Battle of Monte Cassino

Battle of Monte Cassino

Overview
The Battle of Monte Cassino (also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was a costly series of four battles during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, fought by the Allies
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 against Germans and Italians with the intention of breaking through the Winter Line
Winter Line
The Winter Line was a series of German military fortifications in Italy, constructed during World War II by Organisation Todt. The primary Gustav Line ran across Italy from just north of where the Garigliano River flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west, through the Apennine Mountains to the...

 and seizing Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

.

In the beginning of 1944, the western half of the Winter Line was being anchored by Germans holding the Rapido, Liri and Garigliano valleys and certain surrounding peaks and ridges, together known as the Gustav Line.
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Encyclopedia
The Battle of Monte Cassino (also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was a costly series of four battles during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, fought by the Allies
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 against Germans and Italians with the intention of breaking through the Winter Line
Winter Line
The Winter Line was a series of German military fortifications in Italy, constructed during World War II by Organisation Todt. The primary Gustav Line ran across Italy from just north of where the Garigliano River flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west, through the Apennine Mountains to the...

 and seizing Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

.

In the beginning of 1944, the western half of the Winter Line was being anchored by Germans holding the Rapido, Liri and Garigliano valleys and certain surrounding peaks and ridges, together known as the Gustav Line. The Germans had decided to not occupy or integrate the historic hilltop abbey of Monte Cassino
Monte Cassino
Monte Cassino is a rocky hill about southeast of Rome, Italy, c. to the west of the town of Cassino and altitude. St. Benedict of Nursia established his first monastery, the source of the Benedictine Order, here around 529. It was the site of Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944...

, founded in AD
Anno Domini
and Before Christ are designations used to label or number years used with the Julian and Gregorian calendars....

 524 by Benedict of Nursia
Benedict of Nursia
Saint Benedict of Nursia is a Christian saint, honored by the Roman Catholic Church as the patron saint of Europe and students.Benedict founded twelve communities for monks at Subiaco, about to the east of Rome, before moving to Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy. There is no...

 and which dominated the town of Cassino
Cassino
Cassino is a comune in the province of Frosinone, Italy, at the southern end of the region of Lazio.Cassino is located at the foot of Monte Cairo near the confluence of the Rapido and Liri rivers...

 and the entrances to the Liri and Rapido valleys into their defensive positions, however they manned some positions up to 300 meters away set into the steep slopes below the abbey walls. On 15 February, the monastery, high on a peak overlooking the town of Cassino, was destroyed by 1,400 tons of bombs dropped by American bombers. The bombing was based on the fear that the abbey was being used as a lookout post for the German defenders. Two days after the bombing, German paratroopers took up positions in the ruins; the destruction caused by the bombing and the resulting jagged wasteland of rubble gave troops improved protection from air and artillery attack making it a more viable defensive position. From 17 January to 18 May, the Gustav defences were assaulted four times by Allied troops. For the last of these the Allies gathered 20 divisions for a major assault along a twenty mile front and drove the German defenders from their positions but at a high cost.

Background


The Allied landings in Italy in September 1943 by two Allied armies commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander, Commander-in-Chief Allied Armies in Italy
Allied Armies in Italy
Allied Armies in Italy, commanded by Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, was the title of the highest Allied field headquarters in Italy, during the middle part of the Italian campaign...

, were followed by an advance northward on two fronts, one on each side of the central mountain range forming the "spine" of Italy. On the western front, the U.S. 5th Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Mark W. Clark, moved from the main base of Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 up the Italian "boot" and in the east General Sir Bernard Montgomery's British 8th Army
Eighth Army (United Kingdom)
The Eighth Army was one of the best-known formations of the British Army during World War II, fighting in the North African and Italian campaigns....

 advanced up the Adriatic
Adriatic Sea
The Adriatic Sea is a body of water separating the Italian Peninsula from the Balkan peninsula, and the system of the Apennine Mountains from that of the Dinaric Alps and adjacent ranges...

 coast.

5th Army made slow progress in the face of difficult terrain, wet weather and skillful German defences. The Germans were fighting from a series of prepared positions in a manner designed to inflict maximum damage, then pulling back and so buying time for the construction of the Winter Line defensive positions south of Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

. The original estimates that Rome would fall by October 1943 proved much too optimistic.

Although in the east the German defensive line had been breached on the British 8th Army's Adriatic front and Ortona was captured
Battle of Ortona
The Battle of Ortona was a small, yet extremely fierce, battle fought between a battalion of German Fallschirmjäger from the German 1st Parachute Division under Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich, and assaulting Canadian forces from the 1st Canadian Infantry Division under Major General Chris Vokes...

, the advance had ground to a halt with the onset of winter blizzards at the end of December, making close air support and movement in the jagged terrain impossible. The route to Rome from the east using Route 5 was thus excluded as a viable option leaving the routes from Naples to Rome, highways 6 and 7, as the only possibilities; highway 7 (the old Roman Appian Way
Appian Way
The Appian Way was one of the earliest and strategically most important Roman roads of the ancient republic. It connected Rome to Brindisi, Apulia, in southeast Italy...

) followed along the west coast but south of Rome ran into the Pontine Marshes
Pontine Marshes
thumb|250px|Lake Fogliano, a coastal lagoon in the Pontine Plain.The Pontine Marshes, termed in Latin Pomptinus Ager by Titus Livius, Pomptina Palus and Pomptinae Paludes by Pliny the Elder, today the Agro Pontino in Italian, is an approximately quadrangular area of former marshland in the Lazio...

 which the Germans had flooded. Highway 6 ran through the Liri
Liri
The Liri is one of the principal rivers of central Italy, flowing into the Tyrrhenian Sea a little below Minturno under the name Garigliano....

 valley. Dominating the south entrance to this valley was the hill mass behind the town of Cassino. Excellent observation from the peaks of several hills allowed the German defenders to detect Allied movement, prevent any advance northward, and direct artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 fire on Allied units. Running across the Allied line of advance was the fast flowing Rapido River
Rapido River
The Rapido is a short river which flows through the Ciociaria in the Italian province of Frosinone.Its source is close to border between Lazio and Molise on the slopes of the Mainarde mountains...

 which rose in the central Apennine mountains
Apennine mountains
The Apennines or Apennine Mountains or Greek oros but just as often used alone as a noun. The ancient Greeks and Romans typically but not always used "mountain" in the singular to mean one or a range; thus, "the Apennine mountain" refers to the entire chain and is translated "the Apennine...

, flowed through Cassino and across the entrance to the Liri valley (where the Liri
Liri
The Liri is one of the principal rivers of central Italy, flowing into the Tyrrhenian Sea a little below Minturno under the name Garigliano....

 joined the Rapido) after which its name changed to the River Garigliano (often referred to as the "Gari" by the Allies) and it continued to the sea. With its heavily fortified mountain defences, difficult river crossings (not only was the river fast flowing, but the Germans had temporarily diverted the Rapido at the head of the valley so as to flood the valley bottom and make conditions underfoot most difficult for any attackers), Cassino formed a linchpin of the Gustav Line, the most formidable line of the defensive positions making up the Winter Line.

Because of the historical significance of the fourteen centuries old Benedictine
Benedictine
Benedictine refers to the spirituality and consecrated life in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict, written by Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century for the cenobitic communities he founded in central Italy. The most notable of these is Monte Cassino, the first monastery founded by Benedict...

 Abbey, in December 1943, the German commander-in-chief in Italy, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring
Albert Kesselring
Albert Kesselring was a German Luftwaffe Generalfeldmarschall during World War II. In a military career that spanned both World Wars, Kesselring became one of Nazi Germany's most skilful commanders, being one of 27 soldiers awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords...

, ordered German units not to include the monastery itself in their defensive positions, and informed the Vatican and the Allies accordingly.

Some Allied reconnaissance aircraft reported seeing German troops inside the monastery. The monastery had excellent observation of the surrounding hills and valleys, and thus was a natural site for German artillery observers. It is clear that once the monastery was destroyed the Germans occupied it and made use of the rubble to build defensive positions. Ultimately, however, the military arguments leading to the monastery's destruction rested on its potential threat (real or imagined) rather than its actual state of occupation.

