CHAPTER 18 — The Final Offensive
The Final Offensive
The method was first to threaten the enemy's left flank by a diversionary attack around Lake Comacchio and then, when control had been gained of the south-eastern corner of the lake and the enemy's attention drawn to his seaward flank, to launch a two-corps attack along the axis of Route 9 towards Bologna. Finally, when more enemy reserves were trying to counter that blow, Fifth Army would pour down the mountainsides and capture Bologna, then strike north-west towards Milan, Turin and Genoa.
Fifth Corps was opening the attack with 2 New Zealand Division on the left and 8 Indian Division on the right; 2 Polish Corps would have 3 Carpathian Division on the left of the New Zealanders. General Freyberg's plan was to attack with two brigades (the 5th and 6th) up and 9 Brigade in reserve. Each brigade would attack on a two-battalion front—5 Brigade with 21 Battalion on the right and the Maoris on the left, 6 Brigade with 24 and 25 Battalions. There would be a barrage heavier by far than that fired at El Alamein, and air support of shattering dimensions.
The troops were at a staging area north of Forli before daylight on 1 April. Lieutenant-Colonel McPhail, who had already been forward, gave the company commanders their orders, as well as all the information he had been able to pick up. He mentioned that the German 98 Division was opposite the New Zealand sector. The area had been very quiet for some time with no artillery fire, very little mortar fire, and only the usual machine-gun bursts at night. The south side of the stopbank was still held by the enemy, except for one post; there were many Schu mines about, and only hastily laid mines of our page 410 own spread somewhat indiscriminately. All lanes and paths were to be regarded as suspect until swept. The line would be held with two companies up and two in support. C and B Companies, which would be forward, were instructed that the first night would be spent in settling in and no patrol work would be called for. Strict wireless silence would be observed unless an emergency arose, and when using line telephones the battalion would not be mentioned under any circumstances. This precaution was necessary because the enemy possessed a device which permitted him to listen to line-telephone conversations. Speakers were to identify themselves, therefore, by using the code-word H84. No letters or papers were to be carried, and 78 Division's patches were to be worn.
The object of these deception measures was to keep the New Zealanders' entry into the line secret and to suggest that the movement was merely an internal relief. The enemy knew very well that the presence of 2 NZ Division generally meant trouble, and it was hoped that no hint would be given of the coming offensive.
While the commanders were holding their conferences, the troops were explaining to the new hands the amazing difference a month had made to the near-swamp they had been wallowing in during the winter. There was sunshine instead of snow, dust instead of mud, green leaves and flowers instead of stark-limbed trees and waterlogged fields.
Battalion Headquarters went forward in mid-morning on 1 April and the companies followed at quarter-hour intervals after lunch. The 21st relieved a battalion of Northamptons which was deployed as usual in platoon posts around houses, the most forward of which was 120 yards short of the stopbank.
It was understood that 78 Division had captured the greater part of the eastern stopbank and that only a few enemy posts remained. That was probably true enough in a general way, but the uncaptured portion was mostly in 21 Battalion's sector, where only 200 yards in B Company's area was held. In addition, there was a small bend in the river near the railway line that enfiladed C Company's stopbank. It was going to cost the battalion fifty killed and wounded to secure that stopbank.
When the take-over was completed late in the afternoon, the position was that, with C Company (Major Parfitt) right and B Company (Major Butler) left, 21 Battalion was on the Division's right flank and holding a line of outposts short of the Senio stopbank. D Company (Major Fleming1) and A Company (Major Bullock) were in support; behind them was the Machine Gun Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Knowles), and further back the Mortar Platoon (Captain Fallon2). The supporting arms under command were G Troop of 32 Battery and A Squadron of 18 Armoured Regiment; 28 Battery of 5 Field Regiment was also in support. The battalion front was three-quarters of a mile in length, with the right flank, exclusive of a railway line, crossing the river at that point. On the left the Maoris held the rest of 5 Brigade's sector, and 23 Battalion was in brigade reserve; the sector left of the Maoris was held by 6 Brigade, and 9 Brigade was in divisional reserve.
The Senio, wriggling across the flat country in its general north-easterly course to the Adriatic, ran almost due east in the battalion sector. The river itself wasn't the obstacle—it was only about five feet deep and 25 feet across—it was the twenty-foot-high stopbanks. To the infantry they were like a curtain permitting the enemy fairly free movement as long as he held the banks. The mass of vines, fruit and olive trees, grass and self-sown crops almost made the men from 3 NZ Division think they were back in their Pacific jungles again, and there were mines everywhere.
The troops had the choice of sleeping in houses that were registered by the enemy guns or in ditches that were not, and they mostly chose the latter, which were quite dry at the time. They carried in armfuls of straw and covered it with their bivouac tents, to make quite comfortable sleeping quarters.
The first day passed quietly enough for the battalion, except for that portion of B Company actually on the stopbank. The page 412 men of this company found their situation both novel and unpleasant. Their previous experience of stopbanks had not included inhabiting opposite slopes of the same bank as the enemy and within a few feet of him, for although the top of the bank was firmly held, the Germans were still dug in on the reverse slope. Grenades were the most practicable weapon under the circumstances, and were thrown by both sides at uncertain intervals. A German variation was to roll down an S-mine with a two or three-second fuse attached. B Company started to dig a tunnel so that they could see their reverse slope and the forward slope of the far stopbank. When the tunnel was finished, the view was not very reassuring—the reverse slope was covered with wire entanglements, and there were foot-bridges permitting the enemy a quick passage to and from his forward posts dug into the bottom of the bank on our side of the river.
During that and the following day C Company and the rest of B Company swept for mines and cleared paths, while the reserve companies built camouflaged bays for assault boats. C Company tried the next day (the 3rd) to get a footing on the bank. No. 14 Platoon (Lieutenant Utting3) and 15 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Smith4) tried twice, and twice were prevented by grenades and snipers. By this time B Company had its tunnel completed and mortars were directed on to suspected enemy posts. A tank was brought up to assist in the work, and there was no enemy retaliation until the evening, when the whole battalion area was heavily shelled. Possibly the enemy thought the battalion activities were the prelude to an attack, because the deluge was preceded by four flares, three green and a red, evidently a call for defensive fire. The night for B Company was one of fierce grenade exchanges, for the enemy were still able to cross the river at will, and their side of the stopbank was honeycombed with defensive posts dug well into the bank. The situation was reminiscent of Quinn's Post on Gallipoli, where the Turks and New Zealanders held opposite sides of a ridge top within a few yards of each other; except, of course, page 413 that the grenades of 1915 were embryonic in comparison with the 1945 model.
