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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Battle Situation

Battle Situation

On the western side of the Apennines, American, British, and French troops had won forward to the immensely strong enemy Gustav Line based on Cassino. This line crossed the peninsula at its narrowest point, where rugged hills formed a series of natural obstacles most favourable to the defenders. Despite the winter weather, the Allies were intent on achieving the capture of Rome, and concentrated on the route through the Liri Valley, the entrance to which was dominated by Cassino and the heights beyond the town.

Fifth Army troops were ashore at Anzio, just south of Rome, on 22 January, but the Germans had found it possible to contain them within the beachhead perimeter, and their effort was halted.

Monte Cassino, or Monastery Hill, was the keystone of the enemy's defences. It was a rocky spur which rose steeply from the plain to a height of about 1700 feet. On the top was the Abbey. To the north of it there was a deep chasm, and to the north-west the mountain ridge along which the Americans had advanced, almost reaching the fortified hilltop Point 593 and Mount Castellone. Beyond Monte Cassino again was the majestic, snow-capped Monte Cairo.

Eastward from the monastery the steep slopes were guarded by extensive field works. A little to the north-east, and actually a part of the main spur, there was a prominent crest upon which stood an ancient castle. This was Castle Hill; at the foot and partly up the slopes of it was built the town of Cassino. Other outcrops of rocks which became of particular significance as the battle progressed were Hangman's Hill, so called because of a scaffolding with a marked resemblance to a gibbet, Point 165, and Point 202. These latter two were knolls between bends in a corkscrew road from the town to the Abbey, which edifice dominated the entire battle area.