Plans and preparation



The plan of U.S. 5th Army commander General Clark was for British X Corps
X Corps (United Kingdom)
The X Corps was a British Army formation in the First World War and was later reformed in 1942 during the North African campaign of the Second World War as part of the Eighth Army.- First World War :...

, on the left of a twenty mile (30 km) front, to attack on January 17, 1944, across the Garigliano near the coast (British 5th and British 56th Infantry Divisions). British 46th Infantry Division was to attack on the night of January 19 across the Garigliano below its junction with the Liri in support of the main attack by U.S. II Corps on their right. The main central thrust by U.S. II Corps would commence on January 20 with 36th (Texas) U.S. Infantry Division making an assault across the swollen Rapido river five miles (8 km) downstream of Cassino. Simultaneously the French Expeditionary Corps, under General Alphonse Juin
Alphonse Juin
- Early years :Juin was born at Bône in French Algeria, and enlisted in the French Army, graduating from the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr in 1912.- Career :...

 would continue its "right hook" move towards Monte Cairo
Monte Cairo
Monte Cairo is a mountain located in Lazio , overshadowing both the Abbey and the town of Monte Cassino, 5 kilometres to the south.-Features:...

, the hinge to the Gustav and Hitler defensive lines
Hitler Line
The Hitler Line was a German defensive line in central Italy during the Second World War. The strong points of the line were at Aquino and Piedimonte. In May 1944, the line was re-named the Senger Line, after General von Senger und Etterlin, one of the generals commanding Axis forces in the area...

. In truth, Clark did not believe there was much chance of an early breakthrough, but he felt that the attacks would draw German reserves away from the Rome area in time for the attack on Anzio
Operation Shingle
Operation Shingle , during the Italian Campaign of World War II, was an Allied amphibious landing against Axis forces in the area of Anzio and Nettuno, Italy. The operation was commanded by Major General John P. Lucas and was intended to outflank German forces of the Winter Line and enable an...

 where U.S. VI Corps (British 1st and U.S. 3rd Infantry Divisions) was due to make an amphibious landing on January 22. It was hoped that the Anzio landing, with the benefit of surprise and a rapid move inland to the Alban Hills
Alban Hills
The Alban Hills are the site of a quiescent volcanic complex in Italy, located southeast of Rome and about north of Anzio.The dominant peak is Monte Cavo. There are two small calderas which contain lakes, Lago Albano and Lake Nemi...

, which command both routes 6 and 7, would so threaten the Gustav defenders' rear and supply lines that it might just unsettle the German commanders and cause them to withdraw from the Gustav Line to positions north of Rome. Whilst this would have been consistent with the German tactics of the previous three months, Allied intelligence had not understood that the strategy of fighting retreat had been for the sole purpose of providing time to prepare the Gustav line where the Germans intended to stand firm. The intelligence assessment of Allied prospects was therefore over-optimistic.


The Fifth Army had only reached the Gustav line on January 15, having taken six weeks of heavy fighting to advance the last seven miles (11 km) through the Bernhardt Line
Bernhardt Line
The Bernhardt Line was a German defensive line in Italy during World War II. Having reached the Bernhardt Line at the start of December 1943, it took until mid-January 1944 for U.S. 5th Army to fight their way to the next line of defenses, the Gustav Line. The line was defended by XIV Panzer Corps...

 positions during which time they had sustained 16,000 casualties. They hardly had time to prepare the new assault, let alone take the rest and reorganization they really needed after three months of attritional fighting north from Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

. However, because the Allied Chiefs of Staff would only make landing craft available until early February, the Anzio landing had to take place in late January with the coordinated attack on the Gustav line some three days earlier.

First assault: X Corps on the left, 17 January


The first assault was made on January 17. Near the coast, British X Corps (56th and 5th Divisions) forced a crossing of the Garigliano (followed some two days later by British 46th Division on their right) causing General von Senger, commander of German XIV Panzer Corps and responsible for the Gustav defences on the south western half of the line, some serious concern as to the ability of the German 94th Infantry Division
94th Infantry Division (Germany)
The 94th Infantry Division was a German Army infantry division in World War II.-Formation and the west campaign:...

 to hold the line. Responding to Senger's concerns, Kesselring ordered the 29th
German 29th Infantry Division
The 29th Infantry Division was a unit of the German army created in the fall of 1936. It was based on the old Reichswehr 15th Infantry Regiment and drew its initial recruits from Thuringia. It was upgraded to 29th Motorized Infantry Division in the fall of 1937...

 and 90th
German 90th Light Infantry Division
The 90th Light Infantry Division was a German Army division during World War II.- History :The 90th Light Infantry Division was created in August 1941 as Division z.b.V. Afrika, from units already in Africa under the control of Divisions-Kommando z.b.V. Afrika. The abbreviation z.b.V...

 Panzer Grenadier Divisions from the Rome area to provide reinforcement. There is some speculation as to what might have been if X Corps had had the reserves available to exploit their success and make a decisive breakthrough. The corps did not have the extra men, but there would certainly have been time to alter the overall battle plan and cancel or modify the central attack by U.S. II Corps to make men available to force the issue in the south before the German reinforcements were able to get into position. As it happened, 5th Army HQ failed to appreciate the frailty of the German position, and the plan was unchanged. The two divisions from Rome arrived by January 21 and stabilized the German position in the south. In one respect, however, the plan was working in that Kesselring's reserves had been drawn south. The three divisions of X Corps sustained 4,000 casualties during the period of the first battle.

Main attack: II Corps in the centre, 20 January


The central thrust by U.S. 36th Division commenced three hours after sunset on January 20. The lack of time to prepare meant that the approach to the river was still hazardous due to uncleared mines and booby traps, and the highly technical business of an opposed river crossing lacked the necessary planning and rehearsal. Although a battalion of the 143rd Regiment was able to get across the Rapido on the south side of San Angelo and two companies of the 141st Regiment on the north side, they were isolated for most of the time, and at no time was Allied armour able to get across the river, leaving them highly vulnerable to counterattacking tanks and self-propelled guns of General Eberhard Rodt
Eberhard Rodt
Eberhard Rodt was a highly decorated Generalleutnant in the Wehrmacht during World War II who command several divisions. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

's 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. The southern group was forced back across the river by mid-morning of January 21. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes
Geoffrey Keyes
-External links:...

, commanding II Corps, pressed Maj. Gen. Fred Walker of 36th Division to renew the attack immediately. Once again the two regiments attacked but with no more success against the well dug-in 15th Panzer Grenadier Division: 143rd Regiment got the equivalent of two battalions across, but once again there was no armoured support, and they were devastated when daylight came the next day. The 141st Regiment also crossed in two battalion strength, and despite the lack of armoured support managed to advance 1 km (0.621372736649807 mi). However, with the coming of daylight, they too were cut down, and by the evening of January 22 the regiment had virtually ceased to exist; only 40 men made it back to the Allied lines. The assault had been a costly failure, with 36th Division losing 2,100 men killed, wounded and missing in 48 hours.

II Corps try north of Cassino: 24 January



The next attack was launched on January 24. The U.S. II Corps, with 34th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Charles W. Ryder spearheading the attack and French colonial troops on its right flank, launched an assault across the flooded Rapido valley north of Cassino and into the mountains behind with the intention of then wheeling to the left and attacking Monte Cassino from high ground. Whilst the task of crossing the river would be easier in that the Rapido upstream of Cassino was fordable, the flooding made movement on the approaches each side very difficult. In particular, armour could only move on paths laid with steel matting, and it took eight days of bloody fighting across the waterlogged ground for 34th Division to push back General Franck's 44th Infantry Division
German 44th Infantry Division
The 44th Infantry Division was formed on April 1, 1938 in Vienna, and was destroyed with the 6th Army at Stalingrad in January 1943. Like all the divisions lost in the Stalingrad disaster, it was reformed using other formations and usually a cadre of specialists who had been evacuated by air before...

 to establish a foothold in the mountains.

French Corps halted on the right flank


On the right, the Moroccan
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

-French troops made good initial progress against the German 5th Mountain Division
German 5th Mountain Division
The German 5th Mountain Division was established in the Austrian Tirol in October 1940, out of regiments taken from the 1. Gebirgs-Division and the 10. Infanterie Division. Its first action was in the 1941 Balkans Campaign, when it took part in Operations Marita and Merkur ; in the latter it was...