Both companies tried for the stopbank the next afternoon. B Company was able to get a firmer footing, but C Company, with the Germans firmly in position, had more trouble. Utting and Smith selected a new locality to the right of their previous attempt, and 13 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Burton5) also tried near the railway line. They found a German strongpost already established there, and before dawn were grenaded off the bank and back to their original position. Only 15 Platoon got a hold just under the top of the bank on the left of an enemy post, but there was not enough room for both of them. One of the posts would have to move, and Smith decided that it would not be 15 Platoon's. Accompanied by Sergeant Murray and covered by fire from the platoon, he chased the Germans away with grenades, smoke, and tommy guns. Before dawn there were five two-man posts dug in on the bank, with covering positions sited back to platoon headquarters.
B Company's grenade throwing the previous night had evidently been effective, for the company had a quieter night. A Company was to relieve it after last light, and Second-Lieutenant Kirkcaldy6 and Sergeant Pat Leech7 came up to do a reconnaissance. Leech proposed to take a look at the far stopbank, and Kirkcaldy was to assist by blowing a track through the wire with Bangalore torpedoes. There was no enemy reaction to the explosion, and Leech passed through the gap and waded across to the far side. The river bank was too steep to climb, so he returned without drawing fire. There were still two enemy posts on the bank near 15 Platoon, and another tank was brought into range to deal with them. The shoot was effective, but the railway area continued to be a menace. It was outside the battalion's area, and several polite requests to the neighbouring unit to quieten it failed to produce any action.
C and B Companies were relieved by D and A Companies in the morning. This was not contemplated when the positions page 414 were taken up, because D and A Companies were to lead the assault over the river, but all-night grenade-throwing parties had not been contemplated either.
No. 18 Platoon (Lieutenant Speight8) had a tough time taking over from 15 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Smith), then the only troops on the near stopbank in C Company's area. No. 15 Platoon had thinned out in anticipation of relief, and 18 Platoon was hampered by enfilading snipers firing from the railway, but after some delay the posts were established. The enemy later put down a barrage of high explosive and smoke between them and the platoon covering positions, and when it cleared three men were missing. For the second time before a major battle 21 Battalion had the bad luck to lose prisoners and thereby compromise security precautions.
No. 18 Platoon was exceedingly angry over the loss of the post; Sergeant Bert Gardyne9 threw caution to the wind and with two sections raced up on to the bank and began to dig in. They dug right through the bank and came out above an enemy weapon pit from which they took five prisoners. The platoon felt better after that. The enemy put down several more ‘stonks’, but there was no further infantry activity, and by last light 18 Platoon was firmly established on 21 Battalion's front. The nightly grenade duels were continued, and five more Germans put up a white flag and came over the bank to surrender.
There was an enemy observation post-cum-strongpoint between A and D Companies which Major Bullock felt should be removed, and the first attempt was made at dawn by Lieutenant Naylor and a section of 9 Platoon. The plan was to place a Bangalore torpedo as near as possible to the post and, as soon as it blew, to storm it with grenades. The plan did not succeed, for the Bangalore seemed only to serve as a warning and the enemy was waiting. Naylor was wounded and fire from both stopbanks forced a complete withdrawal under the protection of two Bren guns mounted on tripods and fired from the second story of Company Headquarters' house. They had been sited to sweep a few inches above the stopbank in case page 415 of a counter-raid and were manned by CSM Jim Perry and his runner, Private ‘Weary’ Weir.10 C and B Companies caught up on the sleep they had lost the previous two nights.
As D Company in general, and 18 Platoon on the stopbank in particular, would remain exposed until the enemy was removed from his enfilading strongpoint at the junction of the railway and stopbank, Major Fleming was instructed to capture the position, and arrangements were made for two tanks to support a platoon attack the next morning.
In the meantime A Company was also arranging another attempt on the post that had defied its first effort. Two tanks were brought up close to Company Headquarters and fire was directed at a point on the stopbank below and in line with the enemy stronghold, in the hope that some of the shells would penetrate far enough to cause dismay and confusion. The shells did not penetrate, but ricochetted over the bank, and the attack led by Lieutenant Hooper11 was not successful.
That night was of the same pattern as the others and in the morning it was D Company's turn. Two tanks arrived to support a platoon attack on the railway strongpoint. They were to fire a ten-minute concentration of armour-piercing and high-explosive shells into the ground around the position in the hope of exploding some of the mines in the area. While the tanks were trying to get into a position to fire, one of them ran on to a mine and was put out of action. The other fulfilled its programme, but the volume of fire in return was too much to face without the certainty of very heavy casualties. Major Fleming thought that a quick dash by a few determined men might take the enemy by surprise. He rang the CO and told him that he contemplated leading the party himself. Colonel McPhail told him that the task did not warrant such a course, but left the matter to the Major's own discretion as the post had to be taken. Fleming decided to lead the attack and called for volunteers. Sergeant Rae,12 Privates Griffiths,13 Tolich,14 page 416 and Stephens15 offered to accompany him. They waited until what appeared an auspicious moment, when the enemy post had been silent for some time, and on an agreed signal streaked across the open space dividing them. The raiders were among the enemy before he knew what was happening and captured ten prisoners and two machine guns.
One section from 17 Platoon (Lieutenant Lockett16) occupied the captured post, while a second section dug in on the lower slope of the bank, and the third section, led by Sergeant Rae, went through a culvert under the railway line and dug back on an angle close to the other sections. By midday D Company had the position secure, with two platoons on the bank and 16 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Boys17) in reserve. Major Fleming was awarded an immediate DSO for his exploit, Sergeant Rae a DCM, and Private Tolich an MM. Sergeant Gardyne was also awarded the MM for his leadership of 16 Platoon.
During the afternoon another party of five Germans surrendered to D Company. This party included a CSM who had forgotten to destroy his trace of the enemy defensive fire lines on the battalion front.
That sector of the Senio stopbank was beginning to look like a rabbit burrow. B and C Companies were due for relief on the night of 6–7 April, with 1/6 Surreys of 78 Division taking over the railway line position, which was of course in their area.
