20 Battalion and Armoured Regiment
CHAPTER 18 — From Florence to the Savio
North-east of Geppetto the regiment waited in reserve while to the west New Zealand infantry closed on Empoli. The tanks were likely to be called on at short notice and the RMO at once began a medical check of all tank crews, C Squadron first, so that any exhausted or battle-weary man could be rested or replaced before the next action. Reorganisation and maintenance began at once and some scout cars were handed in in return for some more Honeys, of which there were now eleven in the regiment. The officers had a conference on cooperation between tanks and infantry, and twelve of them, including Colonel Purcell and the Adjutant, went off to see a demonstration of the new petrol-engined Cromwell. In the event the new tank was not used in Italy, the chief objections to it being that its fuel was thought to be more inflammable than that of the diesel-burning Shermans and the possibility of difficulties in supplying both petrol and diesel oil for tanks of both types in the same regiment. In any case, the tank crews were more than satisfied with their reliable Shermans.
While the RMO took blood pressures and the regiment's audit board examined its accounts, crews and fitters worked on their vehicles. The IO and the Signals Officer attended instruction on the new slidex signals procedure, which from 1 September was to take the place of the doubtfully secure codex. This instruction was in turn passed on to officers and NCOs from each squadron.
The week's rest (if being in reserve ready to go into action at the drop of a staff officer's pencil can be called rest) ended on the 14th when 4 Armoured Brigade was relieved by an American infantry battalion. Geppetto and Ginestra were too close to the front line for comfort and a nervy enemy still had shells to spare for an erratic search of the neighbourhood or to rebuke any speeding driver whose vehicle raised too large a cloud from the dusty roads. This was the reason why tents and vehicles were camouflaged, and at night there was a strict blackout. page 477 The regiment, fortunately, had no casualties, but no one was really sorry when on the afternoon of the 14th it moved farther back to an area about five miles north of Siena, the same place among the oaks where the tanks had laagered on 22 July on the way north into battle. One B Squadron man (Trooper Bob Gray1) was killed and three men injured on the back way when their tank got out of control on the twisty road and went over a bank.
At Siena the rest really began, with trips to see the art treasures and historic churches and buildings of this famous town, perhaps the most beautiful and most charming of Italian hill cities; trips to Rome for a six-day spell on leave; and daily trips and overnight leave to the beach near Follonica, where the men spent the time lazing in the warm, glassy water or lolling about in the shade of the pines while the sun baked the sand from a cloudless sky. On some days, though, the clouds would begin to gather and turn black, and suddenly the rain would come pelting down in huge drops or freeze as it fell into hailstones bigger than most New Zealanders had ever seen before. The thunder would growl among the hills for a while and then the storm would be over, almost as suddenly as it had begun. Within a few minutes the hot sun would have removed all trace of it.
When there is leave to be had and money to spend, most New Zealand soldiers can amuse themselves, but an official effort by the regiment on the 17th to entertain them at a ‘tin horse’ race meeting proved a great success. (Part of the fun was in the naming of the horses, with their broad references to unit doings, rumours, and the Division's personalities: Bambino by Kiwi out of Mepacrine, First In by Springbok out of Courtesy, Cross's Consternation by Tedeschi out of Trees, Merrie England by Footballers out of Div.). Ten per cent of the ‘tote’, over £40, went to the regimental fund.
Disguised as ‘Colonel Kent’ in topee, sun glasses, and a khaki drill uniform ‘splashed with orders’, Mr Churchill made a hurried visit to the Division on 24 August, when he was driven in an open yellow tourer through troops lining the road to Castellina. Units were told only that a ‘very important personage’ would page 478 be passing through and were advised that ‘troops are requested to cheer’; had the men been told the name of their visitor this unhappy official request would not have been necessary. Among the troops lining the road were four hundred members of the regiment.
Churchill's visit, Operation TOHEROA the Division's staff labelled it, marked the end of the rest. Next day the leave parties returned from Rome and Siena, an advanced reconnaissance party under Captain Jordan left for Iesi, and the tanks set out in the afternoon on their own tracks for Foligno on the first stage of a move of 220 miles or more across the backbone of the Apennines to the Adriatic. The crews of the Honey tanks and carriers set off after the tanks on the afternoon of the 27th, but the rest of the regiment had time to pack and to see a performance by the Kiwi Concert Party before beginning their journey about nine o'clock next morning.
The war diary says nothing about the journey except that it was done by the wheeled vehicles in two long stages on the 28th and 29th, with a halt the first night at Foligno. The tanks took two days to reach Foligno, doing hops of about 60 miles a day and staging the second night at Sant' Eraclio, a couple of miles down Route 3 from Foligno, and ‘writing off’ about fifty bogies on the way. Tank moves began at 4 a.m. and had to be finished by half past ten each night at the latest so as not to hold up the wheeled convoys. Between Foligno and Iesi there were many wearying stops on the narrow mountain roads, in parts of which the dust lay in drifts a foot thick. It was not at all unusual to spend four hours going 20 miles.
Apart from the bogey changes at the staging areas and a new set of tracks for the T2 at Foligno, the regiment's tanks completed the journey without major mishap. It wasn't an easy journey, especially over the mountains, where the road climbed through rocky gorges and looped down steep hillsides, but the drivers were skilled and the technical staff efficient. From Foligno on the regiment's Shermans were carried on transporters, except for a section of about seven miles over the steepest part of the road.
If some found the journey tiring, others in the wheeled convoy found plenty to interest them. It was autumn. Tobacco crops were being harvested and in almost every farmyard the page 479 farmers and their families were busy husking corn. Maize cobs, drying in the sun, hung in clusters from farmhouse walls and clothes lines and from the branches of trees. Orchards and olive groves and belts of oak trees climbed right to the crests of the hills. Here and there a tiny village huddled in a steep valley high in the hills or perched recklessly on a narrow plateau.
The last stage of the journey ran from Macerata through Filottrano to Iesi, a dusty, undistinguished town on the Esino River. Some miles beyond the town the regiment bivouacked in an orchard. The nearest beach, near Falconara, was soon found, and trucks each day took parties for a swim. (On 31 August the temperature in the shade reached 100 degrees.) A nearby airfield filled the day with noise as our bombers ground away at enemy bases and communications. At night there were the usual concerts and picture shows and ‘vino parties’ to pass the time before bed—‘last night three of us drank four litres and am I bad this morning!’
A surprise assault against the eastern end of the Gothic line was being planned by Eighth Army and everywhere there was a feeling in the air that this was the last lap. The Division was in army reserve, with 3 Greek Mountain Brigade under its command. The Army's plan was to break through into the Lombardy plain, north of the Marecchia River, before the autumn rains began in October. The enemy still had twenty-seven divisions left in Italy; some of ours had been taken for the landing in Southern France.
After some preliminary skirmishing by the Poles on the Metauro River, the main attack opened an hour before midnight on 25 August. The Division expected to be free until the end of the first week in September, but on 29 August the three field regiments were called on to strengthen the guns pounding the Gothic line across the Foglia River, and next day moved forward under the command of 1 Canadian Corps.
The regiment was not disturbed until 4 September and had little incident to record. After the long move some of the tanks required attention and maintenance, but they were soon put in fighting trim. Those men concerned with signals and communication practised the new slidex code; on the 2nd, a very hot day, the CO held a regimental parade and inspection; on page 480 the 3rd, a national day of prayer and the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of war, the regiment got a wetting in a thunderstorm and a new RSM, WO I ‘Hobby’ Hobson,2 ex-Coldstream Guards, to replace Sergeant-Major Tim Clews, who had left early in August to take up an appointment with the Prisoner-of-War Repatriation Unit in England.
Before breakfast on the 4th the tanks packed up and headed back to Iesi, where they were loaded on transporters and taken north to Fano. The carriers followed that night in convoy with 22 and 24 Battalions—the regiment was now under the command of 6 Brigade—and had a rough and dusty four-hour ride over side roads. The ‘wheels’ followed last on 6 September in greater comfort by the main highways, Routes 76 and 16, an early morning move of about 30 miles. The new area was just south of Fano and close to an excellent beach.
A few days earlier Fano had been enemy territory, an outpost of the Gothic line just north of the Metauro River. It was a busy road junction, and its battered houses and streets were still being cleared of mines. Streams of vehicles were pressing forward to support the battle, and crowds of Italian refugees who had found more peaceful lodgings and hiding places while the battle flowed past their homes were now returning in force to claim them. Some of the crews found accommodation in houses; others were less comfortable in bivvy tents right beside a fighter airfield.
On the evening of the 6th the regiment paraded for Brigadier Inglis who was relinquishing the appointment of Commander 4 Brigade to the recently appointed second - in - command, Colonel Pleasants.3 The Brigadier was in a reminiscent mood, his eye less critical and his tongue less sharp than other parades had known them. Looking forward, he spoke about the armistice, about rehabilitation when the men returned home. It is recorded that in the middle of his speech he discovered that his pipe had set the pocket of his trousers on fire, but he continued without interruption, nonchalantly beating out the fire as he page 481 spoke. Brigadier Inglis was one of the most colourful of the senior officers of the Division, a fine soldier and a grand leader. He had commanded the Division at various times, notably in the critical days of Ruweisat and El Mreir in the summer of 1942, and had commanded 4 Brigade almost continuously since August 1941.