, commanded by General Julius Ringel
Julius Ringel
Julius Alfred "Papa" Ringel was an Austrian-born German General of Mountain Troops . He commanded the 3. Gebirgs-Division, 5. Gebirgs-Division, LXIX Armeekorps, Wehrkreis XI and the Korps Ringel...

, gaining positions on the slopes of their key objective, Monte Cifalco. Forward units of the 3rd Algerian Division had also by-passed Monte Cifalco to capture Monte Belvedere and Colle Abate. General Juin was convinced that Cassino could be bypassed and the German defences unhinged by this northerly route but his request for reserves to maintain the momentum of his advance was refused and the one available reserve regiment (from 36th Division) was sent to reinforce 34th Division. By January 31 the French had ground to a halt with Monte Cifalco, which had a clear view of the French and U.S. flanks and supply lines, still in German hands. The two Moroccan-French divisions sustained 2,500 casualties in their struggles around Monte Belvedere.

II Corps in the mountains north of Cassino


It became U.S. 34th Division's task (joined by 142nd Regiment of 36th Division) to fight southward along the linked hilltops towards the intersecting ridge on the south end of which was Monastery Hill. They could then break through down into the Liri valley behind the Gustav Line defences. It was very tough going: the mountains were rocky, strewn with boulders and cut by ravines and gullies. Digging foxholes on the rocky ground was out of the question, and each feature was exposed to fire from surrounding high points. The ravines were no better since the gorse
Gorse
Gorse, furze, furse or whin is a genus of about 20 plant species of thorny evergreen shrubs in the subfamily Faboideae of the pea family Fabaceae, native to western Europe and northwest Africa, with the majority of species in Iberia.Gorse is closely related to the brooms, and like them, has green...

 growing there, far from giving cover, had been sown with mines, booby-traps and hidden barbed wire by the defenders. The Germans had had three months to prepare their defensive positions using dynamite and to stockpile ammunition and stores. There was no natural shelter, and the weather was wet and freezing cold.

By early February, American infantry had captured a strategic point near the hamlet of San Onofrio, less than a mile from the abbey, and by February 7 a battalion had reached Point 445, a round top hill immediately below the monastery and no more than 400 yards (365.8 m) away. An American squad managed a reconnaissance right up against the cliff-like abbey walls, with the monks observing German and American patrols exchanging fire. However, attempts to take Monte Cassino were broken by overwhelming machine gun fire from the slopes below the monastery. Despite their fierce fighting, the 34th Division never managed to take the final redoubts on Hill 593 (known to the Germans as Calvary Mount), held by the 3rd battalion of the German 2nd Parachute Regiment, the dominating point of the ridge to the monastery.

Aftermath


On February 11, after a final unsuccessful 3-day assault on Monastery Hill and Cassino town, the Americans were withdrawn. U.S. II Corps, after two and a half weeks of torrid battle, was fought out. The performance of 34th Division in the mountains is considered to rank as one of the finest feats of arms carried out by any soldiers during the war. In return they sustained losses of about 80% in the Infantry battalions, some 2,200 casualties.

At the height of the battle in the first days of February General von Senger und Etterlin had moved 90th Division from the Garigliano front to north of Cassino and had been so alarmed at the rate of attrition, he had "...mustered all the weight of my authority to request that the Battle of Cassino should be broken off and that we should occupy a quite new line. ... a position, in fact, north of the Anzio bridgehead". Kesselring refused the request. At the crucial moment von Senger was able to throw in the 71st Infantry Division whilst leaving 15th Panzer Grenadiers (whom they had been due to relieve) in place.

During the battle there had been occasions when, with more astute use of reserves, promising positions might have been turned into decisive moves. Some historians suggest this failure to capitalize on initial success could be put down to General Clark's lack of experience. However, it is more likely that he just had too much to do, being responsible for both the Cassino and Anzio offensives. This view is supported by General Truscott's inability, as related below, to get hold of him for discussions at a vital juncture of the Anzio breakout at the time of the fourth Cassino battle. Whilst General Alexander chose (for perfectly logical co-ordination arguments) to have Cassino and Anzio under a single army commander and splitting the Gustav line front between U.S. 5th and British 8th Armies, Kesselring chose to create a separate 14th Army
German Fourteenth Army
The 14th Army was a World War II field army.The 14th Army was activated on August 1, 1939 with General Wilhelm List in command and saw service in Poland until the end of the campaign in Poland October 13, 1939...

 under Gen. Eberhard von Mackensen
Eberhard von Mackensen
Friedrich August Eberhard von Mackensen was a German general who served in World War II, and one of 882 German recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

 to fight at Anzio whilst leaving the Gustav line in the sole hands of Gen. Heinrich von Vietinghoff
Heinrich von Vietinghoff
Heinrich Gottfried Otto Richard von Vietinghoff genannt Scheel was a German Colonel-General of the German Army during the Second World War....

's 10th Army.

The withdrawn American units were replaced by the New Zealand Corps (2nd New Zealand Division
New Zealand 2nd Division
The 2nd New Zealand Division was a formation of the New Zealand Military Forces during World War II. It was commanded for most of its existence by Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg, and fought in Greece, Crete, the Western Desert and Italy...

 and 4th Indian Division
Indian 4th Infantry Division
The Indian 4th Infantry Division, also known as the Red Eagle Division, is an infantry division of the Indian Army.The division was formed in Egypt in 1939 and was the first Indian formation to go overseas during the Second World War. As with all formations in the Indian Army prior to independence,...

) from the British 8th Army on the Adriatic front. The New Zealand Corps was commanded by Lt. Gen. Bernard Freyberg.

Second battle (Operation Avenger)




Background


With U.S. VI Corps under heavy threat at Anzio, Freyberg was under equal pressure to launch a relieving action at Cassino. Once again, therefore, the battle commenced without the attackers being fully prepared. As well, Corps HQ did not fully appreciate the difficulty in getting 4th Indian Infantry Division into place in the mountains and supplying them on the ridges and valleys north of Cassino (using mules across 7 miles (11.3 km) of goat tracks over terrain in full view of the monastery, exposed to accurate artillery fire – hence the naming of Death Valley). This was evidenced in the writing of Maj. Gen. Howard Kippenberger
Howard Kippenberger
Major-General Sir Howard Karl Kippenberger, KBE, CB, DSO, ED, , known as Kip, served as a New Zealand soldier in both World Wars.-Personal life:Howard Kippenberger married Ruth Isobel Flynn, of Lyttelton in 1922...

, commander of New Zealand 2nd Division, after the war:

Freyberg's plan was a continuation of the first battle: an attack from the north along the mountain ridges and an attack from the southeast along the railway line and to capture the railway station across the Rapido less than a mile south of Cassino town. Success would pinch out Cassino town and open up the Liri valley. However, Freyberg had informed his superiors that he believed, given the circumstances, there was no better than a 50% chance of success for the offensive.

Destruction of the abbey


Increasingly, the opinions of certain Allied officers were fixed on the great abbey of Monte Cassino: in their view it was the abbey—and its presumed use as a German artillery observation point—that prevented the breach of the ‘Gustav Line'.

The British press and C. L. Sulzberger
C. L. Sulzberger
Cyrus Leo Sulzberger II was a U.S. journalist, diarist, and author, and a member of the family that owns the New York Times. During the 1940s and 1950s, he was that newspaper's lead foreign correspondent....

 of The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

 frequently and convincingly and in (often manufactured) detail wrote of German observation posts and artillery positions inside the abbey. The commander in chief of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces Lieutenant-General Ira C. Eaker accompanied by Lieutenant-General Jacob L. Devers
Jacob L. Devers
General Jacob "Jake" Loucks Devers , commander of the 6th Army Group in Europe during World War II. He was the first United States military officer to reach the Rhine after D-Day.-Biography:...

 (deputy to General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Mediterranean Theater) personally observed during a fly-over “a radio mast [...] German uniforms hanging on a clothesline in the abbey courtyard; [and] machine gun emplacements 50 yards (45.7 m) from the abbey walls.” Major-General Geoffrey Keyes
Geoffrey Keyes
-External links:...

 of U.S. II Corps also flew over the monastery several times; he then reported to Fifth Army G-2 that he had seen no evidence the Germans were in the abbey. When informed of others who had claimed to have seen Germans in the abbey, he stated: “They’ve been looking so long they’re seeing things."

