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Ruins of Cassino, 1944

Ruins of Cassino, 1944

Ruins of Cassino, 1944 (1 of 2)

Picture from the collection of Dennis Burt

Original Caption: 1944 Cassino 2

Copyright Gary Burt 2013

Many thanks to Gary for providing us with these photos from his father's collection.


فایل:The ruins of Cassino, May 1944- a wrecked Sherman tank and Bailey bridge in the foreground, with Monastery Ridge and Castle Hill in the background. TR1799.jpg

بو فایل ویکی‌انبار-دن‌دیر و آیری پروژه‌ده ایستیفاده اولماق امکانی وار. اونون باره‌سینده اولان شرح فایلین شرح صحیفه‌سی آشاغیدا گوستریلیب.


The Destruction of Monte Cassino

A stalemate on the Gustav Line in January 1944 brought about one of the more controversial Allied decisions of Italian campaign.

Top Image: US servicemen walking amidst the ruins of Monte Cassino Abbey destroyed by Allied bombers. From the Collection at The National WWII Museum, 2010.324.234.

Close to the hearts of many Italians, Monte Cassino, a Catholic monastery situated high on a rocky hill above the town of Cassino, was a symbol of peace and magnificence for hundreds of years. However, in 1944 this religious beacon transformed into a looming reminder of Allied attrition, stagnancy, and the costliness of war.

Benedict of Nursia established the very first monastery of his new order on this promontory in 529 AD. Even before Benedict, the location possessed tremendous historic importance. In Benedict’s time, the road leading to the monastery was already more than 10 centuries old and was the location of an ancient Roman temple of Apollo. As monasticism spread throughout Europe, more Benedictine monasteries were founded on the same strict standards as Monte Cassino. Inside the Abbey, monks painstakingly worked to preserve both contemporary and ancient texts, ensuring important documents and manuscripts were not lost to the ravages of time.

The structure itself had been rebuilt many times due to natural disasters and sieges, but remained a center of historic scholarship. The complex that stood above Cassino during World War II was constructed primarily in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many of the manuscripts preserved within its walls were evacuated to Rome before the fighting raged around the site, however, this did not spare the Abbey itself from ultimate destruction.

As the Allies moved northward up the boot of Italy, invasion forces stalled on either side of the Gustav Line. With the failed amphibious landing at Anzio and brutal fighting at the Battle of the Rapido River, the Italian campaign arrived at a stalemate in January 1944. Four attempts were made to climb the mountain and take the shrine, and each failure led to a tremendous decline in morale. Fifth Army Commander Mark Clark recalled that the battle of Cassino was, “the most grueling, the most harrowing, and in one aspect the most tragic, of any phase of the war in Italy.” This never-ending battle was one of the places where the all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion earned their nickname “Purple Heart Battalion.”

Allied Forces assumed that the Germans were using Monte Cassino as a fortified position and observation post. Even ambiguous information regarding the German’s location was believed to be valid. However, up to the last days before the bombing, Martino Matronola, a monk who remained at Monte Cassino, asserted that the Wehrmacht was not using the monastery. A number of terrified townspeople from Cassino, Matronola, and one other monk were the only ones trapped in the Abbey during the bombing.

Piles of rubble surrounding the bombed out Abbey of Monte Cassino. Official caption on front: "The ruined Abbey of Monte Cassino after German surrender. US AAF Photo 232-6. From the Collection of The National WWII Museum, 2013.495.1681.

Large cloud of smoke forming above multiple explosions from a US Army artillery bombardment the Abbey of Monte Cassino is hidden behind the cloud. Official caption on front: "Blasting Nazis in Benedictine monastery at Cassino, 2-15-44. US Army Photo 177-13." Cassino, Italy. 15 February 1944. From the Collection of The National WWII Museum, 2013.495.1389.

View looking up at the destroyed Monte Cassino Abbey. Official caption on front: Official caption on front: "MM-5-44-5369." Official caption on reverse: "Signal Corps photo-20-May-1944 (Italy) Fallen Fortresses! Pointed toward its objective rests an Allied tank-disabled. In its path lies the former German key fortress of the Gustav Line, Cassino - also disabled! On the highest peak, in background, is the Abbey, the 'eyes' of the enemy (now closed) during the long Allied attack. Sig C Radio Telephoto from Italy.#." Cassino, Italy. 20 May 1944. From the Collection of The National WWII Museum, 2002.337.524.

Italian refugees walk along a roadway. Official caption on front: "MM-5-44-303" Official Official caption on reverse: "Sig. Corps Radio Photo-2-7-44 / Italy! Refugees on a mountain road in the Vallerotunda area, near Cassino, fleeing their town enveloped in battle, seeking safety behind the front." Vallerotonda, Italy. 7 February 1944. From the Collection of The National WWII Museum, 2002.337.080.

As B-17s, B-25s, and B-26s soared over the sacred site on February 15, 1944, bombs rained down on much of the structure, reducing it to rubble. Even though German forces were camped on the mountain below, none were harmed during the bombardment. The two monks also survived unscathed, but an estimated 115 refugees taking shelter perished during the attack. In David Hapgood and David Richardson’s book on Monte Cassino, they illustrate the scene as the monks emerged from their underground shelter, “The cloisters and their colonnades were all smashed. Where monumental stairs had led up to the basilica, they saw only a jumble of fallen rocks. . . The statue of Saint Benedict still stood in the cloister, but it had been decapitated.”

The bombing decision came only months after Eisenhower’s Protection of Cultural Property Order, signed in December 1943. Eisenhower details in the order, “If we have to choose between destroying a famous building and sacrificing our own men, then our men’s lives count infinitely more and the buildings must go. But the choice is not always so clear-cut as that. . . Nothing can stand against the argument of military necessity. That is an accepted principle. But the phrase ‘military necessity’ is sometimes used where it would be more truthful to speak of military convenience or even personal convenience. I do not want it to cloak slackness or indifference.”

Eisenhower's Protection of Cultural Monuments Order, December 29, 1943, File: CAD 000.4 (3-25-43) (1), Sec. 2, Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949, General Records, Civil Affairs Division, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, RG 165. Courtesy of The National Archives.

The total ruin of Monte Cassino evoked mixed emotions on both sides and remains one of the most debated decisions of the war itself. Americans with loved ones and friends involved in the conflict were angry that their family members might be risking their lives to save a building. Preceding the bombing, soldiers and spectators camped out for an optimal view of the destruction. When the initial bombs hit the Abbey, cheers emanated from the troops and reporters below. Many American newspapers published the falsehood that the monastery was inhabited by German troops, capitalizing on the headline that the Nazis violated the religious institution to use it as a safe haven. Instead, the bombing of Monte Cassino became fodder for the German propaganda machine to smear the United States as enemies of ancient and religious traditions.

In the end, the destruction of the Abbey proved to be incredibly detrimental to the Allies. In the coming months, the German forces hid in the rubble, occupied, and fortified the site. Subsequent Allied assaults up the mountain achieved little despite heavy casualties. Polish troops finally captured Monte Cassino on May 18, 1944, five months into the bloody campaign and four months after the monastery was leveled.