And now the weather took a hand again. On the 7th, after a thunder shower or two earlier in the month, it rained hard, postponing a small-arms shoot in the regiment and, much more important, giving the enemy a chance to stabilise on the Coriano ridge and bring the Eighth Army's advance to a stop. In some hard fighting, mostly by the Poles and Canadians, the army had cracked the coastal sector of the Gothic line around Pesaro and had won a bridgehead over the River Conca, but by the end of the first week in September the enemy had recovered from the shock of the Allies' first punch and was fighting back. Now the rivers rose, airfields were bogged and planes grounded, and the ground quickly became muddy, making vehicle movement difficult, especially off the main roads. The three field regiments, having had disappointingly little to do in the assault on the Gothic line, were now back with the Division, which although still in reserve was making plans to thrust its 6 Brigade forward in pursuit should the Canadians succeed in breaking through.
At midnight on 10 September the Division passed to 1 Canadian Corps' command. The Division was now under the command of Major-General Weir, temporarily replacing General Freyberg who, on 3 September, had added to his battle scars yet another wound when the reconnaissance plane in which he was being flown tipped over in a gust of wind and crashed while landing on the airstrip at Eighth Army's tactical headquarters.4
At 6 a.m. on the 12th the regiment's wheeled vehicles left Fano and headed north-west along Route 16, ‘Munich Road’, following the coast. The convoy passed through Pesaro about half past six, turned right along ‘Hat’ route, then continued over low foothills past anti-tank ditches and concrete pillboxes recently held by the enemy until it reached 6 Brigade's area about a mile south of Gradara. The tanks followed north in the afternoon, and last—an unusual place for them—came the page 482 scout cars and Honeys of the reconnaissance troop. A Squadron was attached to 25 Battalion, C to the 24th, and B was in reserve.
Monaldini and Monticelli were small farm settlements on the Marano lateral road between a quarter and half a mile south-west of San Lorenzo. The Greeks had partly captured them in an attack made early on the morning of 14 September but had been beaten back after severe losses. A task force from 22 Battalion was then called forward to give the Greeks ‘moral and physical support’ when the attack was made again that night. This time, too, they would have tanks to help them.
B Squadron received its orders at noon on 14 September, had a hurried lunch, and at one o'clock left Gradara for 22 Battalion's headquarters, just south of Riccione. Half the squadron —5 and 6 Troops under Captain Familton—was posted to the left flank to support the Greeks' attack on Monaldini, while the other half—7 and 8 Troops under Major Clapham—was to support a 22 Battalion platoon's attack on Monticelli after Monaldini had been captured. Familton's troops were each attached to a platoon of Greeks, and an interpreter took Lieutenant Cross (5 Troop) forward to reconnoitre routes and positions. Cross was intrigued by the Greeks' ‘Jack-in-the-box’ trick with a little anti-tank gun: they would rush it outside the house in which they were sheltering, fire a few rounds, and then drag it back inside before the enemy's mortars caught them in the open.
At 5.45 p.m. Lieutenant Shacklock's troop (No. 6) moved across the creek (the Rio Melo) west of Casa Fagnoni with the Greeks. While Shacklock reconnoitred fire positions for his tanks, 7 Troop (Second-Lieutenant Innes) was switched to Familton's half-squadron to give supporting fire on Monticelli, its own objective, while Monaldini was attacked. This troop had difficulty in crossing the creek and the bombardment began at 7.25 without its help.
The attack on the first settlement was over in half an hour. At half past seven Cross's troop and his Greeks moved off the start line through the rows of vines and shrubs; at eight he reported Monaldini in our hands after little opposition. Shacklock's guns were by now turned on Monticelli, 500 yards north-east of Monaldini, until Innes's troop arrived to take over. At a quarter past eight Shacklock and his platoon of Greeks moved forward to Monaldini and consolidated on the road north-east of the settlement; half an hour later Innes came through these page 484 positions, picked up the 22 Battalion platoon, and moved into Monticelli. The enemy cleared out as the attackers approached.
It wasn't a difficult attack and there had been no casualties in the regiment5 and little heavy fighting; but it was a good exercise in tank tactics in close support of infantry. There were only about eight buildings and a handful of Germans in Monaldini. ‘About six dead Germans and their two spandaus were all we captured,’ says Cross. ‘The rest (if any) had fled.’ The Greek infantry were not impressive: ‘I had a hard job to get them to keep up with the tanks during the approach and a harder job to get them to pass the tanks and occupy the houses —they seemed to expect us to drive into each house in front of them.’
Captain Familton confirms this opinion (‘The Greek infantry did not seem to have many clues and merely followed the tanks’), but there was no doubt of their appreciation of the tanks' help. ‘About 0200 hours next morning,’ says Familton, ‘a deputation of Greek officers waited on me and through the interpreter made very happy little speeches about this further example of co-operation between the Greeks and their old allies and friends the New Zealanders.’
Protected by a platoon from 22 Battalion, the tanks remained in support during the night and at dawn the Greeks pushed on to the Marano River. B Squadron was then relieved shortly after midday by a squadron from 18 Regiment and returned to Gradara.
Meanwhile the rest of the regiment was enjoying its stay at Gradara. The weather was fine, the swimming good, and there were football matches to play in or to watch. (There had been talk of an NZEF team to tour the United Kingdom and competition for a place in the regiment's team was keen.) The beach at Cattolica, a typical Adriatic seaside resort that had once swarmed with brightly painted bathing sheds and gay beach umbrellas, was now ringed by barbed wire and forbidding pillboxes, some of them camouflaged to resemble ice-cream booths. At dusk men climbed the castle hill to watch the tiny flickering of the guns away to the north.page 485
While the Canadians advanced slowly north-west behind a wall of shellfire, ‘ploughing up the whole countryside and carpeting us with bombs’—the phrase of an enemy commander— the regiment made preparations to follow north with 6 Brigade. There was some reorganisation when the commander of B Squadron, Major Clapham, was sent to hospital. He was succeeded by Major Barton, C Squadron's old commander. The main appointments in the regiment on 17 September were:
|HQ Squadron||Major Coote|
|A Squadron||Major Bay|
|B Squadron||Major Barton|
|C Squadron||Major Rolleston|
After an earlier postponement, which at least gave tank commanders time to sort their maps and aerial photographs, the move north took place on the 18th. The new laager area was a dusty, noisy one near Riccione, ringed by batteries of 25- pounders and medium guns which kept banging away at the enemy positions on San Fortunato ridge and around Rimini. There was always the prospect, too, that the enemy might hit back and the orders demanded ‘100 per cent camouflage’. Farther north, destroyers lying off shore behind a smoke screen shelled enemy positions near the coast. Three days were spent there, much of the time in endless conferences making preparations for the coming battle; and of course it rained, heavily, the dust turned to mud, and the move was postponed for twenty-four hours. Two MMs, Corporal Jim Bell's and Sergeant Mac West's, both immediate awards, came to the regiment on the same day, both to B Squadron. Both were won on the same day (it will be remembered) in the squadron's advance to Campoli on 1 June.
But these were medals won in old battles and now the time had come to win new ones. (‘Oh well, it won't be long now,’ everyone said.) So far the Division had only been ‘represented’ in the offensive—by artillery, by tank squadrons, by a company of 22 Battalion, and by its latest attachment, the Greeks. Since the battle began on 25 August Eighth Army had advanced some page 486 30 miles in 26 days, just over a mile a day, and had had over 14,000 casualties, say 500 for every mile won. And the miles had had to be won too: against paratroopers as determined as German paratroopers anywhere can be; against dug-in Panther turrets showing above ground only the top of a heavily armoured skull and a 75-millimetre gun; against the dominating ridge of San Fortunato. One village had changed hands ten times in attack and counter-attack.
By 21 September, helped on the last night by the heavy rain, the enemy had withdrawn across the Marecchia, a wide, sprawling river with many channels which enters the sea at Rimini. Field-Marshal Kesselring had misgivings about this withdrawal, feared the dangers of fighting in open country, and confessed—in a telephone conversation with General Vietinghoff—to ‘a horrible feeling that the whole show will crack’. ‘Every single man in the area must go into the front line, even the clerks,’ he ordered, ‘—every man that can be scraped up.’
A Squadron was the first to move. With 25 Battalion, three Honey tanks, a bridgelayer tank and a troop of Mios, and known as ‘Greenforce’, it left at half past eight on the morning of the 22nd for an area near San Fortunato, about a mile and a half south-west of Rimini. A quarter of an hour later C Squadron, with 24 Battalion and the same attachments (‘Redforce’) followed, going farther north to a point west of Rimini. Regimental Headquarters, B Squadron, and the echelons brought up the rear a couple of hours later.
The tanks laagered in open orchard country. A low ridge less than a mile ahead was still being shelled and from time to time enemy shells in retaliation fell in or near Rimini. This should have been sufficient warning that the enemy was still close enough to hit back, but in any unit there are always some fearless men too brave or too tired or too lazy to dig a place to sleep. During the night enemy shells landing in C Squadron's area caught some infantrymen sleeping above ground. Two men from the reconnaissance troop, Corporal Bradley6 and Trooper Ian Gilmore,7 were fatally wounded while helping with the casualties. One of the shells hit Lieutenant Jack page 487 Dawkins's tank and set fire to a box of phosphorus grenades. Lieutenant Dawkins and Corporal Allan Donald8 were badly burned while trying to put out the fire. A second C Squadron tank had its front sprocket blown off and had to be replaced.
