On a cold winter day of January 17, 1944, the Allies launched one of the longest and bloodiest battles fought against the Italian offensive which became known as the Battle of Monte Cassino.
Despite the fact that Italy had conceded to the allies on September 3, 1943, Germany was bent on fighting for dominance of the Italian mainland. In a string of head-on offensives, the Allies gradually fought their way up the Italian peninsula to Monte Cassino, approximately 75 miles south of Rome.
However, their attempts were hindered by poor weather, challenging topography, and a German defense that was resilient. General Kesselring’s troops did all they could to hold off Allied forces at the Gustav Line. On January 17, 1944, the first offensive for the Battle of Monte Cassino began with British troops storming the coast along a 20-mile-wide front held by the Germans.
Two days later, the Allies launched a second offensive only to be met with additional forces that the Germans had requested from Rome in order to bolster their defenses. Fighting would go on for several more weeks with Allied forces making progress only to lose it again.
On January 22, 1944, while fighting was still going on, Allied forces launched Operation Shingle, sending 36,000 soldiers to Anzio. The Allied forces were met with little resistance from the Germans not expecting an attack from behind. Instead of advancing onward, Kesselring decided to further bolster his defenses. This gave him time to build up a counteroffensive that enabled the Germans to keep the Allied forces pinned down for 4 months.
In the meantime, Allied commanders assumed that the Germans had constructed observation posts at the Benedictine monastery on Monte Cassino. Since the site was of cultural and historic importance, there was no rush to bomb it. However, many were convinced that the Germans were already occupying it and that they should bomb it. In the month of 15 February 1944, the Allies gave the order to bomb the historic monastery, shelling it for several days. When it was all over, the monastery lay in ruins. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep the Germans from occupying it.
With two more attempts failing to try to infiltrate the Gustav Line, the Allies established Operation Diadem. Allied forces made up of British, American, French, Polish, New Zealand, and South Africa forces were set up in neighboring sectors intended at pressuring the Germans to withdraw. Even though fighting was intense, the Allied forces were able to achieve victory within one week. On May 18, 1944, Polish units captured the mountaintop monastery.
This victory provided the Allies to enter Rome and liberate it on June 4, 1944. Two days afterward, Eisenhower’s troops made landfall in Normandy.
The embittered Battle of Monte Cassino was a decisive triumph contributing to the advance to Rome. Despite its triumph, the conflict produced a significant number of casualties. In all, 55,000 Allies and 20,000 Germans died in the battle.