Previous nights had been lively, but that night was really exceptional. The enemy put over a succession of harassing concentrations of mortar and artillery fire, mingled with rocket oil projectors and nebelwerfers, with grenade duels in between. Haystacks and buildings were set alight, while the battalion mortars and support arms added to the uproar.
The enemy had in fact been preparing to pull back to the Santerno River, and an extravagant fire plan had been organised to cover the withdrawal. At the last moment the movement had been cancelled on higher orders, but the local commander, anxious not to damage the morale of his gunners, who page 417 had been nearly starved of ammunition for a long time, decided to fire part of the programme. No change in position took place, much to the relief of the GOC, whose plans for the coming offensive were based on the supposition that the Germans would continue to hold the Senio line. It was actually a ‘Chinese attack’ in reverse and was not appreciated by the recipients.
The 8th of April was spent by those not actually holding the bank in building ramps to enable flame-throwing carriers and tanks to get high enough up to flame the opposite bank before the attack. This work was done in B and D Companies' areas under a continual shower of rifle grenades and light mortars firing obliquely from the right and left, but the troops countered by building roofs with timber to work under. In spite of these precautions there were six casualties, bringing the total of killed and wounded up to fifty—about half as many in a week as in the two months' fighting in front of Rimini.
Secrecy as to the date of the attack, the use of flame-throwers, and the weight of the artillery support was complete, and even company commanders were not informed of the timing of the assault until a few hours before the attack. In fact the forward companies were withdrawn to prepared position some 400 yards from the stopbank while the battalion orders group was receiving orders, and the bombardment had opened before the company commanders had returned to their companies. The crossing of the Senio had been fixed for the evening of 9 April after a four-hour bombardment commencing at 3.20 p.m. The time of the attack, twenty minutes past seven, was chosen because it still left the Air Force an hour of twilight to strafe any strongpoints that survived the preliminary deluge of shells and bombs. In all 1640 aircraft were to be used on the corps' front—650 Fortresses, 200 Halifaxes and Liberators, 120 Baltimores and Marauders, 200 mediums and 470 fighters. The artillery support would be provided by 256 guns, which would fire 140,000 rounds in the preliminary bombardment and 110,000 in the creeping barrage. In the divisional area three New Zealand armoured regiments (150 tanks) were standing by ready to deal with the enemy armour and to assist the infantry.
Fifth Brigade's plan was to cross the river with 21 Battalion on the right and the Maoris on the left, and to form up on a page 418 lateral road 400 yards beyond the far stopbank. From that start line they would follow the barrage for approximately a mile to another lateral road half a mile short of Lugo, which was outside the battalion's right boundary. Lugo, a small town but an important road centre, was the junction point of 8 Indian Division and 2 NZ Division. The Indian Division's line of advance was north-west across 78 Division's front, which would squeeze the latter division into reserve. Finally the battalion would exploit for another mile to the Canale di Lugo, which ran past the western outskirts of Lugo.
The battalion operation was to be done in three phases:
Phase 1: Assault crossing of the Senio and mopping up as far as the artillery opening line.
Phase 2: Set-piece advance under a barrage to the lateral road objective.
Phase 3: Exploitation to the Canale di Lugo.
Before the attack began the battalion was suddenly called to side-slip and take over a section of the Maori Battalion's front, and the right boundary was moved left to correspond. Colonel McPhail felt, however, that the attack would be difficult if the enemy in front of C Company's position were left on his open flank, so he decided to take over the extended front by attacking with three companies up. C Company, therefore, remained on the right flank, and A Company had moved in on B Company's left and got busy with the preparation of ramps for the flame-throwers. The work was completed about an hour before the preliminary bombardment and the Wasp drivers were being briefed while the shells were falling.
The battalion plan was to cross the river and advance to the start line with three companies, D on the right, B in the centre and A on the left, while C Company, assisted by the East Surreys adjoining, would give covering fire to D Company on the open right flank. The advance to the final objective would be made by D and A Companies, with C and B in support. The exploitation might be carried out by either the forward or support companies according to circumstances. The page 419 Senio crossing was an elaborate operation that could not have been undertaken with less seasoned troops than those of 2 NZ Division. It was impossible to reconnoitre, and maps and aerial photographs are at best a poor substitute for actually looking over the ground; the start line and direction of attack were on an angle to the flow of the river, which meant that fences, roads, and other obstacles were completely useless as guides to direction, but were doubly effective as obstacles to platoons moving in extended order. The section leaders' and platoon commanders' difficulties were increased by a thick smoke cover and failing light.
Twenty minutes before the bombardment was due to open, the troops withdrew 400 yards from the stopbank and for four hours watched the nearest approach to Dante's Inferno this side of the River Styx. First the ack-ack guns made a pattern grid of shellbursts in the clear sky to guide the aircraft; then flight after flight of planes flashing silver in the sun, and the thump-thump-thump as the bombs exploded.
Major Bullock, to whom barrages were no novelty, wrote:
It is always difficult to describe an artillery barrage, but in this barrage when the Div. had nearly 300 guns on a fairly restricted frontage the noise defies description. It was impossible to distinguish any particular lull between salvoes. The noise of firing was a continual loud thunder clap of noise and in the disintegrating enemy territory the bursting shells and screaming shrapnel made a holocaust of noise that rent the air. The very air was vibrating and the sky above us was cut by the swishing, whistling, screaming shells tearing into the very guts of the land. There is something tingling and exciting about our own artillery fire as a rule, but this time it was awesome. There seemed no end to it and then, above this noise was heard the drone of hundreds of bombers coming from the south, their silver bodies glinting high in the sun as they crossed our line and dropped tons of small anti-personnel bombs immediately behind the line of the artillery barrage. Clouds of choking dust swirled from the parched fields. At 5 minutes to the hour, for the whole of this four-hour barrage, silence cut the air like a knife. The guns stopped, but the silence was replaced by a different sound of furious noise. Dive bombers screaming out of the blue hurtled down to strafe and bomb strongpoints in the stopbank. No sooner had these planes hurtled to safety when the drums of death thundered out again as the barrage started for the next 55 minutes' symphony.page 420
There was worse to come, but in the meantime the troops recleaned and rechecked Brens, tommy guns, rifles, grenades, picks and shovels, Piats and two-inch mortars; the signallers broke wireless silence and netted in their 38 and 19 sets.
