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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Rivers, Canals and Ditches of the Romagna

page 647

Rivers, Canals and Ditches of the Romagna

It was now assumed that a decisive phase of the Italian fighting was over and that the fall of Rimini would constitute a breakthrough something like that of Alamein, to be followed by a more or less rapid advance to the River Po. No such expectation was to be fulfilled. In the event the fighting from Rimini onwards was much like that which had gone before. Nothing remotely like a breakthrough had occurred. The enemy was still able to offer stern resistance on each successive ridge in the inland hills and there were dozens of lines of ridges. In the widening plain north-west of Rimini he was equally able to defend each river and each fosso or scolo—and again there were dozens of rivers and hundreds of minor watercourses. When the enemy could continue to offer a coherent page 648 defence from the sea to the peaks of the Apennines, it was idle to think of an easy passage to the River Po and the Plain of Lombardy. But the promise of such a passage had spurred men on in their assaults on the more dramatic defensive lines in the south. It was as if the donkey had finally grabbed the carrot dangled in front only to find that it was made of plaster of paris.

black and white map of advance

the advance to the fontanaccia, 23–24 september 1944

Already on the 23rd the New Zealand Division was across the wide bed of the Marecchia River (beyond the Ausa) and then over the Fossa Turchetta, the Canale dei Molini, the Scolo Brancona, the Scolo Cavallaccio, the Scolo Valentina and several other unnamed watercourses and was up against defences in front of the River Fontanaccia. Beyond this there were three rivers each with supporters claiming it was the ancient Rubicon: the Uso, the Fiumicino and the Pisciatello.12 For the soldiers who had to cross them, each demanded as much personal resolution as that which prompted Caesar's fateful decision and the help that the gunners could give them was warmly welcomed. Without it each river and minor watercourse could have become a dreadful blood bath.

It is no exaggeration to say that by this time the Air OP aircraft—tiny Austers or Piper Cubs—had become members of the family so cherished that they could never overstay their welcome. If one or other of them was not overhead in the forward area there was something palpably missing. The skill of the Air OP pilots, especially in bringing down destructive fire on hostile batteries, was a source of pride and it was a joy to work with them. In the afternoon of the 23rd the men of 47 Battery were therefore horrified to see an Air OP aircraft crash in flames about 1000 yards ahead. There was no sign of ack-ack fire and it seemed that one of the thousands of shells fired at ground targets must have struck the plane. The pilot, Captain R. M. Farrer, DFC, well known and much admired by those New Zealand gunners who had dealings with him, was killed.

12 Italian officialdom had decided in 1932 in favour of the Fiumicino and an announcement on the Via Emilia bridge in Savignano proudly proclaimed this. But local sentiment remained staunchly partisan and the army maps favoured the Uso.