The view in New Zealand Corps HQ, as articulated in the writings of Major-General Kippenberger, was that the monastery was probably being used as the German's main vantage point for artillery spotting, since it was so perfectly situated for the purpose that no army could refrain from using it. There is no clear evidence to this effect, but he went on to write that from a military point of view the current state of occupancy of the monastery was immaterial:

Major-General Francis Tuker
Francis Tuker
Lieutenant General Sir Francis Ivan Simms Tuker KCIE CB DSO OBE was a British Indian Army officer.-Military career:...

, whose 4th Indian Division would have the task of attacking Monastery Hill, had made his own appreciation of the situation. In the absence of detailed intelligence at U.S. 5th Army HQ, he had found a book dated 1879 in a Naples bookshop giving details of the construction of the abbey. In his memorandum to Freyberg he concluded that regardless of whether the monastery was currently occupied by the Germans, it should be demolished to prevent its effective occupation. He also pointed out that with 150 foot (45 m) high walls made of masonry at least 10 feet (3 m) thick, there was no practical means for field engineers to deal with the place, and that bombing with "blockbuster" bombs would be the only solution since 1,000 pound bombs would be "next to useless".

On February 11, 1944, the acting commander of 4th Indian Division, Brigadier Harry Dimoline
Harry Kenneth Dimoline
Brigadier Harry Kenneth Dimoline CBE MBE DSO TD CPM was an artillery officer in the British and British Indian Armies during World War II.-World War II:...

, requested the bombing of the abbey of Monte Cassino. Tuker reiterated again his case for bombing the monastery from his hospital bed in Caserta, where he was suffering a severe attack of a recurrent tropical fever. Freyberg transmitted his request on February 12. Freyberg's request for an air attack, however, was greatly expanded by air force planners, and probably supported by Ira Eaker and Jacob L. Devers. They sought to use the opportunity to showcase the abilities of U.S. Army air power to support ground operations. Lieutenant-General Mark W. Clark of Fifth Army and his chief of staff Major-General Alfred Gruenther
Alfred Gruenther
Alfred Maximilian Gruenther was the youngest World War II Major General and after the war, as a four-star General, served as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1953 to 1956.-Biography:...

 remained unconvinced of the “military necessity”. When handing over the U.S. II Corps position to the New Zealand Corps, Brigadier General J.A. Butler, deputy commander of U.S. 34th Division, had said "I don't know, but I don't believe the enemy is in the convent. All the fire has been from the slopes of the hill below the wall". Finally Clark, "who did not want the monastery bombed," pinned down the Commander-in-Chief Allied Armies in Italy
Allied Armies in Italy
Allied Armies in Italy, commanded by Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, was the title of the highest Allied field headquarters in Italy, during the middle part of the Italian campaign...

, General Sir Harold Alexander to take the responsibility: "I said, 'You give me a direct order and we’ll do it,' and he did."

The bombing mission in the morning of February 15, 1944 involved 142 B-17 Flying Fortresses together with 47 B-25 Mitchell
B-25 Mitchell
The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engined medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was used by many Allied air forces, in every theater of World War II, as well as many other air forces after the war ended, and saw service across four decades.The B-25 was named...

 and 40 B-26 Marauder
B-26 Marauder
The Martin B-26 Marauder was a World War II twin-engine medium bomber built by the Glenn L. Martin Company. First used in the Pacific Theater in early 1942, it was also used in the Mediterranean Theater and in Western Europe....

 medium bombers. In all they dropped 1,150 tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs on the abbey, reducing the entire top of Monte Cassino to a smoking mass of rubble. Between bomb runs, the II Corps artillery pounded the mountain. Many Allied soldiers and war correspondents cheered as they observed the spectacle. Eaker and Devers watched; Juin was heard to remark “... no, they’ll never get anywhere this way.” Clark and Gruenther refused to be on the scene and stayed at their headquarters. That same afternoon and the next day, in an aggressive follow-up, further artillery barrages and additional tonnage onto the ruins by 59 fighter bombers convulsed the rubble of the great abbey.

The air raid however, had not been coordinated between the air and ground commands, with the timing driven by the Air Force projecting it as a separate operation, considering the weather and to be fitted in with other requirements on other fronts and theaters and without reference to the ground forces. Indeed, the Indian troops on the Snake's Head were taken by surprise when the bombing actually started. The raid took place two days before the New Zealand Corps was ready to launch their main assault. Many of the troops had only taken over their positions from U.S. II Corps on February 13, and besides the difficulties in the mountains, preparations in the valley had also been held up by difficulties in supplying the newly installed troops with sufficient material for a full-scale assault because of incessantly foul weather, flooding, and waterlogged ground.

After the bombing



Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII
The Venerable Pope Pius XII , born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli , reigned as Pope, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City State, from 2 March 1939 until his death in 1958....

 was silent after the bombing; however, his Cardinal Secretary of State
Cardinal Secretary of State
The Cardinal Secretary of State—officially Secretary of State of His Holiness The Pope—presides over the Holy See, usually known as the "Vatican", Secretariat of State, which is the oldest and most important dicastery of the Roman Curia...

, Luigi Maglione, bluntly stated to the senior U.S. diplomat to the Vatican
Holy See
The Holy See is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, in which its Bishop is commonly known as the Pope. It is the preeminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church. As such, diplomatically, and in other spheres the Holy See acts and...

, Harold Tittmann, that the bombing was “a colossal blunder . . . a piece of a gross stupidity.”

It is certain from every investigation that followed since the event that the only people killed in the monastery by the bombing were Italian civilians seeking refuge in the abbey. There is no evidence that the bombs dropped on the Monte Cassino monastery that day ever killed any German troops. However, given the imprecision of bombing in those days (it was estimated that only 10% of the bombs from the heavy bombers, bombing from high altitude, hit the monastery) bombs did fall elsewhere and killed German and Allied troops alike, although that would have been unintended. Indeed, sixteen bombs hit the Fifth Army compound at Presenzano 17 miles (27.4 km) from Monte Cassino and exploded only yards away from the trailer where Gen. Clark was doing paperwork at his desk.

On the day after the bombing at first light, most of the civilians still alive fled the ruins. Only about 40 people remained: the six monks who survived in the deep vaults of the abbey, their 79 year old abbot, Gregorio Diamare, three tenant farmer families, orphaned or abandoned children, the badly wounded and the dying. After artillery barrages, renewed bombing and attacks on the ridge by 4th Indian Division, the monks decided to leave their ruined home with the others who could move at 07:30 on February 17. The old abbot was leading the group down the mule path toward the Liri valley, reciting the rosary. After they arrived at a German first-aid station, some of the badly wounded who had been carried by the monks were taken away in a military ambulance. After meeting with a German officer, the monks were driven to the monastery of Sant'Anselmo. On February 18, the abbot met the commander of XIV Panzer Corps, Lieutenant-General Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin. One monk, Carlomanno Pellagalli, returned to the abbey; when he was later seen wandering the ruins, the German paratroopers thought he was a ghost. After April 3, he was not seen anymore.


It is now known that the Germans had an agreement with the monks to not use the Abbey for military purposes as long as they remained. Following its destruction, paratroopers of the German 1st Parachute Division then occupied the ruins of the abbey and turned it into a fortress and observation post, which became a serious problem for the attacking allied forces.

Battle


On the night following the bombing, a company of the 1st battalion Royal Sussex Regiment
Royal Sussex Regiment
The Royal Sussex Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army from 1881 to 1966. The regiment was formed as part of the Childers reforms by the amalgamation of the 35th Regiment of Foot and the 107th Regiment of Foot...

 (one of the British elements in 4th Indian Division) attacked the key point 593 from their position 70 yards (64 m) away on Snakeshead Ridge. The assault failed, with the company sustaining 50% casualties.

The following night the Sussex Regiment was ordered to attack in battalion strength. There was a calamitous start. Artillery could not be used in direct support targeting point 593 because of the proximity and risk of shelling friendly troops. It was planned therefore to shell point 575 which had been providing supporting fire to the defenders of point 593. The topography of the land meant that shells fired at 575 had to pass very low over Snakeshead ridge, and in the event some fell among the gathering assault companies. After reorganising, the attack went in at midnight. The fighting was brutal and often hand to hand, but the determined defence held and the Sussex battalion was beaten off, once again sustaining over 50% casualties. Over the two nights, the Sussex Regiment lost 12 out of 15 officers and 162 out of 313 men who took part in the attack.

