BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO
On January 17, the British X Corps, under Lt. General McCreery initiated intense bombardment on German positions
across the lower Garigliano, supported by artillery fire from the HMS Orion and HMS Spartan. Allied forces were
supposed to land at the Bay of Gaeta, behind German lines, but the assault troops landed behind British lines by
mistake. Under heavy German fire, the X Corps made it across the Garigliano and held the bridgehead outside
Castelforte (at the base of Mt. Faito). The Germans XIV Panzer Corps was under threat of total collapse. The
Germans depended on a swift counter-attack to dispel the Allied advance, and were able to do so because of the
arrival of more German reinforcements to the area.
On January 17 to 18, the US 141st Regiment, under the command of First-Lieutenant Navarette, penetrated 800m
(850 yards) west of the Rapido on a reconnaissance mission to gauge German defenses. When his men had
approached the opposite riverbank, the Germans opened fire. Within twenty minutes almost all the Americans were
either dead or lay wounded. A few survivors were able to return to their units. None were able to detect the
German positions, so well camoflaged. The entire Cassino front was fiercely defended by the German 44th Infantry
Division. The Gustav Line spread out along the course of the Rapido River posed a formidable obstacle due to the
torrential flow of the river and its vertical slopes at every point. Irregardless, the Allied plan was to cross the river
north and west of Sant'Angelo - but from higher ground. The crossing was disastrous. The wooden boats were not
easily maneuverable in the quick current, while the rubber dinghies were vulnerable to gunfire. The US II Corps did
make it across the Rapido River and was positioned to invade the Liri Valley, while the French Expeditionary Corps
advanced to the mountains on its' right flank.
In total darkness and silence, the men of the 36th Texas Division carried heavy boats, weapons and equipment over
the slippery terrain. The order was given to cross the Rapido and surround Sant'Angelo 8 km (5 miles) south of
Cassino. They were to precede the US 1st Armored Division in order to prepare for their breakthrough into the Liri
On January 20, the 141st and 143rd Regiments struggled to make their way to the bank of the Rapido, carrying their
boats. Due to artificial flooding and torrential rain, the meadow between Allied positions were a virtual swamp.
Orientation was hampered by dense mist. The Allies were under heavy fire in the open terrain and suffered heavy
casualties from mine-fields. The Allies eventually were able to reach the Rapido but could not initiate gunfire.
Some of their boats were caught by enemy fire and sank, while others capsized and were swept away in the torrent.
Only a few boat crews managed to reach the opposite river bank.
To allow reinforcements to reach them from other Allied positions, the engineers constructed an emergency
footbridge using the remains of bridges that had been blown up. Only two companies had time to cross over before
the Germans hit them with artillery, cutting off all communications and radio contact between the Allies. At daybreak
the Germans had a clear view of the American positions, and were able to attack the bridgehead. The commanding
officer of the 143rd Regiment, in order to save his men, ordered them to abandon positions. The US 34th Infantry
Division, positioned north of Cassino succeeded in crossing the Rapido and was able to maintain its position there.
An Allied invasion, code named Operation Shingle set out on January 21 from Naples, heading towards Anzio and
Nettuno. The armada, 243 vessels in all, under the joint command of Rear-Admiral Troubridge (RN) and
Rear-Adminiral Lowry (US Navy) carried 50,000 troops and 5,000 military vehicules. Their objective was to land the
US VI Corps behind German lines.
Major General Walker ordered the 141st Regiment to cross the Rapido under a smokescreen but it was several
hours before they would be able to do so. Meanwhile the 143rd Regiment failed in its second attempt to establish
another bridgehead and had to retreat. The Germans took 857 prisoners of the 141st Regiment, reducing the size
to only 40 men. The US 36th Texas Division lost 2,066 men.
General Juin, Commander of the French Expeditionary Corps received orders to alter the plan of attack. His men
were to take Monte Belvedere first, then veer south to join the Americans. By so doing, the French could attack the
enemy from the rear. It meant having to cross the Rapido and Rio Secco, ascend two hazardous mountain ranges,
and make one descent - all under Germans observation. Enemy artillery was aimed on all footpaths and ravines.
