CHAPTER 17 — The Sangro and Orsogna
The Sangro and Orsogna
With the departure for New Zealand on 15 June 1943 of the first furlough draft of 6000-odd officers and men of the First, Second and Third Echelons, including Lieutenant-Colonel Agar, several of his senior officers, and a considerable number of experienced warrant officers and senior NCOs, large gaps appeared in the ranks of Divisional Signals. The new commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Grant, cast a speculative eye over the reinforcement resources which the Signal School held. These consisted mainly of the 9th Reinforcements, who had just arrived and already were wilting under the fierce heat of the Egyptian summer.
By the end of July, when the last of the leave parties were returning to Maadi Camp from their excursions to Palestine, Alexandria, and other places where fat paybook balances could be expended in riotous living, the process of refitting and training the Division was in full swing. In the signal sections at the headquarters of field regiments and infantry brigades training commenced with a period of individual instruction to introduce the reinforcements to their tasks in the field. This was followed by section exercises, some of which were carried out in a very realistic manner, particularly those at Headquarters 5 Brigade, where Captain Brennan, who had recently taken over command of K Section from Captain Ingle,1 and the Brigade Major designed wireless exercises to practise brigade and battalion staffs in the correct use of RT procedure and security devices. At the brigade headquarters level the exercises were confined to the use of the new wireless set No. 22 which was then replacing the No. 11 set. Forward of battalion headquarters the exercises were extended to the use of the wireless set No. 18 and the new infantry set No. 38.page 386
The Division marched2 to Burg el Arab during the third week in September and continued its training in bivouac with a number of brigade exercises. Early in October units began to move to Ikingi Maryut transit camp, only a few miles away, where each was broken up into drafts in readiness to embark for an officially unknown destination.
Divisional Signals was divided into A and B drafts. A consisted of eight officers and eighty-seven other ranks under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Grant, and B of six officers and eighty-seven other ranks under Major Pryor, the unit's second-in-command.
Embarkation began at Alexandria early on 5 October. Signals was accommodated with other Divisional Headquarters' troops in two ships, the Reina del Pacifico and the Dunottar Castle. Grant's party was in the Reina del Pacifico, which in peacetime had been a luxury liner sailing in South American waters.
After an uneventful three-day voyage the convoy, with its escort of British and Greek destroyers, crept slowly along the coast of southern Italy and approached the Italian naval base of Taranto. The men crowded to the ships' rails to catch the first glimpses of this once hostile country. Through the quickly widening rifts in the early morning mists they saw the little white cottages nestling at the water's edge and the green country rising beyond. Later, as the ships nosed their way into the inner approaches to the port, a new sight met their eyes, something startlingly reminiscent of the old-worldliness of Canea in Crete, which many of the old hands had seen in 1941. From the sea the old fortress town, with its mellowed buildings in grey stone and its picturesque stone jetties lying in the soft Italian sunlight, gave no hint of the squalor and wartime poverty which lay behind.
The ships anchored in the outer harbour and the troops were disembarked at once and taken ashore in lighters, the men laden with their impedimenta of kitbags, rifles and oddments of cooking gear, field telephones, reels of cable, and numerous other portable and semi-portable articles of signal equipment required for a skeleton communications service within the Division until the transport arrived from Egypt in a later convoy.page 387
Both Signals' parties reached the divisional bivouac area on the north-western outskirts of Taranto shortly after noon after a march of about five miles, which took them around the fringes of the town and along pleasant, leafy lanes where the warm sunlight filtered through the trees and danced in dappled shadow patterns on the yellow dust. Divisional Headquarters' offices were sited comfortably in a spacious building of white stone, where the lord of the demesne had once reigned over his small army of shepherds, charcoal-burners and other retainers, many of whom, in the stoical manner of Continental peasantry, were still hard at work around the estate, as if the war which had raged about their ears had been only a brief discomfort like a passing thunderstorm or summer shower.
Very soon the area was transfigured from its rural calm to bustling activity. Improvised structures for cooking fires appeared suddenly and began to emit pleasing odours of wood smoke while the cooks prepared a meal of hot bully stew, biscuits and atebrin. Under the olives and in the lee of the low stone walls the men's bivouac tents grew quickly like brown earth barrows on the greensward; this resemblance soon passed, however, as the men's highly developed sense of improvisation transformed the little tents into comfortable dwellings secured against the ravages of all but the most inclement weather. The bivouac of the Colonel's batman, Jack Southberg,3 surpassed all the others in comfort and amenities; it boasted a paved floor, wooden walls, a rifle rack, a bed and even a fireplace, and was sited strategically near the men's cookhouse.
Very soon, following the scent of fresh prey, Italian hawkers appeared, accompanied by small children who at meal times gathered in large numbers in a sort of supernumerary rank alongside the mess queue and assumed wistful expressions of expectancy which were seldom unrewarded.
The hawkers peddled their wares around the area at extraordinarily cheap rates—magnificent purple grapes swelling with succulence, almonds, walnuts, figs, stuffed olives, almond toffee and even apples. There was wine, too, the crude red wine which graced the tables of the peasants and which was known from page 388 the African days as ‘plonk’ because of the terrific impact with which it repaid gross appetites. There was also, however, some good bottled wine and cognac and reasonably good supplies of a tolerable vermouth.
Within twenty-four hours of the Division's arrival in its first Italian bivouac, Signals had laid out a skeleton communications system with the small amount of equipment the men had carried from Egypt. There was no wireless except for half a dozen sets mounted in jeeps which had accompanied the divisional advance party, and communications consisted of line which, at first, provided communication only to Headquarters 6 Base Sub-Area in Taranto, Headquarters Divisional Artillery and Headquarters 6 Brigade. Later, when the advance parties of 5 Brigade and 4 Armoured Brigade arrived in the Taranto area the line system was expanded to include their headquarters.
Very soon after the Division's arrival serious interruptions began to occur in these line communications. The first of these, on 12 October, was found to have been caused by the cutting out of fifty yards of cable from the Headquarters Divisional Artillery line. A few days later a gap of four yards was found in the Headquarters 6 Base Sub-Area circuit, and again, on the 20th, 100 yards of cable disappeared from the Headquarters Divisional Artillery circuit. No direct evidence of sabotage was ever disclosed, but the similarity and frequency of the faults led inevitably to a strong suspicion that they were the handiwork of Fascist elements still lingering among the otherwise subdued Italian community.
Early in November the Division began to move northwards to Lucera where, according to the original plan, it was to take up an Eighth Army reserve position to protect the Foggia airfields against possible enemy excursions from the west of Italy or from any infiltration which the enemy might attempt between 5 Corps on the Adriatic coast and 13 Corps in the hills farther inland. But while the move was still in progress the Division was ordered forward to the Eighth Army line on the Sangro, so that Lucera became merely a staging area.
