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25-Pounder at Fourth Battle of Cassino

25-Pounder at Fourth Battle of Cassino

25-Pounder at Fourth Battle of Cassino

Here we see a British 25-pounder gun taking part in the initial bombardment at the start of the fourth battle of Cassino. In this picture one gunner is about to place the shell in the gun, and another ready to ram it into place and a third is holding the charge.


Gustav-Cassino Line, Nov 1943 – May 1944

The Gustav-Cassino Line was a German defensive position constructed in late 1943 across Italy. From Gaeta, south of Rome, through Cassino, the Apennine Mountains and stretched onto the Sangro estuary on the eastern coast. It took the Western Allies four offensives to break this position. The optimal Allied route of advance to Rome was through the Liri Valley. However, the Gustav defences blocked this route around Cassino, particularly on the Monte Cassino heights, topped by its ancient monastery. In the First Battle of Monte Cassino (17 January–11 February 1944). X Corps’ three British divisions attacked across the Garigilano River close to the western coast, while three Fifth US Army divisions attacked Cassino.

The Gustav-Cassino Line. This image is taken from the book American Battles and Campaigns

Subsequently, Allied forces landed behind the Garigliano at Anzio. The Allies closed on the monastery before being halted. During the second battle (15–18 February), one New Zealand and one Indian division attacked the Cassino defenses to assist the beleaguered Anzio beachhead. Despite incurring high casualties and destroying the monastery, the Allies again failed to capture Monastery Hill. In the third battle (15–26 March), three Allied divisions attacked Cassino from the northeast. However, the Allied advance was again halted short of the monastery.

The final battle of the Gustav-Cassino Line

In the fourth battle (11–25 May), Operation Diadem, US Fifth Army and British Eighth Army forces attacked the Gustav Line’s western sector in a large-scale offensive. While the US II and French I Corps assaulted across the Garigliano and US VI Corps broke out from the Anzio beachhead, Polish II and British XIII Corps assaulted the Cassino position. This offensive broke through Cassino. By late May, the German forces were in full retreat north beyond Rome. The Allies suffered 55,000 casualties in these operations, while the Germans took 35,000.

Dr. Chris McNab is the editor of AMERICAN BATTLES & CAMPAIGNS: A Chronicle, from 1622-Present and is an experienced specialist in wilderness and urban survival techniques. He has published over 20 books including: How to Survive Anything, Anywhere. An encyclopedia of military and civilian survival techniques for all environments. Special Forces Endurance Techniques, First Aid Survival Manual, and The Handbook of Urban Survival.


The Polish Victory at Monte Cassino

The town of Cassino and its abbey stood in the way of allied forces in their objective to liberate Rome . The German troops surrounded the abbey. From this vantage point, they controlled air and ground fire against the Allies. American and British forces were unable to take Monte Cassino from the Germans and withdrew from the battlefield. The Polish 2nd Corps took their place and were victorious. It succeeded in taking Monte Cassino after three weeks of fierce fighting in mountain terrain which left the troops exposed to enemy snipers on the slopes. Upon taking the abbey, the Poles raised the white and red flag of Poland on top of the ruins of the monastery.

The Battle of Monte Cassino is an eternal monument to the gallantry of the Polish soldiers.

It surpasses Polish military heroism at Samo Sierra and the Charge at Rokitna.

At the conclusion of Polish military operations in and near Monte Cassino, the Polish government in Exile, ( London ) established a campaign cross to commemorate the battle. A total of 48,498 crosses were awarded with accompanying award documents issued in the field to each soldier who took part in the battle.

Today, original Monte Cassino crosses with award documents are scarce. Unfortunately, the High Command of the Polish 2nd Corps did not keep a master roll record of names of soldiers who received the crosses, either by cross number or by the name of the recipient. It is therefore impossible to determine to whom a specific cross was issued without the award document.

In recent years, a large number of original numbered Monte Cassino crosses have surfaced. These crosses have high numbers in the upper 48,500 to 49,999 range. After the conclusion of hostilities near Monte Cassino, the Polish 2nd Corps ordered 50,000 crosses from a manufacturer in Tel Aviv. Of this total, 48,498 were awarded and the rest remained at the headquarters of the Polish Government in London until 1989. The government decided to release the remaining 1,502 crosses, since no further awards were being made.

The crosses were sold to several dealers and auction houses, resulting in a flood of unawarded Monte Cassino crosses. Today, even these original unawarded crosses are scarce.

Official documentation to include a list of recipients will never be known. Records have been located which indicate blocks of crosses by serial number distributed to specific units. The statistical analysis shown on the next page identifies these groups. In closing, I must mention that at the foot of the Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino is an inscription in Polish which is worth mentioning for those who read the language.