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Macfarlane, James Vernon, 1916-1992. Tank in the ruins of Cassino, Italy. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: DA-14753-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22538594


Ruins of Cassino, 1944 - History

By Joshua Shepherd

By the evening of January 22, 1944, it was increasingly apparent that a drastic shift in strategy was needed to break the bloody debacle that had developed in central Italy. Two days before, the Fifth Army’s 36th Infantry Division had launched a catastrophic assault across the Rapido River. Facing a furious gauntlet of German machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire, the Americans had been badly mauled as they raced across the mud flats that flanked the river. By the time the attack was called off after two days of carnage, the costs were staggering. The division had sustained 2,000 casualties on their side of the river alone, exultant German troops had recovered 430 frozen American corpses.

To Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes, the veteran commander of II Corps, the primary cause of the debacle was obvious. While the Americans had attacked across the marshy bottom ground of the Rapido, the Germans retained possession of the rocky heights that surrounded the site, affording them an ideal perch from which to flail oncoming Americans with accurate fire from above. To the West Point-trained Keyes, it was a grave tactical fallacy to attack across the valley unless German positions on the high ground were reduced.

The focus increasingly shifted to a particularly conspicuous mountain that dominated the countryside for miles around: the commanding heights of Monte Cassino, which was crowned with a magnificent Benedictine monastery that possessed a fortress-like appearance. Mud-covered American soldiers cast angry glances toward the mountain and intuitively realized what the top brass had seemed to miss: enemy positions on the high ground had to be seized. Associated Press correspondent Hal Boyle was of much the same opinion. “Sooner or later somebody’s going to have to blow that place all to hell,” said Boyle, giving voice to the Allies’ frustration over the enemy’s possession of the stronghold.

The Allied campaign for Italy, as well as the legendary fight for Monte Cassino, had been borne of sharp disagreements and outright arm twisting at the highest levels. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, long the standard bearer of the fight against fascism, was determined to invade mainland Italy. It was the logical next step, he argued, to attack what he referred to as the soft underbelly of Fortress Europe.

But the American top brass was skeptical of such a move. By their reckoning, a direct invasion of France and a subsequent drive into the heart of Germany was the quickest way of winning the war. Yet it was likewise apparent that any major invasion of France was a logistical impossibility until the spring of 1944.

Such a lengthy period of idleness, Churchill asserted, would certainly nettle the Allies’ suspicious partners in the Soviet Union, whose armies were suffering astonishing casualties on the meat grinder of the Eastern Front. An invasion of mainland Italy would also tie down untold numbers of enemy troops who were desperately needed elsewhere in Nazi-occupied Europe. Furthermore, it was hoped that a robust push into Italy would topple the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini. In fact, Mussolini was voted out of power and arrested on July 25, 1943. Not surprisingly, the astute and persuasive Churchill won the argument.

By the first week of September, the Allies launched the invasion of Italy. On September 3, the British Eighth Army, led by General Bernard Montgomery, crossed the narrow Straits of Messina directly to the toe of Italy. Facing light opposition, Montgomery quickly secured his beachhead and began pressing inland. His progress, stymied by stubborn German resistance and rugged terrain, was frustratingly slow.

The direct threat to the Italian homeland, however, had the desired effect on the nation’s Fascist regime. Since Mussolini’s arrest in July, Italy’s war effort had grown increasingly feeble. On September 8, the recalcitrant Italian government publicly announced its surrender to Allied forces. Yet the announcement did little to alter the fight on the ground. Occupying German forces quickly took effective control of the nation. They seized arms, munitions, and vital infrastructure.

A New Zealand sniper participates in the drawn-out struggle for Monte Cassino. The horrors of the Italian Campaign offered little respite for the embattled infantrymen who struggled for every rugged inch of ground at Monte Cassino.

Despite the success of knocking Italy out of the war, the American contingent of the invasion would receive a bitter reception to the country’s mainland. Beginning on September 9, the American Fifth Army under the command of Lt. Gen. Mark Clark undertook an amphibious landing near Salerno.

Clark’s troops found it impossible to effect a breakout of the landing sites and barely held a grip on the coast following a ferocious German counterattack that swept toward Salerno during the middle of September. Determined fighting finally repelled the German attacks, and by the end of the month a renewed offensive mounted by Anglo-American troops resulted in the capture of Naples, the largest city in southern Italy.

The liberation of the rest of Italy would prove far more problematic. Although initially inclined to abandon Italy following the nation’s surrender, German leader Adolf Hitler was convinced of the need to maintain a tight grip on the peninsula in order to keep Allied troops as far from the German homeland as possible. Hitler knew it was of paramount importance to keep the Allies from establishing airfields in Italy with which to bring their overwhelming air power against Germany. Sensing the grand strategic stakes at risk in the war for Italy, German troops would fight a tenacious defensive war there.

Heading up the German war effort in Italy was a gifted and widely experienced career officer, Field Marshal Albrecht Kesselring. In the grinding defensive battle for the Italian peninsula, the field marshal would prove a resourceful and clever opponent.

Heavy losses suffered by units such as the U.S. 36th Infantry Division against the Gustav Line in the river valleys compelled Allied senior commanders to focus their efforts instead on seizing the high ground at Monte Cassino.

Although greatly outmatched in manpower and matériel, Kesselring enjoyed a decisive advantage in terrain. Much to the chagrin of the Allies, he made the most of it.

Overall command of ground forces in Italy fell to British General Sir Harold Alexander, commander of the 15th Army Group, composed of Clark’s Fifth Army, which pushed up the western flank of the peninsula, and the British Eighth Army, by that time under the command of Lt. Gen. Sir Oliver Leese, which pressed north along Italy’s east coast. Due to the barrier of the Apennines, each army was largely on its own.

Two primary roads led north toward Clark’s ultimate objective at Rome. Near the coast, Route 7 led north to the capital. Farther inland, Route 6 twisted through far more forbidding terrain before reaching the flatlands of the Liri Valley south of Rome. After the painfully slow campaign through the rugged hills of southern Italy, the Liri Valley offered the tantalizing prospect of a swift end to the bloody war of attrition that had unfolded in Italy.

By mid-January 1944, lead elements of Clark’s army mounted the heights of Monte Trocchio but were forced to halt the advance. To the north of Monte Trocchio lay a three-mile-wide swath of open ground that gave German gunners a nearly unobstructed field of fire. The main route to Rome was also blocked by the Rapido River, an aptly named tributary of the Garigliano River whose narrow waters were nonetheless treacherously swift. Situated on the north of the Rapido was the town of Cassino, a wayside city that now found itself at the epicenter of the fight for Europe.

Beyond Cassino, forbidding terrain assured the Allies of a difficult and bloody fight. In fact, the heights beyond the Rapido, dominated by steep ridges, plunging ravines, and jagged peaks, constituted some of the most rugged terrain in central Italy. The ground was entirely impracticable for maneuvering armored columns even for veteran infantry, the rocky inclines, paired with a stout German defense, would require a herculean effort to overcome.

