Italy Volume II : From Cassino to Trieste
IV: The Division Retires
IV: The Division Retires
The New Zealand Division continued to perform garrison duties in Venezia Giulia until late in July. Fifth Brigade took over from 6 Brigade on the 7th the responsibility for the vital points in Trieste, where 21 Battalion provided guards and pickets until relieved by 28 Battalion a week later. Sixth Brigade concentrated north-east of the city, with its battalions astride the roads between Villa Opicina and Basovizza. Ninth Brigade was still covering Route 14 east of the city, and 23 Battalion was in the Muggia area to the south; other troops, including artillery and armour, were in the vicinity of Villa Opicina or farther to the north-west.
The behaviour of New Zealanders in Trieste and Villa Opicina caused concern. As a disciplinary measure all leave was cancelled in 21 Battalion for almost a week; all social activities were suspended, and every man was to perform a minimum of eight hours' work or duty each day. Similar measures were adopted in 28 Battalion. Lieutenant-Colonel Henare1 spoke to his men after a church parade on the subject of bad behaviour, and emphasized that reports of incidents between New Zealand troops and civilians were being broadcast by the Yugoslav radio. Wharf and guard duties in Trieste, controlling check posts on roads, sport and social activities were ‘not enough to keep the Maoris busy and the adage about Satan finding mischief for idle hands to do was countered to some extent by putting all vino bars out of bounds, restricting leave for all junior officers, and by the institution of a tough training programme.’2
One group of New Zealanders was kept very busy until the middle of the month: the NZASC transport worked the docks on a 24-hour schedule with all the vehicles available. Twelve platoons were employed at the one time, and altogether they carried 60,000 tons.
Meanwhile 9 Brigade settled down in its sector ‘to a life of comparative indolence’,3 its only operational duties being the maintenance of three road blocks, the manning of which was taken over by 27 Battalion from Divisional Cavalry. Night after night telephone lines were cut deliberately, but despite vigilant patrolling, the offenders were not apprehended. Similar but less determined line-cutting was reported by 23 Battalion in the Muggia sector.
3 War diary, HQ 9 Inf Bde.
‘TRIESTE is as good almost as a dream, no one will mind remaining,’ wrote a unit diarist. ‘We have swimming, good company in our comrades and many beautiful women. Leave is not greatly sought after as TRIESTE is so very handy with its many iced drinks, opera, pictures and trotting race meetings…. Weather almost monotonously pleasant….’1 On the other hand, the period the Division spent in Venezia Giulia was marred by the highest incidence of venereal disease in its history, and by the number of men killed and injured and vehicles damaged in road accidents.2
General Freyberg had advised Field Marshal Alexander on 6 May that the redeployment of New Zealand forces in the Pacific was under consideration by the New Zealand Government. He understood that the Division was not to take part in any garrison duties in Europe, and therefore suggested that it should give up its garrison role in Venezia Giulia and withdraw to an area from which the long-service men could be sent home.
1 War diary, 28 Aslt Sqn.
2 In May, June and July 695 fresh cases of VD and 56 relapses were recorded; there was a very much higher incidence of gonorrhoea than syphilis. In War Surgery and Medicine, p. 606, T. D. M. Stout says that during this period 2 NZEF had the worst VD rate in its history.
Between 31 May and 4 July 11 men were killed and 72 injured, and 59 vehicles evacuated as the result of road accidents.
