BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO
PHASE FOUR - MARCH 26 - MAY 18, 1944
Since the Battle began, the German defenses at Cassino and Monastery Hill could not be penetrated. Despite heavy
bombing, the enemy held fast and continued to block the road to Rome. Now, along a 30 km (18 mile) stretch from
Cassino to the Gulf of Gaeta, were positioned 17 Allied Divisions ready for the next phase of battle.
The US had 8 divisions: the US II Corps (Major Gen.Keyes), the 85th Infantry Division (Maj.Gen. Coulter), the US 5th
Army, the French Expeditionary Corps (Maj.Gen.Brosset), 2nd Moroccan Division (Brig.Gen.Dody), the 4th Moroccan
Mountain Division (Maj.Gen. Sevez), and the 3rd Algerian Division (Maj-Gen. de Monsabert).
The British Army had the task of capturing the Liri Valley and advance towards Rome. The mission was given to the
British 8th Army consisting of the British XIII Corps (Lt. Gen.Kirkman), the British 4th Division, the British 78th Division,
the 8th Indian Division, and the British 6th Armored Divison. Reserves consisted of the 1st Canadian.
Infantry Division, the 5th Canadian Division, and the 6th South African Armored Division. Also under the command of
the British 8th Army was the II Polish Corps, under the command of Lt.General Wladyslaw Anders. It consisted
of the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division (Maj.Gen.Duch), the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division (Maj-Gen.Sulik) and the 2nd
Armored Brigade (Maj.Gen Rakowski). To the II Polish Corps was given the most difficult task of the mission - the
capture Cassino and Monastery Hill.
The Cassino sector was controlled by the German 1st Parachute Division and the 44th Infantry Division. The Liri
Valley was defended by the Panzer Grenadier Division and a few units from the 305th Infantry Division. The coast
was held by the 71st Infantry Division, 3 battalions of the 44th Infantry Division, the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division,
and the 90th (Reserve) Panzer Grenadier Division. The Arunci Mountains were controlled by the 44th Infantry
On April 11 discussions were under way between Allied top brass and President Roosevelt for a massive offensive in
the area. The plan called for a large-scale deception targeted at Field-Marshal Kesselring, to convince him that the
Allies had finally abandoned further attacks on the Gustav Line, and that their mission was now to land at Civitaveccia,
north of Rome. In order to remain convincing, the Allies resorted to several diversionary tactics:
Code messages were sent, intercepted by German Intelligence that the Allies had "planned" a landing at Civitavecchia
by the US 26th Division and the Canadian 1st Corps.
Allied troops were dispatched to Salerno and Naples and "practised" amphibious landings in broad daylight.
The Allied air forces were conspicuously making "reconnaissance" flights all over the beaches at Civitavecchia.
False information was fed to German spies while Italian partisans were "put into action".
The 78th Division transferred its unit to within 80 km (50 miles) behind the front line, and openly "practised" crossing
As these diversions were being carried out, the Allied positions at Monte Cassino and Rapido were being heavily
reinforced under camoflage. The II Polish Corps, already positioned at Monte Cassino was ordered
to maintain strict radio silence. Its location was cleverly concealed by miles of camoflage. The French Expeditionary
Corps consisting of 99,000 men completely hidden from view. Camoflage was so successful that it not only hid an
entire army but permitted the construction of 6 bridges. The Germans did not suspect a thing.
All troop movements were done secretly and under the cover of darkness. The ruse succeeded. Kesselring sent 2
armored divisions to Civitavecchia with additional reserves on standby.
May 11. 23:00H The Allies opened intense bombardment from 1,600 guns aimed at German positions all along the 30
km (18 mile) length coast to the Rapido Valley. The Germans were taken by complete surprise.
May 12. Within an hour the 2nd Moroccan Division, the Moroccan 4th Mountain Division, and the US II Corps,
attacked Monte Faito (Arunci Mountains) capturing it at 3:00 a.m. The Moroccan 8th Rifle Division captured Monte
Feuci, and soon afterwards Monte Majo. At 11:50 p.m. The 8th Indian and British 4th Divisions followed the French
Expeditionary Corps in an attack across the Rapido. Despite intense German fire, they were able to extend their
May 13 01:00 a.m. The II Polish Corps went into battle. The 13th and 15th Battalions of the 5th Kresowa Infantry
Division reached Point 517 (Widno) under heavy fire and lost 20% of their men. The 13th Battalion (Col. Kaminski)
was the first to reach Phantom Ridge, but were caught in a barrage of gunfire (in front and both flanks), mines and
traps. Casualties were heavy and the units were almost wiped out completely. Another division of the Polish 13th
Battalion reached Phantom Ridge from its southern slope but also came under heavy fire. The 5th Battalion
(Col.Stoczkowski) made it up Phantom Ridge in complete darkness and battled the Germans from behind bushes and
Two companies succeeded in reaching Point 517 passing German bunkers and coming under heavy fire. The 3rd
Carpathian Rifle Division was to capture Monte Calvario (Pt. 593) in what was aptly described as a "race against
death". Under the protection of Allied artillery fire, the 2nd Battalion scrambled up the footpath, at intervals of barely
100 paces, to get as close as possible to the summit, and wait. During artillery fire, the Germans had to withdraw into
their shell-proof shelters, but came running out as soon as firing had stopped. The Poles knew that they had precious
seconds with which to reach those vacant positions before the enemy could return to them and f ire on the Poles at
Two platoons of the 1st Company succeeded in reaching those vacant posts and after close combat, took ten
prisoners. The 3rd Company on the western slope of Point 593 took 17 prisoners. While these tactics succeeded
on Point 593, they ended disastrously on Point 569. Artillery fire had halted much too early so that Germans had
returned to their positions in time to greet the Poles with a barrage of gunfire.