Allied artillery proved incapable of inflicting substantial casualties on the entrenched Germans in the town of Cassino.

Ironically, the hellish no-man’s land at Cassino was dominated by an imposing hill that had served as a bastion of religious tranquility for nearly 1,500 years. Commanding the city to the west were the soaring heights of Monte Cassino, which rose some 1,600 feet above the valley. The mountain was crowned with by the Abbey of Monte Cassino, whose gleaming travertine walls, 10-feet thick, could be seen by troops miles away.

By the winter of 1944, the abbey occupied the most strategically valuable real estate in Italy. Despite its military potential, the seven acres of the magnificent monastery were regarded as off limits for both Allied and Axis forces. Both sides adhered to a tentative policy, which was subject to military necessity, of preserving artistic and cultural sites in Italy.

To block the Allied route to Rome, Kesselring ordered the construction of a seemingly impregnable defensive position. It stretched for 100 miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west to the Adriatic Sea in the east. Christened the Gustav Line, the fortified network bristled with thousands of artillery pieces, mortars, machine-gun nests, bunkers, and minefields. The fieldworks, laid out in multiple, mutually supporting lines to maintain a defense-in-depth, was an impressive display of German military engineering.

Perhaps most importantly, Kesselring had at his disposal 20 divisions that included infantry, panzer, panzergrenadier, and airborne units. Although many units had been reinforced with foreign conscripts, Kesselring’s forces possessed a hardened core of German veterans who were fiercely determined to keep the Allies out of the Fatherland.

As the Allied high command made plans to breach the Gustav Line, it hoped that the worst of the terrain could simply be bypassed. Largely due to Churchill’s prodding, the Allies planned a large-scale amphibious landing at Anzio, well behind German lines. Paired with a direct thrust into German positions by the main body of Clark’s troops, it was hoped that the Anzio landings would quickly pry German defenders loose from the Gustav Line.

In preparation for the landings, Alexander and Clark sketched out an operation against enemy positions opposite the Fifth Army. Rather than directly assault Cassino and the formidable heights behind the town, Allied forces would execute a wide pincer move designed to envelop the position. To the north of the town, General Alphonse Juin’s French Expeditionary Corps would push into the mountains before swinging south behind the town and abbey. On the left, the British X Corps would cross the Garigliano River and seize the high ground beyond. South of Cassino, the American 36th Division would attack across the Rapido and assault the German center.

Late on the evening of January 11, 1944, Juin’s troops moved into their assault positions. The spirited Frenchman, an experienced veteran and skilled tactician, led a colorful corps of colonial troops renowned for impetuous ferocity. Drawn primarily from the French possessions of North Africa, the troops of the French Expeditionary Corps were regarded as poorly disciplined but well suited for the rigors of mountain fighting. The Goumier were the scions of a fierce martial tradition in Arabic and Berber culture, and they waged war on their own terms.

American and French colonial troops advance cautiously through a village destroyed by the Luftwaffe. French Goumiers, largely from Morocco and Algeria, were experienced mountain fighters.

In the hope of securing the element of surprise, the artillery remained quiet, leaving the Goumier to attack enemy positions with small arms. Early on January 12, Juin’s Moroccans and Algerians were on the move, rushing headlong into the hills north of Cassino. Accustomed to rough terrain, the hard-fighting tribesmen made good progress as they stormed German positions perched in the rocky hillsides. When the Algerians seized the heights of Monna Casale, the Germans counterattacked. Bloody fighting ensued with the position changing hands four times during a horrific battle that did not end until sunset.

Despite initial success, the attack slowed as it encountered more experienced enemy troops. Generalleutnant Julius Ringel’s 5th Mountain Division, an elite unit trained specifically for the rigors of such combat, fought stubbornly in the hills. After four days of bloodletting, the French assault had come close to success but finally stalled. Juin pleaded for reinforcements, convinced that just one more division would enable him to achieve a breakthrough.

On January 17, British X Corps artillery unleashed a deafening barrage against German positions on the north bank of the Garigliano River. Lt. Gen. Sir Richard McCreery hurled his three divisions across the Garigliano following the artillery fire. Furiously paddling assault boats, the Brits smashed into the Generalleutnant Bernhard Steinmetz 94th Infantry Division, a woefully inexperienced outfit. McCreery’s troops pushed their way into the high ground beyond the river but were badly mauled in the process. Despite heavy casualties, the British drove several miles in two days of fighting.

But the German defenders were not idle. With his lines south of Cassino bent to the breaking point, German XIV Panzer Corps commander General Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin was a formidable opponent. As the Allies stepped up their attacks, he scrambled to reinforce exhausted frontline units with fresh ones. By birth a Prussian nobleman, he was a field commander with a decidedly cerebral approach to the art of war. A devoutly religious man who was privately disgusted with Nazi atrocities, Senger was under no illusions about the outcome of the conflict. “The rotten thing is to keep fighting and to know all along that we have lost this war,” he observed. Nevertheless, he fought tenaciously for the German people and homeland.

Senger bolstered his front lines with some of the toughest reserves available. Inserting the 90th Grenadier Division and the 29th Panzergrenadier Division, Senger succeeded in stabilizing his position. British X Corps units were forced to fall back and consolidate their modest gains. On McCreery’s right, though, the British would make one more attempt to smash through the Gustav Line behind the Garigliano.

Hoping to follow up on the promising attack launched by its X Corps comrades, the British 46th Division attempted a crossing of the river on January 19. The crossing, however, quickly degenerated into a debacle. The swift waters of the Garagliano played havoc with the assault boats, which were unable to make headway in the current. British troops were badly shot up by machine-gun fire, which swept the surface of the river and rendered a successful crossing all but impossible. Only a handful of troops succeeded in reaching the north bank.

For the Allies, matters would only get worse. In the river bottoms just south of Cassino, one more push into German positions was planned for the troops of Maj. Gen. Fred Walker’s 36th Infantry Division. Their assigned crossing point was in full view of German observers perched on Monte Cassino, and the river below the city was extraordinarily swift.

For his part, Walker was anything but optimistic over the prospects. Stymied in his attempts to have the attack shifted to more favorable ground upriver, he grew increasingly dejected over the fate that awaited his men. “I don’t see how we, or any other division, can possibly succeed in crossing the Rapido,” he confided to his diary.

Despite such misgivings, the attack went forward on the evening of January 20. The attack targeted the village of Sant’Angelo, with Walker’s 141st Infantry Regiment going in on the right and the 143rd Infantry Regiment on the left. From the outset, the attack went awry. As the hapless American soldiers rushed forward, they were exposed to a withering fire from the crack troops of Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt’s 15th Panzergrenadier Division. Running a gauntlet of machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire, the men of the 36th Infantry Division suffered heavy casualties before they even reached the Rapido.