At this time Eighth Army was approaching the Sangro River, to the north of which the Germans had established a strong winter line with their foremost defences overlooking the river page 389 flats. Rome was the immediate Allied objective, in the capture of which Eighth Army's task was to advance to the important lateral road which ran from Pescara on the Adriatic side, through Avezzano in the Apennines, to Rome on the west. On the Tyrrhenian coast Fifth United States Army, which included the British 10 Corps, was already sweeping northwards from the Salerno beachhead through Naples and beyond the Volturno River.
On Eighth Army's front, between the Sangro and the important Pescara-Rome lateral road, the enemy was deployed in considerable strength on the river bluffs and the rugged spurs behind them, where his defences lay at Guardiagrele, Orsogna, Castelfrentano, Mozzagrogna, Fossacesia and Ortona. Early in November the Army Commander, General Montgomery, with a keen appreciation of the enemy's growing resistance and the imminence of bad weather, decided that he had too few troops forward to enable him to keep up the progress of his advance towards Rome. To force the enemy defences at the Sangro he planned to make a narrow bridgehead across the river near the coast with 5 Corps. To enable the Corps to concentrate more densely near the coast for the Sangro attack, the New Zealand Division was ordered up from Lucera to the area between Furci and Gissi, about ten miles inland from the coastal town of Vasto, from where it was to relieve 8 Indian Division, 5 Corps' left formation, around Atessa. The New Zealand Division was to remain under the command of Eighth Army and would occupy a position in the line roughly midway between 5 Corps and 13 Corps in order to create a threat along the road north from Atessa to the Sangro.
The 20th November was the date fixed for the attack on the Sangro defences and, if 5 Corps' assault succeeded, the New Zealand Division was to push northwards across the river opposite Atessa, through Chieti and eventually, if possible, to Avezzano, the centre of the Germans' line. The first New Zealand move occurred on the 11th, when Tactical Divisional Headquarters left Lucera for the Furci-Gissi area. The same day OC B (cable) Section of 2 New Zealand Divisional Signals went forward to liaise with 8 Indian Divisional Signals in preparation for taking over its line communications. Tactical Divisional page 390 Headquarters was joined by Main Headquarters near Gissi on the 14th and, immediately on Main Division's arrival, the Adjutant of Divisional Signals and his opposite number in 8 Indian Divisional Signals reported to the Chief Signal Officer at Headquarters 5 Corps to hatch a wireless deception plot to conceal the relief of the Indians from the enemy intercept service.
When 8 Indian Division moved out, 19 Indian Brigade, 6 Lancers and 3 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, were to remain under the command of 2 NZ Division. Only Indian troops were to be employed in the line, and 8 Indian Division's wireless links were to be closed down gradually, so that eventually only the forward radio-telephony and wireless-telegraphy nets and the rear radio-telephony link to 5 Corps would remain in operation. The Indian Divisional Signals would continue to operate all links, and no New Zealand sets were to be allowed on the air. This meant that almost all the Division's signal traffic had to be handled by line, which immediately brought innumerable problems not encountered by the desert-trained linemen since the close-country campaigns of 1941 in Greece and Crete.
Throughout the North African campaigns of 1940-43 Signals had developed a highly skilled technique in the provision and maintenance of line communications, which demanded a great flexibility because of frequent and sometimes extensive changes in the order of battle. Distances between important headquarters were often considerable, even though field cables were usually laid on almost direct cross-country routes. These problems were alleviated to a large extent, however, by the complete absence of insulation losses through dampness and the ability of cable-laying and maintenance detachments to traverse desert country in any direction at will.
In Italy, however, Signals soon discovered that all these conditions were considerably modified. Moves of headquarters, for example, were much shorter and less frequent, with the result that the staff required more extensive and stable line communications and placed less reliance on wireless. The emphasis on flexibility decreased considerably, too, because orders of battle became much more stable and impending moves were usually known some time in advance. Although in the mountainous page 391 country of Italy the various formation headquarters of the Division were often strung out over a considerable distance along the axis of advance, the desert manoeuvre of despatching formations or battle groups independently on long outflanking movements became almost impossible in Italy, and the problem of providing communications to distant and mobile groups no longer had to be met.
Owing to the difficulties of cross-country movement on the steep hills and soft ground, especially with wheeled vehicles, lines frequently had to be laid along formed roads, with the result that maintenance difficulties multiplied rapidly. Vehicles moving off roads into unit areas, the dumping of ammunition, petrol and engineer stores on the roadside, and tracked vehicles running along the verges were all capable of inflicting severe damage on field cables. Even if the cable itself was not severed, the insulation became stripped, so that earthing faults occurred continuously.
Because it was quite impracticable to erect overhead crossings at every point of potential hazard on a route, the only method of securing lines was to lay them in roadside ditches, where the moisture at once attacked the insulation fabric and thus maintained the incidence of earth faults. Cables laid across country were carefully built on hedges and walls or supported from tree to tree in orchards and vineyards; this kept them out of the mud and helped to make the tracing of faults much easier. This suspension of field cables on low supports, despite their increased susceptibility to bomb blast and shellfire, was essential to preserve the insulation, which quickly deteriorated if left in contact with damp or muddy ground and could not be restored. Large reserves of cable had to be held farther forward than the usual rear dumps at corps and army signal parks.
Field cable exposed to breakage or strain by the loading of ice or snow on it was suspended from its supports in short spans or secured to trees just clear of the ground, so that it rested on the ground before it became loaded beyond its breaking point. In battalion, field regiment, and brigade areas where transport had to be more widely dispersed, damage to field cable by tracked vehicles could not be prevented unless the lines were laid along tank-proof routes, such as the crests of ridges, and this was usually quite impracticable in forward areas.page 392
Permanent lines, that is, civilian post office circuits and railway communication systems, are often available along axes of advance in close country. In Italy these circuits were augmented very usefully by the presence of high-tension power lines— massive copper conductors erected on huge steel pylons. Except when these power lines had been too severely damaged by shelling and bombing, or where they had been demolished by the retreating enemy, overhead circuits of this sort were of great value. A prerequisite, of course, was that the staff had to be persuaded to site important headquarters along or near the routes followed by the circuits.
Signals must also be aware of the likely axis of advance in time to make detailed reconnaissances and reconstruct permanent-line circuits before headquarters move. Early reconnaissance of future headquarters sites, with a Signals' representative included in the reconnaissance group, is essential if profitable use is to be made of permanent-line circuits soon after the completion of a move.
