| Battle of Cassino -- A Bloody Struggle shrouded in Controversy
Flint Whitlock, author of Rock of Anzio -- and Veterans of the Fifth Army -- relate the bitter attacks against German defenses in the attempt to liberate the Italian Peninsula and take Rome
The following is a partial transcript of the April session of the Harold C Deutsch World War II History Roundtable The speaker was Flint Whitlock, author of Rock of Anzio, and veterans of the Fifth Army
After much debate at the Casablanca Conference, American leaders conceded that the Allies were still unable to land troops in France as General Marshall wished to do and British Prime Minister Churchill had promised Stalin they would do The British, by organized diplomacy and minimized internal disagreement, were able to carry the disorganized and quarreling Americans along to an invasion of Sicily (Gen Albert Wedermeyer said "We lost our shirts we came, we listened, and we were conquered") Having agreed to invade Sicily, Americans were not able to avoid the next logical decision, to land in Italy Several alternative reasons for expanding to the Italian campaign in late 1943 have been posited by historians, such as the drive up the Italian "boot" would divert German divisions from the Eastern Front and provide air bases for Allied bomber strikes against the Third Reich, or Italy's collapse would weaken Germany politically and militarily
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed that Italy was the "soft underbelly" of Europe but nothing could be further from the truth The difficult terrain and weather of the Italian Campaign made for some the war's hardest fought and costliest battles During the last few months of 1943, the British and American efforts to move up the Italian boot were frustrated by the stiff German defenses at the Gustav Line The Battle of Monte Cassino was a series of four battles beginning in January 1944, with the intention of breaking through the Axis Gustav Line The Germans held the Rapido, Liri and Garigliano valleys and certain surrounding peaks
The first battle began when the American 36th and 34th Infantry Divisions, and British and French-Moroccan troops launched attacks on the Gustav Line This first battle was coordinated with the Allied landings at Anzio and Nettuno These landings met little initial German defensive action, but the Allies were unable or unwilling to capitalize on the opportunity The battle lasted until February 11, when the Allies finally broke off the battle
The second battle began on February 15th with the destruction of the Abbey at Monte Cassino by 1,400 tons of bombs dropped by American bombers, killing those Italians who had taken refuge there Founded in 524 AD, by Benedict of Nursia, the monastery dominated the hilltops around above the town of Cassino and the entrances of the Liri and Rapido Valleys
During the fall of 1943, the Germans removed the Abbey's treasures to the Vatican for safekeeping In December 1943, Field Marshall Albert Kesselring ordered German units not to include the Monastery itself in their defensive positions and informed the Vatican and the Allies The Germans had not occupied the hilltop of the Abbey, had told the Vatican and the Allies that the monastery was neutral, and General Frido von Senger und Etterlin, defender of the Gustav line, ensured that Abbey neutrality was strictly observed by his troops
The Germans had set up defensive positions on the slopes below the abbey walls Two days after the bombing of the abbey German paratroopers took up positions in the rubble which made it harder for the Allies to achieve victory The Gurkha regiments of British Indian 4th Army attempted to take the remains of the monastery while New Zealand Maori battalion attacked across the Rapido and into the town of Cassino but the tough terrain and lack of armored support caused them to retreat
Beginning on March 15, the third battle was launched behind a heavy bombardment of artillery and armored support, while the New Zealanders attempted once again to take the town of Cassino and the Gurkhas fought up towards the Monastery but were once again repelled by the dug in German paratroopers The exhausted Indian and New Zealanders were withdrawn and re-organized
The final battle began on May 11th with an artillery and air bombardment of German defensive positions and an attack along the 20 mile Gustav line by 20 Allied divisions, which included American, British, Free French, Polish, New Zealand, and South African units Bitter vicious fighting continued until May 18 when Polish forces took the ruins of the monastery and found only wounded Germans who could not be moved The rest of the German troops had evacuated in the night and retreated to form the Hitler Line (later renamed the Senger Line)
With the Gustav line broken, the 5th Army linked up with the 6th Corps on May 25th and marched into Rome on June 4th Kesselring retreated once again, to the Pisa-Rimini Gothic Line the next line he set up across Italy By mid-August many US and all of the Free French combat forces were re-deployed to participate in the landings in southern France (Operation Anvil / Operation Dragoon) After this, the Italian theater stalemated again Many historians claim that Anvil prevented the Allies from driving through the Po River Valley and the Alps to Austria Italian operations proved to be an excellent training ground for Anglo-American forces, and the casualties inflicted on German ground and air forces were a significant return on investment
