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18 Battalion and Armoured Regiment

CHAPTER 42 — The Surging Wave

page 616

The Surging Wave

Perhaps the unluckiest men of 2 NZ Division were the 5th Reinforcements. They saw longer service and more fighting than even the old originals, they suffered through the miserable Rimini campaign, they finished their service in the bitter, depressing Senio winter line—then they went home, and missed the reward of being in the last exhilarating battle.

For it was exhilarating, that surge forward from the Senio, from river to river, from map sheet to map sheet, driving Jerry back and back till finally he broke and the Allied flood swept through. Even in the first days, fighting for every stopbank, desperately short of sleep, nagged by shells and mortars, the beginning of that exhilaration was there. Morale and fighting spirit jumped, so quickly that it did not seem real, from the depths to the summit. Suddenly the regiment was itself again. Tankies and infantry, who had been calling each other names for too long, once more developed a proper mutual respect.

The first breath of change came to the waiting 18 Regiment on that first night, under the searchlights' broad beams, while the barrage receded beyond the Senio. At first the atmosphere was tense and restless. Then, as reports trickled back—light casualties, lots of prisoners, almost no opposition—this tension almost visibly lifted, giving place to an unaccustomed exaltation. The Senio ghosts were laid for good.

Then, as early as 2 a.m., the long-bridgeless Senio was bridged at last, and the squadrons began to take the road. It was an impressive procession. Two armoured bulldozers in the lead, self-propelled ‘Priests’ of the Royal Horse Artillery in support, ‘tank-busters’, bridging tanks—the 18th had never had so much.

It was a slow dusty road, jammed tight with trucks. Trucks carrying mortars and Vickers guns, trucks full of supplies, trucks piled with bridging gear and decking; here and there trucks on fire or in the ditches. Jeeps and motor-bikes threaded page 617 their way as best they could through the jam. Then a narrow bulldozed track across a field between ominous white tapes. Then a jagged gap in the stopbank, a rattling Bailey bridge, and there you were, the Senio behind you, all the miles of northern Italy in front.

There was no more sleep that night. By the time the squadrons had teamed up with their infantry day was breaking, a lovely warm dawn with a promise of hot sunshine later.

The other side of the Senio was an utter wreck. The ground looked as if it had been ploughed. Trees were splintered, houses
Black and white map of army movement

Senio River to Zaniolo Canal, 9-13 April 1945

page 618 razed, or at best reduced to a few fragments of wall and roof. There were corpses scattered in the fields. That anyone could have lived through such a barrage seemed incredible, yet there were a lot of live Germans here and there, in little groups, shocked and dazed and with the night's horror still in their eyes. Luckily the boys had little time to think of what must have happened in the night, for it was time to move on.

This first advance on 10 April set a pattern for much of the next twelve days. It was no victorious cross-country dash, but a painstaking advance, infantry in its best battle formation, tanks following ready to join in at any moment, the guns pounding incessantly and always at call. At first there were only Italians to contend with, smiling, cheering Italians who appeared from everywhere with white flags, offering eggs and throwing flowers. There was not the smell of a German anywhere, and this war was pretty good. It was fine to be on the winning side.

The Division was leaving nothing to chance. At the Lugo Canal, an unmistakable landmark two and a half miles ahead, everyone was to stop and get straightened out. C Squadron and 21 Battalion were to go straight across the canal, but not more than 200 yards. B Squadron and the Maoris were to stop short of the canal. Our planes and artillery would have a go at the country farther ahead before the tanks and infantry ventured into it.

The Lugo Canal, running on a big embankment above the level of the plain, but almost bone dry, was no problem. The whole of C Squadron, tank after tank, crossed with no difficulty. But just beyond it Jerry suddenly showed his teeth. As the Shermans were dispersing under the trees by the road, 88-millimetre shells began to come in thick and fast from in front of the right flank.

It was only a minute or two before the Royal Horse Artillery's mobile 25-pounders were in action, but before they were well into their stride they suffered a bad loss when their OP tank, directing the fire from a rather foolhardy position in the open, was knocked out, its commander killed and all the crew wounded. Sergeant Brook's1 tank, the foremost of C Squadron, was ordered up to deal with this, and Brook reports:

page 619

We moved up using tree cover & sighted where firing was coming from & opened up & poured in our heavy stuff, also calling on artillery fire…. All went quiet at that point & we had no more trouble with A. P. while in that area.

