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Italy Volume II : From Cassino to Trieste

IV: The Division Gets Ready

IV: The Division Gets Ready


General Freyberg announced a revised policy at the conference on 2 February. The Division was to patrol and lift mines on its front, but was not to occupy permanent positions forward of those already held; where possible it was to keep standing patrols on the Senio stopbank during the hours of darkness. A river-crossing between Cotignola and Felisio by one brigade group of 56 Division on the right and two brigades of the New Zealand Division on the left was being considered. It was expected that 10 days' notice would be given before any such attack.

Meanwhile the brigades were to practise river-crossing with assault boats and kapok bridging under conditions which resembled as closely as possibly the part of the Senio where the attack was page 377 to be made. The time taken in these practice assault crossings would assist in drawing up the supporting artillery programme for the actual operation.

Except for one day (the 9th) of steady rain, February was fine; occasional thick mists, especially along the river, limited visibility to no more than a few yards, but usually dispersed before midday. The continuation of the thaw early in the month made the ground soft and muddy. The roads were almost unusable until they began to dry out; later they became dusty.

dispositions, 15 february 1945

dispositions, 15 february 1945

In the Division's sector, which extended about 8000 yards along the Senio downstream from just south of Route 9, each infantry brigade continued to have two battalions in the line and one in reserve at Faenza; each battalion was given two weeks in the line and one in reserve.

page 378

The infantry continued to send patrols to the Senio to determine the state of the river and its approaches and to obtain information about the enemy defences and intentions. The enemy also endeavoured to gain information about dispositions, and there were several clashes with his patrols, in which his units were identified by the taking of prisoners.

A patrol from 23 Battalion—while searching for eggs at Casa Paganella—captured in a haystack two enemy who had been sent out to ascertain whether Paganella was held and if possible take prisoners. One was an Austrian and the other a Sudeten German officer-cadet who had left Berlin three days earlier to get battle experience; the latter was confident that the Russians would be hurled back and that Germany would win the war.

A patrol from 26 Battalion reconnoitred a gap the enemy had blown in the stopbank west of Casa Claretta. The New Zealanders approached to within 100 yards of the demolition and heard digging and voices, but could not observe properly because of fog. Several theories were advanced as to the purpose of the gap: it was to flood the low-lying land when the river rose with the spring thaw; it was to be an aperture through which a self-propelled gun was to fire; it was intended to be a bridge site.1

The rain on 9 February occupied the enemy's attention for 24 hours. Observers reported that the river had risen until it was from eight to ten feet from the top of the stopbank—with no apparent effect at the breach on 26 Battalion's front. The noise of hammering and chopping indicated that the enemy had found it necessary to strengthen some of his bridges; and in at least one locality German slit-trench dwellers spent most of the night baling water.

After concentrated machine-gun fire and a bazooka bombardment, an enemy party believed to be at least a dozen strong, unobserved in the fog before dawn, approached an outpost which 23 Battalion had occupied on the stopbank about 200 yards north of the railway. The New Zealanders claimed that they inflicted several casualties on the enemy with grenades, but had to withdraw when more Germans arrived. The enemy prevented a patrol from reoccupying the outpost in the evening and engaged later patrols with tank and mortar fire. One patrol was ambushed and had to fight its way out with two men wounded.

The enemy swept 21 Battalion's front with machine-gun, mortar and shell fire for three minutes and then engaged platoon and out-

1 According to a divisional Intelligence summary the purpose was to flood the New Zealanders' side of the river. Other gaps had been made some time earlier, it was believed for the same reason.

page 379 post buildings with self-propelled guns, which scored direct hits on four houses. Two buildings collapsed, but the men, who sheltered in covered dugouts, were extricated later. During the harassing fire a German six-man patrol approached an outpost at Palazzo Laghi under the cover of smoke, but withdrew when engaged by infantry weapons and mortars.

Three deserters who came into the lines of 56 Division (on the New Zealanders' right) on the night of 19–20 February were from 26 Panzer Division, which apparently had replaced 278 Division the previous night. The 26 Panzer had withdrawn from Faenza after the New Zealand attack on 15 December and had been resting and rehabilitating north-west of Lake Comacchio. Five deserters, all from the same company of 9 Panzer Grenadier Regiment of this division, gave themselves up to 26 Battalion during the next two nights; they said others of their company would do the same were it not for the danger of the minefields. Of the five, one was a young Soviet national of German stock who had fought with three different armies—the Russian, the German, and the Italian partisans; he had been caught up in the Wehrmacht again after being wounded with the partisans. Of the other deserters, one was a Reich German and three were Poles.

