View Full Version : Training under live artillery Fire

09-15-2008, 03:24 AM
I have heard about an interesting training camp that was set up in New Zealand during WW2 some time (not sure of exact dates).
The story goes that a remote area in the North Island of New Zealand (near a lake) was occupied by an artillery battalion, that had bunkers built by their supporting engineers, that were meant to simulate what Jap bunkers in the Pacific were being built like.
They then rotated infantry battalions through this facility to train storming these bunkers while under live artillery fire :shock:
What I am looking for is any information on what the artillery division was that was set up there, and any maps/info there are available on this training camp.
There is a fair amount of information about where US forces were stationed during WW2 in New Zealand, but this one is not mentioned anywhere that I can find??
I enjoy a puzzle, so thought I would see what I could find on this one, anyone got that gem I'm looking for.


09-15-2008, 04:54 AM
Can't say I've heard of a training camp like the one you speak of. However while at an archive here I once came across a document that listed all American troops killed in New Zealand during the war. It was quite high from memory, something like 40 or 50.

A lot were attributed to air accidents, drownings and the occasional murder but I'm pretty sure that there were at least a few deaths during training. If I could get back up to Auckland I could check.

09-15-2008, 02:44 PM
Hi Upham,

Thanks for your thoughts, I have used the NZ Archive in the past for a few investigations, but I haven't found anything linking to this site at the Archive yet.
I find It's a good idea to utilise a few different avenues when doing this sort of investigation, as you just never know what any single piece of info can open up.

09-15-2008, 05:31 PM
I am VERY skeptical about any claims of training under live artillery fire, even if you were talking about the artillery in question using either smoke or paint shells. Artillery of WWII was hardly a precision pin-point instrument, and the chances of massive and unnecessary casualties would be way too high. To the best of my knowledge, only a very few Allied forces did any under-live-fire training at all - notably the British Commando units -- and I believe that was using small arms fire only (which of course can be aimed much more accurately), and casualties occurred anyway. If any American units did train under artillery fire at a site such as you describe, I can not believe it would have been attempted by anything other than an elite unit or two, comparable to the Commandos, and not "rotated infantry battalions."

Yes, training causes casualties/fatalities, even today - due to things like equipment failures (like today's helicopter crashes) and the ever-present capacity of people to be stupid at the wrong time.

If the fortification you describes exists, I suspect it will turn out to be something like a case of engineers building Japanese bunkers as a training exercise, and then perhaps it was used for artillery training. Conceivably, infantry units may also have used the site for training on storming Japanese fortifications -- but NOT at the same time.

09-15-2008, 05:48 PM
All good points Ardee, and that's what adds to the fun of the research.
Clarifying what has been passed down, to dispel the likely exaggeration's, but possibly also fill in some missing bits of info on how they really operated.
The area I am researching has some roads around it named with American references, so there are some clues to US troops being stationed there during WW2, but when and for what is the exciting puzzle.
I don't think there was very much that wasn't documented somewhere, it's just a matter of finding the right person/place for that info.
I love a puzzle :rolleyes:

Carl Schwamberger
09-24-2008, 09:13 PM
Maybe i can help clarify part of this.

Part of my basic skill set as a artillery officer in the 1980s & 1990s was knowing how to calcuate the safety zones around the target area or impact area for all sorts of live fire training. We had a Safety Order that was litterally three cm thick with all the details for this. The zone width of margin varied according to the type of ammunition and the range. In general the higher weight the explosive charge and the longer the range the wider the safety margin. Even for 105mm ammo it was seldom the safety buffer width got down to 1000 meters. I can recall one instance where it was only 1200 meters. That nearly guaranteed a short round from a error of one propellant charge would still not land on the heads of anyone near the impact area. Outside that buffer there was little problem firing over the heads of anyone along the gun-target line.

With that in mind we often fired artillery at targets the manuver units would subsequently attack. Of course a 2000 or 3000 meter buffer would ensure a twenty or thirty minute walk for a rifle unit on foot, but we were usually practising air or mechanized assualt tactics, so the buffers were not extremely unrealisitc. For air strikes the safety zone was similar however the safety for dropping air ordinance was keyed on the Forward Air Controller eyeballing that the aircraft was pointed at the correct direction and attitude before releasing the bomb.

There were usually trenches, bunkers, silloutte targets, fake tanks or APC made up from piles of old tires and cardboard in the target area

That was how we did the manuver training with the explosive ordinance in the 1980s & 1990s. The decriptions of WWII veterans both told directly to me and from the books or magizine articals do not sound much different. maybe thery we a bit more particualr or sloppier about safety depending on the inclination of the commander.

I did occasionally run across old antiquated documents from the 1960s and earlier which decribed the procedures for training artillery observers much closer to the target or impact area. These involved building bunkers with X ammount of concrete Y ammount dirt berms Z aamount of angles slope, and using the tripod mounted periscope like binoculars. With that the safety margins were reduced to less than 500 meters. At the US Army Artillery School Ft Sill and some National Guard camps I ran across old abandoned bunkers built to the layout in the old training and safety documents. Also in a 1920s issue of the Field Artillery journal I found a artical describing training artillery observers with bunkers of this sort. Again I've run across WWII veterans describing using this same setup for training to adjust artillery fires at extremely close ranges.

