May 24, 2011

The Battle of Monte Cassino: Message from Pope John Paul II on the 50th Anniversary of Battle of Monte Cassino

The following speech was given by Pope John Paul II for the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino.  No other words are adequate to describe what the Battle of Monte Cassino meant to the Polish veterans and to the Polish nation.  But there is one thing that must be acknowledged -  that the Poles fought for Your freedom, all the while hoping that they too would also be free again.


1. Monte Cassino... What does this word say to all of you, present here today in this cemetery? It says a great deal: it speaks of the victory won there; it also speaks of the price Poles paid for it, fighting as the allies of other nations. This alliance was the consequence of events that began on September 1939. The Polish Republic was then seeking allies in the West, aware that it would be unable to face the invasion of Hitler's Germany alone. But perhaps this was not the only reason. Poles were aware of the fact that the conflict they were forced to face was not only demanded by patriotism, to defend the independence of the State they had so recently regained, but also had broader implications for the whole of Europe. Europe had to defend itself from the same threat as Poland. The national socialist system was opposed - if this can be said - to the "European spirit". And this problem could not be dealt with by endless attempts at apparent solutions. These attempts resulted in further victims with the invasion of Czechoslovakia. It was clear that other similar consequences would have occurred had Europe not decided to take a firm stand in the military sense as well. The decision taken by the Polish Republic in 1939 was therefore right. Indeed, it clearly appeared that Europe could not be defended without deciding on a defensive war, whose first phase was precisely Poland in 1939.

Poles fought for their country's independence

2. The victory of Monte Cassino took place five years later on 18 May 1944. The end of the terrible World War was now not far off. Not only had it raged through almost all of Europe, but it had also drawn non-European States into its vortex, the United States first, into the ranks of the Allies, and then Japan, into those of the so-called Axis. To understand what happened in Monte Cassino, it is necessary again to reflect on another date of the past: 17 September 1939, when Poland, desperately defending herself against invasion from the West, was attacked from the East. And this jeopardized the course of events in that Polish September, leading to a double occupation, with Hitler's concentration camps in the West and those of the Soviets in the East. The tragedy of Katyn, still today a unique testimony of the struggle undertaken at the time, took place in the East.

In order to understand the events that occurred at Monte Cassino, we also need to have this Eastern chapter of our history before our eyes, because the army commanded by General Wladyslaw Anders, which played such an important role in the battle of Monte Cassino, consisted largely of Poles deported to the Soviet Union. In addition, there were soldiers and officers who, from occupied Poland, had secretly reached the West through Hungary, with the intention of continuing the fight there for the independence of their homeland. Monte Cassino was an important milestone in this struggle. The soldiers involved in that battle were convinced that by helping to solve the problems concerning the whole of Europe, they were on the way to an independent Poland.

3. Those of you who fought here treasure in your hearts the memory of all your fellow soldiers. You have come here to visit the Polish military cemetery at Monte Cassino, where General Wladyslaw Anders and Archbishop Józef Gawlina, the faithful chaplain to the Polish army on the battlefield, also repose. Many of your companions rest here: soldiers and officers with names that are not only Polish but also Ukrainian, Belarusian and Jewish. They all fought in the battle for the same great cause, as the cemeteries attest: those of Monte Cassino, Loreto, Bologna and Casamassima. Our thoughts and prayers are addressed to those who fell, who, departing life, were thinking of their loved ones in Poland. Their death was a witness to the readiness that marked all society at the time: to give one's life for the holy cause of one's homeland.

Pope John Paul II laying flowers near the Eternal Flame of Polish Cemetery, Monte Cassino
We cannot forget that a few months later, in that same year of 1944, the Warsaw Uprising took place, an episode which corresponded to the battle of Monte Cassino. The Poles in their homeland felt that they had to fight this battle, in order to stress the fact that Poland had been fighting from the first day to the last, not only to defend her own freedom, but for the future of Europe and the world. They were convinced that the Soviet army, already close to Warsaw, together with the Polish battalions from the territory of the Soviet Union, would contribute decisively to the success of the Warsaw Uprising. But unfortunately this was not the case. We know that Poland paid very dearly for the Warsaw Uprising: not only with the death of so many thousands of Polish men and women of my contemporaries' generation, but even with the almost total destruction of the capital.

