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The Battle of Monte Cassino

End of 1943: the allied advance in Italy came to a stop at the "Gustav-Line" which was drawn by the German armed forces crosswise through the whole country. The defence position was most developed in the west of Italy to prevent the venture of the Allied Forces through the Liri Valley to Rome. The Monte Cassino represented a central component in the German defence concept, which is above 520 meters over the city Cassino. A Benedictine Abbey, built in the year 529, was on its top. On 17th January 1944 began the unsuccessful frontal attacks of allied troops against positions strongly assured by Germans around the city Cassino. The assaults and grim ditch fights did not only cause innumerable victims on the defenders side but also on the aggressors´ side. During the anacrusis of the second echelon of New Zealand´s second division, their commander general Bernard Freyberg (1889-1963) ordered therefore the massive bombardment of the defence positions and of the Abbey. Behind its walls he suspected a German radio- and enlightenment station. Out of consideration for the historic meaning of this cultural monument, the German Supreme Commander in Italy, Albert Kesselring, in contrary to Freyberg in December 1943 explicitly had forbidden to involve the Abbey into the defence positions.

For the armed forces soldiers it was forbidden to enter a defined trap circuit around the building.

On 15th February 1944 while 229 American bombers attacked only monks and refugees, mostly women and children, were in the basement vaults of the Abbey, which was destroyed through 500 tons of explosive- and firebombs until the foundation walls. Merely the early-medieval crypt remained undamaged. Directly after the bombing, German troops included the ruins of the Abbey into their defence positions, which remained impregnable for the aggressors also in the next months. Only a withdrawal for the armed forces in a northward direction, which was commanded by Kesselring on the 17th May due to the precarious military situation in Italy, enabled Polish exile associations to take over the Abbey a day later.






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