18 Battalion and Armoured Regiment
CHAPTER 43 — Flood Tide
Never yet had the 18th, either as infantry or armour, known the real thrill of the chase.
True, there had been fleeting hours in Italy—over the Melfa and Liii hills to Veroli, and forward from the Pisciatello River—when the tanks had whipped up some pace. And three and a half years before, from Bardia to Belhamed, 18 Battalion had chased Jerry hard for three days. But then Jerry had been stepping back in good order, and nobody had expected the fun to last long. Now it was quite different. The war, everyone was quite certain, was won. Jerry was in full flight, he was not likely to rally again, and where the 18th would end up was anyone's guess. No wonder spirits were high.
After the Idice, the Reno River—19 miles all in one day. Infantry clinging to the jolting tanks, singing as they rode. Every Italian a partisan, cheering the boys on with more flowers and eggs. A few holes in the road at one village, a few buildings blown down across it at another, a mine or two hastily and crudely planted here and there, a ruined bridge to hold things up for an hour or two. But no sign of Jerry in the flesh, except for an odd straggler eager to surrender. Better still, the countryside was suddenly almost intact again, the farms no longer flattened by bomb and shell, the civilians no longer afraid.
Then the Reno at four o' clock on a warm summer morning, miles of traffic jammed up on the one approach road, nothing to see ahead except a huge stopbank looming against the sky— for the Reno was the first of the big rivers, no mere glorified creek like the Senio and all the rest of them. Then a day of hanging round waiting for your turn to cross, and then a sudden call, a rush to get moving, another traffic jam, and finally the crossing, some tanks by a Bailey bridge, some by a steep-sided ford. Then, early next morning, away for the Po, that mighty river that for eighteen months had been spoken of with bated breath in 2 NZ Division.page 634
The Idice River to Padua, 22–29 April 1945
On from the Reno the story was much the same, but fewer demolitions, fewer stragglers, no mines. From the lanes north of the river, lined with piles of German ammunition all abandoned intact, it was a clear fast run to the Po, with hardly a sign of war, except German equipment left lying, German horses surprisingly left alive and well, German vehicles bombed out on the roadside. At the village of Bondeno some British Staghounds were perched up on an embankment firing shells into the town, for no reason that anyone could see. Anyway, nobody stopped to inquire. On they went to the south bank of the Po, and there they stopped, eyeing that great sheet of water, 250 yards wide, with straggly trees on the far side. What was under those trees was only guesswork.
That first afternoon C Squadron's leading tank crews watched from the stopbank as the first handful of men from 21 Battalion set out over the Po in a cockleshell boat, sharing the general anxiety as they neared the far shore and the almost audible relief up and down the bank as they came back without a shot fired. There was not much beneath those trees. Just enough to fire a few scattered shells up and down the roads on our side of the river that afternoon, but not enough to make a stand when 23 and 21 Battalions crossed in force that night. The tankies, or most of them, slept through it all. Only two troops of A Squadron from the top of the stopbank fired hard for a quarter of an hour as the assault boats were on their way across. By morning, when the boys woke up, the conquest of the Po was all over, the biggest, grandest anticlimax in the Division's history.
Just how much of an anticlimax the tankies realised when they had to kick their heels on the south bank, waiting their turn to get in the queue to cross. The morning after the assault—the 30th anniversary of Anzac—everyone went up to the stopbank to watch the ‘Po Regatta’, the collection of small craft of all shapes, with incongruous names like Ducks and Fantails, chugging to and fro, ferrying men and jeeps and mortars and anti-tank guns over, and swarms of engineers laboriously building the beginnings of a pontoon bridge, and other swarms putting up landing stages for the Shermans and whatever else wanted to cross. During the morning C Squadron moved up to lead the 18th over the river, but the Bailey page 636 pontoon raft that was to ferry the tanks was slow, and most of the crews still had hours to wait. The first Sherman touched the north shore just after 11 a.m.; by dusk that evening only seven were over. The ferry, working on through the night, had C Squadron across by 5 a.m. on 26 April, and then proceeded to take A Squadron (now under Major Greenfield) at about the same pace. The pontoon bridge was completed and working now, but evidently Shermans were beyond its capacity.