In translation it lessens its true meaning:

PRZECHODNIU, POWIEDZ POLSCE, ZESMY POLEGLI WIERNI W JEJ SLUZBIE, ZA WOLNOSC NASZA I WASZA, MY ZOLNIERZE POLSCY ODDALISMY – BOGU DUCHA, ZIEMI WLOSKIEJ CIALO, A SERCA, POLSCE

On May 18th 1994, Poland commemorated one of its greatest victories against Nazi Germany during World War II . Ceremonies were conducted at the Polish Cemetery at Monte Cassino to honor the 1,100 Poles who died while storming the abbey (11-25 May 1944.)

The ceremony also honored the living veterans of that historical battle.

President Lech Walesa and other dignitaries placed wreaths at the cemetery at Monte Cassino and for the first time, the Armed Forces of a free and independent Poland served as honor guards during the ceremony.


To see in the New Year, Defence-in-Depth is re-publishing its three most-viewed posts of 2019. At No. 3, Jonathan Fennell’s account of the furlough mutiny in New Zealand and its impact on the war in the Mediterranean in 1944.

Jonathan Fennell is author of Fighting the People’s War: The British and Commonwealth Armies and the Second World War, which was published by Cambridge University Press in February 2019.

Three quarters of a century ago, soldiers of the British and Commonwealth Armies were embroiled in one of the iconic battles of the Second World War – the struggle to take the town of Cassino in Italy and the famous monastery that lay atop the imposing mountain that overlooked it. Historians have long argued about why the Allies failed on three occasions to unlock the German defences, before eventually breaking through to Rome. New research shows, for the first time, that it was not just matters on the front line that influenced the outcome of these great offensives, but issues far away on the home front – in New Zealand.

The Cassino Battles

Cassino guarded the entrance to the Liri Valley, the best route available to the Allied armies on their advance towards Rome in 1944. In the first battle of Cassino in January 1944, US and British forces had tried to prise the Germans out of their formidable defences through manoeuvre – involving a landing on the beaches of Anzio behind enemy lines. When that failed, the battle was handed over to 2 nd New Zealand and 4 th Indian Divisions, two of the most experienced formations in the British and Commonwealth Armies in Italy. The second battle was, much like the first, a costly failure the use of massed bombing from the air backfired when the monastery, as a consequence of this controversial course of action, was turned into a fortress of rubble by the Allied bombers.

For the third attempt, a new plan was devised. This time, rather than going straight for the monastery, 2nd New Zealand Division would capture the town itself and a height above it that would provide 4th Indian Division with a firm base from which to attack the ancient monastery. Major-General Alexander Galloway, in temporary command of 4th Indian Division, stressed the extent to which the success of this new plan was dependent on the New Zealanders. Unless 2nd New Zealand Division could protect theleft flank of the Indians by clearing Cassino town, his job would be ‘almost impossible’.

The assault, which went in on 15 March, was preceded by a massive aerial blitz 514 aircraft dropped 1,140 tons of bombs on the town. Some 900 pieces of artillery added their fire in a prolonged barrage that allocated 4 or 5 tons of explosive for every German defender. At first, the assault met little opposition and casualties were light. Prisoners taken were stunned by the sheer weight of Allied firepower. However, progress slowed in the crater-strewn rubble, and when 4th Indian Division moved forward, Cassino town had not been cleared. As Galloway predicted, the attack failed. The speed and initiative necessary to overcome the formidable German defences had been sorely lacking.

What went wrong? The relative numbers of troops engaged at Third Cassino cannot, in itself, explain the performance of the New Zealanders – who, at the key point had a numerical advantage as high as perhaps 8-1. The plan, too, was perfectly workable. In fact, a large part of the cause of the setback lay 11,500 miles away from the maelstrom unfolding in the Apennines.

Home Front: The Furlough Mutiny

By 1943/4, the British and Commonwealth forces fighting in the Mediterranean were, according to one report, ‘tired, not only in body, but in spirit also’.At the start of August 1943, censorship reports on the mail of soldiers identified that many believed that their long period in action ‘morally entitle[d] them’ to leave. In light of the prevailing mood, the New Zealand Government decided to give 6,000 men in the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) furlough, or leave, back home. This equated to about 20 per cent of the New Zealand forces in theatre and a third of 2nd New Zealand Division.