On the night of February 17 the main assault took place. The 4/6th Rajputana Rifles
6th Rajputana Rifles
The 6th Rajputana Rifles were an infantry regiment of the British Indian Army. They were formed in 1922, after the Indian government reformed the army. They moved away from single battalion regiments to multi battalion regiments...

 would take on the assault of point 593 with the depleted Sussex Regiment held in reserve to pass through them to attack point 444 once 593 had been taken. In the meantime, the 1/2nd Gurkha Rifles
2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles)
The 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles was an infantry regiment of the British Indian Army before being transferred to the British Army on India's independence in 1947. The 4th Battalion joined the Indian Army as the 5th Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles , where it exists to this day...

 and 1/9th Gurkha Rifles were to sweep across the slopes and ravines in a direct assault on the monastery. This latter was across appalling terrain, but it was hoped that the Gurkhas, from the Himalayas and so expert in mountain terrain, would succeed. This proved a faint hope. Once again the fighting was brutal, but no progress was made and casualties heavy. The Rajputanas lost 196 officers and men, the 1/9th Gurkhas 149 and the 1/2nd Gurkhas 96. It became clear that the attack had failed, and on February 18 Brigadier Dimoline and Freyberg called off the attacks on Monastery Hill.

In the other half of the main assault the two companies from 28th (Māori) Battalion
Maori Battalion
The 28th Battalion, more commonly known as the Māori Battalion, was an infantry battalion of the New Zealand Army that served during the Second World War. It was formed following pressure on the Labour government by some Māori MPs and Māori organisations throughout the country wanting a full Māori...

 from the New Zealand Division forced a crossing of the Rapido and attempted to gain the rail road station in Cassino town; they succeeded but crucially were unable to throw a bridge across the final gap in the railway causeway before daylight so were without armoured support. Nevertheless, with the aid of a near-constant smoke-screen laid down by Allied artillery that obscured their location to the German batteries on Monastery Hill, the Māori were able to hold their positions for much of the day. Their isolation and lack of both armoured support and anti-tank guns made for a hopeless situation, however, when an armoured counter-attack came in the afternoon on February 18. They were ordered to pull back to the river when it became clear to headquarters that both the attempts to break through (in the mountains and along the causeway) would not succeed. It had been very close. The Germans had been very alarmed by the capture of the station and, from a conversation on record between Kesselring and 10th Army commander von Vietinghoff, had not expected their counter attack to succeed.

Plans


For the third battle, it was decided that whilst the winter weather persisted, forcing the Rapido downstream of Cassino town was an unattractive option (after the unhappy experiences in the first two battles). The "right hook" in the mountains had also been a costly failure, and it was decided to launch twin attacks from the north along the Rapido valley: one towards the fortified Cassino town and the other towards Monastery Hill. The idea was to clear the path through the bottleneck between these two features to allow access towards the station on the south and so to the Liri valley. British 78th Infantry Division, which had arrived in late February and placed under the command of New Zealand Corps, would then cross the Rapido downstream of Cassino and start the push to Rome.

None of the Allied commanders were very happy with the plan, but it was hoped that an unprecedented preliminary bombing by heavy bombers would prove the trump. Three clear days of good weather were required and for twenty one successive days the assault was postponed as the troops waited in the freezing wet positions for a favourable weather forecast. Matters were not helped by the loss of Major-General Kippenberger, commanding 2 New Zealand Division, wounded by an anti-personnel mine and losing both his feet. He was replaced by Brigadier Graham Parkinson. The good news was that the German counter-attack at Anzio had failed and been called off.

The battle


The third battle began March 15. After a bombardment of 750 tons of 1,000-pound bombs with delayed action fuses, starting at 08:30 and lasting three and a half hours, the New Zealanders advanced behind a creeping artillery barrage from 746 artillery pieces. Success depended on taking advantage of the paralysing effect of the bombing. However, the defences rallied more quickly than expected, and the Allied armour was held up by bomb craters. Nevertheless success was there for the New Zealanders' taking, but by the time a follow-up assault on the left had been ordered that evening it was too late: defences had reorganised, and more critically, the rain, contrary to forecast, had started again. Torrents of rain flooded bomb craters, turned rubble into a morass and blotted out communications, the radio sets being incapable of surviving the constant immersion. The dark rain clouds also blotted out the moonlight, hindering the task of clearing routes through the ruins. On the right, the New Zealanders had captured Castle Hill and point 165, and as planned, elements of Indian 4th Infantry Division, now commanded by Major-General Alexander Galloway
Alexander Galloway
Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Galloway KBE, CB, DSO, MC was an officer in the British Army during World War I and World War II...

, had passed through to attack point 236 and thence to point 435, Hangman's Hill. In the confusion of the height, a company of the 1/9th Gurkha Rifles had taken a track avoiding point 236 and captured point 435 whilst the assault on point 236 by the 1/6th Rajputana Rifles
6th Rajputana Rifles
The 6th Rajputana Rifles were an infantry regiment of the British Indian Army. They were formed in 1922, after the Indian government reformed the army. They moved away from single battalion regiments to multi battalion regiments...

 had been beaten off.

By the end of March 17 the Gurkhas held Hangman's Hill (point 435), 250 yards (228.6 m) from the monastery, in battalion strength (although their lines of supply were compromised by the German positions at point 236 and in the northern part of the town), and whilst the town was still fiercely defended, New Zealand units and armour had got through the bottleneck and captured the station. However, the Germans were still able to reinforce their troops in the town and were proving adept at slipping snipers back into parts of the town that had supposedly been cleared.

March 19 was planned for the decisive blow in the town and on the monastery, including a surprise attack by tanks of 20th Armoured Brigade working their way along the track from Cairo to Albaneta Farm (which had been prepared by engineer units under the cover of darkness) and from there towards the Abbey. However, a surprise and fiercely pressed counter attack from the monastery on Castle Hill by the German 1st Parachute Division
1st Parachute Division (Germany)
The German 1st Parachute Division was a German elite military parachute-landing Division that fought during World War II. A division of paratroopers was termed a Fallschirmjäger Division...

 completely disrupted any possibility of an assault on the monastery from the Castle and Hangman's Hill whilst the tanks, lacking infantry support, were all knocked out by mid-afternoon. In the town the attackers made little progress, and overall the initiative was passing to the Germans whose positions close to Castle Hill, which was the gateway to the position on Monastery Hill, crippled any prospects of early success.

On 20 March Freyberg committed elements of 78th Infantry Division to the battle; firstly to provide a greater troop presence in the town so that cleared areas would not be reinfiltrated by the Germans, and secondly to reinforce Castle Hill to allow troops to be released to close off the two routes between Castle Hill and Points 175 and 165 being used by the Germans to reinforce the defenders in the town. The Allied commanders felt they were on the brink of success as grim fighting continued through 21 March. However, the defenders were resolute and the attack on Point 445 to block the German reinforcement route had narrowly failed whilst in the town Allied gains were measured only house by house.

On 23 March Alexander met with his commanders. A range of opinions were expressed as to the possibility of victory but it was evident that the New Zealand and Indian Divisions were exhausted, nearing the end of their tether. Freyberg was convinced that the battle could not be kept going and he called off the attack. The German 1st Parachute Division, some weeks later described by General Alexander, the Italian theatre commander, in a conversation with General Kippenberger as "...the best Division in the German Army...", had taken a mauling, but it had won.

Aftermath


The next three days were spent stabilizing the front, extracting the isolated Gurkhas from Hangman's Hill and the detachment from New Zealand 24 Battalion which had held Point 202 in similar isolation. The Allied line was reorganised with the exhausted 4th Indian Division and 2 New Zealand Division withdrawn and replaced respectively in the mountains by British 78th Division and in the town by British 1st Guards Brigade. The New Zealand Corps headquarters was dissolved on 26 March and control was assumed by British XIII Corps. In their time on the Cassino front line 4th Indian Division had lost 3,000 men and the New Zealand Division 1,600 men killed, missing and wounded.

The German defenders too had paid a heavy price. The German XIV Corps War Diary for 23 March noted that the battalions in the front line had strengths varying between 40 and 120 men.

