2 NZ Division Timeline – Sango River to Orsogna

This WW2 timeline picks up 2 New Zealand Division as they enter the line in Italy and goes through to the fighting around Orsogna.

2 NZ Division between 11 Nov 1943 and 17 Jan 1944

Following the Axis surrender in Africa (12 May 1943) the Allies began preparing for the invasion of Italy (Lucas, 1982). They invaded Sicily on 10 Jul and the mainland on 9 Sep (Phillips, 1957). Due to conflicting strategic aims – whether to support the Pacific or Mediterranean efforts – the 2 NZ Division was not committed to Italy until Oct 1943. They were destined to be part of 8th Army’s attempt on the Winter Line and began to arrive on the Sangro front in early November.

The the area south of the Sangro was heavily cultivated with olive groves, vineyards and orchards, providing plenty of natural cover for the Kiwis as the entered the line (Norton, 1952). Hills dominated the river on both sides. In the north a marshy stretch of ground ran up into the sharply defined hills. A large part of the flat area had been ploughed, which is why it was muddier than the south bank. Wide irrigation ditches full of dirty, muddy water, would form another obstacle for the attackers. Precipitous cliffs separated the flat ground from the hills, although the cliffs were broken by narrow gullies leading up. Behind the cliffs the ground rose towards a high ridge which ran across the front to form the horizon. The hills were covered with low scrub and a few trees, and had narrow gullies or low saddles between.

Sango River
and Orsogna Area
1 Nov 1943

The Winter Line (Winterstellung; known locally as the Siegfried Line) ran along the Sangro ridge from Fossacesia near the coast through Lanciano then along Route 84 to Castelfrentano and Guardiagrele, and thence south-south-west along the foot of the Majella massif (Burdon, 1953; Cody, 1953; Phillips, 1957). On the coast the Winter Line formed a continuous system of trenches. Further west, in what was to become the NZ sector, it became a system of scattered strongpoints. The defences were up to 3 km deep on the north side of the Sangro, starting with minefields on the banks of the river, then scattered outposts (many on the tops of cliffs), concentrations of trenches and weapons pits on key approaches, then the main defensive line itself. The strongest section of the German main defensive line in the NZ sector was the section of Route 84 between Castelfrentano and Guardiagrele. Here three main strongpoints controlled the road, one on the south-eastern approach to Castelfrentano, and one each on the two main road junctions. Wire and anti-tank ditches covered the front of the machine gun and infantry posts. A second and more important series of defences ran 6 km north-east from Guardiagrele to the town of Orsogna and then along the road to Ortona on the coast (Ross, 1959). The Castelfrentano and Orsogna ridges joined at the village of Guardiagrele – hence the strong points there – but further east the ridges formed the opposite sides of a wide valley with parallel spurs meeting at the bottom at the little Moro stream, making direct attacks from Castelfrentano to Orsogna difficult. Of course, at the start of the events described here, the Germans also had troops south of the Sangro.

The Germans didn’t have enough men to man all their defences (Phillips, 1957). Initially they had only two Divisions on the Sangro, both from from 76 Panzer Corps. The 65 Infantry Division was between the coast and the junction of the Sangro and Aventino rivers. This comprised 4,000 unseasoned and ill-equipped men, many of whom were non-German including Austrians, Czechs, Poles, Lorrainers and Russians (Cody, 1953; Norton, 1952; Ross, 1959). Like all German infantry divisions, their transport was horse drawn. The Division had two infantry regiments, 145 Infantry Regiment between the coast and Castelfrentano and 146 Infantry Regiment to the west – it was 1 Battalion of this regiment which bore the brunt of the NZ attack across the Sangro. 16 Panzer Division was south of the Aventino with 15-20 Panzer IV tanks, 20 self-propelled guns, two regiments of motorised infantry (with trucks) and its normal complement of field artillery. It was the men of 16 Panzer Division that the Kiwis and Indians initially had to drive back across the Sangro.

9-19 Nov 1943: 2 NZ Division into the Line

9 Nov 1943

The British 5 Corps, 8th Army, reached the Sango River on 9 Nov 1943 (Phillips, 1957). 78 Division was on the coast with 8 Indian Division to their west in the hills south of the river – they were facing the German 65 Infantry Division. The British line continued south with 1 Canadian Division in the mountains and 5 Division at Isernia (both from 13 Corps).

11 Nov 1943

Having recently arrived in Italy, and still with less than half of its force in position around Lucera, 2 NZ Division was ordered forward to a concentration area between Furci and Gissi (Phillips, 1957). Simultaneously 8 Indian Division was ordered to side step toward the coast, leaving only 19 Indian Brigade to shield the concentration area of the Kiwis.

14 Nov 1943

At 1000 hours 2 NZ Division assumed responsibility for the sector between 5 Corps and 13 Corps (Phillips, 1957). The Kiwis acquired command of 19 Indian Brigade (1/5 Essex Regiment, 3/8 Punjab Regiment, and 6/13 Royal Frontier Force Rifles), who were in the line, and 3 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. Divisional HQ, 2 Divisional Cavalry, 4 and 5 Field Regiments, batteries of 14 Light AA Regiment, engineer units, and elements of the medical corps where the first to arrive in their new zone of operations. During the afternoon 28 Battery of 5 Field Regiment – firing in support of the Indians – became the first New Zealanders to trade blows with the Germans in Italy. To prevent the Germans becoming aware the Kiwis were in Italy, and to prevent them knowing a new division was entering the line, 2 NZ Division maintained radio silence for the next few days – causing some grief to little benefit as it turned out.

With the front in a state of flux B Squadron, 2 Divisional Cavalry, patrolled the roads from the Kiwi positions 16 km south to Castiglione Messer Marino (Phillips, 1957). The hope was that they would encounter the Canadians somewhere in this direction.

On the night of 14-15 Nov 1943 a German patrol attacked the bridge over the Sinello in 2 NZ Division’s zone (Phillips, 1957). This was the only bridge the Germans had neglected to blow upon their retreat. They tried to correct this oversight by artillery fire and by infiltrating demolition parties. A Squadron of 2 Divisional Cavalry were assigned to protect the bridge.

15 Nov 1943: San Marco

During the evening of 15 Nov 5 Field Regiment put two prearranged bombardments on the hilltop hamlet of San Marco (Phillips, 1957). Following the bombardment 6/13 Royal Frontier Force Rifles quietly occupied the San Marco. 16 Panzer Division still controlled a road running along a ridge to the west of the Kiwis including Tornareccio, Archi and Perano. .

18 Nov 1943: Perano

19 Indian Brigade had previously taken the hills north and north-west of Atessa and were in position to attack Perano and Archi (Phillips, 1957)

B Squadron of 2 Divisional Cavalry relieved 1/5 Essex Regiment, and took over protection of the road from Casalanguida to Atessa (Phillips, 1957). A few hours later 22 Motor Battalion – the first elements of 4 Armoured Brigade to arrive – relieved the cavalry.

18 Nov 1943 also saw the first tank action undertaken by New Zealanders – the attack on Perano (Phillips, 1957; Sinclair, 1954). The plan was that 19 Armoured Regiment and 3/8 Punjab Regiment, with the co-operation of NZ Divisional Artillery, would capture Perano and so cause such a threat to the bridge over the Sangro River on the Perano-Picco Rd that the enemy would be forced to destroy it’ (Sinclair, p. 332). If the bridge was destroyed this would clearly indicate that the German troops were already north of the river. Despite the NZ tanks had been on the road for four days and were not stripped for combat, and the fact there was insufficient time to prepare, poor intelligence (the Perano defenders were thought to be lightly armed with no anti-tank guns), inadequate reconnaissance, poor terrain, and the limitations of radio silence, the subsequent attack was successful.

At 1530 hours on 18 Nov 1943 the combined Kiwi and Indian force attacked Perano (Phillips, 1957; Sinclair, 1954). The two NZ Field regiments, the attached British field regiment, and three troops from C Squadron (19 Armoured Regiment) on Monte Sentinella provided fire support; this comprised 20 minutes of smoke on the slopes of Perano followed by 30 minutes of shellfire on the same area and then 30 minutes’ shellfire on the town itself. 14 Kiwi Shermans (all of A Squadron and No. 9 Troop from C Squadron) then led 3/8 Punjab Regiment in the attack. The tanks allocated to the assault formed up on a north-south ridge (the saddle between Monte Torretta and Monte Sentinella) about 1.6 km to the east and parallel to the Perano’s ridge. The allies attacked in a pincer movement from the south-east and north, with each pincer having two troops of tanks and a company of infantry.

The defenders were from 16 Panzer Division and had considerable heavy equipment (Phillips, 1957) . Based on the equipment that was seen to escape afterwards, and what was lost during the fight, it seems they had at least three self-propelled guns, 10 anti-tank guns (including 8.8 cm guns), and two tanks (probably Pz IVs) (Sinclair, 1954). German artillery based near Casoli to the north-west harassed the advance, as did machine guns and mortars. German fire was directed by an OP in a house flanking the Allied start line. In fact this OP fired a red flare ten minutes before zero hour, presumably to alert the defenders to the impending attack, but also inadvertently alerting the HQ of 19 Armoured Regiment to the OPs presence; fortunately for the Germans, the Kiwi wireless silence prevented the HQ from informing the attacking troops. The attacking elements, the HQ of both 19 Armoured Regiment and 3/8 Punjab Regiment, and the support tanks of C Squadron all suffered their fair share of stonks during the battle.

19 Armoured Regiment’s first action
Perano 18 Nov 1943

The right hand force moved behind Monte Sentinella to the riverside road (the Strada Sangritana) (Phillips, 1957; Sinclair, 1954). One tank troop stayed in the hills over looking the the Strada Sangritana whilst the other crossed the road into thick olive groves. When they emerged from behind the shelter of Monte Sentinella they came under concentrated anti-tank fire from self-propelled guns and anti-tank guns (including 8.8 cm guns) entrenched in the ploughed fields near the turn off to Perano. Several German anti-tank guns were also destroyed by the Kiwi tanks, however, the attack was abandoned after six Shermans were knocked out with correspondingly high casualties amongst the accompanying infantry. The Germans also found papers in one of the knocked out tanks which revealed the presence of 2 NZ Division – something the allies had been trying to conceal (e.g. radio silence).

The left flank force went cross country to reach the road south of Perano (Phillips, 1957; Sinclair, 1954). The tanks struggled along the soft, rough, winding track for 1.6 km; they had to cross a gully, climb a spur, drop down to ford a stream, then deploy for an assault up a steep wooded slope, all under machine gun and mortar fire. They found the final slope both steep and slippery; four tanks bogged down or suffered track trouble in the attack, although all had made it that far. Two tanks from the HQ troop, having seen their comrades struggling on the slopes, took a route up a hardened livestock track to the north and entered Perano at 1620 hours and advancing south met two other Shermans at the southern end of the village. Their fire suppressed German machine gun and mortar positions until the Indian infantry arrived at 1710 hours to consolidate the capture. The defenders began to withdraw.

Subsequently, two NZ officers (Major Everist and Captain Kelly) of 19 Armoured Regiment reconnoitred the area on foot (Sinclair, 1954). They encountered two self-propelled guns and in the ensuing skirmish the Germans abandoned the gun which was entrenched.

The Germans from Perano retreated to a cluster of houses about 1 km east of the Sangro Bridge (Phillips, 1957) – presumably north or north-west of Perano near the Strada Sangritana. They held their ground until all heavy equipment was evacuated then blew the bridge at 1800 hours (Sinclair, 1954). Sinclair says the Germans withdrew two self-propelled guns, five anti-tank guns, two tanks, as well as the infantry (in contrast Phillips says the Germans managed to withdraw at least five tanks, two self-propelled guns, and two anti-tank guns; I suspect Phillips just transposed some of the numbers when copying Sinclair). That night the Germans also evacuated all heavy weapons and transport from Archi, although they retained an infantry force in the village – the last Germans south of the Sango River.

The Kiwis found the right flank down to the river clear of enemy (Phillips, 1957).

Scenario Idea: Perano

Having only two infantry companies in the attack, Perano seems ideal for a Crossfire scenario, although it is a little tank heavy.

The Allies are trying to captured the hill top village of Perano and the Sangro Bridge (off table to the west), although they are content if they only take the village. The Germans are trying to delay the Allies as long as possible. If they can’t delay them any more, then the German objective switches to withdrawing as much equipment over the bridge as possible before demolishing it. Probably the best way to represent this is to award victory points (VP) to the allies as follows:

  • -15 VP for the Allies if the Allies never take Perano
  • +15 VP for the Allies as soon as they capture Perano (and they can’t lose these VP even if the German recapture Perano)
  • If the Allies take Perano, then -1 VP for each German tank, self-propelled gun, and anti-tank gun the Germans exit from the western table edge along the Strada Sangritana. .

If the total is:

  • -10 VP or worse = Major German Victory
  • -4 to -9 VP = Minor German Victory
  • -3 to 3 VP = Draw
  • 4 to 9 VP = Minor Allied Victory
  • 10 VP or more = Major Allied Victory

Use the Special Rule Moving Clock. the game starts at 1530 hours and ends at 1800 hours (or soon after). The action seemed fast and furious so advance the clock 10 min on 5+ at the end of each German imitative.

The attackers had two companies from 3/8 Punjab Regiment and 14 Kiwi Shermans (all of A Squadron from 19 Armoured Regiment, and No. 9 Troop from C Squadron). The Indians are probably Regular (“workmanlike” troops using “copybook style”).

Given the size of Archi’s defending force (see below), the Germans probably had a company of Panzer Grenadiers (no half-tracks) and a platoon of Combat Engineers; although never mentioned the Engineers are likely given somebody blew the bridge . The Germans had ample machine guns and mortars. They also have at least three self-propelled guns, 10 anti-tank guns (including 8.8 cm guns), and two Pz IVs. Being from 16 Panzer Division they could be either Veteran or Regular – use whatever makes a balanced scenario.

Both sides were supported by artillery, although the Allies also have off table Shermans firing in support.

The battlefield is about 1.8 x 1.2 km, so fits a 6’x4′ table well. Terrain includes contours, hill top village (Perano) and a separate cluster of buildings, out-of-season fields (being ploughed), in-season orchards (olive groves), rough ground, a stream, roads (Strada Sangritana and branch road to Perano), railway line adjacent to the Strada Sangritana, and the Sangro bridge (represented by where the Strada Sangritana leaves the western table edge).

Bogging rules should apply on hill slopes and in the stream.

Given there is a high number of tanks etc you might choose to use a ratio, e.g. 1/2 or 1/3. Using 1/3 would give the Kiwis 5 Shermans and the Germans 3 ATG, 1 Self-propelled gun, and 1 Pz IV. This is within the normal armour proportions for Crossfire. You’d have to change the VP as well; still -1 VP for escaping German equipment, but 5 VP for Perano; 0-1 VP = Draw, 2-3 = minor victory, and 4+ you Major victory. If you do reduce the number of support arms in this way, then make the bogging rules more lenient.

19 Nov 1943 Tornareccio and Archi

A patrol from 22 Battalion entered Tornareccio during the morning of 19 Nov 1943 (Philips, 1957). They found it empty, but the evacuating Germans had left mines and booby traps.

The Indians attacked the Germans in Archi (who had one infantry company and an engineer platoon) (Phillips, 1957). Thick fog prevented the Kiwi tanks being involved as planned. By evening, after some hard fighting, the Indians had forced the defenders out. Their achievement cleared the southern side of the Sango River.

After dark 6 NZ Brigade moved forward and occupied the right half of the 19 Indian Brigade’s sector, between Monte Marcone and the junction of the Sangro and Aventino rivers (Phillips, 1957). The forward companies deployed on the Strada Sangritana, with from right to left 26 Battalion, 25 Battalion and 24 Battalion.

Patrols on the Sango River 19 Nov 1943

19-27 Nov 1943: Preparation for the Crossing

The Kiwis used the period from 19-27 Nov 1943 to prepare for a major assault across the River Sangro (Phillips, 1957). During that time 2 NZ Division sent 44 patrols toward the German lines. The patrols ranged in size from two men to a platoon. The majority went out at night, with only two patrols being made during day light. 26 crossed the Sango River, 13 tried (often repeatedly) but failed, and only five made no attempt to cross. 11 encountered enemy by sight or sound, and of these, only four exchanged fire. The Kiwis suffered 13 casualties during these patrols (five killed, six wounded, two prisoners), but six of these were in a minefield south of the river, and anther six were from the day light raids. The one casualty – a wounded officer – resulted from the 24 night time patrols that crossed the river.

Other preparations included repairing roads and bridges in the divisional sector and/or building new ones, clearing mines from the southern side of the river, selecting sites for bailey bridges and access routes to/from the bridges (Phillips, 1957). The Allies also bombed the towns of Lanciano, Castelfrentano and Casoli, and German gun positions.

The Germans were not idle either as the front line troops continued to strength their defences and some reorganisation was attempted (Phillips, 1957). In particular Berger Battle Group began to replace 16 Panzer Division on the left of the NZ sector. This Battle Group was the first elements of 26 Panzer Division to arrive and was centred around 9 Panzer Grenadier Regiment (whose commander was Berger). Apparently 26 Panzer Division was the corps d’elte of the German army in Italy.

20 Nov 1943

2 Divisional Cavalry assumed responsibility for patrolling the clear right flank, and on the left, finally made contact with the Canadians far to the south (Phillips, 1957).

23-25 1943: The “Hump”

23 Nov 1943

At 0415 hours on 23 Nov 1943 19 Indian Brigade attacked across the Sangro to the hilly ground in the angle between the Aventino and Sangro rivers – apparently known as the “hump” (Phillips, 1957). 3/8 Punjab Regiment and two companies from 1/5 Essex Regiment were involved, supported by the fire of the three NZ field regiments and 3 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. As it happens 1 Parachute Division was in the process of replacing 16 Panzer Division in this sector, which left the attackers facing stiff opposition. 3/8 Punjab Regiment crossed the Sangro via a rope bridge overnight and had captured Il Calvario by 0730 hours, however, the bridge was subsequently swept away when the river level rose. Counter attacks by German paratroopers and Panzer Grenadiers meant Il Calvario exchanged hands three times before both sides left it unoccupied in the early afternoon. 3/8 Punjab Regiment retreated to a small bridgehead near the river. Also during the early afternoon the two companies of1/5 Essex Regiment occupied Sant Angelo village, at the top of the spur to the right. The remainder of the battalion hadn’t managed to cross the swollen Sangro during the previous night and were pinned down south of the river by German fire. Efforts on the night of 23-24 Nov failed to replace the Indian’s rope bridge and soldiers attempting to swim the river were drowned. .

Scenario Idea: The “Hump”

The “Hump” seems like it could offer a couple of set piece scenarios of the normal scale of Crossfire, but it could also form a multiple table game.. The scene of action were the villages of Il Calvario and Sant Angelo, although the former was more violently contested. The fact the Indians were cut off during the day could add a bit of tension to the game.

Allies:

  • 3/8 Punjab Regiment
  • Two companies from 1/5 Essex Regiment
  • Supported by the fire of the three NZ field regiments and 3 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Axis:

  • Elements of 1 Parachute Division
  • Elements of 16 Panzer Division

24 Nov 1943

During the night of 24-25 Nov 5 NZ Field Park company managed to improvise a way across the ruined road bridge to the Indians on the “hump” (Phillips, 1957). That night the Germans also withdrew back across the Rio Secco, a tributary of the Aventino, toward Casoli (although Phillips says this happened on the night of 23-24, this is inconsistent with the details given before and after).

That night 5 NZ Brigade also began to move into the line on the right of the Appello stream (Phillips, 1957). 21 NZ Battalion were the first to arrive. One company occupied the forward slopes of Colle Sant Angelo, with the remainder of the battalion positioned behind Monte Marcone.

25 Nov 1943

By this time 19 Indian Brigade had occupied all their objectives on the “hump” between the Sangro and the Aventino rivers (Phillips, 1957). The two NZ infantry brigades occupied the line. 23 NZ Battalion 5 NZ Brigade, moved onto the reverse slopes of Monte Marcone.

26 Nov 1943

With clearing skies Allied aircraft in Italy flew 400 sorties on 26 Nov 1943 – most on 5 Corps’ front (Phillips, 1957).

The Indians between the Sangro and Aventino rivers occupied Altino without opposition and pushed on to Casoli (Phillips, 1957).

27 Nov – 2 Dec 1943: The First Ridge to Castelfrentano

27 Nov 1943: Silent Crossing

Allied aircraft flew 483 sorties – most on 5 Corps’ front, who during the night commenced their attack across the Sangro (Phillips, 1957).

