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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Breaking the Paula Line

Breaking the Paula Line

The Division was within ten miles of Florence and in contact with the Paula Line, which the enemy prepared to defend to the north of the Pesa River. The Paula Line was based upon the semicircle of hills surrounding Florence. In the New Zealand sector, the line of summits curved north-west from the valley of the Greve River to the Arno and lay across the path of the advance. The Division now set out to clear the enemy from the dominating summits. 6 Brigade, supported by 19 Armoured Regiment, established a bridgehead across the Pesa River at Cerbaia on 27 July. From Faltignano Ridge, La Romola Ridge, and the hilltop of San Michele the Germans made the most determined efforts to drive the New Zealanders back across the Pesa. With the support of a mass of artillery, a series of enemy counter-attacks was beaten off during the day of 28 July. Though communications were cut and the situation at times seemed precarious, 6 Brigade held on.

San Michele was a vital objective. On the night of 28-29 July, D Company, 24 Battalion, with strong support, managed to establish three strongpoints in the village despite fierce opposition. The Germans made desperate counter assaults with lorried infantry, self-propelled artillery, and Tiger tanks, but with the help of fighter-bombers of the Desert Air Force, who made over a hundred sorties, and concentrations of New Zealand artillery fire, the company held on in an epic battle. On the night of 29-30 July a crushing weight of shells compelled the enemy to withdraw.

After very heavy fighting on the following night, 22 Battalion of 4 Brigade captured La Romola and Faltignano ridges. Farther to the north, on the Pian dei Cerri and La Poggiona ridges, the summits that formed the spine of the barrier, the enemy continued to offer fierce resistance.

Sixth ADS moved up from Tavarnelle to Lucignano on 27 July, the eve of an attack by 6 Brigade on San Michele. The company occupied a building, half luxurious villa, half vintnery. Surrounded by well-planted gardens and comfortably furnished, it was a pleasant place, though the wine casks had been thoroughly drained.

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Apart from the fact that guns in the valley to the rear fired continuously over the building, it was quiet at the ADS; but orderlies and drivers on the ambulance cars and jeeps had more excitement than they wanted bringing casualties through the enemy mortar fire in the forward areas.