The last bombs were dropping and the last shells—for the time being—screaming over at twenty past seven, when the Wasps and Crocodiles raced up to their prepared positions and spilled their Hell's brew on the far stopbank, while the dive-bombers roared overhead making dummy runs. Two minutes later the standing barrage opened on the start line. Nos. 14 and 15 Platoons of C Company raced for their positions on the stopbank to perform their covering role, and the battalion mortars, plus a mortar platoon from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders under command, opened up on the right of D Company's line of advance.
Each company crossed on a two-platoon front, using kapok bridges, while the support platoon had boats in case of damage to the bridges. The leading platoons of D Company crossed without much difficulty, but the post that had survived two attacks by A Company had also survived the barrage and the flame-throwers and came into action. Its defenders deserve full credit for their fortitude, for seldom had troops survived such a deluge and fought back so quickly. Their fire prevented Company Headquarters from crossing, but the post was eventually silenced by Second-Lieutenant Boys, who blew it out with a Piat, while CSM Ker18 focussed attention on himself in a tommy-gun duel. The company 38 set had gone dead in the meantime, and when the complete D Company was across the river it was found that the leading platoon had gone up to the start line independently. The barrage was moving forward when Major Fleming reached the start line, and in the deepening dusk and tangle of grape vines and ditches Company Headquarters was separated from the reserve platoon. They stumbled after the crashing steel wall towards the final objective line and overran a casualty clearing station. Sixty-odd prisoners were taken before the other two platoons were found, each with a nice bag of captives, bringing the company total up to approximately 150.page 421
B Company lost two officers wounded at zero hour and was slightly disorganised in consequence. A footbridge used by the Germans had miraculously escaped damage, and Lieutenant Primrose19 was wounded leading his platoon towards it. Major Butler thereupon raced up the bank to supervise the use of the bridge as the quickest way over the river, but he too was wounded. The CSM, ‘Diamond’ Jim Edmond,20 took charge of Company Headquarters and held the company together until Captain Warrington21 came up and took command. When Warrington was killed a few hours later, Edmond again commanded the company until Captain Kermode22 took over. Once over the river, B Company got away behind the barrage and took the lead from D Company on its right, and was first up to the final objective, where it halted.
At a quarter past seven the assault boat and bridge parties of A Company moved up, preceded by 8 Platoon (Lieutenant Hooper) in a covering role. The Wasps, in spite of the rushed arrangements, were smartly in position, but owing to hold-ups through the Wasps returning down a narrow road, 9 Platoon (Sergeant ‘Blue’ Whittleston23) was late in getting its bridge across the river. No. 7 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Kirkcaldy), with its less bulky boats, made better progress, but lost its radio when a grenade blew the end off Company Headquarters' boat, and the operator, Private McCarthy,24 made a jump for the bank and fell into the water instead. Hooper's set also failed to function and for 'some unexplained reason Company Headquarters' set could raise neither Battalion Headquarters nor the flanking companies. The Maoris were not far away, however, for when Company Headquarters' operator tried to speak with 9 Platoon the air was full of Maori commands. The wave-lengths were apparently too close to their neighbours for good working.page 422
The forward platoons were clearing a group of houses across the river when 7 Platoon joined them after making a delayed but safe crossing. Sergeant Leech had made history in inventing a new weapon. The custom had grown in the battalion of carrying the shovels for digging in thrust inside the web belt, like an officer's sword worn on ceremonial parade, instead of down the back. Leech was slightly wounded by a grenade splinter when the platoon came upon a group of Germans still showing fight. His tommy gun jammed in the mêlée, and when he found himself covered by a machine pistol he ‘drew’ his shovel and threw it at the owner of the pistol. Exit the enemy!
The platoons, separated and out of touch with Major Bullock, moved independently towards the start line, while Company Headquarters, having found some overlooked enemy in deep dugouts, winkled them out before moving up. The prisoners, quite tame for the most part—those who were not tame had been suitably dealt with—were sent back under escort, and Company Headquarters advanced in the growing darkness to find the forward platoons. They were overtaken, each with a batch of prisoners, after further delay in grenading a strongpoint that barred the way about a quarter of a mile from the stopbank. By the time the company was reorganised and the prisoners got rid of, it was quite dark and the barrage too far ahead to be of any use. The company was still out of touch with Battalion Headquarters and both flanks, and was in a maze of grape-vine wires, ditches, and unoccupied enemy pits. Progress was depressingly slow and Major Bullock, convinced that he was behind the rest of the battalion, formed the company into column of route with 9 Platoon the right, 8 the centre, and 7 the left-hand file. In this novel formation they covered a mile without meeting friend or enemy.
Three hours after zero the company moved out of the Italian jungle on to a road that should have been the final objective, but the complete lack of contact invited caution. Bullock continues: ‘I crouched in a ditch and shone the hooded torch on the map while the Pl. Commanders huddled over me like American footballers receiving instructions from the Coach. I had just put my pencil on 338357 and said “This is where we are now” when I was conscious of another shadow joining page 423 the three Pl. Commanders huddled above me. I didn't attach any special significance to this new arrival, thinking it would be one of the Sergeants or a runner nosing in, when Blue Whittleston gave a shout of “What the …” [soldierly but quite unprintable], swung his tommy gun round, and spread-eagled the shadow, who was disappearing down the road very smartly. Yes, an enemy observer at our Conference!’
At this stage odd enemy parties began roaming up to the company and in the smoke and mist 15 prisoners were gathered in. The company was apparently surrounded by enemy moving aimlessly about and 9 Platoon was sent to find a good defensive position, but all they found were more roaming Jerries and an enemy tank, so with the total of 39 prisoners, Bullock ordered the company to dig in where it was.
The next two hours were very busy indeed. Private ‘Atta’ Johnson, the company's Piat wizard, prepared a suitable welcome for the enemy tank, which however did not come on; but the company had struck the flank of a counter-attacking force moving from Lugo to Cotignola, and it was fortunate that the enemy was not well organised. Ninety were taken prisoner and as many killed before the area quietened, but it was a great relief when Second-Lieutenant Boys arrived with his platoon. About an hour before first light Captain Warrington arrived with B Company. The CO had been rather concerned over the disappearance of A Company, and when Warrington was sent up to replace Major Butler, he was told to locate the missing company. With the situation now under control, Boys was detailed to return with his men and guide the supporting tanks up as soon as the engineers got their bridges over the Senio. The whole success of the operation depended on those bridges, and there was a certain amount of uneasiness at Battalion and Brigade Headquarters. But they need not have worried —the bridges were up and the tanks were over according to plan.
