18 Battalion and Armoured Regiment
CHAPTER 39 — Armoured Attack
Twelve days at Viserba, and then the regiment was back again within reach of the guns.
The Kiwis had meantime exchanged the wet, dismal fields of the Rubicon for a slightly drier but equally dismal stretch of country a few miles farther west, one jump nearer the foothills, just north of the Rimini-Bologna railway whose embankment had given the tanks so much trouble on 22 September. Here Jerry was retiring unwillingly and slowly, helped along by outflanking British attacks in the hills; the Kiwis were following up, pressing him hard from farm to farm and from ditch to ditch. At present it was almost entirely an infantry ‘do’, but when the time was right 4 Armoured Brigade was to go through and advance over the plain, the tanks at long last in the van of the attack.
It seemed incredible that this was really going to happen. For months, ever since Cassino, the tanks had been nothing but infantry support weapons or mobile artillery, with little prospect of ever being anything else. Then they had reached the wonderful flat plain promised to them, and all they had found was ditches and floodbanks and impossible mud. But now, after all that, they were to have their big moment. The weather was still louring, but there had been nothing as bad as the downpours of late September. This might be the only chance for an armoured thrust to push Jerry a good long way back before the inevitable winter stepped in.
From 11 October 18 Regiment was on six hours' notice to leave Viserba, which somewhat curtailed the pleasure excursions round the country. There was plenty to do. The tanks were moved from their wet paddock to drier ground nearer the coast. They were thoroughly cleaned up. The guns were ‘T & A'd’ with targets rigged on boats off shore. On 15 October everyone packed up as far as he could and stood ready, for page 569 there were persistent rumours that the move was very close. And after breakfast on the 16th away they went.
It was only a 16-mile move, all of it through country that had been sadly scarred by the war. This was nothing new; all the Romagna had taken a savage hammering, more than almost any other district the boys had seen. Rimini, many of them thought, was flattened nearly as badly as Cassino. Now, where the tanks passed on their way back to the fighting line, every farm and crossroads village was a wreck, the smell of second-hand war was everywhere, dead men and dead cattle lay bloated and unburied in the fields. Most battlefields, for the sake of elementary hygiene, were cleaned up pretty soon after the war moved on; here everyone seemed too apathetic to care, too fed up with this bloody Romagna.
Round the village of Gambettola B and C Squadrons got billets of a sort, mostly in poor, flimsy, half-ruined houses. A Squadron went two miles farther on, joined forces with 22 Battalion, and one troop went up to where the leading company held a small stretch of the line on 5 Brigade's right flank. Two more tanks went to the second company, about a quarter of a mile ahead of Battalion Headquarters, and the rest of the squadron found what living space it could round Battalion Headquarters.
This was a district of few, scattered houses, a network of clay roads criss-crossing each other every few hundred yards, many willow-lined canals, and the same old vines and plough that everyone hated so much. A mile and a half ahead of the leading company was the Pisciatello River, not much more than a creek, but flanked by the usual high banks and stiff with German paratroopers. The current plan was that the infantry should cross this creek first, the engineers would put bridges up as quickly as they could, then 4 Brigade would cross, push through the infantry, and away. On the right 18 Regiment, on the left 20 Regiment, with carriers of 22 Battalion scouring the battlefield behind the leading squadrons and picking up stray Germans.
But first this Pisciatello had to be crossed, and this was not going to be easy, for Jerry was fighting for every clay road, and laying massive artillery and mortar and Nebelwerfer ‘stonks’ across the front and as far back as Gambettola. All 17 October page 570 our infantry battled to cover the last few hundred yards to the river. In the evening, Jerry having at last pulled back to the north bank, 6 Brigade relieved 5 Brigade and moved up to the river, all ready to cross next night.
