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With its heavily fortified mountain defences, difficult river crossings, and valley head flooded by the Germans, Cassino formed a linchpin of the Gustav Line, the most formidable line of the defensive positions making up the Winter Line.

In spite of its potential excellence as an observation post, because of the fourteen-century-old Benedictine abbey's historical significance, the German C-in-C in Italy, Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring , ordered German units not to include it in their defensive positions and informed the Vatican and the Allies accordingly in December Nevertheless, some Allied reconnaissance aircraft maintained they observed German troops inside the monastery.

While this remains unconfirmed, it is clear that once the monastery was destroyed it was occupied by the Germans and proved better cover for their emplacements and troops than an intact structure would have offered.

The British 46th Infantry Division was to attack on the night of 19 January across the Garigliano below its junction with the Liri in support of the main attack by U.

The main central thrust by the U. II Corps would commence on 20 January with the U. In truth, Clark did not believe there was much chance of an early breakthrough, [12] but he felt that the attacks would draw German reserves away from the Rome area in time for the attack on Anzio codenamed Operation Shingle where the U.

VI Corps British 1st and U. Lucas , was due to make an amphibious landing on 22 January. It was hoped that the Anzio landing, with the benefit of surprise and a rapid move inland to the Alban Hills , 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. However, because the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff would only make landing craft available until early February, as they were required for Operation Overlord , the Allied invasion of Northern France , Operation Shingle had to take place in late January with the coordinated attack on the Gustav Line some three days earlier.

The first assault was made on 17 January. Near the coast, the British X Corps 56th and 5th Divisions forced a crossing of the Garigliano followed some two days later by the British 46th Division on their right causing General Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin , commander of the 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 to hold the line.

Responding to Senger's concerns, Kesselring ordered the 29th and 90th Panzergrenadier 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 the U.

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, Fifth Army HQ failed to appreciate the frailty of the German position and the plan was unchanged.

The two divisions from Rome arrived by 21 January 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 Lieutenant General McCreery's X Corps sustained some 4, casualties during the period of the first battle. The central thrust by the U.

Walker , commenced three hours after sunset on 20 January. 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 rd Infantry Regiment was able to get across the Gari on the south side of San Angelo and two companies of the st Infantry 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 counter-attacking tanks and self-propelled guns of Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt 's 15th Panzergrenadier Division.

The southern group was forced back across the river by mid-morning of 21 January. Major General Keyes, commanding the U. Once again the two regiments attacked but with no more success against the well dug-in 15th Panzergrenadier Division: The st Infantry Regiment also crossed in two battalion strength and, despite the lack of armoured support, managed to advance 1 kilometre 0.

However, with the coming of daylight, they too were cut down and by the evening of 22 January the st Infantry Regiment had virtually ceased to exist; only 40 men made it back to the Allied lines.

Rick Atkinson described the intense German resistance:. Artillery and Nebelwerfer drumfire methodically searched both bridgeheads , while machine guns opened on every sound GIs inched forward, feeling for trip wires and listening to German gun crews reload On average, soldiers wounded on the Rapido received "definitive treatment" nine hours and forty-one minutes after they were hit, a medical study later found The assault had been a costly failure, with the 36th Division losing 2, [17] men killed, wounded and missing in 48 hours.

As a result, the army's conduct of this battle became the subject of a Congressional inquiry after the war. The next attack was launched on 24 January.

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 Franek's 44th Infantry Division to establish a foothold in the mountains.

On the right, the Moroccan -French troops made good initial progress against the German 5th Mountain Division , commanded by General Julius Ringel , gaining positions on the slopes of their key objective, Monte Cifalco.

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.

The two Moroccan-French divisions sustained 2, casualties in their struggles around Colle Belvedere. It became the task of the U.

They could then break through down into the Liri valley behind the Gustav Line defences. It was very tough going: 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 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.

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 known to the Germans as Calvary Mount , held by the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Parachute Regiment , part of the 1st Parachute Division , the dominating point of the ridge to the monastery.

On 11 February, after a final unsuccessful 3-day assault on Monastery Hill and Cassino town, the Americans were withdrawn.

II Corps, after two and a half weeks of torrid battle, was fought out. The performance of the 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.

At the height of the battle in the first days of February von Senger und Etterlin had moved the 90th Division from the Garigliano front to north of Cassino and had been so alarmed at the rate of attrition, he had " At the crucial moment von Senger was able to throw in the 71st Infantry Division whilst leaving the 15th Panzergrenadier Division 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 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. 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. This was evidenced in the writing of Maj. Howard Kippenberger , commander of New Zealand 2nd Division, after the war,.

Poor Dimoline Brigadier Dimoline , acting commander of 4th Indian Division was having a dreadful time getting his division into position.

I never really appreciated the difficulties until I went over the ground after the war. Freyberg's plan was a continuation of the first battle: Success would pinch out Cassino town and open up the Liri valley.

Freyberg had informed his superiors that he believed, given the circumstances, there was no better than a 50 per cent chance of success for the offensive.

Increasingly, the opinions of certain Allied officers were fixed on the great abbey of Monte Cassino: The British press and C.

Sulzberger of The New York Times frequently and convincingly and in often manufactured detail wrote of German observation posts and artillery positions inside the abbey.

Eaker accompanied by Lieutenant General Jacob L. II Corps also flew over the monastery several times, reporting to Fifth Army G-2 he had seen no evidence that the Germans were in the abbey.

When informed of others' claims of having seen enemy troops there, he stated: Major General Kippenberger of the New Zealand Corps HQ held it was their view the monastery was probably being used as the Germans' main vantage point for artillery spotting, since it was so perfectly situated for it no army could refrain.

There is no clear evidence it was, but he went on to write that from a military point of view it was immaterial:.

If not occupied today, it might be tomorrow and it did not appear it would be difficult for the enemy to bring reserves into it during an attack or for troops to take shelter there if driven from positions outside.

It was impossible to ask troops to storm a hill surmounted by an intact building such as this, capable of sheltering several hundred infantry in perfect security from shellfire and ready at the critical moment to emerge and counter-attack.

Undamaged it was a perfect shelter but with its narrow windows and level profiles an unsatisfactory fighting position.

Smashed by bombing it was a jagged heap of broken masonry and debris open to effective fire from guns, mortars and strafing planes as well as being a death trap if bombed again.

On the whole I thought it would be more useful to the Germans if we left it unbombed. Major General Francis Tuker , 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 Fifth Army HQ, he had found a book dated 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 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, pound bombs would be "next to useless".

On 11 February , the acting commander of 4th Indian Division, Brigadier Harry Dimoline , requested a bombing raid. Tuker reiterated again his case from a hospital bed in Caserta, where he was suffering a severe attack of a recurrent tropical fever.

Freyberg transmitted his request on 12 February. The request, however, was greatly expanded by air force planners and probably supported by Ira Eaker and Jacob Devers, who sought to use the opportunity to showcase the abilities of U.

Army air power to support ground operations. Clark of Fifth Army and his chief of staff Major General Alfred Gruenther remained unconvinced of the "military necessity".

When handing over the U. Butler, deputy commander of U. All the fire has been from the slopes of the hill below the wall". In all they dropped 1, 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. Eaker and Devers watched; Juin was heard to remark " That same afternoon and the next day an aggressive follow-up of artillery and a raid by 59 fighter bombers wreaked further destruction.

The German positions on Point above and behind the monastery were untouched. Damningly, the air raid had not been coordinated with ground commands and an immediate infantry follow-up failed to materialize.

Its timing had been driven by the Air Force regarding it as a separate operation, considering the weather and requirements on other fronts and theaters without reference to ground forces.

Many of the troops had only taken over their positions from U. II Corps two days previously 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.

As a result, Indian troops on the Snake's Head were taken by surprise, [38] while the New Zealand Corps was two days away from being ready to launch their main assault.

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.

However, given the imprecision of bombing in those days it was estimated that only 10 per cent 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.

