28 (Maori) Battalion
CHAPTER 13 — Orsogna
Italy is divided by the Apennine Mountains which sweep from the north-western boundary with France across to the east coast near Rimini. From there they run south close to the seaboard so that, topographically, a good comparison with the south-east coast of Italy is the west coast of the South Island.
The Eighth Army had linked up with the Americans who had landed at Salerno, and while the latter struck for and captured Naples, General Montgomery moved north with the intention of advancing along the east coast as far as Pescara; from there the Eighth Army was to follow the road through the mountains towards Rome, also the objective of the Americans. The German counter was an exceedingly stubborn defensive as his troops fell back towards the historic Winter Line running north of the Sangro River, through the Apennines to Cassino, thence to the roadless Aurunci Mountains on the west coast.
At the beginning of November General Montgomery was approaching the Sangro, but the combined difficulties of fighting across the grain of the country, the increasing German strength, and the onfall of winter compelled a modification of the original plan.
The New Zealand Division was brought up to relieve 8 Indian Division around Atessa and enable 5 Corps to regroup. While the Kiwis fitted themselves in the Indians were to thicken up 5 Corps' right flank, where the thrust was to be delivered. If all went well 2 NZ Division was to make a dash first for Chieti then to Avezzano, while 5 Corps carried on to Pescara. Sixth Brigade was to make the breakthrough with New Zealand tank support and was all set to go, but the Sangro ran in high flood and the operation was cancelled. Finally, the plan of a stealthy night attack was abandoned; then the whole conception of a deep exploitation was given up in favour of a deliberate frontal infantry assault against the Winter Line by an augmented force supported by infantry. Fifth Brigade was brought into the line on the right of 6 Brigade, but 28 Battalion stayed around Atessa while the forward units of 5 and 6 Brigades patrolled across the temperamental Sangro whenever it dropped sufficiently. The riverbed was a kind of no-man's-land and ran in several page 323 channels; night patrols tested its depth, sought crossing places, and endeavoured to fix enemy positions.
The Maoris kept fit with route marches and practised with their Piats. Stone is the universal building material in Italy and there were several demolished casas in the vicinity. The Piat was an untried weapon as far as the troops were concerned, and whether they were any good as ‘projectile infantry antitank’ remained to be seen but they certainly fulfilled all requirements as projectile infantry anti-stone building.
During the last week of the month plans for the attack across the Sangro were completed; 28 Battalion was to stay in its present area in brigade reserve, but the state of the river now became a matter of immediate concern to troops liable to be rushed forward at any moment. For several more days, because of freshets, the river was too deep for men to wade through, but finally, on the morning of the 27th, the assault was declared possible and ‘on’ that night. Colonel Fairbrother took advantage of the view afforded the battalion by its elevated position and gave the men a talk on the coming attack. He was able to point out the actual objectives on the brigade sector to an interested audience. Even more interesting to the rank and file was the arrival of the mobile canteen, Te Rau Aroha, with eagerly awaited delicacies.
It was an interesting if broken night; following the opening of the canteen the mobile cinema unit set up in a gully out of enemy sight and screened the comedy ‘There Ain't No Justice’, after which the troops went happily off to bed. They were awakened by 3 a.m. by the crashing noises a barrage makes. The old soldiers turned over and went to sleep again, but the new hands left their blankets to watch the red rosettes preceding the assault up the muddy bluffs across the Sangro.
The 28th Battalion stood by at short notice while the engineers worked feverishly on bridges, the mortar teams manhandled their pieces up the bluffs, and bulldozers winched tanks across the river. But everything went well and the reserve battalion was not called forward. An indication of the type of country that lay ahead was the arrival that afternoon of a train of twenty-four mules. The livestock was put on the strength of Headquarters Company and Lieutenant Urlich appointed OC mule train.
The following day the troops sharpened their bayonets and waited, impatiently by the new hands and with complete resignation by the veterans, for the word to get into the fighting.page 324
They waited until 1 December, by which time the attacking battalions had exploited forward, sometimes fighting for enemy strongposts, sometimes without fighting, towards the backbone of the Winter Line.
It will clarify the operations that occupied December if the reader will visualise the terrain beyond the Sangro as rolling country broken by deep gullies which, in a distance of about page 325 five miles, rises to the top of a 700-feet-high main ridge running from the Majella Mountains down to the coast. Starting at Lanciano near the sea a good road wound along the top of this feature through Castelfrentano and Guardiagrele into the mountains. From Guardiagrele another road curved backwards along yet another ridge through Orsogna and Ortona back to the coast. These two ridges were the core of the Winter Line in that area.
The battalion moved forward in 4 RMT transport on 1 December; perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘was to have moved forward by transport’ because there was great congestion at the bridge over the Sangro and, after waiting some hours, the troops abandoned the trucks, waded the ice-cold river and marched to their destination, which was the 23 Battalion objective of the first attack—Point 208. From there they were to have carried out an assault towards Elici, but 23 Battalion and the Divisional Cavalry had already done the job; so after the trucks arrived with the heavy gear the unit dispersed and passed a moist night in the open. While it slept the enemy vacated Castelfrentano, a sizeable town of some 6000 inhabitants; 5 Brigade advanced its line as far as the Castelfrentano-Lanciano road, with 8 Indian Division coming up on its right; and 6 Brigade entered Castelfrentano with the dawn.
The Maoris were again ordered to occupy 23 Battalion's area, this time overlooking the road to, and a mile east of, Castelfrentano; 23 Battalion squeezed 21 Battalion out of the line by moving to the left in front of that unit's FDLs, thereby forming a firm base for 6 Brigade, which was about to attack Orsogna alongside 4 Armoured Brigade, directed on the ridge-junction village of Guardiagrele.
By early afternoon the Maoris had taken over the reserve positions of 23 Battalion and that unit had departed for Castelfrentano. The Maoris dug night positions on the forward slope of the ridge overlooking the deep gully which was the bed of the Moro River. The Moro was really only a creek but it was a nasty obstacle to transport. Beyond the Moro was more broken country and then the ridge where, guarded by Guardiagrele, the village of Orsogna clung to a peak on its ridge. And after that ridge was taken the next scheduled stop was Chieti, en route for Rome.
The Maoris' anti-tank platoon, making leisurely preparations to cover the open right flank, put on a very decided spurt when page 326 a warning came through that six enemy tanks were approaching from Lanciano. Eighth Indian Division was nearing but had not yet taken Lanciano, so a troop of 19 Armoured Regiment was sent along to assist, but nothing happened and it departed in the morning.