The New Zealand Government had promised to avoid conflict about equality during the war powers to conscript wealth were to equal those to conscript men. However, in reality, the war served to exacerbate inequalities. By 1943, there were 35,000 Grade ‘A’ men at home, fit enough to go overseas but who held jobs in ‘essential industry’. The 6,000 furlough men were stunned by this situation when they returned home and insisted, in the interest of fairness, that these men had to replace those who had already done their duty in the war in Europe. ‘No man twice, before every man once’ became the battle cry of the furlough men.

The Labour Government refused to bend to the furlough men’s wishes, leading to a revolt that resulted in only 13 per cent of the men returning to the Mediterranean. The ‘Furlough Mutiny’, as it became known, arguably represented the most severe outbreak of indiscipline in any British and Commonwealth force in both world wars.

Battlefront: Crisis at Cassino

The mutiny had two key consequences: the 2 nd New Zealand Division had to go into battle without a significant cohort of its most experienced veterans and those that were left to fight suffered a serious crisis in morale. By the start of January 1944, the censors reported that there were ‘definite signs of war weariness and homesickness in almost 25% of the letters’ sent by the division. By mid-January, 50 per cent of letters had a ‘homesick’ tone. Ten per cent of letters showed a distinct sense of dissatisfaction at the unequal sacrifices being made in the war effort. A sergeant wrote:

It’s foolish to try and blink the fact that men over here are becoming more and more aware of the extent to which they have been ‘carrying the baby’ for years for lots of people at home.

By the beginning of the Second Battle of Cassino, there had been a ‘decided drop in morale’, and letters were ‘distinctly gloomy’. The prevailing conditions had ‘made the men “furlough conscious”’ with many letters referring to the mishandling of the scheme in New Zealand and the thousands of ‘essentials’ that could be used to replace them on the front line. In the run-up to the Third Battle of Cassino, the censors again noted a ‘drop [in morale] over the whole of the Div’.

The sickness rate in the division, a good barometer of morale, rose in the lead up to the third battle. Between embarkation for Italy and March 1944,the sickness rate for other ranks in 2 nd New Zealand Division increased by 96 per cent, that for officers by a remarkable 162 per cent. The battle exhaustion rate was also alarming. Whereas cases of battle exhaustion had accounted for 9 per cent of casualties in the heavy fighting in Italy in December 1943, they amounted to 34 per cent of casualties in February and 36 per cent in March 1944.

Turn Around: The Liberation of Rome

By any standards, this evidence indicates a catastrophic collapse in morale. Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg, the commander of 2 nd New Zealand Division, wrote to the New Zealand Prime Minister after the battle that, ‘I have come to the conclusion that the time may well be opportune for the complete withdrawal of 2NZEF’ to New Zealand. The success of the fourth battle of Cassino was in no small part built on this understanding.

In many ways, the British and Commonwealth Armies in Italy had finally reached the limits of endurance. The men, many of whom had been away from their families for between three and five years, longed for a break. Harold Alexander, the Commander of the Allied land forces in theatre, decided, therefore, to almost completely replace the fighting formations of his forces. Four British and Commonwealth divisions (two British, one Indian and one South African), two armoured brigades and one tank brigade were sent for from the Middle East. These were joined by the Polish Corps, two US infantry divisions, and two French infantry divisions. The new plan was to concentrate these formations on one side of the Apennines and attack the enemy with overwhelming force using almost completely fresh formations. It worked, leading to the liberation of the eternal city in June 1944. When the British and Commonwealth forces in Italy were most in need of a lift, when they had almost reached the very limit of their power and endurance, the power and scale of the Empire, and its allies, had played out with decisive effect.

Image: Third Phase of the Battle of Cassino, 11 – 18 May 1944: A low aerial view of the Monastery showing its complete destruction, via wikimedia commons.


THE BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO

It was here that RAF Regiment Squadrons 3-inch mortars were a highly-valued asset by Commanders.

The Battle of Monte Cassino was a costly series of four assaults by the Allies in the Italian Campaign of WWII. Monte Cassino, part of the Gustav defensive line was an historic hilltop abbey founded in AD529.

Between 17 Jan – 18 May 1944 for 123 days Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line were the scene of some of the most ferocious fighting in the European Theatre of Operations.

In February 1944 number 1, 2 and 3 RAF Regiment Wings were formed, the complex nature of the campaign required such formations to command all these Units.

Twenty RAF Regiment Squadrons were involved at various stages during the long hard slog up the Italian peninsular. The Corps operated under both US 5th Army and British 8th Army.

It’s a grim life clinging tenaciously to the side of steep hill with the Germans in strength on the other side and the RAF Regiment men holding a sector of the front line…

Corporal Alf Blackett of 2771 Squadron, RAF Regiment

2771 Squadron RAF Regiment listening to a briefing at their base camp, before moving up to the front line on Colle Belvedere, north of Cassino, Italy.