Once the troops reached the riverbank, the situation did not improve. Facing a hailstorm of German fire, dozens of men were cut down as they struggled to get their boats in the river. Most boats were shredded by enemy fire or simply floundered in the waters of the Rapido. By dawn of the next morning, only two demoralized battalions, cowering in mud on the north bank, had succeeded in getting across the river. Two more days of bloody stalemate induced Clark to authorize a withdrawal.

The repeated drubbings that Allied forces had endured in attempting to cross the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers forced Clark and his senior commanders to refocus their energies toward the heights beyond the town of Cassino, in particular the commanding eminence of Monte Cassino. It was hoped that the timeless military maxim of occupying the high ground would finally pry the Germans loose from the Gustav Line.

Clark again unleashed Juin’s French Expeditionary Corps on January 24. The fierce French colonial troops stormed into German lines north of Cassino, breaking through initial defenses and eventually seizing Monte Belvedere five miles inside the Gustav Line. Stalled by an increasingly determined German defense, Juin issued fruitless requests for reinforcement, without which, he said, his exhausted troops could do no more.

Allied commanders committed four corps to Operation Diadem, which was the fourth and final push to clear elements of the German 10th Army from Monte Cassino and open up the Liri Valley.

While the French were struggling through the mountains to the north, the Americans of the 34th Infantry Division attacked the Gustav Line north of Cassino. They were able to force their way across the Rapido and then seized the ruins of former Italian Army barracks on the German side of the Gustav Line. However, fierce enemy counterattacks drove back the exhausted Americans beyond the east bank. Led by the tenacious Maj. Gen. Charles Ryder, the 34th Division launched repeated assaults toward the river, only to be repulsed with heavy casualties.

Such persistence finally paid off. On January 27, Ryder had secured a lodgment on the German side of the river, and two days later pushed inland. Stubbornly fending off enemy counterattacks, Ryder’s men pushed their way through German defenses, capturing the village of Cairo on January 30.

The fight to break the German hold on the Gustav Line was far from over. Ryder, his left on the Rapido and his right in the mountains, turned his division south in a bid to capture the town of Cassino. With armor support deployed in the river bottom, his troops seized the Italian barracks and then forced their way into the outskirts of the town. A stubborn German defense turned brutal house-to-house fighting into a bloody draw, and the Americans were unable to seize the town.

In the hope of seizing Monte Cassino and unhinging the Gustav Line, Clark ordered an all-out attack February 7. While the French advanced on their right and the British X Corps launched an attack on their left, the Americans of the 34th and 36th Divisions assaulted the high ground above Cassino. The fighting turned into an infantryman’s nightmare as exhausted American soldiers groped their way through the jumble of rocky peaks north of Monte Cassino.

The Germans had fortified every high point and rushed in reinforcements from the veteran 90th Grenadier Division, as well as the fearsome paratroopers of Maj. Gen. Richard Heidrich’s 1st Parachute Division. Vicious see-saw fighting resulted in high casualties on both sides. The Americans fought their way onto Snakeshead Ridge, a dominating line of hills that led toward the monastery. Although they briefly threatened Monte Cassino itself, Clark was forced to call off his exhausted divisions and consolidate Allied gains.

The Allies found General der Panzertruppe Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin a formidable opponent.

Fortunately, Clark had fresh reinforcements at hand with which to press forward the attack. Beginning in late January, Alexander transferred three Commonwealth divisions from the British Eighth army: the 2nd New Zealand Division, the 4th Indian Division, and the British 78th Division. He placed the three divisions, which formed the II New Zealand Corps, directly under Clark’s control. The units were under the command of Lt. Gen. Bernard Freyburg, who had led the defense of Crete in the face of General Kurt Student’s airborne invasion in the spring of 1941.

After enduring repeated defeats in front of the Gustav Line, Allied troops were highly suspicious that German troops were using the abbey as a ready-made observation post. A number of infantrymen reported that they had seen Germans behind its walls or even in the windows. Convinced that the Germans had fortified the locale and unwilling to see his men shed blood unnecessarily, Freyburg called for the destruction of the monastery before his troops launched another attack.

Ironically, it appears that such suspicions were groundless. Although the mountain itself was occupied by German troops, the abbey grounds were populated with little more than Benedictine monks and terrified civilians. The gentleman warrior at the head of the XIV Panzer Corps, von Senger, was circumspect in his observance of the traditional rules of war as they applied to the abbey. Once invited to dine in the building, von Senger respected the privilege by refusing to even look out the windows in the direction of Allied positions.

Clark, who was highly skeptical of reports that the enemy had entered the abbey, refused to authorize an attack on the monastery. Conflicting intelligence reports did not help matters. On February 14 Maj. Gen. Ira Eaker, commander in chief of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, and Keyes made reconnaissance flights over Monte Cassino. While Eaker claimed to have seen Germans in the abbey compound, Keyes reported that he saw nothing. Ultimately, political considerations determined the outcome of the priceless monastery on Monte Cassino. Largely to assuage Freyburg, Alexander overruled Clark’s objections and authorized the destruction of the abbey. Clark correctly predicted the outcome. “If the Germans are not in the monastery now, they certainly will be in the rubble after the bombing ends,” he said.

On the morning of February 15, the Allied air fleet launched Operation Avenger, aimed at the complete destruction of the abbey. About 250 bombers flew repeated attacks over the mountain, dropping 600 tons of ordnance that rocked the mountain and shattered the walls of the monastery. Allied artillery also bombarded the mountaintop, lobbing shells into the ruins. Terrified civilians who had not fled the heights were caught in the maelstrom. Many of these noncombatants perished during the bombing and shelling. By the end of the day, much of the monastery had been reduced to a confusing labyrinth of boulders and dust.

A German airborne machine-gun team defends the ruins of the Abbey of Monte Cassino.

True to Clark’s fears, German troops immediately moved into the rubble. Elements of the 1st Parachute Division swiftly took up positions in the abbey grounds, which afforded a commanding position of the valley below and dominated the Allied approaches. Far from blasting a hole in the Gustav Line, the Allies had inadvertently transformed Monte Cassino into a ready-made fortress for some of the toughest troops of the German war machine.

Rather than launch an attack in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, Freyburg sat tight for the better part of the day. As darkness fell, an attack was launched, albeit by a single infantry company of the 1st Royal Sussex Regiment, which groped its way through the darkness toward Point 593 on Snakeshead Ridge. Not unexpectedly, the British troops were mauled as they assaulted formidable German positions. The New Zealand Corps kept up the pressure but accomplished little. On February 17, Freyburg sent in elements of the 4th Indian Division, who fared little better. The hard-fighting mountain troops of the 1/2nd Gurkhas battled their way toward the base of Monte Cassino but were finally driven back with heavy casualties.

That same night, the 28th Maori Battalion of the 2nd New Zealand Division attacked directly across the Rapido River with the aim of capturing the vital railway station south of Cassino. The Maoris enjoyed initial success, forcing their way through German defenses and seizing the station. But engineers, working feverishly in a storm of German artillery fire, were unable to bridge the river and bring up armor support. Driven back by a fierce German counterattack the following day, the New Zealanders were forced to the east bank of the Rapido.

