The advance continued smoothly and effortlessly on 1 May, with the New Zealand Division rolling on up the coastal highway. The Germans were powerless to stop the swift, sustained movement of such a powerful force. Those who attempted resistance were either isolated formations completely ignorant of the position or desperate bands trying to win through to Germany. They were afraid of the partisans, who, in fact, treated them with dignity and consideration before handing them over to our forces. The partisans reserved their hatred and retribution for their own quisling Fascists.
The value of the partisan movement following the crossing of the Adige cannot be over-estimated. Padua, Venice, Mestre, San Dona di Piave, Portoguaro, Latisana, San Giorgio, Pieris, and Monfalcone were all in partisan hands before our flying columns reached them. The leading example was Padua, where a pitched battle started early on 27 April. In it the partisans took 5000 Germans and 1200 Fascists at a cost to themselves of 682 killed and 1400 wounded. Their information as to enemy forces and the state of roads, bridges, and deviations was of the utmost importance.
Finally, they took over the responsibility of guarding many of the Division’s prisoners. As these eventually numbered between 40,000 and 50,000, they could have been a serious embarrassment.
The Tagliamento and the Isonzo did not prove to be barriers. The former was crossed by means of a German wooden bridge, and the original concrete structure still spanned the latter. As the Italian flag gave way to the tricolour and star of Tito’s Yugoslavia, a difference in the reception of the people was noticeable. An air of strain attended the frequent armed demonstrations, in which women took a prominent part, and the native townspeople showed an increasing tendency to stay off the streets.
The Tito influence reached its height in Monfalcone, where the streets were thronged with armed men and women in a state of hysterical excitement. Numerous banners and placards bearing greetings in Italian and Yugoslav indicated that the people had been prepared for forces coming the other way. It at once became obvious that, despite Marshal Tito’s claim to have taken the city a few days before, Trieste was still in enemy hands.
An observation plane was heavily fired on by anti-aircraft weapons of all calibres located on the precipitous coastline between Duino and Trieste, and returned to report that the city was ominously clear of civilians and that fighting was going on in the streets. It was learned that the Germans were in force at many points, and that the Yugoslavs apparently lacked the heavy equipment necessary to take the defences by storm. On the twenty-seven mile strip of coast road between Monfalcone and Trieste, and particularly at Duino, Sistiana, and Miramare, there were strong German formations.
This was quickly proved by a clash which occurred in the late afternoon just beyond Monfalcone. The column halted as the Lancers went into action against enemy troops in a defile a few hundred yards ahead. As infantry deployed to meet this threat, Germans could be seen moving unconcernedly in a fortified position on a hummock scarcely half a mile away on the right flank. Three shells from a tank persuaded this second force, which numbered 400, to surrender.