Deserters also came from 4 Parachute Division, which was astride Route 9 between 90 Panzer Grenadier Division on its right and 26 Panzer Division on its left. Of the 73 enemy who passed through 5 Corps' prisoner-of-war cage between 26 January and 25 February, 51 were deserters; more than half of these were Poles, Alsatians and Yugoslavs who were unwilling to go on fighting for the Germans. The fear of reprisal against the deserter's family ceased to be a deterrent when Poland and Silesia were ‘liberated’ by the Russians.

The German's traditional upbringing had taught him that desertion was dishonourable, but many who realised that the war had been lost but was being continued for the sake of the Nazi leaders were anxious to save their own lives. Only a fanatical minority had any hope of an outright German military victory, but propaganda had sustained in others the vain hope that if they stuck it out long enough a satisfactory compromise could be achieved. After the defeat of the German counter-offensive in the west and the failure to stop the Russian drive in the east, German prisoners admitted that morale had slumped badly and many were waiting for a chance to desert. Nevertheless, throughout the German divisions a hard core of tough and experienced men was still prepared to fight to the end.

page 380


February in the Division's sector followed much the same pattern as January. The artillery did very little shooting because of the stringent restriction on the expenditure of ammunition; there was little or no activity among the guns during the daylight hours and usually only light harassing fire at night. They engaged self-propelled guns, mortars, machine guns, buildings and dugouts, vehicles, patrols and working parties. The lack of ammunition prevented the M10s, 17-pounders and 4.2-inch mortars from attempting all the tasks requested by the infantry. The tanks1 were called upon to shell enemy positions and other targets. When some fired along the stopbank north of Palazzo Laghi, the infantry saw the shells penetrate the bank in three places and explode on houses 200 yards beyond it.

The ‘Chinese attacks’ were repeated, usually for a quarter of an hour at a time, to test the enemy's reaction. In the evening of 3 February the heavy mortars smoked an area across the river north of Palazzo Laghi and 5 Field Regiment, 19 Armoured Regiment, the mortars and the Maori Battalion's infantry weapons brought down fire on selected targets and suspected positions on the stop-bank and across the river. The enemy retaliated with heavy shell, mortar and machine-gun fire. His reaction to a similar ‘Chinese attack’ by 26 Battalion four evenings later was described as violent: he fired flares and harassed the front with machine guns and mortars, and employed heavy mortars and medium guns in well-placed defensive shoots on crossroads and open approaches to the stopbank. A demonstration by the artillery, tanks, M10s, mortars and Maori Battalion's weapons before dawn on the 19th, however, produced only harassing fire from mortars and small arms.

Sixth Brigade staged a ‘Chinese attack’ in the evening of the 23rd to assist 56 Division's attack north of the New Zealand sector. This provoked the enemy to put up flares and bring down artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire for about an hour. Fifth Brigade mounted probably the most spectacular demonstration of all on the evening of 2 March with fire from the artillery, tanks, mortars and 23 and 28 Battalions' weapons. Again the enemy replied with shell, mortar and machine-gun fire, much of it directed on the roads.

Usually the German harassing fire was light, but occasionally concentrations caused casualties. The German self-propelled guns on the roads beyond the river, especially in the vicinity of Felisio, continued to be troublesome. A very thorough programme was

1 18 Regt replaced 20 Regt in 6 Brigade's sector; 19 Regt remained with 5 Bde.

page 381 organised so as to concentrate fire, including air-burst by anti-aircraft guns, on each self-propelled gun as soon as it went into action, usually with the result that it moved away quickly after firing only a few shots.

Shells containing propaganda leaflets were fired by both sides. Some which landed among 21 Battalion described methods of producing symptoms of diseases and claimed that it was ‘better a few days ill than all your life dead’. Propaganda was also broadcast by loudspeakers, including invitations to the enemy to desert. Among those who did were Poles who subsequently found themselves back in the line with the Polish Corps. A news commentary in German and two musical recordings (‘J'Attendrai’ and ‘Vienna Blues’) were broadcast from the church at Pieve del Ponte. The enemy appeared to listen attentively and was noticeably less active until the programme ended.