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: 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 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. After 3 April, he was not seen anymore. It is now known that the Germans had an agreement not to use the abbey for military purposes.

The assault failed, with the company sustaining 50 per cent casualties. The following night the Royal Sussex Regiment was ordered to attack in battalion strength.

There was a calamitous start. Artillery could not be used in direct support targeting point because of the proximity and risk of shelling friendly troops.

It was planned therefore to shell point which had been providing supporting fire to the defenders of point The topography of the land meant that shells fired at 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 Royal Sussex battalion was beaten off, once again sustaining over 50 per cent casualties.

Over the two nights, the Royal Sussex Regiment lost 12 out of 15 officers and out of men who took part in the attack. On the night of 17 February the main assault took place.

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. It became clear that the attack had failed and on 18 February Brigadier Dimoline and Freyberg called off the attacks on Monastery Hill.

The intention was to take a perimeter that would allow engineers to build a causeway for armoured support.

Their isolation and lack of both armoured support and anti-tank guns made for a hopeless situation, however, when an armoured counter-attack by two tanks came in the afternoon on 18 February.

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 Tenth Army commander Gen.

For the third battle, it was decided that whilst the winter weather persisted, fording the Garigliano river 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: 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; a German counter-attack at Anzio had failed and been called off. The third battle began 15 March. After a bombardment of tons of 1,pound bombs with delayed action fuses, [51] starting at The bombing was not concentrated — only 50 per cent landed a mile or less from the target point and 8 per cent within 1, yards but between it and the shelling about half the paratroopers in the town had been killed.

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: 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 and as planned, elements of Indian 4th Infantry Division, now commanded by Major General Alexander Galloway , had passed through to attack point and thence to point , Hangman's Hill.

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.

However, a surprise and fiercely pressed counter-attack from the monastery on Castle Hill by the German 1st Parachute 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.

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 and being used by the Germans to reinforce the defenders in the town.

However, the defenders were resolute and the attack on Point 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.

Freyberg was convinced that the attack could not continue and he called it off. 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 in similar isolation.

The Allied line was reorganised with the exhausted 4th Indian Division and 2nd New Zealand Division withdrawn and replaced respectively in the mountains by the British 78th Division and in the town by British 1st Guards Brigade.

The German defenders too had paid a heavy price. General Sir Harold Alexander 's strategy in Italy was to "force the enemy to commit the maximum number of divisions in Italy at the time the cross-channel invasion [of Normandy] is launched".

With the arrival of the spring weather, ground conditions were improved and it would be possible to deploy large formations and armour effectively.

The plan for Operation Diadem was that U. 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 British X Corps in the first battle in January into the Aurunci Mountains which formed a barrier between the coastal plain and the Liri Valley.

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 manoeuvres by the Polish and British Corps were key to the overall success.

Thirty-fourth Infantry Division failed to capture the western anchor of the Gustav Line, and one of the holiest shrines of Roman Catholicism, the abbey of Monte Cassino.

A second offensive in mid-February again failed and resulted in one of the most hotly debated incidents of the war—the destruction of the abbey by Allied bombers.

The Third Battle of Cassino in mid-March was preceded by a thunderous artillery barrage from nine hundred guns and a massive aerial bombardment of the town.

Follow-up ground attacks by New Zealand troops once again ended in failure. Only with the launch of Operation Diadem in May did the Gustav Line finally collapse when the Second Polish Corps succeeded in capturing the abbey on May 17, thus ending one of the longest and bloodiest engagements of the Italian campaign.

Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

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They also strewed great tracts of the landscape with mines. The German theatre commander, the tough Luftwaffe Field Marshal Kesselring, was a master practitioner of this sort of war.

He was nicknamed 'Smiling Albert' but you only crossed him once. So, while the application of brute force might take the Allies steadily northwards, it was unlikely that their advance would ever be quick or easy.