Fourth and final battle




Alexander's strategy


General Alexander's strategy in Italy was Circumstances allowed him the time to prepare a major offensive to achieve this. His plan, originally inspired from French general Juin's idea to circle around Cassino and take the Aurunci with his mountain troops to break the Gustav line, was to shift the bulk of the British 8th Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Oliver Leese
Oliver Leese
Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver William Hargreaves Leese, 3rd Baronet, KCB, CBE, DSO was a British general during World War II.-Early years:...

, from the Adriatic front across the spine of Italy to join the U.S. 5th Army and attack along a 20 miles (32.2 km) front between Cassino and the sea. The 5th Army (U.S. II Corps and French Expeditionary Corps) would be on the left and the 8th Army (XIII Corps
XIII Corps (United Kingdom)
XIII Corps was a British infantry corps during World War I and World War II.-World War I:XIII Corps was formed in France on 15 November 1915 under Lieutenant-General Walter Congreve to be part of Fourth Army. It was first seriously engaged during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. On the First day on...

 and 2nd Polish Corps) on the right. With the arrival of the spring weather, ground conditions were improved and it would be possible to deploy large formations and armour effectively.

Planning and preparation



The plan for Operation Diadem was that U.S. II Corps on the left would attack up the coast along the line of Route 7 towards Rome. The French Corps to their right would attack from the bridgehead across the Garigliano originally created by X Corps in the first battle in January into the Aurunci Mountains
Aurunci Mountains
The Aurunci Mountains is mountain range of southern Lazio, in central Italy. They are part of the Antiappennini, a group running from the Apennines chain to the Tyrrhenian Sea, where they form the promontory of Gaeta...

 which formed a barrier between the coastal plain and the Liri Valley. British XIII Corps in the centre right of the front would attack along the Liri valley whilst on the right 2nd Polish Corps (3rd and 5th Division) commanded by Lt. Gen. Władysław Anders, which had relieved 78th Division in the mountains behind Cassino on April 24, would attempt the task which had defeated 4th Indian Division in February, isolate the monastery and push round behind it into the Liri valley to link with XIII Corps' thrust and pinch out the Cassino position. It was hoped that being a much larger force than their 4th Indian Division predecessors they would be able to saturate the German defences which would as a result be unable to give supporting fire to each other's positions. Improved weather, ground conditions and supply would also be important factors. Once again, the pinching manoeuvre by the Polish and British Corps were key to the overall success. Canadian I Corps would be held in reserve ready to exploit the expected breakthrough. Once the German Tenth Army had been defeated, U.S. VI Corps would break out of the Anzio beachhead to cut off the retreating Germans in the Alban Hills
Alban Hills
The Alban Hills are the site of a quiescent volcanic complex in Italy, located southeast of Rome and about north of Anzio.The dominant peak is Monte Cavo. There are two small calderas which contain lakes, Lago Albano and Lake Nemi...

.

The large troop movements required for this took two months to execute. They had to be carried out in small units to maintain secrecy and surprise. U.S. 36th Division was sent on amphibious assault training, and road signposts and dummy radio signal traffic were created to give the impression that a seaborne landing was being planned for north of Rome. This was planned to keep German reserves held back from the Gustav line. Movements of troops in forward areas were confined to the hours of darkness and armoured units moving from the Adriatic front left behind dummy tanks and vehicles so the vacated areas appeared unchanged to enemy aerial reconnaissance. The deception was successful. As late as the second day of the final Cassino battle, Kesselring estimated the Allies had six divisions facing his four on the Cassino front. In fact there were thirteen.

Battle


The first assault (May 11–May 12) on Cassino opened at 23:00 with a massive artillery bombardment with 1,060 guns on the 8th Army front and 600 guns on the 5th Army front, manned by British, Americans, Poles, New Zealanders, South Africans, and French. Within an hour and a half the attack was in motion in all four sectors. By daylight the U.S. II Corps had made little progress, but their 5th Army colleagues, the French Corps, had achieved their objectives and were fanning out in the Aurunci Mountains toward the 8th Army to their right, rolling up the German positions between the two armies. On the 8th Army front, XIII Corps had made two strongly opposed crossings of the Rapido (by British 4th Infantry Division and 8th Indian Division
Indian 8th Infantry Division
The 8th Indian Infantry Division is a division of the Indian Army which specialises in tactics and operations in mountainous territory.Originally formed in Meerut on 25 October 1940 under Major-General C.O...

). Crucially, the engineers of Dudley Russell
Dudley Russell
Lieutenant-General Sir Dudley Russell KBE, CB, DSO, MC was an officer in the British and Indian Armies during World War I and World War II.-Early career:...

's 8th Indian Division had by the morning succeeded in bridging the river enabling the armour of 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade
1st Canadian Armoured Brigade
1 Canadian Army Tank Brigade, later known as 1 Canadian Armoured Brigade, was composed of the 11th, 12th and 14th Canadian Armoured Regiments and saw service in the Italian campaign and in north-west Europe during the Second World War.-History:...

 to cross and provide the vital element (so missed by the Americans in the first battle and New Zealanders in the second battle) to beat off the inevitable counterattacks from German tanks that would come.

In the mountains above Cassino, the aptly named Mount Calvary (Monte Calvario, or Point 593 on Snakeshead Ridge) was taken by the Poles only to be recaptured by German paratroops. For three days Polish attacks and German counterattacks brought heavy losses to both sides. The Polish Corps lost 281 officers and 3,503 other ranks in assaults on Colonel Ludwig Heilmann
Ludwig Heilmann
Ludwig Heilmann , was a German Fallschirmjäger and general during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords...

's 4th Parachute Regiment, until the attacks were called off. "Just eight hundred Germans had succeeded in driving off attacks by two divisions," the area around the mountain having turned into a "miniature Verdun
Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France...

." At the end of the battles the Poles would "... with bitter pride erect a memorial
Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino
The Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino holds the graves of over a thousand Poles who died, storming the bombed-out Benedictine abbey atop the mountain in May 1944, during the Battle of Monte Cassino....

 on the [slope of the] mountain."

By the afternoon of May 12, the Rapido bridgeheads were increasing despite furious counterattacks whilst the attrition on the coast and in the mountains continued. By May 13 the pressure was starting to tell. The German right wing began to give way to the 5th Army. The French Corps had captured Monte Maio and were now in a position to give material flank assistance to the 8th Army against whom Kesselring had thrown every available reserve in order to buy time to switch to his second prepared defensive position, the Hitler Line
Hitler Line
The Hitler Line was a German defensive line in central Italy during the Second World War. The strong points of the line were at Aquino and Piedimonte. In May 1944, the line was re-named the Senger Line, after General von Senger und Etterlin, one of the generals commanding Axis forces in the area...

, some eight miles (13 km) to the rear. On May 14 Moroccan
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

 Goumier
Goumier
Moroccan Goumiers were soldiers who served in auxiliary units attached to the French Army of Africa, between 1908 and 1956. The term Goumier was also occasionally used to designate native soldiers in the French army of the French Sudan and Upper Volta during the colonial era.-Description:The word...

s, travelling through the mountains parallel to the Liri valley, ground which was undefended because it was not thought possible to traverse such terrain, outflanked
Flanking maneuver
In military tactics, a flanking maneuver, also called a flank attack, is an attack on the sides of an opposing force. If a flanking maneuver succeeds, the opposing force would be surrounded from two or more directions, which significantly reduces the maneuverability of the outflanked force and its...

 the German defence while materially assisting the XIII Corps in the valley.

In 1943 the Goumiers were colonial troops
Colonial troops
Colonial troops or colonial army refers to various military units recruited from, or used as garrison troops in, colonial territories.- Colonial background :...

 formed into four Groups of Moroccan Tabors (GTM), each consisting of three loosely organised Tabors (roughly equivalent to a battalion) specialised in mountain warfare
Mountain warfare
Mountain warfare refers to warfare in the mountains or similarly rough terrain. This type of warfare is also called Alpine warfare, named after the Alps mountains...

. Juin's French Expeditionary Corps consisted of the Command of Moroccan Goumiers (CGM) (with the 1st, 3rd and 4th GTM) of General Augustin Guillaume totalling some 7,800 fighting men, broadly the same infantry strength as a division, and 4 more conventional divisions: the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division (2 DIM), the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division (3 DIA), the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division (4 DMM) and the 1st Free French Division
1st Free French Division
The 1st Free French Division was one of the principal units of the Free French Forces during World War II, and the first Free French unit of divisional size.-World War II:...