New life has risen from the ruins

4. While we have the image of 50 years ago before our eyes, we must once more repeat the word Monte Cassino, a name that has a far older meaning than the one attributed to it in 1944. We must go back 15 centuries to the time of St Benedict. Precisely at Monte Cassino one of those Benedictine abbeys that was to initiate the formation of Europe arose. Historians show that on the basis of the Benedictine principle "ora et labora", after the decline of the Roman Empire of the West and after the migrations of peoples, this Europe began to emerge, whose civil and cultural foundations have been preserved to this day. This is Christian Europe. It was St Benedict in the West, like Saints Cyril and Methodius in the East, who contributed to the Christianization of Europe in the first millennium. Moreover, the European nations are indebted to them for the very beginnings of their own culture and of this Western civilization, which has continued to develop over the centuries and has also spread to other continents.

From this standpoint, what does the battle of Monte Cassino represent? It was the clashing of two "projects": one, both in the East and in the West, aiming at uprooting Europe from its Christian past linked to her Patrons, and in particular to St Benedict, and the other, striving to defend the Christian tradition of Europe and the "European spirit". The fact that the Abbey of Monte Cassino was destroyed has a symbolic value. Christ said: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12:24). Evidently, the ancient Abbey of Monte Cassino had to be destroyed so that a new life for all of Europe could rise from its ruins. And in a certain sense, this is what happened. On the ruins of the Second World War, a united Europe began to be built, and those who were its first builders staunchly clung to the Christian roots of European culture.

5. We Poles were unable to participate directly in the rebuilding of Christian Europe undertaken in the West. We were left with the ruins of our capital. Although we had been allies in the victorious coalition, we found ourselves in the situation of the defeated, upon whom the domination of the East, within the Soviet Bloc, was imposed for more than 40 years. Hence for us the struggle did not end in 1945; we were forced to take it up all over again. Furthermore, the same thing happened for our neighbours. Commemorating the Monte Cassino victory, it is therefore essential today to add the truth about all Polish men and women, who in an apparently independent State, became the victims of a totalitarian system. In their homeland, they gave their lives for the very cause for which Poles had died in 1939, then throughout the occupation and finally at Monte Cassino and in the Warsaw Uprising. We must also remember how many were killed at the hand of the Polish institutions and security services that served the system imposed by the East. They must at least be remembered before God and before history, in order not to veil the truth about our past at this decisive moment in history. The Church commemorates her martyrs in martyrologies. We cannot allow that in Poland, especially Poland today, the martyrology of the Polish nation should not be recomposed.

We pray for a good use of freedom

6. This is the price we paid for our current independence. If after the First World War it was necessary to fight to put Poland back on the map of Europe, after the Second World War no one could harbour any doubts on this score. The Polish nation had paid such a high price, had claimed its right to exist as a State with such tremendous efforts and suffering, that even our enemies - let us say, the dubious "friends" of the East and the West - could not question this right. This too must be said today, on the occasion of the great anniversary of the battle of Monte Cassino, because it has fundamental significance for our Polish and European present. If it is impossible to detach the "today" from the past, from all our history and especially from the past 50 years, it is impossible to forget that every human "today" is the introduction to a human future. What will the future of Poland and Europe be like? There are many promising elements for this future. Apparently Europe has detached herself from the dangerous systems that have prevailed in the 20th century, and the desire for peaceful co-existence among nations is rather general. Is this also the desire to build our own future in the spirit of Monte Cassino? Monte Cassino represents a symbol proven by the experience of history. But should we not fear that we might be unable to draw the right conclusions from this experience, letting ourselves be misled by other "spirits" that have little in common with Monte Cassino, or are even opposed to it, perhaps to the point of being responsible for its systematic destruction?

Thus we cannot conclude our meditation on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the victory of Monte Cassino without adding a similar warning for the future and together beseeching God to remain with us and we with him. We must pray that we may be able to make good use of the freedom purchased at such a high price: because we are returning to the heritage of St Benedict and of Sts Cyril and Methodius, co-patrons of Europe in the West and in the East.