Both 25-pounders and ‘Long Toms’ joined in from farther back. Later, after Jerry had gone, a Tiger tank was found abandoned not far ahead, its track broken by a lucky shell.

The advance was not held up for long. C Squadron had crossed the Lugo about midday. By 2 p.m. A Squadron and 23 Battalion were passing through. Jerry's self-propelled guns and mortars, a little pocket of them, invisible among the trees, were still in action, and A Squadron got its share, but it dodged the bulk of the opposition by swinging slightly to the left, while C Squadron continued to distract Jerry's attention.

A Squadron had its own troubles. At the Lugo Canal Second-Lieutenant Booth's 2 Troop lost a tank with a broken track, and at the Tratturo Canal, half a mile farther on, a tank of Second-Lieutenant Lenihan's 4 Troop slipped off the narrow bridge and ended up on its side in the canal. The rest of these two troops inched over the Tratturo safely, then set out, leaving the German pocket behind on the right, to catch 23 Battalion's leading companies. This was not easy country, mostly thick vines strung on wires and trees cutting across the line of advance, and the tank commanders, advancing blind, had a terrible job keeping in touch with the infantry. On the other hand, it was just as hard for Jerry to see A Squadron as it pushed on past his flank.

At Lugo the Ravenna-Bologna railway swung into 5 Brigade's sector from the right, and then followed the direction of the advance towards the Santerno River, a mile and a half past the Tratturo. Having pushed their way out into slightly more open country behind the German pocket, 23 Battalion and A Squadron turned north to the railway, hoping to cut off Jerry's retreat. But by now the self-propelled guns had dodged the net and gone, and only some demoralised infantry was left to be cleaned up by 23 Battalion that night.

All this brought A Squadron up to the Santerno, where B Squadron and the Maoris, on the left, had already arrived after a brief fight on the Tratturo. Up to there B Squadron had found little to worry it. Coming up to the Tratturo, with page 620 Second-Lieutenant Brennan's 7 Troop and Second-Lieutenant Deans's2 8 Troop in the lead, it found Jerry dug in on the canal banks, with a hundred yards of cleared ground in front, and the Maoris unable to move out of the shelter of the trees for the Spandau fire. Once the Shermans moved into position on the edge of the cleared ground there was not much delay. Both troops opened up with everything they had, the Maoris closed in, and Jerry departed with very little more discussion. The Shermans then crossed with the help of an ‘Ark’ (a turretless Churchill tank driven bodily into the canal to serve as a bridge), and could now move on to the Santerno after the Maoris.

This Santerno was just the Senio all over again, its water little more than ankle deep, but with towering stopbanks. Here the whole of 5 Brigade paused again, and the tanks and infantry, which had inevitably lost each other to some extent, got together to work out their next moves. Twenty-third and 28th Battalions were to cross the river that night, 23 Battalion on the right and the Maoris on the left of the Ravenna-Bologna railway. Then the tanks, starting off early in the morning, would catch up again, and on would roll the tide.

Everyone was very ready for a night's rest, for it had been a testing day; the tank crews had been on the go all day, with never enough time even to stop and boil up a cup of tea. This, with the dust, reminded you all too much of the Florence show, where one of the worst hardships had been the perpetual thirst that there was never time to slake properly.

But there was little rest that night. The tankies ‘stood to’, listening to the fighting just across the Santerno; big parties had to go back and manhandle ammunition and fuel over the Tratturo embankment; the 25-pounders moved up, dug in among the tanks, and opened up their usual shattering din. Morning found nobody feeling very refreshed.

But there was no early start on 11 April, nor any late start either. The night attack was only partly successful—the Maoris got over the river, but 23 Battalion, in face of heavy resistance from the village of Sant' Agata on the far bank, could not get over, and not till evening did the engineers build a single page 621 bridge in the Maoris' sector. So the tankies could only sit and wait all day, except for two troops of A Squadron, which went close up to the stopbank in the afternoon and turned their guns on the very active enemy ahead of 28 Battalion. All through the day Jerry landed shells persistently along the Santerno's eastern bank, and B Squadron had four wounded.

But 12 April more than made up for the inaction of the 11th.

It began at 2 a.m. when A and B Squadrons crossed the bridge into Maori territory, to the great relief of the infantry, who had been badly in need of support. Just across the river B Squadron fanned out, troop by troop, and linked up with the Maori companies, ready to push on at 5 a.m. A Squadron moved out to the right, where a sticky situation was developing.