In this hard fighting on 17 October A Squadron and 22 Battalion had a vigorous part to play. During the day the 22nd's leading company, with its troop of tanks in close attendance, gained 1200 yards, which brought both tanks and infantry to the last road before the river, with 400 yards of vines still to go. How everyone cursed the vines, which practically blinded the tankies and provided such good cover for Spandau and bazooka teams. The tanks, standing back a little, turned their guns on the country ahead of the infantry, spraying houses and haystacks and ditches with shells and Browning bullets. There were two troops of A Squadron up with the fighting now. On that last road two clusters of farm buildings, Casalini and Fossalta, were both full of stubborn paratroopers; against each of these moved a platoon of 22 Battalion and a troop of tanks, which smothered the buildings with fire as the infantry moved in. At Fossalta, too, the artillery joined the party, landing shells all round the place just before the attack. This kind of treatment did not suit the paratroopers, who stood their ground till the last minute and then came out with their hands up.
It was late afternoon now, and it was raining again; the lanes were sticky and treacherous, and everyone was glumly picturing another fiasco like the Rubicon. Also 22 Battalion's flank was wide open, Jerry was still holding out a mile east of Fossalta with nothing in between, and it seemed unlikely that the night would pass without trouble. The infantry at Casalini and Fossalta made ready to repel boarders. The tankies at Fossalta, dissatisfied with their quarters there, moved to other farm buildings farther west along the road, set up their Brownings to fire along fixed lines, and settled down to get some sleep. It had been a big afternoon; the tanks had been very busy, firing off ammunition just as fast as the trucks could bring it up, and everyone was tired.
But the crews did not get the full night's sleep they longed for. At 2 a.m. mortar bombs began to fall thickly on Fossalta, and along the road from the east came the paratroopers, with page 571 Spandaus and bazookas and even grenades, moving aggressively in to close quarters. The tank crews were alerted and stood ready. The Fossalta garrison stood firm, but at daybreak Jerry was still there; a call for help was wirelessed out to the tanks, which moved in from the west just as another 22 Battalion platoon arrived from the south. The paratroopers, taken by surprise, were ‘not so much repulsed as annihilated’, as A Squadron's report put it. Eight were killed, half a dozen captured, and the rest fled, taking several wounded men with them.
This was a good beginning to the day, and did a lot to lift the gloom, particularly as the rain had stopped and the outlook was a little brighter. All through 18 October the artillery was moving up, digging positions all round the 18 Regiment tanks at Gambettola, ready to help 6 Brigade across the Pisciatello that night. During the night a bridge was to go up at a tiny village called Macerone, a squadron of the 19th was to go across to protect 6 Brigade, then the 18th would follow, and at daybreak on 19 October the balloon would go up.
The Air Force, too, would be in the party. The Allies could now afford to be smug about their air support—never, even on Crete, had Jerry had so much of it. German planes had become a rarity. The most spectacular new development was the ‘cab rank’, a patrol of Kittybombers hovering overhead waiting to be called down by radio on to targets ahead of our troops. Since the regiment had returned to the line this had been in full operation, the ‘Kitties’ swooping to drop their bombs just across the Pisciatello, too close altogether, some men thought. There were also the air OPs, the cheeky little ‘shufti’ planes that prowled over Jerry's lines and passed down information to our guns. At Viserba 18 Regiment representatives had put their heads together with the men who flew these planes, and arranged a private code by which, they hoped, the OP planes could direct the tanks quickly on to targets. It remained to be seen how this would work in action.
After the paratroopers at Fossalta were seen off the premises, 18 October was a quiet, waiting kind of day. In the afternoon Canadian infantry took over from 22 Battalion, and A Squadron pulled back from the line to get ready for the big ‘do’. The road back was very soft, and there was one deviation that took page 572 a lot of getting round, so tempers were a bit short before the afternoon was over; but before dark all the tanks were back at Gambettola waiting for the starting signal. The barrier might go up, they were told, any time after 3 a.m. In the meantime everyone grabbed what sleep he could.
There was an impressive barrage that night as 6 Brigade crossed the Pisciatello, but it was largely wasted ammunition, as Jerry had pulled farther back and offered very little opposition. At 3 a.m. all the 18 Regiment squadrons were out on the road ready to go, with their full complement of tanks and all the trimmings, artillery OP officers, a Valentine bridge-laying tank, a Sherman bulldozer, a party of engineers to ‘recce’ routes and clear mines and fill demolitions. A company of 22 Battalion was standing by to ride into action on the reserve tanks, and so were the 22 Battalion carriers which were to come behind and mop up.