On the Lamone north of Route 9 the battalions of 5 Brigade practised river-crossing with assault boats and kapok bridging; Wasps and Crocodiles demonstrated flame-throwing against the defences on the far bank; the engineers experimented in bridging the river between high stopbanks in which gaps were cut by explosives and bulldozers so that they could be negotiated by tanks and other vehicles.

On 3 March, a brilliantly sunny day, the Division demonstrated its river-crossing and bridge-building techniques to a very large number of spectators, including visitors from Corps and other divisions, who were addressed by the GOC. There were, he said, two ways of forcing a canalised river where the enemy held both banks: to attempt to take both banks in ‘one bite’ under a heavy bombardment, or alternatively to ‘take two bites’ by first securing the near stopbank and then the other by going through far enough to allow the bridging of the river for the supporting arms. The second method was preferred ‘because you cannot get surprise in the fullest sense by doing one attack. If you make only one attack then heavy equipment has to be assembled at least 400 yards back from the near stopbank and it must take about ten minutes to get all this forward, and by that time the enemy will have had ample opportunity to hold the far bank in strength.’1

The General announced that the Division was going out of the line for a month's training for the next battle. If the enemy still was on the near stopbank when the Division returned to the line, he

1 GOC's papers.

page 382 was to be pushed off 10 days before the attack.1 The Division was to attack on a two-brigade front, and each brigade was to have a two-battalion front. The frontage of the battalion depended on the strength of the enemy positions; the policy was to attack with two and a half times the number of men the enemy had.

The General emphasised the importance of timing and surprise. On the night of the attack, without any warning at all, the infantry was to go over the near stopbank as quickly as possible. At that stage there was to be no artillery fire. ‘From experience we know that you cannot get infantry across to the far bank under a minute and we are arranging that the first wave will go over the near stopbank and down into the river before the guns fire. The shells will be timed to arrive on targets … [beyond the far stopbank] two minutes after zero hour, which means that the gun flashes will be visible one minute ten seconds after the infantry advance.’2 After crossing the river in assault boats or by kapok bridges the infantry were to go straight through the minefield on the far stopbank and mop up the enemy from the rear. Because the assaulting infantry would be lightly equipped, the supporting arms were to be across the bridges built by the engineers by 5 a.m.

When the infantry had advanced beyond the first river and the tanks and supporting arms had arrived, the Division was to push the enemy off the near bank of the next river and bring up a fresh formation with tanks, supporting arms and equipment for an assault crossing and bridges over that river.

Before 21 Battalion began a demonstration of an assault crossing, the CO (Lieutenant-Colonel McPhail) described the method of attack, which was to be divided into two phases. The two companies making the assault crossing were to be supported if necessary by fire from the other two companies already in position on the near stopbank. Each assault company was to cross with two platoons by boat (four boats for each platoon were to be tethered to both sides of the river) and the third by a kapok bridge. These two companies were to occupy the far stopbank and throw a light screen forward 60 yards.

In the second phase the covering companies were to pass through the assault companies, form up behind the artillery barrage and continue the advance when it lifted. ‘The essence of surprise will be the main factor in the success of the initial attack, the first 10 seconds being the most important, as in that time, all assault

1 It was not possible to clear the enemy from the near stopbank of the Senio as long as 10 days before the attack.

2 GOC's papers.

page 383 parties should be below the vision of the dug-in enemy. It is not expected that the covering companies will be called upon to fire as the assault companies should be on top of the enemy in one and a half minutes.’1

In the demonstration the two assault companies of 21 Battalion crossed the Lamone from stopbank to stopbank in 75 seconds, and the battalion was completely across in four and a half minutes.

Before the engineers began their bridging demonstrations, the CRE (Colonel Hanson) said there seemed to be no alternative to the orthodox Bailey bridge for the type of river they had to cross. Frequently there was not sufficient space between the stopbank and the natural river bank to build and launch a high-level bridge. Along the greater part of the Senio it would be necessary to completely gap the stopbank and make enough space in which to build the bridge. A large amount of spoil had to be removed, and explosives had to be used to do this quickly. The bulldozers would then come forward and clean up the gap, and at the same time the bridging vehicles could move up and be unloaded, and the bridge would be pushed ahead. The whole operation of gapping the near stopbank, launching the bridge on rollers and making a road over the far stopbank would take six to eight hours. The clearing of mines beyond the river would go on simultaneously with the building of the bridge. A site had been selected to build a high-level bridge on the Lamone resembling many sites which occurred on the Senio.