The horrors of the Italian Campaign offered little respite for the embattled infantrymen who struggled for every rugged inch of ground at Cassino. Plans for yet another try at the Gustav Line unfolded immediately, to be carried out once again by the II New Zealand Corps. Freyburg pressed for yet another massive bombing run, this time targeting the town of Cassino. On the morning of March 15, Allied bombers flew over the Rapido and unleashed a torrent of explosives into the heart of the town. As many as 900 artillery pieces lent their weight to the attack. In four devastating hours the once pastoral town was reduced to rubble.

Freyburg’s troops stormed into Cassino on the heels of the bombardment, hoping to quickly overrun dazed German defenders. They were sorely disappointed. Tenacious German paratroopers who had survived the bombing had taken up excellent defensive positions in the rubble. The hard-pressed New Zealanders suffered heavy casualties as they battled their way into the town. As the infantry fanned out, they met with a measure of success on the margins of the town. To the west of town, the New Zealanders seized the summit of Castle Hill, a vital height between the town and the monastery. Other troops forced their way through to the railroad station.

Dead British and German troops offer grim evidence of the brutal fighting at Monte Cassino.

The Kiwis failed to dislodge stubborn pockets of German defenders in the town center, and Allied tank crews found it impossible to operate in the demolished remains of the urban center. Hardened troops from the 3rd Parachute Regiment set up strongpoints in the ruins of the Continental Hotel and the Hotel Des Roses. Despite multiple attacks, the Germans defied repeated efforts to dislodge them.

In the hills west of town, the troops of the 4th Indian Division once again attempted to force their way toward the monastery. The Indians took over the fight from Castle Hill but were stopped cold in a futile push west. The men of the 9th Gurkha Rifles, braving a gauntlet of enemy fire, succeeded in seizing Hangman’s Hill, a commanding position just 300 yards from the monastery. Unfortunately, reinforcements were not forthcoming. The hardy Gurkhas fought on, cut off and isolated on the summit of the hill.

Despite the overwhelming weight of Allied forces, Heidrich’s paratroopers were far from beaten. On March 19, they struck back. German troops attacked through Cassino, aiming to dislodge the New Zealanders, but were handily repulsed. On Castle Hill, a life-or-death struggle ensued in the darkness. Elements of the 4th Parachute Regiment overran Allied outposts and then assaulted the castle directly. In a sharp and narrowly won fight, the defenders succeeded in driving off the Germans.

Freyburg had reached his limit by March 23. He recalled his battered troops and regrouped. The repeated Allied attacks on Cassino and heights above the town, largely carried out in piecemeal fashion, had been miserable and costly failures. An exasperated Churchill badgered Alexander for an explanation. “I wish you would explain to me why this passage by Cassino [and] Monastery Hill is the only place which you must keep butting at,” he said. “About five or six divisions have been worn out going into those jaws.”

It was a painful question that increasingly nagged at every Allied soldier in Italy. Determined to finally crack the Gustav Line, Alexander began transferring the bulk of the Eighth Army from the Adriatic to the Cassino sector. In six weeks, Clark was reinforced with a hodge-podge of fresh Allied divisions. Eventually, the front lines between Cassino and the sea were manned by 20 divisions drawn from nearly every Allied nation across the globe.

Alexander’s plan for a massive breakthrough, Operation Diadem, would bring overwhelming force to bear on the increasingly thin German defenses. Clark’s Fifth Army, which had taken considerable casualties in the fighting around Cassino, shifted to the left and would launch its assault along the coastal route of Highway 7. On Clark’s right, the French Expeditionary Corps would push straight into the Arunci Mountains.

To the right of the French, the British Eighth Army took up positions in the Cassino sector. The divisions poised to push into the embattled zone included troops from the far reaches of the Commonwealth: Brits, South Africans, Indians, Gurkhas, and Canadians. On the far right, the Polish II Corps, under the command of Lt. Gen. Wladyslaw Anders, prepared to attack toward Monte Cassino.

On the evening of May 11, the Allies unleashed a massive artillery bombardment designed to pulverize the Germans. More than 1,000 artillery pieces opened a devastating barrage that slammed into enemy positions along a 25-mile front. The crescendo was deafening for attacker and defender alike and shook the earth across the Rapido Valley. Allied troops were hopeful that the overwhelming firepower would reduce German positions before the infantry even came to grips with the enemy.

On the left, Clark thrust his men forward along Route 7 but faced a tough fight. On his right, Juin’s troops stormed forward, breaking the initial defenses of the German 71st Division and battering their way deep into the Arunci Mountains. South of Casino, the 8th Indian Division and the 4th British Division crossed the Rapido under heavy enemy fire. Although taking heavy casualties, the two divisions succeeded in gaining the northern bank of the river.

Polish soldiers assault Monastery Hill in May 1944. They had the honor of being the first Allied troops to occupy the abbey in the wake of the German retreat.

On the right, the final battle for the prize of Monte Cassino fell to Anders’ Polish Corps. These men had escaped Poland as it fell to the Germans and Russians in 1939. Anders exhorted his men to triumph over the Germans they deeply despised. “Soldiers! The moment for battle has arrived,” he said. “We have long awaited the moment for revenge and retribution over our hereditary enemy.” Working their way into the rugged hills north of Cassino, the Poles launched assaults along parallel rises that pointed toward the monastery. The 5th Kresowa Division attacked along Phantom Ridge, driving off the German defenders, but were battered by enemy artillery.

Along the much-contested Snakeshead Ridge, the men of the 3rd Carpathian Division ran into stiff resistance as they pushed for Point 593, a nondescript but dominant rise of rubble and boulders that controlled access to Monte Cassino. In a chaotic night fight, the Poles lashed themselves against German defenses but paid a fearful price. Hundreds were cut down by well-sighted German machine-gun fire, and the terrain made evacuation of the wounded difficult. At dawn the Poles suffered a murderous fire from German small arms, mortars, and artillery. The attack on Point 593 stalled in a bloody stalemate. Later that afternoon, a devastated Anders ordered the withdrawal of his battered troops.

After consulting with Anders, it was apparent to Alexander that the Poles would be unable to seize Monte Cassino without further support. While Anders regrouped his battered corps, plans were laid to launch a two-pronged assault to reduce enemy positions on the mountain.

By May 17, The British 4th Division attacked the southern reaches of Cassino, again bringing pressure on diehard pockets of German paratroopers still holding the town. Meanwhile, the British 78th Division, pushing north from the village of Sant’Angelo, seized Route 6 south of Monte Cassino. With the German line of retreat in threat of being cut off entirely, Anders and his Poles launched another attack from the north.