The first phase of breaking the Winter Line had not entailed heavy fighting, mainly because the Castelfrentano ridge was not they key of the defence nor was the German 65 Division holding it a very tough formation. Many of its units had a proportion of men conscripted from occupied territory. But the high ridge running north-east from Guardiagrele through Orsogna, Arielli, to Ortona had difficult approaches, perfect observation, good communications and very warlike tank support. The 26th Panzer was one of the best German divisions. It was against this ridge that the New Zealand Division suffered its first major defeat in Italy.
While the Maoris were peacefully acquiring vegetables and stray poultry that 23 Battalion had not had time to collect, 6 Brigade was assaulting Orsogna. Orsogna was taken and lost when the German tanks counter-attacked, and our armoured thrust against Guardiagrele was turned back by demolitions on the only possible road approach.
The Division faced another setback the next day (the 4th). The forward troops were not aware of it but heavy rain in the hills flooded the Sangro and washed away both divisional bridges, thereby effectively putting a stop to further operations. Had the German generals been in an offensive mood things could have been very sticky indeed; however, their gunners celebrated our artillery's restricted programme with a full day of harassing fire.
While the engineers waited for the flood to pass so that they could repair the vital bridges, preparations were going forward for another attack on the ridge from Orsogna to the Sfasciata spur, with 28 Battalion cast in the leading role as far as 5 Brigade was concerned.
Colonel Fairbrother was warned to move his men to a lying-up area after dark on the 5th, but before doing so to send two patrols, each to be accompanied by a tank officer, on a daylight reconnaissance for possible tank routes across the Moro towards Sfasciata spur. One of the tank officers was wounded while the patrols were looking over the country from an artillery O Pip, consequently only one party of ten men under Lieutenant page 327 Northcroft,1 accompanied by Lieutenant Passmore,2 made the reconnaissance. The report was that a fair track existed over the Moro but that Sfasciata was apparently too steep for vehicles.
The crossroads had already, for good cause, been christened Hellfire Corner, with Shell Alley, another stretch nearby, vying with it in unpopularity. Both these undesirable localities were bypassed by marching across country to the lying-up area in a tributary valley to the Moro in the rear of 24 and 25 Battalions holding San Felice ridge. There were a few haystacks about and the troops made themselves fairly comfortable. After first light the CO, not entirely satisfied with the previous report, made a personal reconnaissance with a few of his own officers and some from 18 Armoured Regiment only to confirm the opinion that Sfaciata was too steep for tanks without earlier engineer assistance.
The attack was tentatively fixed for the afternoon of the 7th so as to give sufficient time to capture the objectives before dark but too late for the enemy to counter-attack in daylight. Both brigades would advance on a one-battalion front, 6 Brigade (24 Battalion) along the Lanciano-Orsogna road straight at Orsogna and 5 Brigade (28 Battalion) up the Pascuccio spur to cut the Orsogna-Ortona road east of 6 Brigade's objective. Colonel Fairbrother's plan was to attack with two companies forward and one mopping up behind them; B, the reserve company, was detailed to relieve a 24 Battalion standing patrol on Pascuccio spur, and would then be in a handy position to reinforce if needed. Meanwhile other patrols were hunting around to see if it was possible to get tracked vehicles across the Moro and up on to Pascuccio. The reports were unanimous that it was quite out of the question.
This posed a problem in supply and support for it meant that Fairbrother could expect no armour or anti-tank guns until Orsogna was captured. It also meant that both brigades would have to use the same road; it meant further that should 6 Brigade fail the Maoris' position would be untenable in daylight. They would be overlooked by the higher Sfasciata page 328 ridge on their right, the higher Orsogna area on their left and, unless they attained their own full objective, the higher road across their axis of advance. And that, less the last supposition, is precisely what happened.
Final orders were received about midday. The 28th Battalion would, by advancing up each side of Pascuccio spur, cut the Orsogna-Ortona road for a distance of half a mile on each side of the cemetery—a grisly rendezvous—and hold as deep as the railway line, which in that vicinity ran parallel to and 300 yards back from the road. The 23rd Battalion would protect the open right flank by occupying the lower end of Sfasciata ridge; 24 Battalion would take Orsogna by way of the road over the Brecciarola ridge; there would be a barrage of adequate intensity while, in addition, thirteen squadrons of fighter-bombers would bombard Orsogna for half an hour.
The CO's plan was to attack with C Company (Captain Wirepa)3 right, and D Company (Captain Ornberg) left. A Company (Captain Henare) would follow, mopping up, then extend along the road towards Orsogna and put the battalion on a three-company front. B Company (Major Sorensen) would remain in reserve where it was. Battalion tactical headquarters would be established in a casa between the reserves and the front line.
The troops were to carry as much ammunition as they could drape around their persons while the carrier platoon, which on account of the terrain had no part to play, was divided into carrying parties; three men, each with sixteen Hawkins antitank grenades, accompanied each company, four manhandled the battalion wireless set, and twelve were told off as muleteers, standing by to carry up further supplies of ammunition if needed.
The day of the assault opened to the advantage of the enemy inasmuch as although misty showers obscured the deployment to a certain extent they very largely neutralised the Air Force bombing programme and blinded the artillery observation posts.
The troops made their own individual preparations—some went to sleep under the olive trees, some formed small groups and spoke of anything but the business in hand. Others, more practical minded, lightened their packs for the better stowage of hard rations. Officers and NCOs were continually moving about checking various matters as they cropped up, the Air page 329 Force was continually passing and repassing overhead, and the German gunners were continually trying to skim the top of the gully and land their shells where they would do most harm. It was ideal country for howitzers, but happily that type of gun had gone out of fashion.
The artillery programme opened at 1 p.m., and half an hour later the Maori Battalion began its first battle in Italy by climbing up the steep San Felice ridge, where 25 Battalion was to remain as a firm base for the assault. En route, the Maoris could see 23 Battalion taking another route to its forming-up place and ‘Good luck’ waves were exchanged. Felice ridge lay roughly parallel to the Orsogna-Ortona road, from which both Pascuccio spur and Sfasciata ridge ran at right angles with a deep gully separating the two.
No time was wasted in getting over the crest of Felice for, although the sight of planes swooping down on Orsogna and the resulting explosions were heartening, enemy shelling of the ridge invited haste. In actual fact the Air Force effort, on account of the low cloud and later misty rain, was considerably reduced and finally petered out altogether.