C Squadron of 18 Armoured Regiment was in position before daylight and then A and B Companies commenced the exploitation phase. Little trouble was experienced, and both companies were on the Canale di Lugo by 10 a.m., waiting for breakfast. The position was then that the forward troops held the canal line across the battalion front, with the right flank resting on page 424 the Lugo-Massa Lombarda railway line. D Company was on the final objective in support, and C Company was deployed to face Lugo and guard the open flank. Civilians reported that the enemy had left Lugo about 9 a.m., so Sergeant Murray took a patrol from 15 Platoon and went to investigate. They found Lugo in charge of a partisan group, who handed over eleven Germans apparently very glad to exchange captors. A search for weapons disclosed that the enemy had already been thoroughly checked over.
The battalion stood on this position and reorganised. The casualties in the advance had been light—22 all ranks, of whom three were killed. The 23rd Battalion passed through in the early afternoon and took 21 Battalion's place on the right of the Maoris, who were carrying on to the Santerno. The 21st continued to rest the next day (11 April), while the forward troops crossed fields of long grass and foot-high wheat crops separated by rows of grape vines and fruit trees. The relentless pressure of the infantry, the terrific bombardment, and the sky full of menacing planes had disorganised the defences sufficiently to permit the rushing of the high-banked and heavily wired Santerno, and the Division waited for the Indians and Poles, who had been outpaced, to get up on each flank.
Colonel McPhail was ordered to relieve the Maoris after dark on the 12th, and made a preliminary move during the day to an area two miles further forward and half a mile short of the Santerno River. The dispositions were C Company on the right and A Company on the left, and the orders were to pass through the Maoris and advance on Massa Lombarda, a small town five miles from Lugo and the junction of the railways from Lugo and the considerable town of Imola. After the relief the Maoris were to watch the right flank, where the Indians were still fighting their way forward.
The brigade attack was to be preceded by a barrage, but when 23 Battalion passed on information given by partisans that the enemy was pulling back, the gunners were notified that their services would not be required. The partisans' information was correct and the troops entered Massa Lombarda at midnight without encountering opposition. The town was combed for hidden enemy, but he had departed, and the page 425 battalion consolidated along the Canale dei Molini, which ran across the front west of the town. In view of the fact that there was little contact with the enemy, McPhail decided to push on to the Scolo Zaniolo, a mile further forward. A pocket of enemy was encountered at the Zaniolo, and after some firing 30 prisoners were taken without casualties. The 23rd Battalion, which had remained on the Canale dei Molini, drew level, and 6 Brigade was also on the general line of the canal.
The 21st Battalion was ordered to sit firm while the Division reorganised and Eighth Army regrouped. Fifth Brigade was to drop back into reserve, while 6 Brigade sidestepped to the right and took over 5 Brigade's front at the same time as 9 Brigade moved into the area vacated by 6 Brigade. This manoeuvre was in preparation for an advance on a two-brigade front to capture both stopbanks of the Sillaro River, five miles ahead. The German 98 Division had been smashed in the Senio and Santerno operations, and 278 Division had been withdrawn from Fifth Army's front to stop the New Zealanders. In the event it had no better fortune than the disintegrated 98th.
On the broader canvas Eighth Army's advance along the coast was going well, and the left flank in the Apennines was secured by the attack across the Senio. It was decided to let 5 Corps concentrate on its seaward operations and to bring 13 Corps out of the mountains and down on to the plains. Actually General Sir John Harding, commanding 13 Corps, brought with him only one division (10 Indian Division) to join the New Zealanders as the divisions of 13 Corps, and until the Indian formation was fed into the line 2 NZ Division was the only division of the corps engaged in active operations. On the rest of the Italian front the eastern wing of Fifth Army was thrusting towards Bologna and its western wing towards Genoa. Further north the Russians fought their way into Vienna. The whole German front was cracking like an ice floe in the spring.
The 21st Battalion stayed in the wheat fields and under blossoming fruit trees in the Massa Lombarda area until the afternoon of 16 April, when orders were received to pass through 26 Battalion. The enemy had not only been chased off the page 426 Sillaro, but 26 Battalion was half-way to the Gaiana Canal, eight miles beyond its objective. There was talk of field guns being overrun and Tiger-hunting with phosphorus grenades.
The thrusting force of the Division was increased the same night by taking under command 43 Gurkha Lorried Infantry Brigade, composed of 14/20 Horse, 2 Royal Tanks, and 2/6, 2/8 and 2/10 Battalions of the Gurkha Rifles.
The 26th Battalion was found by the leading companies, B and D, over the Scolo Sillaro (not to be confused with the river of the same name), with patrols forward to the Scolo Montanara, half a mile further on. The troops were not to move beyond the Scolo Montanara that night, but to resume the following morning, and were not to pass the main road to Medicina, two miles ahead. There was no opposition on 21 Battalion's front, and the troops were consolidating along the road by first light. The position was then that 23 and 21 Battalions were on the road objective and the Maoris disposed to protect the right flank. The Division regrouped again to continue the advance, with 9 Brigade on the right and 43 Gurkha Brigade on the left, while 5 and 6 Brigades passed into reserve.
Fifth Brigade stayed in reserve for two days while the forward brigades assaulted the Gaiana and the Scolo Acquarolo and dug in a mile and a half past the Quaderna River. Although 21 Battalion had been lucky in finding a comparatively easy piece of enemy line, the rest of the Division had made a complete mess of 278 Division and was now getting even for being pushed around in Crete in May 1941 by German paratroops. In those days, when the German war machine was moving from victory to victory, 4 Parachute Division had had everything— overwhelming air support and splendid equipment—while the Kiwis had rifles and precious little else. The first game had been undoubtedly the paratroops', but this time it was game and rubber to the New Zealanders.
The paratroops fought with even more than their usual determination. It was their mission, at any cost, to stop the relentless New Zealanders. The result was dead Germans in the fields and on the roads, burnt Germans on the stopbanks and in the water, live Germans in the prison cages or marching back towards them. Faintly through the hot summer air, page 427 tainted with the stench of unburied horses, oxen, and Germans, came the brr-p, brrr-p, brrrrr-p of defiant spandaus. In front, behind, and all around the reserve troops, tired with incessant marching and sleeping in the sun, could be heard the characteristic slap of 25-pounders, the crack of 3.7s, and the smash of 155s speeding their shells to join the bombs raining down. Finito paratroops!