After the Po, the Adige, Italy's second biggest river. On 25 April, before the first tanks were over the Po, 23 and 21 Battalions were off in that direction. That evening the few C Squadron tanks that crossed before dark set off after them, but only as far as the Tartaro Canal, nine miles ahead, where Jerry had been at his old game of bridge-blowing. Next morning the rest of the squadron arrived, and, after wandering round for a bit to find its way over a series of canals, won out into drier country with a clear run to the Adige. On the way the leading tanks overtook some of the infantry, and finished the run, as at so many other places, with infantrymen all over them. By the roadsides were dozens of German vehicles, some wrecked, some perfectly good. At the little crossroads village of Crocetta there was a big dump of German guns in the yard of the local school. All along the way there were more eggs and wine pressed on the boys by the enthusiastic civilians. At the Adige the head of the column found the last Germans still straggling across, but there were no fireworks except a few brief Spandau bursts, for Jerry seemed more intent on getting away than on fighting the Kiwis.
That evening nine C Squadron tanks manned the Adige stopbank and fired over the river as the infantry prepared to cross. That was a spectacular ten-minute display in the dark, streams of tracer pouring across the water, then suddenly stopping as the assault boats pushed out from the shore. Then tense silence all along the river until the success signals appeared from the far bank. Apart from a shell or two that did no damage, Jerry had offered no more opposition here than at the Reno or the Po.
For two days now A and C Squadrons, with the infantry battalions, took things easy by the Adige, billeted in magnificent houses in the village of Badia Polesine. While 9 Brigade page 637 and the Gurkhas forged ahead northwards, and the engineers toiled to bridge the Adige and a series of smaller streams beyond, the tankies took the opportunity to catch up on a bit of maintenance and sleep, both overdue.
Meanwhile the rest of the regiment was still having its troubles back by the Po. Getting across that great river, even with Jerry miles away, was not so simple. There were still continuous traffic jams. Heavy rain on 27 April made the position worse. Regimental Headquarters had crossed before the rain began, and the soft-skinned echelons, which had been following up behind, moving a few miles every day or two, managed to get in the queues and made their way across piecemeal. B Squadron was right out of luck. On the evening of the 27th all tank movement over the river was stopped, giving place to all the urgent soft-skinned convoys that had been piling up on the south bank. Not till 1 May, after four more days of fretful idleness, did B Squadron get across the Po and set out to rejoin the regiment, now many miles away.
These were amazing days. The news that streamed in was of such magnitude that it numbed the mind. Germany was almost overrun; all her allies had deserted her; the war in Europe could not be a matter of more than a few days now. Here in Italy the way across the northern plains was wide open, and the Allied flood was pouring over them, the reward for a year and a half of sweat and blood.
It was not C Squadron's luck to be first into Padua. By 4 a.m. the head of the squadron was just on the southern outskirts, and there it stopped, everyone highly disgruntled to see the stream of traffic barging past into the town. Later in the morning Regimental Headquarters and A Squadron caught up, and in the afternoon on went the chase again. Through dignified old Padua, today struck by mad excitement, the citizens crowding every corner to cheer the convoys on their way; then out on the highway again, with 6 Brigade this page 639 time, and off eastwards towards Venice and the head of the Adriatic Sea, just as daylight began to fade.
