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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Stalemate at Cassino

Stalemate at Cassino

From 18 March, in fine weather, fierce street fighting took place in Cassino to clear out pockets of enemy resistance, but progress was limited. Enemy shelling of rear areas increased. A steady stream of casualties, about a hundred a day, continued to arrive at 4 MDS. As cases were banking up at the CCS, it was necessary for more surgery to be done at the MDS. Casualties from Cassino could not be evacuated in daylight, so the staff were kept busy at night; the operating theatre was in use almost all the night of 19-20 March and again the following night.

At this stage the RMO 28 (Maori) Battalion (Capt C. N. D'Arcy3) was situated in the crypt of a church in Cassino. Here all casualties were collected and held during daylight, and appropriate resuscitation (e.g., blood transfusions) administered as required. After dark the casualties were evacuated by stretcher-bearers and jeeps to 5 and 6 ADSs, whose staffs helped with the stretcher-bearing.

Casualties used to arrive at the MDS about 11 p.m. after being held in Cassino, and this was often 12 to 16 hours after they were wounded. The few abdominal cases which occurred were affected by this delay. Walking wounded were sometimes so exhausted that they could not speak coherently, and they dozed off while holding cups of cocoa in their hands. Towards the end of the month, infantry from Cassino showed signs of prolonged strain and lack page 352 of sleep, and cases of true physical exhaustion made their appearance. The cemetery at the MDS was used as a Corps cemetery, and many dead were brought from forward areas for interment.

After eight days of almost continual offensive action by the New Zealanders and Indians, it became clear that a decisive breakthrough could not be achieved. The troops in the line had nearly reached the limits of their endurance, as never for a moment had the strain of battle eased nor had enemy fire ceased by day or by night. Finally, on 23 March, orders were given for the attack to be temporarily abandoned.

It then became necessary to withdraw the isolated garrisons. Under cover of artillery fire, at 1 a.m. on the night 24-25 March, C Company, 24 Battalion, moved back successfully and without casualties from a cave on Point 202, and troops of 4 Indian Division repeated the operation from Point 435.

3 Maj C. N. D'Arcy, MC, m.i.d.; born Carterton, 6 Jun 1912; House Surgeon, Waikato Hospital; Medical Officer Maadi Camp Apr-Sep 1941, RMO NZASC Sep 1941-Aug 1942; 28 (Maori) Bn Aug 1942-Jun 1944; 2 Gen Hosp Oct 1944; 6 Fd Amb Nov 1944-Feb 1945.