The Abbey of Monte Cassino, was built early in the 6th century over a heathen temple to Apollo. Its founder St. Benedict established a monastic order based on his simple and humane Rule of Order which spiritualized the Church and civilized medieval Europe. Throughout the Middle Ages Benedictine monks were a political force, as well as an educational and humanizing influence. The Monastery has been the home to a world-famous library and invaluable religious and secular art.

The Four Battles of Monte Cassino. Late in 1943, Allied troops continued their protracted fight up the mountainous spine of southern Italy. The focus of Allied strategy, however, had shifted from Italy, as preparations were being completed for the invasion of Normandy. Nevertheless, Allied commanders were convinced they could win Rome before their forces were shipped off to fight in France. Germany, though, had had three months to construct an impregnable defensive line that bisected Italy at the southern entrance to the Liri Valley with the Abbey of Monte Cassino at its center. Dozens of Allied divisions were jammed along the narrow entrance to the Liri Valley beneath the fortress-like walls of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. This multi-national force consisted of soldiers from over 30 nations. Allied generals ordered their troops to attack the very center of the German line and were convinced that the battle for Monte Cassino would last only a few weeks. But it would take over five months to break through Germany's Gustav Line. They fought over open ground, much of it flooded and deep in mud, against well defended river lines and up mountain ridges controlled by an entrenched enemy which could see all their movements.

The First Battle. In January and February, 1944, British and American Divisions attacked the Gustav Line with few successes. The U.S. 36th (Texas) Division was nearly annihilated on the Rapido River. The U.S. 34th (Red Bull) Division fought to the Abbey walls but was beaten back. The French Expeditionary Force had some successes in the mountains north of the Abbey but was ordered by Gen. Mark Clark to turn south and aid in the American attack on Monte Cassino.

The Second and Third Battles. In March, responsibility for winning Monte Cassino was turned over to the New Zealand Corps made up of New Zealanders (including Maoris), British, and Indians (Sikhs, Punjabis, Mahrattas, Rajputs and Gurkhas of Nepal). Allied soldiers were convinced that the Germans were using the Abbey as an observation post for their deadly accurate shelling. After months of fighting, the soldiers' ebbing morale demanded its eradication . The world debated the Abbey's fate. Overwhelming consensus held that soldiers' lives were more precious than stone and brick, regardless of religious, scholarly or aesthetic significance. Unfortunately , bombing accomplished little or nothing: Most first-hand accounts and historians of the war agree that probably there were no combat German soldiers within the Abbey. Inside the Abbey another story was unfolding. The last German general to visit the Abbey warned Abbot Diamare of the approaching disaster and urged immediate evacuation. But panicked parents and their children who had taken refuge beside and within its walls remained, trusting that no one would touch the famous and most holy monastery. In mid-February, the bombardment was carried out by over 200 U.S. large and medium bombers killing hundreds of civilians who had been trapped inside. No Germans were killed. Directly following the bombing, German Paratroopers occupied the Abbey ruins and held it for three more months.

The Fourth Battle. By May, the Allied command decided on a new approach--a broad offensive along the entire Gustav Line: The Americans attacked on the coast to the west; the French moved through the Arunchi Mountains; the British advanced across the Rapido River and into the Liri Valley and then turned towards the Monte Cassino high ground; the Poles stormed the Germans in their Abbey strong hold, suffering enormous losses.

Aftermath of the War. The re-building of the Abbey, paid for by the Italian state, began soon after the war and took a decade to complete

PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2014 10:04 am 

 It's a very poignant place. The first things you see on leaving the Autostrada are the signs for the war cemeteries, Commonwealth, German, Italian and Polish. All beautifully laid out, on a tragically large scale, almost like the WW1 cemeteries in France, I imagine. And towering over the town and the valley, the Monastery, atop the near-vertical hill. As we drove up the winding road I looked down the sheer slopes and imagined the poor blokes who had to climb it wearing CEFO, difficult enough even when some b*gger isn't shooting at you. (I got out of puff just walking up from the car park on top). An awesome task for the young lads (doffs cap), many of whom didn't make it.

The monastery sits on the top of so-called "Monastery Hill". The main defences were, however down below in the town itself, which had been reduced to rubble, and so became an excellent defensive position. The Maori battalion was cut to pieces trying to take the station here. The hill was used for artillery spotters, the entire Liri valley opens out like a map, and anything moving across it could be immediately subjected to a barrage. I'm not sure that the Germans would have needed to use the monastery for an OP as the views from most parts of the hill would suffice; from what is now the car park, for instance, the entire plain with the main Naples-Rome road and railway, and the neighbouring hills can all be seen quite clearly.

Never heard of POWs being held in the monastery, there were, unfortunately, Italian civvies who had taken refuge there and were killed in the bombardment.

Leaflet drop by the Allies over Monte Cassino



The Leaflet dropped over Monte Cassino Abbey by the Allies.

Amici italliani,


Noi abbiamo sinora cercato in tutti i modi de evitare il bombardamento del Monastero di Montecassino. I tedeschi hann saputo trarre vantaggio da cio . Ma ora il combattmento si e ancora piu stretto attorno al Sacro Recinto . E venutoil - tempo in cui a malincuore siamo costretti a puntare le nostre armi contro il Monastero stesso.

Noi vi avvertiamo perche voi abbiate la possibilta di porvi in salvo . Il nostro avvertimnto e urgente: Lasciate il Monastero . Andatevene subito . Rispettate quessto avviso. Esso e statto fatto a vostro vantaggio.



Italian friends


Up to now we have sought in every way to avoid the bombardment of the Monastery of Monte Cassino .The Germans have known to take advantage of this. But now the battle presses even closer to your Sacred Precincts. The Time has come when we are compelled unwillingly to direct our arms against the Monastery itself.

We are warning you so that we have the possibility of saving yourselves. Our Warning is urgent: Leave the Monastery. Abandon it at once . Take this warning seriously . It has been prepared for your benefit..

The Fifth Army. (American)

Dad took part in the Battle for Monte Cassino, he said it was heartbreaking that all those lives were lost and the beautiful Benedictine Abbey destroyed, but the Allies had no choice.... the German Army was firmly established in the vaults and it was the only way.