Published by WW II History Roundtable
Edited by Dr Connie Harris
April 14, 2011
Volume 19 Number 8
Martin Blumenson, Bloody River; the Real Tragedy of the Rapido (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1970)
Duane Schultz, Crossing the Rapido (Yarkdley, PA: Westholme, 2010)
Matthew Parker, Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II (New York: Anchor Books, 2005)
George Forty, Battle of Monte Cassino (Kent Science Park, Sittingbourne, UK: Ian Allan Publishing, 2004)
David Hapgood and David Richardson, Monte Cassino: The Story of the Most Controversial Battle of World War II(Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2002)
John Ellis, Cassino: The Hollow Victory: The Battle for Rome, January - June 1944 (London: Aurium Press, 2003)
Frido von Senger und Etterlin, Neither Fear Nor Hope: The Wartime Memoirs of the German Defender of Cassino, (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1963)
Litchfield and Local Veteran Honor Gen. John Vessey at Armory Open House
Posted: 2017-03-10 08:50 AM
LITCHFIELD, Minn. -Bruce Cottington, a Navy veteran of WWII and Korea, donated a bronze bust of Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr. to the Litchfield National Guard unit during the armory's public open house event March 4. Cottington, a Litchfield resident, commands the Minnesota Chapter of the Veterans of Underage Military Service. VUMS members enlisted in the military prior to the minimum age requirement in order to serve their country during WWII. Cottington received the bust from Vessey, a fellow VUMS member. Both enlisted in the military at the age of 16.
The highlight of the 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion open house was the unveiling of the sculpture. The unit was very supportive when Cottington proposed donating the sculpture. The Litchfield community has always been very supportive of the National Guard over the years, so the open house was a chance to say 'thanks' to their neighbors. "This was a great opportunity to honor Bruce and to honor Gen. Vessey," said B Co., 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion Commander, Capt. Seth Goreham. Bravo Company also has a tight relationship with the local American Legion and VFW. Many Litchfield citizens are former members of Bravo Company, or the unit's predecessors A Co, 682nd Engineer Battalion, and the 849th Mobility Augmentation Company.
Camp Ripley welcomes new command sergeant major
Posted: 2017-03-08 03:29 PM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The garrison command team of Camp Ripley, family, friends and colleagues from the Minnesota National Guard attended a Change of Responsibility ceremony between Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Worden and Command Sgt. Maj. Matt Erickson, March 5, 2017, at Camp Ripley.
The ceremony was an official "passing of the sword" from one senior noncommissioned officer to the next and assumption of the duties and responsibilities that go along with the position of Garrison Command Sergeant Major.
As with many military ceremonies those in attendance welcomed Erickson as a new member of the team and bid farewell, recognized and thanked Worden for his service.
Norwegian youth recognized for response to vehicle accident
Posted: 2017-02-22 09:59 AM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - Norwegian youths Stian Dahl and Haavard Engen received the Camp Ripley Garrison Commander's coin from Col. Scott St Sauver February 19, 2017, in recognition for reacting to a vehicle accident they witnessed earlier that week.
As part of the U.S.-Norway Reciprocal Troop Exchange, Norwegian youths ages 19-20 are matched up with a host family in order to spend an evening experiencing American culture. In most situations the "Buddy Weekend" as it's called allows the youths to go shopping, attend events and have home-cook meals along with their host family.
"We are able to match up youth members with families all over the state," said Staff Sgt. Tim Krouth, Buddy Weekend organizer. "Lots of the families have hosted one or two of our Norwegian friends for several years in a row now, it a great way to relax and see some of Minnesota."
To the top of the mountain and back, NOREX 44 members embrace the Norwegian winter
Posted: 2017-02-21 01:25 PM
HALTDALEN, Norway - After two days at a base camp near Haltdalen, Norway, Minnesota National Guardsmen participating in the 44th Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange were ready for the most challenging aspect of their four-day field training exercise - a ski march up the mountain.
It was Day three of the FTX, meaning members of the 44th Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange had slowly adjusted to surviving and thriving while living in a winter environment and also honed their skills on cross country skills well enough to begin a climb that would take nearly three hours.
"Our goal was to get you to know how to use the winter, see how the Norwegians use the winter, and how we survive the winter so we can conduct combat," said Vidar Aune, one of several members of Home Guard 12 guiding the Minnesota National Guard Soldiers and Airmen during their training here. "By getting the experience living outside in the snow, you manage to survive it and handle it quite well."