CHAPTER 15 — On to Florence
On to Florence
ON 20 June General Freyberg told senior officers that he did not expect the Division to be called forward for active operations for another month. At this time, Rome leave was extremely popular with those lucky enough to get it. The new New Zealand Forces Club there was voted first rate. Although, for the time being, other ranks could not get overnight leave in Rome, some compensation was provided for a small percentage of the battalion who went to Salerno and Sorrento for six days' leave.
Training went on throughout the hotter weather. More attention than before was given to infantry-tank co-operation and the 23rd combined with 19 Armoured Regiment in two instructive exercises. First, combined officer syndicates did TEWTs (tactical exercises without troops) on problems of communications and command, of target indication, the selection of tactical bounds and the like. Secondly, the infantry received instruction in signalling to the tanks—in indicating targets and in calling for support—before they carried out a practice attack in which both infantry and tanks fired all their weapons. Everything went well in this attack, mainly because there was no enemy to complicate matters. That the ‘tankies’ considered this combined training profitable may be gathered from Colonel McGaffin's message to Colonel Thomas: ‘We feel that we have had something valuable out of the exercise, which proved a suitable climax to our troop training…. the exchange of ideas between the tankies and your enthusiastic infantry craftsmen cannot fail to reap its reward when the opportunity offers—as I hope it soon shall—for us to share the battle honours of the 23rd Bn.’
By the end of the first week in July, the enemy had been pushed back to positions just south of Arezzo. Here the German higher command prepared to make a firm stand both to keep the Allies out of the valley of the Arno and to give their own reserve divisions time to prepare the Gothic Line, which ran from the Gulf of Genoa across Italy north of Florence to Pesaro on the Adriatic. On 7 July the shortage of infantry in the page 357 Arezzo area caused the New Zealanders to be summoned forward earlier than had been expected. Actually, the men had begun to wonder when they would return to the fighting. Thus, on 7 July, one 23rd private was writing in his diary: ‘Time must be getting short for us now. Funny how one should be thankful for every day in safety, but is not! A chap wishes to get out of line and, when he does, the army makes it so tough, he wants to get back in again for a rest from discipline.’
For the move north, 6 Brigade took the lead on the night of 9–10 July. Fifth Brigade followed on the next night. Once again every effort was made to make the move secret and to conceal the identity of the New Zealanders. On their first night of this move, the 1065 vehicles of 5 Brigade moved up Route 6, through Rome and along Route 3 to a staging area at Civita Castellana. Next night they moved via Narni and Amelia to Orvieto, and then to the concentration area near Lake Trasimene. Here they spent a day at Paciano before moving to the 5 Brigade area just south of Cortona.
On 14 July it was announced that all 4th Reinforcement other ranks were to be LOB (left out of battle) as they were to return to New Zealand as soon as transport arrangements were completed. Officers from that reinforcement were, however, to continue in their existing appointments until further notice. In the 23rd, 9 officers and 69 men were affected by this ‘Taupo’ scheme. A wine factory near Battalion Headquarters had sufficient stock to meet the demands for celebration and farewell parties. As a Third Echelon man, Captain Ken Clark was placed in charge of the Taupo draft and command of C Company passed to Captain F. R. Coe.
On 15 July the battalion passed under command of 6 Brigade and moved forward into a reserve area to be ready to support an operation designed to capture high ground which would aid 6 Armoured. Division's drive on Arezzo and generally assist the advance to Florence. In the event, the 23rd was not needed and, on the evening of 16 July, reverted to its normal command. For the next few days, the troops were engaged in general training which, in view of the current rumour that the enemy might use gas as a last resort, included gas respirator drill. On 19 July Major Jock Worsnop rejoined the unit and took over the command of B Company from Captain R. K. Harvey, who had replaced Major Fletcher when the latter was evacuated sick. Next day Captain Clark and the Taupo men departed and page 358 those who were left breathed a sigh of relief at being able to return to normal. The dropping of butterfly and other bombs at night indicated that the Luftwaffe could still strike, even if its activities were much curtailed.
The enemy was still offering stiff opposition in hilly and wooded country that was ideal for defence. Fifth Brigade had now to take its turn in attacking the enemy and driving him out of his strongly held positions. On 21 July the 23rd moved by trucks through the hills and through the outskirts of old Siena to a pleasant lying-up area of olive groves, vineyards and gardens just south of Castellina. Colonel Thomas took his Orders Group forward another seven miles to the headquarters of a French Moroccan battalion at San Donato, with a view to relieving this unit after dark. That night the relief of these Frenchmen was successfully carried out, although two members of the 23rd were wounded by shellfire.
Fifth Brigade now had the 23rd forward on the right and the 28th forward on the left, with the 21st in reserve. On the right of the New Zealanders, 6 South African Division was directed on certain crossings of the River Arno with the intention of forcing an entry into Florence. Next on the right came 4 British Division supported by 6 British Armoured Division, while on the left of the New Zealanders 8 Indian Division covered the left flank.
The 23rd established Battalion Headquarters in San Donato. The town itself had been heavily shelled: its streets were full of rubble, and its skeleton buildings stood with half walls and half floors. B and C Companies took over positions forward of the town, D was immediately to the rear and A farther back in reserve. A Company was to provide the infantry to exploit with the Divisional Cavalry Staghounds and the Sherman tanks of either the 757 United States Tank Battalion, who were already on the spot, or of a New Zealand Armoured Regiment if one should get up in time.
Shortly after midnight, B and C Companies sent out small fighting patrols to discover the approximate strength of the enemy in his forward posts. B Company sent out a patrol from each platoon with orders to advance about 3000 yards along the ridge and discover whether or not the houses were occupied. At 2.30 a.m. one B Company patrol reported opposition at Point 337. But, soon afterwards, C Company patrols, farther to the left, reported Point 357 clear of the enemy. Determined to set page 359 page 360 the ball rolling for the New Zealand Division in the advance to Florence, Colonel Thomas ordered B and C Companies to occupy the areas traversed by their patrols.1
Just before first light Captain Coe pushed C Company along the ridge towards Point 357, which 14 Platoon, under Sergeant Eric Batchelor, occupied quickly. Some opposition was met but Batchelor, who had learned his patrolling with Fred Marett and other experts in North Africa, took the initiative and cleared the troublesome houses of enemy in double-quick time. More than once he left his men to cover or fire at a house while he entered it and extracted its German occupants. In this way, he personally took five prisoners. C Company's bag numbered nine, all from II Regiment 4 Parachute Division.
