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New Zealand Medical Services 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. Sant’ Angelo, a heavily defended enemy strongpoint, then caused a hold-up with many casualties before it was cleared by Maoris on the night of 14–15 October, when the use of searchlights playing into the night sky created an unearthly blue luminescence which covered the battlefield. This eerie artificial moonlight was a feature of the campaign from then on. The towns of Gambettola, Bulgarno, and Ruffio then fell into our hands only to bring us up against another river, the Pisciatello. This was crossed by 6 Brigade on the night of 18–19 October after a full barrage, and the getting of tanks across the river changed the aspect of the advance as the country for some thousands of yards provided a chance of better going. Discounting the risks involved because of the soft nature of the ground, it was decided to thrust with the tanks right through to the Savio, a broad river running almost north. Such a manoeuvre, involving as it did a right hook of well over 5 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 manoeuvre was successful. By 21 October 4 Brigade had its tanks 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 long-continued slogging match in the mud of the river basin against an enemy who could be forced back but not overwhelmed. The optimism of a month previously had not been fulfilled, because to fulfil it had been humanly impossible. What could be done by the Division had been done well. Our troops had advanced nearly 20 miles, in conditions which were ideally suited for defence. Here, if anywhere, was country which could well have page 618 been the scene of a vast static battlefield on the lines of those of the 1914–18 war in France.

The moving west of the battle zone in 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, which was taken over by 1 Mobile CCS, and then moved to remain in reserve at Viserba. The admissions for the second week at Igiea Marina had amounted to 277 sickness cases and 121 battle casualties. The sick were evacuated to 5 MDS, still sited in the large municipal building at Riccione. On 13 October four nursing sisters from 1 Mobile CCS, then closed, had been attached to 4 MDS, and proved invaluable in the nursing of serious cases and as theatre sisters. The sisters rejoined their unit when 1 Mobile CCS took over at Igiea Marina. New Zealand head, facio-maxillary, and eye cases were sent to 83 British General Hospital at Riccione, while 59 British General Hospital at Fano was used as a staging post for patients on their way to 1 General Hospital.