North of Rimini the Po valley, ‘flat, endless, featureless, half-hidden in a fine drizzle’, stretched away to a horizon that promised new sights and cities—the end of the war, perhaps, and home.9 At first glance it was the sort of country that made a tank crew thrill with the prospect of swift advances and the exhilaration of the chase. In the air could be felt something of the ‘breakthrough’ spirit of North Africa—a feeling that great events were imminent. In the Divisional Cavalry, for instance, a padre had eager listeners to his lectures on what to see in Venice. By the end of September the last of these illusions had been driven far away. Rain, a dogged defence, the marshy plain of the Romagna—low-lying, thick with villages and small farms, quartered by canalised rivers flowing between high stop-banks—casualties and sickness: these were the Division's fortune in the weeks to come. Instead of a breathless rush from city to city, the advance became a tiring slog from village to village— from casa to casa.
The nights and days of 21 and 22 September had brought the Division into the front line. On the tactics of the boxer's double left to set the range for a crashing right, 5 Brigade attacked through the Canadians' Marecchia bridgehead to, first, the Canale dei Molini and then to the Scolo Brancona before 6 Brigade passed through at dawn on the 23rd. Against lighter opposition from Turcoman troops in the coastal strip, 22 (Motor) Battalion of 4 Armoured Brigade, its planned role more or less that of keeping the front straight and tidy, set the pace almost to the Rio Fontanaccia, 6 Brigade's first objective.
It is now time again to tell each squadron's story separately, starting with A Squadron and the 25 Battalion group. In a sense this force was a revival of the battle group of Western Desert days, and besides 25 Battalion and A Squadron's sixteen Shermans and three Honeys consisted of a troop of four Mios page 488 from 7 Anti-Tank Regiment's 31 Battery, one bridge-layer tank, one section of 17-pounders, a section of a British battery of 105-millimetre self-propelled guns, and a section of engineers with two bulldozers and equipment to build a 100-foot Bailey bridge.
The third tank of the troop was far enough back to escape the trap and it withdrew to a house, the Casa Soleri, about 150 yards from the corner. Here it joined up with the battalion's Bren and mortar carriers and consolidated. No. 3 Troop came forward about nine o'clock to strengthen the position.
No. 1 Troop under Lieutenant Morris brought up the rear of the squadron. After a long wait near Orsoleto the troop came forward in the afternoon. Morris picked up two of the infantry company commanders and reconnoitred ahead to the Route 16 junction, ‘where it was obvious all was not well’. The reconnaissance party sheltered for a while at the school, made contact with Lieutenant Howorth of C Squadron supporting 24 Battalion, and decided in the meantime to consolidate rather than try to advance further. About 5 p.m. Morris took his troop along the squadron's correct route towards the Fontanaccia and, with the infantry, later occupied houses covering the road leading to the river. Small pockets of enemy were still in the area, but apart from small-arms and spandau fire from the direction of the river no resistance was met.
Over at the Casa Soleri ‘there were Germans everywhere’ page 490 and the infantry mortars and Brens had some excellent shooting at short range. The enemy covered the road leading forward to this strongpoint and held up the infantry advanced guard, which was forced to take up positions in houses by the Scolo Brancona crossing. Patrols were sent out and a platoon managed to reach the house. In the middle of the afternoon a company of 24 Battalion advancing on the left of Route 16 got through and 3 Troop and the remaining tank of No. 2 were relieved. The tanks then moved forward with A and C Companies of 25 Battalion towards the Fontanaccia, consolidating in houses about 200 yards east of the river about 9 p.m.
Here the tank crews spent a confused and worrying night. The infantry were being troubled by snipers who were ‘all around the place’. Early in the night considerable enemy movement, including the noise of tanks was heard, and an attack to dislodge the New Zealanders from their houses was expected. Artillery concentrations, one of them close enough to blow Lieutenant Morris back into his own turret while he was sitting on the cupola of his tank, quietened the enemy. During the night Sergeant Dave Clark13 and Trooper Rae14 of 1 Troop were wounded when a shell fell in the doorway of their farmhouse.
Sergeant Fergus from 2 Troop replaced Clark as 1 Troop's sergeant, a move which took him from the frying pan into the fire. Fergus, it will be remembered, had lost his tank in the crater at the Route 16 junction, and next morning he had another shot up under him. Corporal Jim Becker15 had taken over Sergeant Clark's position at the farmhouse on the road leading to the Fontanaccia when Clark was wounded, and in the morning he found that his tank was ditched. Fergus moved up to pull him out but was fired on from the river crossing. A direct hit set his tank on fire. Becker was wounded.
The other troop in this area, No. 3, and the corporal's tank of 2 Troop were relieved by 4 Troop before dawn on the 24th page 491 and withdrew to squadron reserve. The troop commander's tank, however, was left behind, bogged. It was recovered by the T2 next day.
A Company of 25 Battalion continued its probes towards the river during the morning and also made some progress along the road towards Route 16. Spandaus covered the open ground between its positions and the river, about 200 yards away, and were engaged by the tanks of 1 and 4 Troops. The enemy paratroopers maintained an aggressive defence, on one occasion holding their fire until one of our infantry patrols was only six yards away. One of the 4 Troop tanks sent forward to clean up this strongpoint was hit by a bazooka and set on fire. Later in the morning C Company commander's Honey tank was also knocked out and set on fire, Major Handyside16 being wounded.
In the early afternoon enemy self-propelled guns and tanks —nine tanks were reported in one area about 1000 yards west of the Fontanaccia—firing from the leafy cover of grape-vines across the river inflicted losses in both troops. No. 4 Troop in C Company's area had a second tank knocked out. Both companies and the surviving tanks withdrew at 7 p.m. to clear the ground for the barrage which was to open that night's attack and to form up ready to follow it in.
Advancing on either side of Route 16 on the morning of 23 September, C Squadron's 11 Troop (Second-Lieutenant John Howorth) took the left of the highway and 10 Troop (Second-Lieutenant de Lautour) the right, each with a company of 24 Battalion. After a slow but uneventful move up, the tanks and their infantry passed through the 21 Battalion positions on the Brancona about half past eleven. Opposing them were enemy machine-gun posts in houses about 300 yards north of the river. Their objective, the Rio Fontanaccia, was about 1500 yards away.
The advance began under a screen of artillery fire, with the enemy guns and mortars hitting back. The enemy had already blown the Route 16 crossing on the Brancona and the tanks of both troops had to wait until the stream had been bridged by page 492 a Valentine. It was nearly three o'clock before they rejoined their companies.
B Company, on the right, had made the faster progress, but by the time 10 Troop reached it was pinned down on the Scolo Valentina, a ditch about 400 yards from the Fontanaccia. The troop was heavily mortared, fortunately without loss. It gave supporting fire to the company's right-hand platoon, which later in the afternoon was able to push ahead, one section reaching the Fontanaccia. When darkness fell the forward platoons withdrew a little way and the company consolidated. The troop withdrew across the Brancona and harboured for the night.
We were right up with D Coy just in front of a casa. The Jerries opened up on the infantry, who went to ground, and then we saw the ugly snout of the Tiger poke its nose around a corner. We didn't stand a chance. I am not sure but I think there was only one shot fired by the Tiger. Our tank went up in flames straight away.
I shall never forget the agony of dragging myself from that burning tank with a busted leg while Jerry used me as a target. As you know, Tprs Burgess,18 Forde,19 and myself were the only ones who got out of that tank, but Tpr Burgess was killed immediately. Later that night there was a tank moving around the area and I was scared that it would run me over as I wasn't able to move.
This happened, according to Peebles's memory, about half past four. The tank commander, Sergeant Bill Craig,20 and Troopers Burgess and Mann21 were killed and the other two of the crew wounded. The house where the shooting took place, one of the group which formed the Case Benicelli, was about 600 yards from the Fontanaccia and marked the limit of D Company's advance. The company later withdrew to the Casa Soleri for the night. With Germans all around him, page 493 Peebles ‘played possum’ until he was evacuated next night by the infantry.
At dawn on the 24th B Company of 24 Battalion pushed on to the Fontanaccia. It was supported by Second-Lieutenant Allan Hadfield's22 troop (No. 12) which had come forward just before dawn, losing one tank over a bank on the way up. Two platoons reached the Fontanaccia without opposition. Some of their sections crossed the river and pushed on through grapevines to a house about 100 yards beyond it. The enemy's machine-gunners found the intrusion unwelcome, snipers began to look for targets, and soon his guns and mortars began to take a hand to wipe out the salient. Covered by fire from the two 12 Troop tanks and screened by smoke laid by the artillery, an attempt was made to withdraw the forward platoons. However, the enemy's fire was so heavy that it was decided they should hold their positions rather than suffer casualties in withdrawing. Under covering fire from the tanks, the platoons managed to move back early in the afternoon to the lateral road south of the Scolo Valentina, the men wading waist deep along the canal for part of the way. The sections isolated in the house across the Fontanaccia could not be warned of the withdrawal but returned safely at dusk just in time for the fittest of the party to be sent back across the river again in the brigade attack.
C Squadron's fourth troop, No. 9, commanded by Sergeant Owen Hughes, also made a sortie forward that morning but was not committed to action. It had been planned that 24 Battalion should relieve a company of 22 (Motor) Battalion and a 19 Regiment squadron on the coastal sector, and at 11 a.m. 9 Troop and a company of the 24th moved up the coast road. This plan was changed later in the day and at 5 p.m. 9 Troop returned to its old area.
Apart from the 24 Battalion platoons which had reached and crossed the Fontanaccia early that morning, the New Zealanders were still no nearer the river when the day ended. The fight had been stubborn, the defence dogged, the attack determined. ‘During the last 36 hours the division has beaten off 27 attacks page 494 in battalion strength,’ said 1 Parachute Division's report on the day's fighting. It added that all attacks had been beaten back with heavy loss to both sides. The New Zealanders were to make another attempt that night.