The forward slope of San Felice, like the rest of the area, was strewn with olive trees and peasants' dwellings, and at the bottom was the Moro stream where the platoons reformed preparatory to climbing the steep, bare toe of Pascuccio to the start line at the end of the spur. The troops, loaded almost to capacity, slipped, fell, rolled down and climbed up again until they were in position.
Anyone who has been in a party of pig hunters or deer shooters and has climbed a stiff spur to reach the leading ridge will understand that the troops welcomed the wait for the barrage to open before continuing the climb along the sides of the razor-backed approach route. At the top, on D Company's front, was an almost sheer escarpment, but in front of C Company the approach to the road was not so steep. A Company had the benefit of a track along the spine of the ridge where tank marks indicated recent enemy movement.
The barrage, which started as a ‘stander’, began to roll uphill at 2.30 p.m. and the Maoris followed into a smudge of rain and smoke. Here it should be mentioned that the barrage rate of advance, 100 yards in six minutes, proved much too fast and the fire was of little use to the men edging along the steep hillsides.page 330
C Company advanced with 13 Platoon (Lieutenant Baker)4 along the top of the spur, 14 Platoon (Sergeant Ngata)5 spread over the east face, and 15 Platoon (Lieutenant Mahuika)6 in support. No. 14 Platoon had not gone far before it came upon a small minefield and time was lost while Corporal Richardson7 cleared a track. A couple of hundred yards beyond the mines it ran into a post of about platoon strength firing from buildings. The first section was rushed and wiped out; another was dealt with by Piat and mortar until the eight occupants surrendered—one tried to run away and was shot. The other posts then surrendered and the platoon carried on.
No. 13 Platoon advanced astride a track until it was held up near the top by an anti-tank gun covering the route. The crew was engaged with fire while a section crawled round to a flank. It got to within 25 yards without being seen and then a rush with the bayonet decided the issue. C Company met no more opposition and by 5 p.m. was on its objective.
D Company was deployed on a one-platoon front with 18 Platoon (Lieutenant Tomoana)8 leading, 16 Platoon (Lieutenant R. Smith)9 centre, and 17 Platoon (Lieutenant Searancke)10 rear. Theirs was the steeper side of the ridge, and crossing the many re-entrants where slips had laid bare the clinging yellow clay was a difficult business. Odd mortar bombs landed on the hilside, but the platoon commanders threaded their way through the pattern without loss. The Maoris, mostly new hands, heartened by the apparent harmlessness of the mortars and excited by the noise of the barrage, took pot-shots at stray fowls. Opportunity was taken by Lieutenant Tomoana to try out the platoon Piat on a house that might have had a machine gun ready to fire through the window. There was no machine gun but there is no point in taking chances.
One soldier introduced the novel, possibly unique, method of calming his nerves by reading a book during waits for the barrage to lift; Lieutenant Tomoana was startled to find any page 331 of his men with such pronounced literary leanings. In a letter to the author he says:
During our advance a young fellow, Goodwillie, R. T. M.,11 took a book with him and as we went to ground he promptly lay on his back with his head to the enemy and commenced to read his book. An act of bravado really to take his mind off the battle. At one stage a mortar bomb landed close to him and his mind was soon brought back to the job in hand. Quite a sound idea in theory. I witnessed all this but said nothing. You know yourself all sorts of methods are used to conquer the feeling of fear.
The leading platoon reached the foot of the bluff at the top of the spur and edged along until it was judged that it was opposite the cemetery, whereupon Tomoana sent two sections forward. There were sapling poplars growing on the bluff, and the Maoris hauled themselves up by their aid towards enemy troops dug in about twenty feet from the edge who were apparently more interested in the road behind than the cliff in front of them.
Corporal Henry Barrett12 was first up and had accounted for a post single-handed by the time the others arrived, whereupon the locality was cleared at a cost of two casulaties, one fatal. Barrett's aggressive action and use of the bayonet (he is credited with killing nine Germans) undoubtedly enabled the platoon to gain the top so cheaply.
Tomoana found that he was to the left of the cemetery and set a course to bring him on to his area. He also found that he had acquired about a dozen men from the other platoons which were still at the bottom of the bluff and took them along with him. Sergeant Mason13 was left with the reserve section covering the road while the others moved in the failing light to the railway, then down into a small valley where they were fired on from houses. By this time it was almost dark, and with no friendly troops in sight the platoon returned to the cemetery and selected a defensive area.
No. 16 Platoon had more trouble in climbing the bluff and lost some men before it was securely in position. The reserve page 332 platoon (17) clambered up and assisted with fire, but even so the opposition was too severe for it to move forward.
Although one platoon was actually exploiting past the objective, it appeared to Captain Henare commanding A Company that the whole of D Company was in trouble and he took appropriate action:
As we had a two Coy frontage to cover, my plan was:— 7 Pl under 2 Lt Jones14 behind C Coy, 9 Pl under 2 Lt Christie15 behind D Coy, 8 Pln under Lt Paul16 in reserve. During the advance 7 Pln had nothing to do while 9 Pln mopped up one sniper and a MG post which was causing D Coy a lot of trouble. At approx 1730 hrs I could see that D Coy was not making much headway due to intense small arms fire, so I ordered the whole Coy to move to the right flank and attack the enemy from the rear. This eliminated most of the posts that were pinning down D Coy. It was evident that the enemy was not prepared for an attack from the rear as he threw in the sponge without much ado. Isolated posts were dealt with as only Maoris know how.17
The company was in position straddling the road at 7.30 p.m. and almost immediately called for an artillery ‘stonk’ to break up an impending counter-attack.
Lieutenant Katene met Tomoana about this time and asked if there were any targets for the mortars. He then moved on towards A Company and was killed en route. Katene was a foundation member of the Maori Battalion and one of the very few still serving.
The position at that moment was that C Company was dug in across the road facing north, D Company partly in position at the cemetery and partly on the edge of the bluff with enemy still in between, and A Company firmly across the road facing towards Orsogna. On the 6 Brigade front 24 Battalion was fighting in the outskirts of Orsogna.
Colonel Fairbrother, at Tactical Headquarters about half-way up Pascuccio spur in a farmhouse with a cellar full of civilians, noted the heavy fighting in Orsogna and in the dusk saw flamethrowers operating. He could only hope that 24 Battalion page 333 would succeed and open a route to what was now a promising situation in 28 Battalion's sector. There had been good wireless communication throughout the action and he knew that C Company was early on the objective, that D Company was reasonably secure, and that A Company could commence to enlarge the sector towards Orsogna. He wirelessed for the mule train to bring up reserves of ammunition and waited anxiously for word of success from 6 Brigade.