From positions on the flat west of Monte Marcone, two 17-pounders of Q Troops, 7 Anti-tank Regiment shelled some farm buildings across the river which were suspected of sheltering Germans (Phillips, 1957; Ross, 1959). No. 2 MG company fired at the same targets, hoping to catch any Germans that ran from the 17-pounder shells.

At about 1930 hour the lead troops marked the crossing points with stakes sunk into both banks and joined by ropes (Ross, 1959). About 2130 hours the Kiwis silently started forward and began to cross the Sango River (Kay, 1958; Phillips, 1957). In total 2,000 men waded across. Most men were wet to the thighs or hips, some of the shorter ones to the waist, and a few who stumbled, to the neck.. The reserve companies went first to secure the start line for the following units, and provide guides for those behind. Then came the assault companies with their attached machine gun platoons. They crossed the river in a variety of ways: holding onto a taut wire that had previously been strung across, using wooden poles for support, or forming a chain with each man holding the rifle of the man next man. The movement went smoothly and without notice, although on the approach to the river eight men of 21 Battalion were killed or wounded by a mine, and the wire 25 Battalion used to cross the river snapped and an alternative route had to be improvised. Once across the river the men formed up along the lateral road on the north bank – the start line for the attack up the ridge.

Crossing the Sangro 28 Nov 1943

28 Nov: Foothills of the Sangro Ridge

At 0215 hours on 28 Nov 1943 the Kiwis began their advance up the Sangro ridge (Phillips, 1957). Five battalions led the assault (Kay, 1958). Of the four NZ machine gun companies, two were assigned to 6 NZ Brigade, and one each to 5 NZ Brigade and 19 Indian Brigade. Each Kiwi assault Battalion had a machinegun platoon in support. From right (east) to left (west) the battalions were:

  • 5 NZ Brigade + 1 company, 27 NZ (MG) Battalion
    • 23 NZ Battalion + No. 1 Platoon, 27 NZ (MG) Battalion
    • 21 NZ Battalion + No. 3 Platoon, 27 NZ (MG) Battalion
  • 6 NZ Brigade + 4 company, 27 NZ (MG) Battalion
    • 26 NZ Battalion + No. 12 Platoon, 27 NZ (MG) Battalion
    • 25 NZ Battalion + No. 11 Platoon, 27 NZ (MG) Battalion
    • 24 NZ Battalion + No. 10 Platoon, 27 NZ (MG) Battalion

The attacking infantry had considerable fire support (Phillips, 1957). Although the third infantry brigade in the division, 19 Indian Brigade, did not participate in the initial advance it made a demonstration and lent the Kiwi’s support with suppressive fire on the German positions west of Route 84. The three NZ field regiments, 3 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, and a troop of medium artillery provided fire support from 0245 hours (zero hour of the operation); their bombardment lasted 3.5 hours in a series of timed concentrations. A Squadron 18 Armoured Regiment also fired in support. 14 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment kept the infantry on course to their objectives by firing tracer rounds. 2 Platoon, 27 NZ (MG) Battalion, stayed with 28 Maori battalion south of the river (Kay, 1958). Some Kiwi machine gunners – 3 MG company, reinforced by 4 Platoon, from positions forward of the Strada Sangritana, and 2 Platoon, from Monte Marcone – engaged enemy strongpoints and other targets in the hills across the river.

Climbing the bluffs overlooking the river was easy, but the infantry came under scattered small arms and mortar fire when they reached the top (Phillips, 1957). From there the experiences of the various battalions differed and the narrative moves from right (east) to left (west) down the line. These operations are a good illustration of how companies leap frogged when attacking

23 NZ Battalion 5 NZ Brigade

23 Battalion was on the right end of the Kiwi attack, and faced relatively light opposition, presumably because the defenders had withdraw before the attack (Kay, 1958; Phillips, 1957; Ross, 1959). For the price of six wounded they quickly captured their objectives, plus nine prisoners. The Kiwi advance was so rapid they had to cancel scheduled artillery concentrations.

Battalion Headquarters was established in the mill house at the foot of the bank and with C-Coy as guard and battalion reserve (Ross, 1959).

At 0245 B-Coy, in the centre, set off toward some haystacks and buildings about 830 m from the start line (Ross, 1959). They captured them after about an hour and were dug in by morning.

At 0255 hours A-Coy began to move 550 m down stream to act as right hand flank guard for the whole attack (Ross, 1959). They were in position in less than an hour with a frontage of 350-450 m, and were also dug in by morning. .

On the left, D-Coy set off first at 0240 hours, five minutes before the artillery barrage commenced (Ross, 1959). This company was aimed at the main objective, Point 208, a round hill with a church on top about 1,100 m from the start line. The company’s formation was typical with16 Platoon on the right, 18 Platoon on the left, and 17 Platoon in reserve. The reserve platoon acted as a fighting patrol while the other two platoons consolidated. Once at the top of point 208, 17 Platoon spotted some figures on the reverse slope, fired at them, and captured 9 prisoners (from 3 Coy, I Battalion, 145 Regiment, 65 Infantry Division). D-Coy and the machine guns and 3″ mortars dug in around the church on the hilltop. An OP was in the church itself although his wireless was broken and wire communications took time to lay (Kay, 1958). 18 Platoon with No. 2 MG section was to the left of the church. No. 1 MG section was slightly forward of 16 Platoon to the right. Immediately to the north of this latter section, the ground fell sharply away in a steep gully, which could only be observed by a man right on the lip of the terrace.

Not very long after daylight, the Germans brought mortar and machine gun fire to bear on the positions of the leading companies (A, B and D) (Ross, 1959). About 0800 hours a section of 16 Platoon investigated movement in and around the houses to the east of Point 208 and returned with four prisoners. But enemy movement continued and all weapons, including the Vickers machine guns and mortars, were used in an attempt to pin the enemy, however, this was just a diversion. A German patrol of about 40 men approached the Kiwi positions unobserved via the gully to the north of point 208 (Kay, 1958). The Germans rushed the infantry pits to the right of the church, killed three men and captured one, then swept round from the left directly behind No. 1 MG Section and in the ensuing skirmish wounded two of the machine gunners and captured 10 others. Only one man escaped from No. 1 MG Section; utterly exhausted after the night’s exertions, he had slept soundly in his hole right through the action. No. 16 Platoon retaliated, as did No. 3 MG Platoon with 21 Battalion, but may not have inflicted any casualties on the retreating Germans . A counter-attack by 17 Platoon and company HQ was thwarted by artillery defensive fire. Less than an hour later, heavy machine gun fire and more German movement suggest another attack, but defensive artillery fire prevented this eventuating.

During the day the battalion made contact with 6 Lancers who were patrolling the gap between the NZ Division and 21 Indian Infantry Brigade (Phillips, 1957).

21 NZ Battalion 5 NZ Brigade

Next along the line to the west was 21 Battalion (Phillips, 1957). The battalion’s boundaries were to be two streams (described as ‘river wadis) running north-westwards from the Sangro (Cody, 1953). The battalion’s initial objectives were Point 217 on the right and Point 200 on the left. Point 217 was across a valley and about 1.6 km to the south-west of Point 208, under attack by 23 Battalion; apparently it was also steep toward the summit, and there was a gulley between Point 217 and Point 200. B and C-Coys led, with A and D-Coys in the second echelon. Note: A-Coy had been responsible for securing the start line earlier.

On the right B-Coy scrambled up the slippery slope through grape vines and reached Point 217 without opposition (Cody, 1953). 10 Platoon, less one section, and 11 Platoon went up the right-hand side of a gully leading to the peak (described as a “re-entrant”), while 12 Platoon, plus the section from 10 Platoon, took the left-hand side.

C-Coy attacked Point 200 on the left (Cody, 1953). 14 Platoon and 15 Platoon, less a section, went straight up the escarpment, took the peak, where they found empty slit trenches, and signalled success. Meanwhile the company HQ, 13 Platoon, and the section from 15 Platoon, had tried to flank the objective via a gully between Point 217 and Point 200. They ran into wire and a German machine gun camouflaged in a cliff face at the head of the gully, and the company commander died attempting to silence this post. A-Coy resolved C-Coy’s deadlock when Corporal Perry from 7 Platoon, tracked down the machine gun nest and disposed of it. A-Coy then moved through C-Coy and on to their own objectives, the bluff on the eastern side of the stream and Point 117, about 1,200 m beyond Point 217. When moving from the gully toward Point 200 where they expected to find the rest of C-Coy, 13 Platoon captured 24 Germans sheltering in a house; it turned out the floor of the house was excavated and the Germans had been sheltering here from the Kiwi barrage, which also explained the empty slit trenches found by the other platoons. At daylight C-Coy found the ground littered with S-mines; they hadn’t blow up as the Polish and Czech soldiers they were facing had deliberately put the detonators in incorrectly.

D-Coy, with 3 Platoon 1 Machine Gun company, moved through B-Coy towards the final battalion objective, a hill between Point 117 and Point 200 about 1.6 km forward of and on the same feature as Point 217 (Cody, 1953; Phillips, 1957). Their first problem was the bluff was almost vertical in their sector. Whilst scaling this No. 18 Platoon went missing – only to turn up at daylight. D-Coy pushed on without them until fired on from a house on the left. 17 Platoon was sent to deal with this post, and once again the remainder of D-Coy moved on. Once within 200 m of their objective the company was fired on again. Flames from a burning haystack lit up the area as the remaining rifle platoon in D-Coy fought it out for the objective. One rifle section fired on the Germans as the rest of the platoon went around the flank. The section to the front managed to suppress the Germans and then closed, eliminating four enemy posts, accounting for 20 enemy either killed or wounded Meanwhile two sections from 11 Platoon, B-Coy, had been sent to help out, and found 17 Platoon still stalking their house. .The two platoons rushed the house, capturing an anti-tank gun, a machine gun and nine prisoners; for the cost of two wounded. This anti-tank gun may well be German 5.0 cm gun which the battalion adopted for their own use; they also put a captured 81 mm mortar to use.

Fighting continued through the dark (Cody, 1953). D-Coy were dispersed and the German posts were well concealed all over the area. With morning D-Coy consolidated and the battalion turned to moping up (Phillips, 1957). Battalion HQ and the machine-gun platoon moved in the rear of D-Coy and established themselves on a reverse slope in the vicinity of B-Coy’s objective. German prisoners were collected from houses amongst the forward companies and B-Coy eliminated five enemy posts that had been bypassed in the night. The battalion bagged 74 prisoners in total, at a cost of six killed and 27 wounded.

