Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
The Allies were nearing the strongest belt of prepared defences yet encountered in Italy, the German ‘Winter Line’, made the more formidable by swift-flowing rivers, steep and muddy ridges, and the precipitous crags of the Apennines. Varying in depth up to 20 miles, it spanned the waist of Italy from the Sangro to the mouth of the Garigliano River in the Gulf of Gaeta. In order to break through this barricade across the roads to Rome, Eighth Army was concentrating its main effort between the confluence of the Sangro and Aventino rivers and the Adriatic, simultaneously attempting to deceive the enemy into believing that an attack was about to be made on the mountain front. It was hoped that when bridgeheads across the Sangro had been established a swift breakthrough would follow, ending with the cutting of the important lateral road between Rome and Pescara, and perhaps with the fall of Rome itself. The New Zealand Division, having taken up positions secretly, was to cross the Sangro and press on with all speed, cutting the enemy's prepared Winter Line positions, capturing Castelfrentano, Guardiagrele and Orsogna, and finally Chieti. Approaches to the Sangro were overlooked by the high ridgetop towns of Tornareccio, Archi, and Perano, which were still in enemy hands, when, on 14 November, the New Zealand Division assumed responsibility for the left flank sector of the Eighth Army line formerly held by 8 Indian Division. In order to keep the arrival of the New Zealanders a secret until the last possible moment, 19 page 315 Indian Infantry Brigade was placed under New Zealand command and given the task of driving the enemy off the ridges south of the river.
Sangro and Orsogna Battles
Tornareccio was captured by the Indians on the night of 14-15 November. Heavy rain during the night drenched the countryside, so that vehicles found the soaked ground impassable on the morning of the 15th. Under leaden skies, with heavy rain falling at intervals, the Divisional Cavalry, the artillery, and part of 4 Armoured Brigade prepared for action. With great difficulty in seas of sticky, clinging mud, artillery regiments moved forward to support the attack beyond Atessa. A Company of 4 Field Ambulance, under Maj W. M. Platts,1 moved up from Furci to Casalanguida next morning and established an ADS in the local tavern. The route through Furci, Gissi, and Atessa was over a country road with all bridges and culverts destroyed and unsuitable for dense page 316 traffic. The distance, as the crow flies, was four miles; by road it was about twelve miles, and this represented a day's journey. On the day before A Company occupied the tavern the landlord had been arrested as a Fascist and obstructionist. The New Zealanders, however, were able to negotiate successfully with the landlord's representative regarding the use of the rooms.
More rain and even deeper mud handicapped operations on the 18th, when New Zealand armour went into action for the first time. After stubbornly resisting the Punjabis and the New Zealand tanks, the enemy withdrew from Perano, then demolished the only remaining bridge across the Sangro.