B Company had a more difficult time in its advance on Point 337 and towards Sambuca. Major Worsnop directed that, at first light, the company would occupy the houses cleared by the patrols and then 10 and 11 Platoons would take the group of houses known as Martino a Cozzi. The first part of the operation went according to plan. Then 10 Platoon attacked, without supporting artillery or tank fire, up a slight slope towards a large house which was later found to be held by sixty Germans. These paratroopers held their fire until 10 Platoon was too close to withdraw easily and then fired all their weapons at short range with devastating effect. The platoon had 3 killed and 3 wounded and 8 pinned down and taken prisoner, although three of these escaped later in the day. No. 11 Platoon also came under heavy Spandau fire but made some progress. As 12 Platoon under Second-Lieutenant E. B. Waetford had met no opposition, Major Worsnop switched it to the aid of 10 Platoon. Waetford's men also suffered casualties, but took the two nearest houses before being forced to withdraw when ammunition ran low. Private Doug Leckie, jun., the No. 1 man on the 2-inch mortar with this platoon, gives the best contemporary account:
‘Moved in an attack at 0920 to capture those houses known as San Martino village. Took objective and cleared two houses, but had to withdraw after two hours’ terrific battle, fighting sometimes at 10 yards range, as we had expended all our ammo page 361 … 10 wounded 2 seriously, one of them my best mate Doug Coster, and 1 killed, Jim Blakie, a farmer from Riverton, married with 2 children. We were shelled heavily by an S.P. gun as we made an orderly withdrawal with fire and movement, one covering the other as we moved back to get more ammo…. 4 Yank tanks, Shermans, were to have given us support but refused to move from behind a bank to get the S.P. gun. All they did to help us was to fire 4 shots with their 75 mm at snipers shooting from windows. We were told later they were in for serious trouble and a court martial. I fired 12 bombs at Spandau nests which kept their heads down to allow Vin O'Keefe's section to root them out with tommy guns, grenades, Brens and rifles firing from the hip…. Our Platoon commander, Tom Waetford, was magnificent and an inspiration throughout. He rallied us always, which kept us going. During the attack, he used 8 mags of his own tommy gun, fired 6 mags Bren, 10 rounds rifle and threw 5 grenades into windows and Spandau nests—most of these he took from the boys who were wounded…. spent the rest of the day carrying out wounded. Our Padre did some yeoman work taking out wounded in the jeep over a road under continual shellfire. The speedy evacuation of the wounded saved the lives of many of them…. This hectic day seemed like a week… felt complete physical and mental exhaustion through lack of sleep.’
Prior to the launching of this attack, Colonel Thomas had independently ordered A Company forward to take over San Martino from B Company. For its advance, A had two troops of A Squadron Divisional Cavalry and 1 Platoon 7 Field Company under command. When Major Hoseit got his company up to B's sector, he found that San Martino had not fallen as easily as had been expected and that Major Worsnop was planning a heavier assault on it. As both 10 and 12 Platoons had suffered heavy casualties, the two company commanders decided to commit one platoon apiece—No. 7 under Lieutenant Smylie2 from A and No. 11 under Second-Lieutenant Douglas3 from B—and to secure the maximum support from heavier weapons. The 23rd 3-inch mortars under Lieutenant Kearney4 fired 300 rounds in support of this midday assault, which was also supported page 362 by fifty rounds gunfire from 5 Field Regiment. With Major Worsnop in charge of their attack, 7 and 11 Platoons advanced with spirit, inflicted heavy casualties on the defending paratroopers and took the position, but not before they and the men of 1 Troop A Squadron Divisional Cavalry had sustained casualties. Major Worsnop and Second-Lieutenant Douglas were among the wounded. Lieutenant Smylie got a shock when the Staghound on which he was riding into the attack was blown up by a Teller mine. Nevertheless, he and Sergeant Peter Doak5 led 7 Platoon with great determination into the final successful assault.
Captain McArthur now came forward and took command of B Company which, as it had sustained nearly thirty casualties and had been fully engaged most of the night and all morning, passed into reserve in the captured houses while A continued the advance along the ridge towards Sambuca. B and C had cracked the outer crust of opposition and, although some stiff fighting lay ahead, the way forward appeared to be opening up. B Company had taken six more prisoners from II Battalion, 12 Regiment, 4 Parachute Division and C had picked up another two from the same unit as it moved forward alongside B.
A Company's advance in the late afternoon was directed on Point 337 and Casa Ginestra, a small settlement on the road about a mile north of the Morocco fork. Although the American tanks, which had been supporting the French, were prepared to shoot in support of the infantry, their commander stated that his instructions were ‘not to lose a tank or risk one’ and, therefore, according to Colonel Thomas, who wanted close tank support for A's daylight advance, the tanks ‘would not cooperate’. This made A's task more difficult but the initial infantry assault, though costly, was successful. Second-Lieutenant Alan McCartney,6 described by a brother officer as ‘one of the fittest men in the whole Division’ and certainly one of the most promising subalterns in the unit, was killed as he led his men against well-concealed enemy posts. About half an hour later, that is, about 6 p.m., an enemy force, described by A Company men as ‘double our strength’, counter-attacked and forced the forward troops to withdraw in some confusion from Point 337.page 363
Ordered by Colonel Thomas to regain the point, Major Hoseit was able to call on 3 Troop of A Squadron 18 Armoured Regiment to assist his renewed attack. Some of the American tanks also joined with the two troops of the Divisional Cavalry in aiding this assault from the right flank. Fifth Field Regiment also laid on supporting fire. Without the services of those officers and men wounded or killed in the earlier action, A Company was led mainly by its NCOs. Thus the CSM, WO II Bill Tail,7 rallied one platoon and led it into the final assault, while Sergeant White8 led 8 Platoon in the attack, in which he personally accounted for four Germans. Only by 8 p.m. was A Company, now reduced in numbers to 45, fully consolidated on Point 337. ‘We never ever liked daylight attacks and this day's experiences confirmed our opinions,’ wrote David Spring later.