At 6:30 a.m. The Polish Battalion on Phantom Ridge was reinforced by additional Polish troops. By all appearances
the area seemed to be devoid of Germans, but as soon as Polish troops were concentrated in one area, they were
surprised by intense enemy fire. The attack on Massa Albaneta was initiated by the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division
supported by the Polish 2nd Armored Brigade. Before they could achieve their objective, their tanks were hit by
by enemy fire and burst into flames. The remaining tanks were destroyed by mines, killing or wounding 18 of the
At 7:15 a.m. Allied bombers reached the front line and circled constantly over enemy positions. They attacked
specific targets at the command of Polish ground troops who hailed them in ", like a cab." The bombers knocked
out the headquarters of the German 10th Army and the command post of the XIV Panzer Corps. A Polish garrison
held onto Monte Calvario with only 29 men and 1 officer, reinforced by a reserve unit. But they were overtaken by
the German 14th Company and 22 men of the reserve regiment. The enemy recaptured Mont Calvario. The Polish
men ( 7 soldiers and 1 officer ) retreated. The Polish men of the 15th Battalion remained on Phantom Ridge
enduring the most ferocious enemy fire. They suffered considerable casualties and were at the point of total
exhaustion, their men lying wounded and in shock. Their sacrifice was not in vain - they had relieved the British
units in the Liri Valley from heavier artillery fire. At days end, the II Polish Corps had to withdraw its troops. The
British XIII Corps did not achieve half of its objectives and the US II Corps could not penetrate German positions.
May 12-13. Violent fighting continued in the Liri Valley. More bridges were built over the Rapido. The II Polish
Corps was ordered to wait and not attack Cassino town until the 8th Indian and British 4th Divisions had achieved
their mission in the Liri Valley. Gen. Juin assembled a mountain assault division comprising of 12,000 men the
Moroccan Rifle Division, and the French 1st Motorized Divison captured Santa Andrea, while the 1st Moroccan
Infantry Division made its way to the Liri Valley.
May 14. The 1st Moroccan Infantry Division pushed its way towards San Giorgio (on the right bank of the Liri River).
The 3rd Algerian Infantry Division captured Castelforte, clearing the way for a mountain assault. The goumiers of the
Moroccan supply battalion were able to climb the Arunci mountains with barely any German resistance. (The Germans
had assumed that no one could scale its rugged slopes.) The goumiers captured Monte Rotondo and reached the
Ausente Valley. This opened the southern section of Cassino. During this time the II Polish Corps were suffering
heavy casualties on Monte Cassino. Meanwhile, the British XIII Corps was slowly expanding the Rapido bridgeheads.
The French posed a significant threat to the Germans. Gen. Juins' troops had begun their attack on Via Casilina, but
not from the Cassino gap as originally intended. His troops made its way instead through the Arunci Mountains, and
by so doing breached the once-impregnable Gustav Line. The way was now clear for the Moroccan 4th Mountain
Division to launch a surprise attack and cut into the Gustav Line even further. The US II Corps captured Santa Maria
Infante. After repeated efforts the British XIII Corps was finally able to throw a pontoon bridge across the Rapido. The
Goumiers Mountain Assault team climbed Monte Fammera, near Spigno.
May 15. British 78th Division crossed the Rapido followed by the XIII Corp but neither were able to break through to
Cassino. The 8th Indian Division captured Pignataro after a short fight. The French captured key enemy positions over
Ausonia, and Monte Petrella and Monte Revole.
May 16. A company from the 16th Battalion of the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division reached Phantom Ridge for a
reconnaissance mission. They were able to capture and hold enemy positions. By nightfall the entire northern section
of Phantom Ridge lay in Polish control. By sunrise the 15th Polish Battalion captured the southern slope of Phantom
Ridge. The 5th Kresowa Infantry Division succeeded in penetrating enemy positions on Phantom Ridge, and Colle
Sant'Angelo but were met with heavy fire and were driven back. Meanwhile, the British 4th Division in the Liri Valley
failed to capture Cassino town.
May 17. The goumiers had traversed the Arunci Mountains and reached the Itro-Pico Road 40 km (25 miles) behind
the Geman Cassino front. Within minutes they were on the Via Casilina. They were soon joined by the British 78th
Division and began their advance towards Rome. After months of fierce fighting the German defenses, now depleted,
began to crumble. Sections of the German defenses were wiped out. The 1st Company of the 1st Battalion of the 3rd
Parachute Regiment had just 1 soldier, 1 NCO and 1 officer remaining. The US II Corps made; steady progress on the
coast and was able to capture Formia.
At 18:05 H. The commander of the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division received word from the Commanding General that the
enemy was on the verge of retreating. (This information was obtained by Intelligence interception of Engima
messages.) At 23:30 H. Enemy aircraft circled over their corps sector dropping flares - a clear signal which ordered
May 17-18 The Germans had abandoned Monte Cassino and Monastery Hill. The 4th Battalion captured Point 493.
There appeared to be no fire from Monastery Hill. A patrol was sent to survey the area. No one was found except for
sixteen wounded German soldiers, an ensign and two medical orderlies.
May 18 9:05 a.m. Lieutenant Gurbiel ascended to the height of Monastey Hill and hoisted the red and white banner of
Poland Czech, the section leader played the Hejnal on the bugle.
The Battle of Monte Cassino had finally come to an end after months of desperate attempts to destroy German
strongholds. The Polish soldiers numbering 51,000 strong fought with the assurance that their material superiority and
steely courage would pave the way to victory. But sadly, the Polish soldiers knowing that their beloved homeland had
been sacrificed to the Soviets, continued to fight just the same - For Our Freedom. Over 4,100 men of the II Polish
Corps lost their lives on Monte Cassino.
Victory did come but at a very high price.