More than anything else the name of Venice brought home to the boys the realisation that they were really ‘going places’. Everyone, even the most unlearned, knew all about Venice, but it had always seemed one of those half-legendary places that you would never really see. But now they were on their way there, only twenty miles away, going hell for leather in that direction, with nothing to stop them. Another beautiful moonlit night, the countryside visible for miles. It was worth looking at, too. The road ran along a big canal, sparkling in the moonlight and flanked by big opulent mansions, with page 640 statues and trees and fountains clearly visible; truly the Italy you had imagined from books, nothing like the poverty-ridden, backward, insanitary Italy that you had seen too much of in the past eighteen months. There was something magic in this night, despite the earthy touch provided by big bomb holes in the road, which slowed up the rush and made temporary traffic jams.
However, these were of no consequence. On the tide went, past the end of the causeway out over the lagoon to Venice— you could not see the city in the dark, no matter how you strained your eyes seaward—and on without a pause along Route 14, following the swing of the coast eastwards towards the Yugoslav frontier and the partisan soldiers of Marshal Tito, who were said to have chased Jerry out of their country and to be advancing west to meet the Eighth Army. Another 20 miles to the Piave River before C Squadron stopped, pulled up short by a very efficiently wrecked bridge. A Squadron, Regimental Headquarters and the soft-skinned vehicles stopped too, some seven miles past the Venice turnoff, for a little hard-earned sleep and respite from this ceaseless driving.
But tired as they were, swarms of the boys found their way back on 30 April, hitch-hiking on anything and everything that came along, and out across the causeway for a brief inspection of Venice. Quite illegal, but winked at by the authorities, who could not help knowing what was going on, as Route 14 was lined with Kiwis with one idea in mind, and Venice's main ‘streets’ were full of gondolas laden with lounging Kiwis who already looked as if they owned the place.
But only a comparative few of 18 Regiment could do this. C Squadron was away ahead of all the rest, and tied to its bivvy area, on notice to move on again any time. B Squadron was still over 70 miles back at the Po. And half of A Squadron spent a profitable day with companies of 23 Battalion, ‘liberating’ villages north of Route 14. Each tank, with a few infantrymen on board, worked independently. They were fêted by the Italians wherever they went; one found a German quartermaster's store, complete with safe well stuffed with money, and piles of boots and other necessaries which commanded a ready sale to the Italians; they helped the infantry page 641 round up some fifty assorted prisoners, who seemed mighty relieved to be in New Zealand hands rather than in the village partisans'. These partisans were everywhere, all bristling with arms, full of patriotic fire, volubly eager to welcome the liberators, talking vastly about rounding up local Fascists and putting them up against walls. A comic opera touch was creeping into the war round these parts, and the Kiwis were quick to enter into the spirit of anything like this.
But this cleaning up was more or less a sideline. The main problem was to get C Squadron over the Piave and on round the coast as quickly as possible. Three Honeys of the Reconnaissance Troop, under Sergeant Jock Black, spent 30 April hunting up and down the river for a ford, or another bridge, or anything that would get Shermans across. Ten miles north of Route 14 they found a ford, but not a very good one; while looking for a better place, Black's tank went into a bomb hole and foundered in ten feet of water, and his little force then came back for the night to the village of Meolo, three miles off the main road. C Squadron, desperate to get on, was already crossing the first ford, and all the Shermans made the far bank without accident.