At the end of the second millennium and on the eve of the third, I recommend all those present and the whole of our country to them, as well as to all the patrons of our nation, especially to the one who is the symbol of our century, the martyr saint of Auschwitz, Maximilian Maria Kolbe, as well as to Our Lady of Jasna Góra, Queen of Poland.

May almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, bless you.

"They must be remembered
before God and before history."

This concludes the Special series on the Battle of Monte Cassino.  I have provided the following links for your convenience so that you may review specific sections as you wish.

Battle of Monte Cassino Introduction
Phase One (January 17 -  February 11, 1944)
Phase Two (February 12 - February 19, 1944)
Phase Three (February 20 - March 25, 1944)
Phase Four - Polish Army (A race against death) (March 26 - May 18, 1944)
Aftermath (May 23, 1944 - April 20, 1945)

May 23, 2011

The Battle of Monte Cassino: The Aftermath

May 23

Fighting continued at Anzio beachhead. German 14th Army began its retreat as troops from the 8th Army advanced towards the Liri Valley, and the 5th Army made its way along the coast towards the Hitler Line. (Apparently, Hitler renamed it the Senger Line, in the event that German defenses would be breached.) However, an Allied assault failed and it took several days to reorganize troops and logistics.

May 25

Polish troops captured Piedimonte, and broke through the "Senger Line". Allied troops captured Cisterna. The US 5th Army, having broken the barrier enclosing the beachhead, began their advance towards Valmontone, and at the same time were poised to cut off and capture the German 10th Army. But quite unexpectedly, Allied orders arrived with instructions to change direction and instead head directly towards Rome.

American Infantry advancing along Hwy 6 towards Rome

June 4
As the US 88th Division was entering Rome, the last German units had evacuated with putting up a fight.

US 85th Division entering gates of Rome

June 5
Allied celebration commenced on Capitoline Hill.

June 6
Normandy invasion began

July 18  The II Polish Corps captured Ancona.
The Allies plan was to capture the city of Ancona in order to gain control of the seaport and the mission was given to the II Polish Corps. Polish troops reached the Chienti River on June 21 and engaged in heavy fighting until June 30th.  The main offensive towards Ancona began on July 17th.  Polish troops took Monte della Crescia, then Casenuove, while British troops took Montecchio and Croce di San Vincenzo. By nightfall, Polish troops were already near Agugliano, and by daybreak took Offagna, then Chiaravalle.  Polish armored troops having reached the sea coast succeeded in cutting German troops from the northwest, forcing the Germans to fall back towards the sea.   On July 18 at 14:30, Polish troops met with minimal resistance as they entered Ancona.  Following the liberation of Ancona, the Polish Corps took part in breaking through the Gothic Line, and the 1945 spring offensive which brought about the surrender of Axis forces in Italy.

Ancona Liberated by Polish troops

Polish tank runs over Swastika flag (Ancona, July 18, 1944)
April 20, 1945 The II Polish Corps captured Bologna:

The Battle of Bologna began on April 9th, 1945 with massive Allied attack on German positions.  While American and British troops were targeting German flanks, the Polish troops were able to break into the city. The next day, the Poles succeeded in forcing the Germans away from the Senio River.
On April 12 Polish soldiers fought at the Santerno River and by April 14 captured Imola.  For the next two days the Poles fought at Sillaro River and Medicina Canal.  The Poles continued to push towards Bologna from the east.  On April 20 the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Brigade of the Polish 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division entered Bologna and by 06:15 were able to secure the city.  The Polish flag was raised from the town hall and from the Torre Asinelli.

The following was the speech given by General Alexander,Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies in Italy to the Polish Corps after the victory at Monte Cassino Decorating General Wladyslaw Anders with the Order of the Bath in front of the 2nd Corpus troops:

"In the name of His Majesty George VI, King of Great Britain, I confer on you the Order of the Bath....By conferring on General Anders the Order of the Bath, my Sovereign has decorated the Commander of the II Army Corps for his excellent leadership, and also by it expressed his appreciation for the extreme gallantry and great spirit of self-sacrifice shown by the Polish soldiers during the Battle of Monte Cassino. It was a day of great glory for Poland, when you took this stronghold the Germans themselves considered to be impregnable; It was the first state of a major battle that you went through for the European fortress. It is not merely a brilliant beginning: it is a signpost showing the way to the future. Today I can sincerely and frankly tell you that, Soldiers of the II Polish Corps, if it had been given to me to choose the soldiers I would like to command, I would have chosen the Poles. I pay my tribute to you."

