The Battle of Monte Cassino ended 78 years ago

After a few weeks’ recuperation, the II Polish Corps was ordered to take Ancona on the East Coast and then continue on to Bologna, a campaign bought with more Polish lives than were lost on the slopes of Monte Cassino.

Forcing the German retreat from Italy was a significant achievement.  When Allied troops finally landed in Sicily in 1943, Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. However, German forces seized the initiative and quickly disarmed Italian troops. They started occupying Italy, reaching as far south as possible. 

Italy’s mountainous backbone with ridges to the East and to the West makes it outstandingly difficult terrain for armies. Soldiers had to cross ridge after ridge, from which defenders could easily pick off their enemy in the rivers below, making for an extremely arduous campaign. 

The Germans with Field Marshal Kesselring in charge blew defensive positions out of the rock, turned stone-built villages into strongholds, mined whole tracts of land, and destroyed bridges and cratered roads. The German Gustav line was impassable.

Meanwhile, the Allies commanded overall by General Sir Harold Alexander had to coordinate different countries’ forces and styles of fighting among which the British 8th Army, the US 5th Army, Canadian troops, French Expeditionary Corps, New Zealand, and Indian divisions, and of course the II Polish Corps.  

Following the fourth attempt to gain Monte Cassino, when a soldier of the 12th Podolski Regiment put the Polish flag on the monastery, many soldiers collapsed from exhaustion. But the efforts were not vain, as the victory allowed for a breakthrough of the Axis forces to Rome.

 

Image: Cezary Pomykało / Marcin Dmowski

Author: Sébastien Meuwissen

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