Right at the outset there was a delay. Two assault bridges were put over the Pisciatello in quick time, but the ‘scissors’ bridge at Macerone was damaged by a 19 Regiment tank, and the 18th was left sitting sleepily on the roadside in the rain, which began at 4 a.m. and went on steadily till dawn. All this time Lieutenant-Colonel Ferguson was dashing about at white heat, trying to ‘recce’ routes for his tanks to the other bridge. By seven o'clock the scissors bridge was usable again, and by 8.30 C Squadron was leading the 18th over the river. There were queues of assorted traffic waiting to cross, and the tanks had anything but a clear run, but before 10 a.m. the whole regiment was across and lined up by 24 Battalion's foremost companies along a road half a mile ahead. Apart from all the delay it had not been a hard move, with little of the shelling or mortaring that had been expected. Jerry had been most cooperative in withdrawing just at the critical moment.
At 9.50 a.m., a year and a day after the New Zealand armour had left Egypt, the tanks began to roll forward on 4 Armoured Brigade's first and last massed attack.
For about a mile it looked as if the leading squadrons—B on the right, C on the left—were out for a picnic. There were a few stray shellbursts here and there, but nothing to delay the tanks as they pushed north along the lanes. But then they page 573 began to strike ditches and demolitions and soft mud, and the gallop became a walk. Tankies and engineers had to explore the place on foot to find crossings. Some tanks finished up in the ditches, and the crews had to get busy with shovels while the Sherman bulldozer and 18 Regiment's recovery tank came up to haul them out. The free tanks carried on northwards, shelling all the houses and machine-gunning all the haystacks in their path, a precaution which for the moment seemed to have little effect.
The day's first objective was a road, a real one, much better than the usual muddy farm lanes round these parts; it ran from Cesena on the left to Cervia on the coast, and it was a landmark visible a long way off, lined with rows of tall trees, and with little clusters of houses at every crossroads. It was also the line to which Jerry had withdrawn during the night. Just after 1 p.m., as the first tanks came near it, they began to run into little pockets of German infantry, and fighting began. Jerry was in no great strength, but he was in good commanding positions in and round the farmhouses, and could make a considerable nuisance of himself.
For a while the tanks had the upper hand, advancing towards the road and shooting up Spandau and bazooka posts in the ditches and farmyards; the occupants of these posts, or such of them as were left alive, either ran away or hoisted white flags. The front was dotted with burning haystacks. But the tanks were not out of trouble. Spandaus were still firing ahead, mortar bombs and Nebelwerfers were falling, and tanks found the open fields increasingly soft, and were apt to end up bellied in the mud. All the shooting they had done that morning (most of it wasted effort) was now catching up on them, for some of them were running out of ammunition at awkward moments and having to call urgently for more. Some troop commanders were asking for infantry to come up and help dislodge the paratroopers, but this could not be arranged at a moment's notice.
It would have been amazing if the tanks had had no losses. At 3 p.m., in an unpleasant, wet, exposed area just short of the Cesena-Cervia road, Second-Lieutenant Eric Brennan's troop of B Squadron met unexpected self-propelled guns firing from buildings at a crossroads ahead. The tanks were caught in the page 574 open and had no chance to dodge. All three were hit and ‘brewed up’ one after the other. By the most wonderful good fortune nobody was wounded.
The air OP was right on the job, and within minutes a big ‘stonk’ was on its way over to the German guns, but the smoke of the burning tanks and haystacks was now drifting over the front and obscuring the view. For the moment all our guns and tanks could not shift Jerry off the road ahead.
