Today is the anniversary of the third battle of Cassino lead by the NZ Division. Much has been written , but unread by me , but I understand the Kiwi fatalities were several hundred with over a thousand casualties. In the end , Freyberg called a halt to the advance to reduce the cost. We should remember them today.
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 15, 2014 17:21:21 GMT 12
Good call Peter, I was planning to post about this myself. On the 15th of March 1944 the bombers of the Mediterranean Allied Air Force (B-25's, B-26's, B-17's and B-24's) came over in waves, with around 600 bombers in all, and dropped mostly blockbuster and HE bombs on the town itself. The Monastery was already in rubble, having been bombed the month before.
All the troops there had withdrawn from Cassino by at least a mile because it was known the Americans can't drop all their bombs on target even in daylight, which it was, and as it happened they still dropped a few on the Indians, the French hospital, and lots of dead ground, so the pull back was warranted.
However when the troops were withdrawing three men volunteered to stay, Bob O'Brien of Te Awamutu who was Officer i/c of 24 Battalion's Anti-tank platoon had brought a six-pounder into Cassino with him, his men carrying it on their backs in parts. he had used it to snipe at the German snipers for weeks, and now he and two of his Corporals stayed as the thousands of other Allies left the outskirts of the town. They kept their gun firing to keep Gerry's heads down so they didn't realise there was something afoot. Bob told me the sky was black with bombers and being under that bombardment was incredible. He was awarded the Military Cross for this, and for another action in which he saved a company from starving after being cut off.
After the bombers, over 1000 artillery pieces opened up on the town, 25 pounders and big US cannons. The ground shook like an earthquake, all that concentrated fire on one tiny town. And as is often the case with an artillery barrage, the heavens opened and the rain came down. This rain continued and held up the troops from going into the town as they needed the tanks to cover them. When they finally began getting in by nightfall the tanks were getting bogged down and the rubble prevented decent movement. To get into the town there was only a couple of routes, there was no way of going across the fields as the Germans had broken the banks on the Rapido River and flooded most of the surrounding countryside. The troops had to use a causeway that was constantly under mortar and shell fire.
Those lucky enough to get past the causeway found that every building had been destroyed or damaged. The top stories of most buildings were gone. The Germans had lost many of their men in the bombing and barrage but most were still there waiting, and the kiwis had to take up positions where they could in broken buildings. Everywhere in the town seemed to be watched by Germans from the hillside and Spandaus were very active covering most pathways. At any moment the rooves and walls of the buildings the men were in collapsed and men were trapped or narrowly escaped. Many died that way. The only water supply was from shell holes that filled with the water that came from the constant rain and from the swampy soil. Food and ammo was carried in by carrying parties each night back and forward over that causeway. Big and small battles happened constantly. It was a hell hole for both sides but one that the Germans had all the trump cards on.
The battle only lasted weeks before the kiwis were pulled out, but for those there it was like months, constantly on edge. In the building across a narrow street was the enemy, and in many cases sometimes in the next room.
I highly, highly recommend that you read Up The Blue by Roger Smith. He was there, and his description of that battle (and others), is gripping, terrifying, and incredible. Two veterans I know both recommended the book to me, they were there too, and they both said it was the best description they have ever read of that third battle of Cassino, because every part of it is exactly as they recall.
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2014 9:33:13 GMT 12
No, but let's face it, the bombing was a disaster in terms of the numbers of bobs dropped wide of the target. They killed 75 Allied troops and wounded 250 - with their bombs dropping in the Indian lines, on the French hospital, and on the Eighth Army Forward Headquarters at Montquila. An investigation was started by Ira Eaker, and found these wide of the mark bombloads were caused by poor discipline in the air by two air groups new to the combat zone,plus another air group having faulty racks on its bombers, and generally a lack of aiming points for the navigators/bomb aimers.
If the RAF had led the raid I am sure they's have done a more precise job, sending in a pathfinder to pinpoint the target and lead the raid and to keep the following bombers on track.
The Americans had no air opposition to worry about either, plus a huge fighter escort. So they had all the time in the world to get it right, and a lot of them didn't.
By the way the previous month when they'd bombed the Monastery the same thing had happened with bombs dropping into the Allied artillery which was well back from Cassino!
If it was night time, poor visibility, and heaps of opposition around, you could forgive a few errors. This was perfect weather, daylight and all they had was a bit of flak to cope with. The leading bombers, the B-25's and B-26's, were all on target, accurate and on time. It was the B-17's and B-24's that let it all go to pot later in the raid. Surely when it comes to looking for an aiming point you aim at the existing smoke and fires?