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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Daylight Attack on Orsogna

Daylight Attack on Orsogna

The enemy continued to shell Castelfrentano and the surrounding roads. Airbursts exploded around the church tower, where a flash-spotter was operating, and often at night shells sizzled over the roof of the school where 6 ADS was, causing the occupants of the top floor to think uneasily of the flimsy covering of tiles above their heads. Many Italian civilians were killed and wounded. Though dwelling in a town of some 13,000 inhabitants, they were largely peasantry, part of the region in which they had been reared, and they seemed incapable of tearing themselves away. One afternoon a pale, thin, unhappy-looking Italian wandered into the ADS building and played for hours on the school piano. He played beautiful music exquisitely, while outside was the clamour of gunfire, and farther down the street shells crashed among the buildings.

The flow of casualties gradually slackened until the 7th, when 6 Brigade made a daylight attack on Orsogna. The ADSs sent stretcher teams forward to a Bailey bridge, where the secondary road from Castelfrentano to Orsogna crossed the Moro River at the village of Spaccarelli. Their job was to carry casualties across in the event of the bridge being destroyed.

The barrage opened at 1 p.m. From the northern windows of the school building, to which 5 ADS had also moved, the shells could be seen creeping up the opposite ridge and exploding among the buildings. The 25-pounders began firing 300 yards ahead of the advanced positions and worked forward, while the mediums bombarded Orsogna itself. Gradually the 25-pounders lifted, until the whole concentration was pouring into the yellow-brown pall of smoke that covered the village. Medium and fighter-bombers flew over continuously until the smoke made accurate bombing impossible.

The infantry advanced up the slopes through shell, machine-gun, and nebelwerfer fire, and fought their way into Orsogna. The tanks were held up by a road demolition at the entrance to the village, and on finally passing it were unable to advance further in the face of fire from enemy tanks concealed in houses and alleyways. The infantry, still fighting in the village, were compelled to retire to their original positions on the withdrawal of the armour at 4 a.m. on the 8th.

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The bridge across the Moro remained undamaged, and casualties were taken back to the ADSs steadily and without delay. There were fewer than had been expected, and the rush was over by nightfall.

The first wounded from the attack reached 4 MDS at Atessa at 5 p.m., and 71 had been admitted by midnight. Through the night and the next day and night, the MDS worked continuously to full operative capacity. On the 8th, when 166 casualties were admitted and 159 transferred, the road to Vasto was clearer, and it was possible for ambulance cars to make the return trip to the CCS in five hours instead of a whole day. Two more surgical teams were attached during the day, one from 5 Field Ambulance, under Capt Cowie,7 and another from 127 British Paratroop Field Ambulance. By the 9th the rush was over, though there were over sixty admissions on that and the succeeding day.

Fighter-bombers again attacked Orsogna during the morning of the 8th. Then seven Me109s dived on Castelfrentano and bombed it. The guns fired continuously, day and night, and the dust of shellbursts hung over Orsogna, which was beginning to acquire among the Italians the name of Piccola Stalingrada!

By this time the troops were making friends among the civilians. To many of the ADS staff, ‘off duty’ meant sitting in some amiable family circle, feet up to the charcoal brazier, or, with infinite gentleness, treating burns, boils, and pimples on the anatomies of signorine.

The weather grew colder and the winds more bleak and piercing. At times the hills and the mountains to the west, the Montagna della Maiella, disappeared in thick fog, and dull reports and dim, watery flashes were the only signs of the guns down in the valley.

For two days the countryside remained blanketed in fog. The situation was comparatively quiet, and as many sick as wounded were passing through the ADSs.

7 Maj G. B. A. Cowie; born Masterton, 20 Jul 1911; Medical Practitioner, Masterton; Medical Officer 2 Gen Hosp Nov 1941-Oct 1942; 5 Fd Amb Oct 1942-May 1944; 2 i/c 4 Fd Amb May 1944-Feb 1945.