(at left: General Alexander chatting with General Wladyslaw Anders

The following speech was by President Roosevelt after the Battle for Ancona was won by the Polish troops;

"Wladyslaw Anders, Lieutenant General, Polish Army, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the United States and the Allied Nations in Italy from October 1943 to July 1944. As Commanding General of the Second Polish Corps, General Anders brilliantly led his men in the final overwhelming drive that resulted in the retreat of the German Army from the strongly defended Cassino. This point of stubborn resistance was captured when General Anders guided his troops in a coordinated and inspired Allied drive into the bitterly contested vantage point of the enemy. Later, continuing in the eastern sector of Italy on the Adriatic coast, General Anders again led his men in the capture of the important port of Ancona. The outstanding leadership and tactical ability displayed by General Anders were primary contributions to the success of Allied Forces in the Italian Campaign."

General Anders' Order of the Day for July 6, 1945, was written just after the British and US Governments had given their recognition to the Soviet-backed Polish government in Warsaw, and retracted recognition from the legal Polish government-in-exile in London. The speech which follows is a bitter verbal attack on the policy of the Allies and expressed the Polish feeling that the sacrifice they had made in the war must not be allowed to go in vain.

"Men, I am turning to you at a period of extreme difficulty and of far-reaching importance. The Governments of the Western Powers have decided to recognise the so-called Provisional Government of National Unity imposed on Poland by her occupation and thus to withdraw recognition from the legal Government of the Polish Republic in London. The World Powers by-pass our constitution and our lawful authorities, and in accepting the present circumstances, they have agreed to the fait accompli created with regard to Poland and the Poles by a foreign force.

Men, at this moment we are the only part of the Polish Nation which is able, and has the duty, loudly to voice its will, and just for this reason we must prove today by word and by deed that we are faithful to our oath of allegiance, true to our citizen's duty towards our country, and faithful to the last wish of our fallen comrades in arms, who fought and died for an independent, sovereign and truly free Poland....

Our country, deprived of the rights of speech, looks towards us. It wishes to see us in the land of our ancestors - to that end we are striving and longing from the bottom of our hearts - but it does not want to see us as slaves of a foreign force; It wants to see us with our banners flying as forerunners of true freedom.

As such a return is impossible today we must wait in closed and disciplined ranks for a favourable change of conditions. This change must come, or otherwise all the terrible and bloody sacrifices of the whole world, suffered throughout six years, will have been in vain. It is impossible to imagine that humanity has suddenly become blind and has really lost the consciousness of a mortal danger....

We will fulfill our duty towards our country and its lawful authorities!

Long Live the Glorious Republic of Poland!"

Polacy pod Monte Cassino A Tribute (00:02:24m)


May 22, 2011

The Battle of Monte Cassino: Phase Four - Polish Army (A race against death)

(9/11) Battlefield II The Battle for Monte Cassino Ep13 World War II (00:10:00m)

Bitwa o Monte Cassino (HQ) Battle for Monte Cassino (English w/Polish subtitles) (00:003:30m)

The 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, 17 Allied Divisions were positioned 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 Division.

Reserves consisted of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, the 5th Canadian Division, and the 6th South African Armored Division. Also part of the British contingent was the II Polish Corps, under the command of Lt.General Wladyslaw Anders. The Polish forces 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 of 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 Division.

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 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 which were intercepted by German Intelligence indicating that the Allies were planning a landing at Civitavecchia by the US 26th Division and the Canadian 1st Corps. A few Allied troops were dispatched to Salerno and Naples to be seen "practicing" amphibious landings - in broad daylight! Meanwhile, Allied air forces were conspicuously making reconnaissance flights all over the beaches at Civitavecchia. False information was spoon-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 "practiced' crossing the river.

As these diversions were being carried out, the Allied positions at Monte Cassino and Rapido were being heavily reinforced under camouflage. The II Polish Corps, already positioned at Monte Cassino was ordered to maintain strict radio silence. Its location was cleverly concealed by miles of camouflage - the French Expeditionary Corps, consisting of 99,000 men was completely hidden from view!