The mortar teams arrived in early afternoon followed by some of the anti-tank platoon, dragged into position by bulldozers (Cody, 1953). Both B and C-Coys had had 3″ mortar detachments on the start line and presumably it was these which arrived during the afternoon having taken about 18 hours to lug their gear up the slippery slope from the river.

26 NZ Battalion 6 NZ Brigade

26 Battalion had ambitious objectives on the Scorticacane feature (Phillips, 1957). The battalion assembled on a front 275 m wide, from the the Apello River to the west (Norton, 1952). The plan was for the battalion to advance north-west and capture five features. To achieve this the leading companies would have to extend to the left as they advanced, and on the final objectives they would be covering a 900 m front, some 800 m beyond their neighbouring battalions.

D-Coy led the way across the river and covered the battalion as it formed up on the start line (Norton, 1952). After the other companies had moved off, the company follow up and occupied A-Coy’s first objective. There acted as battalion reserve and guard for the battalion HQ which was set up in a house at the foot of the the first hill.

The battalion initially faced nothing more than light machine-gun fire, but the leading company (A-Coy) made slow progress in the muddy ground and irrigation ditches (Norton, 1952). As a result they lagged behind the barrage. Battalion HQ, B and C-Coys struggled up behind. 7 Platoon and the company HQ then walked into an unexpected minefield near the foot of the first objective, a low hill about 900 m from the lateral road. Three men were killed and eight wounded, including the company commander. It turned out this minefield covered a wide area and had many booby-trapped mines. The leading platoons of A-Coy continued up the the hill as, behind them, two of the platoon commanders argued over who would now command the company. One section attacked a German machine-gun post and captured the four occupants. After A-Coy settled on the crest of the hill the leading platoon of C-Coy scouted ahead 550 m to find A-Coy’s final objective, Point 171, then returned and led A-Coy forward. A-Coy encountered another machine-gun post and forced it to withdraw, then dug in on Point 171. This put them to the right rear of C-Coy’s final position. Later the attached machine-gunners of No. 12 Platoon, 27 NZ (MG) Battalion, took up a position in the vicinity.

B-Coy escaped the minefield unharmed, passed through A-Coy then turned west towards its ridge line objective 900 m away (Norton, 1952). Nos. 10 and 11 Platoons led the way with the men bunched up due to the darkness. They crossed a narrow valley, climbed onto the sharp ridge, and dug in, all without opposition. This put the company to the left rear of C-Coy’s final position.

C-Coy was to pass through A-Coy on their objective, then head 1,500 m forward to Point 217 and Point 169, two hills separated by a narrow gully (Norton, 1952). (These objectives are described in Phillips, 1957, as the peak of Scorticacane and another point 600 m to the north-east.) After passing through A-Coy the company descended into the narrow valley between Point 171 and Point 217. Previously laid artillery smoke hung in the valley, so visibility was reduced to almost to zero and the smoke blotted out all landmarks. Nos. 14 and 15 Platoons climbed the ridge which ran north from B-Coy’s position to Point 217 and advanced along it in the face of light machine-gun fire. They soon crested the feature, but in the face of frontal machine gun fire sought cover as they moved down the forward slope. Uncertain of their location the company dug in until daylight. Light revealed the location of Point 169 and the company advanced towards it in open formation. Once again Nos. 14 and 15 Platoons led with way with company HQ and 13 Platoon were some distance behind. The leaders crossed a narrow gully and began to climb the hillside. When they were about 90 m from the top of the hill, three German machine guns and a 7.5 cm gun opened fire at point-blank range. The lead platoons scattered to take cover behind a shed and a haystack, in a nearby house, and in folds in the ground. Other German machine guns then joined in (some on a hill north-west of Point 169 and two others from a village in 21 Battalion’s sector to the right rear of the company). The men behind the haystack were forced to seek shelter in a plough track. The company commander called in smoke, and when it arrived (20 minutes later) the lead platoons began a rapid withdrawal (they left behind Piats, mortars, and Bren guns, but took the three wounded back to safety). The company reoccupied its former position on the forward slope of Pointt 217. The nine men who had occupied one of the houses near the crest of the feature had not withdrawn with the others, but they escaped later in the day after 6 Field Regiment fired a concentration of high explosive and smoke on the hilltop. For the loss of two men killed and three wounded the company took 32 prisoners.

At 0930 hours six tanks from C Squadron 19 Armoured Regiment reached 25 Battalion (Norton, 1952).

By midday the battalion had suffered five killed and 15 wounded (Norton, 1952).

That night the Germans evacuated Point 169, towing the 7.5 cm gun away with a tractor (Norton, 1952). A Kiwi patrol found the hill unoccupied and advanced to houses beyond.

25 NZ Battalion 6 NZ Brigade

25 Battalion had objectives to the west and south of the Scorticacane Feature, including the Castellata feature south of Scorticacane, and Point 122 (Burdon, 1953; Phillips, 1957). Also known as Pylon Hill, Point 122 rose abruptly above the Sangro immediately east of where that river was joined by a tributary stream, the Gogna. The battalion conducted a pincer movement. A-Coy advanced north from the road, skirting the cliffs via a gully to their right , then approached Castellata from the east. The company searched farm houses as they went – and presumably found little or nothing. C-Coy leapfrogged A-Coy as it advanced and consolidated on the final objectives. D-Coy advanced south-west along the road and occupied Point 122 between the road and river. They waited for 24 Battalion to pass through then advanced northwest and took the ridge between Castellata and the Gogna stream. B-Coy followed up D-Coy and occupied Point 122. The battalion suffered 5 killed and 28 wounded, half from mines.

?? This is where I’ve got to in the detailed unit histories ??

24 NZ Battalion 6 NZ Brigade

24 Battalion’s objectives were Marabella, a hill in the angle between the lateral road and Route 84, and Tavernanova, the area between the two roads and the Sangro (Phillips, 1957). As with 25 Battalion the companies advanced along two routes. A and D-Coy waited for 25 Battalion to occupy Point 122, then passed through to the west. A-Coy advanced on the road and D-Coy to the south. A-Coy was actually meant to move north of the road, but found the ground there sown with box mines, so stayed on the highway (Burdon, 1953). The companies eliminated a machine gun post watching the bridge over the Gogna stream. A-Coy crossed the bridge, moved 450 m upstream, then attached up the steep Marabella to the north. Burning haystacks shed an unwelcome light on the advancing lines, so the Kiwis move away to the right so as to remain in darkness. The defenders put up little resistance – concentrating around three anti-tank guns – before surrendering. Leaving a platoon to defend Marabella the other two platoons of A-Coy descended to Route 84 where they disabled explosives on a road bridge and two culverts. The company then dug in (by 0500 hours). To the west D and C-Coy occupied Tavernanova where the enemy surrendered without a fight. The battalion HQ was established about 100 m north of Point 122. At dawn A-Coy was fired upon from the lower slopes of Colle Barone to the west of Marabella. Later A-Coy also had to see off an enemy platoon trying to demolish the Bogna bridge. The Germans tried again later, bringing up men in motor transport to a point south of San Eusanio, where they began to debus. A timely stonk by the Kiwi artillery foiled that attempt. 24 battalion lost 4 killed and 12 wounded but took 106 prisoners.

Other action

In the early hours the Kiwi support troops tried to get through to the advancing infantry (Phillips, 1957). This was difficult due to the lack of bridges across the Sangro but the real enemy was mud. Lugged by their crews the 3″ mortars and machine guns followed the leading companies and most were in place by daybreak; 21 Battalion, however, didn’t get their 3″ mortars until the afternoon (Cody, 1953). No armour, however, reached the leading infantry until later in the day. Of the tanks of A Squadron, 19 Armoured Regiment, which forded the river at 0500 hours, 1 was stranded in the river, 11 were bogged in the muddy plough land to the north (as was the bulldozer helping them), and the remaining three were delayed by enemy demolitions until the next day. Five tanks of C Squadron crossed a slightly better ford at 0800 hours, then drove west to Point 122, up over the Castellata hill, and joined 25 Battalion. By afternoon tanks of B Squadron reached 26 Battalion on Scorticacane and 24 Battalion on Marabella. C Squadron of the Divisional Cavalry Regiment attempted to ford the river, but their armoured cars were even less suited to the task, and when all but one of the first troop to try became bogged in the river, the squadron was ordered back to the southern shore. By nightfall 15 tanks had reached 6 Brigade, but none had reached 5 Brigade. The anti-tank guns and support vehicles had to wait until the river was bridged. The engineers started work on the bridges at 0430 hours and by 0730 that on 5 Brigade’s front, called Heartbeat, was completed. The benefit was, however, once again undermined by mud, as the approach and exit roads were unmetalled and crossed boggy ground. Vehicles had to be winched across which reduced flow to eight vehicles per hour. Despite this, and accurate shell fire directed by spotters on the Colle Barone, 5 Brigade had all their vehicles across by 1100 hours. The other bridging effort was less successful. Due to road accidents work didn’t start on Lobe Bridge in the 6 Brigade sector until 0630 hours. At 0800 hours accurate shell halted all work on the bridge. Once night fell work commenced again and by 2115 hours Lobe bridge was open to light traffic.

During the day the battered elements of 65 Division pulled back 2.5-3 km up the ridge towards the main line of the Winter position (Phillips, 1957). Counterattacks were rare and small in scale. The most successful being that in the area of 23 Battalion. German gunfire was also light, partly due to ammunition rationing, but also due to effective Allied counter-battery fire and air support. No German tanks saw action during the day. The Germans did conduct three sorties by aircraft, although these were ineffective. In the afternoon the commander of the Division, Ziehlberg, was severely wounded and replaced by Colonel Ernst Baade.

Summary

By dawn of 28 Nov 1943 all five Kiwi Battalions were north of the Sangro and all but one of the objectives were in their hands (Phillips, 1957). 26 Battalion in the centre failed to take one of its objectives but the enemy on this height were covered by nearby Kiwi positions so this was not considered a problem. The Kiwis suffered 150 casualties during the day, but took over 200 prisoners. The defenders, 1 Battalion, 146 Regiment, 65 Division are reported to have showed little enthusiasm for the fight; they are also reported to have lost half their numbers in casualties, although this is quite high and might include the prisoners.