Company attacks of this nature were certainly risky affairs, since by their very nature they were normally hurriedly organised and the attacking infantry were often exposed to well-aimed fire from hidden machine guns. As they lack the importance of the larger-scale set-piece attacks, they are normally passed over in a few words, but for the participating infantryman they could involve tougher fighting and more dangerous situations than the bigger attacks. Although no member of the assaulting infantry of A Company has left a detailed account of that day's fighting, Private R. A. Somerville, a signaller at A Company headquarters, kept adding to his diary as opportunity offered on 22 July:
‘This morning got up before breakfast as are putting in an attack. Just at breakfast when thought we were in good safety over came a Jerry stonk and wounded Johnny Davies and another chap…. It is about 11 a.m. now and am sitting in a dusty gutter with radio. A SP gun and enemy mortars are giving us hell and [we] will not be able to advance until we get a barrage. Damn tricky attack it will be, although we have Yank Shermans and Staghounds as well as engineers with us…. are due to go into San Martino. Some prisoners have arrived from B Company. Sweating in jersey, so hot…. Moved up to next house. Here saw the padre stretcher-bearing without a helmet. Takes guts and didn't know he had them. All of us formed a new page 364 impression of him. Wounded are streaming back 30 from B Coy including OC already. Jim Henessy has his Pl. attached…. Later … American tanks refused to advance—the bastards. Jerry let our platoons right into their camouflaged positions and chopped them to bits. Our casualties are mounting. Boys started drifting in from ridge disorganised. More prisoners, including a woman. Bloody Goering Paratroopers are pure Germans. 18 NZ Armour came up and pushed on down road in suicide go against the SP. Boss sacked the Yanks and threatened to courtmartial them. 2/Lt. Alan McCartney missing. Sgt. Tony Deane9 also and others. Ordered to retake ridge and Bill Tait took pl back up. Mortars trying to smash Spandau nests. One of our tanks blown up outside house but others got right in and smashed through silencing SP. It was a mistake but they saved the day…. D came through us and we went on right fork. Dave and I went ahead laying line to ridge…. Tea came up in jeep. Things quietened about 11 p.m. Only our guns going. Covered myself with straw as very cold without a blanket. Got a little sleep in early morning.’
As Somerville's diary has indicated, it was now the turn of D Company to take up the advance from A. While A's attack on Point 337 was being mounted, D Company was waiting to start its advance on Morocco. Colonel Thomas had placed half a squadron of tanks and a troop of sappers under command of Major Grant, D's commander, for a late afternoon or early evening attack on this group of houses. One of Grant's officers, Second-Lieutenant ‘Ray’ Street,10 gives a good impression both of his company commander and of the attack in which he participated.
‘This information the Major gave to us three platoon commanders as he sat, pipe in mouth, calm and deliberate as always, for I never saw him appear to be worried or rattled, no matter what the situation. “Joe Grim”, as the boys in the Coy named him, always with his pipe and slow deliberate speech … inspired confidence among the men, and made him a popular Coy commander….’
From a three-storied building in San Donato, Grant and his platoon commanders scanned the country ahead and noted the trees and folds in the ground which hid Morocco from their page 365 view. Then, after a meal at 4 p.m., the infantry advanced to their starting point, where some tanks of A Squadron 18 Armoured Regiment were awaiting them. Grant gave his final orders and the advance began. Shortly after 5 p.m., however, the leading troop of tanks was sent to assist A's recapture of Point 337 as already described. A reserve troop came up and, after the more or less inevitable delays, D's advance continued. In Street's words:
‘Word was sent back and up came my thirty four men, led by Bill Yorston,11 the Sgt. He brought up the three section leaders—Jack Pringle,12 Chook Healy and Doug Gilmour13—and I gave them the dope. The Shermans moved off down the road in single file, we followed in a long line…. The leading tank swerved off the road to get past the crater where the Staghound had lost its wheel and was doing fine when Bang! an almighty explosion sent a cloud of dust and smoke into the air. The tank stopped with one track damaged…. We changed our deployment. The tanks got off the road, moving forward abreast, but separated by some twenty or more yards, parallel with the road, through long grass and crops and scattered olive trees, and with them went my men, two sections up with the machines and one fifty yards back, all in extended line. The tanks wanted our protection against Jerry offenroers (anti-tank bazookas) and snipers; we wanted theirs against Spandau posts.
‘We made excellent progress. The country was gently undulating and we went sweeping forward beneath the scattered olive trees, with farmhouses showing up here and there at the end of lanes running in from the main road and I expected a burst from a Spandau at more than one point but none came…. But there were Jerries thereabouts in several of the houses. We took one prisoner before we had proceeded far beyond the cross-roads. He came out with his hands up to one of the tanks, and I passed him back…. On we went. When a house, appearing through the trees, looked to house the enemy, the tanks blazed away with their 75s as they advanced. The enemy was on the run. Without the armour I don't expect we should have got very far. But those three iron monsters advancing abreast, with guns blazing, and with a strong platoon of infantry moving page 366 forward with them, made them think twice about fighting it out. We saw figures making off behind a large farmhouse. The figure of a Hun running down the road sixty odd yards away caught my eye. I gave him a full mag from my Tommy-gun.
‘And so we advanced, at a good steady pace, halting only when we breasted a rise in order to see what lay ahead: then down the slope we went towards a large farmhouse showing up through the trees…. Beyond the large farmhouse, now only a short distance ahead, lay a collection of buildings. That must be Morocco, I thought. We advanced as far as the house, two of the tanks going to the right and one to the left. That is as far as this latter one went. A Tiger, camouflaged and hidden among the buildings a little way in front, got in one shot which did the trick. Clouds of whitish smoke came belching from the stricken monster, and out of the smoke came the members of the crew. By a miracle, not one was wounded. We at first thought it had been a bazooka, fired from the bushes behind the house, which had set the tank on fire. I took three of my men and proceeded round the other end of the house where I was met by another of my platoon. “Are any of our tanks camouflaged?”, he asked. I answered in the negative. “Well,” he went on, “a big tank with olive branches over it has just moved off among the houses there. We've heard Jerries talking over the wall round the back, too”. Bang! Something exploded a few feet above my head. Something struck me in the left leg just below the knee…. a severed artery…. Bill, my Sgt., organized the platoon in case of a counter attack…. I began to wonder what it was that had fired at us. Could it have been one of the Shermans in the troop at the rear of the Coy? Such was the case. We had been mistaken for Jerries, walking about the farmhouse, by one of our tanks further back. They apologized for the mistake…. Just before it grew dark, the jeep with the Padre—H. F. Harding14—in charge came up. I take off my hat to our padre….’
Despite the unfortunate incident which ended Street's active service, the co-operation between tanks and infantry had been of a high order. During this successful D Company advance, the houses at Belvedere and Morocco and a number of prisoners had been captured. Only the misunderstanding on the final objective between tanks and infantry enabled some sixty Germans to make their escape. Once Morocco was cleared, Major page 367 Grant sent one platoon along with 4 Troop A Squadron to drive the enemy from positions in Figlinelle. By 9 p.m. the tanks and infantry had completed this operation.
