RAF Marauder over Ancona

RAF Marauder over Ancona

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RAF Marauder over Ancona

A Marauder of the RAF over the Italian Adriatic port of Ancona.

No. 14 Squadron RAF

No. 14 Squadron of the Royal Air Force currently operates the Beechcraft Shadow R1 (a modified Beechcraft Super King Air) in the Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) role from RAF Waddington.

  • 3 Feb 1915 – 4 Feb 1919
  • 1 Feb 1920 – 1 Jun 1945
  • 1 Jun 1945 – 31 Mar 1946
  • 1 Apr 1946 – 17 Dec 1962
  • 17 Dec 1962 – 30 Jun 1970
  • 30 Jun 1970 – 1 Jun 2011
  • 14 Oct 2011 – present
    (1915–1917)* (1918)
  • Arabia (1916–1917)* (1917–1918)* (1924) (1936–1939) (1940–1941)* (1941–1943)*
  • Egypt and Libya (1941–1942)* (1943)* (1945)* (1991)* (1999) (2003–2011)

Detailed history

A former World War Two military airfield, now used for civil light aircraft. The military airfield was established in 1942 but did not become active until 1943. It was provided with three concrete and tarmac runways and two type T2 aircraft hangars. During World War Two, it was used both by the Royal Air Force and by the 9th United States Army Air Force. The airfield was designated by the Americans as station 358. Earls Colne was home to both Bomber and fighter units, later also transport aircraft. In 2000-2001 the former military airfield area was reported as being partly in use for light aircraft, partly used as Earls Colne Business Park, also a golf course, sports centre and for agriculture. Part of the perimeter track, hangars are said to have survived to 2001. The control tower was demolished in 2003.


Great Ashfield was re-built for the USAAF in 1942 and assigned designation Station 155. The first aircraft to land on the station is believed to have been a battle-damaged B-26 Marauder returning from a raid over the Netherlands on 17 May 1943.

USAAF Station Units assigned to RAF Great Ashfield were: [1]

Regular Army Station Units included:

  • 1152nd Quartermaster Company
  • 1249th Military Police Company
  • 1735th Ordnance Supply & Maintenance Company
  • 877th Chemical Company (Air Operations)
  • 2036th Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon

385th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Edit

The airfield was opened on 19 June 1943 and was used by the United States Army Air Forces Eighth Air Force 385th Bombardment Group (Heavy). The 385th arrived from Great Falls AAF Montana and was assigned to the 93d Combat Bombardment Wing. The group tail code was a "Square-G". Its operational squadrons were:

The group flew Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses as part of the Eighth Air Force's strategic bombing campaign.

The 385th BG operated primarily as a strategic bombardment organization until the war ended, striking such targets as industrial areas, air bases, oil refineries, and communications centers in Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway. The group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for bombing an aircraft factory at Regensburg on 17 August 1943 after a long hazardous flight over enemy territory.

The group led the 4th Bomb Wing a great distance through heavy and damaging opposition for the successful bombardment of an aircraft repair plant at Zwickau on 12 May 1944, being awarded another DUC for this performance. Other strategic targets included aircraft factories in Oschersleben and Marienburg, battery works in Stuttgart, airfields in Beauvais and Chartres, oil refineries in Ludwigshafen and Merseburg, and marshalling yards in Munich and Oranienburg.

Sometimes supported ground forces and struck interdictory targets. Attacked coastline defences in June 1944 in preparation for the Normandy invasion and hit marshalling yards and choke points during the landing on D-Day. Bombed enemy positions in support of ground forces at Saint-Lô in July 1944. Attacked German communications and fortifications during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944-January 1945. Bombed troop concentrations and communications centers in Germany and France, March–April 1945, to assist the final thrust into Germany.

On 6 March 1944 raid to Berlin (the most costly mission the Eighth ever carried out) the 3rd Division commander, Brigadier General Russell Wilson, took off from Great Ashfield in a radar-equipped B-17 in a leading group of the 385th. All of the 385th aircraft returned safely . all that is except the one carrying General Wilson which was seen to take several hits from flak setting one engine on fire. Although four of the crew managed to parachute to safety (including Medal of Honor hero First Lieutenant John C. Morgan), eight of the others were killed when the bomber exploded.

After V-E Day, the 385th Bomb Group hauled prisoners of war from Germany to Allied centers and flew food to the Netherlands. The group returned to Sioux Falls AAF South Dakota on 28 August 1945 and was inactivated.

During the Cold War, the United States Air Force 385th Strategic Aerospace Wing, based at Offut AFB Nebraska controlled a mixture of strategic missiles and air refueling aircraft. The wing provided airborne command post services and supported SAC's global air refueling mission.

The wing was active between 1962 and 1964 and was bestowed the World War II legacy and honors of the USAAF 385th Bomb Group upon activation.

