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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Breakthrough towards Rome

Breakthrough towards Rome

During the first week of May Allied preparations for an all-out attack on the Gustav line neared completion. The Adriatic front was lightly held by 5 British Corps and the Apennines by 10 British Corps, which included 2 NZ Division. On the mountainous approaches to Monastery Hill and Cassino there was 2 Polish Corps, while 13 British Corps faced Cassino town and the Liri valley. South of the Liri River the American Fifth Army had the French Expeditionary Corps and 2 US Corps. Sixth US Corps was at Anzio.

When the attack began on 11 May, 6 Brigade was holding the Terelle sector, 5 Brigade was resting in the Volturno valley, and 4 Brigade was resting at Pietramelara. The Division's artillery went into action supporting the Poles in their attack on the Monastery. Little else was expected of 2 NZ Division until the enemy began to withdraw, when the Division would follow up, but on the night of 13–14 May there was an unexpected call for New Zealand armour to support 4 British Division in the Liri valley.

After a hurried night move from the rest area to the vicinity of Cassino, 19 Armoured Regiment had its tanks across the Gari River, and the following night supported a British infantry attack across the Pioppelo stream. During the next few days New Zealand page 554 armour led the infantry in a ‘left hook’ thrust which cut Route 6, the main route of withdrawal from Cassino. No advanced dressing station from 4 Field Ambulance was required for this action, but one officer, with two ambulance cars, was sent to assist the RMO 19 Armoured Regiment in the treatment and evacuation of casualties.

Cassino was attacked on the morning of 18 May, but it was found that the enemy had withdrawn. The same day a Polish attack on Monastery Hill was successful as the enemy was in the process of withdrawing. On the night of 24–25 May the Germans withdrew from the positions in the Apennines; by 25 May the barrier that had stood across the road to Rome since October 1943 had been completely smashed and the pursuit of the enemy up the peninsula of Italy had begun.

Fourth Armoured Brigade moved across to join 2 NZ Division on 29 May, by which time New Zealand troops had cleared the mountain strongholds of Terelle and Belmonte and also the town of Atina. As fast as cratered roads were made fit for traffic and bridges were built, the New Zealanders pursued the enemy. Maori infantry and armour entered Sora on 31 May after clearing the hilltop village of Brocco.

From Sora a main highway, Route 82, ran in a northerly direction to Balsorano and Avezzano, closely following the banks of the upper Liri River and swinging away from the route to Rome. The New Zealanders pursued the enemy along this valley with battalions on each side of the river. Though exceedingly beautiful, the valley was narrow and flanked by high hills which, near Balsorano, formed an escarpment that could have been made a formidable defensive position. There the enemy held up the advance.

On the coastal sector Allied forces had cleared the approaches to Rome, and on 4 June the capital city fell. Then, two days later, came the event for which the fighting in Italy had been but a prelude—the invasion of France. Its success was to set the seal on the fate of Germany.