The 5th Kresowa Division attacked down Phantom Ridge, succeeding in driving off German defenders and seizing Point 601, which dominated the ridge. With Phantom Ridge secured, the lead elements of the division pressed on toward Point 593 on Snakeshead Ridge, which was under assault by the 3rd Carpathian Division. The Poles, whose homeland had been overrun and occupied by the Wehrmacht five years earlier, fought with a tenacity borne of patriotic determination and a thirst for outright vengeance. Fighting fiercely with small arms and hand grenades, the Poles rooted out the final German defenders and overran Point 593.

Ironically, the final fight for the great prize of the monastery that crowned Monte Cassino would prove nearly bloodless. With British troops positioned to race up Route 6 far in their rear, and Polish troops poised for a renewed assault, the German paratroopers who had fought and bled for so long to control Monte Cassino received orders to withdraw.

By mid-morning on May 18, cautious Polish troops inched their way toward the summit only to discover the enemy was gone. The honor of claiming Monte Cassino fell to a patrol of the 12th Podolski Lancers, who mounted the shattered walls of the monastery and raised a Polish flag. Alexander, ecstatic with the symbolic victory that had taken so long to secure, fired off a dispatch to Churchill. “Capture of Cassino means a great deal to me and my armies,” he wrote.

Indeed it did. With the walls of the monastery securely in Polish hands and German troops on the run, Allied divisions swarmed north and west. Kesselring attempted to rally his outnumbered divisions at yet another imposing belt of fortifications called the Senger Line, but was unable to stop the momentum of the Allied steamroller. On May 23, American troops began battering their way out of the Anzio beachhead, and the Allied weight in men and matériel finally began to tell. On June 4, exultant Allied troops entered Rome.

Although the costly war in Italy would linger on for another year, the bloody battles for Monte Cassino arguably constituted the most horrific struggle for the peninsula. Total German casualties exceeded 20,000 lives. The Allies paid an even greater price for the citadel it is estimated that they suffered approximately 50,000 casualties in the bitter struggle to break the Gustav Line.

Churchill, who had lobbied vigorously for the invasion of Italy, regarded the entire operation a strategic victory. “The principal task of our armies had been to draw off and contain the greatest possible number of Germans,” he said. “This task had been admirably fulfilled.”

Such sentiments of grand strategic success were cold comfort for the common foot soldiers who had fought and bled in the horrific fight for Monte Cassino. For his part, Clark was tormented by the legacy of the clash, and his stark assessment of the brutal struggle for the limestone hills of central Italy likely came closest to the truth. “The battle for Cassino,” Clark recalled, “was the most grueling, the most harrowing, and in one respect the most tragic, of any phase of the war in Italy.”


Monte Cassino Abbey

  • Point of Interest
  • Via Montecassino, 1, 03043 Cassino FR, Italie
  • http://www.abbaziamontecassino.org/abbey/index.php/en/
  • +39 0776311529 [email protected]

The abbey of Monte Cassino was founded in the 6th century by St. Benedict. During the Second World War it formed a key part of the German Gustav Line. On 15 February 1944 the abbey was bombed by the Allies who wrongly believed that it was being used as a German observation post.

The abbey of Monte Cassino is one of the two largest monasteries in Italy. The abbey was founded by Saint Benedict in the 6th century. The abbey made up one section of the 161 km long German Gustav Line, intended to block the Allied advance into Italy.

Between 17 January and 18 May 1944, Monte Cassino was the scene of fierce fighting. Lying in a protected historic zone, the abbey itself had been left unoccupied by the Germans. Unfortunately, the Allied commanders believed that the abbey was being used as an artillery observation point by the German forces. In spite of a lack of clear evidence, the monastery was marked for destruction. On 15 February American bombers dropped their bombs on the abbey, reducing the entire top of Monte Cassino to a smoking mass of rubble.

The destruction of the abbey was one of the greatest military blunders of the Second World War. 230 Italian civilians that were seeking refuge in the monastery were killed and with the building now destroyed German paratroopers occupied the ruins, which provided them with excellent defensive cover.

Fortunately, the destruction was not complete. At the beginning of the battle German officers had transferred some 1,400 precious manuscripts and other items from the abbey to the Vatican saving them from destruction. After the war the abbey was rebuilt exactly as it was.

Monte Cassino Abbey - Photographer: PicsPoint.nl en

Monte Cassino Abbey - Photographer: PicsPoint.nl

Monte Cassino Abbey - Photographer: PicsPoint.nl

Monte Cassino Abbey - Photographer: PicsPoint.nl

Monte Cassino Abbey - Photographer: PicsPoint.nl

Polish soldiers in the ruins of the abbey.

Polish soldiers in the ruins of the abbey.

Related Experiences

Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Cassino

The War Cemetery in Cassino lies 139 km south-east of Rome. It contains the graves of 4,271 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War. The Cassino Memorial stands within the cemetery and commemorates over 4,000 Commonwealth servicemen who took part

Polish Military Cemetery Monte Cassino

The Polish Military Field of Honour at Monte Cassino holds the graves of 1,052 soldiers of the 2nd Polish Army Corps who died in the Battle of Monte Cassino, fought from 17 January until 18 May 1944. The cemetery also holds the grave of the Polish commander General Anders who died in London in 1970.

The Campaign of Monte Cassino

The Allied campaign of Monte Cassino was fought in four phases between January and May 1944. The town of Cassino was a key stronghold on the Gustav Line, the German defence line in Central Italy designed to prevent Allied advance towards Rome. The Allies suffered about 55,000 casualties, the Germans 20,000.

Bernard Blin

In 1942 Bernard Blin joined the French armistice army. He joined an artillery unit in North-Africa which, after the Allied invasion, came under American command. During the war Blin would fight in Italy, Southern France and Germany itself. In 1946 he volunteered for the war in Indo China.

Parco della Memoria Storica, San Pietro Infine

The village of San Pietro Infine in Campania, Italy, was completely destroyed in late 1943 by fighting between the advancing U.S. forces seeking to break the Winter Line and the defending German troops. The Parco della Memoria Storica (History Memorial

Rome and Lazio

The region of Lazio in central Italy was the scene of heavy fighting during WWII: here the battles of Monte Cassino and Anzio were fought before the Allies could capture the capital of Rome. Recall the landings of Anzio and

Umberto di Savoia

During the Italian campaign, Crown Prince Umberto di Savoia often visited the front and on the eve of the Battle of Monte Lungo (7 December 1943) volunteered for a dangerous air reconnaissance mission. The American Commander nominated him for the Bronze Star Medal, which was not awarded for political expediency.

Vincenzo Dapino

Vincenzo Cesare Dapino was the first commander of the First Motorized Group, a unit of the Italian Royal army that took part in the Battle of Cassino. Moved by his loyalty to the King and his desire to free Italy from the German occupation, he had to overcome many difficulties.

Sergio Pivetta

During the campaign in Italy, Sergio Pivetta was a cadet in the Alpine troops of the Royal Italian Army. During the Battle of Cassino in 1944, his battalion displayed bravery in their attempt to conquer the strategic Monte Marrone. After the war, Pivetta received the honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.