It was while Lieutenant Urlich was leading his mules, each with two boxes of ammunition, up Pascuccio that disaster overtook C Company. The men were in high spirits and very pleased with themselves—they had killed ten Germans, taken nineteen prisoners, and destroyed an anti-tank gun. No. 13 Platoon was deployed between the road and railway, with 14 Platoon south of the road and 15 Platoon also south of the road in close support.
There was some firing from an embankment further east, as well as from some houses in the vicinity, but nothing of any strength. Lieutenant Baker quietened the house with his platoon mortar, but a converging movement from east and north decided him to pull his platoon back near the road and closer to 14 Platoon. A haystack set alight by the enemy had added its flames to the faint moonlight trickling through the clouds when the noise of tanks was heard approaching from the east. It was known that 23 Battalion had occupied part of Sfasciata ridge and the Maoris, believing that tanks had managed to get up from that quarter, cheered the clanking steel reinforcements. The cheers changed to curses when the tanks opened fire on them. At least five enemy tanks, one a flame-thrower, were preceding infantry.
A Piat was used and at the twelfth and last round stopped the leader, but Captain Wirepa considered the odds too great and ordered an immediate withdrawal. It was no exaggeration to say that the order was obeyed with alacrity by 14 and 15 Platoons. Lieutenant Baker held his men while he crept up to the stationary tank and placed several Hawkins grenades under the tracks. When the tank did move again it lost a track. Some of the platoon had been wounded and a section captured before Baker withdrew the remainder towards Tactical Headquarters.
Colonel Fairbrother, hearing the fighting and the sound of tanks, had left to investigate and met C Company coming down the ridge. The troops were quickly reorganised and shortly afterwards Captain Wirepa, who was the last to leave the area, page 334 appeared. He was able to assure the CO that all the Maoris were clear and to give roughly the enemy position. The CO promptly called for a ‘murder stonk’, which the gunners as promptly supplied. One tank was set on fire and the rest departed. B Company was ordered forward to man C Company's area and C Company, without heavy weapons which had been left behind in the hurried evacuation, was held at Tactical Headquarters as reserve.
To return to D Company, or rather to Lieutenant Tomoana at the cemetery. ‘At approx 8.0 pm the sound of tanks was heard at the identical time ours were supposed to be on the move,’ he wrote. ‘Our elation was natural but it soon turned to alarm when we found the bullets splattering the walls of the cemetery. Sergt Wilson was hit in the head. Huns were counter attacking from Poggiofiorito. I withdrew D Coy (my group) back from the cemetery across the road to the edge of the cliff. Here we attacked more Huns (killed the lot) 8 in all.’
D Company was now together again.
A Company had also pulled back to the edge of the bluff when tank bullets came its way and was again digging fast and deep in anticipation of a counter-attack that could be seen massing in the dim moonlight. Small-arms fire is not effective under such conditions for the tendency is to aim high and the results of the unaimed bullet cannot be seen. An artillery concentration, however, is a different matter, for the fragmentation of the shells covers a wide area. Captain Henare called for a ‘stonk’, and when it subsided said laconically over the air, ‘Kanui te pai!’18
By this time it was nine o'clock, the mule train had delivered the ammunition, and Captain Awatere, who had guided it up, was instructed to return forthwith and try to manhandle two of the battalion anti-tank guns forward. Still no success signal from 6 Brigade, but instead a request from Brigadier Kippenberger—could 28 Battalion go to the assistance of 24 Battalion? The 28th Battalion was having a tough enough time staying where it was with one flank driven in, tanks in the area, and nothing to answer them with.
Within half an hour A Company called for another ‘stonk’ on a massing counter-attack but a third effort was handled differently. The Germans could be seen flitting from tree to tree, and then a voice was distinctly heard to order in near English, ‘Feex Bayawnets!’ The Maoris accepted the challenge page 335 and leapt from their pits; their ‘bayawnets’ were already ‘feexed’ and the two lines of steel grew closer. ‘Charge you bastards!’ Sergeant Fred Te Namu19 invited the Germans as he rushed forward. The enemy line faltered, then turned back, followed by the exultantly yelling Ngapuhis. Some enemy did not escape, but Captain Henare recalled his men for fear that they went too far. The Maoris strolled back in high good humour. They had had no casualties.
It was about this time that RSM Martin McRae, according to the battalion war diary, went out on a one-man patrol to test the strength of the enemy in front of 23 Battalion on Sfasciata ridge. It is unusual to send out one-man patrols and even more unusual to send the Regimental Sergeant-Major. McRae had a personal affront connected with the death of a near relative to avenge—an affront that could not be satisfied by proxy. Besides his own armoury of war he carried two enemy revolvers and a nasty-looking sheath knife, and was so accoutred when he suggested that he might take a look at the forward companies' ammunition supply. But instead of going up the ridge he cut across the gully towards a house silhouetted on the far ridge, and when he returned some hours later he informed Battalion Headquarters that there had been some Jerries in that house.
Midnight. B Company had reached the road and was in the vacated C Company pits but was being pestered by fire from positions forward of 23 Battalion on Sfasciata; D and A Companies were being pounded with mortars and artillery; Captain Awatere had got as far as he could with two anti-tank guns en portée and the augmented crews were manhandling them across the Moro stream at the bottom of Pascuccio preparatory to hauling them up the steep slopes—a Herculean task; the Germans were still holding in Orsogna. Colonel Fairbrother weighed up the situation thus: the battalion at daylight would be overlooked from Orsogna on the left and from the higher Sfasciata ridge on the right. It had been attacked by tanks even by night and in daylight would be extremely vulnerable, for no supporting armour had been able to get through the Orsogna defences. He submitted to Brigade Headquarters that unless 24 Battalion succeeded the Maoris be withdrawn, and that the withdrawal would need to begin at 3 a.m. if they were to be clear by daylight.page 336
After a short delay permission to withdraw was granted and A and D Companies were each ordered to send an officer back for instructions. This was necessary to avoid both the possibility of enemy interception of the timetable and the interruption of operational messages constantly being passed over the sets. (B and C Companies were handy enough to be told verbally.)