Flattering farewell messages were published by the Italian newspaper La Voce Libera when the Division left Trieste. One concluded: ‘Goodbye, our New Zealand brothers, we are fond of you and you know it, but—perhaps because we are so fond of you—we are pleased that you are leaving us to return to your healthy country and that you are going away from this old and sick place which is called Europe, and which, if you had to stay here, would infect you all with its evil. How it has corrupted us all, we Europeans!’2
Not a few New Zealanders were sorry to go. ‘It was with genuine regret on all sides that the departure was made. Many close friendships had been formed and the hospitality and good times enjoyed here will undoubtedly be one of the pleasantest memories of ITALY.’3
The first formation to move, 9 Brigade, set off on 22 July on the 400-mile journey. From the Basovizza area its 370-odd vehicles (not including the carriers, which went by rail) passed through Trieste and along Route 14 to Mestre, the first staging area. During the next three days the brigade motored along Route 11 to Padua and Routes 16 and 64 to the next staging area near Bologna, where the troops were given leave; then along Route 9 across the familiar Romagna plain to Rimini, by Route 16 down the coast and Route 76 inland to the Fabriano staging area, and along Route 3 to Foligno and the destination near Perugia. The other formations, the last leaving on 31 July, followed the same route and stopped overnight at the same places.
2 GOC's papers.
3 War diary, HQ 4 Armd Bde
The war against Japan ended abruptly. On 6 August an American B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima; two days later the USSR declared war on Japan; on the 9th the Americans released an atomic bomb on Nagasaki; on the 14th Japan accepted the Allied terms of unconditional surrender, and next day all hostilities ceased.
This sudden and bewildering plunge into the atomic age, with the introduction of a weapon capable of incalculable destruction and harm to mankind, has dominated politics, military planning and international relations ever since. But in August 1945 the consequences of these momentous events were scarcely uppermost in the minds of the troops in Italy; they were glad that the war had finished in the Pacific as well as in Europe, and they thought about going home.
The Division spent two months in the vicinity of Lake Trasimene. Divisional Headquarters was at Villa Pischiella, on the northern side of the lake, the engineers and army service corps on the eastern side, 6 Brigade and the medical units on the southern side, 5 Brigade and the artillery on the western side, 9 Brigade just east of Perugia, and 4 Brigade about midway between Perugia and Assisi. The countryside was dry and dusty and in places bare and shadeless; the troops found much to complain about: ‘As hot as hades and no shade…. Place alive with millions of insects…. Men very restless with heat and insects.’1 ‘There has been no rain in the area for 5 months…. altogether the men were rather “browned off” as they can see no apparent reason for putting the Division in such an isolated and waterless area. The consumption of wine will no doubt increase as other recreations are lacking.’2
Because the local population's supply was very meagre, the troops were warned not to draw water which might be needed by civilians, and because of the risk of typhoid they were not to use any source which had not been approved by a medical officer. The engineers tried to improve the supply by experimenting with the filtering of lake water and excavating a ground reservoir into which water seeped from the lake, but this ‘turned out not so good’.3 It was necessary, therefore, to transport 18,000 gallons daily from Foligno.page 573
Although the weather continued to be hot, the dry spell ended in August with thunderstorms and downpours. It was mostly fine and mild in September, but became colder towards the end of the month. Light training was continued for the first fortnight of August, and the afternoons were given over to sport, but after the news of Japan's acceptance of the Allied surrender terms—announced by Rome radio on 14 August—more time was devoted to sport. Swimming in the lake was popular, although the depth was shallow and the water stagnant; the River Tiber was placed out of bounds (after Divisional Cavalry Battalion had swum in it) because of its typhoid contamination. The facilities for entertainment in camp were limited, although the YMCA mobile cinema showed films regularly, the Kiwi Concert Party gave performances, and the Education and Rehabilitation Service library offered a wide range of books. Liberal leave was granted to the forces clubs in Florence, Rome and Venice, and to the alpine leave centre in the Dolomites. From mid-August to mid-September each formation was able to send about a third of its strength (the equivalent of a battalion or regiment) each week in turn to a divisional rest camp at the Mondolfo airfield on the Adriatic coast just north of Senigallia. There the men could rest, swim, play various sports, enjoy such entertainments as dances and films, and make excursions to Ancona, Pesaro, Rimini, Forli, Faenza, and the tiny republic of San Marino.