Victory at Last

Redeploying his forces, Alexander placed Clark's Fifth Army along the coast with II Corps and the French facing the Garigliano. Inland, Leese's XIII Corps and Lieutenant General Wladyslaw Anders' 2nd Polish Corps opposed Cassino. For the fourth battle, Alexander desired II Corps to push up Route 7 towards Rome while the French attacked across the Garigliano and into the Aurunci Mountains on the west side of the Liri Valley. To the north, XIII Corps would attempt to force the Liri Valley, while the Poles circled behind Cassino and with orders to isolate the abbey ruins. Utilizing a variety of deceptions, the Allies were able to ensure that Kesselring was unaware of these troop movements.

Commencing at 11:00 PM on May 11 with a bombardment using over 1,660 guns, Operation Diadem saw Alexander attack on all four fronts. While II Corps met heavy resistance and made little headway, the French advanced quickly and soon penetrated the Aurunci Mountains before daylight. To the north, XIII Corps made two crossings of the Rapido. Encountering a stiff German defense, they slowly pushed forward while erecting bridges in their rear. This allowed supporting armor to cross which played a key role in the fighting. In the mountains, Polish attacks were met with German counterattacks. By late on May 12, XIII Corps' bridgeheads continued to grow despite determined counterattacks by Kesselring. The next day, II Corps began to gain some ground while the French turned to strike the German flank in the Liri Valley.

With his right-wing wavering, Kesselring began pulling back to the Hitler Line, approximately eight miles to the rear. On May 15, the British 78th Division passed through the bridgehead and began a turning movement to cut off the town from the Liri Valley. Two days later, the Poles renewed their efforts in the mountains. More successful, they linked up with the 78th Division early on May 18. Later that morning, Polish forces cleared the abbey ruins and hoisted Polish flag over the site.


Резюме

This is photograph TR 1799 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.
  • Associated places Cassino, Lazio, Italy
  • Associated events Cassino IV (May), Battle of Monte Cassino 1944, Italy, Second World War
  • Associated themes Italy 1939-1945
  • Associated keywords Destruction, Countryside, Land Warfare

Ruins of Cassino, 1944 - History

The 100th at Cassino, January 24 - February 11, 1944

In his memoir Calculated Risk, commander of the Fifth Army General Mark Clark referred to the battle of Cassino as "the most grueling, the most harrowing, and in one aspect the most tragic, of any phase of the war in Italy." 1

In mid-January 1944, in blizzard conditions, the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) took the three mountains overlooking the town of Cassino. From there, the soldiers saw the Gustav Line, which protected the key road to Rome. The Germans had used the natural landscape and their engineering skills to build one of the strongest defense lines in all of human warfare.

To take the Gustav Line, the Allies had to descend into the Rapido River valley, traverse two miles of open fields filled with landmines, mud, and knee-deep, frigid water, cross a swiftly-moving river, then climb past more mines and barbed wire and up steep, rocky slopes to the 1,500-foot peak of Monte Cassino. From there they would have to ascend still higher to a four-story fortress with 10-foot-thick stone walls.

This was the monastery of St. Benedict, or the Monte Cassino Abbey. From the heights around the abbey, the Germans had a commanding view of the entire valley. They aimed their tanks, powerful 88s, and machine guns with interlocking fire down on the exposed Allied troops. Thousands of crack German Luftwaffe (Air Force) paratroopers waited in concrete pillboxes built into the hillside and linked by underground tunnels, some which hid tanks.

On the night of January 24, A and C Companies crossed the muddy flats. The men stopped to check for trip wires. Then they waded through or swam the deep irrigation ditches filled with icy water, all under German machine gun and artillery fire. Finally, at dawn, they made it to a wall, sheltered from the enemy fire.

Then in daylight, B Company tried to cross the flats, but the Germans gunned them down. Of the 187 men in B Company, only 14 made it to the wall. 2 By the next day, the 100th, which was now missing many men and officers, was ordered back in reserve.

On February 8, the 100th again attacked, this time halfway up the mountainside on the way to the abbey. The Nisei soldiers secured a key hill, close to the monastery, but the 34th Division's right and left flank units were not able to keep pace with the 100th. The 100th soldiers dug in deeper and held the hill for four days, but fierce resistance on their flanks still made the position perilous. The 100th was again ordered back in reserve.

Ruins of Monte Cassino, 1944. Courtesy of the United States Army. Ruins of Monte Cassino following the Allied bombing. February 1944. Courtesy of the German Federal Archives.

Allied commanders reluctantly gave the order to bomb the sacred abbey. On February 15, waves of bombers flew overhead, dropping hundreds of tons of explosives and reducing it to rubble.

When the 100th launched its third attack on February 18, it was already under-strength. Again and again the men stormed the defenses of the well-entrenched, well-equipped enemy who rose from the rubble. The 100th regained the ground halfway up to the stone monastery, but it lost 200 more men. One platoon started the attack with 40 and ended with five. After four days of intense fighting and holding, the 100th was ordered back for replacements and equipment re-supply.

The British and Indian soldiers who relieved the 100th saw firsthand what the battalion had done and praised them. War correspondents reported back to the American public with glowing reviews of the unit, whose soldiers were dubbed "little men of iron." 3 The unit also earned the moniker, "Purple Heart Battalion," because of the many casualties it suffered. 4

The men of the 34th Division, including the 100th, had Cassino in their grasp, but they ran out of men and supplies. Eventually Cassino was captured by the Allies. But what the 34th had almost accomplished on its own in less than a month would take five divisions three months. 5 The 100th had landed in Salerno in September with 1,300 men. But now, five months later, it had only 521 effectives. 6 The Battle at Monte Cassino was costly, with about 200 casualties. 7 In just four days, the 100th lost the majority of its men. It was only at Cassino that the Japanese American soldiers, who would never desert their fellow soldiers even in death, were forced to leave their dead on the battlefield. 8

Monte Cassino was the last major action the original 100th completed. After that, the battalion received replacements from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and headed for Anzio.

Italy, showing Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line. A view of the rebuilt abbey on Monte Cassino, taken from one of the war cemeteries at Cassino. 2010. Courtesy of Dennis Jarvis.

Footnotes

1 General Mark W. Clark and Martin Blumenson, Calculated Risk (New York: Enigma, 2007), p. 248.

2 Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994), p. 105.

4 Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board, "100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) The Purple Heart Battalion," Japanese Eyes, American Hearts: Personal Reflections of Hawaii's World War II Nisei Soldiers (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1998), p. 4.

5 See "Italy: The First Four Months." (2011-2013). 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Education Center. Retrieved from http://www.100thbattalion.org/history/battalion-history/european-campaigns/italy/ on December 4, 2014.

7 Arthur C. Rathburn cites 48 killed, 136 wounded, and another 86 hospitalized for non-combat injuries. See Rathburn, The American Japanese (Dane, WI: Fort Dane Books, 2004), p. 34. See also Woo Sung Huan, UnSung Hero: The Col. Young Oak Kim Story, trans. Edward T. Chang (Riverside, CA: Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies, 2011), p. 74.