When he learned of D Company's success, Colonel Thomas concluded that the enemy was on the run and that a breakthrough was imminent. He therefore decided to exploit D Company's success by sending forward C Company with a half-squadron of tanks, together with Support Group, a troop of tank-destroyers, a troop of 17-pounder anti-tank guns, a bulldozer, ‘and, in fact, everything we could lay hands on to keep up the impetus’.15 About 9.45 p.m., carried on seven tanks of A Squadron, C Company moved up the Morocco road and joined D about Point 336. The combined force advanced with the tanks and about 2 a.m. reached the road junction at Point 325. They took four more prisoners, but soon afterwards they were held up by demolitions which the bulldozer was called forward to clear. The two companies and the tanks therefore laagered for the rest of the night.
Before first light on 23 July, Colonel Thomas gave orders for the taking of La Rocca, a hamlet about a mile along a track to the north. At 4.30 a.m. Captain Coe, with C Company, 1 and 2 Troops of A Squadron and an artillery officer from 142 Regiment, advanced on La Rocca, which was occupied by 6 a.m. Three prisoners were taken, but the majority of the enemy withdrew behind demolitions which held up the tanks. Although one tank was immobilised by mines, the tanks of 1 Troop supported the infantry when they crossed Route 2 and engaged the enemy in the village of Strada. Sergeant Eric Batchelor again led his platoon in a successful attack and, ably supported by the tanks, the infantry were in occupation of Strada by 7.15 a.m. In 13 Platoon, Second-Lieutenant Grant16 was wounded by a ricochet off a tank, and Sergeant Page17 took command. But both Page and Corporal P. J. Robinson,18 the next most senior NCO, were wounded later in the day.
During the rest of the morning, Captain Coe directed his men on Point 302 and the buildings of Case Poggio Petroio. Assisted by medium gunfire when tanks were located, C Company took this feature about midday. In the afternoon, C was page 368 directed on Point 322 and the Villa Strada, but tank and self-propelled gunfire from among the buildings proved too heavy. The Germans were later found to have a Tiger and four Mark IV tanks there and were in too great strength to be dislodged by a single company. After losing 4 killed and 8 wounded, C Company was forced to fall back on Strada and on Point 302. A few more prisoners were, however, brought in, bringing the total for the two days to 35. Colonel Thomas now ordered C and D Companies to remain fast, but to send a patrol to Point 322 before first light to prepare the way for D to advance along the northern axis.
In the meantime, A had also advanced. At first light, a patrol reported the ground north of Point 337 clear. After Battalion Headquarters had moved to Figlinelle, Colonel Thomas visited A's sector and directed this company to advance along the Pesa valley to Sambuca and then to Fabbrica. To assist the advance, he placed under command an additional troop of Divisional Cavalry Staghounds, a platoon of sappers and a section of 3-inch mortars. About 10 a.m., A Company began to advance with many of the men riding on the outside of the Staghounds. Little opposition was met on the ground but enemy shell and mortar fire increased as they approached the western bank of the Pesa at Sambuca. Private Somerville comments: ‘We crossed over two demolitions and were held up by a third. This left us in full view of village and Jerry started to shell and mortar us. Did they and are they laying it in? Shrap flying everywhere past the niche in gully I am sitting in. Damned if I like this at all. Engineers are trying to bridge gap now under very heavy fire. Staghounds are pulling back. They opened up with everything they had when we were trapped. They are at least courageous fighters, our Div Cav.’ A Company managed to take Sambuca without much fighting and also captured a few more houses a little farther along the road. The company crossed the Pesa at Sambuca and in the afternoon was joined again by its Staghounds.
An apparently friendly Italian—and partisans had been consistently passing reliable information—reported that Fabbrica, a somewhat larger village on a hilltop about a mile or more ahead, was free of the enemy. Major Hoseit decided to occupy this village before dark. The armoured cars struck more demolitions but the infantry pushed on, with 8 and 9 Platoons forward and 7 in reserve. The actual advance on Fabbrica began about 7.30 p.m. and no opposition was encountered until the forward page 369 infantry began to move up the open slope to the village itself. Employing the same stratagem they used against B Company at San Martino, the enemy held their fire until the two leading platoons were fully exposed to their view. Then they opened up with Spandaus, rifles and mortars, while artillery fire was directed on the road around Company Headquarters. The A Company men went to ground and remained pinned for some time on the rather open approaches to the village. Word was passed back for a ‘stonk’ on Fabbrica. Unfortunately, some of the artillery fire fell short and added to the troubles of the infantry, who were able to withdraw to Sambuca only after darkness fell. The enemy shellfire had scored a direct hit on Company Headquarters, killing Major Hoseit and wounding three of his men. Bill Hoseit was one of the three officers who had been with the 23rd since 1940. Always efficient and renowned for his generosity, he was sadly missed. Later that night A Company was relieved by B Company of the 21st and withdrew to San Martino for a much-needed rest.
That same night, 23–24 July, the two platoons of C Company on Point 302 were withdrawn to Strada to enable tanks and infantry to give each other maximum mutual protection. The 23rd carrier platoon also moved into Strada to reinforce the depleted ranks of the infantry. Early next morning a D Company patrol reported that the enemy were still around Point 322 although their vehicles and tanks could be heard withdrawing. Colonel Thomas called for artillery fire on the area and at 6 a.m. sent D Company forward, with orders to fall back if strong resistance was met. At first, the advance went well under cover of a heavy morning mist, but, when the mist lifted, heavy machine-gun fire was encountered. The tanks were halted by demolitions and before midday D's advance was called off.
Meanwhile a C Company patrol had found that an advance along Route 2 to the Pesa was possible, and B Company, which had been called forward, was entrusted with this task. With 11 Platoon as vanguard, this company reported on demolitions and on the practicability of a more general advance on that route. This was to be undertaken by others as the 23rd's relief by the 21st was completed soon after dusk that night. The infantry withdrew to ‘rest’ areas along the Morocco road, where they received an issue of one bottle of beer per man and some free cigarettes to cheer them up. But, as one sorely tried page 370 page 371 soldier wrote: ‘Issue bottle beer and certainly want it, though a barrel would be too little tonight’. In the advance to date, the 23rd had lost 18 killed, 71 wounded and 7 missing.
The highlight of this brief respite out of the line was an opportunity of seeing King George VI during his visit to the troops in Italy. On 26 July, 205 men from the 23rd went back in trucks some 15 miles over the very dusty roads to line the roadside until the King, the Eighth Army Commander, General Oliver Leese, General Harding and other notables came along. The King shook hands with Major McPhail and drove slowly past the men. One private wrote in his diary: ‘Saw the KING this afternoon. We gave 3 hearty British cheers and I heard one bloke say “Good Day there! George!”’