After the war, the airfield reverted to RAF control and it came under Maintenance Command as a sub-site for bomb storage before being finally abandoned and sold in 1955.

With the end of military control, Great Ashfield was returned to agriculture. Much of the concrete has been removed and sold as aggregate, with a small section of the main runway being retained for use by light aircraft. Much of the perimeter track has been reduced to a single lane farm access road and a few wartime buildings remain in a deteriorated state.

A memorial to those of the 385th who lost their lives flying from Great Ashfield can be seen in the village church.


When the Second World War began in 1939, the President of the United States (then a neutral power), Franklin D. Roosevelt, issued a request to the major belligerents to confine their air raids to military targets. [4] The French and the British agreed to abide by the request, with the provision that this was "upon the understanding that these same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of their opponents". [5]

The UK had a policy of using aerial bombing only against military targets and against infrastructure such as ports and railways of direct military importance. While it was acknowledged that the aerial bombing of Germany would cause civilian casualties, the British government renounced the deliberate bombing of civilian property, outside combat zones, as a military tactic. [6] This policy was abandoned on 15 May 1940, two days after the German air attack on Rotterdam, when the RAF was given permission to attack targets in the Ruhr, including oil plants and other civilian industrial targets that aided the German war effort, such as blast furnaces that at night were self illuminating. The first RAF raid on the interior of Germany took place on the night of 10 – 11 May (on Dortmund). [7] The Jules Verne, a variant of the Farman F.220 of the French Naval Aviation, was the first Allied bomber to raid Berlin: on the night of 7 June 1940 it dropped eight bombs of 250 kg and 80 of 10 kg weight on the German capital. [8]

Between 1939 and 1942, the policy of bombing only targets of direct military significance was gradually abandoned in favour of "area bombing" — large-scale bombing of German cities to destroy housing and civilian infrastructure. Although killing German civilians was never an explicit policy, it was obvious that area bombing would cause large-scale civilian casualties. [9] With the technology available at the time, the precision bombing of military targets was possible only by daylight (and it was difficult even then). Daylight bombing raids conducted by Bomber Command involved unacceptably high losses of British aircraft, and bombing by night led to far lower British losses, but was of necessity indiscriminate due to the difficulties of nocturnal navigation and bomb aiming. [10]

Before 1941, Berlin, at 950 kilometres (590 miles) from London, was at the extreme range attainable by the British bombers then available to the Allied forces. It could be bombed only at night in summer when the days were longer and skies clear—which increased the risk to Allied bombers. The first RAF raid on Berlin took place on the night of 25 August 1940 95 aircraft were dispatched to bomb Tempelhof Airport near the center of Berlin and Siemensstadt, of which 81 dropped their bombs in and around Berlin, [11] [12] and while the damage was slight, the psychological effect on Hitler was greater. The bombing raids on Berlin prompted Hitler to order the shift of the Luftwaffe's target from British airfields and air defenses to British cities, at a time during the Battle of Britain when the British air defenses were becoming exhausted and overstretched.

In the following two weeks there were a further five raids of a similar size, all nominally precision raids at specific targets, [12] but with the difficulties of navigating at night the bombs that were dropped were widely dispersed. [13] During 1940 there were more raids on Berlin, all of which did little damage. The raids grew more frequent in 1941, but were ineffective in hitting important targets. The head of the Air Staff of the RAF, Sir Charles Portal, justified these raids by saying that to "get four million people out of bed and into the shelters" was worth the losses involved. [14] [15]

The Soviet Union started a bombing campaign on Berlin on 8 August 1941 that extended into early September. Medium Navy bombers, accompanied from 12 August by Army bombers, conducted ten raids from Saaremaa island to Berlin with 3–12 aircraft in each raid, fifty in total reaching Berlin. [16] Heavy Army bombers, operating from near Leningrad, executed one raid to Berlin on 11 August, with only few machines reaching the target. [17] In total in 1941, Soviet aircraft dropped 36,000 kilograms (79,000 pounds) of bombs on Berlin. Combat and operational losses for the Soviets tallied 17 aircraft destroyed and 70 crewmen killed. [18]

On 7 November 1941, Sir Richard Peirse, head of RAF Bomber Command, launched a large raid on Berlin, sending over 160 bombers to the capital. 21 were shot down or crashed, and again little damage was done due to bad weather. [19] This failure led to the dismissal of Peirse and his replacement (in February 1942) by Sir Arthur Travers Harris, who believed in both the efficacy and necessity of area bombing. Harris said: "The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naïve theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind." [20]

At the same time, new bombers with longer ranges were coming into service, particularly the Avro Lancaster, which became available in large numbers during 1942. During most of 1942, however, Bomber Command's priority was attacking Germany's U-boat ports as part of Britain's effort to win the Battle of the Atlantic. During the whole of 1942 there were only nine air alerts in Berlin, none of them serious. [21] Only in 1943 did Harris have both the means and the opportunity to put his belief in area bombing into practice.

