Steve T is offline
Join Date: Apr 2001
Ah, Raz you beat me to it. Maybe search for each of the file names on Google and see if they have been cached. When you view a Google cached page the links of course will not work as the point to ther source server not the cached area on Google.
Here is one:
The Battles for Monte Cassino and the Defence of the Gustav Line
January – May 1944
"Whoever is master of the hill is master of the valley"
With an account by Fallschirmjäger-Pioniere veteran Bob Frettlöhr
The soft underbelly
After the Axis retreat and allied victory on the island of Sicily, it was only a matter of time before the Allies carried out a landing on the mainland of Italy, the "soft underbelly of Europe". This they did on the toe of Italy, when the British 8th Army landed at Reggio on the 3rd September and Taranto on the 9th. Both of these landings were uncontested by the Germans as they had pulled out of the area some time before.
The US 5th Army then landed on the west coast further north at Salerno on September 9th 1943 to coincide with the Italian armistice. This move was predicted by the commander of German forces in Italy, Field Marshall Kesselring. In expectation of a landing at Salerno the 16th Panzer Division was moved to the area to meet the invasion. The German 10th Army was then mobilized behind the 16th Panzer to help drive the Allied invasion force back into the sea.
The Gustav Line
If the unexpected happened and the German 10th Army could not contain the Allies, they could withdrawal to prepared positions which ran across the width of central Italy, from the mouth of the Sangro river in the east, through the Abruzzi mountain region to the mouths of the Rapido/Garigliano rivers on the west coast. This defensive position was to be known as the Gustav line and within its defensive line stood the town of Cassino.
Less than a kilometre west of Cassino town stood Monte Cassino towering 1700 ft above the town below.
On top of Monte Cassino stood the centuries old Benedictine Monastery, the scene of many battles over the centuries. Monte Cassino became the hub of the German Gustav line, situated 100 miles south east of Rome. It dominated the surrounding countryside, including the Liri valley that ran through the mountains to the north and Route 6, the main highway linking the south to Rome which snaked around Monastery Hill. It also had a perfect view of the town below. Monte Cassino was surrounded by other peaks and hills, directly behind the town stood Castle Hill, crowned by a crumbling fort known to the Allies as point 192. Point 435 or Hangman's Hill was another hill that sprouted from the slopes of Monte Cassino. Just over 1 km to the northwest stood point 593, or Calvary Hill. Just to the north of Calvary stood point 445, or Snakeshead Hill. All of these hills were to be the scene of much bloodshed.
Back at Salerno the unexpected did happen, the allied forces pushed back the defending Germans, the allies gained air superiority and were being supported by warships stationed offshore and by the 15th had the upper hand at Salerno. The order was given for the German forces to withdrawal northwards toward the Gustav line. The 2 allied armies meanwhile, linked up on the 16th, southeast of Salerno.
Cassino town was first bombed on the 10th September when targets all along the Garigliano river were hit. It caused heavy casualties amongst the civilian population, many took refuge in the monastery at Monte Cassino. Soon after the bombing, the first units of the 14th Panzer Corps that had withdrawn from the south started to arrive at Cassino. They immediately started to dig themselves in around Monte Cassino and fortifying the town below. The approaches to the town were mined and they flooded the countryside in front of the Rapido east of Cassino town and awaited the allied advance.
The 14th Panzer Corps couldn't live up to their title, they were desperately short of tanks and had to rely mainly on infantry, amongst their ranks men of the 1st Parachute Division who had been moved from the Adriatic sector held by LI Gebirgs Korps.
The allied forces now started their advance into central Italy, the US 5th Army in the west and the British 8th Army in the east, on their way northwards they took Foggia, with its important airfields on 27th September, the port of Naples on 5th October and the island of Corsica taken on 11th September by French forces.
The winter weather caused General Alexander, commander of the Allied 5th Army Group, to call a halt to the advance on 15th November.
By the time the 5th Army Group had resumed their advance, the Germans had firmly dug themselves in on the Gustav defensive line in expectation of the allied offensive.
