Fonthill's Monte Cassino January-May 1944
|$30.00 MSRP from Casemate|
176 pages, hardback
Monte Cassino was one of the best examples of how to defend a territory as was shown during WWII. Italy was pretty much a secondary theater in Europe. The Allies were focused more on the invasion of northwest Europe than any other area of the European Theater. It was also a fairly secondary theater for the Germans, but with the withdrawal from the war by Italy, Germany had to send troops to slow down the Allied advance. Frankly, the Germans were not only quite successful in removing troops from Sicily, but also in holding back Allied advances northward.
Of course, this was 'helped' by the US having General Mark Clark as the man in charge. Here is an ego bigger than Patton's or Montgomery's whose only reason for prosecuting the war in Italy was to get to Rome and enter the city as its liberator. Hence the landing at Anzio which came to a screeching halt and was almost pushed back into the sea. It also provides a reason that a frontal assault up the Liri Valley was deemed to be necessary. Never mind that the Germans had been provided sufficient time to fortify this area. Never mind that it was defended, in the most part, by some of the toughest and most tenacious troops the Germans had, the fallshirmjaegers. These are the 'green devils' mentioned in the book's title.
The Liri river valley was surrounded on both sides by mountain ranges. On one side was the ancient monestary of Monte Cassino, which overlooked the entire entrance to the valley. The Germans had promised that they would not place troop in the monastery, a promise that they kept. The Allies had also promised that they would not attack it. However, as it turns out, that was a promise broken and it was bombed to rubble. One thing about rubble is that it makes for a great defensive position so the Germans quickly moved in.
On the Allied side, Clark ordered frontal assaults. These assaults had to cross the river, which was flowing strong. The results of their assaults was carnage as unit after unit was either decimated trying to cross or unable to make a bridgehead across the river. No cover and the Germans on the high ground in addition to well place mine fields and lots of barbed wire made advancement pretty much impossible.
Allied bombing of the German positions also proved to be ineffective. Tank warfare was nearly impossible as well as tanks do not do well in mountainous terrain and attempts at using tanks only meant a lot of destroyed and disabled armor littering the battlefield.
Still, Clark insisted on frontal assaults, despite the recommendations of some of his commanders that there was a better way. This did little more than reduce the combat effectiveness of units down to near zero. On the German side, all these attacks took their toll, but when you have the best defending, you can accomplish much. German supplies were still able to come in and keep weary troops in bread and bullets.
Monte Cassino has to be one of the heroic struggles of all time, on both sides of the lines. The stiff German resistance, even when greatly outnumbered along with the bravery and dogged determination of the Allies, even with failed attack after failed attack makes for an incredible read. A book that does a superb job of telling the story on both sides and one that I give my hightest recommendation.
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