The best that they could hope for would be to tie down German troops who might be usefully engaged elsewhere. Keeping such an inherently attritional campaign on track would require careful thought in order to ensure that Allied strength was pitted against German weakness and that the fighting did not degenerate into a slogging-match reminiscent of parts of World War One.

The attackers' plight was complicated by the fact that this was indeed an Allied campaign. In overall command in Italy was General Sir Harold Alexander, a courteous British Guards officer with a distinguished fighting record, but a man who instinctively sought compromise and consensus, and was not temperamentally suited to gripping awkward subordinates.

He commanded two armies. There was the British 8th Army, initially under Montgomery and, when he was removed to prepare for the invasion of Normandy, in the more stolid hands of General Sir Oliver Leese.

And there was the US 5th Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Mark Clark, who was not always wrongly impatient of the British and their methods, and acutely conscious of his personal role as the standard-bearer of American arms in Europe.

To this already volatile mix were added Canadian troops, who were to distinguish themselves in the bloody battle for Ortona on the Adriatic coast; a French Expeditionary Corps, whose superb fighting quality is too often overlooked by Anglo-American historians; New Zealand and Indian divisions, both fighting bravely so far from home, and a Polish corps for which the struggle against the Germans was a matter of national honour.

The Allies enjoyed abundant air superiority. Indeed, one of the more valid motives for the invasion of Italy was the seizure of airfields in the south, from which strategic bombers could operate against Germany.

Although they were often to find its effects blunted by excellent German countermeasures, and by the combined effects of terrain and climate.

For much of its length the line ran along rivers, with the Garigliano, Gari and Rapido strengthening its southern sector.

The entrance to the Liri valley was dominated, then as now, by the great bulk of Monte Cassino which is crowned by an ancient Benedictine monastery.

Behind the monastery, the ground rose even more steeply to form what the military historian John Ellis has called 'a vile tactical puzzle'. In front of the hill stood the little town of Cassino, and the rivers Gari and Rapido.

On the Allied side was Monte Trocchio which was known as 'million dollar hill' for the fields of view it offered to artillery observers.

It takes about two hours to reach its summit, and the view is staggering. It was one of the strongest natural defensive positions in military history, with the monastery, like some great all-seeing eye, peering down on everything.

The Allied plan for the breaching the Gustav line was hurriedly conceived. On Churchill's insistence, it would use an amphibious hook round the German flank, to be launched before the landing craft were withdrawn for use in Normandy.

American divisions of 5th Army would attack at Cassino to draw German reserves southwards. This accomplished, an Anglo-American corps would land at Anzio, about 30 miles south of Rome.

It was expected that the shock would provoke the Germans into giving up the Gustav Line and falling back north of the Eternal City. The first phase of the operation the First Battle of Cassino comprised an attack across the Gari south of Cassino by the US 36th Division, which was savagely repulsed.

Then a longer thrust into the mountains north of Cassino by the US 34th Division, and a heroic attack by the North African troops of the French Expeditionary Corps on the high ground further north.

There was almost no resistance. However, Lucas was warned by Clark not to 'stick your neck out' in a dash for Rome.

Instead, Lucas chose to hold a narrow beachhead in which to laboriously build up men and material. He could not seize Rome and secure his logistic base.

Once the Germans had decided against withdrawal, he was committed to defending his beachhead against reserves rushed to Italy from all over Europe.

The fighting at Anzio took on characteristics grimly reminiscent of World War One. It was soon evident that far from Anzio helping the Allies breach the Gustav Line, attacks on the Gustav line would have to be launched to take the pressure off Anzio.

The tail had begun to wag the dog. The First Battle of Cassino dragged on until mid-February. An eyewitness who saw survivors of the 34th Division descending from the mountains wrote:.

The men were so tired that it was a living death. They had come from such a depth of weariness that I wondered if they would quite be able to make the return to the lives and thoughts they had known.

The second battle began on 15 February, with the controversial destruction of the monastery by heavy and medium bombers.

On the one hand, it seems likely that there were no Germans in the monastery at the time. However, they were to defend its ruins tenaciously.