Here 23 Battalion, still held up at Sant' Agata, had sent two companies round through the Maoris to cross the river, wheel right, and attack Sant' Agata from the flank over the railway embankment. The A Squadron tanks were to find 23 Battalion somewhere about this embankment, and help it forward into the village.

Dawn came with a heavy ground fog but with the promise of another fine hot day. The far side of the Santerno, though it was not pounded to dust like the Senio fields, showed plenty of evidence of the Air Force having been there. There were unroofed houses, sheds still smouldering, dead animals lying here and there.

At the railway a brisk action was going on between 23 Battalion and an invisible enemy over the other side. Mortars were falling thickly and Jerry was sweeping the embankment with Spandaus. This embankment was too steep for tanks, but a bulldozer came right forward in its lee and began to make a diagonal track up its side for the Shermans.

There was more trouble ahead. As B Squadron was still fanning out a tank of 8 Troop went through a road underpass in the embankment, but on the other side was immediately drilled by a small armour-piercing shell from straight ahead. On this northern side of the railway there were wide Tiger tracks all over the place, and the infantry reported a group of big tanks not far ahead. It looked as if A Squadron, once across the railway, would run into something tough.

page 622

The half-made track up the embankment was now abandoned, as it would have brought the Shermans out on top where they would be sitting shots. Indeed, 88-millimetre shells were whistling low overhead just in that place. Several hundred yards nearer the Santerno the bulldozer made a fresh track; about 10 a.m. 2 Troop of A Squadron crossed the embankment and took cover among vines and trees on the outskirts of Sant' Agata beyond. By this time the rest of 23 Battalion had crossed the river at Sant' Agata, presumably while Jerry was distracted by the flank attack at the railway. So the position was now much clearer. Tanks and infantry consolidated in and round Sant' Agata. A little later Typhoon fighters, appearing from nowhere, swooped down with their rockets on the houses just ahead, and no more was heard from the Tigers, or whatever had been lurking there.

Early that morning 5 and 6 Troops of B Squadron, pushing on with the Maoris towards the good-sized town of Massa Lombarda, had been stopped after a bare half mile by mortar and Spandau fire from a thick grove of trees ahead, and from a spot where another road passed under the railway embankment. Judging by the tracks and the noise of big tanks in Massa Lombarda, there seemed to be Tigers there, but for the moment they were not active. The mortaring was bad enough. Two more men were wounded, the leading tanks were forced to stop and fight it out, and the Royal Horse Artillery went into action too. The Maoris had been driven to shelter in whatever buildings were handy. Later in the morning the firing died down a little, and C Squadron moved up behind in support, but Jerry was still in Massa Lombarda, and a frontal attack there seemed likely to be a dead loss. One C Squadron tank was hit by a light anti-tank shell, but there was little damage and no casualties.

Planning now veered to the right again, and at 2 p.m., at little more than a minute's notice, 23 and 28 Battalions, with A and B Squadrons following, set out on a fresh attack north of the railway to bypass Massa Lombarda. C Squadron stayed back to give supporting fire, and the artillery joined in too. Before the attack the Air Force was there again, diving and strafing round Massa Lombarda in a most satisfying way. If page 623 Jerry was to be dug out without blood-letting, there was nothing like the Air Force to do it.

The B Squadron tanks really had to move fast to get into position for this fresh attack, as they could cross the railway only by the Santerno a mile back. However, the huge bombardment beforehand had done the trick. Resistance had faded away except for a little scattered Spandau fire. The Air Force, too, had played havoc with the Tiger tanks that everyone had been so unhappy about. One, sitting out in the open and probably derelict, was set on fire by Sergeant McNutt's3 tank of 5 Troop; another, camouflaged in a wooden shed, was reported by the Maoris and ‘brewed up’ by Second-Lieutenant Keith Williams's4 tank of 6 Troop. A little way ahead, near a big high-walled cemetery, another Tiger or Panther tank was seen sitting in the roadway, but the afternoon was wearing on by this time, it would have been hard to engage accurately, so the Shermans did nothing about it. It eventually moved away into Massa Lombarda, from where, Williams says, ‘it fired a lot of shots at us without getting anywhere near anyone’.