The barrage began on the Fontanaccia at twenty minutes to eight, and at eight the two 6 Brigade battalions—24 Battalion on the right, two companies up, and 25 Battalion on the left, on a three-company front—moved up to the river. With each company was a troop of 20 Regiment tanks, in most cases a troop in name only and well below strength. A Squadron, supporting 25 Battalion, had only six tanks; C with 24 Battalion had a few more but gives no details in its report. East of the page 495 railway line in the coastal sector the Motor Battalion, with two companies forward, had its usual conforming role.
Designated a ‘road’ party, 9 and 10 Troops of C Squadron under the command of Second-Lieutenant Jack Austad23 moved across country behind 24 Battalion. With them were two OP tanks of a Royal Artillery regiment of self-propelled guns, a South African armoured bulldozer, a sapper platoon in an armoured car, and a platoon of infantry. With help from the bulldozer the tanks crossed the Fontanaccia east of Route 16 and made slow but steady progress towards the Rio del Moro, about a mile past the Fontanaccia. When the Bofors fire marking the units' lanes of advance stopped, the party found it difficult to keep direction and to make contact with the infantry edging their way forward through grape-vines, across ditches, and in places through heavy undergrowth. About half past two the tanks joined the infantry just south of the Moro but were ordered not to cross until first light. The bulldozer made a crossing for them, and about six o'clock 10 Troop moved up to link up with the forward companies.
A Company on the right flank had had a lot of fighting and when the tanks arrived was held up by strong pockets of enemy troops about 200 yards short of the road which crossed the main highway at Bordonchio. One of these positions was a small walled cemetery held by a platoon of Germans with four spandaus. This strongpoint was ‘done over’ by the tanks and rushed by a platoon from a flank. Other posts were also destroyed.
Out to the left 25 Battalion's three companies had widely varying fortune in their advance to the Bordonchio road, D Company on the right going ahead ‘with considerable speed’ on the left of the main highway, while B Company on the open left flank had heavier losses and made slow progress. The tanks' progress was slower still. Led by an engineer officer in a Honey tank reconnoitring the track, and with a platoon of sappers to clear the way, the party took an hour to cover 300 yards and three hours to reach the Fontanaccia. Before the tanks could cross here they had to send back for a bulldozer, and while they waited for it to come up the engineer reconnaissance party pushed on.page 496
The tanks rejoined the engineers at the Rio Pircio, crossed it with the aid of a bridgelayer, and joined the infantry companies about 2 a.m. The two tanks left in 3 Troop helped B Company to reach its objective about two hours later, while the other two troops—there were two tanks in 1 Troop and one in 4 Troop—consolidated in houses on the road. Three of the M10 tank-destroyers helped to strengthen these positions and the wounded were evacuated by the regiment's stretcher-carrying Bren carrier.
Dawn showed that the Division's attack had not gone as well as had been expected, if any attack ever really does go as well as those who plan it confidently hope. In the centre the infantry had reached, or virtually reached, their objectives, but on the right flank a determined defence had halted 22 Battalion's advance up the coast. Farther inland to the south-west the Canadians' attack had been halted east of the Uso River.
The flank that most concerned 20 Regiment, the left, between the Fontanaccia and the Pircio—it is flattery to call them rivers and both are labelled Rio (stream) on the map—was potentially the more dangerous. To strengthen it during 6 Brigade's attack B Squadron of the regiment and a company of 26 Battalion formed a protecting force with the task of covering the brigade's open flank. The plan was for each troop of tanks to work with a platoon of infantry as an independent unit, each group moving separately to prearranged positions.
B Squadron, previously in reserve, had to come up from behind Route 9 to the west of Rimini. The tanks joined the infantry behind the Fontanaccia and the first group moved off about 1 a.m. (25 September). Batteries of searchlights behind our lines threw their beams on the clouds above the enemy positions to light the way, but where the winding track ran through vineyards the visibility was limited to about ten yards and the troops had to move in single file. No. 5 Troop (Lieutenant Cross) and 8 Troop (Second-Lieutenant Overton) were in the lead, with the other two troops in reserve.
The first two groups moved to their positions without opposition, Cross going to a house north of the Pircio (Casa Nadiani) and Overton to Casa Bianchini, on the road that runs west towards the Uso. Overton describes the move forward and the morning's alarms:page 497
Nearing our objective 8 Tp branched further left and 5 Tp carried on. When about ¼ mile from the casa where we were to take up our position we heard the clank of tracks and the sound of tank motors not far ahead of us on the same road. We stopped and debated whether they sounded like Shermans which the Canadians had or whether they were enemy ones. We decided they weren't Shermans and that they were enemy ones moving towards us on the same road. Luckily the Jerry ones decided to stop. We pulled into the yard behind the casa and spent the rest of the night. Next morning soon after daybreak a shufti plane of ours came over and we noticed a stream of tracer shooting up at it. Climbing up into the house I spotted 4 Jerry tanks about 400 [yards] away blazing away with their MGs. I reported their position to the Arty and within 5 mins they had changed their minds and they moved off out of sight. We were unable to see them from the ground as there was too much cover.
Although it moved over ground already covered by the leading tanks, the reserve party in the third group to go forward came under spandau fire and had three men wounded. The tanks' machine guns fired a few bursts into the night in the general direction of the enemy machine-gunners, quietening them for a time.
B Squadron's peaceful entry of the two houses across the Pircio during the night was succeeded next morning by a disturbed and noisy tenancy. During the night the Canadians' advance to the south had been halted, and there was only the squadron and its company of infantry to protect 6 Brigade's open flank. The Canadians attacked again in the morning, but there were still plenty of enemy left between the Pircio and the Uso and many more west of the larger river. Shortly after dawn some 25 Battalion carriers which came down the track from their forward positions to link up with the squadron were welcomed at a range of about ten yards by a bazooka firing from a trench at the side of the road. Even at that distance the first shot missed, but a carrier following behind was knocked out. One of our tanks shelled the house suspected of hiding the bazooka team and a section of infantry investigated but found the place deserted.
About a quarter to seven Cross's troop in Casa Nadiani saw three enemy tanks—one of them a Tiger—moving in an area to the south-west, probably with the intention of attacking or outflanking the New Zealand positions. Our guns were called page 498 on to lay on an SOS task and the troop went into action against the enemy from positions behind farm buildings and haystacks. An attack by enemy infantry was broken up by the tanks' fire and German Red Cross parties were later seen picking up casualties. Later in the morning Cross's tank was hit and set on fire.
He had parked it behind a haystack, and by standing on top of the turret the crew could get a good view of the countryside over the top of the grape-vines but could see no sign of the enemy. When Cross left to join the infantry company commander observing from the top story of the farmhouse someone in the crew decided it was time to boil the billy. He rotated the turret so that he could get at the rations, and evidently the movement gave away the tank's position.
I heard a ‘crack’ [says Cross] and thinking the gunner had fired the Browning, hopped back to the tank. As I clambered up the crew piled out P.D.Q. to find out where we had been hit. An 88 had gone through the turret about half-way up. No one hurt and no apparent damage except for the hole. Within 20 seconds a second shot hit the edge of the haystack and then our hull, setting both stack and tank on fire. This second shot messed up the inside so no chance of saving the tank. While the smoke was billowing up, Cab Rank, apparently under the impression that the smoke was from our Arty to show them the locality of Tigers, came down at us and went for my other two tanks. After the leader's bombs had landed—and missed luckily—I grabbed a Very pistol and fired red signals at the others as they dived. This had the desired effect as the next two pulled out of their dives without dropping their bombs and after circling us for a few minutes, went off to the correct area, which was also smoking from Arty smoke shells, about a mile away. We were thankful.
The Tiger that got Cross's tank was about 1200 yards away, tucked in beside a house and behind a heavy screen of vines. Cross's crew heard it trundle off. Luckily they had had no casualties, but for the rest of the day the other crews kept very still.
Cross withdrew the remaining tanks in his troop to a position nearer Route 16 and the cab-rank fighter-bombers continued to search for the enemy tanks. The cab-rank was a group of fast planes—usually three to six Kittyhawks—operating from a forward airfield and on call to give immediate support to the ground troops when required. Although heavily mortared and page 499 shelled, the infantry platoon was able to hold its position after the tanks had been withdrawn. Cross's troop returned to its old position after dark.
Overton's 8 Troop and the infantry platoon at the Casa Bianchini also had some enemy to occupy them that day. When daylight came it was seen that a house not far in front of the troop's position was occupied by the enemy, who withdrew when the house was shelled and machine-gunned. Tanks could be heard about 400 yards away. Later in the morning two sections of infantry were seen moving through the vines. Were they ours or Canadians? A patrol went out to meet them and found they were Germans. One surrendered but the rest took cover in a ditch. Our tanks and infantry pinned them down with their fire but they were later able to withdraw under a smoke screen.
According to Overton, the German who surrendered did not get a very heartening welcome. ‘My Cpl's tank was covering one side of the house we occupied, and late in the afternoon after we had been shooting up Jerry a fair bit a miserable looking Jerry came round the corner of the house with his hands up to give himself up, walking round right in front of the Cpl's tank, and the gunner who happened to be looking through the telescope saw him and must have thought that the whole German army was following for he let off a burst from the .30 Browning right in the Jerry's ear, missed him completely at 12 ft. I don't know who got the biggest fright.’
The other two squadrons spent the day more quietly, although the positions of the forward companies were shelled, at times heavily, and shot up by spandaus. The 25th Battalion infantry with A Squadron used the tanks' Brownings on the ground mounting to good effect against machine-gun posts. On the coast 22 Battalion attacked again in the morning to make amends for its setback in the night attack and by midday had reached the Moro.