8 Masayo Umezawa Duus, Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and 442nd , trans. by Peter Duus (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2006), p. 127. See also Bernard J.D. Irwin, "Daniel K. Inouye, " America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan, James H. Willbanks, ed., (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011), p. 151.

ORAL HISTORY CLIPS

047a Young Oak Kim
Starts on Tape Four, between 10 and 12 minute marks
YOUNG OAK KIM:
When we went into Cassino, I think the attack, if I remember, started on the night of the 24th or the 25th of January. From where we were, down to the river, Rapido River, was very close to seven miles. Now, when we got down to the flat part, the Germans had leveled everything. Every building, every tree was cut. There was nothing. The cut trees were piled out in the flat spot between where there was a irrigation ditch in the road, and the river. That part was flooded. The Germans stored up---water up in a temporary dam, and once they knew we were going to attack, then the dam was broken so that whole flat area was flooded. I guess the width of that flat area was a couple of hundred yards. The irrigation channel I'm talking about that we had to cross, was a good, oh, I'd say 7 feet or 7-1/2 feet. I think, you know, if you took a running jump, anybody could jump over. But if you had, you know, soggy wet clothes on, and all your equipment and your weapons, you couldn't jump that for love or money, see. That thing was about eight feet deep. The water in it was ice cold. You'd freeze to death if you stayed in it. And it was running at probably 20, 25 miles an hour. So it's almost sure death if you fell in there.

Our attack was launched at midnight. We didn't know that irrigation was there we had some idea. I went out there on a patrol and found it, and one of our other patrols was captured in that very vicinity. So we came with some temporary things, you know, planks to cross it, but nothing provided by the engineers or anybody else. Once you cross that, you were almost knee-deep in mud. Prior to flooding it, the Germans buried thousands of mines in that area and thousands of flares so that the Germans would know you're coming no matter what. It's almost impossible to avoid all of those things.

We attacked with C Company on the left and A Company on the right. Back then, I knew very little about it, and the artillery and everything was controlled by Regiment and Division. And they planned of rolling barrage, the kind they used in World War I. That the barrage started at a certain time and it would roll forward at a given rate, and it was up to the infantry to keep up with it. But of course the barrage cared less about the irrigation ditch, the river, the barbed wire, the minefields and everything, and so the barrage is way over the mountains, before we even cross the irrigation ditch.

Please put this somewhere near the paragraph that begins &ldquoThis was the monastery of St. Benedict, or the Monte Cassino Abbey &hellip&rdquo
047a Young Oak Kim
Starts on Tape Four, between 16 and 18 minute marks
YOUNG OAK KIM:
I think, very close to dawn, both C and A Company had breached the wall that---in this particular area, the Rapido River had been walled in on both sides and it was concrete. And so now you're facing a---now, a major obstacle. I can't remember exactly, but I think from reports that were coming back, that river was a good 15, 20 yards wide. It was a good 10 or 12 yards down, and then on the far side, it was higher, and then on that side, you had mines, barbed wire and everything 'cause there was a road. Now, across the road is where the hill started. And the Germans were dug in on that hill, and they were dug into---the hill was solid rock. And so, what the German engineering companies had done, they come out and air hammered these bunkers into solid rock, and the Germans were sitting in there comfortably with their machine guns, available fire, and everything else, and we're sitting out there. And, of course, they had machine guns further up all the way up the hill, as well as other things. And, of course, they were firing at us with mortars. And that's the first time we ran into the&hellipwe call the &ldquoscreaming meemies.&rdquo Those are the rockets that fire and come in in clusters. And their artillery there was enormous in size.

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1944 – The Polish Corps, part of a multinational Allied Eighth Army offensive in southern Italy.

Finally, pushing into Monte Cassino as the battle to break German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s defensive Gustav Line nears its end. The Allied push northward to Rome began in January with the landing of 50,000 seaborne troops at Anzio, 33 miles south of the Italian capital. Despite having met very little resistance, the Allies chose to consolidate their position rather than immediately battle north to Rome. Consequently, German forces under the command of Field Marshal Kesselring were able to create a defensive line that cut across the center of the peninsula. General Wladyslaw Anders, leader of the Polish troops who would raise their flag over the ruins of the famous Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, commenting on the cost of the battle, said, “Corpses of German and Polish soldiers, sometimes entangled in a deathly embrace, lay everywhere, and the air was full of the stench of rotting bodies.”

Together We Served

13 old school war movies every young trooper needs to watch

American Sniper,” “Dunkirk,” and “Fury” are just a few the great war films that have hit theaters with in the last few years. These films help inspire today’s youngsters to consider joining the military.

In the next few decades, they will be remembered as among “The Classics” when it comes to ranking war movies.

But as we move forward, the classic war movies that inspired our past generations are the ones that helped get the modern day war films greenlit. Because of this, we should always recognize and never forget them — ever.

Grab your popcorn and check out our list of classic war films every young trooper should watch.

1. The Great Escape
Steve McQueen stars in this epic WWII film about a group of POWs trying to escape from a German prison camp.

2. Kelly’s Heroes
Directed by Brian G. Hutton, the film follows a group of American troops who travel deep behind enemy lines to retrieve some Nazi treasure.

3. Paths of Glory
This classic stars Kurt Douglas as Col. Dax, an officer who attempts to defend his troops who are accused of cowardice while fighting in the dangerous trenches of WWI.

4. Hamburger Hill
Directed by John Irvin, this story depicts one of the bloodiest American battles to take place during the hectic Vietnam War.

5. Apocalypse Now!
This film is considered one of the greatest movies ever produced. The story follows Capt. Willard’s journey to locate and assassinate a renegade Army colonel during the Vietnam War.

6. The Green Berets
John Wayne plays Col. Mike Kirby, an Army Special Forces officer tasked with two vital missions consisting of building a camp and kidnapping a North Vietnamese General.

7. Sands of Iwo Jima
This time John Wayne plays Sgt. John Stryker, a Marine who puts his men through his rough style of training to prepare them to fight in one of the Corps’ most historic battles.

8. Midway
Directed by Jack Smight, this classic tale re-enacts the American victory at the Battle of Midway — considered one of the most critical turning points in the Pacific during World War II.

9. Patton
This 1970 film focuses on the incredible career of Gen. George S. Patton during WWII.

10. To Hell and Back
In this 1955 release, real life war hero Audie Murphy plays himself in the story of how he became one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history.

11. The Dirty Dozen
This epic motion picture follows Maj. Reisman, a rebellious soldier assigned to train a dozen convicted murders to carry out a deadly mission to kill multiple German officers.

12. The Fighting Seabees
John Wayne plays Lt. Cmdr. Wedge Donovon, a construction worker building military bases in the Pacific. After they come under fierce attack from Japanese forces, the Seabees have to defend themselves at all costs.


Watch the video: Cassino 15 Marzo 1944-2021 (January 2022).