By nightfall the whole of B Squadron was at the cemetery. The afternoon's advance had not been very eventful; the worst part of it was the thick vines that always seemed in league with Jerry to hold the show up. Now 21 Battalion and C Squadron came through ready to push the attack home first thing in the morning, and B Squadron thankfully went into reserve.

Unfortunately, the Air Force had not been so thorough in getting rid of the Tigers on A Squadron's front. As 23 Battalion and A Squadron moved off on their afternoon's advance, along a road from the right came those deadly ‘eighty-eights’, and to cross the line of fire the Shermans would have had to expose themselves as sitting shots. Just a little way ahead the infantry was held up by another of those troublesome pockets with a few Spandaus and a light mortar or two. Booth's 2 Troop and Sergeant Alex Mowat's5 1 Troop were now leading page 624 the squadron. The tanks manoeuvred carefully up behind buildings and trees to get near the Tiger; finally one Sherman bounced a 75-millimetre shell off its hide, and the Tiger, unwilling to take any more, made off at top speed in a cloud of dust. A few hundred yards farther on another big tank held its ground for a while, but pulled out after swapping shots with Mowat's tanks, and was seen no more. Infantry and Shermans then had a clear run to their objective.

Fighting stopped for the night with both 23 and 28 Battalions on a fairly tidy line running out to the right of Massa Lombarda, but with the town still in Jerry's hands. The Shermans were right up with the foremost infantry, and the position seemed reasonably secure.

This had been a day of up-and-down fortunes, but the final balance had been all on our side. Early in the morning, before the first advance, the forward squadrons had received a few more lovely 17-pounder tanks, which had given the morale another fillip—not that this was really necessary now. A good bag of prisoners had come in, mostly only a few at a time, but adding up to quite a lot. Better still, a lot of guns, vehicles, stores and ammunition dumps had been overrun after Jerry had pulled out in haste. And to round off the day's trophies, Lieutenant-Colonel Parata, who had worked hard to urge and aid the tanks forward through all obstacles, later gained for the unit one of its rare DSOs.

The worst aspect of the day had nothing directly to do with Jerry. East of the Santerno all the civilians had long been evacuated from their homes. Now, on the other side of the river, they were still there, sticking to their farms while the battle rolled over them; some killed and wounded by the huge air and artillery bombardment; some bereaved or homeless or terrified, sobbing, clinging to the soldiers and pouring out their souls in torrents of words; all bewildered and shaken. Not a Kiwi but had some pitiful tale to tell, at the end of this day, of suffering or panic or hardship among the people. There was nothing that you could do about it. You felt a great pity, but you could not stop the war to take any relief measures.

As there seemed to be no Germans just ahead of 23 Battalion in the evening, the sudden decision was taken to push on a little farther at midnight, so the forward infantry companies page 625 and their tankies, dragged from their hard-earned sleep, set out again and advanced more than half a mile, the infantry mostly riding on the tanks. All was quiet, and the show then stopped, having seen or heard nothing of Jerry. But it was only a pause of two hours or so. At the first glimmer of grey in the sky they were off again, still with the infantry perched on the tanks, forward over open, coverless country towards the trees that marked the next canal. Ahead of this the map showed nothing but miles of blank, flat fields, with a maze of canals criss-crossing them every few hundred yards.

Here A Squadron had its hardest fight of the campaign so far. On the Molini Canal German infantry camouflaged among the trees opened fire. The infantry hit the ground, the tanks opened up in return, and the 23 Battalion boys began to work their way forward in a real copybook attack under the tanks' covering fire. Sergeant Mowat was killed very early in the action; Corporal Tom Wilson6 took over 1 Troop and led it forward against the bank of the Zaniolo Canal, a few hundred yards past the Molini, in a real tank charge such as had been visualised when 4 Armoured Brigade was formed, but which had very rarely been on the cards in Italy. At the same time Lenihan's troop on the left made the same kind of charge, tanks in line abreast blazing away at the enemy on the Zaniolo, who stayed and fought it out to the end. They had no chance. All were either killed or scooped up. At the Zaniolo one tank was damaged by a bazooka, but it was back in action within a day or two.

This was a fine piece of co-operation, and 23 Battalion had never praised its tanks so highly. Everyone was very pleased with the performance. For the first time in several months, too, the tankies got in among the loot—Lugers, binoculars, and desirable things like that were there in abundance.