Castelfrentano to Orsogna

With the Kiwis pushing forward aggressively the Germans reorganised their front and suffered some confusion as a result (Phillips, 1957). From the coast (east) to the west, 76 Panzer Corps had 65 Infantry Division, mauled, demoralised and retreating in some disorder, 26 Panzer Division, also in retreat but if more determined, and 1 Parachute Division in the mountains. The Corps brought reinforcements into the line and tried to adjust its frontage. 90 Panzer Grenadier Division entered the line on the coastal sector and the 26th side stepped to its left (east). These adjustments allowed the 65th to shorten its front. The new German front was to run on the original Siegfried line through to the Melone junction and from there to the sea along the Orsogna-Ortona road behind the Moro river. The original defences which ran through Castelfrentano were to be abandoned. To reach Orsogna-Ortona road behind the Moro the front line divisions had to swing backwards at different rates – a difficult manoeuvre in the face of the enemy. Not surprisingly all this coming and going and overlapping fronts caused some disorder.

Orsogna was the linchpin of the new line (Phillips, 1957). Capturing it would allow the allies to roll up the defensive positions on the Moro. The main road to the coast ran through it, from Melone and Guardiagrele in the south-west to Ortona on the coast to the north-east. Unfortunately for the attackers the entire area was full of steep slopes and deep valleys. The south and east of the town were covered by particularly steep slopes. As a result the easiest approach to Orsogna was via the road from Melone to the west or by climbing up from the east via the track along the Brecciarola ridge. The ridge was covered in olive trees, grape vines, and grey stone farm buildings. The south (left) side of the ridge fell away steeply and near the town the cliffs were nearly vertical. The slopes were gentler on the northern (right) side, so the Germans protected this approach with generous doses of mines. The ridge line was narrow and narrowed further as it neared the town where the grey-stone houses clustered together tightly, barely allowing the road a path through. A tall church tower rose over the centre of the town.

Melone was an important junction about 2 km east of Guardiangrele (Phillips, 1957). It is where the Guardiangrele-Orsogna road met the lateral roads from Route 84. The village only comprised a few houses and the real defensive strength was the steep bluff and Martino hill to the west of the junction.

Advance to Castelfrentano
28 Nov 1943

29 Nov 1943

Kiwi patrols went out about 1,400 m but aside from empty dugouts, minefields, and a hay stack which had been hollowed out as a cover for a German tank, there were no signs of the enemy (Norton, 1952; Ross, 1959). During the day both 5 and 6 Brigade advanced about 1.5 km into the vacant area (Phillips, 1957). By the time the men stopped advancing in the early hours of 30 Nov the Kiwi front formed a rough crescent from the edge of Caporali on the right, across country to the railway line crossed Route 84, and then on to Colle Barone.

26 Battalion: At dusk, D-Coy moved to Point 172 on the left flank and B-Coy moved to a prominent feature north of C-Coy, Point 207 (Norton, 1952).

21 Battalion: By nightfall the battalion was deployed around the village of Cotti, with B-Coy forward on the old Roman road (Cody, 1953).

24 Battalion: At 1200 hours B-Coy, a platoon of D-Coy, and three troops of B Squadron, 19 Armoured Regiment, formed up west of Route 84 (Burdon, 1953; Phillips, 1957). They advanced up Colle Barone preceded by fire from three field regiments (1230 hours). C-Coy trailed 450 m behind in reserve. B-Coy suffered several casualties from mortar fire on the way up, but found the crest to be empty (1345 hours), and dug in. Meanwhile a patrol from A-Coy found San Eusanio on the right to be unoccupied.

On 29 Nov 26 Panzer Division gained a battalion of paratroopers as it adjusted its front (Phillips, 1957). (Presumably II/1 Parachute Battalion, as they are subsequently mentioned in the narrative.) The division also assumed responsibility for the sector in front of the Kiwi’s left flank. On the other hand a large part of the division – both infantry and tanks – was withheld as the corps reserve.

30 Nov 1943

30 Nov 1943 was fine and sunny (Norton, 1952). The Division was now in a position to round off the approach to the Winter Line by occupying the main lateral ridge and the small town of Castelfrentano on its crest (Cody, 1953). 22 (Motor) Battalion (4 Brigade) and 24 and 25 Battalions (6 Brigade) for the main thrust (Phillips, 1957). 6 Brigade was assigned to take the village itself whilst 5 Brigade was to occupy the San Nicolino slope, the southern bastion of the narrow plateau east of Castelfrentano. 4 Brigade also conducted a diversionary attack westward.

23 NZ Battalion 5 NZ Brigade

Patrols reconnoitred forward during the day and at 2200 hours the whole battalion advanced without opposition (Phillips, 1957; Ross, 1959).

?? more ??

21 NZ Battalion 5 NZ Brigade

At 1330 hours C-Coy left Caporali and advanced along a spur leading to the top of San Nicolino with No. 13 Platoon on the right, 15 on the left, and 14 in reserve along with Company HQ (Cody, 1953). About 450 m from their objective No. 15 and 13 Platoons attracted heavy machine gun fire and took cover. No. 14 Platoon tried to outflank the enemy but this prompted heavy mortar fire and the company was pinned until dark.

At 1500 hours A-Coy left Cotti for the Roman road, reaching B-Coy at dusk (Cody, 1953). There they were ordered to help C-Coy in taking their objective. A-Coy crossed a very deep ravine then split up for the attack. No. 7 Platoon passed through C-Coy and attacked uphill as the remainder of the A-Coy (HQ, No. 8 and 9 Platoons) moved around the right flank between C-Coy and 23 Battalion, and attacked from the side. The attack was successful, with 30 prisoners taken, and the men named the spot ‘Tanner’s Hill’ in honour of the company commander of A-Coy. A-Coy then headed westwards towards Castelfrentano and its original objective, prisoners in tow. No. 8 and 9 Platoons alternated in the lead, with 7 Platoon in reserve with the prisoners. After 400 m No. 8 Platoon, in front at the time, was halted by fire from a German post on its right. No. 9 Platoon flanked the enemy and in close combat took an additional 60 prisoners. The company now had more prisoners than troops, so the prisoners were passed on to 23 Battalion. A-Coy then dug in next to Route 84 with C-Coy about 350 m behind.

26 NZ Battalion 6 NZ Brigade

The support arms finally reached 26 battalion, which then, along with the newly arrived 24 Battalion, moved towards Castelfrentano (Norton, 1952). They advanced over 1.6 km with little opposition (Phillips, 1957). Light enemy mortaring had little effect but 26 Battalion suffered one killed and seven wounded from mines. Supporting tanks wound their way along the clay road through the hills but could not keep up with the infantry. At nightfall the infantry established a line about 900 m beyond Point 207. C-Coy moved to Point 207, A- Coy to Point 217, and Battalion HQ to a house on the forward slope of Point 207. [I’m a bit confused about this, given Norton says that the infantry were 900 m beyond Point 207, but C-Coy and the Battalion HQ was on Point 207. I guess this is possible if these were the battalion reserve, although they were a long way behind.]

25 NZ Battalion 6 NZ Brigade

25 Battalion was deployed at the junction of the the Lanciano-Casoli railway line and the main road, preparing to push on beyond San Eusanio (Burdon, 1953). The battalion reached San Eusanio railway station during the day, but had to fighting for it and the hill north-east of it (Phillips, 1957). The hill-top fight cost 2 killed, but netted 20 prisoners.

?? more ??

24 NZ Battalion 6 NZ Brigade

24 Battalion had the longest route of any battalion that day (Phillips, 1957). It was to move up the east bank of the Gogna and put two companies on the lower slopes of Point 398 within 100 m of the southern outskirts of Castelfrentano, thereby transferring itself from the left to the centre of 6 Brigade next to 26 Battalion (Burdon, 1953; Norton, 1952). D-Coy left Marabella, crossed the Gogna, and headed north to the railway loop south of Castelfrentano, with A-Coy close behind. They had to struggle over steep ploughed slopes but there was no opposition. They halted for the night on the Guardiagrele-Lanciano railway line where it runs around the spur of Point 398. A patrol reported the crest of the hill wired and occupied, and that the track ahead was mined and blocked with fallen trees. Meanwhile 22 (Motor) Battalion relieved B and C-Coys on Colle Barone. These companies, and the Battalion HQ, followed the lead companies toward Castelfrentano.

22 NZ (Motor) Battalion, 4 NZ Brigade

22 (Motor) Battalion relieved B and C-Coys of 24 Battalion on Colle Barone then advanced along Route 84, with 18 Armoured Regiment in support (Burdon, 1953).

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18 NZ Armoured Regiment, 4 NZ Brigade

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19 NZ Armoured Regiment, 4 NZ Brigade

19 Armoured Regiment followed was in reserve behind the attacking units (Phillips, 1957).

Other

Tiki bridge was opened next to Hearbeat bridge (Phillips, 1957).

After dark the Kiwis patrolled toward Castelfrentano (Norton, 1952). They found Route 84 badly damaged and blocked near the village, but no Germans.

Germans

By the night of 30 Nov – 1 Dec 146 Regiment 65 Infantry Division had pulled back to the Siegfried Line where it ran through Castelfrentano (Phillips, 1957). To their right the infantry of 26 Panzer Division (9 Panzer Grenadier Regiment and II/1 Parachute Battalion) withdrew to an intermediate position forward of the Siegfried line; only a third of the men had taken up position in the main defensive line. This mismatch meant the two divisions were considerably out of step.

Operations 2 Dec 1943

1 Dec 1943

Germans

By this time the German defence was in tatters, particularly in the sector of 65 Infantry Division (Phillips, 1957). Both infantry regiments of this division had lost much equipment and one regiment had yielded 1,000 prisoners. 5 Corps on the Kiwi’s right had already penetrated the 65 Division’s line to the sea. The German command decided to withdraw to the Guardiagrele-Orsogna-Ortona line behind the Moro river. As a result the forward troops continued their withdraw as reinforcements moved in. 90 Panzer Grenadier Division took over the left hand (eastern) sector from 65 Infantry Division’s section in the first few days of December.

In the morning II/1 Parachute Battalion reported to 26 Panzer Division that they had no friends on their left. II/146 Battalion who were on that flank were alredy on Colle Chiamato to the north (Phillips, 1957). III/146 were, however, still in Castelfrentano and resisted the Kiwis on the eastern outskirts.