To close the gap between 24 and 22 Battalions two companies of 26 Battalion were brought forward on the morning of the 25th. Tank support was given by two tanks of C Squadron's 12 Troop. It was a bloodless advance. The sound of demolitions to the north and the reports of Italian refugees indicated that the enemy near the coast was withdrawing over the Uso page 500 into Bellaria. Taking advantage of the weather, our fighter-bombers sought targets ahead of the infantry and in Bellaria as the enemy rearguards fell back. Two of these targets were Tiger tanks on 6 Brigade's front, and although not hit they were reported to have been ‘scared off very effectively’.
Pushing on to Igiea Marina in the afternoon, the 26 Battalion companies and 12 Troop's tanks relieved 22 Battalion and its supporting 19 Regiment tanks. The day's advances had straightened the line and dusk was the time to tidy the front. Sixth Brigade took over the whole line, 24 Battalion spreading east to relieve 26 Battalion. No. 12 Troop's tanks stayed forward. Patrols and prisoners reported that there were still enemy outposts south and east of the Uso; others of the enemy who had not been able to get away in time were reported to be in civilian clothes.
The regiment saw little fighting on 26 September but, paradoxically, had one of its worst days of the battle. It lost six men killed and one wounded to one unfortunate shell. The infantry had spent part of the night and the morning probing ahead to the river, pushing troops forward where they found gaps between the outpost positions. The tanks went forward later.
The men killed were from 1 Troop of A Squadron. The troop's two remaining tanks had gone forward in the afternoon with a company of 25 Battalion and two M10 tank-destroyers to reconnoitre the river and look for possible crossings. Joined by some Divisional Cavalry armoured cars, the tanks took up a position behind a hedge a short distance from the river. Occasionally a stray shell came over from the enemy side of the river, none close enough to cause alarm, apparently, for a group of about twelve troopers and infantrymen had collected near the riverbank when a shell landed in their midst, killing eight of them. Among the regiment's killed were Sergeant Black24 and Corporal Nordbye.25 Without crews to man them, 1 Troop's tanks were later withdrawn.
A Squadron had the heaviest casualties for the day but B Squadron probably did the most shooting. It had spent the page 501 day before resisting enemy attempts to drive its tanks and their supporting 26 Battalion infantry from the two houses across the Rio Pircio, and it was now its turn to attack. The battalion's orders were to advance across the Uso to the next river objective, the Fiumicino. There were still enemy machine-gun posts east of the Uso.
Nos. 6 and 7 Troops went forward with the infantry when the attack began early in the afternoon, the tanks—according to the company commander's report—adopting the principle ‘of beating up anything that looked suspicious’, firing all their guns. The enemy made no serious attempt to halt the attack, his machine-gunners firing a few rounds and then falling back as the tanks approached. They reached the Uso at half past three but were not able to follow the infantry across. The tanks shot up the far bank while the infantry waded over and then looked for a crossing place for themselves.
They found one a little way to the north where, with the help of a bulldozer, it looked possible to ford the river. A bulldozer was sent for but it was midnight before it arrived. The noise it made working on the crossing brought down mortar fire, ‘luckily all about fifty yards upstream’, and later an enemy patrol came up the far bank and engaged the sappers. An infantry section had to be brought up to protect the party and the bulldozer finished its track. By 4 a.m. on the 27th both troops were across the river and soon in contact with 26 Battalion.
Farther north in 25 Battalion's area, three troops of A Squadron and the infantry were across the river well before dawn. Here the river was about eight yards wide and two feet deep but its sloping stopbanks rose 30 feet above the water. A bulldozer made an approach up the stopbank and the engineers put a Churchill Ark bridge across, the guns drowning the noise made by the bulldozer.
Dug in along the Fosso Vena, a shallow ditch about 1000 yards west of the Uso and roughly parallel with it, the 25 Battalion companies and A Squadron's three troops spent a quiet morning. As ordered, they rested in their positions until relieved by 24 Battalion early in the afternoon. The latter battalion itself had been relieved the night before by a Greek battalion from 3 Mountain Brigade. Refreshed by a hot meal at Bordonchio and part of a night's rest—the relief by the Greeks had not page 502 been completed until after midnight—and supported by A Squadron's tanks, 24 Battalion passed through the 25th and began its attack about half past one.
Spandau posts in houses and snipers firing from the tops of haystacks contested the ground, and when their positions were pressed they called for defensive fire from the guns and mortars behind them. Smoke shells fired by our tanks soon dispersed the snipers by setting alight to their hiding places, but the spandau posts were harder to crack. Guns, carriers, and tanks fired concentrations on these strongpoints and the platoons rushed them, but in close ground with plenty of cover an enemy as skilled in delaying actions as a German paratrooper seldom had little trouble in slipping away. In one house there were a hundred civilians, many hysterical with relief at their survival, but of course no Germans. But the enemy did not always get away, and in one house captured with the help of 2 Troop's two tanks nine Germans were taken prisoner.
The attack's objective was a road about 700 yards from the Fiumicino River, the outpost screen for the enemy's next line of defence along the Scolo Rigossa, a ditch much less impressive than its name. Only the right-hand company had reached this objective when the battalion was relieved before midnight by 21 Battalion. It then withdrew to Bordonchio.
A Squadron also withdrew at the same time, going back across the Uso to the vicinity of the Palazzo Spina, about half a mile south-west of Bordonchio. In the battles of the last five days it had had four tanks ‘brewed up’ and one knocked out. The unlucky shell that had ended the unofficial conference on the banks of the Uso the day before had made the squadron's casualties the heaviest in the regiment. One officer (Second-Lieutenant Burland) and seven men had been killed, one man had died of wounds, one had been accidentally injured, and nine had been wounded. Five tanks survived the action.
B Squadron, to the south with 26 Battalion, also had plenty of action on its last day in the line. Some of the tanks across the river began the day by cleaning out a spandau post which an infantry platoon had skirted the night before in its advance to the Fosso Vena ditch. Then 7 Troop had some bad luck when the corporal's tank broke a track and Lance-Sergeant Alex page 503 Cunningham's26 tank struck a mine. Cunningham, on the right flank, had been sent off by the infantry commander to shoot up a couple of houses near a crossroads and, ‘like a fathead’—his own description—decided to leave the road and advance across a ploughed paddock. Half-way across the tank went over a box mine, ‘and bang went a track and one bogey.’ It was too open and conspicuous a spot in which to linger and the enemy fire was heavy; the infantry platoon declined to complete the task without tank support, ‘so there was nothing for it but for us to bale out and slink back to the schoolhouse’ at the crossroads. The field was then swept of mines, nearly thirty being found between the corner of the paddock and the damaged tank. Cunningham had been lucky to get as far as he did, and luckier still to get out again with a whole skin.
To avoid further damage 5 and 8 Troops were ordered to cross the river farther north by 25 Battalion's bridge and go forward with C and A Companies of 26 Battalion. The battalion's objective was a stretch of the same road east of the Fiumicino that 25 Battalion was trying to reach. It began its attack about three o'clock, later than its northern neighbour, with whom its boundary was a line of power pylons which ran almost due north-west from the junction of Routes 9 and 16 near Rimini. The battalion had a hard row to hoe almost all the way. One company struck a tough spandau post in a house almost as soon as it started to move; another was heavily ‘stonked’ on its start line and had six casualties. The enemy's accuracy with his mortar and shell fire was explained when it was found that he was using one of the power pylons as an OP.
The tanks' job was to shoot up enemy positions. In country latticed by lanes of vines these were hard to find, and the many ditches which drained the fields made the job harder still. Once again the enemy's plan was to engage the advancing infantry with his machine guns and then fall back to prearranged fire positions where ammunition had been dumped.
Lack of contact and communication between tanks and infantry caused some confusion and the platoons could make only slow progress. The centre company reached the road, the foremost section going forward part of the way on Second-Lieutenant Tressider's27 tank, which left it in a farmhouse near the page 504 road and came back to take up position for the night. During the afternoon Sergeant Birch's28 tank in 8 Troop was disabled by a mine. Late in the afternoon the companies received orders to consolidate their positions, and that night the battalion was relieved by 23 Battalion. B Squadron handed over to 18 Regiment's C Squadron and went back across the Uso early next morning. Two damaged tanks and their crews had to wait behind until the fitters got them moving; one came out later in the morning, but several days of hard work in pouring rain were needed before the second was freed from its minefield.
While A and B Squadrons under 6 Brigade's command had been skirmishing through grape-vines and across rivers and ditches, C Squadron had been engaged in the more open coastal sector between Route 16 and the sea. When the Greeks relieved 24 Battalion on the evening of the 26th the squadron was relieved by a squadron from 19 Regiment. It was given a day to rest and reorganise and, at 5.30 a.m. on 28 September, moved forward to support 1 Greek Battalion and relieve the 19th squadron. It was a miserable day, with torrential rain in the afternoon and the wind blowing in hard from the sea.
The enemy positions facing the Greeks at the mouth of the Fiumicino were formidable. Behind a screen of anti-tank rails and wire extending from the railway to the sea, the enemy manned at least four concrete pillboxes armed with anti-tank guns and had spandau teams posted in houses along the south bank. With the support of two Divisional Cavalry troops, the Greeks held the road from Villa Semprini on the coast to the main highway. The river was less than half a mile away.