All north Italy was now full of wandering bands of Germans, most of them with no fight left in them and quite ready to lay down their arms. But up from the coast on 30 April came a big party of odds and ends from all sorts of army and navy units, with all its arms and gear stacked in a great column of horse- and bullock-drawn waggons, and evidently commanded by an officer with more grit than most, determined to fight his way home out of Italy if he could. This column stumbled on a New Zealand engineer camp on the night of 30 April, attacked it desperately in passing, then made off in the dark with some prisoners before the sleepy Kiwis could collect their wits. Morning found the Germans at Monastier, near Meolo, a spot where the Kiwis had been roaming to and fro unmolested, and where nobody dreamt of trouble. Now it was almost empty of our troops, except for Sergeant Black's two Honeys and their crews busy fraternising with the Meolo partisans.page 642
Hearing from the partisans that this enemy was so near, Black at once led his party up towards Monastier, with three partisans riding on the tanks, eager to be in at the kill. At a road fork two miles outside Meolo the two tanks took different routes, hoping to outflank and overtake an armoured car that had retired in haste from the junction; but instead of an easy victim they met serious trouble. Only about 200 yards past the fork Black's tank ran into a group of Germans with bazookas and rifles and grenades. It was taken quite by surprise, hit and capsized before it could take any countermeasures. Trooper Savage 1 was killed, everyone else on board wounded and trapped in the tank. The other tank, coming up behind to help, struck the same opposition. Its commander, Corporal Bob McPartlin, 2 takes up the story:
Straight away we came under heavy fire and … the Italian guide accounted for two bazooka men. The enemy by this time was too numerous to handle, and I gave instructions to pull back out of range of the bazooka men. However we did not succeed, and we received a direct hit by a bazooka…. Trooper Williams 3 was killed while getting out of the tank and Trooper Wells 4 … while making for the ditch. Trooper Marfell 5 and myself were also wounded…. We had to abandon the tank as it was starting to brew up. We came under machine gun fire, and were bombarded with grenades, but eventually got clear, and returned to the village by bicycle.
This short little action made quite a stir in the regiment, first because of the casualties—three killed and five wounded was heavy for the armour any time, and especially now when the war was supposed to be all over but the washing up; second because of the exploit of Sergeant Black, one of the oldest and best-known soldiers in the 18th, who, himself wounded, hauled all the survivors out of his tank while surrounded by very hostile Germans, who refused all help and threatened to shoot the whole crew; third because of the page 643 staunch and effective help given by the Meolo partisan leader. These partisans, the boys had begun to decide, were full of talk, but this was the first time any of them seemed to have backed up the words with deeds.
It was as well for the Germans that they had not carried out their threat to shoot Black and his men, for their hours of freedom were numbered. Word of their presence near Meolo had already reached Divisional Headquarters, and even before the fight began half of 21 Battalion was on its way there with three troops of A Squadron. Not far past the scene of the action this column caught the Germans, who now surrendered in a body, some 1500 of them, with all their waggons full of gear, and the engineer prisoners from the previous night. ‘I was with the troops,’ says Major Greenfield, ‘and I was greatly angered by the arrogance of some of the German officers but I suppose it was that same spirit which had kept them going.’ A Squadron handed prisoners and gear over to 21 Battalion, then went back as soon as it could to rejoin the main column of 18 Regiment, which was moving off across the new pontoon bridge over the Piave.
It seemed fair enough now to expect an easy move; but the column spent a miserable cold night sitting on the road. Heavy rain that day had soaked everything, including the approaches to the bridge, so that the traffic moving up to cross jammed up for miles back. It rained again, too, a nasty driving rain, and the men huddled together in their vehicles, trying to keep dry and unfrozen. This Piave River was the one black spot on the regiment's victorious run round the head of the Adriatic. After their long day most of the tankies, drivers and all, were so tired they could not keep awake; then they would wake with a jerk, cramped and stiff. But before daylight on 2 May the whole convoy was across, and on its way again at full speed, in the wake of C Squadron.
C Squadron began it on 1 May, while the rest of the regiment was mopping up and waiting with little patience west of the Piave. After fording the river on the afternoon of 30 April the page 644 C Squadron tanks stayed the night at Santa Dona di Piave on the far bank. Early in the morning they were off, racing eastwards, 40 miles at full speed with never a sign of war, not even a blown bridge. Through towns and across big rivers without even stopping to find out their names. At San Giorgio, at the end of the 40 miles, the leading troop found itself unexpectedly surrounded by Germans, but they were disorganised and unwarlike, and wanted only to surrender and get this confusing business over and done with. An hour or two to stop and draw breath, then on again in the afternoon, 20 more miles, away ahead of the Allied forces, to the Isonzo River and the ship-building port of Monfalcone just beyond. Two troops, under Second-Lieutenants Barrance and Tatton, 6 were diverted a few miles north to Palmanova, where they came in for the usual loud welcome and were presented with some German prisoners by the partisans; but they did not know what on earth to do with these prisoners, and lost no time in passing them on to the first-comers and rushing back to rejoin C Squadron.