The mission was especially hazardous because the region was completely treeless.
Again the 143rd Regiment launched an attack on the German line but was forced to back down. The Germans took
over 500 prisoners. Despite the losses, the Allies succeeded in at least pinning down German forces.
On January 22, the US and British divisions crossed the Alban Hills and landed at Anzio, 96 km ( 60 miles) behind
the Gustav Line. The objective was to bomb Highways 6 and 7, upon which the Germans relied for supplies and
communication. The landing was relatively easy as only 200 Germans were in position and completely unaware of
an impending attack. The Allies did not realize then, but Rome was practically undefended and could have been
easily captured. Instead they focused on establishing a beach-head.
On January 22, the Allies landed at Anzio, numbering 36,000 men and 3,100 tanks. German gunfire failed to prevent
Allied buildup of the area even by the launching of its radio-controlled glider bombs, the FX 1400 and
Hs293). The American destroyers, Woolsey, Frederick C. Davis, and Herbert C. Jones, were able to emit strong
radio signals to jam the remote controls of the glider bombs though a few succeeded in reaching their targets.
The British destroyer Jervis was hit by a Hs 293 bomb and despite the damage made it back to Naples. By evening
the bridgehead at Anzio and Nettuno was heavily fortified by Allied men and materiel. The German position was in
jeopardy as 50,000 Allies had landed at Anzio-Nettuno on January 25. German Field Marshal Kesselring drew his
reserves from units already fighting along the vital Cassino front, and sent them to attack the bridgehead to prevent
further Allied landings.
January 24. The 3rd Algerian Infantry Division of the French Expeditionary Corps, under the command of Major-
General de Goisland de Monsabert were able to pin down German positions on the Cassino front and rear. They
targeted Mt. Belvedere, Colle Abate and the village of Terelle. Meanwhile the US 34th Division was fighting in the
Rapido Valley, and the French Corps attacked German flank positions a few miles north.
Tunisian infantrymen stormed Monte Cifalco but failed in their attempt, by strong enemy resistance. Other battalions
of the Tunisian 4th Rifle Regiment crossed the Rapido and while ascending Monte Belvedere, they came under
heavy fire from the Germans positioned on the adjacent Monte Cifalco.
Jan 25. Lt-General Clark ordered the 34th Infantry Division to attack the town of Cassino from its northerly point.
Todo this the men had to cross a 3 km (2 mile) wide marsh, forge through an icy river and engage a frontal attack on
Monte Cassino. The first initiative was to be taken by the 133 rd Regiment. Its goal was to take two positions at the
foot of the mountain. The 168th Regiment was given the task to take Monte Castellone, Colle Sant'Angelo and the
Albaneta farm. The 135th Regiment had to take the town of Cassino 2.5 km (1.5 miles) away, by travelling the road
parallel to the Rapido and mountains. The US units had a most difficult mission. Awaiting on the opposite side of the
river were imposing vertical cliffs and the formidable Gustav Line. As soon as the attack commenced, disaster
struck, as tanks were stuck in the mud and the 135th Regiment ventured into a mine-field. Other units succeeded in
crossing the Rapido but suffered heavy casualties. The Tunisian 4th Rifle Regiment hoisted its tricolore victoriously
on the peak of Monte Belvedere. The US 34th Division attempted several crossings of the Rapido but retreated
under heavy artillery fire because of the lack of tank support. On January 26 only one company was able to cross
Jan 26. The Tunisian 2nd Battalion captured Colle Abate and Point 862, nearing Terelle. Running out of
ammunition, with no hope of getting more supplies, the Tunisians suffered horrible casualties, defending themselves
with only knives and bayonets against the Germans.