LAC J Sledmore of Doncaster, serving with 2771 Sqn RAF Regiment, cleaning his Bren gun at the entrance to his foxhole on the Colle Belvedere, north of Cassino, Italy.

A mortar party of 2771 Sqn RAF Regiment make their way to the front line from Squadron HQ on the Colle Belvedere, north of Cassino, Italy.

RAF Regiment gunners packing a 3-inch mortar for transport to the front lines north of Cassino, Italy.

…soon after we got to Italy, in about March 1944, our Commandant had a bright idea, he decided to lend his boys to the US 5th Army. The only nice thing to come out of this for us was that we had American rations and were able to watch films. However, very soon we were in the Line.

2788 Squadron field notes

Photo sources copyright IWM with the last being colourised by Doug from the WW2 Colourised Photos page on Facebook.


Battle of Monte Cassino

By the end of 1943, the Allied advance northwards into Italy had forced the Germans back to the fourth and best fortified of their defensive lines. The Gustav Line ran through the mountainous regions of Abruzzi and Campania, south west of Rome.

At the centre of the line, blocking the route to Rome, was the town of Cassino, dominated by the mountain of Monte Cassino with its 1,400 year old Benedictine abbey. The abbey had been evacuated by the Germans following the Allied landings both the Germans and the Allies had assured the Vatican that it would not be put to military use or attacked.

In December 1943 General Bernard Montgomery returned to Britain in preparation for the Normandy landings his place as commander of the 8th Army was taken by General Oliver Leese.

In January 1944 General Harold Alexander, the overall commander of US and British armies in the area, launched a two-part assault on the Gustav Line. On 17 January Clark's 10th Corps, including American, British and French Moroccan troops, broke through the Gustav Line west of Monte Cassino.

The attack was to be supported by 6th Corps, which was to establish and then move out from a beachhead at Anzio, 95km (60 miles) behind the Gustav Line. The line was breached in several places, but the crucial valley headed by Monte Cassino remained under German control, and 6th Corps did not succeed in breaking out from Anzio.

On 15 February, the 8th Army made a renewed assault on the mountain using Indian and New Zealand troops. The attack was repulsed, but it had been preceded by a heavy bomber attack which all but destroyed the abbey. As well as being unjustified in military terms, the bombing was counter productive: the Germans did not use the abbey until after it had been bombed, when they started using its ruins for shelter. A second assault on 15 March was preceded by aerial bombardment of the town of Cassino the result was a stalemate.

Alexander launched Operation Diadem, a final co-ordinated assault on the Gustav Line, on 11 May. While 5th Army made a flanking attack to the south, aiming to converge with a breakout from Anzio by the 6th Corps, the 8th Army made a frontal assault on the line at Cassino, using British, Canadian and Indian troops.

In addition, Cassino was outflanked by French Moroccan 8th Army troops in the west and a Polish division in the north. Kesselring ordered German withdrawal on 16 May the Poles entered Cassino two days later.

With the breakout from Anzio finally achieved on 23 May, the reunited armies pursued the Germans north. Rather than attempting to encircle the retreating German forces, Clark directed the 5th Army onward towards Rome. The Caesar Line, Kesselring's last defensive line south of Rome, was breached on 2 June two days later the city fell to the 5th Army.

Marked by outstanding military achievement in appalling conditions, the battles of Monte Cassino opened the road to Rome and the beginning of the end for the German occupation of Italy. But the human and material cost was high, and the Allies had not succeeded in seriously disrupting the Germans' staged withdrawal to prepared defensive positions.

After the war, the Allies insisted that the bombing of the abbey had been justified, and that they had solid evidence that the buildings had been used as a part of German defences. A 1949 report concluded that no such evidence existed, but it was kept from the public until 30 years later.


"Cruel Necessity": The Story of The First Battle of Monte Cassino

While the Allies would eventually defeat the Germans here, their first attempt was a costly failure.

On the evening of January 24, backed by tanks, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 133rd Regiment attacked the German defenses. With the regiment’s 2nd Battalion still back in North Africa, the 100th Infantry Battalion, composed of Japanese-Americans from Hawaii, was committed to this, its first battle.

The 133rd immediately ran into the minefield. The tanks hurled more than 1,000 75mm shells into the high far bank of the river to break it down, but with no success. By midnight the following day, the 3rd/133rd was the only battalion across the river, holding a shallow bridgehead. The 1st/133rd found its stream unfordable. All day the 133rd struggled to cross the river, and by midnight all three battalions were across.