Signals was able to assess the temporary value of these poled overhead circuits soon after the Division arrived in the Eighth Army area in mid-November, and evolved a line drill to carry communications forward quickly to the headquarters of brigades. First, field cable was laid rapidly along the road to provide immediate communication. Then the poled-line circuit, if not too extensively damaged, was patched with spans of field cable to provide an alternative circuit, after which a second field cable was carefully laid across country and built back and secured to withstand as many as possible of the known hazards. When this had been done the first cable laid along the road was taken up and the poled line reconstructed with proper materials. Sometimes, if the overhead circuit was subject to damage from shelling or bombing, its aerial conductors were bunched together to form one leg of an earth-working circuit.
It was soon found that 3-ton lorries equipped with mechanical cable-layers could not be used successfully on heavily congested roads. Even the 8-cwt and 15-cwt trucks which B (cable) Section used for maintenance work could not negotiate traffic jams, so that jeeps fitted with No. 3 cable-laying apparatus or drum barrows from which the wheels had been page 393 removed became the only vehicles which line parties could use satisfactorily. Besides its ability to tow a trailer on which spare cable could be carried, the jeep was capable of being manoeuvred through seemingly impenetrable masses of congested traffic on the narrow roads.
Wireless difficulties were less troublesome because their effects had been anticipated after the disagreeable experiences with frequency congestion which had occurred on the shortened corps' fronts during the Tunisian campaign. Here, as in Tunisia, little could be done to reduce the effects of mutual interference by large numbers of wireless sets operating in a constricted area. Because the congestion was much worse than it had ever been, however, great care had to be taken in the allotment of frequencies to important nets, such as the G forward RT controls, to ensure that each had as far as possible a widely divergent operating channel from the others. This important precaution was not always confined to the wireless nets within the Division itself; careful checking and observation were needed to ensure that neighbouring formations were not using the same or closely adjacent frequencies. Since this precaution could not be arbitrarily adopted and employed by any one formation signals to the possible detriment and inconvenience of others, close and amicable liaison between all concerned was essential. This was easily achieved under the auspices of the Chief Signal Officer at Headquarters 5 Corps, although the New Zealanders had not previously met the neighbouring formations, 78 British Division and 8 Indian Division.
On 13 November 5 Field Regiment went forward and by next morning—the day that the New Zealand Division assumed command of 8 Indian Division's sector between Atessa and Casalanguida—was deployed in support of 19 Indian Brigade, midway between the two villages. With the regiment was F Section, which was to provide line and wireless communications on the usual regimental scale, and which contributed its small but important part that afternoon when 28 Battery fired the first New Zealand shots in the Italian campaign.
That same day, the 14th, 4 Field Regiment deployed north of Casalanguida in readiness to bring its guns into action, and the first of 4 Armoured Brigade's units, 19 Armoured Regiment, page 394 began to move forward from San Severo to the Furci area. The latter's progress was so hampered by unfavourable road conditions that it did not reach its allotted area until late on the 16th. Later in the day the rest of 4 Armoured Brigade moved forward from San Severo under extremely difficult traffic conditions caused by the slippery roads and rain-sodden ground.
Sixth Infantry Brigade left Lucera early on the 17th for Atessa, where it was to take over the right portion of 19 Indian Brigade's sector, but it was forced to halt en route that night because of the difficult road conditions. It resumed its march next morning, but progress was again slowed up under even worse conditions than those of the previous day. The main obstacle occurred at a river crossing over the Osento, where a difficult deviation and a ford caused such dense traffic congestion that by the afternoon the brigade was wedged almost immovably in a mass of transport and few of its vehicles could move either one way or the other. Although the greater part of the brigade was delayed in this way and did not reach Atessa until the morning of the 19th, Brigade Headquarters had pressed forward on the 18th and L Section was able to lay out line communications in readiness for the arrival of the battalions. By 10 a.m. on the 19th Headquarters 6 Brigade was in line communication with all three of its battalions by an omnibus circuit of single field cable. To the rear communication with Headquarters 19 Indian Brigade was provided by a metallic pair field cable, and from there to Main Headquarters 2 NZ Division by a poled-line circuit.
Meanwhile, on the 18th, 19 Indian Brigade, supported by tanks of 19 Armoured Regiment and artillery, including the guns of 4 and 5 Field Regiments, had attacked and captured Perano against heavy opposition and with considerable losses. The New Zealand tanks, crossing rough country made soft and treacherous by heavy rain, encountered fire at close range from anti-tank guns well sited in broken ground and, severely handicapped by the lack of communications because of the strict wireless silence still in force in 2 NZ Division, lost four of their number. Had the tanks' crews been able to use their wireless instead of being restricted to hand signals for inter-tank communication, much of the anti-tank gun opposition could have been overcome more easily.page 395
A general attack was planned for the night of 20-21 November, but on the afternoon of the 20th, when preparations were going forward quickly, it was postponed for forty-eight hours because of a rise in the river level. Main Headquarters 2 NZ Division had moved that morning in heavy rain to a new position about two miles east of Atessa and, on arrival there, had considerable difficulty in dispersing its transport on ploughed ground. All that day the men of B (cable) Section worked under extremely trying conditions, but by the evening had succeeded in completing line communications to Headquarters 19 Indian Brigade and Headquarters Divisional Artillery, and by poled-line routes to Tactical Headquarters Eighth Army at Vasto under whose direct command the Division then was. Communication with 6 Brigade was provided through Headquarters 19 Indian Brigade by field cable, and to all three field regiments by the same means through Headquarters Divisional Artillery.
Now that the hope of an unobtrusive approach to the enemy's defences north of the river to stage an unexpected appearance in force had passed unfulfilled, new plans were prepared for a renewal of operations; these envisaged a frontal assault by infantry in force supported by artillery fire. When 6 Brigade's projected crossing of the Sangro—so many times postponed already—was finally abandoned on the 24th, a provisional date for the resumption of operations was appointed by the Army Commander for the night of 26-27 November, but on the 26th the attack was postponed for another twenty-four hours in order that the level of the river might be lower.
On the 27th Signals in both 5 and 6 Brigades laid lines to sites on the southern side of the river where the Engineers were to build bridges. By 9 p.m., nearly six hours before zero hour (which was fixed for 2.45 a.m. on the 28th), K Section had completed line communications to both 21 and 23 Battalions, to Headquarters 6 Brigade by a lateral circuit on the left, and to the bridge site. In addition, visual lamp stations were established at the headquarters of 21 and 23 Battalions; both of these worked back to separate visual terminals at Main Headquarters 5 Brigade.
Wireless communications followed the conventional pattern for an infantry brigade, with the addition of two No. 38 sets page 396 on a one-to-one link working between Main Headquarters 5 Brigade and the bridge site, to enable reports on the progress of bridging operations to be passed back quickly to the brigade, and two No. 38 sets at Brigade Headquarters tuned to each battalion's forward control net to enable the brigade staff to obtain early information of the infantry's progress during the battle.