Despite these diversions, however, the weeks following the cessation of hostilities with Japan were for most troops a period of marking time. ‘We are all just waiting to hear when and how we may go home.’1 ‘This was not a happy period in the Division's history. Among the men there was a general feeling of restlessness at the apparent slowness of repatriation and at delays in Government decisions on the composition of the force to go to Japan. Most men were bored, many “broke”, and official efforts to amuse and entertain were often uncooperatively received. Discipline was relaxed, the mercato nero a temptation to the unscrupulous; absence without leave and the “flogging” of army stores and equipment were regrettably common. Ample leave, conducted tours, and later the provision of leave in the United Kingdom for men awaiting repatriation helped to pass the time during this barren wait, but those without the money to go farther afield killed time in the bars and cafeAs … and sometimes got into trouble.’2
1 War diary, 28 Aslt Sqn.
The employment of the New Zealand Division against Japan after the defeat of Germany had been discussed before the start of the final offensive in Italy.1 Mr Churchill had suggested to the New Zealand Government that the Division might operate in the South-East Asia Command under Admiral Mountbatten, or return to New Zealand and re-form for operations in the Pacific under United States command, either in conjunction with Australian divisions or in a United States force. Mr Fraser had asked General Freyberg for his views in February. The GOC's opinion was that, from a purely military point of view, the most effective role for the Division would be with the Australian Imperial Force under United States command against the main Japanese Army in China or Japan, but if participation in the Pacific theatre was not practicable, the Division could be used in the South-East Asia Command theatre, for which its basic training and equipment were quite suitable. If the Division were to serve in the Pacific, it would be difficult to justify to the troops that it should be reorganised overseas, but the difficulty of retaining its organisation if it returned to New Zealand after the defeat of Germany might be a determining factor. If no suitable employment of New Zealand forces was possible with the AIF under American command, or if the Government should decide against bringing the Division back to New Zealand for other reasons and should choose the SEAC theatre, reorganisation in Egypt, where 2 NZEF already possessed the base organisation and training facilities, would save time and shipping.
1 For these and earlier discussions on the employment of the Division and the replacement scheme, see Documents, Vol. II.
General Freyberg received this information shortly before the start of the Allied offensive in Italy in April. He agreed with Puttick about a two-brigade division: ‘To commit a smaller than normal [three-brigade] division might result in our being given a role too great for our force or else we might be given mopping up jobs to do. In either case high record of NZ forces during this war could not be maintained.’1
Freyberg cabled the Government on 6 May to say that, as further battle casualties in Europe seemed unlikely and the 15th Reinforcements2 would be available in Egypt after six weeks' training, it appeared opportune for him to accelerate the Government's replacement scheme by sending back the 6th and 7th Reinforcements. Consequently the 6th Reinforcements, who had served close on four years overseas, and men who qualified by having served an equivalent time in the Pacific and Italy, were withdrawn from the Division in the last week of May to be sent home.
Freyberg proposed to the Government on 15 May that, because casualties had been fewer than anticipated and further wastage in 1945 would be limited to loss by sickness, the Division could be ready to take the field in November or December. This depended upon the return to New Zealand of the long-service men up to but not including the 10th Reinforcements and the early arrival in the Middle East of the 16th Reinforcements. He calculated that the Division would then have a strength of approximately 23,000, which would be just sufficient to start a campaign.
About a week later the Government asked Freyberg to comment on an appreciation by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Field Marshal Brooke) on the future employment of the Division. The CIGS had concluded that the Division could not be maintained at its present strength, but if reduced to two brigades could be used most effectively against the Japanese in South-East Asia and possibly later as part of a British Empire force against Japan; he said it would be an advantage if the Division could be reorganised in the Middle East and go direct to the theatre where it was to operate. Again Freyberg urged the Government not to send a two-brigade division, but conceded that if it should decide to do so, the reorganisation would present no difficulty.