As a result of the obvious misalignment of the two divisions on this front, 76 Panzer Corps ordered the following redeployment for the night of 1-2 Dec (Phillips, 1957):

  • 65 Infantry Division into the new line on the Orsogna-Ortona road.
  • 26 Panzer Division into the old line between Graniero and Melone, nominally to help them align with 65 Infantry Division.
  • A left-ward shift of the divisional boundary to Point 341 on Colle Chiamato. Men of II/1 Parachute Battalion around Graniero were to extend their left flank to cover that extra frontage.

The two divisions tried to follow these orders overnight and evacuated Castelfrentano as a result (Phillips, 1957). But the men of 65 Infantry Division retreated in one night further than they were meant to. Both II/146 and III/146 Battalions moved north to their intended final position on Sfasciata ridge to the north-east of Orsogna, leaving the left flank of II/1 Parachute Battalion hanging.

During the withdrawal on 1-2 Dec 93 Panzer Engineer Battalion in 26 Panzer Division blew 65 demolitions, eight power plants and several hamlets; they also destroyed or mined 52 military installations (Phillips, 1957).

German shelling continued, and during the day Kiwi anti-aircraft fire saw off the sole German sortie (Norton, 1952).

24 NZ Battalion 6 NZ Brigade

Just before dawn two 3″ mortars joined 24 Battalion (Burdon, 1953). The battalion then attacked up hill to the crest of Point 398 450 m away (Burdon says dawn, but Phillips, 1957, says 0845 hours). Their primary target was a two story stone hotel about 100 m from Route 84, south of Castelfrentano. A track led past the hotel and into Castelfrentano, and several smaller buildings were clustered around the hotel. D-Coy lead the attack with A-Coy in support. No. 16 Platoon went straight up the track. 17 Platoon worked their around the hill to the right along the railway line, then up a gully to Route 84. No. 18 Platoon and Company HQ were in reserve behind 16 Platoon. Forewarned by local Italians 16 Platoon found several of the surrounding buildings occupied and in the resultant skirmish eliminated two enemy posts and took over 10 prisoners, then captured the hotel. 17 Platoon also encountered resistance the entire way and only one section reached the road where it was pinned until nightfall. Two anti-tank guns joined the battalion at 1200 hours; one was used against enemy machine guns, but the other was kept in reserve against the potential of an armoured counter-attack. A forward observation officer also arrived and his guns began to fire in support of the infantry. Soon after 16 Platoon was entrenched around the hotel the Germans launched two counter-attacks in quick succession. The second of these was serious and 18 Platoon came forward in support, dashing in under fire. The two platoons then saw off a third counter-attack in the early afternoon. After this the Germans resorted to shelling the hotel with mortars thus forcing the defenders from the top floor as the building crumbled around them. The shelling died down at dusk, but the machine-gunners of the German rear-guard took up the “hate” between dusk and 0100 hours the next day. This action cost D-Coy 3 killed and 12 wounded, with the battalion another killed and 6 wounded in the rest of the battalion.

26 NZ Battalion 6 NZ Brigade

One of the companies from 26 Battalion moved up to the right (east) side of D-Coy, 24 Battalion, in their position at the hotel building (Burdon, 1953). At 2230 hours C-Coy, 26 Battalion, advanced toward the road running along the crest of the Castelfrentano ridge (Norton, 1952). The men suffered from light mortar fire, tangled wire, mines, and a heavy load carried up a stiff climb, but managed to get to about 350 m of Castelfrentano. Later patrols searched the village and took 13 prisoners from 146 Regiment, 65 Division.

25 NZ Battalion 6 NZ Brigade

25 Battalion moved uneventfully up to the left (west) of 24 Battalion (Burdon, 1953; Phillips, 1957). They threatened to cut the road west of Castelfrentano, and were within 350 m of the village.

23 NZ Battalion 5 NZ Brigade

By 1340 on 1 Dec a platoon from A-Coy, 23 Battalion, was on Point 240 overlooking Castelfrentano (Ross, 1959). Two small patrols reconnoitred forward, then A and B-Coys followed. German machine gun fire halted them half way up the steep San Nicolino ridge. After dark B, C and D-Coys moved forward another 450 m and had formed a continuous line by 2230 hours. A patrol then advanced to the Lanciano-Castelfrentano road without meeting enemy.

21 NZ Battalion 5 NZ Brigade

Like their compatriots of 23 Battalion, the advance of 21 Battalion was held up by machine gun fire half up the San Nicoline ridge and was only resumed after dark (Phillips, 1957). A-Coy was in the lead and its lead platoon stumbled into enemy machine gun nests, and with the other platoons in (noisy) support, captured 30 prisoners. The other two platoons of A-Coy then leap-frogged forward. As one advanced it was fired upon from the right. The support platoon flanked the enemy positions and the 60 seemingly “surrounded” Germans surrendered.

4 NZ Armoured Brigade

Early in the morning 4 Armoured Brigade – 22 NZ (Motor) Battalion and 19 NZ Armoured Regiment – moved up Route 84 from Marabella (Burdon, 1953; Phillips, 1957). Their target with the junction with the main Guardiagrele road, but mines and the fire of concealed batteries stopped the armoured advance 3 km short at the junction with the road from San Eusanio. The halt did not, however, stop the German shell fire and eight Kiwi tanks were put out of action that day. After dark an infantry patrol advanced up the road and found a demolished house blocking Route 84 about 1.5 km south of the main junction. Trip wires would signal the bombardment of the junction ahead.

C Squadron 19 Armoured Regiment spent the night struggling up muddy narrow lanes to Route 84 (Phillips, 1957).

Other sectors

2 NZ Machine Gun-Coy left the area south and west of the junction of the Aventino and Sangro rivers (Phillips, 1957). Thus that area was denuded of allied troops. Ironically, fearing allied infiltration behind their line on the Moro, the Germans posted two battalions from a mountain regiment into this sector.

2 Dec 1943: Castelfrentano

Allied aircraft strafed Castelfrentano before 24 NZ Battalion entered the town at 0700 hours (Phillips, 1957). 5 NZ Brigade consolidated in the Castelfrentano area. 4 NZ Armoured Brigade headed left in a diversionary thrust along two along lateral roads of Route 84, one the direct Castelfrentano-Melone road and the other 3 km south passing through San Eusanio and joining the first road about 1.5 km east of Melone. As it happened this was straight into the main German defensive line. 6 NZ Brigade was given the main task for the day … push on night and day for Orsogna. C Squadron 19 Armoured Regiment was attached to 6 Brigade for the effort.

Germans

At or by 0930 hours II/146 Battalion abandoned Point 341, the agreed boundary between 65 Infantry Division and 26 Panzer Division, but failed to notify their neighbours (Phillips, 1957). From 1000 hours the infantry of the 26th began reporting enemy movement to the divisional HQ. II/1 Parachute Battalion on Point 341 also reported they, once again, had no neighbours on their left. The 26th divisional commander confirmed this in person and at 1245 hours was given permission to bring 26 Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion from reserve to bridge the gap with the 65th, and allow the infantry to continue their ordered withdrawal. This, however, took time and at 1500 the paratroopers reported the enemy pushing around their left flank. At 1700 (about dusk) the division ordered its infantry back to a ridge in front of the Melone-Orsogna road and ordered the reconnaissance battalion to take control of Orsogna itself, and hold it at all costs. At 1830 hours (long after dark) the first recon company reached Orsogna and replaced II/146 Battalion. By midnight the defenders of Orsogna comprised the 26 Reconnaissance Battalion, less one company, a company of tanks including flamethrower tanks, and two 20mm four barrelled anti-aircraft guns.

C Squadron 19 Armoured Regiment (supporting 6 Brigade)

C Squadron was sent to 24 Battalions right flank (Phillips, 1957). Their orders were to head north along the rough track to the Lanciano-Orsogna road, then west to Orsogna along the road. They headed north from Castelfrentano just after 1100 hours. Their recon troops were halted by machine gun fire a mere 1.5 km out of town. The tanks of the main body came up and overran several German positions. Some of the enemy escaped as the tanks lacked infantry in support to round up prisoners. The main body pushed on and reached the Lanciano-Orsogna road, then turned west along the road. They went through the village of Spaccarelli to the bridge over the Moro stream, which they found demolished and impassable. Unable to proceed, the squadron went into laager for the night protected by an infantry company from 25 Battalion. Meanwhile some tanks and carriers spent the afternoon clearing the area west of the road.

24 Battalion 6 Brigade

Before dawn 24 Battalion entered the now unoccupied Castelfrentano (Burdon, 1953). The capture of Castelfrentano and the ridge east of it ended the first phase of the attack across the Sangro (Norton, 1952). A-Coy searched the village as C and B-Coys moved down into the Moro valley along the old Roman road to the north-west. The Germans referred to this as a cart track, which reflects its condition (Phillips, 1957). A and D followed later and took up positions east of the other companies.

The battalion crossed the steep gully of the river Moro, and reached the Lanciano-Orsogna road by mid-afternoon. By 1530 the battalion was in position north of the road with its advance company just over 1 km from Orsogna. Fire from light anti-aircraft guns on the outskirts of the village checked a Kiwi reconnaissance effort. The section involved withdrew but left two men to observe. At 1630 the kiwi observers reported about 70 Germans forming up, but C-Coy easily repulsed their half-hearted counter-attack . After dark (about 1700 hours) a work party from 26 Battalion set to improving the Roman Road, so that about 2200 hours the mortars and an anti-tank guns of 24 Battalion could reach their forward elements.

26 Battalion 6 Brigade

About 0900 hours A-Coy, 26 Battalion, moved up the ridge and took up a position to the left of C-Coy just outside Castelfrentano (Norton, 1952).

25 Battalion 6 Brigade

At 1000 hours 25 Battalion advanced along Route 84 to the left of 24 Battalion (Phillips, 1957). Their orders were to join up with 4 Brigade. About 1500 hours The battalion dug in west of the road where it bears south. At 1630 hours they sent a patrol to find a route across Colle Chiamato which was suitable for vehicles. A working party followed the patrol. At dusk (about 1700 hours) the defenders of Orsogna fired upon the working party to their south-east. 25 Battalion responded by sending a fighting patrol which captured five prisoners for no casualties. The battalion then prepared for their attack on Orsogna the following morning.