Camouflage was so successful that it not only hid an entire army but permitted the construction of six 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. 23:00 h 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 bridgeheads.

WWII Footage: Commonwealth Troops at Monte Cassino (00:03:14m)

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 but 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 very heavy and the units were almost completely wiped out.
Polish soldiers charging up Phantom Hill
Another division of the Polish 13th Battalion reached Phantom Ridge from its southern slope but they too also came under heavy fire. The 5th Battalion (Col.Stoczkowski) made it up Phantom Ridge in complete darkness and battled the Germans seeking cover behind bushes and boulders. 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 point-blank range.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.

Polish Soldiers- Monte Cassino

Polish Soldiers transporting Artillery Uphill
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. But before they could achieve their objective, their tanks were hit  by enemy fire and burst into flames. The remaining tanks were destroyed by mines, killing or wounding 18 of the 20 engineers.

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 taxi 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 Poles ( 7 soldiers and 1 officer ) retreated.

The Polish men of the 15th Battalion who remained on Phantom Ridge endured the most ferocious enemy fire. They suffered considerable casualties and were at the point of total exhaustion, their men lying wounded and in shock.  But 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.

However, the British XIII Corps did not achieve half of its objectives and the US II Corps still 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 of the Moroccan Rifle Division. 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. They were sorely mistaken.) 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.

Polish Soldiers  - Monte Cassino

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 German 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 entirely. 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.

Monte Casino 1944 (00:56:05m)

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 Enigma messages.) At 23:30 H. Enemy aircraft circled over their corps sector dropping flares - a clear signal which ordered retreat.

Polish Soldiers - Monte Cassino

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.

German Paratroopers surrendering at Monte Cassino

May 18 9:05 a.m. Lieutenant Gurbiel ascended to the height of Monastery 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 tragically, the Polish soldiers knew that their beloved homeland had been sacrificed to the Soviets, still continued to fight just the same. Over 4,100 men of the II Polish Corps lost their lives on Monte Cassino.

Polish Flag atop Monte Cassino
Master Corporal Emil Czech plays Hej Mariacki

 Victory came at a very high price. 
For Your Freedom and Ours.
Polish Cemetery Monte Cassino

May 21, 2011

The Battle of Monte Cassino: Phase Three

WWII Footage: Commonwealth Troops at Monte Cassino (00:03:13m)

The Battle of Monte Cassino
Phase Three
 February 20 - March 25, 1944

On the night of February 20, the 1st Battalion of the 211th Grenadier Regiment crossed the Rapido on a reconnaissance mission to Monte Trocchio. Without a shot being fired, the Germans took all 60 men prisoner, seizing their new secret assault rifles, the MP44. German divisions were solidly entrenched along every point on Monte Cassino, the town Cassino on both left and right flanks, and the surrounding hills around Monastery Hill. However, the German 1st Parachute Division was considerably depleted in strength, and were spread across an area of nine miles from Cassino station to Monte Cairo.

By February 21, Operations Dickens, under the command of Lt. Gen Freyberg was geared for action, pending weather conditions.The mission was to be conducted by the New Zealand II Corps, along with two infantry divisions and a tank division. The tactic called for a frontal assault on the town of Cassino and of Monastery Hill, both involving an unprecedented barrage of military and air force power. What made this operation unique was that the assault would take place at only one designated point, roughly 1.5km in width (1 mile).

February 23. Operations Dickens had to be postponed due to incessant rain that lasted for three weeks. Meanwhile the German 3rd Parachute Regiment had transformed the ruins of the Monastery into a virtual fortress, launching heavy artillery fire from several positions.

February 28. Field Marshal Kesselring ordered renewed attacks on the Anzio-Nettuno beachhead. Because of the torrential rains, Germans tanks were stuck in the mud and infantrymen were trapped having sunk into the mud up to their knees. The US division responded immediately with intense gunfire.

February 29. The LXXVI Panzer Corps was pitched in battle at Nettuno. But with improved weather conditions, Allied naval and aircraft could be deployed. The combined Allied support made it possible for the US 3rd Division to hold off a German offensive. The next day Kesselring called off the attack and reverted to a defensive plan to block Allied advances toward Rome.

