NZ Divisional Ordnance Field Park 1941-1945

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Badge of the 2nd NZEF

From July 1941 to December 1945, the New Zealand Divisional Ordnance Field Park (NZ OFP) was the primary stores holding organisation supporting the 2nd New Zealand Division of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force(2 NZEF). Following closely behind the NZ Division the NZ OFP main role was to provide a holding of spares for the NZ Divisional Workshop, and often as the Workshop deployed elements forward to support individual brigades, sections of the NZ OFP would also be detached forward. Mentioned in passing in many of the war histories produced since the war, the story of the NZ Divisional OFP has remained untold in any detail.

British experimentation in mechanisation during he the 1920s had identified the need for mobile Field Workshops and OFP’s to support the mechanised forces that would fight the next war. Added to British Army War Establishments (WE) in the 1930s but due to the financial depression of the time, it would not be until July 1939 when Britain formed a number of new Field Workshops and OFPs as part of the Territorial Army, setting out to recruit 150 officers and 5000 other ranks to bring the new units to war strength.[1]

A OFP was a mobile mini Ordnance Depot with its stock held on vehicles (on wheels) consisting of;

  • Assemblies and spare parts of “A” and “B” vehicles and equipment’s as are normally required by mobile workshops for repair purposes, and
  • Advanced holdings of certain “A” and “B” vehicles for replacement purposes

An OFP’s holdings would constitute a forward portion of the stocks of the Base Ordnance Depot(BOD) and would be modified due to experience gained as the war progressed and equipment changed. [2]

Stockholding would normally consist of fast-moving or essential items essential to maintain equipment vital to the dependency, including MT spares, Weapon spares and signal stores,[3] with scaling for each Divisional OFP against a scale set to represent 2.5% of the supported division’s vehicles.[4] Scaling of OFP’s was centrally controlled by the British Army’s Scales Branch of the Central Provisioning Organisation, which developed standard “Middle East” scaled for OFP’s taking into consideration the long lines of communication from the factory to the foxhole and the diversity of equipment sources such as for Britain, India, Canada and the United States.[5]

When New Zealand committed forces to the war in September 1939, an Infantry Division with supporting arms was to be recruited and sent overseas in three Brigade Group echelons.

  • The first echelon consisting of the 2NZEF Headquarters and a Brigade Group arrived in Egypt in February 1940.
  • The second echelon was diverted to Britain and would not join the NZ Division in Egypt until March 1941.
  • The third echelon would arrive in Egypt in September 1940.

Given the title of the New Zealand Ordnance Corps (NZOC), the initial Ordnance contribution would only consist of Headquarters Staff and Light Aid Detachments (LAD) attached to each Infantry Brigade and Artillery Regiment. Within a short period of time, New Zealand Ordnance personnel would work closely with the existing Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) Base Stores Depots and Workshops in Egypt to establish the NZOC Base Ordnance Depot and Workshops at Maddi Camp. With the arrival of the 3rd echelon in Sept 1940 and the final arrival of the 2nd echelon from England in March 1941 was the NZ Division fully able to be consolidated as a unit. NZOC units consisting of Three Independent Brigade Workshops and 11 Light Aid Detachments were sent to Greece in March 1941 as part of New Zealand contribution to that campaign.[6] The NZOC workshops were supported in this campaign by the RAOC 1 OFP.[7] A lack of consultation prior to the operation saw that the attached British OFP was not scaled correctly to support the New Zealand units. 1 OFP held sufficient spares for Internationals and Crossley’s but this would be problematic as with the NZ Division not equipped with Internationals and only held two Crossley’s. Fortunately, 1 OFP held sufficient quantities of Ford, 25 pounder and 2 pounder spares, spring steel, sheet and rod metals, compressed air and many general items and with supplementation from local sources was able to provide some useful support to the NZ Workshops.[8] The Greek Campaign would ultimately be a defeat for the British Forces who would lose the Island of Crete to German airborne forces in May 1941.

NZ OFP July 1941 – January 1943

OFP October 1941

Alf Beale of the OFP sorting out his stock for the bin vehicle. Maadi Camp, October 1941. Photo W.W Thomas.

