Italy 1943 - 1945:
New Zealand Division
New Zealand’s contribution to the armed forces of the British Commonwealth during the Second World War was very significant for a country with a small population.
Following the declaration of war in September 1939, New Zealand dispatched an expeditionary force, which concentrated in Egypt. This force became the 2 New Zealand Division. The division was dispatched to Greece in early 1941, and then famously defended Crete against the airborne German invasion. It fought in most of the major battles in the Western Desert from late 1941 until October 1942 (battle of El Alamein) under command of 8 Army. The division then continued into Tunisia, after which it prepared for deployment to Italy.
The Division Deploys to Italy
The division reorganised from its previous all infantry role to the ‘new’ mixed role in late 1943 with the 4 Brigade changing into an armoured brigade. In this order of battle, the division sailed for Italy arriving at Taranto in October 1943. The division moved up the Adriatic coast on 14 November 1943 under command of 8 Army. In early January 1944, it was moved into an army group reserve role.
In February, the division was instructed to relieve the U.S. 34 Infantry Division in the Cassino sector. On 3 February 1944, the division formed the New Zealand Corps, together with the 4 Indian Infantry Division and 78 Infantry Division. It relieved the 34 U.S. Infantry Division on 12 February. The Monastery was heavily bombed on 15 February, and the 4 Indian Division commenced their attack at nightfall. The 2 New Zealand Division commenced their assault into Cassino Town on 17 February, with the 28 Maori Battalion attacking into the town. They made little progress and the attack was halted the next day. There was a lull in operations until 14 March. Cassino Town was bombed on 14 March, with the 6 New Zealand Brigade attacking on the next day. Some progress was made, but the attack was called off on 23 March, by which time the four battalions were exhausted. New Zealand Corps was disbanded on 26 March 1944.
The division rested and refitted after Cassino. Between 22 July and 4 August, the division participated in the battle of the Gothic Line and the drive towards Florence under command of 8 Army. On 26 November, the division attacked towards Faenza, the attack ending on 12 December. For the final offensive, the division came under the command of V Corps, and on 9 April launched an assault across the Senio River. The German resistance broke, and the division continued to advance against German Parachute troops, crossing the Po River on 25 April 1945. The division made for Trieste, which it reached on 2 May 1945. Tension was high between the Yugoslav Partisans and the Allies over the future of Trieste, but eventually this was resolved. The Headquarters, 2 New Zealand Division disbanded in Italy on 20 January 1946, and the troops returned home.
The New Zealand government has been superb in making so much valuable information about the Second World War available on-line. The Canadian and Australian governments are similarly very good, but sadly, the British lag far behind their former Dominions.
For information about the New Zealand Division and its involvement in the Italian Campaign can be found at: