Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45

Italy – Volume 1 – The Sangro to Cassino

by N. C. Phillips


The authors of the volumes in this series of histories prepared under the supervision of the War History Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs have been given full access to official documents. They and the Editor-in-Chief are responsible for the statements made and the views expressed by them.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Italy and Her Invaders

The Strategic Prelude – The Land of Italy

Chapter 2: Return to Battle

The Political Decision – Rebuilding the Division – Back in Europe

Chapter 3: Approach to the Sangro

The State of the Campaign – The Division Moves Up – The First Contacts

Chapter 4: The Crossing of the Sangro

Over the River and Up the Hill – Castelfrentano and Beyond

Chapter 5: Orsogna: The First Battle

Probing for Resistance – Operation torso

Chapter 6: Orsogna Unconquered

Operation Florence – Operation ULYSSES

Chapter 7: Ordeal by Stalemate

The Winter Line – The Lessons of Experience

Chapter 8: Cassino: The Preliminaries

A New Task – On the Rapido

Chapter 9: The Bombing of the Abbey

History and Policy – The Sequence of Events – Evidence and Argument

Chapter 10: The February Attack

Plans and Dispositions – The Maoris’ Action

Chapter 11: An Unwelcome Interlude

The Origin of DICKENS – Waiting for the Weather

Chapter 12: The March Attack: Break-In

13 March – 16 March

Chapter 13: The March Attack: Encounter

17 March – 18 March – 19 March

Chapter 14: The March Attack: Deadlock

20 March – 21 March – 22 March – 23–26 March

Chapter 15: Cassino: A Retrospect


Appendix 1: Casualties in 2 NZ Division, 12 November 1943–10 April 1944

Appendix 2: A Report on Tunnels at Cassino

Appendix 3: Some Lessons from Operation DICKENS

Appendix 4: German Commanders in Italy

Appendix 5: Operation DICKENS: 2 NZ Division and 6 Brigade Operation Orders




Maori soldiers watch the bombing of the monastery: US Army – Orsogna being bombed: British Official – Embarking at Alexandria for Italy: NZ Army (M. D. Elias) – Going ashore at Taranto: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – Vehicles of the Divisional Cavalry make their way over muddy roads to the Sangro: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – Headquarters of the Divisional Artillery in its first engagement in Italy: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – A party of New Zealand engineers repairs a deviation by a demolished bridge: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – Brigadier C. E. Weir, Brigadier G. B. Parkinson, and General Freyberg before the Sangro battle: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – Flat land north of the Sangro River cut up by vehicles of 2 NZ Division: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – Manhandling a truck bogged at the Sangro: NZ Army – A Bailey bridge over the Sangro River: British Official – 18 Regiment tanks pass through a minefield after the attack on 15–16 December 1943: 18 Battalion records – Engineers making a corduroy road up to the Sangro: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – Castelfrentano: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – Brigadiers Parkinson and Kippenberger and Lieutenant-Colonel R. E. Romans discuss plans for an attack: H. K. Kippenberger collection – General Sir Alan Brooke (Chief of the Imperial General Staff), General Freyberg, and General Sir Harold Alexander, December 1943: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – A New Zealand 25-pounder in action at the Sangro: NZ Army – Mud near Castelfrentano: W. Fisk – 18 Regiment tank casualty on Cemetery Ridge: 18 Battalion records – Road to the Divisional Signals cookhouse at the Sangro: L. W. Hutchings – The Majella Mountains: W. Fisk – Transport in heavy snow: NZ Army (G. F. Kaye) – Air view of Cassino looking south-east. Castle Hill is on the left, Route 6 and the convent on the right: US Signal Corps – Route 6, the railway and the hummock, and Monte Trocchio Aerial view of Cassino and Monastery Hill: US Army – Montecassino and the town: US Army – The monastery before the war – The monastery, May 1944: US Army – Cassino, November 1943 – Cassino Abbey – Attack on Cassino railway station, February 1944 – a view from the Maori Battalion’s RAP: C. N. D’Arcy – The first stick of bombs falls on Cassino, 15 March 1944: A. M. Miller – Aerial view of the bombing of Cassino – Air photograph issued for operation DICKENS: 19 Battalion collection – Cassino after bombardment – The bombing of Cassino – The convent from the east: British Official – Cassino, twelve months later: NZ Army (G. R. Bull) – The ruins of the Continental Hotel and the castle: B. Guthrie – Looking across bomb craters to the wreckage of Cassino: NZ Army (G. R. Bull) – Wrecked tank in the ruins of Cassino: G. Aarons, staff photographer, ‘Yank’ newspaper – Cave used by 1 Parachute Division as ammunition dump and living quarters, Cassino: G. Aarons – Interior of cave used by 1 Parachute Division: C. Aarons – Looking out of the crypt, Cassino: C. N. D’Arcy – 26 Battalion attacks under smoke – Baron’s Palace and the Colosseum from the railway area, Cassino: A. M. Miller – Signal wires on Route 6: G. H. Levien – Castle Hill from the railway station, Cassino: A. M. Miller – Maori troops await orders to move: C. N. D’Arcy – 21 Battalion mortar team has lunch, Monte Trocchio: G. Spencer – Tank gunline, Monte Trocchio: A. M. Gourdie – A 5 Field Regiment 25-pounder in position behind Monte Trocchio for ‘upper register’ shooting: W. Fisk – Montecassino – The south side of the rebuilt abbey – Montecassino – The south-west side of the rebuilt abbey