Lieutenant Searancke (D Company) and Lieutenant Paul (A Company) started back with an escort and fourteen prisoners, but they were delayed by enemy pressure and then walked into an S-mine field where Paul and two others were killed and some of the Germans wounded. The CO, becoming concerned at the delay, finally told the Adjutant (Captain Tutaki) to put the withdrawal orders over the air in Maori—even this had to be stopped while calls for ‘stonks’ were made by A and D Companies, which had to deal with two more threatened counter-attacks.
The anti-tank platoon had meanwhile got two guns as near as possible to the Moro by portée and then, one at a time, eased them down into the bed of the stream. One gun was dragged to the far side and, with about forty men heaving and pushing, was manhandled foot by foot up the side of the near-precipice that was the foot of Pascuccio spur. Captain Awatere was picking the track and Lieutenants Hetet20 and Balzer21 urging the Maori haulers when they were recalled and faced the heartbreaking job of getting their pieces back to the portées again.
Up on the ridge the troops began to thin out at 3 a.m. C Company was told off to carry out the Maori and German wounded. So steep and heavy was the going that six men were required for each stretcher, and even then eleven wounded Germans had to be left behind under the care of an Italian who promised to give them food and water.
Tactical Headquarters, moving back after C Company had started off with its load of wounded, also had a tough time manhandling the heavy No. 11 set and batteries mounted on a platform. Several times during the climb up San Felice calls had to be put through for ‘stonks’ to assist the withdrawal.
The last of the Maoris, except Lieutenant Northcroft and eight other ranks left to guard the old B Company outpost, tired after eighteen hours in action, slogged over the top of Felice in the grey dawn and down into the safety of conceal-page 337ment at their bivvy area, where dixies of hot food were waiting. The casualties were fifty-seven killed, wounded, or missing. The battalion had done all that was asked of it, but the only positive gain in Fifth Brigade's operation was a piece of Sfasciata ridge where 23 Battalion was solidly in position. So were the Germans in Orsogna.
The fate of the enemy stretcher cases was still in the mind of the CO. A small patrol from Northcroft's post was sent to visit them and found there were only ten. One had obviously tried to get back to his own lines, and if he succeeded he would be able to state that the Maori Battalion had left wounded men without attention. From humanitarian reasons, as well as from reasons of policy, it was important to remove them if at all possible. After dark that night a carrying party of forty men from A and B Companies, protected by two platoons from C Company, climbed back to the RAP and brought them out. Northcroft's post was also withdrawn.
The troops remained in their gully until the evening of the 10th, when they marched back to B Echelon area near Castelfrentano. Deserted houses and dugouts supplied shelter and for five days the battalion rested and absorbed reinforcements. During this time 5 Corps had much hard fighting to force and hold bridgeheads across the Moro while the engineers built bridges for a third attempt on Orsogna by way of the Sfasciata ridge, along which it was found possible, after tracks had been formed, to get our armour up in support.
The next attack was to be made by 5 Brigade, assisted by 18 and 20 Armoured Regiments, with 28 Battalion in reserve. It opened at 1 a.m. on the 15th and by daylight 5 Brigade was back on the Orsogna-Ortona road again, but 23 Battalion had lost heavily and its left flank was very thinly held. The 25th Battalion was to advance up the Pascuccio spur, but its leading company was held up and 23 Battalion was asked for assistance, which it was unable to give; 28 Battalion was ordered to stand by for a quick move.
The tanks, with engineers clearing mines and making detours and the tank commanders walking ahead to direct their drivers, struggled in single file up Sfasciata. The first eight tanks of C Squadron 18 Regiment were halted by burnt-out clutches or through running off the track or being bogged, but the ninth reached the top and moved right to 21 Battalion, which was having tank trouble of a different nature—from enemy tanks. page 338 A Squadron was up by daylight and one troop went along to help 21 Battalion while the rest went left to the cemetery, where they expected to find 23 Battalion. The 23rd Battalion was not there—because of the heavy losses it had not been able to extend that far. The 20th Regiment was told to reinforce 18 Regiment and the Maori Battalion was ordered to relieve 23 Battalion that night.
The 20th Regiment, meanwhile, had exploited past the cemetery towards Orsogna. Its tanks were road-bound on account of the sodden paddocks, but they had shot up numerous enemy posts and had found in the Germans a certain readiness to surrender. Darkness forced the regiment to return to the cemetery minus its prisoners, where it laagered for the night. Its reports gave a promise of success, and the Maori Battalion was now ordered to protect the laager overnight while the two COs produced a plan to clear the road to a point where Orsogna could be overlooked and thus outflanked.
Preparation for moving back into the line included the provision of an extra-large hot meal, for the Maori likes to march into battle on a full belly. The 4th RMT carried the Maoris to the ford over the Moro, whence they climbed to Headquarters 23 Battalion where Colonel Fairbrother, who had gone on ahead, was waiting. It was an arduous climb up Sfasciata ridge, heavily laden as they were, but the hot meal stood them in good stead.
The situation at dusk was that 5 Brigade held a mile-wide salient on the Orsogna-Ortona road; there were still 36 tanks mobile, 23 of them at or near the cemetery, under orders to advance against Orsogna in the morning.
B and C Companies, the first to arrive, were detailed to protect the harbouring tanks. Battalion Headquarters was set up in a casa in C Company's old area of the 7th and the other two companies, to be quartered nearby, were told to get as much rest as they could preparatory to taking part in an armoured/infantry thrust at first light next morning.
Colonel Fairbrother and Colonel McKergow22 (CO 20 Regiment) worked out the details of the forthcoming attack in the eerie, moonlit graveyard. Their planning was conditioned by the supposition that they would be opposed by units who that afternoon had shown a readiness to surrender, whereas the operation was in fact to be launched against tough and rested troops of the highest calibre.page 339
The commanders' chief problem was the fact that the ‘going’ off the road was too soft for tanks. They would therefore have to move smartly down the road in line ahead—and waste no time doing it—until they reached the bend in the road where they had been that afternoon (15th). It followed that no barrage was possible as it would slow them down too much, but observed artillery fire was arranged. Each squadron of tanks would have a company of 28 Battalion in close support, D Company in open formation on the left of the road to support the leading C Squadron, and A Company similarly disposed on the right of the road behind A Squadron. The infantry was to keep within 300-400 yards of the armour to provide assistance when called up over the radio to do so.
To this end the companies were to net their No. 38 sets with the tanks and Battalion Headquarters' 38 set was netted with the Regimental Commander's tank so that the COs could keep in touch. After the following ‘O Group’ had been held and the orders issued, Colonel Fairbrother called up the tanks' commander to discuss a point but could get no response. Lieutenant Raureti23 went across to Regimental Headquarters, less than a quarter of a mile away, to check the netting but could get no response until quite close, when the operator acknowledged his call. So did the tank crews on watch who mistook him for a German and opened fire, luckily without doing any damage.