The British 8th Army on the eastern flank met determined and fierce resistance from forces of the LI Gebirgs Corps and became bogged down in the bad weather. In the west, the US 5th Army faced divisions of the XIV Panzer Corps. It appeared to the allies that the Gustav line was not going to be easily cracked. The whole front slipped into stalemate.
Facing the Cassino front the allies now had seven Commonwealth divisions, containing men from India, New Zealand, South Africa (who had an armoured division in reserve) & Brazil, also five American, five British, four French and three Polish Divisions. A formidable force.
The Allied governments accused the Germans of using the Monastery as a strong point, which they strongly denied, although they were dug in on the slopes of the monastery. German positions had been blasted into the rock and well camouflaged. An artillery observation post was constructed below the monastery that was able to signal German batteries and direct fire onto any of the surrounding allied positions. This post was also home to observers from the German 71st Mortar Regiment, whose well concealed mortar batteries could rain deadly shells down on any of the surrounding countryside. A cave beneath the monastery had been turned into an ammunition storage area.
The Germans had encompassed Monte Cassino into their defence line so the allies, although reluctant to do so, agreed that in the near future it would probably have to be bombed.
It was Oberst Schlegel of the Hermann Goering Panzer Division who was responsible for getting all the treasures and works of art within the Monastery, out of harms way before they could be destroyed. They were removed in October to a safer location in the north before being handed over to the Italian government.
The First Battle
The first allied assault on the Gustav line came on the 17th January 1944 to coincide with the landings at Anzio, planned for the 22nd. The British 10th Corps was to cross the Garigliano river west of Cassino and try to outflank German positions around the Liri Valley. The French Expeditionary Corps was to move through the mountains in the east and complete the flanking manoeuvre. In the centre the US 2nd Corps would cross the Rapido river a few miles south of Cassino town and enter the Liri Valley from the front. Both the British and the French had limited success, they never managed to complete the flanking manoeuvre. They met heavy resistance and all they could do was dig in around the hills and mountains behind Monte Cassino.
The American 36th Division spent a couple of days preparing for their assault. Boats were bought up to the front to carry the men across the Rapido. On the 20th they started their assault. The going was tough, the Rapido was not as easy to cross as they thought, many boats and their occupants were lost in the crossing. They were supported by artillery who bought shells down on the German defenders dug in on the opposite bank. As the 36th approached the opposite side their artillery stopped and the murderous German fire started. Some elements of the 36th reached the other side of the river and attacked German positions.
During the night, engineers constructed bridges to reinforce the men on the other side, but as daylight came artillery was brought down on them from Monte Cassino. The Americans on the German side found themselves surrounded.
Through the next night, more bridges were built across the Rapido to reinforce the small bridgehead, but still they were held at bay. The order to pull back was given on the 22nd , not before the 36th had suffered heavy casualties. On the 24th January, the US 34th Division crossed the Rapido east of Cassino to try and outflank German positions. Over the next few days they moved around the hills and mountains until they came within a few hundred yards of Monastery Hill. They took heavy casualties in the process and were unable to get close to Monte Cassino. They started to dig in.
This first assault on the Cassino front of the Gustav line had not been very successful, with only pockets of allied resistance dotted around the slopes of surrounding hills and mountains. They had been unable to penetrate the excellent German defences, whose positions dominated the surrounding area.
On the 22nd January, British and Americans of the US 6th Corps carried out a successful landing on beaches at Anzio, 60 miles north of Cassino. This landing behind the German lines was designed to draw German forces away from the Cassino front, making the penetration of the Gustav line a bit easier. Then the forces on the Cassino front could head north and link up with the US 6th Corps, before advancing on their goal, Rome. Instead of this, parts of the German 14th Army were rushed to Anzio. The 6th Corps soon consolidated a beachead but made the mistake of not breaking out to engage German forces. Instead, the German 14th Army contained the beachead. Stalemate set in at Anzio.
The Second Battle
The next assault on the Cassino front was planned for the 15th February. On the 14th, leaflets were dropped onto the monastery telling the occupants and refugees that the allies had decided to bomb Monte Cassino and surrounding German positions from the air. The refugees left to avoid the bombing. The German troops on the slopes prepared themselves for what was to come.
On the 15th the bombing began in earnest. It was the first time that heavy bombers had been used in the support of infantry and the first time that bombers from England had attacked an Italian target. The monastery was pulverized, its architecture destroyed and left in ruins; there was uproar from all round the world at the destruction of this holy bastion.
What the allies had not expected was that the bombing had turned the monastery into a fortress. The walls had been up to 15 ft thick and the ruins made an excellent strong point.
After the bombing ceased, the infantry attack began. Men of the 2nd New Zealand Division attacked south of Cassino town to try and take the railway station, which had become an important part of the towns defences. Positions around the monastery and surrounding hills were defended by men of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division under the command of Generalleutnant Ernst-Gunther Baade. Baade's division had been part of the German 14th Army's reserve but had been sent south to the Cassino front. The 90th had been recently reinforced by men of Kampfgruppe Schulz, made up of men from the 1st Parachute Division's 1st Regiment, the Machine Gun Battalion and the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Regiment. They took up positions north west of monastery hill. The 1st Parachute Division's machine gun Battalion took up positions on the hill itself.
The New Zealanders assault was met with fierce tank and artillery fire, which forced the Kiwis back across the Rapido River, suffering heavy casualties in the process.
Men of the American 34th and 36th Infantry Divisions had managed to secure Snakeshead Hill a few days before the bombardment, a kilometre or so behind Monte Cassino, which gave good observation of the monastery. This success was planned to be exploited by a flanking manoeuvre.
The Americans on Snakeshead Hill were relieved by men of the 4th Indian Division on the 13th, who found that US troops had been badly mauled during the assaults they had made on Calvary Hill over the past few days. This particular feature had changed hands four times since the 6th February.
When the bombing started the Indian troops were dug in around Calvary hill and suffered many casualties from mis-dropped bombs. They attempted to assault Calvary Hill, which was being held by the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Parachute Regiment, but were almost decimated in the process. Men from the Ghurka Regiment also tried to get close to the rear of the monastery but were cut down in heavy cross fire from German positions in the monastery above. The assault was called off on the 19th February. The surviving Indians and Ghurkas dug in around Monte Cassino and kept observation on German positions, some only yards from German dug-outs.
On 20th February, the 1st Parachute Division relieved the men of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division, ( who along with 15th Panzer Grenadier's & 71st Infantry Division took turns in defending the Cassino front). On the 26th February, General Richard Heidrich, commander of the 1st Parachute Division, took command of the 8 mile long sector that had been entrusted to his division. The Fallschirmjäger fortified their positions in Cassino town, the task being given to the 1st Fallschirm-Pioneer kompanie under the command of Lieutenant Heinz Austermann. They began strengthening the cellars and strong points of the towns buildings, they laid mines in the debris covered streets, turning places such as the Fishmarket and the Hotel Continental into fortresses.
Kiwi troops were visible from some of the buildings in Cassino, trucks were observed bringing up reinforcements but kept out of range of German artillery, a sure sign of another attack.
The defence of the town was given to men of the 2nd Battalion (Captain Ferdinand Foltin) of the 3rd Regiment, commanded by Oberst Ludwig Heilmann. The 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, under the command of Major Rudolf Boehmler took up positions within the ruins of the Monastery and surrounding hills.
Fallschirmjäger mortar crew at Cassino
The Third Battle
Then on the morning of 15th March in fine weather, another bombardment began. The Fallschirmjäger took shelter below ground ready to emerge and take up defensive positions when it ceased. The 3rd Regiment HQ was situated in a cave on the lower slopes of Monastery Hill and was refuge to 80-90 paras sheltering from the bombing. The paras suffered heavy casualties during the bombardment, with some of the Fallschirmjäger Battalion's down to 200 men, but as the men of the 2nd New Zealand Division advanced they were met with fierce resistance from the survivors who emerged from the ruins to meet the attack. Tanks were sent in but got bogged down in shell craters and mud and could only be used as static artillery.