On 28 July the 23rd passed under command of 4 Armoured Brigade. During the few days the battalion had been out of the line, the advance had been continued by 4 and 6 Brigades: the 4th took San Casciano on 27 July and the 6th got tanks and infantry across the Pesa near Cerbaia and was beginning to threaten the Germans' Paula Line. On the flanks, both 6 South African Armoured Division and 8 Indian Division were making good progress. In the 23rd the necessary changes in command were made: Captain Harry Dalton took command of A Company and Lieutenant Roy Karsten was transferred from C to take 9 Platoon. Although their break had been short and they had rarely been far from shellfire, the majority felt improved by the change. Thus one private who had lost good friends the previous week could write in his diary: ‘I have my appetite back again and with more regular hours of sleep, feel a different man from a week ago.’
Late on 28 July, the battalion moved into the line on the right flank of 4 Brigade near Spedaletto. A and B Companies relieved two companies of the 22nd in forward positions. C was in the right rear and D in reserve. The forward companies sent out patrols and experienced much more shelling than was pleasant. On the morning of 29 July Captain Dalton was evacuated sick and Captain Dick Duncan took command of A Company. Late that day, the 23rd reverted to its normal brigade command and the 28th came into the line on the left. Fifth Brigade was taking over the Division's right flank from 4 Brigade in order to launch an attack in that sector.page 372
That night both C and A Companies sent out patrols. C's ran into enemy fire and withdrew without important incident; A's, under Lieutenant Karsten, was even less successful. That A Company had been having a trying time will already have been gathered, but an understanding of what follows will be made easier by the underlining of certain facts. In and after Cassino, no company had had more changes of officers, especially of company commanders: in the last week alone, A Company had lost Hoseit killed and Dalton evacuated ill, as well as two subalterns; Duncan arrived from D Company only on 29 July to take command, while platoon commanders in Karsten and Taylor had just arrived from C Company and Support Group respectively. That the daylight probing attacks had been costly and had been disliked by the men is also clear. That the shelling on 28 and 29 July was much worse than official records indicate and that, combined with other circumstances, it contributed to the development of cases of anxiety neurosis, may be suspected from these extracts from an A Company private soldier's diary:
‘28 Jul 44 … Helluva night after we took over from 22…. was scared out of my wits … big mortars shake the house. This war is getting me down for my nerve is all to hell. Just about time I had a spell…. Damn my weak nerve!
29 Jul 44 … afternoon was a touch of Dante's Inferno. Jerry, who had been stonking for two days on our house and missing, at last found his range and all afternoon he pasted our house with heavy mortars and 105 battery with scarcely a miss … we were scarcely able to see for dust and smoke at times…. Top of house where were doing arty OPing was a shambles…. I know I am properly afraid of action now and really scared. Darn nuisance but have to face facts. Hope it never gets any worse than this because would be a bit tough on pride.’
Few soldiers analysed their feelings to this degree. Pride in self and sense of duty came to the rescue of this man, and he went through the actions which followed with some credit to himself. Others, however, felt that the limit of their physical and nervous reserves or of what should be asked of them had been reached.
This was the situation in A Company when, about midnight on 29–30 July, Lieutenant Karsten took 9 Platoon across a small gully and up the rise to Sant' Andrea, which was less than 600 yards from the company's FDLs. This village had been earlier reported in mistake to Brigade Headquarters as being page 373 already occupied by A Company. Karsten's men were to occupy the hamlet if possible. As they breasted the top of the rise, they came under concentrated fire at short range from several automatics and retired hurriedly and in some confusion, leaving one man wounded. Dick Duncan, who had taken command of the company that day, reports what happened next:
‘I reported this repulse to Sandy who said that it was his opinion that the enemy was pulling back all the time and that he was sure that if another Pl went out at 0400 they would have no trouble in occupying San Andrea. He also said he would lay on a troop of tanks to help things along. I duly went up to the two fwd pls and saw the comds Ernie Taylor and Karsten who informed me that some of the men were refusing to go up again. Dawn came and neither I nor Taylor could budge some of the chaps. One complete section with its sec leader refused to move, together with one or two others. They were undoubtedly damn tired and the Coy had had a pretty rough spin. Sandy arrived about that time with three Shermans in his hand and sniffing action, and prepared to help with the men. But even he could not shift them and I sent the remnants of both fwd pls on. Sandy meantime had decided on a route for the tanks who were engaged in firing hell into the opposite bank. He said “H'm! I think this is going to be fun, I think I'll come with you”, and off he went, the CO right up in front of a Pl patrol. He told me later that he had done it to show the men he would not ask them to do anything he was not prepared to do himself.’
Ewart Hay, the IO, accompanied the CO and these two led the way. The first obstacle was a ditch at the bottom of the gully but this was bridged sufficiently for the tanks with big stones. The tank crews made their machines do the apparently impossible in climbing out of the ditch and up the rough hillside. They had not gone very far before they took two prisoners who had a Spandau trained down on to the road where Colonel Thomas had been talking to the men of A Company. Only the early morning mist had screened them from view. The main enemy forward line was on top of a bank, but the paratroopers there were unable to stand the tank fire and fifteen surrendered after others had been killed or wounded. On reaching the village, Lieutenant Hay was wounded in the thigh and the CO took him back to Battalion Headquarters, where he himself returned to his proper job while Duncan and his men continued with the occupation of Sant' Andrea.page 374
In the village itself, A Company captured a few more paratroopers, but fifty or sixty paratroopers, supported by a Tiger tank which was not at first visible, held out at a large house near the northern outskirts. After passing through and round the cemetery, Duncan reached the church, which stood on a slightly raised triangular piece of ground. Karsten's platoon occupied this church while Taylor's, with Company Headquarters, occupied a nearby house which proved to be the historic house of exile of Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine official and political writer. The 23rd men found that the house's modern owner, Count Serrestori, had preserved it as a museum with all the items of Machiavelli's writing room kept as they were in 1513. But this was 1944 and the soldiers had other interests. The supporting tanks of No. 4 Troop of A Squadron 20 Armoured Regiment under Lieutenant Colmore-Williams19 took up positions round the church. From there they covered the main narrow street and the clear area between their positions and a large house about 400 yards to the west.
