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 Axes 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. They had, however, 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.
The operation was planned by the US General Ira Eaker at the request of the Allied ground forces, believing the monastery to be a German stronghold. Very few enemy troops were there at the time but over 300 women and children from the town of Cassino, who had fled the fighting and taken refuge in the monastery, were killed. By the time that the Polish 12th Podolski Lancers
, under General Wladyslaw Anders, raised their regimental flag on the ruins of Monte Cassino at 9.30am their casualty rates were 3,779 killed or wounded. The flag was hastily sewn together from pieces of a Red Cross flag and soldiers’ handkerchiefs. The Monastery was rebuilt after the war and reconsecrated by Pope Paul V1 in 1964. General Wladyslaw Anders lies buried in the Polish Cemetery at Monte Cassino.
Between 17 January and 18 May, Monte Cassino and the Gustav defences 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 tolled some 55.000 Allied casualties, with German losses being far fewer, estimated at around 20.000 killed and wounded.