The Great History Passed Through Monte Cassino

Monte Cassino and the surrounding area were often the protagonists of important historical moments, since ancient times. One of the highlights was the famous battle of Monte Cassino.

When speaking of the Battle of Monte Cassino, in fact it refers to a series of four battles fought during the Second World War by the Allied forces with the intention to breach the Gustav Line, besiege Rome, and link to allied forces which remained confined in the area of Anzio. The theater of operations, involving the two armies from January to May 1944, included the town of Cassino and the Liri valley and the hills leading to the Abbey of Monte Cassino, in an area of 20 km ².

The first battle began on 12 January 1944 and lasted until 12 February and was held on two directions: in the first attempt to break through the front of the Rapido River, the Allied led two diversion attacks on the flanks, while the main attack was led to the center. The second battle was in fact a continuation of the first, but from advanced positions just below the Monastery and the outskirts of the town of Cassino. The plan consisted of a pincer movement from north and south of the city, it had to involve the corps of New Zealand and India. The Indians, far more accustomed to the heavy soil than the Americans, also found it endless difficult to advance on the mountains and actually stopped at the foot of the abbey.

Allied Commands realized the impossibility of taking the Monastery in those conditions. In this context, one of the most controversial decisions of the entire conflict developed: “the bombing of Monte Cassino.”

The key issue, which the Allies responded affirmatively, was whether the monastery was, or not occupied by the Germans. In fact it was not, but it was discovered only later. On February 15 aviation razed to the ground Montecassino in a bombing, which lasted throughout the morning. During the bombing many civilians was killed, they had taken refuge inside the abbey, and also a lot of Germans and Indians. The first two battles ended without major changes in the two fronts.

The third battle began soon after, on 15 March with the bombing of the town of Cassino, followed by numerous attacks of artillery. On 22 March, after yet another futile ally assault, General Alexander decided to suspend all action. The third battle was concluded without any substantial changes.

The so-called Fourth Battle of Monte Cassino, also known as Operation Diadem, was fought by the Polish II Corps. The first attack took heavy losses but on May 16 it allowed the British army to break the German lines between the valley of the Liri River and for the first time to set up garrisons below the Monastery. The second assault drove the Germans of the 1. Airborne Division out of their position on the hills surrounding the monastery and they were nearly encircled.

The capture of Cassino allowed the U.S. and British divisions to begin the advance towards Rome. It was a decisive battle for the fate of war.