From a Withdrawal to a Rout

On the 26th, Ryder sent in troops and tanks to reinforce the bridgehead, but the lead tanks became bogged down in the flooded quagmire, blocking the advance for the remaining vehicles. The 100th Battalion’s attacks were repulsed. The 1st/133rd was forced back across its start line. More than 300 casualties were suffered, and the regiment’s morale was sinking fast. But the attack had to go on. Ryder committed the 168th Regiment, which had been his exploitation reserve.

Early on January 27, the 168th launched its attack, slightly upriver, with a platoon of tanks from the 756th Tank Battalion leading the 1st and 3rd battalions. Most of the tanks slid into the bogs, but four of them were able to make it to the far shore, followed by infantry. All four were out of action from antitank fire, mines, and artillery by 1 pm, but they did their job, as the 168th reached the base of Hill 213 early on the 28th. Unbelievably, the commander of the lead company decided his position was untenable by daylight and ordered a withdrawal to the river. “As he did so,” Martin Blumenson wrote in the U.S. Army’s official history, “the withdrawal turned into an uncontrollable rout. The troops fled across the river.”

The panic spread, and other companies began fleeing. Once the withdrawals were checked, the 3rd/168th regrouped and headed 500 yards north to another crossing point, where they went over again, this time advancing a mile toward the village of Caira. This crossing point proved workable. While the infantry dug in for the night, engineers built “corduroy” roads of logs and tree trunks to enable the tanks of the 756th and 760th Battalions to cross the swampy ground for a new three-battalion attack on the 29th.

“It is a Matter of Honor”

Meanwhile, the French prepared their second attack. Juin briefed Monsabert on the plan, but the 3rd Algerian Division’s commander objected. Juin did not like the plan, either. He was expected to hit one of the least accessible parts of the Gustav Line. The defenses included the 1,669-meter-high Monte Cairo, higher than the monastery, and the 800-meter high Colle Belvedere, all under German artillery observation from Monte Cifalco, a 947-foot pinnacle. Juin wanted to take Monte Cifalco and sweep across the mountains, taking the Gustav Line and the Cassino Massif from behind. Instead, he was ordered into a frontal assault on the massif. Nevertheless, Juin was determined to succeed. He had to demonstrate the French Expeditionary Corps’ loyalty to the Allied cause. “It is a matter of honor,” he told Monsabert. That was all Monsabert needed.

The 3rd Algerian’s Tunisian regiments were tapped to lead the attack. Lacking mules, the Tirailleurs hiked for eight hours through the mountains carrying their supplies to the forward positions. Each man stolidly followed a white patch tied to the pack of the man in front of him. Sergeant Rene Martin of the 4th Tunisian Regiment’s 3rd Battalion led his mortar section across the Secco River, and everybody was soaked through before they could attack. Men also had to wade across the ice-cold Rapido, through water up to their armpits.

The 3rd Battalion’s commanding officer, Commandant Gandoët, wrote, “The battalion is physically and mentally ready. Ready to lead a bayonet charge, to be killed on the mountainside, to deal the enemy all sorts of blows.” The 3rd/4th Tunisian was assigned to capture Hill 470 and then push on to take the high ground, Hill 862, on the northern end of the Belvedere/Abate escarpment. The axis of attack would be “Gandoët Ravine,” which would give the Tunisians cover from shellfire and the advantage of surprise.

The 2nd/4th Tunisian, under Commandant Berne, was to grab the southern end of Colle Belvedere and hit Colle Abate. The 1st/4th Tunisian was the regimental reserve for exploitation.

“Cruel Necessity”

The French attacked at 7 am on January 25. They found the defending Germans as ferocious as ever. The French stormed their way through to the summit of Hill 470 against massive counterattacks. Captain Denee, commanding the 3rd/4th Tunisian’s 9th Company, was wounded in the chest. He crawled to his radio operator and whispered into the mike and to Gandoët: “Denee here … I’m wounded … about to take the objective … I’m handing over command to Lt. El Hadi. Terribly difficult. Don’t worry, the 9th will make it … they’ll make it … to the bitter end.” El Hadi, a Tunisian, leaped to his feet and led his men up the crest.

The 9th Company reached the top, was thrown back by a counterattack, and attacked again. El Hadi had his forearm sliced off by a shell, but he fought on, dragging his arm behind him, the men following, until he was hit by a machine-gun bullet atop Hill 470 and died.

With 470 taken, Gandoët pressed the attack. The 3rd/4th Tunisians found “Ravine Gandoët” to be a steeply sloped gorge, blocked by rocky slabs, 2,500 feet high—three times the height of the Eiffel Tower. The Tunisians climbed the mountain walls with their hands, feet, and teeth. They came under German machine-gun fire, so the Tunisians knocked out the German positions with hand grenades. German shellfire commenced at 4 pm, but still the Tunisians climbed the gorge, freezing, exhausted, thirsty, drenched in sweat. Men nearly blacked out from exhaustion.

