Monte Casssino

Posted: August 29, 2010 in World War 2

The German defensive positions in Italy from late 1943 to mid-1944 were based along the Gustav Line. Making the maximum use of the mountainous terrain, the Gustav Line was centered on the town of Cassino, 1968 feet (600m) above the Liri Valley, which overlooked the main route from Naples to Rome. To even get to the Gustav Line, the Allies had to cross two difficult rivers, the Garigliano & the Rapido.

Even when forces did more toward Cassino, they found the town impossible to take. German paratroopers created formidable defenses & could not be dislodged. When the town was bombed, the rubble merely made the defenders` task easier. Part of the problem was that the town was overlooked by mountains that gave German artillery spotters a clear view of Allied movements. Allied troops became convinced that a monastery at the top of the mountain above Cassino, Monte Cassino, was being used by the Germans, & this monastery was bombed in March, 1944.


To break the stalemate at Cassino, the Allies landed behind German lines at Anzio, just south of Rome, on January 22nd. They got 50,000 men & their equipment ashore, but failed to move quickly, & were soon bottled up. At points it seemed that the Germans would drive them back into the sea, & the fighting was intense around the perimeter of the Anzio beachhead.

Stymied at both Cassino & Anzio, the Allies in Italy consequently found progress very difficult. Troops from many nations – including New Zealand, Poland & India – were involved in trying to take Cassino. General Sir Harold Alexander, in charge of the British Eighth Army, eventually had to give up frontal assaults on the town. Instead, Alexander concentrated on moving forward in the surrounding mountains. In May, the monastery itself was finally occupied by French colonial troops from Morocco, & the road to Rome was opened.

From Front Page, WWII: History In The Headlines 1939-1945

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