NZ Division Ordnance Field Park (1941)

Vehicle Tactical Sign NZ Division Ordnance Field Park 1941

Evacuated to Egypt, the New Zealand Division would undertake a period of rebuilding and expansion. 1 NZ Field Workshop war reformed as1 NZ Divisional Ordnance Workshop on 16 June 1941 followed by the formation of 2 and 3 NZ Field Workshops on 27 June. Taking on board the lesson of the Greek campaign a New Zealand Divisional OFP was formed on 28 July 1941. The NZ OFP would spend August and September assembling its personnel and equipment and bringing its stock to scale with the personnel learning the intricacies of Ordnance accounting. With a strength of 4 Officers and 81 Other Ranks, the OFP was equipped with 27 3-ton Lorries in different configurations optimised for the carriage of OFP Stores.[9]

OFP Formed 41

OFP Sept 41

Four Ordnance Sergeants of the Divisional OFP in the Western Desert, September 1941. L to R: W.W Thomas, E.M McSherry, A Wilkin, R Smith. Photo W.W Thomas.

OFP ESTB 1941

Organised with a Headquarters and three sections, the NZ OFP would participate in Operation Crusader in November 1942 and its subsequent operations. Like any unit of the NZ Division, the NZ OFP was not immune to casualties and would see Major William Knox, Officer Commanding of the NZ OFP injured after driving over a landmine leading to his evacuation from Tobruk, during which it is suspected that he drowned when the ship he was on was sunk.[10] [11] Withdrawn to Egypt in December 1941 the NZ OFP would then accompany the NZ Divison to Syria in March 1942 as a precautionary measure to guard against a German thrust from the North.

Recalled to the Western Desert during June 1942, the NZ Division was urgently called forward to help counter the Axis advances into Egypt. The NZ Division would transit the 1500 kilometres from Syria to Minqar Qiam on Egypt’s western frontier in just over a week and was immediately in the fight.  Forced into a fighting withdraw the NZ Division soon withdrew to new positions in the vicinity of the Egyptian town of El Alamein where the 8th Army would hold fast and hold the line.

Lessons learned in the recent campaign identified the need for the New Zealand Division to have its own armoured element. This led to the converting of the 4th Infantry Brigade into the 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade on 5 October 1942.[12] [13] Concurrent with the reorganisation of the 2nd NZEF, the increased mechanisation of the battlefield saw the British Army reform its maintenance and repair organisations and form them into a single Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME) on 1 October 1942.[14] The EME would assume responsibility for all RAOC, ASC and Royal Engineer Workshops, Recovery Sections and LADs.  New Zealand and Australian would follow suit on 1 December 1942, followed by India on 1 May 1943 and Canada on 22 February 1944. The formation of the New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (NZEME) would see the NZ OFP remain with the NZOC,[15] whilst assuming the additional responsibility for the provision of MT Spares to the ASC workshops which had transferred to NZEME, and the scaling of spares for the new armoured component of the Division.

As New Zealand Division had converted to a mixed Infantry/Armoured Division, the NZ OFP was reorganised on 20 November 1942 from a modified Infantry Division OFP of a Headquarters and three Sections into a modified OFP structure of a Headquarters and three task orientated sections consisting of ;[16]

  • A Headquarters Holding Section – responsible for holding reserve stocks of all OFP Stores
  • An Infantry Section – responsible for serving the workshops and LAD’s both of the Infantry Brigades and Divisional troops with MT Stores, weapon spares and signal stores
  • an Armoured Section – Responsible for workshops and LAD’s of the Armoured brigade for armoured specific MT Stores, weapon and signal stores.

The positions of Driver-Mechanics and Electrician were removed from the establishment with the affected personnel transferred to NZEME units and replaced with NZOC Storeman-Drivers, The Fitters were retained as attached NZEME personnel.

RAOC9

RAOC Ordnance Field Park 1944/45 (RAOC, public domain)

February 1943 – January 1944

2 NZ Division Ordnance Field Park

Vehicle Tactical Sign NZ Division Ordnance Field Park 1944-45

On in February 1943, the establishment was again modified with an increase of the strength to 5 Officers and 99 Other Ranks with the structure changed to include an additional section, the Reserve Vehicle Park Section whose role was to hold reserves of the Divisions vehicles.

