Jeep at Monte Cassino (NAM DA 5309)
In some ways Cassino was a battle of the First World War with the weapons of the Second.
Official Histories: Italy, Volume I
On the 18th May 2014 New Zealand marked the 70th anniversary of the Cassino battle with a special service of remembrance for 38 veterans at the Cassino Railway station and later at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
Monte Cassino was the strongest point in the Gustav line, which was the logical route north through the German defensive line. The Germans had spent months making the position virtually impregnable by flooding the valley and fortifying the hill with well sited bunkers, weapons and obstacles.
The Monastery of Monte Cassino was founded by St Benidict in the 6th Century and was well known for its grandeur and collection of classic manuscripts. In 1944 the building loomed over the attacking troops who thought it must be part of the German defences. On 15 February 1944, the Allies destroyed the Monastery by bombing.
The cost to the New Zealand Division was significant with 343 killed in action, 1211 wounded in action and 42 captured.
First light broke on a ghastly scene. Huge railway engines, boilers with jagged holes, twisted rails, dragging telegraph wires, crumbled building and masonry, surrounded us. The dead lay everywhere. The wounded were being taken to the rear ... a pall of smoke hung over everything and the smell of gunpowder and blood was sickening ... Ngapuhi and Arawa lay side by side and died. Tommy guns spat and grenades exploded and screams curdled the blood.
George Sutherland, 28 (Maori) Battalion
Our four days and nights were absolute hell; mortar bombs continued to rain down; we had a nebelwerfer rocket through our roof; and the never-ending smoke shells meant that we were living in a world where there was no day. Our nerves were stretched to breaking point, hands shaking so much that cigarettes were hard to light. Hot meals were impossible, as was washing and shaving. My diary notes, 'it takes all our nerve to move from our position to Company Headquarters 25 yards away'.
C W Hollis, 21 Battalion
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