Battlefields Tour: The Italian Campaign (Part 2).

​November 7th, 2016

For the next six days we based ourselves in the town of Cassino.

For those not familiar, Cassino town sat in the valley of the River Liri which was the main route the Allies needed to take Naples and then on to Rome.  The geography of the region makes this a defenders paradise.  The first landings were at Salerno some 20 miles to the south west so taking Cassino and crossing the Liri river was paramount.  Montgomery and the British 8th Army Group had landed on the heel of Italy and would press up the Adriatic coastal plain whilst the Salerno landings were given to US General Mark Clark and 5th Army Group.  Each group consisted of around 100,000 men

In the photos below you will see the famous Abbey on the hill in the background with a Sherman Tank now sitting in one of the town squares. And in the final photo you will see the hotel we stayed in.
Salerno landings did not go well, mainly due to a mile or so gap between British & US forces.  The Germans immediately counter attacked straight into this gap thus splitting the invaders.  The order to evacuate was almost given but a reserve division of experienced US troops held on the naval ships was thrown in and just managed to repel the Germans who fell back to a defensive line at Cassino.  Many US troops were not battle hardened, only those from North Africa who had faced Rommel and then fought up through Sicily with General Patton, were up to it. Unfortunately Patton had been stripped of command in Sicily after an incident where he struck an injured soldier in a field hospital accusing him of cowardice.  The man was suffering with shell-shock and had no other apparent wounds.  Patton was to be sorely missed and his replacement Lucas was not of his calibre – but more of him later.

The following photos are from the sector where the US troops landed at Salerno.

The temples are from 6th century BC – there are pictures in the local restaurants of US Medics treating wounded on the temple floors and also radio stations being set up too.  The tower used by German snipers and machine gunners overlooks the beaches and this dates from 5th century AD when the area was conquered by the Saracens. 

These photos below are of the Abbey itself high up on Monastery Hill.

The Germans occupied all the surrounding high ground but there is still doubt if they were using the Abbey itself as an O.P. (Observation Post) 
Below in the valley where 2 rivers meet – the Liri and the Rapido – fierce fighting started and there are reports that 14 attempts were made to cross. The Rapido became known as The Bloody River.  There were 4 battles over a period of time from January to June.  Due to the eventual stalemate and high losses a decision was taken to bomb both the town and the Monastery itself – both being completely destroyed.  There were only 20% of the town population left at the end.

The Abbey has been completely rebuilt now.
Today the debate still goes on – was it used by the Germans or not – they say no.  But there remains an unanswered question, when Allied troops finally fought their way to the ruins at the top, bodies of Gurkha soldiers were found and had been dead for several days – so who killed them – the Monks certainly didn’t?  The bombing did not help – in fact it assisted the Germans in their defence.  Tough German “Fallschirmjaegar” troops (Paratroopers) held out in the area and accordingly a decision was made for another landing north of Naples and just south of Rome.  This would enable the Allies to sweep round from the north and trap the Germans around Cassino  -  well that was the plan !!!  Mark Clark, the US General, had said he would have this sorted and be in Rome within a week – it took 8 months !!!  More of Anzio – the new landing zone later.

Overall losses in the Cassino area were tremendous – the Germans lost 20,000 but the Allies 41,000 – the Germans still regard it as a victory even though they were eventually forced back to a new defensive line they had now created – the Gustav Line.  Then it begins all over again.

Picture of the old Abbey during WW2.

How the Abbey now looks from Cassino.

Click here for Part Three.

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