About five o'clock trouble suddenly flared up in C Squadron too. Two tanks of Second-Lieutenant Binet's 1 9 Troop, which had for some time been bogged down in a patch of soft mud, were attacked by paratroopers with bazookas, who hit Binet's tank and set it alight, wounding all the crew. Lieutenant Collins's and Sergeant ‘Curly’ Mason's 2 tanks of 10 Troop were close at hand, and when they moved in to the rescue, tossing out smoke grenades as they came, the action was very lively for a minute or two. Trooper Sloan records what happened:
We went forward to attempt to pull Bin out. Just moved forward when I saw it. A Bazooka fired from 30 yds on left hit Bin's tank…. Did have the wind up! But forward we went everything blazing to within 30 yds. Then the 75 jammed & the Co-ax went out the monk. Joe hopped out to assist crew of brew up. Maurie went after. Jim Smith 3. on the lap gun, Lew Armitage 4 on the Ack Ack gun kept a hail of fire going down…. Spandaus blazing away everywhere…. It was hell. Expected a Bazooka at any time there.
Binet's tank crew had meantime crawled back from the burning tank with tracer flashing all round them, except for Trooper Attwood, 5 who was trapped in the tank and fatally injured.
Crossing the Reno
Across the big rivers—the Po
Across the big rivers—the Adige
The first of 22 Battalion's infantry then hove in sight on its way up to protect the tanks for the night. Both B and C Squadrons retired a few hundred yards, leaving the infantry in position just short of the Cesena-Cervia road, while the tanks harboured for the night and the crews cooked an overdue meal. A Squadron, which for the last part of the afternoon had been busily rounding up pockets of Germans behind the other squadrons, also harboured a mile and a half farther back.
This first day of the great attack had been only moderately successful. True, the tanks had gone ahead fast in the morning, but later in the day a comparative handful of Germans had seriously disrupted the show, and the tankies would have been more than glad to have had some infantry around to drag them from their lairs. Now the tanks were to push on again next morning, and nobody was very happy about it, for when the day's battle had been broken off Jerry had still been full of fight.
But that night Jerry pulled back, covering his departure with mortar fire. On 18 Regiment's left the 20 Regiment tanks had broken into his line at one of the many crossroads on the Cesena-Cervia road, and farther left still, in the foothills and on Route 9, British and Canadians had surged forward into the important town of Cesena, so that Jerry, if he did not want to be outflanked, had no option but to pull back on the plains. The noise of demolitions as he left could be clearly heard, and the 25-pounders several times came into action to help him on his way. In the early hours of 20 October 22 Battalion patrols found no sign of Jerry on the road ahead.
C Squadron set the ball rolling that morning, advancing across the Cesena-Cervia road and on to the north-west. There was no opposition, but the ground made up for that. Jerry had made a horrible mess of the roads, with mines and huge craters; the engineers were hard at it from the start, filling up the holes and helping to find routes for the tanks, and the tank commanders spent a good deal of their morning hunting on foot for passable country. A handful of infantry rode on the leading tanks, hopping off when necessary to do what little they page 576 could to help the tanks through the mud. The advance now cut diagonally across the direction of the roads, and it took the whole morning, slogging through swampy fields, to reach the Granarolo stream, only a mile ahead of their starting place. The Granarolo, with its inevitable steep, slippery floodbanks, and with every little bridge thoroughly blown, was quite impassable until a Valentine bridge-layer came from the rear and put its bridge down across the narrow stream. Now A Squadron passed through and took up the hunt beyond the Granarolo.
A Squadron, luckier than C, had a narrow but firm road to travel on, for the advance now swung due west towards the Savio River three miles away. This road, like the rest, was mined and pitted with craters, but in between the holes it was in reasonable order for the tanks. By 1.45 p.m. the head of A Squadron was coming up to the last crossroads before the Savio, when suddenly the day's first opposition came along.
It was pretty second-rate opposition, not a real defensive line, but only a little rearguard with a few Spandaus guarding the approach to the Savio, and a mortar or two firing from across the river. The tanks had some good shooting as they came up, laid low a few Spandau posts and picked up a few prisoners, but these were a poor bunch, nothing like the paratroopers who had been providing the excitement lately. Most of them did not wait to be captured, but just melted away.
