Saturday, 17 May 2014

Why were we fighting ? Monte Cassino

 
Members of the 18th Battalion hitch a ride in a Sherman tank belonging to the 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade during the advance through northern Italy in late 1944.

Thirty-eight New Zealand war veterans will be in Italy this week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino. The veterans, all in their 90s and accompanied by a medical support team, left New Zealand yesterday.
In Cassino they will attend a service of remembrance at the Cassino railway sation and the New Zealand national commemorative service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. 


 Men of 28th (Māori) Battalion marching north of Faenza, Italy, in January 1945. They are moving out of the line approximately 2 km from the enemy-held Castel Bolognese.

The veterans are expected to be joined by Prince Harry at the New Zealand service on May 18.

They will also attend a private service at the Abbey of Monte Cassino and have a guided battlefield tour.
Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae is attending the commemorations, along with Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman and Chief of Army Major General Davenport Gawn.
A total of 2176 New Zealanders lost their lives in Italy during World War II, and 456 are buried in Cassino.
The Battle of Monte Cassino is regarded as one of the hardest-fought battles of the war.
German defenders were driven from their positions but at a high cost, including the loss of 352 New Zealand lives and 1200 wounded. 

 

 Cassino - the Italian campaign

 
 A defender's dream
Augmented by the Germans' meticulous deployment of minefields, fortifications and flooding though demolition of stop-banks, Cassino was a defender's dream and an attacking army's nightmare. New Zealand involvement in this challenging task was in part due to the failure of the American 5th Army's attempt to bypass the German front line by staging a seaborne attack at Anzio, south of Rome. An initial attack by American forces on Cassino in January had already met with heavy losses and a failure to break through to the Liri Valley.

Temporarily heading a New Zealand Corps bolstered by the inclusion of the 4th Indian Division, Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg now steeled himself and his forces for the battle ahead. Desperate to minimise casualties, he requested a massive bombardment of the German defences to precede the assault by his troops. This was approved by the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean, General Sir Harold Alexander. The subsequent aerial bombardment on 15 February laid waste the historic monastery and its environs.
Controversy about this decision would persist long after the war was over. Tragically for the waiting New Zealand soldiers, most of the German defenders survived and exploited the ruins of the town and monastery to create an even more formidable set of defences.

The 17 February attack

Adding to the New Zealand Corps’ woes, the aerial bombardment took place a day and a half before the corps was prepared to mount an attack. They nevertheless proceeded with the plan, which involved the Indian Division attacking Cassino from the north, while the New Zealanders were to attack the town from the south with the hope of punching an opening for the Allies into the Liri Valley. Due to the Germans’ demolition of floodbanks south of Cassino, only one New Zealand battalion was able to cross the flooded Rapido in the southern attack. It fell to the 28th (Māori) Battalion to initiate the attack on the town's well-defended railway station south of the town on 17 February.
After one of the fiercest and costliest battles fought by the unit during the war, men of the battalion seized positions in and around the station. But the equally courageous engineers following behind them were unable to clear a path through the flooded terrain for reinforcements. Without support, the isolated Māori soldiers were forced to withdraw after a withering counter-attack by German infantry backed by tanks. It was the first of a number of setbacks for the New Zealanders at Cassino.

Further assaults fail

A series of other brave but unsuccessful assaults ensued. After another heavy bombardment, New Zealand forces fought their way into the devastated town from the north on 15 March. Once again, the Germans put up tenacious resistance from hidden positions in the maze of rubble that was once Cassino. In creating ideal positions for enemy snipers and hindering access for New Zealand’s armoured support, the bombing of the town had proved to be counter-productive. After eight days of fighting from one shattered building to the next, Freyberg decided the cost was proving too high and he ordered his troops to stop their attack. Shortly afterwards in early April, the New Zealand Division withdrew from the Cassino area, having suffered 343 deaths and over 600 wounded.

Cassino finally falls

Cassino finally fell in  May 1944 to British and Polish troops, with support from New Zealand artillery. The Gustav Line was finally breached. Allied forces entered Rome on 4 June, two days before the D-Day landings in Normandy. The success of the cross-channel invasion meant that the Italian campaign became a secondary theatre of operations, with seven Allied divisions redeployed to France in August 1944. The Italian campaign's main purpose was now to divert part of the German war effort and to tie down forces which might otherwise have been used to defend France and Germany itself.

 Why were we fighting ?



Baldrick the incorrigible star in Blackadder said " War is a terrible thing."
Never a truer statement.

My father fought in the 2nd World War and was on that terrible battle for Monte Cassino as part of New Zealand's 23rd Battalion.

Recently my brother and his wife visited Monte Cassino and laid five roses there, one each on behalf of his five children. Private James William Godfrey McKerrow fought gallantly on Monte Cassino and saw a huge number of his friends die around him. He was wounded, but able to continue fighting. Dad spoke little of the war, but would often get nostalgic at Christmas time as he remembered the Christmas he spent in a trench on Monte Cassino. He told me how there was a half day cease fire and he and his comrades crossed the frontline to celebrate Christmas with the German soldiers they had been trying to kill for the past few months. Dad said. " they were good men like our soldiers, fathers and sons like us. " He said rather sadly to me, " I wondered then and still do now, why we were fighting ? "

My Dad told me how they swapped precious gifts such as chocolate, sweets, canned meat and cigarettes. They also sang songs in tehir own languages.

I have worked for the Red Cross for more than 40 years years and have seen first hand the Vietnam War, the war that created Bangladesh, wars in Ethiopia, India/Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Tajikistan. My Dad's words turn over in my head, " Why were we fighting ? "

7 comments:

Gollum said...

Well done Bob for posting this.

My father also fought at Cassino and would be pleased that a few of the old soldiers have made it back for this week's ceremony. Sadly, he never managed a return trip to Italy, but I visited Cassino with my family a few years ago. It is a beautiful town and the Commonwealth War cemetery is a very nice spot with imposing views of the monastery.

I also "found" a memorial celebrating the efforts of Commonwealth soldiers in WW2 when I fell over it close to the old Forum in Rome. It was about the size of a laptop and was placed in a totally inconspicuous spot.

We fight because of political power and the endless human desire to have control over others. We fight because of the arrogance of dogma - be it ideology or religion. Human beings seem to have the ability to switch off their brains and blindly follow dogma. I don't know why, but it has been done for a long time now and doesn't look like it will change any time soon.

Cheers

Gollum

Bob Mckerrow said...

Dear Gollum, Thanks for sharing that about your Dad. Your comments on war are very accurate. I am back in new Zealand now and really enjoying a one month break.

Take care.

Bob

oakleyses said...

tory burch outlet, tiffany and co jewelry, coach outlet store online, polo ralph lauren outlet, chanel handbags, true religion outlet, ray ban outlet, red bottom shoes, burberry outlet online, prada outlet, kate spade outlet online, nike free, polo ralph lauren, christian louboutin shoes, nike air max, christian louboutin outlet, coach outlet, louis vuitton outlet online, burberry outlet online, true religion, nike shoes, longchamp handbags, coach purses, oakley sunglasses, ray ban sunglasses, oakley vault, tiffany jewelry, louis vuitton outlet, nike air max, prada handbags, coach outlet, michael kors outlet online, michael kors outlet online, gucci handbags, michael kors outlet, louis vuitton, longchamp outlet, jordan shoes, michael kors outlet store, kate spade handbags, louis vuitton handbags, cheap oakley sunglasses, michael kors outlet online, louis vuitton outlet, christian louboutin, longchamp outlet online, michael kors outlet online

oakleyses said...

chaussure louboutin, ralph lauren pas cher, nike free pas cher, burberry pas cher, guess pas cher, ray ban pas cher, converse pas cher, barbour, true religion outlet, tn pas cher, air max pas cher, sac louis vuitton, longchamp pas cher, louis vuitton pas cher, nike blazer pas cher, vans pas cher, nike roshe, nike air max, abercrombie and fitch, air jordan, nike free, louis vuitton uk, scarpe hogan, michael kors uk, mulberry, true religion jeans, nike air force, sac vanessa bruno, oakley pas cher, air max, nike roshe run, new balance pas cher, longchamp, north face, ralph lauren, lacoste pas cher, nike air max, hollister, ray ban uk, hermes pas cher, hollister, lululemon, michael kors canada, timberland, sac michael kors, louis vuitton, north face pas cher

oakleyses said...

canada goose outlet, asics shoes, giuseppe zanotti, soccer jerseys, soccer shoes, birkin bag, uggs outlet, bottega veneta, wedding dresses, reebok shoes, north face jackets, mcm handbags, ugg boots, babyliss pro, marc jacobs outlet, vans outlet, lululemon outlet, mac cosmetics, canada goose, herve leger, nike trainers, north face outlet, roshe run, beats headphones, longchamp, instyler ionic styler, valentino shoes, ugg soldes, insanity workout, p90x workout, ugg, jimmy choo shoes, canada goose outlet, abercrombie and fitch, nike huarache, ferragamo shoes, nfl jerseys, ghd, new balance outlet, chi flat iron, rolex watches, celine handbags, mont blanc pens, ugg outlet, hollister, uggs on sale

oakleyses said...

canada goose outlet, asics shoes, giuseppe zanotti, soccer jerseys, soccer shoes, birkin bag, uggs outlet, bottega veneta, wedding dresses, reebok shoes, north face jackets, mcm handbags, ugg boots, babyliss pro, marc jacobs outlet, vans outlet, lululemon outlet, mac cosmetics, canada goose, herve leger, nike trainers, north face outlet, roshe run, beats headphones, longchamp, instyler ionic styler, valentino shoes, ugg soldes, insanity workout, p90x workout, ugg, jimmy choo shoes, canada goose outlet, abercrombie and fitch, nike huarache, ferragamo shoes, nfl jerseys, ghd, new balance outlet, chi flat iron, rolex watches, celine handbags, mont blanc pens, ugg outlet, hollister, uggs on sale

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.