 (1 DM).

On May 15, the British 78th Division came into the XIII Corps line from reserve passing through the bridgehead divisions to execute the turning move to isolate Cassino from the Liri valley. On May 17, the Polish Corps renewed their assault in the mountains. By the early hours of May 18, the 78th Division and the Polish Corps had linked up in the Liri valley 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Cassino town.

In the early morning of May 18 a reconnaissance
Reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

 group of Polish 12th Podolia
Podolia
The region of Podolia is an historical region in the west-central and south-west portions of present-day Ukraine, corresponding to Khmelnytskyi Oblast and Vinnytsia Oblast. Northern Transnistria, in Moldova, is also a part of Podolia...

n Uhlans
Polish cavalry
The Polish cavalry can trace its origins back to the days of Medieval mounted knights. Poland had always been a country of flatlands and fields and mounted forces operate well in this environment...

 Regiment found the monastery defences abandoned and raised a Polish flag over its ruins. The last German paratroops (said to be approximately 200 in number), with supply lines threatened by the advance up the Liri valley, had withdrawn the night before to take up new defensive positions on the Hitler Line. The only remnants of the defenders were a group of thirty German wounded who had been unable to move.

Hitler line


The 8th Army units advanced up the Liri valley and the 5th Army up the coast to the Hitler defensive line (renamed the Senger Line at Hitler's insistence to minimise the significance if it was penetrated). An immediate follow-up assault failed and 8th Army then decided to take some time to re-organise. Getting 20,000 vehicles and 2,000 tanks through the broken Gustav Line was a major job taking several days. The next assault on the line commenced on May 23 with the Polish Corps attacking Piedimonte (defended by the redoubtable 1st Parachute Division) on the right and 1st Canadian Infantry Division
1st Canadian Infantry Division
The 1st Canadian Infantry Division was a formation mobilized on 1 September 1939 for service in the Second World War. The division was also reactivated twice during the Cold War....

 (fresh from 8th Army reserve) in the centre. On May 24, the Canadians had breached the line, and 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division
5th Canadian (Armoured) Division
5th Canadian Division was a Canadian division during World War II. Following its redesignation from '1st Canadian Armoured Division', the bulk proceeded overseas in one main convoy, arriving in the UK at the end of November 1941....

 poured through the gap. On May 25 the Poles took Piedimonte, and the line collapsed. The way was clear for the advance northwards on Rome and beyond.

Anzio breakout



As the Canadians and Poles launched their attack on May 23, General Lucian Truscott
Lucian Truscott
Lucian King Truscott, Jr. was a U.S. Army General, who successively commanded the 3rd Infantry Division, VI Corps, U.S. Fifteenth Army and U.S. Fifth Army during World War II.-Early life:...

, who had replaced Lt. Gen. John P. Lucas
John P. Lucas
John Porter Lucas was an American Major General and one of the commanders of VI Corps during the Italian Campaign of the Mediterranean Theater of World War II.-Early career:...

 as commander of U.S. VI Corps, launched a two pronged attack using five (three U.S. and two British) of the seven divisions in the bridgehead at Anzio. The German Fourteenth Army facing this thrust was without any armoured divisions because Kesselring had sent his armour south to help the German Tenth Army in the Cassino action. A single armoured division, the 26th Panzer
German 23rd Infantry Division
-23rd Infantry Division:The German 23rd Infantry Division was a military unit operational during World War II. It was organized along standard lines for a German infantry division. It was non-motorised and relied on horse drawn wagons for its mobility...

, was in transit from north of Rome where it had been held anticipating the non-existent seaborn landing the Allies had faked and so was unavailable to fight.

Clark captures Rome but fails to trap German 10th Army


By May 25, with the Tenth Army in full retreat, VI Corps were as planned driving eastwards to cut them off. By the next day they would have been astride the line of retreat and the Tenth Army with all Kesselring's reserves committed to them, would have been trapped. At this point, astonishingly, General Mark Clark ordered Truscott to change his line of attack from a northeasterly one to Valmontone on Route 6 to a northwesterly one directly towards Rome. Reasons for Clark's decision are unclear and controversy surrounds the issue. Most commentators point to Clark's ambition to be the first to arrive in Rome although some suggest he was concerned to give a necessary respite to his tired troops (notwithstanding the new direction of attack required his troops to make a frontal attack on the Germans' prepared defences on the Caesar C line
Caesar C line
The Caesar Line was the last German line of defence in Italy before Rome during the Second World War. It extended from the west coast near Ostia, over the Alban Hills south of Rome, from Valmontone to Avezzano and then to Pescara on the Adriatic coast...

). Truscott later wrote in his memoirs that Clark "was fearful that the British were laying devious plans to be first into Rome," a sentiment somewhat reinforced in Clark's own writings. However, Alexander had clearly laid down the Army boundaries before the battle, and Rome was allocated to the Fifth Army. The 8th Army was constantly reminded that their job was to engage the Tenth Army, destroy as much of it as possible and then bypass Rome to continue the pursuit northwards (which in fact they did, harrying the retreating German Tenth Army for some 225 miles (362.1 km) towards Perugia
Perugia
Perugia is the capital city of the region of Umbria in central Italy, near the River Tiber, and the capital of the province of Perugia. The city is located about north of Rome. It covers a high hilltop and part of the valleys around the area....

 in 6 weeks).

At the time, Truscott was shocked, writing later He went on to write An opportunity was indeed missed and seven divisions of the Tenth Army were able to make their way to the next line of defence, the Trasimene Line
Trasimene Line
The Trasimene Line was a German defensive line during the Italian Campaign of World War II. It was also sometimes known as the Albert Line...

 where they were able to link up with the Fourteenth army and then make a fighting withdrawal to the formidable Gothic Line
Gothic Line
The Gothic Line formed Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's last major line of defence in the final stages of World War II along the summits of the Apennines during the fighting retreat of German forces in Italy against the Allied Armies in Italy commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander.Adolf Hitler...

 north of Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

.

Rome fell on June 4, 1944, just two days before the Normandy invasion.

Battle honours


A number of battle honour
Battle honour
A battle honour is an award of a right by a government or sovereign to a military unit to emblazon the name of a battle or operation on its flags , uniforms or other accessories where ornamentation is possible....

s were awarded for the Battle of Cassino. The units which participated in the first part of the campaign were awarded the battle honour 'Cassino I'. In addition, subsidiary battle honours were given to those units which participated in specific engagements during the first part. These were Monastery Hill, Castle Hill and Hangman's Hill.

Units which participated in the later part of the battle were awarded the honour 'Cassino II'.

All members of the Polish units received the Monte Cassino Commemorative Cross.

Casualties


The capture of Monte Cassino came at a high price. The Allies suffered around 55,000 casualties in the Monte Cassino campaign. German casualty figures are estimated at around 20,000 killed and wounded. Total Allied casualties spanning the period of the four Cassino battles and the Anzio campaign
Operation Shingle
Operation Shingle , during the Italian Campaign of World War II, was an Allied amphibious landing against Axis forces in the area of Anzio and Nettuno, Italy. The operation was commanded by Major General John P. Lucas and was intended to outflank German forces of the Winter Line and enable an...

 with the subsequent capture of Rome on 5 June 1944, were over 105,000.

