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1944: Monte Cassino falls to the Allies

The Polish flag is flying over the ruins of the ancient Italian monastery which has been a symbol of German resistance since the beginning of the year.

Polish troops entered the hill-top abbey this morning, six days after the latest attacks began on this strategic stronghold at the western end of the German defensive position known as the Gustav Line.

British troops have taken control of the fortified town of Cassino at the foot of the "Monastery Hill".

The Allies' hard-fought victory comes four months after their first assault on Monastery Hill failed in January.


"When my battalion of 1,001 men advanced into Monte Cassino village, three days of fighting had reduced it to 97 men"


A German official announcement said: "Cassino, which the Anglo-Americans have vainly been charging for months with strong forces, was evacuated without a fight on Wednesday night in favour of a bolt position farther in the rear for the sake of economising in forces."

The Allies, under the overall command of General Sir Harold Alexander, began the fourth and final offensive for Monte Cassino on 11 May.

The Gustav Line was finally breached on 14 May. While the 5th Army made a flanking attack to the south, the 8th Army of British, Polish, Canadian and Indian troops made a frontal assault on the line at Cassino.

In addition, the French Expeditionary Force, part of the 5th Army, attacked from the west.

According to reports from Allied headquarters, the 8th Army succeeded in cutting Highway Six, the main road linking the south to Rome

They also claimed a "substantial proportion" of the 1st German Parachute Division had been destroyed.

In the six days of fighting at Cassino the Allies have taken more than 1,500 prisoners.

Farther to the west, the French Expeditionary Corps have taken the town of Esperia, at the foot of Monte d'Oro, another strategic German defensive position.

Reports from the French say their advance was so rapid, the Germans were unable to recover their dead and they found more than 400 bodies awaiting burial.

Large quantities of artillery were also left abandoned. Many of the guns and other equipment are said to be in a usable condition.

American forces pressing forward from the south have captured Formia on the coast and are pushing along the road which winds along the base of the mountains, loosening the German grip on the Gaeta peninsula.

The success of Operation Diadem, the fourth and final assault on Monte Cassino, was down to the co-ordinated assault on the Gustav Line, forcing the German withdrawal.

The first assault in January failed when the series of co-ordinated attacks did not go according to plan and the Germans held on to the crucial valley headed by Monte Cassino.

The second battle began on 15 February with the complete destruction of the monastery by heavy and medium bombers.

But the attack was badly planned and the nearest Allied troops were too far away to take advantage of the shock of bombing and again the German grip could not be shaken.

The destruction of the monastery, in fact, made the hill easier to defend. The Germans dug in behind the rubble and when the third battle began on 15 March with yet more bombing, the parachutists defending the town clung on.

In Context
The Allies had landed troops on the west coast of Italy at Anzio in January with the intention of breaking the deadlock in the Italian campaign.

However, they suffered heavy losses from Field Marshall Albert Kesselring's troops and it was only after reinforcements arrived that they succeeded in breaking out from the beachhead and linking up with the US 5th Army on 25 May.

The 5th Army under Lieutenant-General Mark Clark pressed on to take Rome on 5 June 1944 ignoring orders from General Sir Harold Alexander to thrust into the German line of retreat. The capture of Rome was seen as significant but it meant the Germans escaped.

The Italian campaign then assumed secondary status as six divisions were withdrawn for the French Riviera landings. Efforts were made to replace these troops with Italians.

The Allies' advance through Italy was slowed down by bad weather and difficult terrain. The Americans and British also disagreed over the aims of the campaign which led to a lack of clear leadership.

By February 1945, General Sir Harold Alexander had been appointed supreme commander in the Mediterranean and was instructed after the Yalta conference to pin down the maximum number of German divisions while the main Allied effort was made on the western front.

He finally succeeded in taking Bologna and then Verona in April 1945. Mussolini was captured by Italian partisans retreating with the Germans. He was executed on 28 April. The Germans surrendered on 2 May.


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