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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

The First Attack

The First Attack

Preparations had been made by NZ Corps for an attack on the enemy positions around Cassino which had resisted the Americans. page 344 On 15 February and on the following two days, the staff of the MDS were able to get a good view of the air attack on the Abbey by Liberators, Fortresses, and medium bombers of USAAF, which dropped nearly 500 tons of bombs. The ground preparations for the attack met with increased shelling by the enemy and, on 16 February, 45 battle casualties were admitted to 4 MDS. By 17 February, after three fine, cold days, the ground had dried considerably, and at half past nine that night 28 (Maori) Battalion, as part of 5 Brigade, launched an attack across the swollen Rapido River and adjoining flooded areas with Cassino railway station as its objective, while 4 Indian Division attacked Monastery Hill.

B Company, 5 Field Ambulance, under Maj MacCormac, had moved its ADS on the 17th to a house on Route 6 in a fairly good position sheltered from enemy observation by rising ground. The men cleaned up the house and cleared away enemy mines, and then during the night attended to the wounded, mainly Maoris and engineers.

The first casualties from this attack by the Maoris arrived at 4 MDS by two o'clock next morning. By 8 a.m. about seventy wounded had passed through the MDS, after having been promptly cleared from 5 ADS. As had happened at the Sangro crossing, most of the wounded were wet below the waist from wading the river.

Although the two companies of the Maori Battalion had attained their objective at Cassino railway station on the night of 17-18 February, the operation was unsuccessful as considerable enemy demolitions had prevented the engineers making a track in time for the armour to pass through to support the infantry. On the afternoon of 18 February the enemy counter-attacked with infantry and tanks, forcing our troops to withdraw, and thus recapturing the railway station as well as the bridges built across the Rapido. The Division's bridgehead across the river was lost, and the extensive operations depending on it were suspended.

On the night of 21-22 February 6 Brigade moved into the line in the northern part of Cassino town without incident, and 6 ADS, under Maj H. S. Douglas, moved to the vicinity of Portella to evacuate casualties from the brigade. The ADS was reached by a complicated system of tracks off the main road. A daylight trip by ambulance car from the ADS to 4 MDS took about one and a half page 345 hours, and although part of the route lay in an exposed position it was considered safe for individual ambulances.