The attack was to begin with the tanks crossing the start line at 7 a.m. but at 3.30 a.m. a tank-supported counter-attack, coming from the Arielli direction against 21 and 23 Battalions, reached its peak, with flame-throwing tanks burning up buildings and close infantry clashes. The Maori companies were still settling into their new positions, and the CO, separated from this counter-attack by a hill surmounted by a large pink house, was quite unaware of the nature or severity of it. He therefore directed D Company, just arriving, on to the hill to thicken up the depleted 23 Battalion and warned A Company to be prepared to move in any direction. But these precautions proved to be unnecessary. The 21st Battalion, assisted by artillery concentrations and supported by tanks of 18 Armoured Regiment, was well able to deal with the situation, and Brigadier Kippenberger was able to tell the CO, who rang for information, that the Maori and tank thrust would go on in spite of the aggressive enemy in the rear. By 6.30 a.m. the enemy counter-attack had subsided and the Maori companies, due to start in half an hour, moved into position.page 340
The thrust was to be made by A Squadron (Major Phillips),24 with six tanks, and C Squadron (Major Barton),25 with seven tanks. The commanders were confident for it was only the lack of infantry support that had compelled them to withdraw the previous evening. But during the hours of darkness a new factor had been introduced for the not-so-tough 65 Division had been substantially thickened with troops from 26 Panzer Division and I Parachute Division. Neither of those formations could be regarded as pacifically inclined.
C Squadron met heavy fire and two tanks were knocked out within 200 yards of the start line. D Company moved off but was forced to ground by the fire from front and right. Two more tanks were hit and one of them set on fire. The German anti-tank guns could not be located and the tanks called for infantry support—urgently. D Company's wireless picked up no such message nor could the company have moved if it had.
A Squadron advanced along the railway line to help C Squadron but lost four of its six tanks in quick succession, and the others called for infantry but called in vain. A Company's wireless failed to pick up the messages.
And so the first operation by New Zealand tanks and Maori infantry ended in complete failure and both tanks and troops were recalled. It was a most difficult procedure to break contact and withdraw. The Maoris suffered twenty-nine casualties, and 20 Regiment in its two attempts on Orsogna had lost fifteen tanks.
Subsequent inquiries regarding the failure of communications between tanks and infantry disclosed that, when the Armoured Brigade had made its trials with new radio sets in Egypt, the aerials had been fitted along the sides of the tanks so as to advertise their presence as little as possible. This worked satisfactorily enough in Egypt but in Italy it worked only at very short distances—a fact that was not discovered until the attack was launched. These aerials were later altered to stand vertically, and thereafter the 38 set provided satisfactory communication between infantry and armour.
The enemy attempted to follow up his successful repulse of the latest attempt on Orsogna by attacks of his own that night but was turned back by artillery concentrations. Fifth Brigade was ordered to hold the ground it had won, 23 Battalion was page 341 withdrawn, and the Maoris extended to the right and tied in with 21 Battalion.
The position was then that the salient on the Orsogna-Ortona road was firmly held with two battalions of infantry supported by tanks of 18 and 20 Armoured Regiments. The 25th Battalion remained on Pascuccio spur and the rest of 6 Brigade remained deployed facing Orsogna. The enemy was still in possession of parallel ridges running east and west from Orsogna, with communication by a secondary road along the further one to Arielli. Patrols confirmed that the nearest spur, Fontegrande, was his forward defensive line which, from the spirited reception accorded investigating patrols, he had every intention of holding. For the following ten days Bren answered spandau across the first dividing valley; Orsogna was attacked daily, sometimes several times a day, by our planes; and the enemy shelled and mortared constantly and accurately. Deeper and stronger defences minimised but did not wholly prevent casualties.
Food was something of a problem but the Q staff managed one hot meal a day. It arrived before daylight by mule train. The other meals were supposedly of hard rations, but the civilians had not removed all their livestock when their ridge became a battlefield and it was seldom indeed that the biscuits and bully were not accompanied by a little fresh pork or a bite or two of poultry.
Even those delicacies were disregarded when Major Young brought up a load of YMCA chocolate, parcels from home, and mail. Oysters, whitebait fritters, and tinned fruit took their places as kinaki to the army biscuits. This is not intended to give the impression that the men were in good fettle for, though not of a temperament inclined to reflection, they were feeling the effects of prolonged exposure to cold, damp weather and constant shelling in a relatively confined area. One mitigating circumstance, however, was that the country was well covered with olive, cypress, and other trees as well as by numerous casas in varying degrees of habitability.
Undeterred by the reception accorded patrols feeling forward, 13 Corps was of the opinion that the far ridge was lightly held, and the upshot was that fighting patrols from 28 and 21 Battalions and the neighbouring 2 Northamptons were instructed to get on to the ridge and establish strongpoints, upon which the line would be advanced the following day.
Each patrol was turned back, those of 21 Battalion with severe losses, but it was still the intention to keep up the page 342 offensive and on the evening of 22 December Corps issued an operation order for another attack. Fifth British Division on the right was to take Arielli village, while the New Zealanders were to secure Fontegrande ridge, then cross the Arielli stream at the bottom and capture the far Magliano ridge. They would then reorganise to meet counter-attacks, join up with 5 Division, and exploit across another two ridges; Orsogna would then be outflanked and would probably be evacuated. It looks quite easy on a map—if the contours are not clearly defined.
The New Zealand Division issued its instructions late the same night—5 Brigade was to do the attack with, under command, 20 Regiment and 26 Battalion; 23 Battalion was too low in strength to participate. Fifth Brigade orders, issued the next page 343 day (23rd), stated that the attack would be made on a three-battalion front, 21 Battalion right, 26 Battalion centre, and 28 Battalion left. Zero hour was 4 a.m. when the artillery, nine field regiments, three medium regiments and two heavy anti-aircraft troops, would stand on the opening line for ten minutes until the moon rose, after which a barrage would advance at the rate of 100 yards in five minutes.
The Maoris' task was curiously like that of 24 Battalion during the first attack inasmuch as, unless they succeeded, there would be no tank support for the rest of the brigade consolidating on Magliano ridge.