After the eight-hour climb, the Tunisians reached their objective, Hill 681, atop Colle Belvedere. It turned out to be lightly defended —the Germans did not think anybody could climb the gorge—and the Tunisians made short work of their attack, sweeping forward and killing most of the defenders, setting the rest to flight. At dusk, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and out of communication with their regiment, the Tunisians dug in atop their objective.

The 2nd/4th Tunisians drove south of Colle Belvedere to Hill 700, and more Tunisians reinforced the weary men atop Belvedere, then pressed on to Hill 862. Without rest, under heavy fire, the Tunisians climbed the mountains all night, finally securing “Le Piton sans Nom” at 2 am.

The French had taken their objectives but were exhausted from the ordeal. Captain Carre, who commanded the 1st Company of the 1st/4th Tunisians, wrote, “Night black, visibility zero, we trample over corpses they’re ours, one with no head, his guts spilling out.” Colonel Roux, commanding the regiment, asked Monsabert for a 24-hour delay on resuming the attack but was told it was “out of the question.” The Germans were reinforcing. If the French delayed, the Germans would strengthen their defenses. “Prepare to attack 862 and 915 without delay,” Monsabert said. Monsabert later added to the transcript of the radio message, “Cruel necessity.”

Hold at All Costs

Now the Germans were truly worried for the first time by the repeated Allied offensives. If the Allies were having supply problems with the mountains, the German situation was worse, exacerbated by Anglo-American air interdiction of roads and railways. But the standard German riposte to an enemy attack was a counterattack, and Senger hurled his Austrian troops against the Frenchmen, driving them back to the Secco River.

Sergeant Rene Martin was just finishing setting up a position for his mortars when a warrant officer suddenly shouted, “Get out, get out, get out.” An entire German regiment was advancing. Martin and his mortarmen retreated, and Gandoët’s troops atop Belvedere found themselves being shot at from all sides. For five days, Martin and one of his sergeants lay in a German foxhole, without water or food, under shellfire. Martin held a tin of peas against his lips to ease the chapping.

On Colle Belvedere, the 11th Company of the 3rd/4th Tunisians hung on all day, out of radio contact for most of it. The only orders they got: hold at all costs. The Germans hurled mortar rounds at the Frenchmen. “We are organizing the position,” the company’s war diary read. “Nobody sleeps. No water.Little to eat. The ration boxes were thrown away during the climb because they were too heavy. We must hang on … we stay where we are.”

That evening, the French reinforced the 1st/3rd Algerians to plug the Secco Valley, while the 3rd/7th Algerians were sent to take over Hill 700. Roux decided to hold off on the attack until the reserves had arrived. At dawn on the 27th, Gandoët’s battalion started out of its ravine, across the Secco, and up the escarpments, under heavy German shelling. The men hauled up machine guns, mortars, shells, radios on their backs, under heavy fire, to reinforce the exhausted 11th Company up on the high ground.


North Africa Campaign and El Alamein

On the 10 June 1940, Italy, Germany’s main European ally, declared war in North Africa, hoping to make territorial gains.

A series of counter offensives followed. The Italians soon captured Sidi Barranim, a town near the border of Libya, in September, and the British defeated the Italian Army and the German Afrika Korps in December.

The situation reached a head in the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942, which became a key turning point in the war.

The First Battle of El Alamein had stopped the German and Italian troops advance completely in July 1942.

The German and Italian troops were expecting an attack, and sheltered behind a minefield. The Allied invasion took place in two parts: an intense bombing campaign followed by infantry attack which then cleared the way for armoured divisions to break through the German defences.

The German and Italian troops were in a weak position, with their leader, Erwin Rommel, in hospital from the 23 September onwards. They also had little fuel or transport. As the Allied troops attacked on the 23 October 1942, von Stumme, Rommel’s replacement, had a heart attack and died. Rommel returned from hospital to retake command on the 25 October 1942.

By the 2 November 1942, the defenses were near breaking point. Rommel withdrew his troops on the 4 November 1942. By the 11 November, the battle was over, leaving the Allied troops victorious.

The battle marked a turning point in the North Africa campaign, reviving the morale of the Allied troops following the failure of the Battle of France. Following the battle, the Allied troops launched the Tunisia Campaign, the last Axis stronghold in North Africa.