Evacuation, treasures and meaning


In the course of the battles, the ancient Abbey of Monte Cassino, where St. Benedict first established the Rule that ordered monasticism
Monasticism
Monasticism is a religious way of life characterized by the practice of renouncing worldly pursuits to fully devote one's self to spiritual work...

 in the west, was entirely destroyed by bombing and artillery barrages in February 1944.
During prior months in the Italian autumn of 1943, two German officers, Captain Maximilian Becker, a surgeon in the Hermann Göring Panzer Division and Lieutenant Colonel Julius Schlegel of the same unit, with singular prescience proposed the removal of Monte Cassino's treasures to the Vatican and Vatican-owned Castel Sant'Angelo before the war would come closer. Both officers convinced church authorities and their own senior commanders to use the division’s trucks and fuel for the undertaking. They had to find the materials necessary for crates and boxes, identify skilled carpenters among their troops, recruit local labourers (to be paid with rations of food plus twenty cigarettes per day), and then manage the "massive job of evacuation centered on the library and archive," a treasure "literally without price." The richness of the Abbey’s archives, library and gallery included "800 papal documents, 20,500 volumes in the Old Library, 60,000 in the New Library, 500 incunabula, 200 manuscripts on parchment, 100,000 prints and separate collections." The first trucks, carrying paintings by Italian old masters, were ready to go less than a week from the day Dr. Becker and Schlegel independently first came to Monte Cassino. Each vehicle carried monks to Rome as escorts; in over one hundred truckloads the convoys nearly depopulated the Abbey’s monastic community. The task was completed in the first days of November 1943. "In three weeks, in the middle of a losing war, in another country, it was quite a feat." After a mass in the basilica, Abbot Gregorio Diamare formally presented signed parchment scrolls in Latin to General Paul Conrath
Paul Conrath
General Paul Conrath was a German General der Fallschirmtruppe during World War II and a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves.-Awards:* Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class...

, to tribuno militum Julio Schlegel and Maximiliano Becker medecinae doctori "for rescuing the monks and treasures of the Abbey of Monte Cassino." After the war Schlegel spent seven months in an Allied prison as a suspected looter but was freed after favourable testimony from the Monte Cassino monks.

Monte Cassino and Cassino have different meaning for the various participant nations of the battles. For the western Allies, monuments and inscriptions invoke God and country and sacrifice and freedom; for the Poles it stood as a "symbol of hope for their country." For the Germans and their veterans it was altogether different. Monte Cassino "represented the courage ... of their soldiers defending against Allied matériel strength," superior numbers and overwhelming firepower, a precursor of events to come. They "fought with courage and great skill ... No crimes stain the German record here, nor were there any self-inflicted horrors like Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

," and – that they were able to "save the treasures of Monte Cassino and the museum and gallery of Naples [endures as] a point of particular pride."

United States military history reviews


The U.S. government’s official position on the bombing of Monte Cassino underwent remarkable changes over a quarter century. The certainty of “irrefutable evidence” of German use of the abbey was removed from the record in 1961 by the Office of the Chief of Military History. A congressional inquiry to the same office in the 20th anniversary year of the bombing produced the statement: “It appears that no German troops, except a small military police detachment, were actually inside the abbey” before the bombing. The final correction to the U.S. Army’s official record was made in 1969 and concluded that “the abbey was actually unoccupied by German troops.”

Wojtek



Among the huge variety of troops serving at Monte Cassino, probably the strangest was a bear from Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

, called Wojtek. Raised by and enlisted into the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps
Polish II Corps
Polish II Corps , 1943–1947, was a major tactical and operational unit of the Polish Armed Forces in the West during World War II. It was commanded by Lieutenant General Władysław Anders and by the end of 1945 it had grown to well over 100,000 soldiers....

, he carried artillery shells during the battle.

Marocchinate


The day following the battle, the Goumier
Goumier
Moroccan Goumiers were soldiers who served in auxiliary units attached to the French Army of Africa, between 1908 and 1956. The term Goumier was also occasionally used to designate native soldiers in the French army of the French Sudan and Upper Volta during the colonial era.-Description:The word...

s, French Moroccan colonial troops attached to the French Expeditionary Forces, rampaged through the surrounding hills, plundering the countryside. Some of these irregular units are reported to have committed atrocities against the Italian peasant communities in the region.http://members.iinet.net.au/~gduncan/massacres_axis.html In Italy the victims of these acts were described as Marocchinate
Marocchinate
Marocchinate is a term applied to the mass rape and killings committed during World War II after the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy by Goumiers, Moroccan colonial troops of the French Expeditionary Corps ), commanded by General Alphonse Juin.- Background :Goumiers were colonial irregular...

meaning literally "Moroccaned" (or people who have been subjected to acts committed by Moroccans).

War graves and memorials




Immediately after the cessation of fighting at Monte Cassino, the Polish government in Exile
Polish government in Exile
The Polish government-in-exile, formally known as the Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile , was the government in exile of Poland formed in the aftermath of the Invasion of Poland of September 1939, and the subsequent occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which...

 (in London) created the Monte Cassino campaign cross
Monte Cassino campaign cross
The Monte Cassino Commemorative Cross is a commemorative medal awarded to all soldiers of the Polish II Corps who fought in the battle of Monte Cassino and the battles for Piedimonte and Passo Corno...

 to commemorate the Polish part in the capture of the strategic point. It was also during this time that Polish song-writer Feliks Konarski
Feliks Konarski
Feliks Konarski was a Polish poet, songwriter, and cabaret performer.-Early life:...

, who had taken part in the fighting there, wrote his anthem Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino
Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino
Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino is one of the best-known and most beloved Polish military songs of World War II...

(The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino). Later, an imposing Polish cemetery
Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino
The Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino holds the graves of over a thousand Poles who died, storming the bombed-out Benedictine abbey atop the mountain in May 1944, during the Battle of Monte Cassino....

 was laid out; this is prominently visible to anybody surveying the area from the restored monastery.

The Commonwealth War Graves
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is an intergovernmental organisation of six independent member states whose principal function is to mark, record and maintain the graves, and places of commemoration, of Commonwealth of Nations military service members who died in the two World Wars...

 cemetery on the western outskirts of Cassino is the final resting place of the British, New Zealand, Canadian, Indian, Gurkha and South African casualties. The French and Italians are on Route 6 in the Liri Valley; the Americans are at Anzio. The German cemetery is approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Cassino in the Rapido Valley.

In 2006, a memorial was unveiled in Rome honouring the Allied forces that fought and died to liberate the city.http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1790302,00.html

See also

  • Barbara Line
    Barbara Line
    During World War II, the Barbara Line was a series of German military fortifications in Italy, some south of the Gustav Line, and a similar distance north of the Volturno Line. Near the eastern coast, it ran along the line of the Trigno river. The line mostly consisted of fortified hilltop...

  • Battle of San Pietro Infine
    Battle of San Pietro Infine
    The Battle of San Pietro Infine was a major engagement from 8–17 December 1943, in the Italian Campaign of World War II involving Allied Forces attacking from the south against heavily fortified positions of the German "Winter Line" in and around the town of San Pietro Infine, just south of Monte...

  • Bernhardt Line
    Bernhardt Line
    The Bernhardt Line was a German defensive line in Italy during World War II. Having reached the Bernhardt Line at the start of December 1943, it took until mid-January 1944 for U.S. 5th Army to fight their way to the next line of defenses, the Gustav Line. The line was defended by XIV Panzer Corps...

  • Brazilian Expeditionary Force
    Brazilian Expeditionary Force
    The Brazilian Expeditionary Force or BEF was a force about 25,700 men and women arranged by the Army and Air Force to fight alongside the Allied forces in the Mediterranean Theatre of World War II...

  • European Theatre of World War II
    European Theatre of World War II
    The European Theatre of World War II was a huge area of heavy fighting across Europe from Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 until the end of the war with the German unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945...

  • Italian Campaign (World War II)
    Italian Campaign (World War II)
    The Italian Campaign of World War II was the name of Allied operations in and around Italy, from 1943 to the end of the war in Europe. Joint Allied Forces Headquarters AFHQ was operationally responsible for all Allied land forces in the Mediterranean theatre, and it planned and commanded the...

  • Operation Shingle
    Operation Shingle
    Operation Shingle , during the Italian Campaign of World War II, was an Allied amphibious landing against Axis forces in the area of Anzio and Nettuno, Italy. The operation was commanded by Major General John P. Lucas and was intended to outflank German forces of the Winter Line and enable an...

  • The Cassino Band of Northumbria Army Cadet Force
    The Cassino Band of Northumbria Army Cadet Force
    The Cassino Band of Northumbria Army Cadet Force is a Cadet-Youth Band.The band was formed in 2000, by George Morrison and Consisted of Cadets from various cadet detachment in Northumbria ACF's catchment area. As with all infantry bands, the Cassino Band takes its name from a battle honour...

  • Winter Line
    Winter Line
    The Winter Line was a series of German military fortifications in Italy, constructed during World War II by Organisation Todt. The primary Gustav Line ran across Italy from just north of where the Garigliano River flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west, through the Apennine Mountains to the...


French


Italian


External links