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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The Second Attack

The Second Attack

When the first NZ Corps' attack did not succeed no time was wasted in preparing for a second offensive on a different plan. Its objectives were the capture by 2 NZ Division of Cassino town, Castle Hill, and the railway station. Monastery Hill was to be seized by the Indians, who were to take over from the New Zealanders on Castle Hill and then go on to take Hangman's Hill and finally the Abbey. This time Cassino town was to be approached from the north, taking advantage of the fact that American troops already held the northern outskirts. An air bombardment heavier than ever before used for such a target was to be directed against the town and the hillsides. Immediately after the bombing the infantry were to advance under cover of a creeping barrage fired by every available gun.

On the night of 21–22 February 6 Infantry Brigade relieved 133 US Infantry Regiment in the northern outskirts of Cassino without incident. With 6 Brigade was 6 ADS, which set up near Portella to the north of Cassino on a track which became difficult in wet weather. By 24 February all was ready for the offensive. Then came the rain, and not until the second week of March did the weather show any signs of improvement. Enemy pressure on the Anzio beach-head made it imperative that the attack should begin as soon as possible. It began at 8.30 a.m. on 15 March with an page 537 intense bombing, in which before noon the USAAF dropped from 500 bombers over 1000 tons of bombs on an area considerably less than one square mile. Then a mighty artillery barrage began with 610 guns firing 1200 tons of shells in four hours. Behind a creeping barrage 6 Brigade, with 25 Battalion leading, began the advance.

Difficulties were encountered immediately. Streets and roads had either vanished beneath masses of rubble or were gapped by giant bomb craters. Even men on foot found movement hard, while tanks of 19 Armoured Regiment were unable to get beyond the northern fringes. Despite unexpectedly strong opposition from the picked enemy garrison troops, 25 Battalion captured Point 165. By the end of the day it appeared that the action might yet succeed. Castle Hill had been taken and the New Zealanders had penetrated into most of the town. Only a few isolated strongholds remained to be cleared. And then the weather intervened. Clouds and heavy rain obscured the moon that night, communications were disrupted, and under the cloak of darkness the enemy with his intimate knowledge of the ground was able partially to re-establish himself. The only Allied progress was made by a company of Gurkhas who occupied Hangman's Hill, bypassing several strongly held enemy positions in the dark. During the night New Zealand and American sappers bridged the Rapido and several of the giant craters. Throughout 16 March infantry and a limited number of tanks fought in the town, and next day the railway station and an area beyond were attacked and captured. On the night of 17–18 March the New Zealand engineers built a second bridge over the Rapido near Route 6 and work on the railway embankment was completed so that the tanks could reach the station. That same night a company of 24 Battalion made contact with the Indians on Point 202, but daylight found them isolated, enemy groups having established themselves lower down the hill. These troops of 24 Battalion were in the same predicament as Indian troops isolated on Point 435. (Supplies, including medical supplies, were dropped by air, and the company withdrew successfully under cover of a barrage on the night of 24–25 March.) On the night of 19–20 March 5 Infantry Brigade became responsible for the sector of Cassino north of Route 6. On subsequent days a dogged struggle produced no clear-cut advantage on either side, and certainly not the hoped-for breakthrough to the Liri valley.

After the New Zealanders and Indians had been in the line for six weeks and had endured eight days of almost continuous fighting, orders were given on the evening of 23 March for the offensive to be temporarily abandoned. The troops remained in the line to hold their gains, but the New Zealand Corps was disbanded on 26 March and all formations passed under command of 13 Corps.

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