At Monfalcone, without any warning, C Squadron found itself face to face with Marshal Tito's partisans, and mixed up in a Balkan political turmoil, which was one situation for which none of the Kiwis' training had prepared them.
Tito's troops were not like any other soldiers the Kiwis had ever seen before, even the Greeks. Wild-looking, harsh, obviously strangers to soft living; down-at-heel, clad in old greeny-blue uniforms, some armed with queer old rifles, others with Spandaus and German rifles, all with great bandoliers of ammunition slung round them. No trucks or jeeps or cars, only mules patiently pulling carts or carrying great loads of gear. What impressed the boys most was the women, who marched with the men, lugged the same weapons and the same loads, and obviously shared every part of the men's life, asking and receiving no better treatment than anyone. Their repute had come before them, but until now nobody had quite believed it.
These partisan throngs, pouring over the border from Yugoslavia, had undoubtedly made the way easier for the Eighth Army by throwing Jerry into a panic and making him page 645 comparatively ready to surrender to the more civilised Kiwis coming from the west. But co-operation with the British was not in their scheme of things at all. They were the conquerors here, and the Eighth Army was intruding and had no right to be there. So C Squadron found on the evening of 1 May, when, wet through from the day's rain, tired out from hours of driving, it pulled into Monfalcone. The town was full of arrogant partisans, Yugoslav flags, big electric signs lauding Tito. The Kiwis, accustomed to the cheers of the crowds as they swept across the country, found themselves almost totally ignored.
What good C Squadron could do in Monfalcone was not quite clear. But next morning fresh orders arrived—go 14 miles inland to Gorizia to keep the peace, for there was trouble brewing there with the Yugoslavs.
Gorizia, standing on a plateau above the Isonzo River, was a graceful old town very different from the ugly, industrial Monfalcone, but when C Squadron arrived it was seething. Tito's troops were there, and were bulldozing their way round the place, with headquarters in the Town Hall, forcibly recruiting all the local men into their forces, dealing harshly with any who tried to protest, any who did not seem to be on their side, or indeed any they did not like the look of. Not far outside the town fairly heavy gunfire was going on; the boys seemed to have struck a little civil war, for in the hills, they learnt, was a band of Chetniks, irregular Yugoslav troops in violent opposition to Tito's forces. Already in the town was 26 Battalion, which had already done much to quieten the opposing sides; but it could not hope to maintain its attitude alone, hence the call for tanks to back it up. Something big and fierce was needed to tone down the rowdy demonstrations, both Titoist and Italian, which seemed likely to break out into open street fighting any time.
The Shermans were just the thing for this. Round the town they lumbered, sirens blaring and turrets swinging from side to side. They lined up outside the Titoist headquarters in the Town Hall, guns pointing politely but firmly in that direction. This undoubtedly went a long way towards keeping the peace that night. But next morning the situation was bad again— Tito's troops had rounded up Italians wholesale overnight, page 646 and feeling was running high again. The New Zealanders' bluff had been called, and there was nothing much they could do about it, short of opening fire in earnest, which they were forbidden to do. So the four days that the squadron spent in Gorizia were disturbed ones, and everyone was very pleased to pull out of the town on 6 May.
A Squadron also had its adventures on a big scale on 2 May.
Just as C Squadron had done twenty-four hours earlier, it raced east from the Piave, passing small groups of Germans here and there along the road, all eager to surrender but finding nobody interested. Regimental Headquarters and the rear echelons were left to camp at San Giorgio; A Squadron swung off Route 14 and up nine miles inland to Palmanova, where the Maoris were mopping up the last few Germans still at large.
