New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
Eighth Army's objective at that time was to break the Gothic line which the Germans were stubbornly defending. The line was a formidable defensive system in considerable depth, embracing the entire breadth of the belt of interlocking ranges of the Apennines across Italy. Its eastern end was anchored at Pesaro. While the main mountain ranges stopped short of the coast, high foothills running almost to the sea provided excellent defensive positions, but once an attacking army won past Rimini, 20 miles up the coast from Pesaro, it was thought that the Gothic line would be turned.
When 2 NZ Division ended its long trek across Italy, it came under the command of 1 Canadian Corps for an operation which it was hoped, in spite of the imminence of winter, to make a mobile one of breakthrough and exploitation. It had been expected that once Eighth Army entered the Po valley it would be able to exploit rapidly across the plain. Optimism as to the ability to force the pace was to be sadly disappointed. Rivers and extensive canalisation continually hampered progress. Instead of making the expected rapid advance, Eighth Army entered upon a long and discouraging period of nearly four months' fighting, crossing numerous river obstacles in winter weather in operations that can best be described as the ‘battles of the rivers'. The operations did, however, tie down German forces that might otherwise have been used to help oppose the Allied advance in Western Europe.
Though the New Zealand Division still remained in reserve, it was decided to move further forward to be nearer the main road along the coast, and on 5 September the move began. The Division travelled to the coast about 10 miles away and then north along the coast road for 15 miles to the vicinity of Fano, the new divisional concentration area. Here 4 Field Ambulance, under Lieutenant-Colonel Edmundson, with 1 FSU, 2 FTU, 102 Mobile VDTC and 14 Optician Unit attached, set up a complete MDS on 6 September for the reception of sick.
For the first time in Italy the Division was on the sea coast. Full advantage was taken of this and swimming was a most popular pastime, and it lead to a very evident improvement in the general welfare of the troops. This came at an opportune time as the sickness rate was comparatively high. Infective hepatitis had reached mild epidemic proportions, over 1200 cases being reported in the three months September to November, and the medical service was feeling frustrated by its inability to reduce the high incidence as the method of infection was unknown. On the other hand, the malaria figures continued to remain low, being the lowest in Eighth Army. The general fitness of the Division was below the high level page 608 maintained in the past. More men became prone to infection of quite minor skin lesions, and to colds and fibrositis even before the really cold weather had set in.
From this area 4 MDS evacuated the sickness cases to 1 NZ General Hospital at Senigallia. In nine days 432 sick were admitted to the MDS. The unit itself remained remarkably free of infective hepatitis.
From 13 September portions of the Division moved towards the front line. On 18 September 4 MDS travelled 20 miles forward to a new location in the sand dunes right on the sea front at Cattolica, and then stood by ready to accompany the divisional reserve group upon its proposed drive along Route 16 past Rimini.