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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Senio Attack Launched

Senio Attack Launched

At ten minutes to two on the afternoon of 9 April a terrific bombardment was begun by Allied air forces and artillery on the Eighth Army front. Hundreds of heavy bombers, Fortresses and Liberators, followed by mediums and fighter-bombers, swung down with small bombs designed to kill men, shatter vehicles, and cut communications without blowing the impassable craters that had upset calculations at Cassino. Here the air power was greater than that which blitzed Cassino just over a year before. Then came the guns—more than were at Alamein. Twelve regiments laid the barrage while, in the safety of houses and ditches to which they had been withdrawn, the New Zealand infantry waited for H-hour. In brief breaks in the gunfire, Spitfires slashed in again and again, catching the bewildered defenders as they bobbed up to engage non-appearing assault troops. Enemy positions were battered for over five hours, and then at 7.20 p.m. the assault forces attacked across the Senio, moving in through the drifting smoke of battle preceded by the vicious jets of flame-throwing tanks and carriers. By nightfall the Division had four battalions across the river, and the engineers toiled ceaselessly to erect Bailey bridging in the darkness. In a night of solid gains the bridgeheads of the New Zealanders. Indians, and Poles linked up. The following morning, again preceded by a heavy air assault and closely supported by tanks, the infantry pushed forward to the line of the Lugo Canal, which they had reached in strength by midday. New Zealand troops attacked again in the afternoon, and although their advance to the Santerno River was fiercely contested, reached their objective that evening. There were 120 casualties in the first 24 hours.

Under Maj G. F. Hall, 6 ADS had moved up on the night of 9-10 April to near Granarola on the Canale Naviglio, where it admitted 49 casualties in the course of the night. Keeping pace with the infantry, who were pushing on to the Santerno River against page 414 scattered but stubborn resistance, the company moved forward again on the following day and opened the ADS just north of the village of Barbiano. A further 86 casualties were treated and evacuated, and the company found itself faced with increasing difficulty in transferring them back to HQ at Villafranca. With the steady advance of the infantry, necessitating the continuous movement of the ADS, the route of evacuation grew longer and longer, and in many places lay over poor roads that often permitted oneway traffic only. The experiences of 4 ADS, under Maj N. H. Wilson,1 and 5 ADS, under Maj N. C. Begg, were similar.

The wounded soon began to pour in to the 6 MDS at Villafranca di Forli, 50 arriving before midnight and 157 on the 10th, the busiest day. The majority of operations being on light cases, the casualties passed through the two theatres in a steady flow. By the 11th the battle had receded, and the 4 Field Ambulance team went forward to rejoin its unit at Granarola, 1000 yards from the stop-bank of the Senio, as 4 Field Ambulance had assumed the role of battle MDS.

The battle for the Santerno crossings was at high pitch throughout the afternoon and evening of 11 April. The caked ground shook from the recoil and impact of artillery and mortar fire; the rattle of spandau and machine gun scarcely ceased; infantrymen toiled on while Spitfires and Mustangs weaved in strafing sorties over the enemy's positions. Heavy fighting against infantry and tanks continued through a starlit night. Counter-attacks pressed home by Tiger tanks were repulsed, and by the morning of 12 April the 2 New Zealand, 8 Indian, and 3 Carpathian Divisions all had battalions across the river.

Steady progress was made towards the Sillaro River, and as 9 Infantry Brigade and 6 Infantry Brigade advanced, the ADSs and then 4 MDS were kept busy with the casualties, the MDS admitting about a hundred patients a day before it closed on the afternoon of 15 April. Its functions were taken over by 6 MDS, which opened at Santa Agate, two miles to the rear of Massa Lombarda.

About 250 yards from the road, in fields of lucerne and barley, 6 MDS was set up again under canvas. There was the usual scene page 415 of destruction and desolation. Ammunition cases and debris were scattered around, and farm buildings in the vicinity were either smashed or burned to blackened shells. A battery of medium guns was firing from among nearby trees. The battle was still a long way ahead, but casualties, many of them prisoners of war and civilians, streamed back from the ADSs as the New Zealand bridgehead across the Sillaro River was extended. They began to pile up, but once again the team from 4 Field Ambulance was on the scene to take some of the strain from the unit operating teams. On the 17th 6 MDS closed for battle casualties and opened for sick only, 5 Field Ambulance having moved forward to receive casualties at Ganzanigo, in a building used by a German medical unit up to the previous night.