Colonel Hanson also described the method which had been devised for crossing the river by a low-level bridge: this was erected at the bottom of the steep river banks, which then were blown and bulldozed to give a graded approach and an exit which could be negotiated at first by tanks and probably later by wheeled vehicles. This type of bridge would be completed in half the time required for the high-level bridge and seemed to offer the best solution to the problem of getting the tanks up to support the infantry; but at the same time the high-level bridges should be pushed ahead to provide crossings safe from floods and to allow the rapid and free flow of brigade and divisional transport. One field company could quite well build both a high-level and a low-level bridge and clear the routes beyond the river. In a divisional attack on a two-brigade front, two high-level and two low-level bridges would be a reasonable plan.

1 GOC's papers.

page 384

In the demonstrations that followed 8 Field Company built a 100-foot double-single1 high-level bridge through a gap blown and bulldozed in the 22-foot stopbank in six hours 20 minutes. The 6th Field Company built a 50-foot single-single low-level bridge on the site, using a bay of folding-boat equipment as a floating building platform, and finished in just under two hours. The banks were blown at both ends of the bridge, the approaches bulldozed, and tanks and supporting weapons crossed over just under four hours from the time of the infantry assault. The construction of the other low-level bridge took longer than was intended. The 7th Field Company assembled this 60-foot single-single bridge one bay at a time and launched it out on a pier constructed on a floating bay section of folding-boat equipment. The jamming of a roller caused the pier to tip during the launching, which swamped one of the boats. It took five and a quarter hours to complete the work, including the blowing and bulldozing of the approaches through the stopbanks, but it was estimated that, without hold-ups, the bridge should have been open for traffic in about three and a half hours.

Unfortunately these demonstrations did not persuade the visiting engineer officers to adopt the methods developed by Colonel Hanson and his officers. During the crossing of the Senio and subsequent advance the flanking divisions therefore often used the bridges built by the New Zealanders.


The Division underwent some fundamental changes in its composition and organisation in February. Long-service men were withdrawn to return to New Zealand with the Tongariro draft, and were replaced by men who had served with 3 NZ Division in the Pacific and by other reinforcements. The infantry strength of the Division was increased by the formation of 9 Infantry Brigade.2

The Government had decided in September 1944 to substitute a replacement scheme for the furlough scheme, and had announced that the Division was to remain overseas until the conclusion of
Eighth Army Boundaries and Plan for Operation BUCKLAND

Eighth Army Boundaries and Plan for Operation BUCKLAND

1 In New Zealand Engineers, Middle East, p. 495, J. F. Cody defines the terms used in this type of bridge construction: ‘The panel is the basic member of a Bailey bridge and might be likened to a heavy steel farm gate 10 ft by 5 ft 1 in., strengthened by diagonal bracing. Panels are easily connected to form a continuous girder in multiples of ten feet. The strength of the girder may be increased by bolting together up to three connected panels side by side (known as trusses) and two panels on top of the trusses (known as storeys). The “truss” and “storey” is generally omitted in description, so that a “single single” is the lightest combination possible and a “triple triple” the heaviest …. The span lengths and strengths for a Class 30, or Sherman tank, bridge range from 50 feet of single-single to 200 feet of triple-triple.’

2 A 7 Inf Bde had been formed while the Second Echelon of 2 NZEF was in the United Kingdom in 1940. The two infantry brigades of 3 NZ Div in the Pacific were 8 and 14.

page 385 the Italian campaign—after which its future employment was to be reviewed. Men who had served overseas three years or longer were to be replaced. General Freyberg had discussed the scheme with Mr Fraser during the latter's visit to the Division in June 1944. A programme had been submitted to the Government in October, based on the estimated time of arrival in Italy and the numbers available for the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Reinforcements. Adherence to this programme, it was anticipated, would enable a completely reorganised division to take the field in April 1945 and all long-service men up to and including the 7th Reinforcements (a total of about 9900) to be released.

Because of the manpower demands in New Zealand, however, the provision of the replacement drafts had to be restricted, which meant that the relief of the 7th Reinforcements had to be postponed; but the Division was still able to complete the major part of the reorganisation. The policy of replacement had been announced to all ranks of 2 NZEF on 25 October: the relief of long-service men would depend on the arrival of replacements in Italy, and the first of these were expected in December or early January. The first draft to be released was to comprise other ranks of the first three contingents who had returned from New Zealand after furlough, other ranks of the 5th Reinforcements, other ranks who had come to the Middle East after serving in Fiji, and a proportion of the officers and NCOs of these categories who could be spared.