Further adjustment to the role and establishment of the OFP were facilitated on 7 March 1943 when Controlled Stores became an OFP responsibility’ Included as part of the OFP Headquarters, whose strength grew by one Warrant Officer Class One and one Private.

OFP ESTB 1943

Following the second Battle of El Alamein, the NZ OFP would continue to support the NZ Division in the advance across Libya and into Tunisia until the final defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943. During this advance, there were periods when a New Zealand Advanced Ordnance Depot (NZAOD) was attached to the NZ OFP from the NZ Base Ordnance Depot (BOD) in Egypt. The role of the NZAOD was to provide holding of General stores and consumables not held by the OFP, mainly clothing and personnel webbing equipment.

The New Zealand Division would not participate in the invasion of Sicily but would spend the next few months reorganising and refitting as the 4th Armoured Brigade completed its training and was fully integrated into the NZ Division, and it would not be until October 1943 that the Division would re-enter the war in Italy.

February 1944 – December 1945

After several months in Italy, the NZ OFP undertook another reorganisation in February 1944. The NZ BOD at Maadi camp in Egypt had been split into two parts; No 1 NZ BOD, which would remain in Egypt and No 2 NZ BOD which was based at Bari on the South Adriatic coast of Italy.  With No 2 NZ BOD in Italy, the shortened and narrow lines of communication made the need for the NZAOD less necessary than in North Africa. The NZAOD that had been supporting the NZ Division in Italy prior to the establishment of 2 BOD was disbanded on 16 February 1944. With a requirement for the stores that the NZAOD held remaining forward, some its functions were absorbed into the NZ OFP as a mobile AOD section, increasing the strength of the NZ OFP by one Officer and fifteen Other Ranks and 10 additional lorries. [17]

OFP ESTB 1944

One of the functions that the AOD section brought to the NZ OFP was a Mobile Officers Shop. Officers shops were an organisation developed by the British in North Africa. Centrally provisioned by the Central Provision Office, Officers Shops allowed Offices to buy at reasonable rates, authorised items of kit such as clothing, camp kit, travel bags, Leather jerkins and shoes.[18] In Italy, the Officers Shop organisations were similar to that in the Middle East, but also stocked a range of locally obtained items. Although the Officers shop function was included as part of the AOD Section from February 1944 it would not officially be formalised and added to the establishment of the NZ OFP until 11 May 1945.

Further changes to the NZ OFP happened in August 1944 when an NZASC Warrant Officer Class Two was included in the Headquarter establishment to assist in the coordination of supplies to NZASC units from the NZ OFP.[19]  Additional equipment in the form of a truck-mounted crane to assist with the handling of heavy tank spares and engines in the Armoured Section was also approved during August 1944.[20]

In April 1945 the stockholding of signals stores in Division OFP’s was authorised to be increased. With the increase of holdings estimated to be around six tonnes, an additional three 3-ton Lorries was approved along with an increase of two Storeman and one Clerk.

Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945, bringing hostility’s in Europe to a close, but in the Pacific and South East Asia the war against Japan was still in progress and discussion of the future of the NZEF and its future in the war was underway. By June 1945 the decision had been made to maintain NZOC units in the NZEF at full strength to facilitate the handing back of vehicles and equipment by Divisional units as they were demobilised or reorganised for service against Japan. The August atomic bombing of Japan and their subsequent surrender in September 1945 brought what was going to be a long war to a sudden end. Japan would be occupied by allied forces and New Zealand would contribute a Brigade group (J Force) based on the 9th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd NZEF.[21]

In October 1945 it was decided to disband the NZ OFP, its men and equipment would be absorbed into an NZAOD, a Vehicle and Equipment Handling Depot and attached to 557 BOD, RAOC. The NZAOD and Vehicle and Equipment Handling Depot would receive and sort the equipment, with the best of it going to the J Force elements forming at Florence and the remainder returned to the RAOC. The NZOC personnel seconded to 557AOD who would receive and process the equipment back into the RAOC system, whilst also collection and dispatching new equipment from RAOC stocks for delivering to J Force.[22] [23]