At this stage the acting Prime Minister (Mr Nash), in a speech at Hamilton, announced that men of 2 NZEF up to the 10th Reinforcements were to return ‘at the earliest moment at which shipping can be made available without interfering with the deployment of forces to take up the war against Japan. On present evidence, 20,000 will be coming to New Zealand as soon as shipping can be provided.’1 This announcement went much further than the GOC's ‘interim statement’ to all ranks on 19 May that the ‘7th Reinforcements will follow [the 6th] as soon as practicable but NOT until the Division has been released from its present op[erational] commitment.’2
It was estimated that if officers up to the 10th Reinforcements and those who qualified by having served in the Pacific were repatriated, a total of 1362 would go, which would leave the Division with virtually only 174. The Government therefore concurred with the GOC's proposal that most of the officers of the 6th, 7th and 8th Reinforcements should be released, but some should be retained as key men, and those of later reinforcements should not go until others had been trained to take their place.
The 7th Reinforcements and men with equivalent service left the Division in mid-June to embark for New Zealand when the shipping was available, and after the Division had moved from Venezia Giulia to central Italy, the 8th Reinforcements and others who were eligible followed in the first week of August.
Meanwhile, on 30 July, the GOC and GSO I (Colonel Gilbert) left Italy by air for the United Kingdom to confer at the War Office about the redeployment of New Zealand forces for the war against Japan. While he was in London Freyberg received the information from Wellington that Parliament had approved proposals for New Zealand's participation in the Commonwealth Land Force in the Pacific, and that a two-brigade division with an establishment of 16,000 would be available. This number would be made up from approximately 12,000 men remaining with 2 NZEF overseas and 4000 in the 16th Reinforcements, who would sail about early September; 2000 in the 17th Reinforcements would follow later that year, and 3000 in the 18th early next year.
The 2 NZEF's participation in the ‘Coronet’ project was discussed at the War Office on 10 August. Subject to confirmation by the New Zealand Government of its agreement to the use of the Division for ‘Coronet’ and by General MacArthur to the Division's inclusion in the British Commonwealth Corps to fight under his command, provisional plans were prepared for the concentration of 2 NZEF in the United Kingdom for a short period of leave before proceeding to the United States for equipping and final training. The planning ended the same day, however, when the news was received of a Japanese surrender offer.
Freyberg returned to the Division in Italy on 3 September—the sixth anniversary of the declaration of war against Germany—and within a few days was receiving cables congratulating him on his choice as the next Governor-General of New Zealand.
The New Zealand Government decided to make a brigade group available for service with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. It was to assemble in Italy and comprise, as far as possible, single officers from the 10th Reinforcements onwards and single men of the 13th, 14th and 15th Reinforcements; certain key men were needed, and volunteers who had served longer overseas were accepted. It was proposed that the men from 2 NZEF should be replaced at the end of six months by volunteers from New Zealand.3
3 See Documents, Vol. III, for messages between the New Zealand and United Kingdom Governments and 2 NZEF relating to the formation of the force for Japan; also O. A. Gillespie, The Pacific, for an account of the occupation of Japan.
The GOC proposed to the Government that all Maoris should be repatriated, but was told that the Maori people wished to be represented in Jayforce. Divisional Cavalry, which resumed the title of regiment, therefore included a D Squadron composed of 270 Maoris from the latest reinforcements. ‘This was a delight to the regiment because nobody could really come up to the Maoris in plain parade-ground drill.’1
Eventually Jayforce, 4000 strong, included a brigade headquarters, 2 Divisional Cavalry Regiment, 22 Battalion, 27 Battalion, 25 Field Battery, 5 Field Company, Signal Company, 19 ASC Company, 16 Workshops, 4 Base Ordnance Depot, 11 Provost Company, 6 General Hospital, 7 Camp Hospital, 5 Field Hygiene Section, a band, a port detachment, and other services. Before the end of the year the force was fully self-contained and accommodated in the university buildings in Florence. The carriers, guns, transport and stores were despatched to Bari in mid-January 1946 to be loaded on the ships that were to take them to Japan, and a month later the troops left by train for Naples and embarked on the Strathmore, which sailed on 21 February and reached Kure, the port of destination, on 19 March.
1 Divisional Cavalry, p. 420.