BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO
On September 3, 1943, the Allies had captured the island
of Sicily. From there the next step was to land on the
Italian mainland and liberate it from the Germans. On
September 4, British, Polish and Canadian troops landed
on Calabria. Four days later, Italy capitulated.
In the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Allies faced insurmountable obstacles in their mission to break down German
defenses and liberate the Eternal City of Rome. In co-ordinated military operations, the British, French, Americans,
Indian, New Zealanders, Moroccans, and Polish Regiments converged on key German strongholds in a bitter
struggle that lasted several months and cost the lives of thousands of men.
The only two roads leading to Rome, the Via Appia (Highway7) and Via Casilina (Highway 6) were fiercely
defended by a series of impregnable German fortifications running across the width of Italy, from the Garigliano
River on the west coast to the Sangro on the east coast. The strongest of their defenses, the Gustav Line, made it
virtually impossible for the Allies to advance without suffering heavy casualties. The Gustav Line was erected by
the Germans along the course of the Rapido, Gari, and Garogliano Rivers, behind which the Germans were solidly
dug in. Their positions were further secured by garrisons posted on every peak of the surrounding mountain
ranges. Dominating the landscape is Monte Cassino, towering to almost 1,700m (5,500 ft), surrounded by
smaller but no less imposing series of mountains. This natural terrain gave the Germans an excellent vantage
point from which to observe and attack Allied positions.
To obstruct the Allied advances, the Germans dammed the Rapido River,
causing it to flood the Liri Valley. The combination of natural terrain, bad
weather, forced flooding and solid German defenses all conspired to
frustrate and defeat Allied efforts time and time again. It took all of six
months of the most bitter of fighting for the Allies to penetrate enemy lines.
The Battle of Monte Cassino was carried out in four stages by a vast number of regiments and divisions under the
banner of many nations, foremost Poland. The losses to men and material were staggering. It turned out to be
a "see-saw" battle, where Allies, having captured key German strongholds, lost it shortly thereafter to the enemy,
and then succeeded in recapturing it. It was not until the last phase of the Battle, when all other Allied efforts had
failed so dismally, that the II Polish Corps, under the command of Lt. General Wladyslaw Anders was finally
called into action. Their mission was to capture Monte Cassino and Piedimonte, which up until then could
not be achieved by any other military units. Now everything depended on the Poles.
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