Men from the Ghurka regiment made a dash for Hangmans Hill, which looked toward Monte Cassino but were partly destroyed in the process, the survivors dug themselves in on the slopes of the hill. British troops managed to get a toehold on Castle Hill above the town.
Smoke was laid on the slopes of Monte Cassino to blind artillery observers who were directing fire onto the Kiwi’s who were in the process of building a Bailey bridge across the Rapido in Cassino Town.
The Kiwis managed to capture large parts of the town but some isolated pockets still remained in German hands.(noteably the continental hotel) These were turned into fortresses. House to house fighting took place over the next few days, which slowed down the advance.
General Heidrich was at 3rd Regiment HQ when the bombardment began. He concentrated his own artillery and mortar fire on Kiwi positions in the town, which also helped to stall the New Zealanders.
On the 16th, reinforcements got into the town to bolster the Paras hold on their small pockets of resistance. The 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment had consisted of 300 men, 160 had been killed, wounded or buried in the bombardment. The towns defences were now under the command of Hauptmann Rudolf Rennecke.
The monastery was again bombed but the defenders remained un-scathed in their underground bunkers.
The Ghurkas stranded on Hangmans Hill could not be relieved due to heavy German resistance from the surrounding high ground, so supplies were air dropped. Some of these supplies were dropped on the monastery, some containing blood supplies, which were welcomed by the medical teams in the monastery.
On the 19th March the Allied high command ordered another push to take German strong points in the town and a frontal assault on Monte Cassino from Hangmans Hill by the Ghurkas who would be reinforced by men from Castle Hill, who in turn were to be relieved by Indian troops. It was hoped tanks, which were being brought in on a newly carved track north of Cassino, would back up this assault.
The advance on the town was kept at bay by determined German resistance who were using tanks which they had half buried in the house ruins.
The Indian troops were late relieving the defenders of Castle Hill and the frontal assault on Monte Cassino was delayed. In the morning of March 19th, the 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment (Major Reinhard Karl Egger), who were dug in at the base of Castle Hill, counterattacked the defenders in the castle above en masse, which was now being held by British & Indian troops; a fierce hand to hand battle ensued, causing heavy casualties on both sides. The attack was unsuccessful and the Para's had to withdrawal.
When the tanks appeared from the north behind Monte Cassino, the dug in Paras started to knock them out with Panzerfaust’s and Panzerschreck’s. The knocked out tanks at the head of the column held up all those behind who became easy targets for nearby entrenched Para's who used grenades and mines to disable them.
"There were two attacks on Castle Hill, the first succeeded in blowing a large hole in the castle wall but this failed to take the objective and the Fallschirmjäger were beaten off. The second attack was in the early morning of March 19th. It was carried out by men of FJR4 and men of the Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneers brought a Flameflower with them. Whilst preparing for the assault in the ruins of the Monastery, the operator of the Flamethrower, reported that the Oxygen had leaked out of the tank, rendering the Flamethrower useless. This was very good news for the operator as he was always an early target for enemy guns and also good news for my British friend, Bill Hawkins who was defending Castle Hill".
"When the NZ tanks tried to break through over the Albenetta Farm, we were detailed off with anti-tank equipment to attack and disable them. Out of approximately 16 tanks, 5 got out, one of which was occupied by my dear friend Jim Moody from Christchurch, New Zealand, who calls me Bazooka Bob!"
By the afternoon of the 19th the frontal assault was called off. The allied troops once again dug themselves in around Monte Cassino.
Most of Cassino town was now in the hands of the Kiwi’s, reinforcements had managed to get through to the beleaguered defenders of Castle Hill overlooking the town.
General Heidrich started to become concerned over whether his men could continue to hold their small pockets of resistance in Cassino town. In the meantime German artillery kept up their relentless barrage on allied positions.
On the 23rd March the allied attack was called off. Nearly 3000 men had been lost since the 15th March.
On the 25th the allies again bombarded the monastery with artillery to cover the withdrawal of their forces on Hangman’s Hill.
The next day the Fallschirmjäger raised the Swastika on Hangmans Hill when it was realized that the Allies had withdrawn.