22 Battalion 4 Brigade

2 Motor Company (B-Coy 22 Battalion), with B Squadron 18 Armoured Regiment, headed north along Route 84 (Phillips, 1957). German shellfire and a ditch across the road didn’t delay them and reached the junction with the Castelfrentano-Melone road at 1000 hours. (The ditch was crossed by the aid of a bridging tank.) From there they headed west along he Castelfrentano-Melone road, preceded by armoured cars of the Divisional Cavalry. Delays began half way along as German shellfire cratered the road. As night fell (about 1700 hours) the Kiwi infantry pressed hard against the withdrawing German rearguards. Further delays occurred as a result of a second demolition, the destruction of a damaged tank in the middle of the road, and, of course German small arms fire. The Kiwis captured three of the rear guard near the village of Salarola, including the command of I/9 Panzer Grenadier Battalion. As 2 Motor Company approached the junction with the southern road, the Germans blew a third demolition causing a 14 m hole in the road. This stopped the advance dead. When the Kiwi infantry tried to skirt the hole, well sited German posts opened up and halted their attempt.

As the first column swung westward, a second column, comprising more armoured cars of the Divisional Cavalry, C Squadron and HQ 18 Regiment, and 1 Motor Company (A-Coy 22 Motor Battalion), were ordered along the southern lateral road to Melone (Phillips, 1957). They found no defenders but did suffer from shell fire and were delayed by a large anti-tank ditch. Allied fighter-bombers dealt with the enemy artillery and a bridging tank solved the problem of the ditch. This column joined up with their northern comrades the next day.

Overnight

Kiwi plans were obvious to the struggling Germans, the following day would bring attacks through Melone and Orsogna itself (Phillips, 1957). The war diary of 26 Panzer Division makes their intentions for 3 Dec clear “Intensions: fortify and hold positions” (p. 92). Overnight they hurriedly abandoned their positions forward of the Melone-Orsogna road, fell back to Melone, and completed the occupation of Orsogna. Paratroopers – presumably II/1 Parachute Battalion – defended Melone, whilst 26 Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion was in Orsogna.

3 Dec 1943

25 Battalion 6 Brigade

At 0130 hours 25 Battalion set off to attack Orsogna (Phillips, 1957). They were relatively fresh, having avoided serious fighting since crossing the Sangro. B-Coy was attached 19 Armoured Regiment at Spaccarelli. The res of the battalion marched north along the Roman road, then westward along the Lanciano-Orsogna road, passing 24 Battalion on Brecciarola ridge. At 0315 Battalion HQ and A-Coy dug in 400 m from Orsogna. C and D Companies deployed on opposite sides of the road and advanced towards the town. A forward observation officer from 6 Field Regiment was accompanying the infantry in a jeep. They reached the outskirts at 0615 hours without meeting resistance. C deployed for all-round defence on the edge of the town as D-Coy pushed on into the houses. Two platoons were ordered straight through the town, No. 17 Platoon on the right and No. 18 on the left. No. 16 Platoon was ordered to clear the buildings on the left. The defenders finally responded when the two lead platoons were half way through the town. A German armoured car drove down the main street into the main square behind them and began firing. The forward observation officer lost his radio when a German anti-tank gun took a shot at his jeep. The Kiwis came under heavy fire from German posts and tried to work their way through the south of the town.

Meanwhile 26 Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion organised a counter-attack (Phillips, 1957). A company of tanks along with one and a half companies of infantry formed up to the west of the town. About 0700 hours three tanks from C Squadron 19 Armoured Regiment, positioned outside Castelfrenano, took the counter-attack force under long distance fire. This did not, however, stop the Germans entering the town and capturing both 17 and 18 Platoon. The infantry were in radio contact with the battalion but never called in artillery presumably because in the confined close quarter fighting there were no suitable artillery targets.

No. 16 Platoon was ordered to hold on in the town and wait for A Squadron 18 Armoured Regiment (Phillips, 1957). Being over 13 km away when ordered up, the latter didn’t arrive in time and 16 platoon beat a hasty retreat in the face of the approaching Panzers. Eight men managed to escape down a gully on the south edge of the town.

C-Coy then came under pressure and escaped down a gully on the northern edge of the town (Phillips, 1957). The crews of three Bren carriers, operating in support of C-Coy, had to abandon their vehicles in the retreat.

By 1100 hours the Kiwis were out of the town (Phillips, 1957). 25 Battalion had taken a beating, losing 4 killed, 26 wounded and 53 missing (mostly prisoners) during the day.

A Squadron 18 armoured Regiment finally made an appearance amongst the forward infantry positions as two Panzers probed out of the town to the east (Phillips, 1957). The Kiwis damaged one and forced the other retreat.

26 Battalion 6 Brigade

26 Battalion moved into the Moro valley south of the other two battalions of 6 Brigade (Phillips, 1957). A working party made every effort to improve the Roman road where it crossed the Moro, but was harassed by German shellfire.

22 Battalion 4 Brigade

2 Motor Company discovered that the Germans had withdrawn from their positions o the Melone-Orsogna road (Phillips, 1957). The columns of 4 Brigade were reunited. A 45 minute long NZ barrage started an hour after daybreak, target Melone. The barrage covered the approach of 3 Motor Company (C-Coy 22 Motor Battalion). Their orders were to secure the village to allow a squadron from the divisional cavalry to dash through and head towards Orsogna from the junction. As it happened heavy German shellfire hammered the approaching infantry, and defenders in Melone opened up as soon as the Kiwi infantry came in sight. NZ tanks climbed the hill to the south, but their fire did not change the situation. Within an hour of setting out 3 Motor Company was called back. None-the-less the NZ commanders were optimistic that Melone would be abandoned. This hope was dashed when that night a patrol reported the village was still occupied.

Supporting Arms

German artillery shelled Castelfrentano and the Roman road to the north to hinder the Kiwis bring up reinforcements (Phillips, 1957). The working party from 26 Battalion received particular attention as it improved the crossing of the Moro.

The allies brought up substantial artillery reinforcements, starting with HQ 6 Army Group, Royal Artillery, and 1 Air Landing Light Regiment (Phillips, 1957). The allied gunners pounded Orsogna, Guardiagrele, and the German gun positions. Allied fighter bombers also launched several raids again the German gunners.

In return, and despite the presence of Spitfires in the vicinity, German aircraft bombed and strafed the forward Kiwi battalions three times during the day (Phillips, 1957). Divisional anti-aircraft guns shot down one or two.

The Army Service Corps established supply dumps north of the Sangro and began to stockpile petrol, oil, lubricants and ammunition (Phillips, 1957).

Germans

76 Panzer Corps began to pull 65 Infantry Division out of the line, starting with the divisional HQ (Phillips, 1957). To cover the gap 90 Panzer Grenadier Division expanded to the west and 26 Panzer Division to the east. Both of the latter divisions, however, incorporated some units of the ill-fated 65th. The 26th acquired, at least, the II/146 battalion east of Orsogna.

IV Alpine Battalion of 26 Panzer Division, located in the mountains to the west, sent patrols into the area south and west of the junction between the Aventino and Sangro rivers (Phillips, 1957).

Overnight

Two patrols from B-Coy 24 Battalion explored the German defences at Orsogna on the night of 3-4 Dec (Phillips, 1957). The heard vehicle movement and discovered machine gun posts east of the town and at the western end found two guns firing towards Guardiagrele.

4 Dec 1943

A steady warm rain caused the Sangro to rise (Phillips, 1957).

The Kiwis prepared for their first major attempt on Orsogna, as the Germans desperately dug in (Phillips, 1957). 26 Panzer Division brought up a company of engineers to form the reserve for a counter-attack at Orsogna. The Germans also continued to shell and bomb Castelfrentano and the Roman road.

The Kiwis patrolled to the south, east and north-east of Orsogna, looking for weaknesses. A fighting patrol from D-Coy 24 Battalion found the gully to the south of the town too rough and steep to allow a full scale attack. A section from C-Coy 24 Battalion got to the eastern outskirts of Orsogna, and 50 m of a tank, before being fired upon; they reported the town was held in strength with entrenchments about 50 m in front of the houses. A section from A-Coy 24 Battalion found the Sfasciata ridge on the Divisions’ right to be held in strength for about 1.6 km to the east of the Ortona-Orsogna road. A section from C-Coy 23 Battalion pushed along the Moro valley for 3 km to the north of 25 Battalion, then headed west across a gully and up the slope towards the Ortona lateral, before encountering a German patrol and retreating back the way they came. A party from A-Coy 26 Battalion tried, without success, to find a tank route to bypass Orsogna. Further north patrols from the Divisional Cavalry Regiment found not useful routes of advance in the sectors controlled by 8 Indian Division or the Canadians.

After resting through the day 25 Battalion returned to the line overnight, deploying to the right of 24 Battalion on the San Felice ridge (Phillips, 1957). C-Coy, less one platoon, tried to establish a post about 1 km north-east of the German position on Sfasciata ridge that 24 Battalion had discovered earlier. From 2200 hours Kiwi Vickers and artillery fire saturated the target area. The company headed along the bed of the Moro and turned left uphill at 0300 hours on 5 Dec. The navigated up the ridge by the light of German flares, but suffered under German mortars and machine guns. By 0430 hours they neared the crest, but the strong resistance prompted a withdrawal back to the battalion positions on San Felice.

All this activity confirmed that Orsogna was defended for some distance to the north-east, and quite closely on the south and east (Phillips, 1957).

To the south-west a patrol from 3 Motor Company (C-Coy 22 Battalion), preceded by an artillery concentration, probed the defences at Melone (Phillips, 1957). They attracted mortar fire but for their pains discovered machine-gun posts on Martino hill, west of the junction, and concrete emplacements north of the junction towards Orsogna.

During the day a German patrol from Melone blew another hole in the road west of Melone then returned to the village in the early hours of 5 Dec (Phillips, 1957). They were spotted by a patrol from 22 Battalion who also found the road junction clear of enemy.

Italian civilians reported 200 Germans at Casoli and other villages to the south and west of the junction between the Aventino and Sangro rivers (Phillips, 1957). IV Alpine Battalion was apparently demolishing the villages. The Divisional Defence Platoon and a troop of armoured cars from B Squadron Divisional Cavalry went to investigate. They occupied Casoli but didn’t encounter Germans during their two day stay. They did, however, hear the distance sound of explosions. The RAF bombed the village Torricella, which was suspected to be the German HQ of this effort.