At the end of October a cable from Wellington had warned that, because of the difficulty in arranging shipping, the departure of the 14th Reinforcements would be delayed, and three weeks later it was confirmed that the draft would not leave New Zealand before the beginning of January, which meant a postponement of nearly two months. Later the expected times of departure of the 15th and 16th Reinforcements had been postponed by two or three months (to mid-April and mid-July respectively) from the dates given in October. Despite these delays it had been decided that the Division should release the Tongariro draft of long-service men as soon as the 13th Reinforcements were available in Italy, because it was felt that any further delay would have an adverse effect on morale.

Censorship reports revealed much unfavourable comment about the replacement scheme in soldiers' letters home. The Government's inability to find replacements quickly in New Zealand was criticised: ‘We are sick and tired of waiting.’ ‘It is about time they started doing something more than talk about replacing the three year men.’ ‘It appears Peter Fraser's Replacement Scheme is just so much hot air.’

page 386

The 13th Reinforcements (about 2100 men) arrived in Egypt on 5 November, and the 14th (3675, including 2115 from 3 NZ Division) on 29 January. The Tongariro draft (about 5700) embarked at Suez for New Zealand on 19 March. In six months, therefore, 9700 men departed for New Zealand (about 4000 in the Taupo furlough draft had left in September), and about 5900 arrived in the 13th and 14th Reinforcements, which represented a net loss to 2 NZEF of nearly 4000.

The diversion of reserve divisions from Italy to Greece had prevented the release of the New Zealand Division from an operational role as early as had been expected, but Eighth Army's regrouping made it possible to withdraw the Division in March to rest and train. If the Division had been required to fight in February after the departure of the Tongariro men, it would have taken the field about 1500 below strength and with no pool of reinforcements, but with some 3000 reinforcements training in Egypt. By the end of March, however, the Division was expected to be up to full strength again, with a reinforcement pool of 1500 (less any losses it might suffer before then). When the 15th Reinforcements (3500 due in May) arrived, the 6th Reinforcements (1400) would be released for return to New Zealand, which would be a gain of 2100, and it was anticipated that the 16th Reinforcements would merely replace the 7ths without altering the position. Should the war in Europe continue as long as that, heavy casualties or losses from sickness possibly could render the Division inoperative.


The first step towards reorganising the Division to meet the demands of the Italian campaign had been the increasing of its infantry component in November 1944 by enlarging both 5 and 6 Brigades from three to four battalions. The next step towards relieving the strain on the front-line infantry was the formation of a third infantry brigade by incorporating 22 Battalion, Divisional Cavalry and 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion as infantry battalions in 9 Infantry Brigade, the headquarters of which became a unit of 2 NZEF on 20 January 1945. The 22nd and Divisional Cavalry Battalions had been converted to infantry in November and employed with 5 and 6 Brigades; 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion became 27 Battalion on 10 February.

The conversion of machine-gunners into riflemen was deplored by veterans of the battalion, some of whom contended that it would not have happened if the Vickers medium machine gun's capabilities page 387 of concentrated, indirect, overhead and enfilade fire had been fully appreciated, and if it had been used more often to the best advantage. Whatever the merits of this argument, it could not be denied that the Division needed more infantrymen for an offensive in northern Italy. The Vickers gun—which was to survive two world wars—was to be retained among the weapons of the Division's nine infantry battalions: a medium machine-gun platoon equipped with four Vickers guns became part of the headquarters company of each battalion.1

The organisation and equipping of Headquarters 9 Brigade began at Forli on 20 January; 27 Battalion, Divisional Cavalry Battalion and 22 Battalion joined the new formation in the next fortnight, and Brigadier Gentry2 assumed command on 10 February. The brigade assembled in the Fabriano region, inland from Ancona. The departure of the Tongariro men left many gaps, especially among the senior NCOs; officers were retained until replacements arrived. By the end of February 30 officers and 40 NCOs from 3 NZ Division had been absorbed, and large groups of reinforcements had arrived, but the brigade still was not up to full strength.


