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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume II

318 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

31 March 1944

I am preparing a report on the fighting in Cassino for publication if desired. You will realise, however, that with further operations pending, reference to certain aspects of the battle which might be page 285 of assistance to the enemy will have to be omitted. This cable is to inform you of the present situation and our role for the immediate future.

The New Zealand Corps' attack, with the object of breaching the enemy's Cassino position and passing the armour through, opened on 15 March. A week of extremely heavy fighting followed. As you will have realised from the reports, we have achieved some success but have failed to break through and deploy our armour. Battles of this kind, like Alamein and Mareth, can be divided into three phases, the break-in, the encounter battle, and the break-out. Here the break-in was successfully accomplished, and in the encounter battle we have seized a number of dominating features. We now occupy the castle at Point 193 and hold the major part of the town and Cassino railway station. We have also secured crossings over the main channel of the Rapido River. These gains will be of the greatest value when the offensive is resumed by other troops.

We had hoped that by using a tremendous weight of bombs and following up fast we would break through while the enemy was disorganised. The blitz attack certainly disorganised the enemy, but the damage which the bombing caused to the roads and approaches through to the Liri Valley proved an insuperable obstacle to wheeled and tracked vehicles. The resulting delay lost us the advantage of surprise. The enemy held grimly to the western edge of the town and it became a question of regrouping for another full-scale attack.

The fighting has been hard and bitter. Casualties in the New Zealand Corps, both in the 4th Indian Division and in the 2nd New Zealand Division, have not been light. We have, however, fought the enemy hard and his casualties, especially in his Parachute Division, have been high. This in itself is important at this stage when the enemy is stretched. Our casualties in the New Zealand Division on this front from 6 February to 28 March have been 211 killed, 1156 wounded, and 141 missing.

Regrouping of the armies is now taking place and we are handing over the front to 13th Corps. We are still in the line holding Cassino. The enemy counter-attacked the railway station this morning and was repulsed with considerable losses. We are to be relieved shortly and will move to a quieter sector of the front in the north to recuperate and absorb our reinforcements. The troops are tired but will recover quickly with rest.

A cable describing the course of the battle follows.