While this was going on, 21 Battalion and C Squadron had come forward on the left, through Massa Lombarda (where even at 2 a.m. the civilians were in the streets cheering them till the town echoed), and on to the Zaniolo Canal. It was no simple move. The way was cut by deep ditches with sides almost too steep for the tanks; several of them stuck and had to be towed out. Near the Zaniolo 21 Battalion got into difficulty page 626 with the Germans on the canal bank. Sergeant Brook tells of another incident:

While some of our tanks went out to retrieve the infantry … one of our planes disintegrated above us, & his cobber apparently blamed us for it for he turned & let us have his egg, but it was a miss & the only damage was burnt fingers getting our yellow identification flares lit.

The Air Force was doing wonderful work, but accidents like that were always liable to happen.

Jerry seemed to be caught napping by the speed of this advance, for when he pulled back from the Zaniolo he left two bridges intact, an almost unknown windfall. C Squadron's leading tanks lost no time in crossing, shot up all the houses within reach on the far side, and took more prisoners.

Orders were to stop short at the Zaniolo—the Air Force still had open authority to bomb beyond it, and it would be unsafe to go on. Tanks and infantry halted there, quite reluctantly, for they felt they had Jerry on the run. It was a pity, for after an hour or two Jerry's guns and mortars got the range of the canal, and made life there lively and dangerous for some time. But nothing could be done about it until, later on 13 April, 9 Brigade and 19 Regiment came through and took over the running, and the 18th retired into reserve with 5 Brigade, quite thankfully, for nobody had had much sleep the past few nights.

The 18th now had a couple of days at Massa Lombarda, away from the thick of the fighting, but not altogether out of danger, for the odd long-range shell still came over, and the soft-skinned convoy, which came up to join the squadrons, was shelled at the Santerno crossing. These were busy days, getting the tanks back into shape for the next time in. On the evening of 15 April C Squadron spread its tanks out into a gun line, and for two noisy hours joined in an enormous artillery barrage as the New Zealand infantry stormed the Sillaro River four miles ahead.

Next afternoon the 18th was off again to join 5 Brigade and take the lead once more. Only a five-mile run, but it took a long time, over congested roads and through blinding dust, both of which got worse beyond the Sillaro. Just about dusk page 627 the next advance began, A Squadron with 23 Battalion on the right, C with 21 Battalion on the left, infantry first, tanks following, some of the infantry riding on the Shermans. There was almost no opposition here. A few odd prisoners were picked up as they went along (the Division's old friend 4 Parachute Division was in front of it now), and here and there, to gladden every heart, were abandoned German guns and equipment, some of it stacked in dumps, some just lying round where it had been thrown. Until late evening the squadrons pushed on, partly along dusty lanes, partly over fields, some ploughed, some swampy, cut with more of those maddening irrigation ditches. Occasionally the tanks had to stop while canals were bridged or filled, somehow, with whatever was handy; then the infantry would go on and the tanks would catch up later. At midnight everyone stopped for a rest. On the way the 18th had passed two Shermans of 20 Regiment on fire after a brush with self-propelled guns, but luckily these destructive monsters had gone.

In a clammy dawn mist on 17 April A and C Squadrons again pushed on with the infantry. At present the war was only a country ride with no enemy to impede it. At the Medicina Canal, some three-quarters of a mile ahead, all hands had to stop and work, for, as everywhere else, the bridges were blown, and everything available had to be thrown in to get the tanks across. But there was no immediate haste. Here 43 Gurkha Brigade had come across the front to join the next New Zealand push, and 18 Regiment had another day or two to polish up its tanks, recover some more lost sleep, and admire the Air Force turning on another of its special displays ahead at the Gaiana River.

The night of 18 April was restless, for there was a fearful racket as 9 Brigade and the Gurkhas attacked across the Gaiana under a huge barrage. But 18 Regiment was quite comfortable. B Echelon, cookhouses and all, closed up behind, and bivvies were erected for the first time since leaving the Senio. Once again there were plenty of German guns to admire, including a couple of 210-millimetre monsters; damaged gear was strewn everywhere, dead horses were lying all over the place. There was even a Mark IV tank derelict in a field. The progress of the war was most satisfying these days. Jerry's page 628 resistance seemed to be feebler day by day, and still our planes harried him mercilessly, our guns kept up their continual roar, our tanks and infantry were going forward faster with fewer casualties.

Midday of 19 April saw the squadrons off once more, across the Gaiana in the wake of the attack. Here, as nowhere else, the boys were glad they had been in reserve and not up in the forefront, for the sights on the Gaiana bank were ghastly, dead Germans lying thick beside the river, some of them horribly charred, for the flame-throwers had caught them here and made fearful carnage. The very smell of the place made you feel sick.