C Squadron's 10 and 11 Troops moved up behind the Greeks on the morning of the 28th, leaving 9 and 12 Troops back in reserve. No. 10 Troop's tanks immediately attracted the notice of enemy mortars, but artillery concentrations on the mortars' probable positions made them more respectful. Fourth Field Regiment sent the squadron a forward observation officer to ensure that direct artillery support was readily at hand, but because of the rain and the gale and the poor visibility neither tanks nor guns nor infantry could do much for the rest of the day. Because its tanks might get bogged in the mud, 10 Troop page 505 was ordered back to spend the night on the more solid ground of Route 16. On the Greeks' left 5 Brigade, undeterred by the rain and the enemy's defensive gunfire, reached the Fiumicino in the afternoon; farther left still, the Canadians also reached the river that night.
After a quiet night—5 Brigade's attack across the river was postponed because of the weather—10 Troop moved up to its old position before dawn. Yesterday's rain had left the rivers and streams angry with flood; a bridge or two had been washed away, tanks had become bogged, telephones had failed, and the artillery's gunpits were knee-deep in water. The Fiumicino, a shallow stream the day before, was now a torrent 30 to 40 feet wide, even wider in places, and more useful to the enemy than ever. Slit trenches filled with water as they were being dug and the infantrymen not under shelter were drenched and cold.
On the Greeks' front the quiet night was followed by an equally quiet day, if a bit of mortaring can be treated as a natural phenomenon not worthy of comment. C Squadron disregards it with the uninformative entry: ‘NTR [nothing to report] covers the activities of this day.’ A German report described the ground on the Adriatic front as ‘a sea of mud’ and forecast that no attack on a large scale need be expected before 1 October even if the weather improved. Fourth Brigade's commander, Brigadier Pleasants, made a similar appreciation.
Nothing to report again on the 30th except that the reserve troops took over before dawn ‘without incident’, 10 and 11 Troops going back. The weather was fine again, the rivers lower, but the ground was still very heavy. Visibility was better and there was some mutual shelling and mortaring. The fighter-bombers were in action again and towards the end of the afternoon bombed the strongpoint near the Route 16 crossing. The night, for a change, was noisy. Enemy planes were over but dropped their bombs well behind the line near Orsoleto and were chased off by a ‘terrific’ ack-ack barrage—‘Bofors flat out,’ says one diarist. Enemy guns and mortars added to the din.
Behind the squadrons — not very far behind — in the last week's fighting were the regiment's tactical headquarters and its A Echelon. Most of the time they were well within range page 506 of the enemy's artillery. The signal section had been the first to suffer, losing all its three vehicles to enemy shells on the first night of the attack. One man was wounded.
On the 26th A Echelon moved forward to Castella Benelli, an elaborate shell-scarred country house near Palazzo Spina, south-west of Bordonchio. Here it joined Tactical Headquarters —the CO's and the Adjutant's tanks—but had to resist infiltration attempts by English and Polish units seeking quarters and shelter from the rain. The best way to stake the regiment's claim was to occupy all the available accommodation, and soon its men were quartered in stables and alley-ways and in outbuildings around the estate, which apparently had once been a prosperous stud farm. Enemy troops, not very fastidious, had been the last tenants, and there was a lot of housekeeping and cleaning to be done before some of the rooms were fit to live in or made free from flies.
A and B Squadrons joined RHQ when they came back into reserve on 28 September. The crews wanted sleep but the castle (as the troops called it) was not the place to find it. A battery of five-point-fives was sited about 100 yards away and the deafening noise and the blast as each round was fired shook tiles off the roofs and made sleep almost impossible. The enemy's guns in their turn sought out this battery and some nearby self-propelled guns, their shelling being especially heavy at night. After a couple of sleepless nights A Squadron and B1 Echelon moved back to a factory near Viserba and B Squadron went to an area near the beach. The factory was a big ferro-concrete building with offices at one end and was large enough to house everybody under one roof.
Early on the morning of the 30th the signal section at the castle again lost a truck, and that night during another bombardment the Signals Officer, Second-Lieutenant John Phillips,29 was killed by a shell splinter which cut through the window shutters of the first-floor room in which he was quartered. Lieutenant Phillips had received word the day before that he was to go home with the next replacement draft and had asked to be allowed to stay behind for a farewell party with his signallers.page 507
This latest casualty brought the regiment's total of killed for the week's action up to 15, two of them officers. One officer and 18 men had been wounded.30 Up to the end of the month seven tanks had been ‘brewed up’ and two knocked out, one of which was recovered. Also recovered were the two tanks which had been damaged by mines and five classified as ‘ditched’. After the rain in the last few days of the month the work of recovering bogged vehicles had kept the regiment's recovery section very busy, the T2 again proving itself invaluable.
Before dawn on 1 October C Squadron's No. 9 Troop and the forward Greek infantry withdrew a little way back along Route 16 to clear the front line for attacks by our bombers. Bad weather cancelled the bombing and the Greeks returned to their positions early in the evening. About eight o'clock 12 Troop heard the movement of tracked vehicles, and shortly afterwards Greek infantry reported that there were three enemy tanks south of the river. Shells began to fall in the area and it is possible that the enemy, having noticed during the day that the Greeks' forward positions were empty, was planning to occupy them.31 No. 10 Troop, which had been warned during the afternoon that it was to go with 2 Greek Battalion to take over the Maori Battalion's sector on the left of Route 16 that night, was called forward to support 9 and 12 Troops. Artillery support was on hand, too, and when one tank was hit the enemy tanks withdrew across the river.
More rain next day delayed plans then being made for an attack to the west and changes were made to rest units in the front line. C Squadron's associate, 1 Greek Battalion, was relieved on the night of 2–3 October by the Greeks' 3rd Battalion, but the squadron had to wait for a few days longer for its turn to rest. It filled in the time without incident, troop relieving troop in turn, and had only two casualties although the area was at times heavily shelled and mortared. On the evening of the 4th two Regimental Headquarters tanks and a third tank from 12 Troop under Lieutenant Hadfield's command relieved page 508 9 Troop. Half an hour later a shell hit the roof of 11 Troop's house, wounding Corporal Merv Stringer32 and Trooper Chaney,33 both of whom were immediately evacuated by the reconnaissance troop's tank then delivering supplies.
Before the next battle begins this seems a convenient place to review the results of the last. Thanks to the break in the weather, the enemy was now firmly on his feet again. And as if there had not been enough rain already, he had flooded the coastal area behind him from Ravenna south to Cesenatico and was watching warily for a seaborne landing. The rain gave him the chance to reinforce his divisions and to deepen their positions.
However, in the last few weeks he had been given ‘something to go on with’ and could expect more. He correctly appreciated that because of the flooding on the Adriatic coast the next attack would be aimed north-west along the Rimini-Bologna highway, Route 9. This attack, too, depended on the weather and the condition of the ground; neither improved, and the plans were several times postponed. In the meantime both sides filled in the time with night and day patrols. Artillery and mortars enjoyed themselves by exchanging harassing fire, in which Eighth Army's artillery patiently set out to teach the enemy that it had met its master. For every round fired from across the Fiumicino three or four rounds from three or four times as many guns were fired back.
While this was going on the regiment had little to amuse it. The war diary faithfully records the weather, which had all the cheer of a wet Wellington July. C Squadron on the right continued to support the Greeks but because of the mud its tanks were more or less fixtures; the Sherman's tracks are not very wide, and the tank quickly bogs down in sodden ground. Tanks could not move across country and relieving troops had to keep to the roads. One of the regiment's jobs was to test the ‘going’ each day and the reports hardly make cheerful reading: for instance, that for the morning of 8 October records that the tanks could move forward in a straight line in second gear but could not turn or manoeuvre—and that was one of the best page 509 days! Later in the day, however, there was heavy rain and the Fiumicino again became ‘a raging torrent’. A limited attack planned for that night, to be made ‘regardless of the weather’, had to be postponed once again. A Squadron was to have taken part in a shoot that night in support of the attack but that, too, was called off.
B Squadron in its beach area had some casualties on 3 October when Captain Stan Wright34 was wounded in the neck by shell splinters and five other ranks also were wounded. Next night the squadron moved up to support 6 Brigade, which took over from 5 Brigade on the evening of 5 October the left of the divisional sector. The squadron's role is described as ‘purely defensive’.
Regimental Headquarters left its picturesque but too prominent castella on the 7th and went back to Viserba. Tactical Headquarters also had a beach site near the mouth of the Uso. There are few places more drear than a seaside resort in wet weather, and although in Viserba RHQ and A Echelon found dry billets in some of the two- and three-storied pensions on the waterfront, the presence in the town of some 8000 refugees seeking food and shelter did not increase its attractiveness. The refugees were evacuated during the next few days to a camp near Ancona.
Although now less crowded, Viserba had little to offer. Naturally the Germans got the blame for the lack of goods in the shops—‘Tedesci tutto rubato’ became a familiar cry35— and many shops did not even bother to open. Two of the town's tailors, however, did well: no soldier ever seems to get a battle dress which he thinks fits him and those issued to the regiment the week before required the usual attentions before they satisfied their wearers. When the weather cleared some men went swimming, but light outrigger canoes were even more popular. At night the YMCA screened pictures in two battered cinemas.
The squadrons in the line—C with the Greeks on the coast, B farther inland with 6 Brigade—lived less comfortably but found the weather more nuisance than was the enemy, although page 510 B Squadron's 7 Troop attracted more than its share of mortar fire. A Squadron made a sortie from reserve on 8 October to take part in a shoot. The squadron set off from its billets in the factory in pouring rain and returned that evening, drenched and unhappy, without having fired a shot. The crews' comments on the operation were soldierly and to the point.