Overnight the flooding Sangro became impassable (Phillips, 1957). Flood waters washed away both Lobe bridge and the northern approach to Tiki bridge, and damaged the others. Tiki bridge was back in operation by 1100 hours on 5 Dec, but was the only available route and had to be used in both directions.

5 Dec 1943

Two platoons of 1 Motor Company (A-Coy 22 Motor Battalion) made an attempt on the Melone road junction (Phillips, 1957). Tanks of B Squadron 18 Armoured Regiment, posted on a nearby hill, and artillery provided long distance support. The infantry were halted 300 m short of their objective by mortar and machine gun fire from the paratroopers on Martino hill.

At a meeting at 0745 hours the NZ divisional commander decided to prepare a two brigade attack on Orsogna (Phillips, 1957). Machine gunners were brought into the line to the right of 25 Battalion where they could harass the Gemran positions on Sfasciate ridge. 28 Maori Battalion moved into position behind 6 Brigade.

5 Field-Coy bridged the Moro about 2 km north of the Roman road, thus opening up an alternate supply route (Phillips, 1957). Traffic left Route 84 west of Castelfrentano, travelled north over the Carato and Taverna hills to the Lanciano-Orsogna road, then turned west to Spaccarelli, across the new bridge (Hunter’s) to the San Felice ridge.

During the evening 2 Independent Parachute Brigade was attached to 2 NZ Division and moved into the area south and east of the junction between the Aventino and Sangro rivers (Phillips, 1957). 4 Parachute Battalion was I the east on the Sangro and 5 Parachute Battalion to the west near the mountains. The paratroopers replaced the Kiwis at Casoli and sent patrols out to hunt down the German alpine troops. 6 Parachute Battalion replaced 22 Motor Battalion in front of Melone.

Additional British field and medium guns were brought in to reinforce the artillery (Phillips, 1957).

6 Dec 1943

There was drizzling rain all da (Phillips, 1957)y.

The Germans, suspecting the massing of allied armour near the coast, adjusted their front again (Phillips, 1957). 26 Panzer Division was ordered to expand east again. 65 Infantry Division was ordered back to the line between the 26th and the mountains. The new boundary was to run through Orsogna and was to come into effect at 1600 hours on 7 Dec. Aside from these activities the men dug in with strong points, wire and mines. Rear echelon troops were assigned to man the rear positions.

On the night of 6-7 Dec the Kiwis finished their preparations (Phillips, 1957). Q Anti-tank troop dragged their four 17-pounder guns up the San Felice ridge and dug them in to cover the Orsogna-Ortona road. 42 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery crossed the Sango to provide aircover; 8th Army took responsibility for south of the river. 24 Battalion gained two bulldozers – their task in the coming attack was to fill in craters.

7 – ?? Dec 1943: Operation Torso – The First Battle of Orsogna

7 Dec 1943

The day was showery with poor visibility (Phillips, 1957).

At 0900 hours the Divisional and Brigade staff met for the final time to agree the operational plan (Phillips, 1957). The plan was that 5 and 6 brigades would attack frontally over 2 km of the ridge line preceded by a 90 minute barrage. The start line was just over 1 km from the objectives. On the west (left) 6 Brigade would attack along Brecciarola ridge directly toward Orsogna (24 Battalion) and provide a base for the attack (25 and 26 Battalions). To their east (right) 5 Brigade would attack along the Pascuccio ridge to the Orsogna-Ortona road (28 Maori Battalion) with a right flank guard taking part of the Sfasciate ridge (23 Battalion). 2 Independent Parachute Brigade would protect the left (west) flank from their existing positions. 18 Armoured Regiment (less B Squadron) was to enter Orsogna behind 6 Brigade along the Orsogna-Lanciano road, and link up with 5 Brigade to the right. The geography of the situation underlined the flaw in the plan. The Pascuccio ridge is between the Brecciarola and Sfasciata ridge, so 5 Brigade would only be able to hold their gains against armoured counter-attack if 6 Brigade took Orsogna and let the Kiwi armour through.

At 1030 hours – only 2.5 hours before the barrage commended – the Battalion commanders in 5 Brigade received their orders (Phillips, 1957).

The Kiwi attack caught the Germans still adjusting their divisional boundaries (Phillips, 1957). Although these adjustments were meant to be complete by 1600 hours, reliefs were still taking place. 9 Panzer Grenadier Regiment was in the east facing 5 Brigade. The regiment had been briefly in reserve and replacements had brought the strength up to 930 men. II/146 Battalion was between the 9th and Orsogna itself. In Orsogna the Germans had three companies of 26 Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, one platoon of engineers, one platoon from 146 Regiment, 28 machine guns, 4 anti-tank guns, 4 mortars and 10 tanks (including two with flame throwers). When the attack commenced III/4 Parachute Battalion was about to relieve the recon battalion in Orsogna. Paratroopers also held Melone, in the new sector assigned to 65 Infantry Division.

At 1300 hours the allied barrage began, along with the air support (Phillips, 1957). Three troops of medium guns pounded Orsogna until 1630 hours. 1 Air Landing Light Regiment shelled the road on either side of Orsogna. 4 and 5 NZ Field Regiments and 111 Field Regiment Royal Artillery provided close in support for the infantry. From 1300 to 1430 hours they aimed a standing barrage 275 m ahead of the start line. At 1430 the barrage began to advance 90 m in six minutes and finishing 450 m west of Orsogna. To the west, in front of 5 Brigade, one troop of medium guns targeted Sfasciata, along with 6 Field Regiment firing smoke (20 minutes) then concentrations until 1610 hours. A 98 minute long counter-battery programme was scheduled.

At 1330 hours 13 squadrons of fighter-bombers dropped their first and only bombs on Orsogna (Phillips, 1957). The intention was they from 1330 to 1400 they would bomb the town, then until 1600 hours they would harass the German artillery and the roads near Arielli and Filetto. But as the allied bombs dropped the weather closed in and subsequent sorties were cancelled. The weather only clear enough at 1600 hours.

The infantry advanced to the start line between 1300 and 1430 hours (Phillips, 1957). 28 Maori Battalion had the hardest time, having to climb San Felice ridge, descend a steep gully, cross a stream, then climb the steep slippery slopes of Pascuccio ridge.

23 Battalion 5 Brigade

23 Battalion were supported by 2 Machine Gun-Coy and the fire from 25 Battalion on San Felice (Phillips, 1957). At 1430 hours they advanced through the smoke, and despite enemy shell and mortar fire they were on Sfasciato ridge by 1530 hours, and had secured the divisions right (east) flank.

28 Maori Battalion 5 Brigade

28 Battalion had to advance along the razor back of Pascuccio ridge then up a steep escarpment to the Orsogna-Ortona road (Phillips, 1957). Luckily for the Maoris the allied smoke prevented the defenders on the road bringing accurate fire to bear as the Germans should have had commanding fire zones. The battalion was also lucky in that it attack on the boundary between 9 Panzer Grenadier Regiment (east) and II/146 Battalion (west).

On the right (east) C-Coy was exposed to German machine-gun fire from Sfasciate ridge across the valley (Phillips, 1957). The company advanced slowly through minefields but made short work of the lightly held German posts in the sector (mostly in buildings) and had dug in on the road by 1700 hours.

D-Coy to the left (west) had a tougher time (Phillips, 1957). The steep muddy slopes meant they could not keep up with the artillery barrage. German machine gunners harassed them as they climbed hand over hand up the precipitous escarpment under the brow. Once the Maori were at the top a deadlock then ensued.

A-Coy advanced behind C and D Companies (Phillips, 1957). When they lead companies became engaged on the crest, A-Coy pushed through the gaps and attack the Germans positions from the rear, thus breaking D-Coy’s deadlock. The company then pushed on across the road to the railway line some 200 m beyond.

Although the Kiwis managed to overrun isolated Panzer Grenadier posts, the flank company only gave ground (Phillips, 1957). In contrast the flank company of II/146 Battalion was scattered and only 10 men were subsequently rallied.

The Germans then counter-attacked (Phillips, 1957). At 1800 hours a reserve company from 9 Panzer Grenadier Regiment and eight Panzer IVs from 26 Panzer Regiment attacked C-Coy. Tank fire drove the Kiwi away from the road, over the escarpment on back down Pascuccio ridge. The fight was not, however, all one-sided and Kiwi Piats damaged two of the Panzers. C-Coy was then reorganised and put into reserve.

The Panzers Grenadiers dug in on top of the cliff where a counter-attack by B-Coy found them (Phillips, 1957). The Kiwis reclaimed the position after some time and energy.

The Panzers, without their infantry, then moved on down the road to attack D-Coy at the Orsogna cemetery (Phillips, 1957). Once again concentrated tank fire had its effect and drove the forward platoons back to the cliff top.

A-Coy scaled the cliffs, moved behind D-Coy, and overran some German posts north of the cemetery (Phillips, 1957).

After suffering heavy shell fire for some time the Panzers retreated back down the road (Phillips, 1957).

The reserve company from II/146 Battalion got lost in its first attempt at a counter-attack, but managed to find A-Coy’s left flank about 2300 hours (Phillips, 1957).

?? TODO ?? Finish it

References

Burdon, R.M. (1953). 24 Battalion. On-line http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-24Ba.html. War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. New Zealand.

Cody, J. F. (1953). 21 Battalion. On-line http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-21Ba.html. War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. New Zealand.

Kay, R. (1958). 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion. On-line http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-27Ba.html. War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. New Zealand.

Norton, F. D. (1952). 26 Battalion. On-line http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-26Ba.html. War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. New Zealand.

Phillips, N. C. (1957). Italy (Vol. 1): The Sangro to Cassino. War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. New Zealand.

Puttick, E. (1960). 25 Battalion. On-line http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-25Ba.html. War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. New Zealand.

Ross, A. (1959). 23 Battalion. On-line http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-23Ba.html. War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. New Zealand.

Sinclair, D. W. (1954). 19 Battalion and Armoured Regiment. On-line http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-19Ba.html. War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. New Zealand.

1 comment to 2 NZ Division Timeline – Sango River to Orsogna

  • Lorraine Murphy

    I am researching the last movements of my uncle in Italy 1943, with a view to visiting the Sangro River War Cemetery later this year. Conway Grey Murphy pvt 177123, 21st Bn, died Christmas Day 1943 during the battle for Orsogna. He was my father’s only sibling and there was very little talk about him as we were growing up. I have found your detailed campaign history most intriguing.Thank you. I will follow up some of the references to try and pin point the Christmas Day activity.

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