Beyond it was the wettest country since the Senio, one canal after another, some with Bailey bridges over them, some with makeshift bridges or ramps. In the middle of this semi-swamp the tanks met their battalions again and prepared to push on, 23 and 21 Battalions leading with A and C Squadrons. It cost sweat and toil and bad language to get the tanks over some of the ditches, but by midnight they were up level with the infantry. A few hours' quick sleep, then away at dawn once more. The artillery, which had been thundering all night, was still going at full stretch.

After the open, waterlogged meadows of the Gaiana the Kiwis now came to close country again, hedge-lined roads and fields, the all too familiar vines and willows and dust clouds. Ahead loomed the big town of Budrio. So far only the canals had impeded the advance; round Budrio a German rearguard held it up for a while, and Spandau fire flew round the C Squadron tanks, which quickly went into action, shelled a troublesome infantry post out of existence, and cleared the road for 21 Battalion to enter the town. Then the battle moved on to the Idice River a mile farther west.

This was the biggest river yet, but still not too big to wade. Before Jerry realised what was happening 23 Battalion gatecrashed the river and put two companies quickly across. A Squadron's leading troops went right up to the stopbank with the infantry, chasing away one or two tiny rearguards, including a handful of brave Germans who held on till the last minute in a church, departing only when the tanks were shelling the place to bits and the infantry almost coming in the page 629 door. For about half an hour after 23 Battalion's crossing the Shermans kept up steady supporting fire; then suddenly Jerry found the range, and for the rest of the afternoon there were shell and mortar and Nebelwerfer ‘stonks’ along both sides of the river and back to Budrio. The tanks were forced back from the stopbank, with one A Squadron tank out of the fight with a direct hit. The infantry over the river, badgered by the
Black and white map of army movement

18 Regt at the Idice River & Cazzano 20–21 April 1945

page 630 shelling and expecting to be counter-attacked, had a bad time. Towards evening, when our 25-pounders pulled in round the tanks and opened fire, the shelling thickened up unpleasantly, and A Squadron had four wounded. Until the tanks could cross the Idice they were powerless to help the infantry.

By this time B Squadron was up with the battle too. That morning it had come to Budrio to lie handy; at 2 p.m. it had moved out to the right to support 28 Battalion, which was tidying up the flank. At dusk all three squadrons went up nearly to the stopbank ready to cross as soon as they could. During the day the roads and lanes leading forward to the river had become highways for vast convoys of all kinds of vehicles, and the dust had been indescribable.

To cross the river the tanks had to go some way upstream, for there was no possible crossing on 5 Brigade's front. Traffic at the one available ford was so congested that none of the 18th got over till well after daylight next day. There was no undue delay after that; all three squadrons linked up with their battalions, and B and A Squadrons, with the Maoris and 23 Battalion, set out on the advance again. At first it looked like being another country jaunt. Part of the time the infantry rode on the tanks, at other times the tanks were out in front. There was even a bridge or two left intact over some of the canals. For a mile there was only the odd German or two waiting to be picked up, plus a few Italians raising a thin cheer.

Then a sudden fight flared up at Cazzano, another of those tiny villages where a knot of roads comes together. Here Jerry had planted a little rearguard—as it turned out later, one Tiger tank, one Panther and one self-propelled gun—to hold us up for the precious few hours that would let his main force slip away. Nos. 7 and 8 Troops ran head-on into this ambush, carefully camouflaged in the farms round Cazzano. Suddenly the joyride turned to tragedy. Within ten minutes Sergeant Jack Elkis7 and Corporals Warren and Walmsley8 were dead, six others wounded, and four Shermans knocked out, one of them in flames. The ‘Priests’ following along behind went into page 631 action at once and smothered the farm buildings with shellbursts, while a ‘shufti’ plane hovering overhead reported targets back to the guns.

On the left 2 and 3 Troops of A Squadron were a little better off, as they came up slightly on Jerry's flank, but still 2 Troop lost a tank to the German self-propelled gun. Second-Lieutenant Booth tells how the action began:

Considerable enemy movement was observed … about 400 yards up the road to our right. Owing to the background, in which these enemy were obviously digging in, it was most difficult for us to confirm their identity as they took no notice of us whatsoever and continued unconcernedly; a rough estimate of 40 men…. When we had satisfied ourselves … we opened up with HE and small arms. The area was well done over and we ceased fire only to observe the enemy immediately get up and continue their digging.