The attacking 4 Brigade was now in a salient, well ahead of its neighbours on either side. Divisional Cavalry was supposed to have some Staghounds up to guard the right flank, but nobody had seen them all day. On 18 Regiment's left 20 Regiment was up level, and left of that again were the Canadians, but between ‘Canucks’ and Kiwis was a wide empty gap. However, Jerry was very much on the defensive now, and this last lot of prisoners did not seem the counter-attacking kind, so nobody worried unduly. In this kind of war your neighbours were as dangerous as the enemy. Once or twice some of the tanks were nearly embroiled in shooting affrays before the ‘other chaps’ were recognised as friendly; once Second-Lieutenant Jack Clough's troop of C Squadron, which veered off course to get round a huge demolition, while being ‘bribed’ with ‘plonk’ and eggs at a farmhouse was accidentally page 577 machine-gunned by an A Squadron troop to which these pickings rightfully belonged.
The notable feature of the day's advance was the craters. Never had 18 Regiment struck so many or such big ones. Tankies, sappers, and anyone else handy had worked like fury to get the tanks forward, cutting down trees to toss into the craters, throwing in bales of straw, rubble from houses, furniture and household fittings, in fact everything they could lay hands on. It was a real feat of endurance and ingenuity, even taking into account the poor show Jerry was putting up.
There seemed to be no point in pushing right up to the Savio bank that night, so when daylight began to fail the tanks harboured where they were, A Squadron's troops spread out over a mile of their road, B and C Squadrons not far head of the Granarolo. Early in the evening there was an outburst of shooting somewhere in the rear, and B and C Squadrons closed into a tight circle for mutual protection, but the noise turned out to be some Staghounds clearing out a little pocket of Germans that had been missed.
Very little disturbed the tankies' rest that night—a few mortar bombs and an occasional Nebelwerfer salvo, and 25-pounder shells sailing over at intervals to land on the far bank of the Savio. There was a lot of noise from the left, where the Canadians tried without success to establish themselves across the river. A Squadron, 22 Battalion and the sappers sent out patrols to the river; there seemed to be no Germans left on the near bank, but, the patrols reported, there was no way across for tanks until a bridge was up and a track bulldozed over the floodbank.
For next day the direction of the attack was changed again. The 18th was now to turn north along the Savio, and sweep up parallel to the river, clearing two miles of the near bank. This stretch, on yesterday's right flank, was still nobody's country, and there were certainly some Germans still there, for during the night Spandau fire had come from that direction.
But nobody expected much trouble, and C Squadron was given the job on its own. All the rest of 18 and 20 Regiments were to follow up northwards and pull in near a little crossroads village called Bagnile, and then that night both regiments were to take part in a fake barrage over the river to keep Jerry page 578 guessing, while a real barrage and attack went in farther south on the Canadian front.
At 10 a.m. two troops of C Squadron set out northwards. At first the pattern of events was the same as before—no sign of Jerry, but soft, greasy ground which forced the tanks to keep to the lanes, and big craters that needed every available labourer to fill them up. The local Italians, most of them bravely sporting Partisan armbands now that Jerry had gone, were out in force shouting a welcome. A mile north the settlement grew thicker, with houses quite close together along the lanes, something like sprawling town suburbs. And here the day's trouble began.
Once again it was only light opposition at first, a few Spandaus and the odd bazooka, nothing much else. But as C Squadron pushed farther north, towards a big river bend where the town of Mensa poked its rooftops up over the floodbank on the far side, it got worse; the bazooka merchants, hidden away between the buildings where you could not see them till you were on top of them, were beginning to be a menace, so A and B Squadrons were ordered up, one on either side of C Squadron, to make a regimental ‘do’ of it.
