the position as soon as the shoot was over. The ground O.P.'s also found a good deal to shoot at, and produced one or two very satisfactory explosions behind the enemy lines, but the gunner's main tasks were to fire counter-battery and harassing programmes. It was strenuous uninteresting work, not unlike the part then being played by the 80th in the plain of Lombardy. The ammunition column had a particularly hard time in exceeding trying conditions. The shells had to be hauled over long distances the roads were narrow and had crumbled at the passage of an entire armoured division, and the last lap into the gun position was over a "backwoods trail" made of logs; but now, as always, the R.A.S.C. platoon attached to the Regiment delivered the goods on time.

 

On the 22nd 11th Armoured Division attacked and cleared the last strip of counrty up to the Maas. Four days later the guns moved forward to Leunen, a half-destroyed village riddled with minefields, from which they could fire on to German soil four miles beyond the river. An enemy headquarters within the Vaterland was chosen for a target fired by a small draft of men who were due to leave the Regiment to join the ranks of the infantry. At Leunen the whole Regiment lived in houses and withstood the mud and the rain in comparative comfort until the 9th of December, when it was ordered out of the line for a fortnight's rest near Brussels.

 

There was much overhauling of equipment to be done, but there was spare time too. Brussels was full of all good things, and the cares of the gunner's life were lost amid the excitements of buying long-forgotten luxuries, seeing the sights, eating and drinking  comme il faut, and visits to the gay city of Antwerp or the field of Waterloo.