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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

General Situation, April 1945

General Situation, April 1945

Through the dismal winter of 1944–45 Allied and German troops watched each other across the lines of the Italian front, which had now ceded its place in world interest to the battles in North-West Europe. In the long winter months twenty-five divisions of Germans and five of Fascist Italians had been tied down by harassing patrols and air activity. Preparations for a spring offensive had been proceeding, and this was timed to start when the flooding rivers had subsided and the wet ground would bear the weight of armour.

The beginning of April found 2 NZ Division moving from its rest area towards the Senio River where, on 2 April, under command of 5 Corps, it took over a sector of the line north of Faenza, with 8 Indian Division on its right and 3 Carpathian Division and 5 Kresowa Division of 2 Polish Corps on its left. The first eight days of the month were spent in clearing the enemy from the near stop-bank and in active patrolling. These operations produced 120 battle casualties. The assault on the Senio was fixed for 9 April.

Formidable river barriers stood in the path of 2 NZ Division as it prepared to attack. The six rivers from the Senio to the Idice formed ideal defensive positions and the enemy had taken every advantage of them. The floodbanks were in many cases 30 feet high, tapering from a base of 100 feet thick up to a flat apex 10 feet wide. Between the banks themselves were mines and wire, and in places the water was 10 feet deep between the canalised perpendicular banks.

Field-Marshal Alexander's plan was to attack in the flat river country in the centre, thereby drawing off the enemy brigades from the marshes of the Adriatic coast and the Apennines, and when this had been achieved, to push between the marshes through the narrow Argenta Gap on the northern flank. When all the enemy reserves had been drawn off the mountains, the final blow was to be struck by the Fifth American Army attacking through the hills towards Bologna. The underlying intention behind the whole plan was to defeat the German forces in their existing defences so that further enemy resistance on the big obstacles of the Po and Adige rivers would not be possible. The New Zealand Division, as part of 5 British Corps, was given the role of slogging across the rivers in the centre and fighting hard battles to carry out the job of smashing as much of the German page 650 Army as possible. In the original plan it was not intended that this thrust should break the enemy line, but so vigorously was the attack pushed ahead that it broke through before the flank attacks had made much progress, and the New Zealand Division was given its head to lead the advance.