The next allied assault was already being planned to take place in May. Parts of the British 8th Army on the Adriatic front of the Gustav line were secretly moved westward to the Cassino front. Enigma intercepted coded messages, which included details of the under strength German formations facing them. It was decided that the Cassino front had to be broken before the Normandy invasion, planned for June, could take place. The Allies had to try and smash as many German Divisions as they could, men that could be used in France.
The attack had to be soon.
A four prong attack was planned with the US 2nd Corps attempting a breakthrough along the west coast following route 7 and heading north to try and link up with the US 5th Corps who were attempting to break out of the Anzio beachhead.
The French Expeditionary Force of 4 divisions was to advance north through the Liri Valley attacking German positions in the areas behind Monte Cassino. The British 8th Corps was to cross the Rapido River, clear the town and advance across the Gustav line, cutting off the road west of Cassino. The Polish 2nd Corps which composed of 2 infantry divisions and 1 armoured, had Monte Cassino as its objective. They were to encircle the objective and attack from the north. Firstly they had to take German positions on Calvary Hill behind Monte Cassino, still in the hands of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, part of Kampfgruppe Schulz, under the command of Major Kurt Veth.
The 1st Parachute Division now took time to reassemble its Regiments and make some changes. The 4th Regiment now took up positions in their strongholds in the town and within the monastery. The 3rd Regiment moved to positions north west of Cassino. The 1st Regiment formed the reserve. The relief's were carried out at night where they would silently slip past allied positions.
Fallschirmjäger MG nest in the ruins of the monastery
The Fourth Battle
Late in the evening of the 11th May 1944 the opening barrage of 2000 allied artillery pieces caught the German Paras totally by surprise.
Within an hour the Polish forces were on Calvary Hill, just over 1 km north west of Cassino,(they had relieved the British 78th Division in the mountains behind Cassino a few days before). They took heavy casualties as the Fallschirmjäger put up fierce resistance. Several times the men of the Polish 3rd Carpathians attempted to take Calvary Hill. By the 13th the order came for Polish forces to withdrawal.
During the 12th, 4 Bailey bridges had been constructed across the Rapido River and the British 8th Corps had advanced 4 miles. The French Expeditionary Force had successfully advanced up the Liri Valley, battling with German defenders on the way.
The US 2nd Corps advancing northwards up the coast towards Anzio were supported by allied warships, which pounded German positions.
The Germans were barely holding on to the Gustav line, it had been penetrated and the German positions were being bypassed.
Tanks backed up another assault on the 16th May by Polish forces. They once again tried to take Calvary Hill behind Monte Cassino with the hope of cutting off retreating German forces. The Paras answered this new assault with artillery and mortar fire but the Poles overwhelmed the defenders on Calvary Hill.
As allied forces were penetrating the Gustav line backed up by a Canadian Army Corps, (a unit unknown to the Germans), the order came from Field Marshall Kesselring, commander Army Group C, to withdrawal from positions in Cassino town, the monastery and surrounding hills and mountains. The allies had made the mistake of not cutting Route 6, the main highway linking the south to Rome, allowing thousands of German troops to escape northwards. Amongst these the men of the 1st Parachute Division, who quietly slipped away from their positions on Monte Cassino on the night of 17th.
The town of Cassino finally fell on the 17th May.
"I was wounded at Cassino when we recieved the order to retreat on the night of May 17th. We had to climb over Monastery Hill from Rocca Janula to the other side of the valley. When I reached the top a grenade exploded nearby. I saw a bright flash and the next thing I knew, I woke up with a badly swollen and injured left leg. I crawled into the first aid post, situated in the crypt of the Monastery ruins. My leg was cleaned up and bandaged during the night of May 17th. Early in the morning of May 18th, the rest of the men evacuated and left only the wounded. At approximately 9.30am, a Polish platoon under the command on Kazimeriz Gubriel came into the monastery and took us as prisoners. Three of us stayed there and all of the walking wounded were taken away. At lunchtime we were joined by many officers and among them was an American reporter.