In 6 Brigade line communications followed much the same pattern as those in 5 Brigade, that is, a line to each battalion's starting point on the south bank of the river and one to the bridge site for 6 Brigade's supporting weapons and supplies. The main difference from 5 Brigade's line layout was a signal centre, or forward exchange, which L Section established just north of the Strada Sangritana, a highway south of the Sangro and about one and a half miles forward of Main Headquarters 6 Brigade and just forward of Headquarters 25 Battalion. From Main Brigade Headquarters three circuits led forward to this signal centre; two were poled lines, and a field-cable circuit which went to 26 Battalion's starting point south of the river was teed-in to one of these; the third consisted of twin field cable throughout its length. From the signal centre two field cables went to 24 and 25 Battalions' starting points near the river bank, and a tee-in on 24 Battalion's circuit led to 6 Brig- ade's bridge site. Another field cable ran from the signal centre to a vantage point near 25 Battalion's headquarters, that is, the site occupied by the battalion before the move to the starting point began. This circuit gave communication with a visual signalling terminal from which communication could be established by signalling lamps with the battalions if required.
L Section's arrangements for wireless communications within 6 Brigade for the operation were unconventional in design. In the first phase of the attack, during the crossing of the river and before the battalions' No. 22 sets—their normal means of wireless communication with Brigade Headquarters—were set up on the northern side of the Sangro, communication was to be by the infantry-type sets, No. 18 and No. 38. The control set —another No. 38—of this temporary net was to be operated by L Section at the bridge site, and information passed back from there by line to Main Headquarters 6 Brigade through the page 397 signal centre. At Main Brigade Headquarters the usual No. 22 control set installed in the armoured command vehicle was to be used for communication with another No. 22 set at the bridge site, where a liaison officer could pass back information on the progress of the bridging work. The change to the second phase would merely be a reversion to the normal pattern of wireless communications in an infantry brigade, and would occur as the battalions were able to set up and operate their usual No. 22 set terminals when they reached their objectives or whenever there was a halt in their advance.
This operation, which was the first in which Signals had encountered a river obstacle while carrying line communications forward, provided an interesting example of the occasional necessity for departing from the long established principle that Divisional Signals are responsible for carrying signal communications forward to the headquarters of infantry battalions, a task that young and inexperienced signal officers, when not pre- occupied with textbook drill, should accept without cavil. For the Sangro crossing both brigades required their Divisional Signals sections to take the battalions' lines forward only as far as the infantry starting points on the south bank of the river; thereafter the cables were to be carried across the stream by the battalions themselves. In 5 Brigade's operation order the point is stated unequivocally: ‘Sigs will lay line to point where assaulting battalions cross river, thereafter a unit responsibility.’ Sixth Brigade's order merely said that ‘battalions will lay line across river and maintain from river forward.’
At Main Headquarters 2 NZ Division, situated two miles east of Atessa, line and wireless communications differed little from the design which had last been used in the closing stages of the North African campaign. The line system was extended to include a forward signal centre, a conventional device which had been put to good use in Tunisia. This centre had been established on 22 November at a point about half-way between Atessa and the Strada Sangritana in readiness for 6 Brigade's projected crossing of the river on the 24th. From Main Divisional Headquarters two circuits, each with superposed Fullerphone telegraph circuits, led forward to the signal centre; another, also with a superposed Fullerphone telegraph circuit, page 398 went to Headquarters Divisional Artillery, in the vicinity of Atessa, from where lines led forward to the divisional signal centre, which of course gave an additional circuit to Main Divisional Headquarters, and to the three New Zealand field regiments and 3 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Of the seven circuits radiating forward from the signal centre, two went to Headquarters 19 Indian Brigade on the left of the New Zealand Division, two to 6 Brigade, one to 5 Brigade, another to 6 Field Regiment, and the seventh to 3 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. Although only one line was provided between the signal centre and 5 Brigade, an alternative circuit was available through the lateral lines which ran between 5 and 6 Brigades. Of the two circuits which went to both 19 Indian Brigade and 6 Brigade, one was augmented in each case by a superposed Fullerphone telegraph circuit.
This extensive array of line communications was supplemented by a wireless layout of the design which had become by that time almost standard in the Division, the only departure from the now familiar pattern being the rear links which, in the Sangro battle, terminated at Main and Rear Headquarters Eighth Army instead of, as in the normal course of events, at a corps headquarters. At this time the New Zealand Division was under the direct command of Eighth Army while its flanking formations were under the command of 5 and 13 Corps. [See wireless diagram on pp. 410-11.]
At zero hour the infantry of 5 and 6 Brigades crossed their start lines north of the Sangro under a barrage of artillery and Vickers machine-gun fire, having waded across the river some time after midnight. In 5 Brigade the K Section operators who manned the No. 22 terminal sets at the battalions' headquarters managed to get them across the river by carrying them and their accessories at shoulder height on stretchers, eight men to a stretcher. In 6 Brigade, however, the L Section operators manhandled their sets themselves and managed to reach the north bank with them undamaged.
In both brigades wireless communications worked smoothly and without interruption, except in 25 Battalion, whose No. 38 set did not establish contact with the control set at the bridge site at any time during the attack; it was not until the battalion reached its final objective some time before dawn and the No. 22 page 399 set was set up that wireless communication was finally established with Brigade Headquarters.
Line communications were exceptionally good and suffered few interruptions except—again in the case of 25 Battalion— when the circuit from Brigade Headquarters was not completed until late in the morning.
Forward of Main Headquarters 2 NZ Division communications to both brigades, both wireless and line, continued throughout the attack without interruption, a satisfying feature being the extent to which the stable line circuit reduced the use of wireless, due in no small measure to the untiring efforts of B (cable) Section.
Soon after dawn on the 30th Headquarters 6 Brigade crossed the river and established its new headquarters near Headquarters 25 Battalion, in the centre of the brigade positions. Soon afterwards L Section's signal centre on the south bank rejoined the headquarters and the lines to 24 and 26 Battalions were readjusted.
Headquarters 5 Brigade and 28 (Maori) Battalion, which had not been committed in the attack, crossed on 1 December. A K Section signal centre, however, had been sent across the river on 30 November; it established its forward exchange near Headquarters 23 Battalion and by the evening of that day was in line communication with both 21 and 23 Battalions.
Main Headquarters 2 NZ Division crossed to the northern side on 2 December and was set up in olive groves astride Route 84, about half a mile north of the river; it remained in this position for the rest of the month.
Meanwhile 5 and 6 Brigades had continued their advance northwards against moderate resistance, and on the 2nd Castelfrentano was occupied by 24 Battalion without opposition. Headquarters 6 Brigade moved forward that day, L Section being allotted billets on the north side of the town.
The whole operation from the crossing of the river until the capture of Castelfrentano, described by a senior officer as ‘a satisfactory and surprisingly easy affair’, cost little in casualties and equipment and generally represented a promising but not vividly spectacular debut for the Division in Italy. Signals incurred no losses during the operation, although F Section, page 400 attached to 5 Field Regiment, had lost two men two days before the attack began when Signalman King4 was killed instantly and Signalman Maunsell5 wounded by a shell. Maunsell died next day from his injuries.
Because of the ease with which the German defences around Castelfrentano had been overcome, the Division sought to exploit its successes by pressing on towards Orsogna quickly in the hope of clearing out the enemy defences there and spreading out towards San Martino and Guardiagrele. An armoured thrust northwards towards Spaccarelli (about two miles west of Lanciano) and then south-westwards down the Lanciano-Orsogna road, however, was effectively halted by demolitions. In the afternoon of the 2nd 24 Battalion succeeded in cutting the Lanciano-Orsogna road about a mile east of Orsogna. To the south-west of Castelfrentano, where two parallel secondary roads led off to the west and converged two miles east of Guardiagrele, two squadrons of 18 Armoured Regiment, each closely supported by a company of 22 (Motor) Battalion, set off to take Guardiagrele and press on northwards to San Martino.
The 18th Armoured Regiment progressed along the two parallel roads towards Guardiagrele against considerable opposition throughout the afternoon and night of the 2nd, and finally succeeded in joining forces at a road junction near the village early next morning. Meanwhile, at two o'clock that morning, Headquarters 22 (Motor) Battalion had moved forward to within half a mile of the road junction; this move lengthened considerably the line communications back to Headquarters 4 Armoured Brigade at San Eusanio, five miles to the east, with the result that the cable sustained extensive damage from shellfire. Communications between Headquarters 4 Armoured Brigade and 18 Armoured Regiment, on the other hand, page 401 were maintained solely by wireless and continued without interruption throughout the action. Similarly, wireless communica tions between Headquarters 4 Armoured Brigade and elements of 19 Armoured Regiment halted at the bridge demolition to the north near Spaccarelli were stable and continued without disruption.
Soon after Headquarters 6 Brigade had established itself at Castelfrentano early on the afternoon of the 2nd, L Section put out lines to Headquarters 25 Battalion, sited precariously only a hundred yards or so from the eastern fringe of a particularly unhealthy stretch of Route 84 which, being under enemy observation from Orsogna and the Maiella heights to the north-west and west, was continually under shellfire. Near the northern end of this stretch of road, which came to be known throughout the Division as ‘The Mad Mile’ because of the haste with which vehicles traversed it, stood a shell-torn brickworks, an excellent ranging mark for the enemy gunners.
Next morning 25 Battalion advanced to Orsogna and at 6 a.m. one of its companies entered the village, only to be forced out later in the morning by enemy infantry supported by tanks. Soon afterwards the battalion withdrew to the general line of 24 Battalion's foremost defence positions, having lost nine of its infantry type No. 38 wireless sets in the fighting in the village. When it reached 24 Battalion's area, L Section extended the latter's line forward and brought both units on to an omnibus circuit.
On 3 December L Section sustained its first casualty in the Italian campaign when Signalman Shanks6 was wounded. He was evacuated to an advanced dressing station, but died four days later at a casualty clearing station.
Meanwhile units of 5 Brigade were completing their defences on a ridge east of Castelfrentano, where they were to provide a firm base for 6 Brigade's attack against Orsogna. On the afternoon of the 2nd K Section, at Headquarters 5 Brigade, still in page 402 position just north of the Sangro, sent a signal centre detachment forward to San Nicolino, about a mile to the east of Castelfrentano, from where lines were put out to 21, 23 and 28 Battalions. Next day Headquarters 5 Brigade moved up and joined the signal centre at San Nicolino.
At Main Headquarters 2 NZ Division, after its move across the river, some relaxation was permitted in wireless communications, the forward RT net being closed down on the understanding, of course, that it would be reopened immediately any line failures occurred. The relief was short-lived as 6 Brigade's line failed and remained out of order for most of the night of 2–3 December despite the efforts of B (cable) Section to restore it under heavy shellfire. Next day, on the completion of the move of Headquarters 5 Brigade to San Nicolino, K Section laid a lateral line to Headquarters 6 Brigade at Castelfrentano to restore line communication to Main Divisional Headquarters as quickly as possible.
That afternoon Tactical Headquarters 2 NZ Division went forward to within about a mile and a half south-west of Castelfrentano, and with it went a signal centre which, by 9 a.m. on the 4th, had lines to Headquarters 4 Armoured Brigade at San Eusanio and Headquarters 6 Brigade at Castelfrentano, as well as two circuits back to Main Divisional Headquarters, both with superposed Fullerphone telegraph channels strapped through at the signal centre, one to Headquarters 4 Armoured Brigade and the other to Headquarters 6 Brigade. At this stage neither the signal centre near Castelfrentano nor Main Divisional Headquarters had a direct circuit to Headquarters 5 Brigade, to whom communication was available only by means of the lateral line from Headquarters 6 Brigade and, of course, by wireless from Main Divisional Headquarters.
During the night of the 2nd and even during daylight on the 3rd, K Section at San Nicolino experienced considerable trouble with line faults, many of which were caused by Italians cutting lengths of cable from the battalions' lines.
The 4th and 5th December passed with active patrolling by 5 and 6 Brigades. By this time 4 Armoured Brigade's double thrust towards Guardiagrele was firmly halted at the road junction east of the village by determined resistance, and 25 page 403 Battalion had withdrawn well clear of the approaches to Orsogna, now recognised to be defended in strength.
On the evening of 5 December 2 Parachute Brigade and a considerable number of Royal Artillery and Canadian engineer units came under the command of 2 New Zealand Division. This influx of strength caused an immediate expansion in the divisional signal plan, which by the morning of the 7th included line and wireless communications to Headquarters 2 Parachute Brigade, Headquarters 6 Army Group, Royal Artillery, and 111 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, and line communications only to 66 and 80 Medium Regiments and 1 Air Landing Light Regiment, all Royal Artillery. No additional signal commitments were undertaken for the remaining attached units, which consisted of an Italian mule pack company under 6 Brigade, the Canadian engineer units under Headquarters New Zealand Engineers, and a heavy anti-aircraft battery, Royal Artillery, under Headquarters Divisional Artillery.