Furthermore, the nearest Allied troops were too far away to take advantage of the shock of the bombing. On the other hand, however, most combatants had come to hate the building so much that they simply wanted the all-seeing eye poked out.

John Ellis rightly judges the attack that followed to be one of the low points of Allied generalship in the war.

He castigates 'a wilful failure at the highest level to take due account of the terrible problems involved in mounting a concerted attack across such appalling terrain [which] were still being grossly underestimated a full month later'.

British and Indian troops attacked the high ground, while New Zealanders bludgeoned their way into Cassino itself. While there were some gains, the German grip was not shaken.

The third battle began on 15 March, with yet more bombing. Despite the prodigious courage of British, Indian and New Zealand troops, the German parachutists holding the town and the high ground still hung on.

It was not until May that the Allies at last brought their full might to bear on Cassino. They did it by moving much of the 8th Army from the Adriatic coast, while 5th Army shifted its weight to reinforce the Anzio beachhead, now under the command of Major General Lucian Truscott.

The new offensive, Operation Diadem, smashed through the neck of the Liri valley by sheer weight, and the Polish Corps took Monte Cassino.

Between the Liri and the sea, the French Corps made rapid progress through the Aurunci Mountains, and by the third week in May the Germans were in full retreat.

Clark had a number of options for the breakout from Anzio, and was eventually ordered by Alexander to thrust into the German line of retreat.

Although this manoeuvre would not have bagged all the defenders of Cassino, it would have captured most of them and much of their equipment.

In the event, however, Clark chose instead to strike for Rome, guaranteeing himself a place in the history books but letting the Germans escape.

The distinguished American military historian Carlo D'Este called his decision 'as military stupid as it was insubordinate. 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, Fifth Army HQ failed to appreciate the frailty of the German position and the plan was unchanged. The two divisions from Rome arrived by 21 January 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 Lieutenant General McCreery's X Corps sustained some 4, casualties during the period of the first battle.

The central thrust by the U. Walker , commenced three hours after sunset on 20 January. 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 rd Infantry Regiment was able to get across the Gari on the south side of San Angelo and two companies of the st Infantry 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 counter-attacking tanks and self-propelled guns of Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt 's 15th Panzergrenadier Division.

The southern group was forced back across the river by mid-morning of 21 January. Major General Keyes, commanding the U.

Once again the two regiments attacked but with no more success against the well dug-in 15th Panzergrenadier Division: The st Infantry Regiment also crossed in two battalion strength and, despite the lack of armoured support, managed to advance 1 kilometre 0.

However, with the coming of daylight, they too were cut down and by the evening of 22 January the st Infantry Regiment had virtually ceased to exist; only 40 men made it back to the Allied lines.

Rick Atkinson described the intense German resistance:. Artillery and Nebelwerfer drumfire methodically searched both bridgeheads , while machine guns opened on every sound GIs inched forward, feeling for trip wires and listening to German gun crews reload On average, soldiers wounded on the Rapido received "definitive treatment" nine hours and forty-one minutes after they were hit, a medical study later found The assault had been a costly failure, with the 36th Division losing 2, [17] men killed, wounded and missing in 48 hours.

As a result, the army's conduct of this battle became the subject of a Congressional inquiry after the war. The next attack was launched on 24 January.

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 Franek's 44th Infantry Division to establish a foothold in the mountains.

On the right, the Moroccan -French troops made good initial progress against the German 5th Mountain Division , commanded by General Julius Ringel , gaining positions on the slopes of their key objective, Monte Cifalco.

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.

The two Moroccan-French divisions sustained 2, casualties in their struggles around Colle Belvedere. It became the task of the U.

They could then break through down into the Liri valley behind the Gustav Line defences. It was very tough going: 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 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. 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 known to the Germans as Calvary Mount , held by the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Parachute Regiment , part of the 1st Parachute Division , the dominating point of the ridge to the monastery.

On 11 February, after a final unsuccessful 3-day assault on Monastery Hill and Cassino town, the Americans were withdrawn.

II Corps, after two and a half weeks of torrid battle, was fought out. The performance of the 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.

