The Battle of Monte Cassino (also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was a costly series of four assaults by the Allies against the Winter Line in Italy held by Axis forces during the Italian Campaign of World War II. The intention was a breakthrough to Rome.
At the beginning of 1944, the western half of the Winter Line was being anchored by Germans holding the Rapido-Gari, Liri and Garigliano valleys and some of the surrounding peaks and ridges. Together, these features formed the Gustav Line. Monte Cassino, a historic hilltop abbey founded in AD 529 by Benedict of Nursia, dominated the nearby town of Cassino and the entrances to the Liri and Rapido valleys. Lying in a protected historic zone, it had been left unoccupied by the Germans, although they manned some positions set into the steep slopes below the abbey’s walls.
Repeated pinpoint artillery attacks on Allied assault troops caused their leaders to conclude the abbey was being used by the Germans as an observation post, at the least. Fears escalated along with casualties and in spite of a lack of clear evidence, it was marked for destruction. On 15 February American bombers dropped 1,400 tons of high explosives, creating widespread damage. The raid failed to achieve its objective, as German paratroopers occupied the rubble and established excellent defensive positions amid the ruins.
Between 17 January and 18 May, Monte Cassino and the Gustav defenses were assaulted four times by Allied troops, the last involving twenty divisions attacking along a twenty-mile front. The German defenders were finally driven from their positions but at a high cost. The capture of Monte Cassino resulted in 55,000 Allied casualties, with German losses being far fewer, estimated at around 20,000 killed and wounded.
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The general trend of the Gustav line (in red) in the Italian geographical context.
First Battle: Plan of attack.
First Battle: Northern Sector 24 January – 11 February 1944.
Second Battle: Plan of Attack.
Third Battle: Plan of Attack.
Fourth Battle (Operation Diadem): Allied Plan of Attack.
British Royal Engineers of the 46th Infantry Division cross the Garigliano river, 19 January 1944.
British soldier with a Bren gun in the ruins of Monte Cassino.
A knocked out Sherman tank by a Bailey bridge in the foreground with Monastery Ridge and Castle Hill in the background shortly after capture. n.b. This photograph has been inadvertently reversed and so depicts a mirror image of the actual scene.
Black and White Photos
Bombing of 15 March.
A German tank crew attempts to restore their Panzer IV’s mobility after battle damage inflicted during the fighting.
German paratroopers at Monte Cassino.
Kesselring inspects the front near Monte Cassino in April 1944. He attempted to maintain contact with the front line troops with frequent inspection tours.
Unloading of Monte Cassino property in the Piazza Venezia in Rome.
In Rome, men from the Hermann Göring Division secure works of art from Montecassino and Naples.
German prisoners captured by New Zealand troops are held beside a Sherman tank. After repeated unsuccessful assaults, the Allied offensive was again called off on 22 March.
A B-17 Flying Fortress over Monte Cassino, 15 February 1944.
US soldiers with a 57mm M-1 anti-tank gun fighting near Monte Cassino during the initial assault.
Ruins of the town of Cassino after the battle.
Monte Cassino in ruins.
Most representative figure of the Cassino battles: General von Senger.
An aerial photo of the abbey at the end of the fighting.
Camouflage of a Panzer III on the Italian front.
Rome, February 1944. A German Panzer V Panther tank between via Emanuele Filiberto and viale Alessandro Manzoni.
Field Marshal Kesselring in Italy, surrounded by his officers.
Woman hanged by the Fascists in Rome. On the skirt there is a sign with the accusations for which she was summarily executed. Around her, German soldiers.
Colonel Sebastian Ludwig Heilmann, commander of the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment, and General Richard Heidrich, protagonists of Cassino’s fierce defense.
German soldiers stationed in the ruins of Cassino; the 75mm piece in the lower right foreground belongs to a StuG III assault cannon.
A young Fallschirmjäger checks his tripod-mounted MG 42.
The German paratroopers inside the cloister after the destruction of the monastery.
Fallschirmjäger in Cassino, in a makeshift refuge set up between the solid walls of a quarry.
German paratroopers in action among the rubble of Cassino.
The city of Cassino as it appeared in the weeks of the bloody battle.
The abbey of Montecassino at the end of the fighting.
German vehicles destroyed in Cassino.
Cassino reduced to a pile of rubble.
March 15, 1944: Cassino is upset by the large Anglo-American bombing.
German prisoners in Piedimonte, Italy.
Effects of the bombing.
German paratroopers stationed in the rubble of Cassino with an MG 42 ; on the underlying stones, ready for use, the Stielhandgranate 24 and an Eihandgranate 39 characteristics can be recognized.