At a commanders' conference at Divisional Headquarters at Matelica on 4 March the GOC announced that the Division was to plan for being out of the line for a month, but was to be prepared to return earlier if necessary. When it returned to the line, it was to push the enemy off the near stopbank. ‘To do this we shall withdraw a bit—hammer the bank with bombardment—and then get on it, dig in, secure lateral contact and make absolutely sure that no Boche get across the river. Then after ten days we shall do a full-scale attack on a 4,000 to 5,000-yard front and exploit to the next river with a view to jumping that too. I think he will go back during the next attack and we want to be able to go over water obstacles ourselves, relying on our own resources and without outside help, right to the Po.’3

1 The revised war establishment for an infantry battalion, as from 4 February 1945, provided for battalion headquarters, headquarters company (comprising company headquarters, 1 Signal Platoon, 2 Medium Machine Gun Platoon, 3 Mortar Platoon, 4 Carrier Platoon, 5 Anti-Tank Platoon, 6 Administrative Platoon) and four rifle companies (each of company headquarters and three platoons of three sections). The total strength was 32 officers and 744 other ranks (plus one medical officer, one man from NZOC and four from NZEME attached).

2 Maj-Gen Sir William Gentry, KBE, CB, DSO and bar, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Bronze Star (US); Lower Hutt; born London, 20 Feb 1899; Regular soldier; served North-West Frontier 1920–22; GSO II NZ Div 1939–40; AA & QMG 1940–41; GSO I May 1941, Oct 1941–Sep 1942; comd 6 Bde Sep 1942–Apr 1943; Deputy Chief of General Staff 1943–44; comd NZ Troops in Egypt, Aug 1944–Feb 1945; 9 Bde (Italy) 1945; Deputy Chief of General Staff, 1946–47; Adjutant-General, 1949–52; Chief of General Staff, 1952–55.

3 GOC's papers.

page 388

The programme of rest and training while out of the line was planned to bring the Division to the peak of readiness for battle. After four or five days for rest and cleaning-up, there was to be a period of physical training, including ‘at least three good solid marches’, and ceremonial parades. The GOC wanted the training to embrace the ‘complete Alamein technique’—mine-lifting and all the other requirements of a set-piece attack under a barrage— ‘so that everybody knows how to do these attacks the way we do them and we can be completely confident that everyone understands.’1

The relief of the New Zealand Division by 5 Kresowa Division began on 4 March and was completed on the 6th, when command of the sector passed to the Polish division. Except for 4 Armoured Brigade, which went only as far as the Cesenatico area, north of Rimini, the New Zealanders made their way south to the more peaceful and pleasant surroundings of the Fabriano region on the Adriatic side of the central Apennines. The Division's casualties since returning to the line in November were 194 killed, 804 wounded and 18 prisoners, a total of 1016.

At Cesenatico, ‘not far from those horrible Romagna battle fields’, the men were billeted in houses that were ‘draughty shells of their former comfort…. The beach was ruined by barbed wire and little forts and rows of ugly concrete “dragons’ teeth”. There were mines everywhere, even in the water. There was a busy airfield almost next door, which seemed to spawn planes by the dozen all day and most of the night….

‘Keenness and morale had to be dragged up little by little out of their winter depths. The baleful Senio had cast a general listlessness over the war-tired Division….’2 As the weather improved, however, ‘morale began to flicker again. A series of warm summery days helped enormously. The afternoons were given over to sports, the flat ground around Cesenatico sprouted goalposts….’ Enthusiasm for work grew more gradually; by the end of March ‘even the tanks were once more regarded with affection….

‘But the most effective step towards restoring the old spirit was one which, at the time, vexed the boys most. Beyond doubt formal discipline had grown pretty slack, attire round the camps had become startlingly informal, parade smartness had gone out of fashion. Now an organised effort was made to straighten up the whole of 4 Brigade…. There was a good deal of drill, and hours of practice for big parades for Colonel Campbell of 4 Brigade and General Freyberg, both late in March…. The second parade was a marathon which lasted a good four hours and left everyone

1 GOC's papers.

page 389 jaded; but General Freyberg was heard to murmur approval again and again, and everyone felt a little proud of himself, though nobody would have admitted it.’1

Fifth and 6th Infantry Brigades trained in assault tactics, such as mine-lifting, tank-hunting, tank and infantry co-operation (with the assistance of tanks from 20 Armoured Regiment), and also did route-marching and river-crossing exercises. Brigadier Gentry published a special order on 12 February in which he welcomed ‘the three well-tried, veteran units’ which formed 9 Infantry Brigade. ‘We have no time to lose for in the few weeks available for us to complete our reorganisation and to train, we have to learn to work as a Bde team and to become technically and tactically fit to take our place with the Division in any type of operation. The best of luck to all of you.’

