Episode 4 – Cassino Part One

In Episode Four of Courage And Valour, we hear from veterans of the 2nd NZ Division who fought in the campaign at Cassino. This town was considered the gateway to Rome, if the Allies could take it they would open up the road (Route 6) and the railway link all the way to Italy’s capital city. The Allies needed to capture Cassino, the Germans needed to hold it.

Capturing Cassino however was never going to be an easy task. The landscape in which the town sits at the base of the mountains and with a narrow passage through to the Liri Valley had always presented a very strong defence against attackers in past centuries. It also had the vantage point of the Benedictine monastery on top of Monte Cassino, from where defenders could see virtually anything happening in the approaches to the town below for miles.

The Germans also strengthened the town and positions around the hillsides with concrete and steel structures to create strongpoints for their machine-guns and mortars. And around the town they had broken river stop-banks and flooded the pastures to ensure tanks and vehicles approaching could only use the roads, which of course the German artillery had “taped” firmly in their sights. Furthermore any attack on the town by the Allies would involve crossing the Rapido River  so the Germans had destroyed the bridges to make this more difficult.

In January 1944 the US Fifth Army (actually made up of troops from the USA, Britain, France and the French colonies in Africa) attempted to take the town, but had failed and were badly mauled.

So General Alexander and his staff brought across the 2nd New Zealand Division and the Fourth Indian Division form the Adriatic battlegrounds. These two divisions plus some British armoured, artillery and other units were formed into the New Zealand Corps, led once again by General Bernard Freyberg (he’d led a NZ Corps previously for a short time in the final stages of the North African campaign). Now it was the turn of the Kiwis and Indians to have crack at taking the town. The NZ Corps was attached to the US Fifth Army for this operation.

In this episode we hear about the move from the Orsogna Front to Piedemonte Alife where the NZ Corps formed and prepared. We hear how they moved into the lines at Cassino into areas already secured by the US, French and British troops. We hear about the initial patrolling and the capture of the first prisoner by a New Zealander in Cassino. And we hear about the bombing of the monestary and then the fateful attempt in February 1944 to take the Cassino Railway Station. And when this attack failed we hear of the wait for good weather so they can have another crack at it. And before the second attempt in March 1944, the town of Cassino is obliterated by the biggest strategic bombing raid of all time.

Featuring in order of their first appearance in this episode:
Morris Pratt (6th Field Comp, NZ Engineers)
Harry Hopping (24 Battalion)
John Bell (27 Machine Gun Battalion)
Jack Cummins (22 Battalion)
Pat Green (24 Battalion)
Galvan Garmonsway (24 Battalion)
Fred Blank (24 Battalion)
Norm Harris (24 Battalion)
Charlie Honeycombe (21 Battalion)
Ted “Bluey” Homewood (21 Battalion)
Colin Murray (24 Battalion)
Tom McClennan (7th Field Comp, NZ Engineers)
Aubrey Balzer (28 Maori Battalion)
Gordon Briggs (23 Battalion)
Bob O’Brien (24 Battalion)

See photos relating to this episode by clicking here

11 comments to Episode 4 – Cassino Part One

  • wayne middleditch

    great I enjoyed that. now waiting for the next episode. my dad was with 25bn D coy and were first in after the bombing of the town.

    well done

  • Richard O'Sullivan

    Excellent…treasurable memories.

    Thank you.

    Gordon Briggs refers to Major Slee..
    Rank: Major
    Service No: 11413
    Date of Death: 05/04/1944
    Age: 27
    Regiment/Service: New Zealand Infantry 23rd Bn.
    Awards:Mentioned in Despatches
    Grave Reference: VI. G. 12.
    Additional Information: Son of Wilfred Thomas Slee and Elizabeth Slee, of Westport, Nelson, New Zealand.

  • Peter Scott

    Well done Dave. Great listening to all the vets but especially Jack Cummins (former National Chairman Italy Star Association) and Morris Pratt one of our South Island Members. Fantastic to hear it from the veterans. Its so clear.

  • Dave Homewood

    Thanks Peter, the feedback is much appreciated.

  • Steve Mackle

    Nice that you have these recorded. Charlie Honeycombe is the brother of Win Preston. I know Him well through Win who is my Mum in Law. He is about to turn 96 and is in the hospital at Cantabria in Rotorua. Still able to tell a good story and always laughing. Great guy. Thanks.

  • sweny

    awesome memorys just started getting into the cassino after learning my great uncle pat hodgson 25bn lost his life there.

  • Georgina McDonald

    I have just found this page today 30th May 2021, I realise that these recordings were done a few years back.
    My dad George William Courtney was with the 27th Machine Gun Battalion – unit of the 2nd New Zealand Division In Cassino.
    After Cassino he stayed on with the NZ Graves Conc Unit.
    He married a beautiful Italian girl (my mother) in October 1945.
    My mother (Emilia Ranaldi) came from a village called Arpino – this was very close to Sora and Cassino.
    I have many photos of my dad during his time in Italy.
    Would love to hear from anybody that knew him.

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