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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Crossing the Rivers

Crossing the Rivers

The rain which made the crossing of the Fiumicino impossible had failed entirely to pin down the infantry or to silence the artillery. Night after night, over the soft sound of drizzle and the howl of the wind in the trees, the roll of gunfire echoed from the Apennines to the sea. On 11 October 5 Brigade found the Fiumicino almost undefended and moved across to take the town of Gatteo, badly battered by shelling and bombing. San Angelo, a heavily defended enemy strongpoint, caused a hold up and led to many casualties before it was cleared by Maoris on the night of 14-15 October, when searchlights were used to create ‘artificial moonlight’. This eerie light was a feature of the campaign from then on.

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For the attack on San Angelo A Company, 5 Field Ambulance, moved forward to set up in two farmhouses. Extra jeeps and fourwheel-drive ambulance cars were called up to ensure that there would be no delay in evacuation on the narrow, slippery roads. Then, on the 15th, the ADS crossed the Uso River to open again in another farmhouse on the down route from San Mauro, and there admitted 100 battle casualties in 30 hours before crossing the Fiumicino and setting up in an orphanage building in Gatteo. Here the company found an old manual printing press and supplies of paper and ink. Soon the men were busy in their spare time filling orders for Christmas cards from some of the neighbouring battalions.

The Pisciatello River was crossed by 6 Brigade on the night of 18-19 October. Tanks were got across the river, and this changed the aspect of the advance as the country for some thousands of yards provided better going. Discounting the risks involved because of the soft ground, it was decided to thrust with the tanks right through to the Savio, a broad river running almost north. Such a manœuvre, involving as it did a right hook of well over five miles, would cut all the coastal roads leading from Cesena to the coast up to a point well above Cervia, and in conjunction with a Canadian attack up Route 9, would almost certainly bring about the fall of Cesena itself. The manœuvre was successful.

By 21 October the Division was right up to the Savio and Cesena had fallen to the Canadians. The all-important Route 9 was cleared to a point only 46 miles from Bologna.

This concluded a month of hard but unspectacular fighting by 2 NZ Division—a slogging match in the mud against an enemy who could be forced back but not overwhelmed. But the optimism of a month previously had not been fulfilled, and a break-through in the Po Valley had not been achieved.

In the afternoon of 20 October, A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, moved forward across the Pisciatello to a church between Gattolino and Osteriaccia. A building forming an annex to the church was occupied by an RAP and a platoon of infantry. Consequently, the only space available for the ADS was in the church itself. The company cleared out the pews, while the priest, a sinister-looking man, grew increasingly unhappy and restive. When the men clambered up the walls to black out some high windows, and began spreading page 393 their bedrolls and gear around the altar, he was moved to active protest; but, although all realised that it was a regrettable situation, it availed him nothing.

A large, inaccessible shell hole in the dome of the church caused some concern when the first casualties arrived at night and the lamps had to be lit. Sure enough, complaints began to pour in from nearby units. The light was visible miles inside German territory and a hail of shells was expected at any moment. Fortunately, the infantry moved out and the ADS was transferred to the annex.

The Savio River drive necessitated the opening of 6 MDS at San Mauro, as the lateral road to the coast had become very congested. On 18 October 4 MDS vacated the building at Igiea Marina in favour of 1 Mobile CCS, which held the site while the Division enjoyed an interlude at Fabriano.