Monte Cassino, Italy: The landings at Anzio had failed to outflank the Gustav Line, making an Allied breakthrough there in the Mediterranean an imperative. The New-Zealand Corps was ordered in early 1944 to lead an attack up the Liri Valley, which was overlooked by the historic Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, perched high over the coastal road from Naples to Rome. The Allies’ advance through this area would end in the monastery’s and area’s ultimate destruction.
The New Zealand commander Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg insisted that the monastery be bombed before his men advanced. He believed that the Germans were using it as an artillery observation post and that heavy weapons were stored there. In fact, on the night of the attack the only soldiers anywhere near the monastery were three military policemen stationed there to keep troops out. However, a German message intercepted by the Allies had been mistranslated. It said: “Wo ist der Abt? Ist er noch im Kloster?” In German Abt is the military abbreviation for abteilung, which means a “section,” or “squad”. So the message was translated as: “Where is the squad? Is it still in the monastery?” However abt is also German for “abbot”, and the message actually meant: “Where is the abbot? Is he still in the monastery?”
So, on the morning of 15 February 1944, 229 American bombers dropped 453 tons of incendiaries and high explosives on the monastery, reducing it to rubble. This did not lead to the breakthrough that the Allies craved. So on 15 March, 775 planes dropped 1,250 tons of bombs on the small town of Cassino, which was also shelled for two hours. However, the rubble created provided excellent defensive positions, and fighting in the streets of Cassino resembled a mini-Stalingrad, while on the slopes of Monte Cassino the Ghurkas had to fight hard for just a few feet of ground. On 23 March, Freyberg called off the Attack. It had cost over 2,000 lives and had achieved none of its objectives.
Monte Cassino wouldn’t fall until 18 May 1945.
May 07, 2012, 2:01pm / 47