Even with three squadrons advancing on parallel lanes a few hundred yards apart, the attack stalled. B Squadron on the right was held up at Bagnile by a big demolition, mines, and Spandaus and bazookas ahead. In the centre C Squadron, pushing slowly ahead towards the thick of the opposition, the tanks firing continually as they went, scored a lot of hits on German infantry posts. On the left A Squadron was in among buildings on the road nearest the Savio, in an awkward position, facing heavy fire from a row of houses in front of it. The tanks were back in paratrooper country today, this was clear from the tenacity of the Germans. Every demolition— and there were a lot—was defended, and the tanks could not easily get round the craters because of the mines and mud in the fields.
What 18 Regiment's battle report calls ‘choppy fighting’ went on till well after dark. Several tanks were bogged and freed again after a lot of hard work. The Shermans put down an enormous volume of fire; they played very safe, shooting up every building and haystack, and towards the end of the day page 579 some of them had to call for more ammunition, which was scraped together (some of it by robbing the reserve tanks) and hurriedly sent forward.
Just after dark Clough's 12 Troop, leading C Squadron, overran a group of bazooka men lurking in the roadside drains, and a hard little fight flared up. Clough tells the story:
I decided to move my tanks out onto the road [from behind a house] and try to set things alight. The Hun was well established … in the drains and dugouts alongside the road.
Well my tank moved out first, but we only got onto the road when up jumped a Jerry right alongside of us with a Bazooka, and bang we copped it in the side; I ordered the driver to reverse back behind the farm house and checked for damage….
I decided to move out again but this time we had more clues and came out blazing at everything…. We were right on the corner when all hell seemed to hit us. The next I knew was seeing red in the bottom of the tank. I called Bale out, my gunner, wireless op and self jumped out and into the drain—on the non arrival of the driver … I jumped on to the tank and … asked him if the tank was heating up as I had seen a red blob, he said there is no fire here, so I called out a new army or tank order (Bale in), then off we went again….
We pulled in behind another farm house and got out to survey the damage. The wireless had gone bung. The 75 mm main gun had received a direct hit and was bent, my Bren had only the butt left…. At this stage a Spandau opened up on us; my driver was killed and I got shot up in the legs…. The drains were still full of Huns. So I decided we would move back to the original farm house.
The paratroopers followed up with a small, sharp counter-attack, but the 22 Battalion men were now in position and ready, and Jerry met such a warm reception that he soon faded away again, having apparently had enough. Apart from the casualties—Trooper Mick Brady 6 killed and two wounded —there had been very little damage to the tanks.
All through this action mixed and slightly incoherent reports filtered back to C Squadron headquarters:
- 1800 [hrs]: … While we were getting tea there were voices raised on air, sounded almost like panic. Jerry had countered & they [tks] were calling reinf. up & giving each other orders….page 580
- 1818: No. 1 being fired on by spandaus & bazookas. They are going flat out, firing everything.
- 1830: Jack Clough wounded in leg would not lie down or rest, & helped them with other chap … who was in a bad way….
- 1917: Itais round them report 100 Jerrys coming up road towards them, our inf report about 1 dozen….
- 1937: Inf occupying 3 houses, more Jerrys have come up & have them surrounded. Our tanks firing to keep them away from houses…. 2 tps have houses covered & are firing everything….
- 2000: Stonk going down just behind houses….
- 2002: Another stonk started.
- 2007: One of the tanks has forgotten he is on A set & is giving fire orders to his crew.
- 2019: No. 1 tp short of ammo want some sent up…. Had to strip our tank of ammo & load honey for tanks….
- 2112: Jerry shows signs of chucking it in.
C Squadron then settled down for the night. It was alone again now, except for the infantry, for A and B Squadrons had pulled back to Bagnile to fire their fake barrage. For all the good this was likely to do, the boys thought, there was a lot of work attached to it. Some of the tanks could not get clearance for their shells until trees were cut down in front. Bringing up the extra ammunition was no joke, for the roads were poor, narrow and greasy. The tanks shot off about 150 rounds each. The uproar kept everyone awake, but once it was over the night quietened down all along the New Zealand front. C Squadron, a bit on the jump after that counter-attack, posted double pickets, and fired a few shots at intervals all night to warn Jerry that we were awake and he had better not try any funny business.