This was a better place than Gorizia, for the Yugoslavs had not penetrated here, and so the Italians could indulge their enthusiasm for the Kiwis without restraint. It was nice to be heroes, even temporarily; while it lasted you could make a good thing out of it. It was an interesting town, too, this Palmanova—a queer-shaped place on the map, like a round flower with spiky petals sticking out all round it. The petals were huge old fortifications, moats and earthworks, and at all the entrances to the town were massive gates. Obviously Palmanova's history had not been all peaceful.
As soon as the tanks arrived 1 and 2 Troops, under Captain Dudley West, 7 were sent on northwards with the Maoris, another 13 miles at speed, to Udine, the biggest town between Venice and Trieste. There was nothing to do there, for 6 British Armoured Division and the Staghounds of 12 Lancers had already arrived from the west and stolen the Kiwis' thunder. But, as Second-Lieutenant Evans8 relates, ‘we still had a pleasant hour or two at the hands of the enthusiastic populace’. Then back to Palmanova for the night. Next morning, rather regretfully, both A Squadron and the Maoris had to move on in the rain to Monfalcone, as the growing tension with Tito's forces was dragging the whole of 2 NZ page 647 Division eastwards past the Isonzo towards the disputed port of Trieste, to be ready for anything.
After having seen little except dead flat country since Christmas, 18 Regiment was now back in the hills again. Poor, bare hills, thickly strewn with stones, scantily clothed with small scrubby trees and bushes; poor people in the villages, more like the peasants of southern Italy than the more favoured northerners that the 18th had met in the last ten months. But here it seemed that the local partisans had really done something more than talk, for the signs of Jerry's vengeance could be seen, here a farmhouse destroyed, there a humble village with every house unroofed and gutted.
Regimental Headquarters, out on the coast near Monfalcone, had a different kind of place again. A bad, swampy area, more suited for the frogs and mosquitoes that swarmed there than for human beings. But just by the camp was an elaborate system of fortifications, all built by Jerry and never used. Big guns intact in holes in the rock, caves crammed with ammunition, electric power still working, living quarters tunnelled out of solid rock, all beautifully fitted up, with air conditioning and all. These Germans might have had their bad points, but they were certainly thorough.
A and B Echelons were there too, very relieved to find the squadrons more or less stationary again. Since crossing the Po it had been a problem to keep the show going, for, as one man says, ‘the tanks were emptying their fuel tanks in just about the time it was taking for the trucks to shuttle to and fro’. There had been even less sleep for the truck drivers than for the tank crews.
Back now to B Squadron, which, after cooling its heels south of the Po for so long, finally crossed early on the morning of 1 May and set out on the long trek to catch the regiment. The miles of traffic jams had long dispersed, so that the squadron had a fairly clear run, apart from the mud at the Piave crossing, and provosts at the Tagliamento River who had had no instructions about B Squadron and did not want to let it through. The squadron, vexed at having been left out of all the fun, was in no mood to knuckle under to mud or provosts. On the evening of 2 May it rejoined Regimental Headquarters page 648 at San Giorgio, and 7 and 8 Troops went to 23 Battalion at the village of Malisana, two miles farther on.
It was the other two troops, 5 and 6, that had all the fun. On 3 May they were ordered out to the coast with two companies of 21 Battalion; nobody knew what this was all about, but Rumour said that there was a handful of Germans waiting to be picked up.
This was quite an understatement. Arriving at Lignano, a bleak spot on a sand spit covered with pines at the mouth of the Tagliamento River, they found the place swarming with Germans. There were thousands of them. On the beach or just off shore were several ships and boats from which the Germans had landed, and there were dozens of trucks, and 88-millimetre and smaller guns—it was a young army that they had caught.
