The New Zealanders joined the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula in 1943. This was a hard action against a determined and skilful enemy who used the difficult terrain (not dissimilar to the South Island) and adverse European winter weather to his advantage. The Kiwi troops took part in soul-destroying battles such as the Sangro River, Second and Third Cassino. They took part in hard-fought but exhilarating advances in the Liberation of Rome, the advance to Florence and the Race to Trieste before the war in Europe finally ended on 7 May 1945.
In World War II, the role of Māori in the armed forces became more evident, and in 1939 the New Zealand Government gave approval to form the Māori Battalion in response to a request by prominent Māori.
Once overseas the exploits of the 28th (Māori) Battalion became legendary, and they were involved in all the major campaigns – Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy. Of all the battles, the most costly for the battalion was the battle at Monte Cassino. Despite a valiant effort during an attack on the town’s railway station, losses were heavy. 128 of the 200 men who started out were killed, wounded or captured. The abilities of the Māori Battalion were well recognised by all their commanders to the extent that if a difficult attack was imminent, it would usually be the 28th Māori Battalion that was called upon.