Plans were made on the afternoon of the 6th for another attack on Orsogna, where the German defences were becoming stronger as each day passed. The divisional operation order was issued late that evening: both brigades were to make the assault, 5 Brigade on the right and 6 Brigade on the left, the GOC's intention being to seize Orsogna and the high ground north-east of the town. It was to be a daylight attack, with zero hour set down for 1.30 p.m. on the 7th. This would give the infantry time to attain their objectives before darkness fell, darkness that would discourage the enemy from mounting an early counter-attack.
On the afternoon of the 6th Headquarters 5 Brigade moved from San Nicolino to some high ground about a mile north-west of Castelfrentano, and K Section adjusted the battalions' lines on the ground, a signals detachment having moved forward to the new position before Brigade Headquarters.
The weather on the 7th was showery and gave poor visibility, a not unmixed blessing because, although it assisted the smoke with which the artillery screened 23 Battalion's advance page 404 towards the lower end of Sfasciata Ridge, it also reduced considerably the value of the air support of thirteen fighter-bomber squadrons which were to bomb Orsogna for an hour at the beginning of the attack.
By the middle of the afternoon 23 Battalion had reached its limited objective on Sfasciata, but 28 (Maori) Battalion, which had to advance up the rocky Pascuccio Ridge, encountered opposition and several spirited counter-attacks by armour at the upper end of the spur; it managed to reach its objective, however, and would have been able to hold its ground had its supporting arms and armour been able to reach it through Orsogna, the capture of which had been assigned to 24 Battalion. Because their position on the Orsogna-Ortona road at the top of Pascuccio would be too precarious without their supporting arms when daylight came, the Maoris were withdrawn in the early hours of the 8th.
During 5 Brigade's attack communications between Headquarters 5 Brigade and the battalions were maintained by line, that to 28 Battalion working without interruption until about midnight on the 7th after which contact was continued by means of the No. 22 wireless set.
In 6 Brigade 24 Battalion penetrated into Orsogna, but the tanks of 18 Armoured Regiment, which were to support the infantry in the town, were halted on the Lanciano-Orsogna road by demolitions fired by the enemy right in the path of the advancing armour. During the evening fierce fighting raged in the town, where elements of 24 Battalion had reached the centre but were unable to advance further without armoured support. The battalion was withdrawn from Orsogna at four o'clock next morning.
Throughout 6 Brigade's attack wireless communication was maintained continuously between Headquarters 6 Brigade and Headquarters 24 Battalion, which had moved to within a mile and a half of the town along the Lanciano road. In general design, the wireless layout was similar to that used at the Sangro crossing: two No. 38 sets at Tactical Headquarters 6 Brigade worked forward to Headquarters 24 Battalion, one of these being netted on to the battalion's forward RT net to companies; the other, which worked forward to Headquarters 24 Battalion, page 405 was also in communication with a No. 38 set terminal at Headquarters 28 Battalion on Pascuccio, on 24 Battalion's right. In addition to its forward company terminals, 24 Battalion's forward RT control set worked back to a No. 18 set at a battalion signal centre, where the usual battalion No. 22 terminal set worked back to the brigade forward control No. 22 set at Main Headquarters 6 Brigade. This Main Headquarters No. 22 control set also had terminals at Tactical Headquarters 6 Brigade, the Brigade Commander's reconnaissance vehicle, 6 Field Company, Headquarters 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion, 18 Armoured Regiment, 6 Field Regiment, and 25 and 26 Battalions.
After the withdrawal of 24 and 28 Battalions early on the 8th the only gain that remained from the battle was the footing secured on Sfasciata by 23 Battalion, whose participation in the attack had been the result of a last-minute adjustment in the divisional plan. This lodgment on Sfasciata formed a bridgehead across the gully which ran north-east from Orsogna and made a salient into the enemy's line.
Because it was now obvious that the enemy was determined to hold fast to Orsogna, the divisional policy was changed. Later operations were to be planned to outflank the town from the east by using 23 Battalion's foothold on Sfasciata to provide access to the Orsogna-Ortona road as soon as tanks and supporting weapons could be brought into the bridgehead.
The next phase in the struggle for Orsogna was to be an attempt by 5 Brigade to cut the Orsogna-Ortona road near the upper end of the Pascuccio Ridge, from which the Maoris had been forced to withdraw on the 8th. Early in the evening of the 10th 23 Battalion was to advance from Sfasciata Ridge with armoured support and seize the road; at dawn next morning 20 Armoured Regiment, with elements of 21 Battalion and 22 (Motor) Battalion, would pass through 23 Battalion's positions and attack along the Orsogna road towards the high ground just north-east of the town. In preparation for the attack K Section established a signal centre near the headquarters of 21 Battalion on San Felice Ridge, near the lower end of Pascuccio spur, on the afternoon of the 9th, and later in the evening laid lines to 21 and 23 Battalions and to 28 Battalion, which was still in the position to which it had withdrawn on the 8th.page 406
Meanwhile, on the 8th, 1 Canadian Division—a 5 Corps formation—had launched a full-scale attack against the Germans' Moro River defences on the Adriatic coast and attained its first objectives. Heavy counter-attacks on the 9th, however, forced the Canadians to give ground, but that night they again improved their positions, only to be held up again on the 10th by fierce German resistance. As 5 Brigade's attack for the 10th was intended to secure ground conforming to the Canadians' objectives north of the Moro River, the latter's failure to get forward that day had considerable influence on the New Zealand plans, which were changed from attack to active patrolling in order to hold the enemy in the Orsogna area and so reduce his resistance as much as possible nearer the coast. But on the morning of the 10th more favourable reports came in from the Canadian sector and General Freyberg decided that the attack planned for 5 Brigade might still be made. Patrols sent forward that evening to the Moro River east of Poggiofiorito and to the Orsogna-Ortona road just north of Pascuccio found that the enemy was established there in some force, so 5 Brigade's attack was cancelled. Next afternoon K Section closed its signal centre and returned to Main Headquarters 5 Brigade.
On the night of 13-14 December 17 British Brigade, which had come under the command of 2 NZ Division on the 11th in conformity with an Eighth Army regrouping plan designed to strengthen the army's front, crossed the Moro on the New Zealand right and occupied ground near Poggiofiorito and the lower end of Sfasciata and made contact with 23 Battalion.
The attack by 5 Brigade, planned to take place on the 10th but later cancelled, was now to attempt to secure a bridgehead across the Orsogna-Ortona road and so provide a stepping-off place for the Division to isolate Orsogna by stopping its western approaches. Because 23 Battalion already held a salient on Sfasciata Ridge, the main assault was to be made from there by 5 Brigade, supported on the left by 6 Brigade and on the right by 17 British Brigade.