OFP DisbandmentThe NZ OFP was functionally disbanded on 26 October 1945 and formally disbanded after 4 years and 5 months of service as a unit of the 2nd NZEF on 29 December 1945.[24]

During the NZ OFP 4 years of service, the following members died while on active service;

  • Temporary Major William Andrew Knox, 5 December 1941, No Known Grave, commemorated at Alamein Memorial.
  • Sergeant Ronald Roy Moore, 13 February 1942, now resting at the Fayid War Cemetery in Egypt.
  • Private Ivan James Curin, 24 March 1945, now resting Ravenna War Cemetery in Italy

OFP Storage and Accounting

Prior to the beginning of the war of the war, the standard system of field storage was the humble disused ammunition box. As Britain mobilised the influx of men from the automotive industry into the RAOC saw the introduction of the latest in storage techniques and how to maximise space which would be utilised to maximise storage in the OFP’s.[25]

Morris C8 15cwt 4 X 4 GS

Morris C8 15cwt 4 X 4 GS

The heart of the OFP was its store’s vehicles. The NZ OFP used a mixture of 15-cwt (.75-tone) trucks for administration tasks and 3-Ton lorries for the carriage of stores. The 3-ton lorries were generally of two types;

  • GS Lorries for the carriage of large items such as engines, gearboxes and differentials, and
  • Bin Lorries for the carriage of smaller compact items such as nuts, bolts, gaskets, fan belts, brake linings, windscreen wipers

GS Lorries were fitted with a flat floor body with fixed sides and headboard, and a drop tailgate. Usually fitted with a canvas canopy on a tubular frame. At times the tubular frame would be lined with chicken wire to limit pilferage.

Binned vehicles were lorries and trailers fitted with fixed racking made up of bins of different dimensions. Early designs consisted of full-length benches on both sides of the vehicle with storage bins under the benches and compartments for small items above the benches and a writing desk. Stores inside the bins were kept secure on the move by a mesh screen which could be removed when the vehicle was stationary to allow access to the stores. As the war progressed, the design of binned vehicles became more sophisticated with later models having solid bodies with internal lighting. The following illustrations provide an example of different types of bin trucks.

Polish OFP 2

Bin Lorry of the Polish Corps Italy 1943-45. The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

Polish OFP 1

Bin Lorry of the Polish Corps Italy 1943-45. The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

stores NO1 aust binned

Bin Truckc60l

Ledger CardStores accounting was managed by the Visidex system. The Visidex system was introduced in the late 1930’s by the RAOC as simple ledger card system to replace mechanical ledger posting systems which had proved to be unsatisfactory.[26] Adopted for wartime service the Visidex system was ideal as it was a simple system that required a minimum of staff training. Using carbon backed posting slips it allowed checks to easily carried out. Each OFP section would maintain a control office for which all indents from units would be received, the stock record would be checked, the location where the stock held identified (in an OFP each truck was a stock location) and the stock record updated. If the stock was available, it would immediately be issued. If the stock was not available, it would be recorded as a Dues Out, and an indent would be placed on the supporting Depot for replenishment which would be marked as a Dues In.[27] Each truck in an OFP would also maintain stock records that that would be reconciled with each issue and receipt and stocktake. The robustness and simplicity of the Visidex system would see it remaining as the primary field stores accounting system in the New Zealand Army well into the 1990s.

Summary

The New Zealand Division was one that was heavy in motor transport, and the close of the war in Europe as General Freyberg canvassed for the Division to be employed in South East Asia, British commanders welcomed the thought of the NZ Divisions participation, but concerns were raised that there would not be sufficient road space for the many thousands of vehicles on the NZ Division.[28]  With vehicles from motorcycles to tanks, weapons from pistols to howitzers and hundreds of other pieces of technical equipment requiring maintenance and repair,  the 2n NZEF developed first under the NZOC and then NZEME a world-class maintenance and repair system based on LAD, Field and Base workshops, which in the NZ Division was kept supplied with MT and other technical spares by the NZ OFP.

