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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The Decisive Battle for Florence

The Decisive Battle for Florence

After very heavy fighting on the night of 30–31 July La Romola and Faltignano ridges were captured. Farther to the north, on the Pian dei Cerri and La Poggiona ridges, the summits that formed the spire of the barrier, the enemy continued to offer fierce page 588 resistance. On the night of 1–2 August the decisive battle for Florence began when 5 Brigade, 6 Brigade, and 4 Armoured Brigade all joined in the attack on the Pian dei Cerri and La Poggiona ridges. The opposition was tenacious. Throughout the day of 2 August fighter-bombers and artillery hammered at it, and during the night of 2–3 August the combined efforts eventually forced the enemy to withdraw. This ended the battle for the Paula line and decided the fate of Florence. New Zealand troops were firmly on top of the final line of hills and on the point of breaking through down the slopes leading to the Arno. Up to this time the South Africans had been unable to make more than slight headway along the valley of the Greve, through which ran the main road to Florence, but with the Paula line pierced by 2 NZ Division the enemy had no choice but to abandon his positions south of the Arno.

Along the greater part of the front the Germans withdrew precipitately and South African armour began to forge swiftly ahead along the main road to the city. The South Africans entered Florence early on the morning of 4 August. Some hours later, while 5 Brigade pressed on down the hill slopes towards the banks of the Arno, a column comprising tanks, infantry, and engineers entered the south-western outskirts. Florence lies on both banks of the Arno, the greater part of the city being on the north bank, and bridge demolitions now held up progress. All but one of the many bridges across the Arno had been destroyed, and this, the historic Ponte Vecchio, had been closed by great masses of rubble from buildings which had been destroyed at both approaches. Despite the fact that Florence had been declared an open city, the enemy maintained many strongpoints on the north bank.