While the axis of advance for 21 and 26 Battalions was north-west and straight across the Fontegrande and on to Magliano ridge, the Maoris' objectives were, firstly, the point where a secondary road from Orsogna cut across the head of a gully and joined the main Orsogna-Ortona road about 1000 yards from their start line east of the cemetery; secondly, the area directly north of the crossroads, for in that area the two ridges Fontegrande and Magliano divided from the main ridge; thirdly, to extend the line to the right along the Magliano ridge and tie in with 26 Battalion.
It was after the details of the battalion's operation had been worked out that Brigadier Kippenberger told the CO that he was due for furlough and that if he was to catch the ship leaving Egypt in a few days he must hand over immediately to Major Young. No commander likes to leave his unit on the eve of a battle, but ships will not wait while battles are being fought and even colonels have to do as they are told, very firmly in this case.
The plan which Colonel Fairbrother handed over to Major Young was to attack with two companies, B right and A left. D Company would follow behind B Company, extend the line to the right, and tie in with 26 Battalion.
Major Young established his Tactical Headquarters in a casa between the cemetery and the escarpment where D Company had made its lodgment on the night of the 7th. The sector was fan-shaped, narrow at the base and wider on the objective. The road to Orsogna was the axis of advance and the boundary between B and A Companies, while D Company opened the fan as the operation progressed.
To B Company, which started as the right flank and ended as the centre of the Maori line with D Company between it and 26 Battalion, it looked at first as if the enemy had pulled back. page 344 The company was making for a secondary road that wound from Orsogna around the watershed of the Arielli stream, thence on to the Magliano ridge, and was pushing determinedly through a tangle of shell-shattered olive trees when defensive small-arms fire began to smack into the tree trunks.
The barrage did not appear to worry the enemy and casualties were frequent, but the company pushed on and by daylight had crossed a road. The two forward platoon commanders, Lieutenant Northcroft (10 Platoon) and CSM Tini Crapp26 (12 Platoon), were quite convinced that they had reached their objective.
In actual fact the company had passed a track that was a bypass from the cemetery to the secondary road it was making for. Voices could be heard giving fire orders and Private Ransfield27 volunteered to investigate; he never returned. When the casualty lists were purged after the war he remained ‘wounded and missing’ but has since been reclassified as ‘died of wounds’.
Major Sorensen went forward to investigate and explains the position:
From aerial photographs, the crossroad was the objective, but when the attack was launched, B Coy which was under my command came up to the first crossroad and at the time forward platoons thought this was the objective. It was not until attack had been made with A Coy on the left flank that it was realised that B Coy was short by approximately 100 yards of the main objective. As soon as I realised that B Coy was short of the objective I called up a troop of tanks to give my forward platoons supporting fire as the barrage had gone forward…. During the attack there was one of the guns in the artillery barrage falling short, in fact, shots were dropped between the forward platoons and the reserve platoon. Perhaps this gave the chaps the incentive to keep up with the attack rather than taking to the ground as the opposition machine gun fire was very intense.
Sorensen found that he had only two platoons in close touch and that No. 11 (Lieutenant Munro)28 had strayed to the left and was in a casa near the railway. It was told to tie in with page 345 A Company and the rest of the company consolidated on the line it then held.
Before A Company moved off Captain Henare instructed his platoon commanders that the main objective was a little church on a side-road, and that possession of this area would permit the tanks to reach the forward troops without difficulty. (In passing, this road was the same one that B Company stopped on, thinking it was its final objective.) The company encountered no opposition until near the church, when enemy hidden in the ruins and among the trees took some time to subdue. In the meantime the tanks, preceded by engineers and protected by 14 Platoon C Company (Lieutenant Hetet), got sufficiently close to assist and cover a rush which cleared the church. The tanks then turned right towards the railway embankment, where two were shot up in front of the house occupied by 11 Platoon and the others went on to assist B Company as already detailed. We must leave them for the time being.
After a short halt to reorganise A Company continued its advance towards the second side-road, but daylight was at hand and with Orsogna but 400 air yards away across the deep gully it was not possible for the company to go further or to remain where it was. Henare called for a smoke screen and withdrew his forward troops back to the church, where they were extended to the right and linked up with B Company in the house previously mentioned.
Unlike the others D Company's early night was full of incident, for it was first delayed by strongpoints that had been off B Company's line of advance and was then sent to ground by extremely heavy fire. Captain Matehaere brought up his reserve platoon (18 Platoon under Sergeant Hira Parata)29 to deal with the hold-up, but before any harm was done some phrases typical of the Kiwi in battle but quite unprintable were heard and replied to suitably. The Maori opposition turned out to be a stray platoon from 26 Battalion. It had been involved in heavy fighting, had lost its way, and was very pleased to accept an invitation to join D Company for the time being.
Daylight was very near and the augmented company carried on until the objective, a ridge running east and west and spitting fire from two houses, from posts in front and from a line of trees behind, showed up on the skyline. The time was now nearly 6 a.m. and at that hour a troop of tanks was due page 346 to assist the company. Right on time the tanks were seen winding their way through the olive trees, and with their close support it was not long before the houses changed owners.
The Maori Battalion, although not fully on its objective, was far enough forward to permit the tanks to move to the support of 26 and 21 Battalions, who had not been able to get beyond Fontegrande ridge except for one company of each unit clinging precariously to an insecure foothold which was ultimately relinquished.
Regarding the pakeha platoon from 26 Battalion which stayed with D Company through thick and thin, Captain Matehaere writes:
I'd like to say something about the 6 Brigade Pl that stayed with us as long as they could. Following the morning of the attack a general survey of our position was taken and it was found that the 6 Brigade Company that should have been on my right had suffered very heavy losses and were some distance behind us. As a result our right flank was rather exposed so 26 Bn Commander ordered his platoon that had attached themselves to me for orders to withdraw to their own lines leaving us out in front on our own. The Platoon commander came to me asking if I had been ordered to withdraw. I answered no. Said very sorry they had to go but we were definitely staying and had no intention of withdrawing whatsoever. He left me to prepare his platoon to move out, however he was back again in a few minutes. He said to me with a rather worried look on his face, ‘I told the men to get ready to move out and they wanted to know what the Maori boys were doing. I told them you were staying and they said if its good enough for them to stay we're staying too.’
I couldn't help but admire them, they were a great lot to have in a tough spot. I would appreciate it if you could make some reference to the incident.'
During the day the enemy expended most of his energy on the other two battalions but unlucky shells wounded, first, Major Sorensen, and then Major Phillips of 20 Regiment and Lieutenants Northcroft and Munro and four other ranks, leaving B Company under the temporary command of CSM Crapp. Captain Wikiriwhi came up later and the company was relieved by C Company after dark.