The reporter was called Mr.Tetlow. He was dressed immaculately in a white trench coat and he spoke with me briefly in German. You must remember, I was in pain, hungry, exhausted, dirty and lousy and I was very angry with the 'nerve' of this clean, well fed reporter, who had no idea of what we endured. I was well treated by the men who captured me and I indeed met up with Kazimeriz many years later and we remained in contact until his death on January 27th 1992".
Only the wounded remained at Monte Cassino under Hauptmann Herbert Karl Beyer (commander I/FJR4), himself seriously wounded. The Poles entered the monastery early on the 18th May, where they proudly raised their flag over the ruins where so many of their men had sacrificed their lives. Nearly 1000 Poles were killed and 3000 wounded in the assaults on Monte Cassino.
Altogether the Germans had lost 20 000 men in the defence of the Gustav line. The men of the 1st Parachute Division who had survived the battles in and around Cassino lived to fight another day.
The German 10th Army defending the Gustav line made an orderly retreat back toward the next defensive line, the Hitler/Dora line, 6 miles behind Gustav. This defensive line had been built to contain any forces that managed to break through the Gustav line. It was half a mile deep, laid with minefields, anti-tank traps, barbed wire and pillboxes. Behind this line a third defensive position was under construction called the Caesar Line, situated in the Alban Hills 20 miles south of Rome, but this was never finished. The Hitler/Dora line could not stop the Allied advance and was breached within a couple of days of the Gustav Line.
This breach in backup defences forced the German 10th Army northwards even further and the German 14th Army eastwards to avoid the advancing Allies from Anzio. The next German defensive line was the Gothic Line which ran from La Spezia in the west through the Appennes to Pesaro on the east coast, some 200 miles in length.
During the German retreat they destroyed bridges, laid mines on roads and prepared ambushes, all designed to delay the advancing Allied forces.
On the 23rd May, the US 6th Corps broke out of the beachead at Anzio and on the 25th May linked up with the US 2nd Corps. The German 14th Army at Anzio and the 10th Army withdrawing from their defensive positions were partially encircled by this joint US force as they moved north, but avoided encirclement when it was decided that the Americans would head for Rome, which they then entered on the 4th June 1944. The German forces slipped past the outskirts of Rome the same time the Allies entered.
The stubborn defence of Monte Cassino by the men of the 1st Parachute Division had delayed the allied advance in Italy and showed their esprit de corps and tenacity in battle, earning them the name "The Green Devils of Cassino" and gaining the respect of all who came up against them.
Green Devil mortar positions within the monastery ruins.
German Forces - Gustav defensive line,
Jan - May 1944
German 10th Army - Generaloberst von Vietinghoff
LI Gebirgs Corps -General der Gebirgs Truppen Fuerstein
5th Gebirgs Division - Generalleutnant Schrank
44th Infantry Division - Generalleutnant Ortner
1st Parachute Division - Generalleutnant Heidrich (releived 90th PanzGren Div-14th Army Res. Moved from Adriatic front to Cassino Front)
XIV Panzer Corps - Generalleutnant von Senger und Etterlin
71st Infantry Division - Generalmajor Raapke
94th Infantry Division - Generalmajor Steinmetz
15th Panzergrenadier Division - Generalmajor Rodt
Kampf-(Korps) Gruppe Bode
Armee Reserve - 90th Panzergrenadier Division - Generalleutnant Baade
Allied forces facing the Gustav line
Allied 5th Army Group - General Alexander
US 5th Army - General Clark
US 2nd Corps - General Keyes
French Expeditionary Corps - General Juin
British 8th Army - General Leese
British 5th Corps - General Keightley
British 10th Corps - General Mc Creery
Polish 2nd Corps - General Anders
British 8th Corps - General Kirkman
Canadian 1st Corps - Reserve Corps - Lt General Burns
"Das Geheimnis des Erfolges der Fallschirmtruppe kann in drei Begriffen dargestellt werden: Kameradschaft, Korpsgeist und Einsatzbereitschaft."
"The secret of the Paratrooper's success can be summed up in three words, comradeship, esprit de corps and efficiency"
Major Rudolf Boehmler - 1/FGR3, Cassino.
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