New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
The Allies were now nearing the strongest belt of prepared defences yet encountered in Italy, a belt which took full advantage of swift-flowing river barriers, steep and muddy ridges, and the precipitous crags of the Apennines. It varied in depth up to 20 miles and spanned the waist of Italy from the north bank of the Sangro River valley to the mouth of the Garigliano River in the Gulf of Gaeta. To break through this line Eighth Army concentrated its main effort along the front between the confluence of the Sangro and Aventino rivers and the Adriatic coast, 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 near the confluence of the rivers, was to cross the river and press on with all speed, cutting the enemy's prepared ‘Winter Line’ positions, capturing Castelfrentano, Guardiagrele, and Orsogna, and finally Chieti. The last was the key to the main road to Rome. page 502 The 8th Indian and 78 British Divisions had similarly ambitious tasks nearer the coast.
On 14 November 2 NZ Division assumed responsibility for its sector of the line. In order to keep the arrival of the New Zealanders a secret until the last possible moment, 19 Indian Infantry Brigade was placed under New Zealand command and given the task of driving the enemy off dominating ridges and across the Sangro. This operation was successfully begun by the Indians on the night of 14–15 November, and as the advance continued the Division moved up through the mud on the narrow hill roads to support them. The artillery went into action on 15 November and the armour three days later. On the night of 18–19 November 6 Infantry Brigade started to move up to occupy front-line positions, and by the morning of 21 November was established on the southern edge of the Sangro river-flats without the enemy's being aware that a powerful assault force was assembling there. The attack was to have been launched on the night of 21–22 November, but appalling weather made it impossible to cross the flooded, fast-flowing river, and it was not until the night of 27–28 November, when 5 Infantry Brigade had also come into the line, that the concerted attack with 8 Indian and 78 British Divisions began.