Jan 27. The U.S. 168th Infantry Regiment tried to extend the bridgehead already established by the 133rd
Regiment. Only four Sherman tanks were able to cross the Rapido, the others stuck fast in the mud blocking the
way. The Germans fired on the tanks destroying them and driving back the entire remaining company. Though the
Germans succeeded in recapturing Colle Abate, the Tunisians were able to hold on to Monte Belvedere with only
Jan. 29, US Infantry reached Pts. 56 and 213 capturing them by nightfall. Simultaneously the Algerian 7th Rifle
Regiment attacked Colle Abate and Pt. 862. At Anzio, the Germans fired 2 Hs 293s on Spartan, the British anti-tank
cruiser and the freighter Samuel Huntington, both lying at anchor. The Spartan was hit and sank immediately, while
the Samuel Huntingon was in flames for several hours. The next morning the freighter exploded destroying it and its
cargo of ammunition and fuel.
Jan. 30. The US 168th Infantry crossed the Rapido and captured Cairo village at the base of Monte Cairo. The US
3rd Division, the US Ranger Battalion and the US 1st Armored Division all made advances in the beach head but
suffered severe casualties and were driven back. The Allied invasion at Anzio-Nettuno bridgehead increased to
70,000 men and 356 tanks. The Germans had sealed off the area. It was 5 German divisions, without air support,
against 3 and a half Allied Divisions with air support.
Feb 1. In a dense fog, three regiments of the 34th Division launched an attack on the Cassino front. The 168th
Infantry Regiment had as its task the capture of Monte Calvario (Pt. 593), a key tactical point. The 135th and 142nd
Regiments captured Monte Castellone and Colle Maiola. But Colle Abate and Pt. 862 were again taken by the
Germans in a fierce assault.
Feb. 2. The 133rd Infantry Division, in thick fog advanced to within 3 km (2 miles) of Highway 6 (Via Casilina).
They captured the northern part of Cassino and Rocca Janula (Pt.193). The soldiers were pitched in bitter hand to
hand street fighting with the Germans and were able to drive the enemy back to the north by almost 1000m (3/4mile)
Feb 3. Allies were not able to penetrate into Cassino even with artillery support. However they captured Pt. 175 and
several houses on the periphery. Meanwhile German paratroops, known as the "green devils" clashed with Allies in
fierce mountain warfare.
Germans counter-attacked at Nettuno driving back British troops to Aprilia and Carroceto halting American advances
at Campoleone. The Anzio Express ( German guns mounted on railways) opened fire on transport ships at the Anzio
harbor. The landing beaches were an open target.
Feb 4. The US 135th Infantry Division captured Colle Sant'Angelo, but was driven back by enemy fire. The 168th
Infantry Division successfully reached Monte Calvario (Pt. 593). The New Zealand II Corp was formed under the
command of Freyberg. He was given the order to capture Cassino and Monastery Hill, enter the Liri Valley and block
Feb. 5. The 135th Infantry Regiment advanced as far as the Monastery atop Monte Cassino, but Allied soldiers
would not have another opportunity to come so close again until md-May.
Feb. 6. The 3rd Battalion of the US 135th Infantry Regiment captured Monte Calvario (Pt.593). It was the key to
Monte Cassino, and provided a clear view of the whole town. The Germans still controlled the last heights towering
over Via Casilina. Once the Americans captured this area, they would have Cassino in their control.
Feb. 7. The Germans recaptured Pt. 593 sustaining heavy casualties but two days later it was back under American
possession. German divisions then stormed the Americans on the western slope of Monte Calvario and took back
Pt. 593. It remained in German hands up until the middle of May.
Feb 11. The Americans tried again to capture Monte Calvario and Monte Cassino by way of a frontal attack. The
36th Division had as its task to capture Massa Albaneta and Monte Calvario. The 34th Division was to take
Monastery Hill from a northerly position. But just before the attack began, a severe blizzard hit, eliminating visibility to
zero and suspending all lines of artillery support. German paratroopers waiting in their dugouts decimated the
142nd Infantry Regiment, wiping out the 141st Infantry Regiment before they had even reached Albaneta.
Casualties were severe as wave upon wave of Allied troops were mowed down by German gunfire. The US II corps
gave up the fight for now. Their numbers were cut to barely 100 men.
The first battle for Monte Cassino was a victory for the Germans. But the battles gave the Allies the much needed
experience to plan subsequent assaults more carefully. Unfortunately in the ensuing months, these lessons were
PHASE ONE JANUARY 17 - FEBRUARY 11, 1944