New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
In spite of the bad weather gradual progress was made in the divisional sector and the enemy was forced to withdraw completely across the Uso River. The coastal towns which anchored the sea end of the Gothic line were in the hands of Eighth Army, but the line could not be outflanked while the enemy clung to the mountains and made every river a defence line. Fifth Army, after a promising start, was blocked by a determined defence and incredibly difficult country in the mountains south of Bologna.
The country beyond Rimini was completely flat but was crisscrossed with small waterways, each of which was an adequate tank obstacle. The degree of canalisation in the area south of Ravenna was unequalled anywhere in Europe, with the exception of Holland. It was impossible to move more than a mile in any direction without encountering an obstacle requiring the building of bridges and approaches. An abundance of trees provided cover for a defending force, even in the face of a superior air power, and there were many substantial stone houses.
The weather became unsettled with frequent light rains, and the web of watercourses ahead of the New Zealand battalions as they strove to push forward held out no prospect of a swift advance. It was the German policy to fight at every ditch, using spandaus and mortars with a stiffening of tanks and self-propelled guns. His plan was to force a full-scale ‘set-piece’ attack at every possible point, and then, as the assault was made, to withdraw his main forces to the next line, perhaps only 1000 yards back, leaving small heavily-armed holding parties behind. By a counter-policy of repeating thrusts at short intervals to shorten the time for manning defences, 5 and 6 Brigades had hopes of getting the Germans on the run; but just at the end of September after they had crossed the Uso, and preparatory to their attack on the Fiumicino, the weather broke and violent gales from the Adriatic, with torrential rain, soon page 616 brought the greatest discomfort to troops in the exposed positions of the front line and prevented the movement of supporting arms for the infantry.