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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Final Attack on Cassino

Final Attack on Cassino

Shortly before midnight on 11 May a large-scale attack was launched by British and Polish troops. When the enemy began to withdraw, the Division was to follow up, but on the night of 13-14 May there was an unexpected call for armour to support 4 British Division in the Liri Valley.

After a hurried move from the rest area, 19 Armoured Regiment got its tanks across the Gari River, and the following night supported a British infantry attack across the Piopello stream. During the next few days New Zealand armour led the infantry in a ‘left-hook’ thrust which cut Route 6, the main route of withdrawal from Cassino.

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The enemy fought with foolhardy daring, losing as many as 150 dead to one squadron in a night battle, but fortunately our casualties were light and the evacuation of wounded to 4 MDS, and subsequently to 1 Mobile CCS, proceeded smoothly.

Cassino itself was attacked on the morning of 18 May, but it was found that the enemy had withdrawn, and this scene of so much bitter fighting finally fell with scarcely a shot fired.

The same day a Polish attack on Monastery Hill was successful. On the night of 24-25 May the Germans withdrew from their positions in the Apennines, and by the 25th 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.

Many members of medical units who were near Cassino after its capture visited the ruined town and monastery, and those passing it at a later date on the way to Rome leaned out of their vehicles to gaze at the destruction. When leaving the main road to clamber over the masonry of shattered buildings, one had to walk carefully as the place was infested with mines. Bodies, too, still lay about. Few, if any, paid the town more than one visit: a repulsive atmosphere of desolation hung over the ruins, the shell-blasted hillside, and the huge bomb craters, half-filled with slimy, evil-looking water. Even back at the unit areas, beautiful as was the countryside, clothed with fresh spring foliage and ablaze with scarlet poppies, some of the men felt an eerie quality about the peaceful stillness.