At the height of the battle in the first days of February von Senger und Etterlin had moved the 90th Division from the Garigliano front to north of Cassino and had been so alarmed at the rate of attrition, he had " At the crucial moment von Senger was able to throw in the 71st Infantry Division whilst leaving the 15th Panzergrenadier Division 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 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.

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. This was evidenced in the writing of Maj.

Howard Kippenberger , commander of New Zealand 2nd Division, after the war,. Poor Dimoline Brigadier Dimoline , acting commander of 4th Indian Division was having a dreadful time getting his division into position.

I never really appreciated the difficulties until I went over the ground after the war. Freyberg's plan was a continuation of the first battle: Success would pinch out Cassino town and open up the Liri valley.

Freyberg had informed his superiors that he believed, given the circumstances, there was no better than a 50 per cent chance of success for the offensive.

Increasingly, the opinions of certain Allied officers were fixed on the great abbey of Monte Cassino: The British press and C.

Sulzberger of The New York Times frequently and convincingly and in often manufactured detail wrote of German observation posts and artillery positions inside the abbey.

Eaker accompanied by Lieutenant General Jacob L. II Corps also flew over the monastery several times, reporting to Fifth Army G-2 he had seen no evidence that the Germans were in the abbey.

When informed of others' claims of having seen enemy troops there, he stated: Major General Kippenberger of the New Zealand Corps HQ held it was their view the monastery was probably being used as the Germans' main vantage point for artillery spotting, since it was so perfectly situated for it no army could refrain.

There is no clear evidence it was, but he went on to write that from a military point of view it was immaterial:.

If not occupied today, it might be tomorrow and it did not appear it would be difficult for the enemy to bring reserves into it during an attack or for troops to take shelter there if driven from positions outside.

It was impossible to ask troops to storm a hill surmounted by an intact building such as this, capable of sheltering several hundred infantry in perfect security from shellfire and ready at the critical moment to emerge and counter-attack.

Undamaged it was a perfect shelter but with its narrow windows and level profiles an unsatisfactory fighting position. Smashed by bombing it was a jagged heap of broken masonry and debris open to effective fire from guns, mortars and strafing planes as well as being a death trap if bombed again.

On the whole I thought it would be more useful to the Germans if we left it unbombed. Major General Francis Tuker , 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 Fifth Army HQ, he had found a book dated 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 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, pound bombs would be "next to useless".

On 11 February , the acting commander of 4th Indian Division, Brigadier Harry Dimoline , requested a bombing raid. Tuker reiterated again his case from a hospital bed in Caserta, where he was suffering a severe attack of a recurrent tropical fever.

Freyberg transmitted his request on 12 February. The request, however, was greatly expanded by air force planners and probably supported by Ira Eaker and Jacob Devers, who sought to use the opportunity to showcase the abilities of U.

Army air power to support ground operations. Clark of Fifth Army and his chief of staff Major General Alfred Gruenther remained unconvinced of the "military necessity".

When handing over the U. Butler, deputy commander of U. All the fire has been from the slopes of the hill below the wall". In all they dropped 1, 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. Eaker and Devers watched; Juin was heard to remark " That same afternoon and the next day an aggressive follow-up of artillery and a raid by 59 fighter bombers wreaked further destruction.

The German positions on Point above and behind the monastery were untouched. Damningly, the air raid had not been coordinated with ground commands and an immediate infantry follow-up failed to materialize.

Its timing had been driven by the Air Force regarding it as a separate operation, considering the weather and requirements on other fronts and theaters without reference to ground forces.

Many of the troops had only taken over their positions from U. II Corps two days previously 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.

As a result, Indian troops on the Snake's Head were taken by surprise, [38] while the New Zealand Corps was two days away from being ready to launch their main assault.

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.

However, given the imprecision of bombing in those days it was estimated that only 10 per cent 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.

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: 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 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. After 3 April, he was not seen anymore.

It is now known that the Germans had an agreement not to use the abbey for military purposes. The assault failed, with the company sustaining 50 per cent casualties.