On the night of 19 April 5 Brigade, with 23 Battalion on the right and 21 Battalion on the left, relieved 9 Brigade and pushed on for approximately a mile to the outskirts of Budrio. C and A, the leading companies of 21 Battalion, were ordered to reconnoitre Budrio, but whatever the position, were not to advance before daylight. A Company had a very difficult time, not from enemy fire but from the Gurkhas, who were in the process of being relieved by 6 Brigade in rear of the company's position. The Gurkhas must have mistaken 21 Battalion for enemy troops, for they gave a splendid demonstration of defensive fire and wounded two men in A Company. A patrol from this company was fired on from a crossroad near Budrio, and called up the artillery to ‘stonk’ it. Both A and C Companies advanced after daylight and found the crossroad strongpoint still unsubdued, but the support tanks soon quietened it.
A Company went into Budrio and dealt with a few snipers there, while C Company moved through the right outskirts of the town; both companies carried on to the River Idice, a mile beyond the town, arriving at 11 a.m. The enemy was there in force on both banks, and 21 Battalion halted. While the troops were breasting up to the Idice, the Division's thrust line was shifted more to the north, and to conform with this side-slip the Maoris were ordered out on to the right of 23 Battalion. The Brigade Commander then ordered 23 Battalion to cross the river, with the support of Wasps and artillery, and form a bridgehead, while 21 and 28 Battalions manned the east stop-bank on either flank. For the rest of the afternoon the artillery on both sides was active, ours continually, and his when our planes were not overhead.
The CO returned from a brigade conference with instructions to cross the Idice and occupy ground not covered in the still proceeding side-slip. A and C Companies had manned the page 428 stopbank after 23 Battalion's action had convinced the enemy that there was still no rest for him and that his position was untenable against determined assaults. Commencing at 8.30 p.m., B, C, and D Companies in that order crossed the Idice without difficulty before midnight. A set-piece attack was to be launched at that hour, while 23 and 28 Battalions widened and deepened the bridgehead. They advanced a mile and a half without trouble. Sixth Brigade conformed and squeezed 21 Battalion out of the line and into brigade reserve.
Beyond the river the troops were in an area largely untouched by the blight of war: the bridges were intact, the gravelled roads unmined and uncratered; the houses were intact, too, and the population unfeignedly glad to see them. The Italians showed their gladness with high hospitality—unlimited bottles of the wine of the country.
Saturday, 21 April, was the beginning of the end. The Americans and Poles were in Bologna; the German line had finally broken, and whole divisions were in headlong flight in an effort to get behind the Po River defences.
The next day 21 Battalion, still in reserve, chased after the forward troops in trucks to a point seven miles north-east of Bologna, where they waited until the following morning (the 23rd) for bridges, then pushed on again and crossed the Reno.
The battalion moved again at midnight, passed through the Maoris and, as there was no opposition, carried on to Sette Polesini, north-west of Ferrara and two and a half miles short of the Po. Sixth (British) Armoured Brigade was already sitting on the river. The convoy reached the Po after a drive across country that was still flat, but with longer intervals between canals. The roads were lined with poplars, and there were occasional plantations of oak and pine trees. In every direction and at every distance the pointed spires of village churches showed above the trees. Clouds of light yellow dust were reminiscent of desert days as the trucks swung through the Italian countryside, lovely in the first spring clothing of lucern and wheat. Every ditch was gay with yellow buttercups, white daisies and blue snapdragons, every field fenced with mulberry, poplar, elm, chestnut and oak trees, all supporting grape vines in full leaf. The populace waved to the speeding trucks or page 429 crowded around with flowers and wine at the frequent and unpredictable halts.
The River Po was about 300 yards wide, with high double stopbanks containing its fast-flowing muddy water. There were poplar plantations along the banks and the river could have been a larger Waikato.
The fleeing enemy had suffered an Italian Dunkirk trying to cross the Po. The debris of pontoons lined the muddy banks, while for at least a quarter of a mile there were dead horses and oxen, and piled guns, tanks, trucks, and ammunition where the planes had blasted the waiting columns.
When 21 Battalion arrived it was found that 6 Armoured Division had cut across the divisional axis and was already sitting on the river bank waiting for bridges. The troops debussed and A and D Companies reconnoitred the river's edge under instructions to cross and take a look at the far side if at all possible. D Company saw enemy in front of it, but A Company's area looked empty, so Second-Lieutenant Carr25 and Corporal Len Bisley26 decided to make the attempt. They paddled across in an assault boat and, while Bisley remained with the boat, Carr climbed the bank and nearly trod on a sleeping German in a slit trench. He left him to his slumbers, and after a quick look round the two New Zealanders returned. They claimed to have broken all records for the distance, spurred on by their inability to watch the enemy bank and not knowing when the sleeping German was likely to wake up. Immediate steps were taken by both battalions to cross forthwith. Canvas and rubber assault boats were coming up from the rear as well as amphibious tanks, ‘ducks’, and motor-driven assault boats. The idea was for the tanks to hammer the far bank while the troops paddled across, but General Freyberg was taking no undue risks and ordered the crossing to be deferred until the night, when a barrage would be provided. At 1.30 on the morning of 25 April (Anzac Day) A Company, with 1 Battalion Grenadier Guards on its right and 23 Battalion on its left, pushed off in its assault craft, and 20 minutes later page 430 was in possession of the far bank without casualties. D Company, under way a few minutes before two o'clock, made a safe crossing and moved out to the right of A Company. C Company crossed at 3.30 in support of A and D, which had consolidated on a defensive line in contact with a battalion of Grenadier Guards.
Continuing the policy of keeping right after the disorganised enemy, C and D Companies, with 23 Battalion on their left, moved off at first light for the high-banked, swift-flowing Adige River. Odd pockets of enemy were bypassed and left to the not very tender mercies of the partisans, and the river was reached by early afternoon. The rest of the day was spent in preparing for an assault crossing after dark. C Squadron 18 Armoured Regiment panted up in time to do over the far bank, just in case opposition had been organised. The rest of the battalion had arrived by then and gave covering fire, while the troops ferried themselves across the 200-yard-wide Adige under some erratic and harmless small-arms fire. The battalion remained in what would normally have been a very precarious position, with half the troops on each side of the river and no supporting tanks forward until bridges were got across. There was some sniping from the open right flank, but a carrier and Wasp patrol chased the snipers away, and the engineers got on with their bridge. The Gurkhas and 9 Brigade took over the chase the next morning, and 5 Brigade went into reserve.