After a winter stalemate in 1942, with both sides building up reinforcements, the Allied troops advanced and surrounded the Axis troops. On the 13 May 1943, the Axis forces in North Africa surrendered. All Axis territory was captured along with 275,000 experienced troops. It represented a significant reduction of Axis power.

The Allies turned their forces to the war in mainland Europe.


The Fourth Battle of Monte Cassino. The Poles Discover the Key to Cassino, Point 593

The British and Americans knew the destruction of the Abbey at Monte Cassino in February changed the calculus of the battle, though they did not realize its extent. The key to the Liri Valley and Route 6 to Rome was the town of Cassino the key to Cassino was Castle Hill, the key to Castle Hill was Hangman’s Hill and the key to Hangman’s Hill was the Abbey itself. Since the clumsy and brutish destruction of the Abbey allowed the Germans to fortify it, the Brits and Americans assumed that it needed to be the focus of the battle. But as the Germans suspected, and the Italians knew, that this was not the case: the key to the Abbey was actually Point 593, which was a small hillock just to the northwest on Snakeshead Ridge.

In the previous three battles, a supporting attack was always launched against Pt 593, but only to prevent enfilading fire on the main attack or tie down counterattack forces, not to capture it. When the Polish II Corps received the mission to take the Abbey, the corps’s staff naturally started its mission analysis. During their initial intelligence preparation of the battlefield, a young analyst did his research on the area and noticed the ruins of a small 17th century Papal star fort on Pt 593. But why was that star fort in such an inaccessible location? Digging into the history of the area for the answer, he found that the star fort (and presumably the earlier medieval keep ruins beneath it) provided a last desperate refuge for the monks during Italy’s turbulent past. Control of the star fort by the monks ensured that if it wasn’t also captured, the Abbey was untenable. The analyst studied the terrain further and found that the Allies could reverse engineer the battle: If Pt 593 fell, the Abbey would fall if the Abbey fell, Hangman’s Hill would fall if Hangman’s Hill fell, Castle Hill would fall if the Castle fell, Cassino would fall. And if Cassino fell, the Road to Rome through the Liri Valley was open.

So think of the Abbey as a typical suburban American house. The star fort on Point 593 was (and still is) a sort of combination storage shed and fortified zombie apocalypse safehouse in the back corner of the monastery backyard. Also, it butt’s up against the back fence (Snakeshead ridge), so unless you climb over the back fence, you can’t approach the shed (Pt 593) except through the house (the Abbey).

In that context, think of the Liri Valley as the street the house is on. Throughout the Monastery’s 1500 year history, any army wishing to drive down the street, i.e. exit or enter the Liri Valley to capture Naples or Rome, had to secure the Monstaery because it dominated traffic on the street. To do this some secured Papal approval because the Monastery was property of the Papal States, governed directly by the Roman Catholic Church. But most chose to capture the Abbey.

These historic encounters usually followed a similar pattern. The attackers would initially try storming the hill, and inevitably fail. There would then be a siege. Shortly thereafter, the attackers would get restless because they were wasting time and resources on the Monastery that would be required for use on Rome or Naples. So they would get impatient and launch multiple costly assaults, which would wear down the monks and their defenders. When capture was imminent, the monks would then retire to the small fortress on Pt 593 and the attackers would flood victoriously into the Monastery. That was, until they got into the backyard and were stopped cold by the defenders on Pt 593. The star fort on Pt 593 made the northwest corner of the abbey untenable and the space between the monastery and the fort a killing ground, i.e. the backyard in our house simile.

Now here’s the true genius of Pt 593: Occupying it could only tangentially affected the Liri Valley. Attackers that captured the monastery but not Pt. 593 could enter and exit the Liri Valley at will, even with the monks still occupying the back corner of the backyard. However, it was to the backyard of the Monastery what the Monastery was to the Liri Valley: As the Monastery made passage in the Valley difficult, Pt 593 made the northwest portion of the Monastery grounds untenable. So naturally, the attackers looked at Pt 593, then looked at the valley, then looked back at Pt 593 and said, “Screw this, I’m not attacking that, I’m done with this place. We need to move onto Rome (or Naples).” And the invaders would invariably move on to Rome or Naples, and leave a token force to keep the monks isolated in the star fort. This was the signal for the monks to make the attackers lives miserable until they either left, or were weakened sufficiently that the monks could burst forth from Pt 593 and slaughter them. In either case, the monks would then reclaim the Abbey, clean up the debris, restock the library, and resume the Rule of St Benedict, at least until someone else wanted to enter or exit the Liri Valley without the Pope’s permission.