This was all most disconcerting so I ordered my Sjt to cross the road … where he could get better observation and … shooting. It was during the execution of this that my tank was ‘brewed up’ with one casualty…. The German impressed us at this stage with his excellent gunning. We were behind a hedge and he could not get good clear outline observation although he had our range accurately.

Jerry, of course, could not keep the upper hand for long. Once recovered from their opening shock, the tankies fought back hard. B Squadron, straight out in front of the enemy in the open, could not do much after losing so many tanks, particularly as its right flank was wide open and more trouble could have come from there at any time. A little later it lost a fifth Sherman when our own artillery landed a ‘stonk’ on top of it—the kind of accident that always resulted in much bitterness. But A Squadron had more freedom of movement. No. 3 Troop and the one tank left in 2 Troop (the third had lost a track at the Idice) manoeuvred forward on Jerry's flank and saw his self-propelled gun hidden in a hedge, and a 17-pounder tank, with Trooper George England9 at the gun, hit it and set it on fire. The boys, going to inspect the remains later, found its whole crew dead. Booth comments:

The camouflage of this S.P. was most complete, a bracket support was welded on the turret, and a large tree complete with three feet of trunk placed in the brackets so that when he drove page 632 up to a hedge all that was to be seen was a tree seemingly growing in the hedge.

Air Force and artillery both hammered Cazzano, but this rearguard, the last and staunchest of all, held firm against terrible punishment, and was still there at nightfall. Fifth Brigade could wait no longer and hold up the whole advance— for Cazzano was about the only spot where Jerry was still fighting. At the same time, 18 Regiment had had its worst day for months and wanted no more casualties. So after dark B Squadron and the Maoris simply side-stepped left into A Squadron's territory, leaving Jerry in Cazzano high and dry with nobody to fight. All was clear now in front of A Squadron, and for another mile tanks and infantry moved on peacefully, stopping at 1.30 a.m. for what was left of the night. A few more lonely, lost Germans were gathered up on this advance, and another big canal bridge was taken intact.

So ended the twelfth day of this great advance. They had not been easy days. For the tanks the general story had been repeated again and again at almost every river and canal— a vexing delay while the gaps were bridged, a careful move over rickety bridges or ramps, a race to catch the infantry, sometimes a fight to reach the next canal line, then the same thing over again. It had been hard work, and everyone was feeling the strain. The senior officers in particular had had next to no rest. Skilful, conscientious leadership culminating years of service gained the DSO for Major Nelson of B Squadron, but this did not mean that his squadron had done more than others. They had all been in, boots and all.

But what of Jerry, reeling back, battered, with no hope of relief from the onslaught? Though outnumbered, outgunned and given no rest, his little rearguards had put up a brave fight. He had blown roads and bridges wholesale, he had done all possible damage to our troops at every opportunity. Now, suddenly, he broke. On the morning of 22 April 5 Brigade, waking up ready to go again, could see or hear no sign of him ahead. The infantrymen climbed jubilantly on to their tanks, and at long last the grand climax of the Italian campaign had come. Eighteenth Regiment and 5 Brigade were away!

1 WO II J. W. Brook, MM; Papakura; born Wanganui, 4 Dec 1917; farmhand.

2 Lt S. S. Deans; Darfield; born Christchurch, 23 Jul 1922; farmhand; wounded 11 Apr 1945.

3 Sgt D. J. McNutt; Waitepeka; born Gore, 3 Mar 1922; farmer.

4 2 Lt K. M. Williams; Te Kuiti; born NZ 1 Apr 1917; farmer.

5 Sgt W. A. Mowat, m.i.d.; born NZ 26 Jun 1922; shepherd; killed in action 13 Apr 1945.

6 S-Sgt T. Wilson; Te Awamutu; born Ireland, 22 Dec 1912; carpenter.

7 Sgt J. Elkis; born Palmerston North, 17 Oct 1919; traveller; killed in action 21 Apr 1945.

8 Cpl R. H. F. Walmsley; born Christchurch, 6 Oct 1919; iron moulder; wounded 30 Sep 1944; killed in action 21 Apr 1945.

9 Tpr G. A. England; born Christchurch, 22 Sep 1919; tractor driver.