There was a possibility that the Germans would attempt a stand on the remaining important river lines, the Brenta, the Sile, and the Piave, on all of which defences had been prepared.
Thirteenth Corps was ordered to take advantage of the enemy's disorganised state and get to Trieste as quickly as possible. On account of supply and traffic problems, it was decided to continue the advance with only one division, and 2 NZ Division, with four infantry brigades, was given the job. The Division was ordered to advance on the axis Padua-Mestre and thence along Route 14, through San Dona di Piave-Portogruaro-Monfalcone to Trieste. At the same time the area west of Route 16 as far as Padua was to be cleared by 43 Gurkha Brigade, on the completion of which task the brigade would halt and come under the direct command of Corps.page 431
The battalion rested on two hours' notice until the 29th, when 5 Brigade was sent after 9 Brigade, which was concentrated in Padua and had arrived after the partisans had fought a pitched battle with the German garrison. The partisans had had between three and four thousand casualties, but had captured the city and held approximately 4000 prisoners. It was a long, hot and dusty drive along the excellent tarsealed road that led through Padua and twelve miles up the coast from Venice to Portegrandi, where the troops bedded down at 2 a.m. That moonlight drive will not be soon forgotten, for it was a populated countryside and the civilians still were capable of cheers and welcoming shouts for every convoy, in spite of the fact that they had been doing little else for twenty-four hours.
There were hills again close to the road, flares cutting green arcs in the moonlight, an occasional rifle shot when a partisan put paid to an old score against a Fascist or a German; croaking frogs in the canals and nightingales in the trees; villas, mansions, crossroad villages, small towns and church spires.
While the convoy was heading north, Mussolini and twelve members of his Fascist Cabinet had been executed by the partisans. Mussolini was left hanging feet upwards in front of a roadside petrol station.
The battalion was to take over from 27 Battalion the job of clearing the right flank of the divisional axis near Piave Vecchia, and as a preliminary 7 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Homewood27), with some tanks, was directed to clear an enemy naval party from flak boats on the canalised Piave River.
A Company was to move before daylight and relieve a company of 27 Battalion which was protecting the undamaged bridge at San Dona di Piave, but within half an hour of departure word was received that a large enemy force had cut across the front after shooting up 5 Field Park Company's area. The enemy was reported to be moving in the direction of the battalion, and A Company made immediate preparations to receive him. The company climbed on to the supporting tanks and made all haste along the road towards 5 Field Park, with the rest of the battalion following, but the enemy had disappeared, page 432 together with 20 trucks and 80 prisoners. Partisans soon located them holed up in a monastery near Meolo. C and B Companies went after them, accompanied by half a squadron of tanks, while A Company carried on to its bridge-guarding assignment, and D Company stayed to protect Battalion Headquarters and as a reserve.
The information from the partisans was correct, and the tanks were expecting some target practice when the enemy commander, realising the position, asked what were the terms of surrender. He was told that there were no terms except unconditional surrender, and to make up his mind smartly—or else. He made it up and a column 1500 strong was marched back to San Dona di Piave, where in the meantime Battalion Headquarters had been established. Field Park sappers took some pleasure in accompanying their late captors. The Germans were a coast defence force and had decided to break out and try to get back to Germany. They had only three trucks, but had mounted a number of flak guns on bullock carts and had used them to shoot up 5 Field Park Company the previous night.
A Company was also doing some collecting of prisoners, for partisans brought in information that there was a coast defence battery nearby that was prepared to surrender to soldiers but not to partisans, whose alleged methods of disposing of prisoners were known to the battery.
The battalion moved on to Monfalcone the next morning, leaving A Company to guard the prisoners. Captain Burton writes:
Prisoners continued to increase and A Coy was detailed to remain behind and hold these prisoners now amounting to several hundreds and arrangements would be made to return [them] to POW cages in the rear. The Bn and Division pushed on and then a problem arose, everybody seemed to have forgotten A Coy; I was approached by the Partisan commander in the area and was asked to take over nearly 2000 prisoners that were in their hands. I agreed on condition they evacuated their HQ, which was a very large building with a very large courtyard surrounded by buildings (it could and might have been a barracks). We marshalled all the enemy in, and our total prisoners were now about 2800, and still no sign from Div. Feeding was a problem now, and we commandeered some cattle and had them killed. The cooking was being done by Italians page 433 at this stage until the Germans asked permission to do it, saying they could procure stores of flour etc; this was agreed to and a truck was sent under guard with a Jerry working party and they came back with plenty of everything. Eventually we stopped and commandeered any empty vehicles going to the rear and got rid of the lot.
Meanwhile the battalion convoy had got as far as Latisana, 15 miles to the north, where partisans reported that an estimated enemy force of 4000 was landing from ships at Lignano. The area is a huge sand spit running out into a big lagoon, and at its southern end the Tagliamento River enters the sea. Colonel McPhail immediately sought and gained permission to divert the battalion and deal with the situation. Second-Lieutenant Craig was sent off to find some tanks, and Major Swanson left with three carriers to investigate. He found a large force in the process of landing from 26 ships of all types at the mouth of the Tagliamento River. The Germans were protected by naval craft holding off three British MTBs, which were outranged and could not get in close enough to use their guns effectively. The Germans had evacuated Trieste to escape the Yugoslav Army and were under the impression that they were landing in an area still held by themselves and that the road to the Fatherland was still open. A number of the enemy were deployed, but took no action when Swanson drove up and demanded the whereabouts of the force commander. His headquarters was obligingly pointed out, and the Major went there and asked to see him. The commander would not be there for an hour was the answer, but a curt ‘Get him here in five minutes’ had the desired effect. In five minutes the commander was there. He was uncertain about his future actions, but was definitely not enamoured with the idea of giving in without a fight. The 21st Battalion's force was outnumbered by 20 to one, but Swanson airily explained that he was supported by multitudinous planes, tanks and artillery, at that very moment waiting word to open up, and suggested a 50-minute truce to enable his commanding officer to arrive. This was agreed to and a tense period was relieved by the arrival of Colonel McPhail, who had brought the battalion up and driven over to see what was going on. The position was page 434 thoroughly explained again while enemy troops, trucks, and guns were being landed as if there were no New Zealand troops in sight. Craig arrived at this time after finding a squadron of tanks commanded by Major ‘Gunboat’ Nelson,28 who were following hard on his heels. It was a dramatic situation. McPhail and Swanson were sitting on one side of a table, two German officers on the other, and a German interpreter explaining that they could not surrender. They insisted on going back to Germany to fight the Russians, and it would save unnecessary bloodshed if the New Zealand troops would kindly step aside.
