New Zealand forces capture Castle Hill at Cassino

15 March 1944

'Wounded at Cassino', by Peter McIntyre
'Wounded at Cassino', by Peter McIntyre (Archives New Zealand, AAAC 898 NCWA 309)

On 15 March 1944, 6 New Zealand Brigade attacked the Italian town of Cassino as part of the Allies’ advance on Rome.

This was one of four Allied assaults on the German defences at Cassino between January and May 1944. 2 New Zealand Division played a significant part in this campaign. By the time it was withdrawn in early April, 343 New Zealanders had lost their lives.

The success of the 15 March attack on the tactically important Castle Hill depended on the effectiveness of a prior bombing campaign. Troops had been waiting three weeks in freezing rain for suitable weather for an aerial assault. Bombarded from air and land, Cassino was reduced to rubble.

But the surviving German defenders rallied quickly and put up staunch resistance. In conditions reminiscent of the First World War, Allied armour and infantry were held up by bomb craters that flooded as heavy rain set in, turning the rubble into a morass. Communications were difficult and progress was slow. A New Zealand battalion managed to seize Castle Hill, but by dusk the attack had lost its impetus.

Over the next eight days more New Zealand troops entered Cassino, but they were unable to make any headway. On 23 March all attacks were halted and the New Zealanders went on the defensive. Cassino did not fall until 18 May 1944, when it was occupied by Polish troops supported by New Zealand artillery.