So my best guess is the items decribed in New Zealand were similar to one or both of the methods we used. Did we have casualties in this training? Yes. Occasionally someone screwed up and one or more of us was maimed or killed. I cant recall every incident during my 20+ years of service but here area few that stuck in mind.

Circa 1980 Camp Lejune North Carolina. A propellant charge error (of multiple charges) caused a 105mm projectile to land far out of the impact area. It hit directly in front of a car on a public road, killing the driver and wounding her daughter (spouse and child of a Colonel). The gun section chief went to prison for manslaughter, the battery and battalion commanders were found negligent on numerous accounts, fined, relieved of command, and effectively had their career ended.

1985 Camp Pendelton California. While practising direct fire with 155mm howitzers the base plug from a exploded projectile struck a gun crewman in the chest. His flak jacket prevented penetration, but his ribs & breast bone had multiple fractures, and his internal chest cavity was sort of a mass of ruptured tissue.

1996 Ft Sill Okalhoma. A squadron of A10 aircraft were practising dropping laser guided bombs on the west target range. In midafternoon a A10 of the second flight of the day released, but the bomb did not remain locked on the laser dessignated target. Instead the 500 lb bomb went down at a extreme steep angle and hit the vehical used by US Army air control team doing the laser designation. Both team members were less than 50 meters from the vehical and both were dismembered by the overpressure of the explosions and fragments. Two US Marine artillery observation teams were on the same hill top between 100 & 200 meters from the impact. Fortunatly they only suffered hearing loss and mild concussions. Bizzarely we also had two Marines struck by lighting near that same hilltop a week earlier. Fortunatly they only suffered minor burns.

Carl Schwamberger
09-24-2008, 09:25 PM
There is a fair amount of information about where US forces were stationed during WW2 in New Zealand, but this one is not mentioned anywhere that I can find??
I enjoy a puzzle, so thought I would see what I could find on this one, anyone got that gem I'm looking for.


The US Marines were in the New Zealand area in 19442 & 1943. Either 1st or 2d Marine Divsions could have set this up. I cant recall which US Army units were in NZ.

09-25-2008, 02:21 PM
Thanks for the input, Carl! Perhaps I took the "under live fire" a bit too literally: to mean the infantry was advancing through areas in or very near where the shells were falling. What you say make sense.

Carl Schwamberger
09-25-2008, 06:41 PM
You are welcome. I'm curious about the bunkers now. If you can date them in any way that will give a clue. I am wondering if the US Marines built them when preparing for the Tarawa Atoll attack. That would have placed their construction before November 1943.

09-25-2008, 06:58 PM
You are welcome. I'm curious about the bunkers now. If you can date them in any way that will give a clue. I am wondering if the US Marines built them when preparing for the Tarawa Atoll attack. That would have placed their construction before November 1943.
That's exactly the sort of information I am looking for.
Which unit built them, when, and if possible precisely where.
There is some talk of them being complete with steel doors in some cases.
Be a real great find to see one, if there are still remnants berried, which is the ultimate goal, one story that I have heard is of them being viewable, just after the end of the war, but they have disappeared since then.
It looks like they were in a bush setting, but now may be under farm land?

Carl Schwamberger
09-26-2008, 07:02 PM
Checked Col Alexanders book on the battle of Tarawa Atoll 'Utmost Savagery'. It identifiys the US 2d Marine Divsion as being present in New Zealand after departing Guadacannal at the end of 1942. The unit reassembled in NZ and remained there until late october 1943 when it begain embarking for the Gilbert Islands campaign. Did not yet find anything in the text about preparing any bunkers, or specific details on where the regiments trained. However the divsion had couple months warning and the text refers to a intensive training program specifically for the planned attack.

I dont know what other US units trained in New Zealand, other than parts of the 1st Marine Divsion in the early summer of 1942. That div was probablly not training for assulating fortifications, so the first possiblity would be the 2d Marine Div. After that there may have been some US Army divsion pass thru New Zealand in 1944.

10-06-2008, 08:19 PM
i never heard of this i heard of trianing under live machinegun fire.

Carl Schwamberger
10-07-2008, 06:56 AM
i never heard of this i heard of trianing under live machinegun fire.

I've heard about it from both WWII US Army veterans, and USMC veterans of the late 1950s. I'm not sure why it was used. Perhaps to give recruits a tiny bit of knowledge of what bullets passing overhead sounds like. In my recruit training there were long strips of red cloth tape streatched over the barbed wire we practiced crawling under. That was susposed to represent MG fire. The instructors would punish us if we rose up high enough to place our head or butt in the same plane as the red tape. Overhead fire by mortars or artillery was common in training exercises.

Outside of recruit training we had a variety of live fire training. Aside from the ordinary marksmanship and familarization fires there were 'Fire and Manuver' and Combined Arms Exercises. The Fire and Manuver was just having riflemen, of MG, tanks, mortars, ect... fire on a target while infantry or tanks - whatever approached the target from a another direction or manuverd past it.

The Combined Arms Ex. was a more elaborate version of this. In battalion size task forces we would either attack or make a delaying action across the training area shooting up targets as we went. Everything from rifles up through tanks and artillery and helocopters and jet aircraft was used. Those exercises were for training the company commanders and battalion command staff in controling or coordinating all those weapons. simultaneously