McPhail replied that the war was over for them; their personal effects would be respected but they must lay down their arms immediately. Precisely at that moment a runner arrived with a message that the tanks were in position and what did McPhail want them to do about the enemy. It was the sight of the tanks in hull-down positions, indicated by a wave of the CO's arm, that was the deciding factor.
The Colonel describes the last act in the drama: Before the final decision to surrender was reached the Force Commanders assembled some 30 officers and after being correctly fallen in and giving the usual ‘Heil’ these officers were addressed by Tolar [Lieutenant-Colonel Wilhelm Tolar, commanding the German forces] and presumably the pros and cons of surrender were put before them. We had impressed on the Commander that we were the advance elements of the NZ Div and fortunately two of our fighter aircraft were circling overhead. The officers then broke off and moved into a small room in a casa returning on parade in ten minutes when I was advised that the decision to surrender had been made. A very young Nazi officer was in tears at this betrayal of Hitler. However, the others treated him very kindly. I then gave Tolar instructions as to the dumping of arms, etc., and arranged for him to send a naval officer out with the Bn I.O. to contact the commander of the British M.T.B.'s to ensure that the navy took as many vessels as possible loaded with personnel to Bari to lighten the problem of feeding so many PW's—Craig was sick en route!
One prisoner-of-war cage was established at Latisana under the control of Support Company, and one at Lignano under page 435 C Company. The night was spent in marshalling long columns of Germans and escorting them to their cages. There were about 6000 of them and their equipment included E-boats, LSTs, a small hospital ship, all types of transport, and a variety of weapons. In recognition of the outstanding work of 21 Battalion in the campaign now all but concluded, McPhail was awarded the DSO.
The prisoners were set to work the next day unloading food from their fleet, as the surrender terms included the feeding of themselves for some days until fresh arrangements could be made. They set four ships on fire, and the naval commander was informed that he would be held personally responsible for the safety of the remaining units. There was no further incident, but the German and New Zealand points of view about carrying out an agreement differed, as the following certificate obtained to protect the good name of the battalion testifies:
to whom it may concern
Under the terms of the surrender as arranged between Lt. Col. E. A. McPhail, 21 NZ Bn and the two commanding officers of the 6,000 surrendering troops, Lt. Col. Wilhelm Tolar (Army) and Captain Friedrich-Karl Birnbaum (Navy) the following clause came into effect:— “That the private property, other than military equipment, in the possession of and carried by the surrendering forces will not be interfered with and will remain the property of the individual.”
E. A. McPhail, Lt. Col.
Cmd. 21 NZ Bn. 4 May 1945
Certified that all personnel left Lignano Camp with their personal gear intact. Tolar Oberstlt.
After all the prisoners had been marched off to captivity, Colonel McPhail, Second-Lieutenants Thompson29 (Signals Officer) and Craig (Intelligence Officer) made an inspection of the captured fleet and discovered an omnibus on a blown-up landing craft stranded on a sand bar about 400 yards from the beach. The bus was in good order, and it was decided that it would make a suitable addition to the battalion's transport page 436 for sightseeing purposes. How to get the bus ashore was the question, for there was a quarter of a mile of eight-foot-deep water between the landing craft and dry land. McPhail agreed to the two officers attempting to salvage the bus, and left to push on with the war. Craig describes how the battalion performed its first and only naval occasion:
A platoon of enthusiastic helpers volunteered, and after a long discussion, daylight the next morning saw about twenty men clad in underpants, building a raft of all the pneumatic rubber lifeboats available, finishing off by lashing corrugated iron on top as a decking. This contraption, which (with regard to appearances) had nothing in common with anything we had seen floating before, was pushed and towed to the vessel and lashed underneath the lip. After dumping other vehicles in the way, the omnibus was driven up and run down on to the improvised raft, which, much to our dismay, promptly sank. Luckily the water was only three feet deep in the bar, as the tide was then out. A hurried consultation was held and all hands immediately collected every available life jacket, of which there were dozens strewn along the beach, and proceeded to push them under the sunken raft. By the time this was completed the tide was well on the make again, and when the depth of water made it impossible to place any additional buoyancy underneath, the party could only wait and hope for the best at full tide.
Great was the relief when after what seemed hours of waiting, with relays of men pulling and pushing in five feet of water, somebody called out saying that there was movement. All hands immediately jumped into the water and by darkness had managed to work the half submerged omnibus into three feet of water a hundred yards from the smooth sandy beach. The machine was left there for the night and at low tide next morning dozens of sheets of heavy corrugated iron from the ships were placed end on end on the sea bottom to make two wheel tracks and prevent the wheels becoming bogged in the soft sand. A portee was then run onto the firm ground three hundred yards inshore connected up by a wire rope, and the vehicle towed out of the water. Getting the omnibus over the soft sandhills to a road some distance off also caused a few difficulties, but everyone felt they had done a good job, and besides had had a lot of amusement.
The ‘captured’ enemy vehicle was later presented to the New Zealand Forces Club in Florence, and if the troops it conveyed around that city had as much enjoyment from driving in it page 437 as the salvage party had in getting it ashore, their experience was a pleasurable one.
While these events were occurring the war in Italy had officially ended at noon on 2 May, when the unconditional surrender of German forces west of the Isonzo River became effective. The 2nd New Zealand Division, however, was not west of the Isonzo, and the surrender terms were not effective on its front, where fighting was still going on between the Germans and the Yugoslavs.
The work of unloading the ships and gathering in enemy troops who had strayed from the area was finished on the 5th, during which time Battalion Headquarters had moved to Lignano; A Company, having got rid of its prisoners, had joined it there. The following day the battalion, less B and Companies, moved over the Isonzo to Aurisina, about ten miles short of Trieste. As far as 21 Battalion was concerned, the war in Italy had stopped from lack of enemy, but from the situation around Trieste it appeared that there was every chance of another one starting.
The battalion's casualties in April 1945 were 12 killed and 98 wounded.
24 Pte T.W. J. McCarthy; Kaipaki, Ohaupo; born NZ 27 Jul 1922; cooper.