In the post-war NZ Army, OFP’s would exist in various iterations from 1948 until the late 1970s, but these would be training units that would never be deployed as standalone units such as the NZ OFP. The direct descendent s of the NZ OFP would be the RNZAOC Stores Sections attached to each RNZEME Workshop. Carrying specialised spares, assemblies and workshops materials to suit the particular requirement of its parent RNZEME workshops, Stores Sections became an RNZAOC responsibility in 1962 when RNZEME Technical Stores were transferred to the RNZAOC. A familiar sight on any RNZEME workshop exercise from the 1960s to 1996, the spirit of the NZ OFP would be well represented by RNZAOC Workshops Stores Sections with their RL Bedford Bin trucks and later Unimog mounted Binned 13’ Containers.

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018

OFP Mascot

Sergeant Harry Gilbertson of the OFP with the section mascot. ‘Sergeant Two Bob’ was brought as a pup from a ‘WOG’ for two bob and stayed with the section until the end of the war. Maadi, September 1943. Photo H.J Gilbertson

Notes

[1] “Technicians for Army,” Evening Post, Volume CXXVIII, Issue 22, 26 July 1939.

[2] The War Office, Ordnance Manual (War) (London: His Majestys Stationery Office, 1939), Chapter IV, Section 35, Page 79.

[3] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945 (London: Royal Army Ordnance Corps, 1965), 153.

[4] Major J.S Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (Trentham: RNZAOC, 1992), 95.

[5] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 184.

[6] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 94.

[7] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 141.

[8] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 95.

[9] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field Item Idr20107590 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/21 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

[10] A commercial traveller, Major Knox had served in the Field Artillery in the Great War attaining the rank of Lieutenant. Enlisting in the 2NZEF in 1930, Knox was posted to the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment as the Quartermaster. On 4 August 1941 Knox was transferred into the NZOC as the Officer Commanding of the NZ OFP and granted the rank of Temporary Major whist holding that appointment. Injured as the result of driving over a landmine, Knox was admitted to a Casualty Clearing Station on 29 November 1941. Evacuated alongside 380 other wounded soldiers, of whom 97 were New Zealanders on the SS Chakdina on the afternoon of 5 December 1941. Torpedoed by enemy aircraft, only 18 of the New Zealanders were rescued with the remainder including Knox presumed drowned. “William Andrew Knox,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand 1939.

[11] J. B. McKinney, Medical Units of 2 Nzef in the Middle East and Italy, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45 (Wellington, N.Z.: War History Branch Department of Internal Affairs, 1952, 1952), Non-fiction, 179.

[12] I. C. McGibbon and Paul William Goldstone, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History (Auckland; Melbourne; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, 2000), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 37.

[13] D. J. C. Pringle and W. A. Glue, 20 Battalion and Armoured Regiment, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45 (Wellington: War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1957, 1957), Non-fiction, 292.

[14] Peter Cooke, Warrior Craftsmen, Rnzeme 1942-1996 (Wellington: Defense of New Zealand Study Group, 2017).

[15] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 103.

[16] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[17] Ibid.

[18]  Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 205.

[19] NZASC Units were; 4 & 6 Reserve Mechanical Transport Company, Ammunition Company, Petrol Company, Supply Column, NZ Field Bakery, 18 Tank Transporter Company, NZ Mule Transport Company. Julia Millen, Salute to Service: A History of the Royal New Zealand Corps of Transport and Its Predecessors, 1860-1996 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1997, 1997), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 441.

[20] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[21] Matthew Wright, Italian Odyssey: New Zealanders in the Battle for Italy 1943-45 (Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 2003, 2003), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 166.

[22] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[23] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 120.

[24] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[25] P.H. Williams, War on Wheels: The Mechanisation of the British Army in the Second World War (History Press Limited, 2016), 73.

[26] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 40.

[27] Williams, War on Wheels: The Mechanisation of the British Army in the Second World War, 73.

[28] Wright, Italian Odyssey: New Zealanders in the Battle for Italy 1943-45, 166.

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