The cold, damp day was followed by a Christmas Eve equally cold and wet and the Maoris thought wistfully of the dinner page 347 they would not have—the hangi with its steaming pork, potatoes and pumpkin, the mutton-birds and accompanying cabbage, the odd bottle of beer to bring forth song. So passed Christmas Eve, the first in Italy and the fourth away from home. The day itself was uneventful: 21 Battalion went out of the line and 28 Battalion stayed under command of 6 Brigade which had taken over the sector. Two days later 24 Battalion took over and the Maoris followed 21 Battalion back to their old quarters near Castelfrentano.30
The usual cleaning of weapons, returns of equipment and deficiency parades followed, and the next day (29 December) the dinner that the troops had dreamed of on the Fontegrande ridge was eaten on the Castelfrentano ridge. The New Year was ushered in with a blizzard. In the morning two feet of snow covered the countryside and men whose bivvies had not collapsed in the storm had to be dug out. Many of the Maoris had not seen snow before and the skylarking usual to such occasions lasted until the more serious business of shovelling the roads clear for the passage of vehicles commenced and lasted all day. This was really a major operation for some drifts were several feet deep.
Winter had beyond all doubt arrived, and with it came the end of the attempt to reach Rome from the east coast. The Germans had won the round and a breathing space.
The battalion returned to its old area on the night 3–4 January and found that the names of the Orsogna-Ortona ridge and the Fontegrande ridge had by common consent been altered to Cemetery ridge and Jittery ridge respectively. It will be remembered that the Maori area was at the junction of the two ridges. The names were well chosen for movement by day was well-nigh impossible; Orsogna, although more battered, was still full of very pugnacious enemy troops well provided with ammunition.
With a snow-covered battlefield and a static fighting policy both sides settled into houses, with the troops hoping that the enemy would not pick on their particular residence. Trenches around the houses were manned by night, but a two-hour watch across the whiteness and quietness was calculated to ruffle even the strongest nerves.
The enemy, who had already been provided with snow suits, upset everybody by wriggling through the lines to toss grenades through doors and windows; a patrol, twelve strong, sneaked into a house in D Company's area and started a free-for-all in page 348 which nobody was very sure what it was all about, but one dead German and one dead Maori proved that the visit was no figment of the imagination. Jittery ridge was a good name all right. The same thing happened in 23 Battalion's area and a Maori patrol, now also in snow suits, visited a casa with the intention of bringing back a live enemy for identification. The patrol was on the point of rushing the post when it was fired on by its own side and the enterprise had to be abandoned. Two civilians visited Battalion Headquarters with a request for permission to pass through the lines to see relatives, one a mother-in-law. The touching request was refused.
Snow fell at intervals until it was twelve feet deep in drifts. A patrol was about to leave when Battalion Headquarters got a request—would there be a spare drop of rum left over from the rations to warm the semi-frozen patrol. There was no rum available but the CO sent his compliments and half a bottle of whisky. Corporal Balzer,31 watching in the moonlight, spotted a row of trees behaving oddly. Trees often behave oddly at night, but when five trees fanned out into arrowhead formation and two others moved to a flank the post was warned that visitors were approaching. When it was within 150 yards the patrol dropped into the snow and began to crawl towards the house. One hundred yards, fifty yards, forty yards from the house. At thirty yards one man leapt to his feet and the Maoris opened fire. After a fusilade there was no movement at all except from the covering party, which poured burst after burst through the windows. In the morning five dead bodies lay in the snow.
Such was the pattern of life on Jittery ridge. Fifth Brigade was relieved by Indians during the night of 15-16 January, cleaned up on the 17th, and was told to divest itself and its vehicles of all identification marks on the 18th because it was going down to San Severo for a spell. Lanciano was combed for absentees, the carriers were loaded on to transports, the RMT called for its cargo of troops and by dawn on the 20th the Sangro was far behind the convoy.
|Killed and died of wounds||…||5||45|
|Wounded … …||…||6||168|
|Missing … …||…||—||1|
|Prisoners of war … …||…||—||8|
1Maj H. W. Northcroft, MC; born NZ 15 Sep 1914; Anglican minister; twice wounded.
3Maj T. Wirepa; Ruatoria; born Te Araroa, 25 Feb 1916; clerk; wounded 18 Nov 1941.
5Lt G. Ngata; Otahuhu; born Waiomatatini, East Coast, 8 Aug 1918; labourer.
6Capt N. Mahuika; Tikitiki; born NZ 30 Jul 1913; labourer; twice wounded.
8Capt Te M. R. Tomoana, MC; Hastings; born Hastings, 16 Nov 1919; railway porter; twice wounded.
9Capt R. Smith; Nuhaka, Hawke's Bay; born NZ 17 Jan 1913; labourer.
11L-Sgt R. T. McM. Goodwillie; Burnham MC; born Otakau, 27 Dec 1919; farmhand; now Regular Force.
12Cpl H. K. Barrett, DCM; Temuka; born NZ 2 Oct 1911; labourer; twice wounded.
13Sgt A. Mason; born NZ 20 Jun 1919; labourer; died of wounds 13 Dec 1943.
142 Lt W. E. Jones; born Ongarue, 4 Mar 1910; bush foreman; wounded 18 Feb 1944; died Taumarunui, 12 Oct 1951.
15Maj B. G. Christy, MC, m.i.d.; Nuhaka, Hawke's Bay; born NZ 11 Jun 1920; labourer; four times wounded.
162 Lt L. Paul; born NZ 26 Aug 1911; radio announcer; killed in action 8 Dec 1943.
17Report of A Company attack by Captain Henare.
19L-Sgt F. Te Namu, MM; born NZ 20 Sep 1914; labourer; wounded Oct 1942; died of wounds 17 Dec 1943.
23Maj M. Raureti, m.i.d.; Wairoa; born Wairoa, 12 Sep 1917; farmer.
27Pte T. K. Ransfield; born NZ 15 Jun 1917; labourer; died of wounds 25 Dec 1943.
28Capt P. S. Munro; born NZ 23 Jun 1915; school-teacher; wounded 24 Dec 1943; killed in action 10 Dec 1944.
29Lt H. Parata; Waikanae; born Waikanae, 8 Nov 1915; labourer; wounded 24 Oct 1942.
30Casualties in this action were 10 killed, 44 wounded, 7 missing.