Cassino is a relatively short history of the contribution of the New Zealand army to the Italian campaign of World War Two. It’s written primarily as a narrative, and draws a lot from the personal accounts of various veterans.

In a nutshell, if you’re a history buff you’ll probably find Cassino moderately interesting, but I’m not sure that the account adds all that much value to our collective knowledge of what transpired in Italy in late 1943 and 1944. Williams has a tendency to glance across major events, and tends to focus on a few of his most and least favoured characters to the detriment of the details of the warfare.

On the positive side, the jingoism you normally expect from this type of account is minimised, although a little pomposity does sneak in an make itself known from time to time. One of the downsides of military history I guess.

My biggest impression after reading the book is the complete futility of the Italian Campaign. Once invaded the Italians capitulated immediately. It might well have been better to focus the men and resources that were spent at Cassino in a more wise theatre, but Churchill, in all his wisdom *cough* pressed for Italy to be a front.

Added to this the sheer incompetence of a number of generals, and complete misplacement of others (particularly Freyberg, the general of the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force), and you have a recipe for disaster.  The number of blunders, idiotic decisions to attack well-entrenched enemies, the complete annihilation of the town and Abbey of Cassino, and the loss of life was staggering.

My next impression was the carefully balanced stupidity and arrogance of Americans. Here’s an example. When it was realised that the NZLers couldn’t take Cassino they were to be relieved by an American infantry division. The Kiwi Non-Commissioned Officers at the front briefed the Americans, and warned them to approach the town in small groups, as silently as possible, and under cover. No sooner had this briefing ended than 80 infantry come marching down the middle of the nearest “road”, singing, talking loudly, and generally making themselves a big target.

They were promptly butchered by artillery. But here’s the amazing part! The survivors didn’t take cover. They hid from the artillery fire, then ran out to either rubberneck/help their wounded. The Germans promptly shelled them again, killing a whole lot more.

Insane. Thank grace that my generation never had to either fight, or fight with those idiots.