Duncan now directed Karsten and his platoon to occupy the northern end of the village, but these men had not gone very far before, to quote Duncan, ‘there was a hell of a bang and bits of stone flew everywhere…. Later we found that Karsten had been blown through the street wall into one of the buildings and that no one could reach him as we were fired on when we tried. With one of the stouter hearted Corporals I went down the road myself and was fired on and slightly wounded just when we reached the hole where Karsten had been blown. Shortly after we discovered that at that point a slight curve in the road brought us into view of a Tiger down by the enemy HQ…. Blokes in the top window reported enemy movement. We feared a counter attack. I discussed the matter with the Tk comd who said, “Well, Dick, we're just so much dead meat to a Tiger and should pull back but if you want it I'll stay and work out a plan which may or may not work”. His plan was to cover the street by getting a tk behind a slight rise to bob up, fire phosphorus smoke and then pop back again while another tk fired AP.’
No counter-attack came for some hours, not indeed, until about 1.30 p.m. In the meantime, A's commander tried to get M1os (tank-destroyers) up to aid the company in holding its part of Sant' Andrea, but the two M1os sent forward by Colonel page 375 Thomas drew a considerable amount of shellfire and were eventually blocked by demolitions. The CO also made strenuous efforts to get anti-tank guns up to A Company, either with the aid of the unit's carriers or A Squadron tanks, but to no immediate avail. Appreciating that the artillery could not fire close enough to the village to break up a counter-attack, Les Kearney, the 23rd's mortar officer, who had already sited his 3-inch mortars well forward, went up to A's headquarters and personally directed mortar fire on the enemy-held houses. The enemy had also succeeded in bringing up an SP20 gun, which joined in the general shelling and mortaring of A Company's headquarters prior to the launching of an attack. This attack started around 1.30 p.m. with infantry and bazooka teams trying to infiltrate in from the west while the Tiger tank came down the main road.
Duncan says: ‘Soon there was a report that the Tiger had started up…. We could not see anything as shells and smoke were thick outside our Hq but the Tk plan worked, and they scored so many hits with our piddling AP that the Tiger pulled back. My blokes shot about 12 counted Jerries from the top windows and really had quite a good time.’ The A Company private whose nerve had troubled him before the action even began was able to write in his diary: ‘Jerry counter-attacked with Tiger tank and infantry. Things were crook as they shelled and mortared us heavily to soften us up first. Anyway, despite 3 days and nights of no sleep and low morale, fought them back even when they had got into the house opposite us.’
Despite another probing advance by the enemy later in the afternoon, Sant' Andrea was held. Kearney's mortars, firing on the Villa Mazzei, the main enemy house, probably prevented German reinforcement. For A Company the driving back of the last enemy attack ended the fighting on this disturbingly difficult day, a day which had begun with the defiant refusal to fight on the part of one section but had nevertheless seen the company objective taken, a fair bag of prisoners captured, twenty or more enemy killed, and the way prepared for further advances. A's casualties were surprisingly light for such a day—one officer, Roy Karsten, killed, two officers and seven men wounded. The company's morale rose somewhat with success, but the men were nonetheless glad to be relieved around midnight by C Company, now under Captain J. Garbett.page 376
The enemy was also pulling back from the northern outskirts and did not interfere with the relief, although his shellfire was still annoying. C Company sent out a patrol to investigate some of these houses. With what others had come to recognise as masterly, if not uncanny, timing, Sergeant Eric Batchelor entered one house alone and extracted two snipers who learned too late of his arrival. Twenty-six German graves, later found in the rear of the large house which had served as the German headquarters just outside Sant' Andrea, proved that the fire of the 20th tanks and the A Company infantry had been effective.
Before C Company had completed the relief of A, D had already been committed to an advance behind a barrage in what was a divisional move forward with 5 Brigade on the right and 4 Brigade on the left. In 5 Brigade, the 23rd was on the right and the 28th on the left. The advance began at 10 p.m. on 30 July. Major Don Grant, OC D Company, aided by Captain Donnelly21 of 20 Armoured Regiment, organised his force with a platoon of infantry and a platoon of engineers in front, then a troop of tanks, another platoon of infantry, the second troop of tanks, the HQ group, the third platoon of infantry, the rest of the engineers and some anti-tank guns. This force made a successful advance of several hundred yards. Mazzei, its first objective, not far from Sant' Andrea, was easily taken, although one tank fell into a demolition and the others had difficulty in keeping pace with the infantry at night. By 1 a.m. on 31 July the force had taken Point 246, its second objective. Apart from passing through some mortar and shell fire and seeing three enemy tanks, the attacking infantry had seen little of the enemy. They took only seven prisoners from II Battalion I0 Parachute Regiment, evidence that the enemy was either weak in numbers in that sector or that he was thinning out prior to a more general withdrawal. Colonel Thomas and Lieutenant Chapman,22 his new IO, arrived up before dawn to examine the position and to arrange for closer liaison with the Maoris who were advancing on D Company's left. As D had also occupied an important crossroads and the whole area was so extensive that additional infantry were required to hold it properly, Thomas ordered 10 Platoon of B Company up to assist D. Prisoners had reported three Tiger tanks on the left flank and the defence was organised accordingly. These tanks probably accounted for the fact that the Maoris were delayed and Il Pino was not taken page 377 until after midday. Apart from shelling and mortaring, D Company spent a quiet day. That night the 23rd was relieved by the Capetown Highlanders of 6 South African Division and retired to ‘The Castle’, the grand mansion already occupied by Battalion Headquarters.
While the 23rd had a short rest, the Division moved forward, 4 Brigade taking La Romola and 6 Brigade San Michele, while the South Africans also made good progress. Preparations went ahead for a final assault on a three-brigade front on the enemy positions south of the Arno. Unfortunately, while he was going forward to visit 28 Battalion, Brigadier Stewart went too far and was taken prisoner. His place was taken by Colonel C. L. Pleasants.
On 3 August the 23rd was called to move forward alongside the Maoris. With a squadron of 19 Armoured Regiment under command, the battalion was directed to move to San Cristofano and then to Point 122. B Company was selected to take the lead. At 2 p.m., therefore, Captain McArthur and his men, with nine tanks, moved off, the infantry travelling at first in trucks. After debussing, the infantry continued the advance mounted on the Sherman tanks. As this became a more or less common practice about this time, the description given by Private McDowall23 of B Company is worth reproducing. It is an interesting mixture of pleasure and concern: ‘Very uncomfortable while on the Shermans for two reasons (1) Sitting on very hot armour, old seat felt as if it was roasting, (2) & most important, would not be able to hear any imports coming in on account of noise of engine. But nothing happened. Movie cameraman took some shots of some of us. Big headlines! N.Z. Infantry ride into action on tanks??? We piled off the tanks for advance proper.’ Soon after the infantry dismounted for the last thousand yards of the move into Cristofano, the leading tank capsized over a bank and another ‘brewed up’ with its engine on fire. No. 12 Platoon, in the lead, took the wrong turning and ran into the Maoris before being redirected. No. 11 Platoon then led the advance into Cristofano and occupied it about 3.30 p.m. without any real opposition. The other two platoons came up and B Company prepared to advance to the second objective while C was called up to consolidate in Cristofano.
For this second phase of the advance, 11 Platoon again took the lead. Unfortunately, the tanks were held up by mines and demolitions and the infantry went on unsupported. When the page 378 men of the leading platoons were moving down a forward slope in the open, the enemy opened fire with Spandaus, mortars and tank guns. No. 11 Platoon soon suffered several casualties. Within a few minutes, all three platoon commanders, Lieutenant Greig, Second-Lieutenants I. G. Hulme24 and Waetford, were wounded. In all, B Company had two killed and nineteen wounded by this fire. Shellfire also killed Second-Lieutenant Cameron25 and Private Bradley26 when C Company was consolidating in Cristofano. Despite their inability to advance with the infantry, the 20th tanks manoeuvred into firing positions and, aided by a platoon of Vickers guns under Lieutenant Hutchinson,27 did much to reduce the enemy firing and enable the infantry to reach cover. During this shoot, the tanks fired over 100 rounds of 75-millimetre each and all their Browning ammunition.
B Company was withdrawn and passed into reserve. On the morning of 4 August, a C Company patrol found Villa Capponi clear of the enemy. C Company and two troops of tanks then proceeded to consolidate there. Obviously, all the enemy had not withdrawn in time as fifteen prisoners were taken. This marked the end of the German rearguard in that locality and the road was clear for the advance to continue.
Now came the mad but exhilarating dash for Florence itself. Colonel Thomas and his men were anxious to be the first to enter the city. D Company and the reserve tanks were therefore called forward. No. 14 Platoon had gone off to establish contact with the South Africans on the right, but 13 and 15 Platoons and the three D Company platoons mounted Major Hugh Robinson's28 tanks for this advance to Florence. No. 13 Platoon got diverted to occupying the home of the secretary of the Florence branch of the Fascist Party but the others went on. Once they had edged their way past a burnt-out Sherman and two knocked-out Tigers, the tanks gathered speed. The CO and Sergeant Garnet Blampied, the ‘I’ sergeant, travelling in the page 379 CO's jeep, caught ‘the fever of the chase’ and joined the forward elements. Actually the South Africans had already entered the outskirts of the city, but this was not yet known. Fearing the Maoris on their left might take the lead, Colonel Thomas and Major Robinson rushed their force forward in a cross-country dash which was slowed up only for a few minutes by the difficult fording of the River Greve. But this obstacle was soon surmounted: the jeep was towed through by a tank but, in the meantime, Colonel Thomas had taken a seat on the front of Robinson's tank. Through farmyards, across fields, straight through one stone wall and then pell-mell along a secondary road they raced. Blampied describes the roadside cheers: ‘Peasants often lined the route and showered the troops with flowers and fruit, while each passing vehicle roused a burst of clapping which was rather embarrassing, although one almost began to feel like a little hero—“Proud Liberators”.’ Thus the column of one jeep and a squadron of tanks with mounted infantry dashed on. They were slightly disappointed to run into a South African who said that the Springboks had entered the city from another angle. But, encouraged by what Thomas termed ‘the uncanny lack of resistance’, and still determined to be the first New Zealanders to enter this important city, they pushed on through Marignolle and entered the southern suburbs of Florence about 11 a.m.
Blampied continues: ‘Here the jeep left its position behind the CO's tank and smartly moved to the head of the column and thus had the honour, together with the leading tank, of being the first New Zealanders to enter Florence…. Never has such a welcome been given New Zealand troops as met the boys on this occasion. The streets were packed with madly cheering people—old and young men and “buono” signorinas, all dressed in their Sunday best and with every appearance of genuine pleasure at seeing the troops.’
Colonel Thomas adds: ‘In no time there were thousands in the streets, cheering frantically, throwing flowers and fruit onto the tanks. Wine, champagne, and even whiskey were passed up in glasses and bottles. It was a great moment. We approached the Arno and I called up Brigade on the wireless set and reported our success—they said “Good Show but withdraw immediately!”’
Apparently, an entry into Florence was not included in the plans for the New Zealand Division. Blampied records that ‘at first this news was a shattering blow to the troops after having page 380 come so far, but later events proved the message could not have arrived at a more appropriate time’. Snipers, against whom the New Zealanders had been warned by the Italians, opened fire as the column withdrew. The Spandau fire quickly thickened and shells began to fall on the road. ‘It was a very worrying time for me,’ says Thomas, ‘with all the lads sitting so vulnerable on the top of the tanks. I was sitting astride the 75 gun of Robbie's tank when I was hit—and fell down onto the path of the tank which, thank God, stopped dead’. Fortunately, the Colonel's wound in the wrist was the only one sustained at this juncture and the withdrawal was continued, without further losses, to the area between Villa Capponi and Giogoli.
On 6 August, with Major Alan McPhail again in command of the 23rd, 5 Brigade moved to a concentration area near Poppiana Nuovo, where preparations were made for taking over part of 8 Indian Division's sector near Empoli. Late on the following night, the 23rd relieved the 6/13 Frontier Rifles Regiment on the south side of the Arno approaching Empoli. Before the move forward, Padre Harding held a voluntary church parade. The reason for the good attendance is given in Doug Leckie's diary: ‘The Padre is the most respected man in the Bn now, after the good work he did evacuating the wounded under shell fire. The service was excellent and was much appreciated by the big number present’. In this sector the 23rd covered a front of 4000 yards until on 9 August the 26th came up on the right flank and relieved B and D Companies of their wide fronts. On the previous day, 91 reinforcements for the 23rd had arrived at Brigade Headquarters and on the evening of 9 August were distributed as follows: 20 to A Company, 27 to B, 13 to C, 21 to D, 1 to Battalion Headquarters, and 8 to HQ Company. The 23rd experienced some shelling and mortaring but patrols were comparatively successful, taking four prisoners plus two Polish deserters. An A Company patrol under Second-Lieutenant Eddie,29 a C Company one under Sergeant Dobson30 and Corporal R. Thomas,31 and a D one under Second-Lieutenant Bassett32 reconnoitred the railway line and page 381 the surroundings of various enemy-held houses. Bassett's patrol located three enemy mortar posts, all covered by Spandaus and rifles. These patrols also reported on the location of mines and on tank ‘going’ in preparation for the advance to the Arno, which was required as a preliminary to the crossing of that river by the Americans.