From individual and section training the units of 9 Brigade progressed to platoon and company training and then to battalion exercises, which included tank-infantry co-operation (with tanks from 20 Regiment) and fighting in built-up areas; they were instructed in kapok bridging, the use of Bangalore torpedoes, Wasp flame-throwers, and so on. The brigade practised a silent night attack and a battalion relief in pitch darkness, which gave the battalions and headquarters staff experience in working together.

On 24 March the divisional artillery demonstrated for 9 Brigade stonks and murders by the 25-pounders, and anti-tank fire by 17- pounders against a German Panther. At night two field regiments, exercising great care because many of the infantrymen had no previous experience of advancing under a barrage, fired a separate barrage for each of the three battalions moving at a rate of 100 yards in three minutes. General Freyberg and Mr W. J. Jordan (the High Commissioner for New Zealand in the United Kingdom, who was visiting the Division) were among those who watched the exercises.

The first of the ceremonial parades was 9 Brigade's, which took place near Fabriano on 10 March. The GOC expressed his appreciation in a special order of the day: ‘It fills me with great confidence in Allied strength that in the sixth year of war such magnificent units as 2 NZ Div Cav Bn, 22 NZ Inf Bn and 27 NZ Inf Bn should exist. A General requires inspiring as much as his men and I feel greatly inspired by the splendid bearing of all troops who took part in this parade.’

Sixth Brigade's parade at San Severino on 16 March ‘was exceptionally good.’2 At a parade of nearly 2000 officers and men of the NZASC units near Fabriano on the 19th, Major-General

1 18 Battalion and Armoured Regiment, pp. 610–11.

2 GOC's diary.

page 390 Kippenberger,1 who was visiting the Division for the first time since he had been wounded a year earlier, took the salute; he was also among those who attended the divisional artillery parade at Lanciano Barracks on the 22nd, and 5 Brigade's parade near Castelraimondo on the 24th. General McCreery, who inspected the troops and presented the honours and awards (which included the DSO, the MC, and the Bar to the MC to Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. Thomas) at 5 Brigade's parade, was ‘obviously impressed’. The last ceremonial parade was 4 Armoured Brigade's at Cesenatico.

After a week with the Division General Kippenberger broadcast his impressions to New Zealand: ‘… It was a delight and to some extent a surprise to see the Division so obviously at the top of its form at the end of a long and hard campaign, after more than four years in the field and at a time when a great many old hands have left. I have seen several parades, finishing this morning with a parade by my own old [5] Brigade. The officer commanding this parade2 joined the [20th] Battalion in September 1939 as a private. The Battalion commanders were subalterns in 1940. Very few other officers in the battalions were there when I left twelve months ago. This is the position throughout the Division which has really gone through a rejuvenating process. The commanders have the perfect combination of youth and experience. The junior leaders, although a good many have not seen much fighting, are obviously well trained and zealous, and the men appear to me as fit and hardy and keen as ever I have seen.

‘… With the recent changes there are comparatively few people left who served with me and an Africa Star is a rarity and only among the senior officers are any who remember our early tribulations in Greece and Crete. I was once more impressed with the smoothness with which everything runs in the Division, and enjoyed things such as the perfect punctuality which is one of its characteristics….

‘I think the people in New Zealand and all those who in past times have served with the Division would be proud of the condition in which it obviously is at present. I have never seen it look better. If it has to play a part in the decisive victory that now appears to be close ahead, I am sure it will be an outstanding part. I will leave with very great regret.’

1 Maj-Gen Sir Howard Kippenberger, KBE, CB, DSO and bar, ED, m.i.d., Legion of Merit (US); born Ladbrooks, 28 Jan 1897; barrister and solicitor; 1 NZEF 1916–17; CO 20 Bn Sep 1939–Apr 1941, Jun–Dec 1941; comd 10 Bde, Crete, May 1941; 5 Bde Jan 1942–Jun 1943, Nov 1943–Feb 1944; GOC 2 NZ Div, 30 Apr–14 May 1943, 9 Feb–2 Mar 1944; comd 2 NZEF Prisoner-of-War Reception Group (UK) Oct 1944–Sep 1945; twice wounded; Editor-in Chief, NZ War Histories, 1946–57; died Wellington, 5 May 1957.

2 The parade was under the command of Lt-Col E. A. McPhail because Brig I. L. Bonifant was ill at the time.