March 10. The New Zealand II corps was ready to attack the Cassino area, their mission made easier by a map of the town marked with the positions of German infantry, minefields, and anti-tank weapons. By all appearances the only approach could be through a narrow path in single file.

March 11. The construction of the Cavendish Road that began on March 1 was finally completed by March 11. Built by the New Zealand engineers, it was a tank road measuring 4 m (13 feet) across and provided the Allies with access to the rear of Monastery Hill reaching from Cairo to Massa Albaneta. The route, visible from German vantage points was securely camouflaged by columns of smoke screens.

Cavendish Road

March 15. The weather had improved over the past few days and Operation Dickens rolled into action. All the top Allied military brass assembled at the Cervaro Headquarters 5 km (3 miles) from Cassino to view the attack - the total obliteration of the town by carpet bombing. The expectation was that no one could survive an inferno of that magnitude. Logistics calculated 5 tons of explosives were used for every German soldier in the town. Had anyone been able to survive during the bombing, they would have lost their minds.

At 8:30 a.m. a fleet of B-17 bombers laid the carpet of bombs covering an area of 1,500m (1 mile) wide and 500m (530 yards) deep. Bombing continued in waves of 15 minute intervals lasting for 4 hours. An armada of 575 bombers and 200 fighter bombs were dispatched from airfields in England, Italy and North Africa, to be used against 350 German paratroopers holding out in Cassino town below. It was the strongest concentration of air force ever assembled in the Mediterranean. A German Reserve unit was actually able to survive by transferring to a cave at the base of Monastery Hill. They were the ones who later were able to drive back the Allied troops.

Bombing of Cassino town

Cassino in Ruins after the Bombing

In the aftermath of the bombing, houses and streets no longer existed. In their place were deep craters and mountains of rubble. After the last bomb was dropped, the Allied artillery moved in using 740 guns, some of which were 24cm calibre. The New Zealand and Indian infantry advanced with a combined force of 400 tanks from the north of the ruins toward Pt. 193 (Rocca Janula). Unaware of any survivors, the Allies moved in confidently, but were hit with intensive fire from the 100 Germans who had escaped the carpet bombing. Tank movement came to a halt in front of enormous craters and mountains of debris. Casualties were severe as Allies fought desperately. They could do nothing without the support of the New Zealand 4th Armored Brigade. The New Zealand 25th Battalion, after hours of relentless battle finally reached the town centre and captured Rocca Janula, Pt. 193. Rocca Janula, or Castle Hill, was strategically important - it was joined to Monastery Hill by a rocky configuration. Whoever controlled Pt. 193 also controlled Monastery Hill.

Gurkha Battalion Monte Cassino
The first day of battle in this phase lasted from 12:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Allied artillery unleashed a total of 195,960 shells, or 1,200 tons directly on Monastery Hill.  By midnight the Rajputana Rifles of the Essex Battalion relieved the New Zealanders and advanced to Pt. 165, took the Monastery and pushed on to Pt. 236. There,under fierce German resistance, they lost all their officers and had to retreat to Rocca Janula. Meanwhile,the 1st Battalion of the 9th Gurkha Regiment advanced past Pt. 236,and ascended Hangman Hill (Pt. 435). After the cessation of bombing on Monastery Hill, the Allies were astonished to spot the Gurkha Battalion positioned within 400m (440 yards) from the ruins. But enemy fire had them pinned. They could not go forward or back and were completely exposed on the bare rock.

B company, 24th Battalion, 6th New Zeland Brigade
advance during battle for Cassino

March 16. The New Zealand 26th Battalion initiated an attack on the western part of Cassino, at which the Via Casilina intersects less than 30m (35 yards) away. The New Zealanders could not advance further due to fierce German counter-attacks. Overnight German reinforcements poured in to defend Cassino. Since the bombing, the New Zealand engineers took 36 hours to clear a tank path using bulldozers.

The 26th Battalion was then able to move in. After vicious street-fighting they captured the station. The Gurkhas were only 1,200m (1,330 yards) away.

The two units converged on Cassino like a pincer - working together to break the German resistance.