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Digital Subscriptions > Italia! > Nov 2019 > THE BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO

THE BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO

In this month of remembrance, Nick Inman and Joe Staines tell the tragic story of the conflict that took place around the Abbey of Monte Cassino during the Second World War…
The Abbey of Monte Cassino was one of the great architectural casualties of the Second World War. At the start of 1944, it was one of the finest medieval buildings in Italy; by that summer it had been reduced to ruins, and a number of innocent civilians had lost their lives. It has since been rebuilt, but the lessons learned that spring should not be forgotten.

The US Fifth Army left Naples in early October 1943 and moved north. Its commander, General Mark Clark, was confident that Rome would be taken by the end of the month. Allied planners, however, had misread Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring. They thought the Germans would put up token resistance in central Italy before pulling back to defend its north. But the Germans fought doggedly, knowing that the mountainous topography of the Italian peninsula favoured the defender. During one battle, the American war correspondent John Gunther observed that “whereas we are exposed in the plain, the Germans are high up, with good cover.”

This description could be applied to almost any confrontation between the Allied and Axis forces in Italy over the next year and a half. Kesselring’s strategy was to dig in along a series of defensive lines, observing the enemy from altitude and using direct artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire to slow the attacking troops. In this way, he sought to delay the advance for as long as possible. If he was forced to retreat, he would simply fall back on the next line of defence. Retreating German troops destroyed bridges and laid mines and booby traps across roads and paths to hinder the advancing Allies.

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About Italia!

We begin on the heel of Italy this month, where a return visit to Puglia is both a trip down memory lane and a voyage of discovery, exploring places like Ostuni, Locorotondo, Lecce and, of course, Alberobello. Venice after dark is our next adventure, when a night walk through the city reveals the ghostly secrets of days gone by. Hop on the Italian ‘Trans-Siberian Express’ for a journey through Abruzzo and Molise, and in this month of remembrance we pay tribute with the story of Monte Cassino, one of the Second World War’s most tragic battles.