On the afternoon of 10 October and again next morning, A and C Squadrons fired harassing tasks on targets north and west of Cesenatico. Shooting at intervals throughout the day for half an hour at a time, the tanks fired 500 rounds on the first day and a hundred more than that on the second. Their shooting was soon proved to have been effective, for as soon as the third shoot began on the first day the enemy laid a heavy smoke screen about 400 yards in front of the gunline. Later he replied more aggressively with gun and mortar concentrations as well as smoke, but the two rounds which landed in the tanks' area on the 11th caused neither damage nor casualties. Until the regiment was relieved on 13 October any movement by its tanks in the forward area, however small, was the signal for enemy counter-measures.
In the meantime there was some juggling of units on the Fiumicino front and units in the line were relieved and formations regrouped in preparation for the next attack. As part of a policy to ‘side slip’ the Division to the left to support the main thrust along Route 9, the 6 Brigade battalions were relieved on the night of 9–10 October by Royal Canadian dragoons. Next night 5 Brigade relieved Canadian units north of the Rimini–Cesena railway, its role that of flank guard to the Canadians advancing along Route 9.
B Squadron supporting Cumberland Force36 in the centre, and C Squadron supporting the Greek Brigade (part of Cumberland Force) on the coast, had to stay where they were in the mud in the meantime. Their turn for relief came on the 13th when a Canadian tank squadron took over. Before leaving No. 6 Troop of B Squadron fired a farewell salvo of 200 rounds on houses across the river. The enemy made his usual reply and the incoming units took over under fire. C Squadron and Tactical Headquarters went back to Viserba, but there were no billets available there for B Squadron which had to stay at page 511 the orphanage just south of the mouth of the Uso. A Squadron was still living in its factory.
Although officially Viserba was a rest area, the regiment's short stay there was not altogether peaceful. An enemy sabotage party, believed to have been landed by sea south of Rimini on the night of 13–14 October, set time fuses in mine dumps, laid mines in areas where vehicles were concentrated, and ‘booby-trapped’ some trucks. For the next few nights pickets were trebled and a strong beach patrol maintained. No enemy was seen. A later crop of mines, many of which did not explode, was thought to have been sown by civilian fifth columnists, and on the 20th a grenade thrown into the Via Littoraneo—probably by some fifth columnist seeking self-expression—lightly wounded a passing Tommy.
During the last fortnight there had been several changes in senior appointments in the regiment. With the departure of Major Elliott for the Armoured Corps Training Depot on 12 October Major Barton became second-in-command, Major Clapham succeeding him once more in command of B Squadron. C Squadron also got a new commander to replace Major Rolleston, who left for Advanced Base on his way back to New Zealand. The main appointments on 17 October were:
|HQ Squadron||Major Bay|
|A Squadron||Major Caldwell|
|B Squadron||Major Clapham|
|C Squadron||Major Eastgate|
There were a few days of fine weather before orders came to move forward on the afternoon of the 17th. The move and the rain began about the same time. The regiment had only a few miles to go to a concentration area just east of the Uso, the first stage of a move to Gambettola, but it made the journey in heavy rain. The ground soon became waterlogged and, rather than leave the crews to spend a miserable night in the open, it was decided to picket the tanks and return the crews by truck to the orphanage for the night. The crews returned to their tanks early next morning and moved up to a concentration area north-east of Gambettola.page 512
During the week General Freyberg had returned to the Division. He took command again from General Weir on 14 October, urged his brigadiers to get a bridgehead across the Pisciatello, and made plans for a big tank attack. The tanks— 18 Regiment on the right, the 20th on the left—were to push through the bridgehead on a front of 2000 yards and were not to worry about their flanks. The brigade's main objectives were the Rio Granarolo, half-way between the Pisciatello and the the Savio, and the Savio itself.
Sixth Brigade relieved 5 Brigade at the Scolo Olca in the late afternoon and early evening of the 17th with about a quarter of a mile to go (less in places) to reach the Pisciatello. But the heavy rain made it no night to attack, although the Canadians decided to do so and got across the river. Next night, 18–19 October, under a barrage described by the General as ‘quite impressive’, 24 and 25 Battalions crossed the river. By morning—an hour or two later than planned—the tanks were up with them.
Outflanked on their Pisciatello positions by the Canadians and by 5 British Corps farther south, the Germans had already decided to fall back to the Cesena-Cervia road on the first stage of a withdrawal across the Savio. Some units made their move a little late and were caught by our shellfire.
Fourth Brigade's attack, ‘a swift advance at tank speed’ over a course of four miles and a few furlongs—it was called afterwards the Gambettola-Savio gallop—was the most ambitious it had so far undertaken. In a way, it was an anniversary celebration marking the end of the brigade's first year in Italy—its first year in action. For the first time since it had been formed it was to fight as a brigade, two regiments up, its Motor Battalion in support.
In the past the tanks had gone into action supporting the infantry and usually under their command, sometimes ahead page 514 of them but more often just behind. For this action the tanks were in front and it was the infantry's job for a change to protect them. The country was flat farmland, dotted with houses and trees and criss-crossed with ditches and narrow lanes.
The regiment began to cross the river at Casone about half past six and by half past seven was deployed ready to attack, A Squadron on the left and B on the right, C Squadron behind them in reserve. The attack began at ten minutes to ten. The tanks moved through 25 Battalion's positions, with the reconnaissance troop behind the leading squadrons giving covering fire and a 22 Battalion company bringing up the rear on the reserve squadron's tanks. The usual retinue of engineer and artillery attachments ensured co-operation with the supporting arms.
There was little opposition until the tanks reached the road running east from Osteriaccia and came within range of the enemy positions on the Cesena-Cervia road. As usual, the enemy had chosen his ground well, holding strongpoints in the villages of Osteriaccia and Calabrina behind a screen of ditches and casa outposts. Bordered by deep ditches on either side, the secondary roads across the tanks' line of advance blocked the way forward until a crossing was found and also gave the enemy guns on the flank a lane down which to fire. A Sherman and a Honey reconnaissance tank were hit and set on fire near the crossroads east of Osteriaccia. Other tanks ditched or bogged on the way up were hauled out by bulldozers or helped out of trouble by sappers or the regiment's recovery team.
The first stage of the advance is described by Captain Familton, temporarily in command of B Squadron for this attack:
We started off across country and found it slow going in the mud. The two leading troops crossed the Cesena-Cervia road while Jerry was busy with A Sqn and then, just as my SHQ [Squadron Headquarters] tank and the Reserve Tp reached the road, Jerry spotted us and used an 88 mm. straight down the road. My driver swears the shell which hit Cpl. McLeod37 in the next tank passed between his head and the 75 mm. Cpl McLeod lost his leg from this wound.
Just after I had crossed the road, I heard a fusillade of 30-cal MG in front, followed by another beltful, then another. The country was very difficult, soft, many ditches, trees and large clumps of bamboo 15 to 20 ft. high. The leading tanks reported movement page 515 and I pushed forward to see what I could when another belt of 30 cal went through and I turned the corner of a casa to see Lt. Crespin's38 troop in perfect formation machine-gunning a large clump of bamboo. Out from the bamboo raced a large rooster and half a dozen hens, without a casualty for our pots. No. 5 Tp heard a great deal about movement in the bamboo after that.
While 18 Regiment to the right was having its own troubles with ditches and anti-tank guns, the 20th spent the afternoon trying to subdue the Calabrina and Osteriaccia strongpoints. Without knowing it, the tanks had driven right up to the enemy's front door. At Calabrina they got close enough to shoot up sniper and spandau posts in some of the houses, but an attack from the north-east against Osteriaccia could get no closer than 300 yards before it was forced back by gun and mortar fire. Two more Shermans were knocked out by the enemy's field guns, one of them Second-Lieutenant Overton's of 8 Troop. Two 25 Battalion companies and 19 Regiment tanks attacking Osteriaccia from the south-east were no more successful.
As it was impossible to occupy Calabrina in sufficient strength before dark the tanks withdrew for the night to positions dug by the infantry. The enemy made no attempt to counter-attack but during the night shelled the tank harbours, at times heavily. Our own tanks did no shooting but several times called on the artillery to shell enemy movement and suspected anti-tank gun and mortar positions. When the enemy shelling eased off in the early hours and the noise of demolitions was heard, it became clear that the enemy was withdrawing. Infantry patrols at dawn confirmed that the two village strongpoints were clear.
The tanks wasted no time in pushing on. The night's demolitions delayed them for a time and difficult going over swampy fields made the advance to the Granarolo very slow. At one stage eight A Squadron tanks were ‘bellied’ in the mud but all were successfully extricated. A few mines located with civilian help were lifted by the sappers and did no damage. Both regiments used Valentine bridge-laying tanks to cross the Granarolo stream, the two 20th squadrons by the same bridge, and after a short move north-west across country to San Giorgio both squadrons headed west towards the Savio.
B Squadron's first objective for the day was a crossroads page 516 about 400 yards ahead of the position where it had laagered for the night. ‘I sent Lt. Crespin out to do this,’ says Familton, ‘and he did a perfect advance with one tank up, but when he reached the x-rds imagine his surprise to see a jeep and be greeted, “Good morning, what are your plans for today?” Yes, it was Tiny out looking for himself. On the second day we stuck more to the roads and struck no opposition until we swung west towards the Savio.’
General Freyberg has described the country east of the river as ‘difficult—small fields and big hedges and no fields of fire.’ After turning west the tanks kept to the roads, A Squadron following a track beside the Scolo Cervaro and B using the road leading west to Ronta. On reaching the lateral road running north beside the river early in the afternoon, A Squadron's leading tanks were fired on by machine guns and snipers and themselves fired on enemy minelaying parties still working east of the river. B Squadron also ran into machine-gun fire near Ronta.