On the 13th it was decided that the attack should take place on the night of 14-15 December, and after nightfall on the 13th K Section again set up its advanced signal centre on San Felice Ridge; by 8.35 p.m. lines had been laid to both 21 and 23 Battalions, the units engaged in the attack.page 407
All 5 Brigade's communications for the attack were completed by 8.8 p.m. on the 14th. From Main Headquarters 5 Brigade three lines led forward to the signal centre on San Felice; another circuit went to 28 Battalion, which was being held in reserve, and from there another line ran to Rear Headquarters 5 Brigade, still south of the Sangro River. Two other circuits, of which one was strapped through to Main Headquarters 2 NZ Division, went to Headquarters 6 Brigade.
From the San Felice signal centre one line went forward to 21 Battalion and another to 23 Battalion; a lateral circuit, with a tee-in to Tactical Headquarters 2 NZ Division, at the south-western end of San Felice Ridge, led to Headquarters 6 Brigade. Inter-battalion lateral circuits were laid between 23 and 21 Battalions and between 25 and 23 Battalions.
Wireless communications within 5 Brigade conformed to the same general pattern used in the two previous operations, except that an additional No. 38 set, used as a listening set at Main Headquarters 5 Brigade, was netted on to a No. 38 set lateral link established by battalion signal platoons between 21 and 23 Battalions' headquarters.
In 6 Brigade, because only one battalion (the 25th) was being committed in the attack, communications were on a less extensive scale than those in 5 Brigade. One line led forward from Headquarters 6 Brigade to 25 Battalion; 24 and 26 Battalions were served by one omnibus circuit. Inter-battalion lateral circuits between 24 and 26 Battalions, between 26 and 25 Battalions, and between 25 Battalion and 23 Battalion of 5 Brigade were laid by battalion signal platoons.
Wireless communications were provided on the usual scale for an infantry brigade, that is, a No. 22 control set at Headquarters 6 Brigade working forward to No. 22 terminal sets at each battalion's headquarters, and the usual radio-telephony and wireless-telegraphy links working back to Main Divisional Headquarters. No auxiliary No. 38 net was provided forward of Headquarters 6 Brigade for this operation.
In the meantime, the only changes that had occurred in the communications forward of Main Divisional Headquarters were a line laid by B (cable) Section between Headquarters 6 Brigade and Headquarters 17 Brigade, and the setting up of page 408 a divisional signal centre which became on 13 December a test point on the two circuits running forward from Main Divisional Headquarters to Headquarters 6 Brigade.
On the 15th, the day of the attack, the Division passed from under the direct command of Eighth Army to that of 13 Corps, and all rear communications were then switched to terminals at the Corps' formation headquarters.
Fifth Brigade's attack met stubborn resistance and the brigade suffered considerable losses during the day. By the night of 15-16 December the object of cutting the Orsogna-Ortona road was achieved, but although the brigade had driven a mile-wide salient into the enemy's positions beyond the road, and both flanks were more or less firmly secured, the prospect of further gains was uncertain.
During the battle communications in the brigade worked well, although some trouble was experienced from ‘overhearing’, which was caused by the wet ground making contacts between the field cables.
Early next morning, the 16th, the Germans counter-attacked heavily from the north-east along the Orsogna-Ortona road. The attack on 23 Battalion was thrown back but that on 21 Battalion was more severe and was beaten off with difficulty. By 6.30 a.m. the enemy was withdrawing towards Poggiofiorito after sustaining heavy casualties.
At 7 a.m. tanks of 20 Armoured Regiment, accompanied by infantry of 28 Battalion, advanced down the road from the cemetery towards Orsogna to attempt to block the western exit of the town. They soon came under anti-tank gun fire at close range from the north of the road and from the direction of Guardiagrele. The enemy fire became heavier and halted the infantry, who lost touch with the tanks when wireless communication between the armour and the infantry, for which arrangements had been made before the battle, failed and could not be restored. The failure of wireless was very properly ascribed to the inadequacy of co-ordinated training between battalion and armoured regiment operators. By noon both armour and infantry had been withdrawn to their former positions.
All attempts at exploitation from 5 Brigade's salient ceased after the failure of 20 Regiment and 28 Battalion to break page 409 through the defences around Orsogna. The Division was ordered to hold the gains it had made and to adopt a policy of active patrolling, which continued until the 24th, when another attack by 5 Brigade in the Fontegrande area west of the Orsogna-Ortona road was made. This operation, a 13 Corps' conception, had as its object the splitting of the enemy's forces along the boundary between 5 British Division and 2 NZ Division and the turning of the Orsogna defences from the north. It was to be a three-battalion assault, with 28 Battalion on the left, 26 Battalion—brought under 5 Brigade for the operation—in the centre, and 21 Battalion on the right. The 20th Armoured Regiment was under the command of 5 Brigade, and 6 Brigade was to support the attack with machine-gun and mortar fire from Brecciarola Ridge and was to be prepared to send 24 Battalion into Orsogna if the Germans evacuated it.
K Section laid out line communications for the attack on a scale that would have eclipsed those of many an infantry division in the desert battles of 1942. From Main Headquarters 5 Brigade, still in the same position one mile north-west of Castelfrentano, three field cable circuits, one with a superposed Fullerphone telegraph channel, went forward to a signal centre at the site on San Felice that had been used for the operation on the 14th. One field cable circuit, with a superposed Fullerphone telegraph channel, led from the signal centre to 15 British Brigade on the right of the New Zealand sector; another, also with a superposed Fullerphone channel, went to Main Headquarters 6 Brigade at Castelfrentano. To Main Divisional Headquarters there was only one circuit, a poled-line route strapped through at Main Headquarters 6 Brigade; both terminals were superposed for Fullerphone telegraph working. From Main Headquarters 5 Brigade a field-cable speech circuit ran to Headquarters 23 Battalion at Castelfrentano, which was being held there in reserve in readiness to exploit any success that might attend the brigade's attack.
Lateral circuits were laid between 28 and 26 Battalions, and between 26 and 21 Battalions; a third lateral, a long circuit which ran right across the brigade sector, was laid between 28 and 21 Battalions. At Headquarters 28 Battalion a field cable was laid forward to a tactical headquarters, and a similar arrangement was made at Headquarters 21 Battalion, where a line also went to Headquarters 20 Armoured Regiment. No special circuits were laid in front of 26 Battalion in the centre of the sector, where the lines consisted of the usual battalion circuits to headquarters of companies.
Wireless consisted of the conventional infantry brigade arrangement of a No. 22 control set working forward from Main Headquarters 5 Brigade to No. 22 terminal sets at each battalion's headquarters. In addition, three No. 38 sets at Main Headquarters 5 Brigade were provided to listen in intercept on the forward radio-telephony command nets working forward from each battalion's headquarters to infantry companies.
In 6 Brigade, where one battalion only, the 24th, was to be committed, wireless and line communications were on a much more modest scale than those of 5 Brigade.