List of Maps and Diagrams

The Mediterranean Theatre – Italy – Organisation of 2 New Zealand Division – The Italian front on 14 November 1943 – The Sangro front, November 1943 – The Crossing of the Sangro, 27–28 November 1943 – 2 New Zealand Division’s Operations, 2 December 1943 – Fifth Army front, 6 February 1944 – Operation avenger, 15–18 February 1944 – Operation DICKENS, 15 March 1944 – Operation DICKENS, position on night 17–18 March 1944

In text

The Narrow Waist of the Italian Peninsula – 19 Regiment’s attack on Perano, 18 November 1943 – New Zealand patrols on the Sangro, November 1943 – Advance to Castelfrentano, 28 November – 2 December 1943 – Withdrawal of German units, 1 and 2 December 1943 – Roads and Landmarks in New Zealand Division’s area – 25 Battalion’s attack on Orsogna, 3 December 1943 – 2 Parachute Brigade’s area, December 1943 – Eighth Army front, 7 December 1943 – Operation TORSO: 5 and 6 Brigades’ attack on 7 December 1943 – Operation FLORENCE: 5 Brigade’s attack on 15 December 1943 – Operation FLORENCE: Attacks and counter-attacks on 16 December 1943 – 5 Brigade patrols, 17 December 1943 – Operation ULYSSES: 5 Brigade’s attack on 24 December 1943 – 5 Brigade positions on the Rapido, 8 February 1944 – Maori Battalion attack on Cassino railway station, 17–18 February 1944 – German defences, Cassino, February 1944 – New Zealand dispositions north of Route 6, 24 February 1944 – Cassino Town – Operation revenge, 19 March 1944 – Cassino, night 23–24 March 1944 – New Zealand Division’s positions, 28 March 1944

The occupations given in the biographical footnotes are those on enlistment. The ranks are those held on discharge or at the date of death.

This volume was produced and published by the War History Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs:

Editor-in-Chief: Sir Howard K. Kippenberger, KBE, CB, DSO, ED

Associate Editor: M. C. Fairbrother, CBE, DSO, ED

Sub-Editor: W. A. Glue

Illustrations Editor: J. D. Pascoe

Archives Officer: R. L. Kay

The Author

Major N. C. Phillips, m.i.d., RA, is a New Zealander who served in a British regiment of field (later medium) artillery with the First Army in Tunisia and with the Fifth and Eighth Armies in Italy. Towards the end of the war he was on the staff of the artillery component of the Cremona Group, a reorganised Italian formation. For several years a journalist in Christchurch, he graduated MA from Canterbury University College and in 1938, as holder of a New Zealand post-graduate scholarship, he entered Merton College, Oxford, but left a year later to enlist in the ranks of the Royal Artillery. He returned to New Zealand in 1946 to take up a lectureship at Canterbury College, where in 1949 he succeeded his old teacher, Sir James Hight, as Professor of History and Political Science.