Again that night it rained, and 22 October broke cold and threatening, the ground even more treacherous than before, the mud in the fields impossibly deep. Part of C Squadron pushed on at dawn with 22 Battalion towards Mensa, but went only a few hundred yards before the road was blocked by mines. As the infantry moved on alone, the tanks smoothed the way by shooting up the buildings ahead, including a tall, watchful tower just over the river in Mensa.
Nobody knew what was to happen now, and the tankies set to work to ‘re-ammo’ their steeds as fast as possible, for things were apt to break at short notice round here. The page 581 armourers and fitters came up to the squadrons to work on the tanks just in case. But no orders came through, only a delightful rumour that there was to be a relief, and that the Kiwis were pulling out of the line. Rumour soon became reality. During the day the New Zealand infantry were all relieved by Canadians, and 18 Regiment just sat where it was, waiting for someone to come and relieve it in turn.
That was the end of 4 Brigade's one and only armoured attack. It did not look as if, under winter conditions, there would be another. On paper it had worked all right, the tanks co-operating as they should with engineers and artillery, 22 Battalion moving close behind to take over the ground won by the tanks, and behind that again 6 Brigade to make a firm infantry position. The tanks had forged ahead when Jerry was not there, and had ‘liberated’ a lot of farms and small villages, quantities of wine, flocks of hens, herds of pigs. But the gluey mud, the dozens of tiny creeks and drains, the mines and demolitions, the bazookas and the Spandau teams had all combined to slow up the advance. Time after time the tank crews had prayed for infantry to do all sorts of little jobs on the spot, and when they most wanted help there had been no infantry around. The tank crews had had very little rest, and were very ready to stop at the end of their three days. With the roads in such a state it had not been easy to keep up supplies; ammunition in particular had given a lot of people headaches, and the Honey tanks had once again worked like packhorses to get it forward. They had also carried engineers all round the place, scouted round the lanes to find clear tracks forward for the bigger fellows, and sometimes had joined in the fighting as well.
Communications had worked reasonably well, with very little delay in getting the recovery people or the fitters forward when they were needed, but sometimes it had been infuriatingly difficult, for some obscure reason, to get hold of the tanks of your own squadron that were nearest to you. Here, again, the extra wireless traffic of a mobile battle had been rough on batteries, which had been running flat. And batteries were big, heavy, bulky things to bring forward.
The best thing had been the wonderful air support. The code arranged with the ‘shufti’ planes had worked well, and page 582 with these eyes working for them the tanks had often got on to their targets in double-quick time. The regiment's diary gives the ‘shuftis’ a special pat on the back:
Flying over us all the time they had located nearly everything. Gun and tank positions, and but for their invaluable co-operation casualties would have been much higher.
The Kittybomber ‘cab ranks’ had not been around all the time, but had given spectacular help, coming down and bombing just in the right spots, sometimes only a few hundred yards ahead of our tanks. On 20 October, while pulling back over the Savio, Jerry got the full treatment from the Air Force, and the noise of bombing and strafing and the snarl of engines round the river were almost continuous.
In other ways, too, this had been the noisiest battle anyone could remember. Jerry, in spite of the Air Force, had put down heavy concentrations of shells and Nebelwerfer bombs all over the place, and in return our guns and tanks had fired and fired till the crews were tired out and bemused with noise. Looking back, the battle seemed like a horrible nightmare in which the sequence of events was all mixed up and lost.
The Eighth Army's long-heralded advance across the Romagna had so far been a pretty dismal failure. In a month it had made no more than 20 miles. Now the Army Commander decided to regroup his divisions and try again. The New Zealanders were to go back into reserve for a while, to train and refit for another crack at Jerry. The beautiful dream of finishing him off before winter had been put right out of everyone's mind now. All were disappointed and disgruntled. Morale in 2 NZ Division was running pretty low; the soldiers' traditional growling held a new, sour note. Only the thought of leaving the cheerless Romagna now raised the spirits and brought a spark back into the eyes.
5 Tpr F. T. Attwood; born NZ 1 Nov 1922; farmhand; died of wounds 20 Oct 1944.