The negotiations took several hours, but the tankies had nothing very active to do. While the commander of 21 Battalion talked terms to the senior German officer the tanks were there waiting with guns ready. Not till well on in the afternoon, after the Shermans had moved round a little and taken up threatening attitudes to hurry them up, did the Germans accept their hopeless position and meekly but sullenly lay down their arms. They marched away, all 5000 of them, the tanks shepherding them as far as Route 14. There they were taken off westward, and 18 Regiment saw them no more.
The same day B Squadron moved on with 23 Battalion to Duino, six miles past Monfalcone, on top of a high cliff overlooking the deep blue Gulf of Trieste, and now the whole of the regiment was beyond the Isonzo River after its 300-mile push from the Senio, with one war behind it at last, and what looked like another in front of it.
Amid all the adventures of those days, so fantastic that they seemed like a dream when you thought back on them later, the official end of the war against Germany, first in Italy on 2 May, then throughout Europe on the 7th, made strangely little impression on the Kiwis' minds. They had long grown used to the idea that the tide was running out for Jerry. Most of the boys were quite unexcited about it, even a trifle flat, as if their occupation had suddenly been taken from them. In any case, page 649 the new situation with Tito's hordes east of the Isonzo had driven Jerry right into the background.
These partisans of Tito's were throwing their weight about. They had beaten the British to the Isonzo, certainly, and according to their ideas they, and they alone, had a right to the place. They claimed the port of Trieste, which they now shared with the Kiwis, 9 NZ Brigade having reached it before Jerry officially tossed in his hand. However, the New Zealand orders were to stand firm and take no nonsense; and these found full support in the Division, for the attitude the partisans took up, swaggering round the place, holding long processions with flags wagging, using the strong arm against the civilians, very soon got the Kiwis' backs up. If Tito wants to fight us for this place, all right, we'll take him up on it—this state of mind quickly became general. Not that the Yugoslavs went out of their way to pick quarrels with the Kiwis, but even without that there were nasty little incidents which sometimes threatened to break out into shooting. The New Zealanders were ordered to carry arms wherever they went, and plans were laid for action in case there was an explosion.
But there was no explosion, though for a whole month the Division sat on a live bomb. Fifth Brigade moved up from Monfalcone to the coast just outside Trieste, all ready for trouble over the port, and A and B Squadrons went too; but this occupation of ‘tactical positions’ turned into a lovely summer holiday, with swimming, sports, parties, dances, and next to no work, even though, now that Jerry was out of the way and there was little else to do, disciplinary ‘red tape’ and spit and polish suddenly appeared in 18 Regiment again, to the loud disgust of the individualists. Then, in mid-June, when Tito agreed to leave Trieste and the danger of an outbreak receded, the 18th concentrated at Villa Opicina, on the plateau above Trieste. B Squadron spent a few days out beyond Trieste with 23 Battalion, manning road blocks on the hot dusty highlands at the new boundary between Kiwis and Yugoslavs; then it, too, moved back to Opicina, and the holiday continued. Week after week of hot sunshine, the Gulf of Trieste sparkling with that unrivalled Mediterranean blue, the city and its beaches thronged with shapely, vivacious girls, the citizens full of hospitable gratitude to these men from the page 650 other side of the world who had saved them from Tito's tyranny. What a way to spend a summer! If all wars end this way, said the boys, then lead us to another one any time.
But all summers and all holidays come to an end. Late in July 18 Regiment said goodbye to its faithful tanks, destined now probably for a shameful end on the scrap heap. Then away from Trieste with many regrets, leaving many wet eyes behind; down through northern Italy past the old battlefields at the Senio and the Lamone and Rimini, past Fabriano, back to Lake Trasimene, from where the regiment had set out on its advance towards Arezzo and Florence just over a year earlier.
And here, as the summer drew towards its end, the final slow dissolution of 18 NZ Armoured Regiment began.
4 Tpr R. A. Wells; born NZ 15 Sep 1920; orchard hand; killed in action 1 May 1945.