At Main Divisional Headquarters no significant changes had occurred in either line or wireless communications, except that all line circuits to 66 and 80 Medium Regiments, Royal Artillery—no wireless links had been provided to these units—were relinquished soon after the two regiments passed to the command of 13 Corps on the 15th. Headquarters 6 Army Group, Royal Artillery, had also gone to the command of 13 Corps on the 15th, but it remained in line communication with Main Divisional Headquarters until the close of the Orsogna operations later in the month.
On the night of 22-23 December and throughout the day on the 23rd a heavy mist helped to screen the moves of the New Zealand units from enemy observation, but it also had the effect of preventing air support planned for that day.page 413
The barrage opened at 4 a.m. on the 24th for the start of 5 Brigade's attack. The infantry moved forward against stiff resistance in miserably cold weather and in heavy rain showers which impeded the progress of both infantry and armour considerably. Except for a precarious foothold secured by one company across the Arielli stream, the battalions were unable to advance beyond their first objectives because of the heavy fire. Later in the day the plan for exploiting with armour beyond the infantry objectives was abandoned; 6 Brigade was ordered to take over operational command from 5 Brigade and to move up 25 Battalion to relieve 21 Battalion, which had been severely mauled.
Wireless communications between Main Headquarters 5 Brigade and the battalions worked well during the attack, and K Section linemen followed up the advance with field cable and established line communications during the morning with the battalions in their new locations.
That night the enemy fire died away almost completely, and when Christmas Day dawned quietness reigned all along the front. Headquarters 6 Brigade moved forward from Castelfrentano early that morning to Spaccarelli and took over control of 5 Brigade's sector. K Section left its cable on the ground when it moved out with Headquarters 5 Brigade, and L Section adjusted its lines to battalions by closing the signal centre on San Felice and extending the circuits back to Headquarters 6 Brigade.
This Christmas Eve battle was the last attempt by the Division to breach the German line in the Orsogna area. With the Italian winter closing down, the weather began to deteriorate quickly, and soon the ground was so sodden with rain that any extensive movement of transport became almost impossible.
Dawn came on Christmas Day with cold and miserable discomfort; the previous day's rain had turned the area into a sea of mud several inches deep, and the air had that harsh tang of icy, penetrating cold that warned even the least weatherwise that snow was imminent.
At Signals' mess at Main Divisional Headquarters, where officers and men ate their Christmas dinner together after the traditional manner of the British Army, the meal was served page 414 in the open from the men's mess truck. There was no seating accommodation for either officers or men, who ate their stuffed turkey, peas, cauliflower, potatoes and plum pudding standing about on the straw which had been spread on the ground around the truck to cover the mud. During the dinner General Freyberg visited the mess and, after drinking a mug of beer with the men, spoke a few words of encouragement and praise for their work in the Sangro and Orsogna battles.
Rain fell during the evening and night of New Year's Eve and by midnight the wind was blowing at gale force. Snow began to fall at two o'clock in the morning and by dawn lay a foot deep on the ground. Except for a few who had installed their bedding in the backs of trucks, the men slept in their desert-pattern bivouac tents, beneath which they had dug pits to give themselves headroom, and they were caught in the most acute discomfort as the tents collapsed under the weight of the snow, which soon drenched their bedding and clothing. In places where only a few inches of snow lay over the mud, the men floundered in icy, watery bogs which flowed in over their boot tops and added to their misery. These conditions were particularly unpleasant for motor-cycle despatch riders; the slush reached in places to the foot-rests of their unstable mounts. Before long, however, after searching nearby buildings for a few square feet of additional space in the already overcrowded rooms, most of the homeless were again under shelter.
The urgent work of repairing the ravages of the storm on the lines radiating out from Main Divisional Headquarters began immediately. A number of the circuits were former civilian poled-line routes, and these had suffered most because temporary repairs in damaged spans had broken down under ice loading. In some places the poles had been brought down by the weight of the snow carried by the spans, so that parts of the circuits were reduced to tangled masses of wire half buried in the snow. Field cable was quickly laid out to bridge the damaged spans, and by that afternoon, after magnificent work by B (cable) Section linemen, all lines were restored.
On 6 January Main Divisional Headquarters moved from its bivouac in the olive groves just to the north of the Sangro, where it had been since early December, to offices and billets page 415 in Castelfrentano. The long convoy wound its way up the steep slippery slopes into the town at a wearisome crawl, which slowed to a snail's pace as the leading vehicles entered the village and began to warp their way into the squalid and noisome alleys retreating furtively from the narrow main street, where there was barely room for a three-ton lorry to turn. Frequent sharp bends tried the patience of even the most experienced drivers. The steep grades on the hillsides on which the village was perched added to the hazards of negotiating the heavily-laden vehicles over slippery cobbles and yawning potholes. In these insalubrious alleys, into which otherwise estimable citizens cast their kitchen refuse, and where broods of offspring scampered under the wheels of the trucks and lorries lurching over the rough pavement, the transport was finally ensconced in the lee of the troops' billets.
A new problem now arose. Living space for soldiers and for the inhabitants, made miserably and pitifully indigent by the ravages of over three years of war, was quite inadequate. But the people were loath to worsen their privations by being driven into the streets and they clung to their homes in passive desperation. The troops, eager to secure the shelter of a roof after the rigours of open-air bivouacs in an Italian winter, were reluctant to evict the unfortunate occupants, so that soldiers and civilians soon lived cheek by jowl in the rooms and narrow passageways of the village houses.
During their stay in the town the New Zealanders' kindliness, seldom more evident than when they were confronted with elderly women and small children in distress, soon discredited the dreadful tales the Germans had spread about their barbarous and rapacious habits. The inhabitants' misgivings were replaced by a lively curiosity in the doings of these strange men, who soon won the confidence of the children with gifts of cake and chocolate. The regimental bootmaker battered away at his last to mend diminutive shoes, while groups of hopeful children, clutching their dilapidated footwear, waited their turn. When, later in the month, Divisional Headquarters moved out of the town in the darkness of a winter's night, some of the families with whom the troops had been billeted sat up long past their usual bedtime to bid them a regretful farewell.
1 Lt-Col N. R. Ingle, m.i.d.; Marton; born Marton, 8 Nov 1917; clerk; OC D Sec Sigs Jun-Nov 1942, K Sec Jan-May 1943, 2 Coy Jun-Oct 1943, 1 Coy Nov 1943-Jan 1944; OC 3 Coy and 2 i/c Div Sigs Jan-May 1944; CO Div Sigs 28 May-28 Jun 1944; 2 i/c Div Sigs 28 Jun-Sep 1944; now Regular soldier.
2 Very few signalmen marched; those who did were with brigade and field regiment sections, and even in these units the proportion was small.