At midnight on 10–11 August the advance began, with the 26th on the right and the 23rd on the left of the New Zealand units, and with the 362 American Regiment farther to the left. The 26th met solid opposition but was in Santa Maria and Avane by 7 a.m. The 23rd had easier going. Advancing with A Company (Captain J. R. Harrison) on the right, D (Captain Duncan) in the centre and C (Captain Garbett) on the left, they all came under some Spandau fire, but a low-lying mist which lasted till after dawn enabled them to close on the enemy houses without coming under observed fire. No. 15 Platoon was held up by a strongpoint, but the enemy quickly surrendered when the tanks of A Squadron 19 Armoured Regiment came up. Using the fog and the ditches, getting lost and losing contact on either flank, missing a house or two in the misty darkness, and trudging on, meeting serious opposition only on or near the railway line and at the main groups of houses, the 23rd companies were all on their objective by dawn. Second-Lieutenant W. Dobson and his men had a struggle to reduce one post. Some of his men were pinned down by fire and he himself suffered concussion from a grenade which exploded near him. The rest of the platoon worked round to a flank before charging and killing some of the enemy and taking the five survivors prisoner.
Nos. 10 and 11 Platoons with two Staghounds came forward at first light to mop up the two enemy houses that had been by-passed. Shots from the Staghounds' guns heralded their approach and, as a B Company private wrote in his diary, ‘The Huns were very ready to surrender’. No. 11 Platoon then advanced to the river-bank and from there engaged a house across the river from which streams of Spandau bullets were coming. A Piat bomb was shot across and, by lucky chance, entered a window and stopped the fire from that quarter. The whole attack cost the 23rd only three casualties.
The next four days passed quietly, apart from some nebel-werfering and shelling by the enemy and a few patrols to make contact with the Americans or to investigate certain houses. Four men of 17 Platoon were killed on box mines and two of B page 382 Company wounded on S-mines. Seventy more reinforcements arrived to join the infantry companies. On the night of 15–16 August, 3 Battalion 338 United States Regiment relieved the 23rd in the line. The battalion moved back to a rest and dispersal area at Castellina, just north of Siena, whence leave parties to Rome as well as excursions to the beach at Vada, and to other places of interest, began to operate. For the time being, the campaign was ended. Since it left Arce, the 23rd had lost 35 killed or died of wounds, 112 wounded and 7 prisoners of war. This was, regrettably, the highest casualty rate for any New Zealand unit during this period.
Possibly this high rate of casualties had something to do with the fluctuations in morale which occurred during the period. Many unit and regimental histories tend to give the impression that the unit concerned contained only brave and skilful soldiers, invariably well behaved. In fact, all units have both good and bad soldiers in their ranks, and all soldiers are subject to human weaknesses, even if a few do rise to superhuman heights. The 23rd was still ‘the good faithful unit’33 it had always been, but the incident at Sant' Andrea had served as a reminder that the battalion, like most other units, had its sprinkling of faint hearts who cared little for their own and nothing for the unit's reputation. Actually, most of the men concerned made good in subsequent campaigns and redeemed their honour. The trouble, it is agreed by those who looked into the subject most closely at the time, centred round the section leader, who used his powers of leadership in the wrong way. The many changes in command at all levels since the 23rd entered Cassino, the impossibility of absorbing large numbers of reinforcements during a campaign and of inspiring them with a strong feeling for the unit, the weakening of moral fibre in those who succumbed to the temptations which were so common in Italy—these were some of the factors which prevented the 23rd from maintaining at its peak the team spirit which had been such a marked feature of its life. But, although the daylight attacking of well-defended posts, with resulting heavy casualties, robbed some men of their confidence in themselves and in what they had been told, the 23rd continued to fight courageously. The one smudge on its record served to show up in higher relief the many bright pages in the unit's story. At the time, the other page 383 companies heard only vague rumours of what had happened and went their own way, doing their duty with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
The rest and training period of six weeks which now followed gave the battalion time to build up the unit spirit and to enable the men to get to know one another. Appointments were stabilised with the return of various officers from New Zealand furlough or from hospital or tours of duty. Colonel McPhail reshuffled the company commands as follows on 18 August: HQ Company, Captain R. A. Boyle34; Support Group, Captain B. Cox; A Company, Captain A. F. Cooper, with Captain J. R. Harrison as second-in-command; B Company, Captain J. W. McArthur, with Lieutenant G. M. Dodds35 as 2 i/c; C Company, Captain H. J. G. Low, with Lieutenant G. L. Lawrence as 2 i/c; D Company, Captain N. Buchanan,36 with Captain R. S. Duncan as 2 i/c; Lieutenant J. A. Bevin became IO, Second-Lieutenant K. Burtt, Signals Officer, and Captain J. J. Garbett battalion second-in-command. A few days later the unit was well up to strength with 28 officers, apart from the eight37 who were attached after being recommissioned in the field, and 732 other ranks. The numerical strength was there; with time for training under these leaders, the spirit of the 23rd was bound to reassert itself.
1 Possibly at this stage of his first campaign since returning from furlough, Colonel Thomas was over-anxious to ‘push on’, because the GOC's diary for 22 July 1944 records: ‘23 Bn made some progress but ran into trouble…. We have suffered some casualties, possibly 40 including 4 officers. Policy was not to push on until the tanks were up. Sandy Thomas who is a bit impetuous has been so informed.’
28 Lt-Col H. A. Robinson, DSO, MC, ED, m.i.d.; Waipukurau; born New Plymouth, 29 Sep 1912; farmhand; troop leader, later 2 i/c, Div Cav 1939–44; CO 18 Armd Regt Mar-Jul 1944; 20 Armd Regt Mar-Oct 1945; twice wounded.
31 2 Lt R. H. B. Thomas; Hokitika; born Hokitika, 13 Jul 1922; motor mechanic; wounded 14 Dec 1944.
37 The unit diary for 10 August 1944 gives ‘Officers recommissioned—Paterson R. L., Max L. S., Morris W. I., Cameron H. R., Williams W. B., Dobson A. W.’ Also attached were 2 Lt A. H. Eddie and 2 Lt G. K. Chapman. W. G. McClymont, for some months a member of the 23rd ‘I’ section, was also commissioned at this time to be Assistant Archivist, 2 NZEF.