In the mid twentieth century, this all changed. Modern engineering, improved and efficient aerial and ground logistics, proper reconnaissance and modern firepower lessened the formidability of the terrain. Snakehead Ridge was still impassable to vehicles and even to mules in some places, but the French in January proved that that was no barrier to a successful assault, if you had prepared properly, conducted a sufficient recce, surprised your enemy, had a touch of élan, and most importantly, threw a ton of soldiers at it.

To deceive the Germans, the Polish II Corps planned to execute the same plan as the Indians and Kiwis before them. But since they had a larger force along the same frontage, they would weigh the attack on Pt 593 from over Snakeshead Ridge, thereby breaking the historic cycle, by taking Pt 593 before the Abbey. As the monks knew, this would make the backyard and NW side of the Abbey untenable, but this time not for the attackers, but for the defenders, the Germans.

The young Polish analyst presented his findings, and the Corps operations officer issued initial reconnaissance guidance to confirm it. Unfortunately, the Poles were not yet in the line at Cassino and moreover, Operation Nunton forbade any patrolling to minimize the risk of capture. But MajGen Wladyslaw Anders, the Polish II Corps’ Commander, was so intrigued with the information that on 5 April 1944, he personally undertook a dangerous low level aerial reconnaissance of the area. Though he was nearly killed for his efforts, he confirmed the analyst’s assessment and issued his commander’s planning guidance accordingly. Disconcertingly, he found that the Germans turned the area around the ruins of the star fort in a hellish maze of mines, wire, interlocking fields of fire, and preregistered artillery. On the other hand, he also saw it was possible, if improbable, to capture Pt 593 from the north and northeast, but only if the attack was properly planned and coordinated. Unlike the Americans, the British, the Indians, and the Kiwis the Poles’ main objective during the Battle for Monte Cassino would be Point 593, not the Monastery itself.


Service [ edit | edit source ]

Gunners of the 2/4th Field Regiment fire a 25-pounder Short at Japanese positions during the Battle of Balikpapan in July 1945

QF 25-pounder Short guns were first issued to Australian Army units in August 1943, and one of each field artillery regiments three batteries was re-equipped with the new guns. Η] ⎜] Field batteries equipped with the guns normally consisted of a headquarters and two troops each with four guns, seven jeeps and a D6 tractor. ⎝] Like the standard 25-pounder, each gun had a crew of six men. Ώ] The commander of New Guinea Force's artillery, Brigadier L.E.S. Barker, preferred the 75mm pack howitzer to the 25-pounder Short, and tried to prevent the new gun being issued, but was overruled by Brigadier O'Brien. ⎚] The guns were first used in action by the 7th Division during the landing at Nadzab, when a detachment of the 2/4th Field Regiment was dropped by parachute with two guns. ΐ] One gun was assembled and ready to fire within an hour, but the buffer and recuperator of the other took two days to locate in the long grass. ⎞] The QF 25-pounder Short continued to be used by some Australian artillery units in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Borneo until the end of the war, and was declared obsolete in 1946. ⎟]

The QF 25-pounder Short received a mixed reception by the Army. Some artillerymen complained about the gun's sharp recoil, and the short barrel and absence of a shield meant that its crew were exposed to a heavy blast effect when it was fired. ΐ] Guns were sometimes put out of action by damage caused by the absorption of violent recoil. The gun also had a tendency to tilt at low elevation this was remedied by its crew standing on the trails, an expedient that had previously been used with the QF 4.5 inch Howitzer. Other limitations included a low rate of fire (three or four rounds per minute) and difficulties towing the weapon. ⎞] Concerns were also raised over the quality of workmanship, and the commander of the 2/4th Field Regiment rejected a batch of Short 25-pounders sent to his unit before the Nadzab operation in the belief that they had been poorly manufactured. Inspectors subsequently concluded that most of his criticisms were unfounded, however. ⎠] The most important deficiency compared to the regular 25-pounder was the shorter range. As a result of its experience with the gun, the 9th Division recommended that they be pooled and reserved for their special role rather than be employed in a day-to-day role alongside the regular 25 pounder. ⎞]

Post-war assessments of the gun's performance are generally positive. The Australian official history acknowledged the QF 25-pounder Short's limitations, but argued that these were the result of it being developed to perform a specialised role for which some trade-offs in performance were needed, and that on balance it was a successful weapon. ΐ] Historian and retired Major General Steve Gower has assessed the gun as being "undoubtedly one of the more significant Australian weapon developments of the Second World War" as it represented a success in adapting a foreign-designed weapon to meet the Australian Army's requirements. ⎙] British historian Chris Henry has also written that the gun "gave good service, and was robust enough to survive life in the jungle even though many modifications were needed". Η]


Watch the video: The Battle of Monte Cassino #WWII (January 2022).