| 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)
Camp Ripley earns top environmental award
Posted: 2017-04-26 02:09 PM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The Department of Defense announced that Camp Ripley was selected as the winner of the Secretary of Defense Environmental Award for Natural Resources Conservation, Large Installation.
The awards recognize individuals, teams and installations for their exceptional environmental achievements and innovative, cost-effective environmental practices.
"The winners' efforts strengthen the Department of Defense's position as a resourceful environmental steward, both at home and abroad, and demonstrate our continued commitment to fulfilling mission needs through advanced environmental practices and technologies," stated James A. MacStravic, performing the duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
Minnesota Guardsman finds work with victims in the military and the local community rewarding
Posted: 2017-04-26 10:57 AM
COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. - Staff Sgt. Nicquie Neely has been working with victims of sexual assault for four years in the Minnesota National Guard and also volunteers as a victim advocate in the community. As a victim advocate, it's her job to believe and support victims through a difficult process that can often involve extensive medical care and legal proceedings.
"Ever since I joined the Guard and heard about the SHARP program and learned what a victim advocate was, I always wanted to be one," said Neely. "And then I learned that you had to be an E-6 to be in that position, so the minute I got promoted I asked my commander if I could go to the training."
Neely is a combat medic and the full-time training and administration NCO with Company C, 134th Brigade Support Battalion. In addition to military victim advocate training, Neely also attends regular training with the civilian organization she volunteers for - SOS Sexual Violence Services in Ramsey County.
Minnesota National Guard Remembers the Holocaust with Jewish Community Relations Council
Posted: 2017-04-24 10:43 AM
Washington - Members of the Minnesota National Guard and the Air Force Reserve traveled to Washington D.C. with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (also known as the JCRC), to visit the Holocaust Museum, April 4, 2017, to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Also, traveling with this group were St. Paul and Minneapolis police officers along with students from various high schools around the state. For those in uniform that day, it was an opportunity to see, hear and experience the stories of victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
Each Service member who attended was asked to bring back a summary of their experience in the form of a presentation, professional discussion or briefing to their respective unit in order to help other Guard members better understand and remember that horrible event, to honor the courage of the victims and survivors, and to remain vigilant as members of the U.S. military.
"The honor and privilege of accompanying members of the Minnesota National Guard to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. met so many goals," said Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the JCRC. "I wanted to reinforce the importance of the commitment of the U.S. military to democracy. After all, it was the Allies that defeated Nazi Germany and ultimately put an end to the Holocaust."
Learning to instruct professionalism and discipline
Posted: 2017-04-19 02:15 PM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - It was a challenging and rewarding two weeks for members attending the Army National Guard Funeral Honors Instructor Course, April 1-14, at Camp Ripley.
Soldiers of National Guard units from all over the United States took part in the course designed to educate team leaders in a variety of funeral honor detail tasks, traditions and responsibilities.
"It's a stressful course, but for our job, we have to be prepared to do our job under stress; and we all really benefitted from that," said Class Honor Grad, Sgt. Ryan Valline of the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry.