The Third Battle of Monte Cassino: the New Zealand Corps is Dissolved

The Abbey of Monte Cassino, March 1944

On 23 March 1944, bad weather, heavy casualties, and signs of complete exhaustion slowed the Allied attacks against Monastery Hill. But Kiwi MajGen Bernard Freyberg was determined to take it and ordered further attacks. Freyberg was an excellent division commander, probably the best in the theatre, but he was out of his depth as a corps commander. He was brave to a fault and his troops loved him because he saw to their welfare, but his brash personal style of leadership caused chaos in the corps headquarters.

Greatly concerned, the Allied commander in Italy, British Gen Harold Alexander, came down to Freyberg’s headquarters to assess the situation. When he saw the extent of the devastation to the New Zealand Corps, he said one word to its adamant commander, “Passchendaele”. 27 years before during the First World War, almost an entire generation of Canadian young men were killed off in fruitless attacks against a strong German position in the Battle of Passchendaele. The word struck Freyberg like a slap across the face. A veteran of that war, he immediately called off the offensive.

Three days later on 26 March, what remained of the New Zealand Corps was rolled in the British XIII Corps. The Third Battle of Monte Cassino was over.

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