Both the armoured regiments had some good shooting on both sides of the river during the afternoon, ‘some of it under the friendly auspices of civilians who obliged by pinpointing spandau posts.’ Having caught up with the enemy rearguard, the advance ended for the day. Tanks and infantry formed strongpoints for the night from which patrols tried to push forward to the river. The reconnaissance troop brought up supplies and ammunition and the day ended (like many other days on the Adriatic front) with the guns and mortars of both sides pounding each other's forward positions spasmodically in endless argument. Not a single tank had been lost by either of the two regiments in the day's advance and the infantry's casualties had been very light.39
First thing in the morning, the 21st, infantry patrols checked the tracks running west to the river, found them clear, and called up the tanks. A and B Squadrons took up positions close to the riverbank while behind them the sappers and their bulldozers cleared away demolitions. Fourth Brigade's main job for the day was to extend the Division's front north, handing over its positions facing the Savio to 6 Brigade. Eighteenth Regiment, supported by 22 Battalion and the Divisional Caval- page 517 ry, had what it describes as ‘an acrimonious little battle’ with paratroopers, but 20 Regiment saw no fighting this day. It handed over its positions to 24 Battalion and 19 Regiment tanks in the afternoon and went back to form a gunline along the road near Botteghina, facing west.
The gunline's job was to support a Canadian attack across the river on the night of the 21st–22nd. All day a Canadian company had held a precarious bridgehead on the west bank north of Cesena and that night in a full set-piece attack the Canadians extended and strengthened their hold. To the north of 6 Brigade's front seventy-one tanks from 20 and 18 Regiments shot away about 9000 rounds in an hour and a half to simulate another crossing. If not deceived, the enemy must at least have been disconcerted.
‘It was a magnificent sight, the two Regts along the one road line,’ says one eye-witness. ‘We levelled guns, then fired a barrage with all our HE going up by one turn of the hand wheel to almost maximum elevation. Then each Sqn concentrated as near as possible on some prominent object on Jerry's side of the river, e.g., crossroads, groups of houses, and sent away all our APHE and AP. I have often wondered what Jerry thought of that bombardment.’
The morning of the 22nd was spent in discussing the usual rumours that precede a relief. It had rained heavily the night before and the day was cold and the sky threatening, but apart from the inevitable noisy enemy gun and mortar the day passed quietly on the New Zealand front. In the afternoon the Canadians arrived to take over. The wheeled convoy had already left just after noon for Fabriano and at 4 p.m. the tanks followed south.
The relief ended one of the regiment's most successful operations. At a cost of one man killed, four Shermans and one Stuart tank knocked out, it had made an advance of between five and seven miles in two day's fighting. It could be said in all truth that the enemy was withdrawing and that the ground won meant little, but it had to be won against panzer grenadiers and paratroopers making what their records describe as ‘a fighting withdrawal behind the Savio’. As usual, they stayed till they had to go; few prisoners were taken.page 518
It was no country for tanks; in fact, the timing of the whole operation was dependent on whether they could move across country at all. Because of the recent rains they had to keep largely to the roads, which on the map look firm and straight and broad but on the ground were seldom better than narrow lanes. A Divisional Cavalry diarist, Bob Pinney,40 an original 20 Battalion infantryman of Burnham days, describes driving along them ‘with a wheel touching a ditch on either side’, and General Freyberg is recorded as having told the Canadian Corps commander, Lieutenant-General E. L. M. Burns, that the ‘dotted red roads on the map were just mud tracks’.
A feature of the operation was the co-operation between tanks and infantry—especially good when working with 22 (Motor) Battalion—and between tanks and engineers. One of the simplest ways to improve this co-operation was for the tanks to carry the infantry's lunch rations, a method which is reported to have secured close liaison ‘up till lunch time at least’. The sappers were invaluable: they worked willingly and hard at any task they were required to do, often under heavy fire. Bulldozer and bridge-laying tank were always on call close to Tactical Headquarters through the engineer reconnaissance officer's Honey tank and were usually in operation within about a quarter of an hour.
This was the first time the regiment as a whole had worked with 22 Battalion and ‘everything went like clockwork’. One of the best examples of this co-operation was shown on the evening of 19 October, when it was decided at short notice to laager for the night near Calabrina. The manoeuvre was carried out in less than an hour, the tanks covering the infantry while they dug their positions and then withdrawing about 300 yards to harbour inside these strongpoints.
Unlike the battles before Florence, little was seen of the enemy's Tiger tanks in the last month's fighting. Well camouflaged and well sited, they preferred usually to wait in hiding until our tanks came forward to them rather than to sally out into the open. On the first day of the advance on 23 September all the regiment's tank casualties were caused in the same way and in the same area when tanks stumbled blindly on to waiting enemy tanks or anti-tank guns.page 519
While the enemy used his tanks as anti-tank guns, we were inclined to think of ours as reconnaissance vehicles and it cost men and tanks to learn the lesson. Among the hedges and grape-vines (still thickly leafed) a tank commander could often see only a few yards from his turret; at night, of course, he could see even less. The tank's most useful role in this type of country was as a close-support weapon, guided forward by infantry to consolidate an objective—in support of the infantry rather than under its command. To use the tank as a scout car or Bren carrier was to expect too much.
Of the regiment's specialists, the recovery section again came in for a large share of praise in squadron commanders' reports of the actions. At any hour of the day or night it was called out to extricate tanks, and sometimes guns, that had been stranded in ditches or bogged in muddy fields. On one of the most exciting of these expeditions the section was posted missing for some two hours before it returned to Tactical Headquarters towing a derelict Sherman and followed by a rescued Stuart.
The Sherman had come to grief well forward, fairly close to the enemy positions and under his spandau and mortar fire; close enough, too, to be shelled by our own artillery. Tracer from spandaus firing on fixed lines flickered over the heads of the fitters working to free the tank. From time to time they were forced to dive for shelter underneath it as nebelwerfer rockets fell unpleasantly close. Noticing some dim figures moving past in the darkness, one of the fitters called out: ‘Better keep your head down mate, there's a bit of spandau round here.’ The patrol stopped, looked at him for a moment, then passed on without speaking. Were they Germans? No one can tell.
The tank's crew in the meantime had left the fitters at their work and had gone back to better cover. After waiting some time without seeing any sign of the tank or of the section's T2, the crew returned to Squadron Headquarters and reported that the recovery section had probably been taken prisoner as enemy patrols were in the area. No one could raise the T2 by radio and Colonel Purcell ordered the squadron to send out a patrol to find it.
By this time the section was on its way back, towing behind it the crippled tank which at last, after much roaring of motors, page 520 had been pulled from the ditch. A few hundred yards back the T2 stopped in the middle of a field to look for the missing tank crew, but hardly had it stopped before the moaning crescendo of nebelwerfer rockets was heard again. A nearby haystack caught fire, silhouetting the ‘Pursuit Ship’ and its tow; another ‘stonk’ fell nearby and the procession lost no time heading back.
On the way the section also recovered Sergeant Noel O'Dwyer's41 Stuart tank which had had part of its suspension shot away. Believing his tank to be immobile, O'Dwyer had evacuated his crew and stayed behind. Stopping to investigate, the recovery section managed to get the tank going and added it to its convoy.
But hardest worked of all was the reconnaissance troop. As maid-of-all-work—reconnoitring, message running, delivering supplies—the troop was required to cover the whole front, taking its tanks over country in which the heavier Sherman would have sunk to its belly. The troop's tanks and crews were often under strain for long hours and had thoroughly earned a rest. But so, too, had the whole of the regiment.
Its casualties in the advance from Rimini to the Savio were the highest of any of the regiments of 4 Armoured Brigade. Two officers and 15 men had been killed or had died of wounds, 3 officers and 34 men had been wounded, none had been taken prisoner. The brigade's casualties totalled 263 (57 of whom were killed or had died of wounds), nearly half of these being men from 22 (Motor) Battalion. In the same period—25 August to 26 October are the blanket dates—the Division had suffered just over 1100 casualties, of whom 228 had been killed or had died of wounds. Once again the brunt of the losses had been borne by the infantry battalions.
3 Brig C. L. Pleasants, CBE, DSO, MC, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Halcombe, 26 Jul 1910; schoolmaster; CO 18 Bn Jul-Oct 1942; 18 Armd Regt Oct 1942- Mar 1944; comd 4 Armd Bde Sep-Nov 1944; 5 Bde 1–22 Aug 1944, Nov 1944- Jan 1945, May 1945-Jan 1946; twice wounded; Commander, Fiji Military Forces, 1949–53; Commandant, Northern Military District, 1953–57; Commandant, Central Military District, Mar 1957-.
5 22 Battalion had one NCO killed and eleven men wounded when a mortar bomb landed in the riverbed in which they had taken position.
10 The crew managed to escape from the tank. Hargraves who took shelter beneath it, was shot by a sniper, and Coppin was killed by machine-gun fire while trying to lift Burland from his turret. The wireless operator (Neil Macdonald) and the spare driver managed to get away.
30 Some of the most serious wounds were phosphorus burns caused when smoke grenades caught fire.
31 An alternative explanation is that the enemy interpreted the move forward of 1 Greek Battalion and the relief of the Maoris by 2 Greek Battalion as the preliminaries for an attack and sent his tanks across the river to oppose it.
35 ‘The Germans stole everything.’
36 Named after the Canadian brigadier who commanded it.
39 A maxim of armoured warfare—‘the more tanks you use the less you lose’—here receives strong support.