The following night the Royal Sussex Regiment was ordered to attack in battalion strength. There was a calamitous start. Artillery could not be used in direct support targeting point because of the proximity and risk of shelling friendly troops.

It was planned therefore to shell point which had been providing supporting fire to the defenders of point The topography of the land meant that shells fired at 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 Royal Sussex battalion was beaten off, once again sustaining over 50 per cent casualties.

Over the two nights, the Royal Sussex Regiment lost 12 out of 15 officers and out of men who took part in the attack. On the night of 17 February the main assault took place.

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. It became clear that the attack had failed and on 18 February Brigadier Dimoline and Freyberg called off the attacks on Monastery Hill.

The intention was to take a perimeter that would allow engineers to build a causeway for armoured support. Their isolation and lack of both armoured support and anti-tank guns made for a hopeless situation, however, when an armoured counter-attack by two tanks came in the afternoon on 18 February.

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 Tenth Army commander Gen.

For the third battle, it was decided that whilst the winter weather persisted, fording the Garigliano river 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: 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; a German counter-attack at Anzio had failed and been called off.

The third battle began 15 March. After a bombardment of tons of 1,pound bombs with delayed action fuses, [51] starting at The bombing was not concentrated — only 50 per cent landed a mile or less from the target point and 8 per cent within 1, yards but between it and the shelling about half the paratroopers in the town had been killed.

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: 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 and as planned, elements of Indian 4th Infantry Division, now commanded by Major General Alexander Galloway , had passed through to attack point and thence to point , Hangman's Hill.

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.

However, a surprise and fiercely pressed counter-attack from the monastery on Castle Hill by the German 1st Parachute 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.

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 and being used by the Germans to reinforce the defenders in the town.

However, the defenders were resolute and the attack on Point 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.

Freyberg was convinced that the attack could not continue and he called it off. 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 in similar isolation.

The Allied line was reorganised with the exhausted 4th Indian Division and 2nd New Zealand Division withdrawn and replaced respectively in the mountains by the British 78th Division and in the town by British 1st Guards Brigade.

The German defenders too had paid a heavy price. General Sir Harold Alexander 's strategy in Italy was to "force the enemy to commit the maximum number of divisions in Italy at the time the cross-channel invasion [of Normandy] is launched".

With the arrival of the spring weather, ground conditions were improved and it would be possible to deploy large formations and armour effectively.

The plan for Operation Diadem was that U. 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 British X Corps in the first battle in January into the Aurunci Mountains which formed a barrier between the coastal plain and the Liri Valley.

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 manoeuvres 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 10th Army had been defeated, U.

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.

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, Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring estimated the Allies had six divisions facing his four on the Cassino front.

In fact there were thirteen. The first assault 11—12 May on Cassino opened at By daylight the U. II Corps had made little progress, but their Fifth Army colleagues, the French Expeditionary Corps, had achieved their objectives and were fanning out in the Aurunci Mountains toward the Eighth Army to their right, rolling up the German positions between the two armies.

Crucially, the engineers of Dudley Russell 's 8th Indian Division had by the morning succeeded in bridging the river enabling the armour of 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade 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 counter-attacks from German tanks that would come.

Polish II Corps lost officers and 3, other ranks in assaults on Oberst Ludwig Heilmann 's 4th Parachute Regiment, until the attacks were called off.

By the afternoon of 12 May, the Gari bridgeheads were increasing despite furious counter-attacks whilst the attrition on the coast and in the mountains continued.

By 13 May the pressure was starting to tell. The German right wing began to give way to Fifth Army. On 14 May Moroccan Goumiers , travelling through the mountains parallel to the Liri valley, ground which was undefended because it was not thought possible to traverse such terrain, outflanked the German defence while materially assisting the XIII Corps in the valley.

In , the Goumiers were colonial troops formed into four Groups of Moroccan Tabors GTM , each consisting of three loosely organised Tabors roughly equivalent to a battalion specialised in mountain warfare.

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