The Battle of Berlin was launched by Harris in November 1943, a concerted air campaign against the German capital, although other cities continued to be attacked to prevent the Germans concentrating their defences in Berlin. Harris believed this could be the blow that would break German resistance. "It will cost us between 400 and 500 aircraft," he said. "It will cost Germany the war." [22] By this time he could deploy over 800 long-range bombers on any given night, equipped with new and more sophisticated navigational devices such as H2S radar. Between November 1943 and March 1944, Bomber Command made 16 massed attacks on Berlin.

A prelude to the 1943 raids came from the De Havilland Mosquito, which hit the capital on January 30 1943, the tenth anniversary of the Nazis' Machtergreifung. That same day, both Göring and Goebbels were known to be giving big speeches that were to be broadcast live by radio. At precisely 11.00 am, Mosquitoes of No. 105 Squadron arrived over Berlin exactly on time to disrupt Göring's speech. Later that day, No. 139 Squadron repeated the trick for Goebbels. These were great propaganda raids which—much as the Doolittle Raid on the Japanese home islands had done for boosting American morale in April 1942—were a severe embarrassment for the German leadership. April 20 1943 was Hitler's 54th birthday. Bomber Command decided that they had to mark the occasion with a raid on Berlin, and it was decided that the Mosquito was the right aircraft for the job. Accordingly, No. 105 Squadron was dispatched to the German capital, successfully reaching the city with the loss of only one aircraft. [23]

The first raid of the battle occurred on November 18-19 1943. Berlin was the main target, and was attacked by 440 Avro Lancasters aided by four Mosquitos. The city was under cloud and the damage was not severe. The second major raid was on the night of November 22-23 1943. This was the most effective raid by the RAF on Berlin. The raid caused extensive damage to the residential areas west of the centre, Tiergarten and Charlottenburg, Schöneberg and Spandau. Because of the dry weather conditions, several firestorms ignited. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was destroyed. Several other buildings of note were either damaged or destroyed, including the British, French, Italian and Japanese embassies, Charlottenburg Palace and Berlin Zoo, as were the Ministry of Munitions, the Waffen SS Administrative College, the barracks of the Imperial Guard at Spandau and several arms factories. [24]

On December 17, extensive damage was done to the Berlin railway system. By this time cumulative effect of the bombing campaign had made more than a quarter of Berlin's total living accommodation unusable. [24] There was another major raid on January 28-29 1944, when Berlin's western and southern districts were hit in the most concentrated attack of this period. On February 15-16, important war industries were hit, including the large Siemensstadt area, with the centre and south-western districts sustaining most of the damage. This was the largest raid by the RAF on Berlin. Raids continued until March 1944. [24] [25] [26]

These raids caused immense devastation and loss of life in Berlin. The November 22 1943 raid killed 2,000 Berliners and rendered 175,000 homeless. The following night, 1,000 were killed and 100,000 made homeless. During December and January regular raids killed hundreds of people each night and rendered between 20,000 and 80,000 homeless each time. [27] Overall nearly 4,000 were killed, 10,000 injured and 450,000 made homeless. [28]

The 16 raids on Berlin cost Bomber Command more than 500 aircraft, with their crews killed or captured. This was a loss rate of 5.8%, which was above the 5% threshold that was considered the maximum sustainable operational loss rate by the RAF. [29] In December 1943, for example, 11 crews from No. 460 Squadron RAAF alone were lost in operations against Berlin and in January and February, another 14 crews were killed. Having 25 aircraft destroyed meant that the fighting force of the squadron had to be replaced in three months. At these rates Bomber Command would have been wiped out before Berlin." [30] It has been largely acknowledged that the Battle of Berlin was a failure for the RAF, [30] British official historians have stated that "in an operational sense the Battle of Berlin was more than a failure, it was a defeat". [31]

In 1943, the U.S. Army and the Standard Oil company built a set of replicas in western Utah, of typical German working class housing estates, "German Village", which would be of key importance in acquiring the know-how and experience necessary to carry out the firebombings on Berlin. It was done with the assistance of Erich Mendelsohn, a Jewish architect of structures in Berlin who fled the Nazis in 1933. [32]

The Big Week (Sunday, 20–Friday, 25 February 1944) heavy bomber offensive began shortly after the Eighth Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, had implemented a major change in fighter defense of USAAF strategic bomber formations that had bolstered the confidence of U.S. strategic bombing crews. Until that time, Allied bombers avoided contact with the Luftwaffe now, the Americans used any method that would force the Luftwaffe into combat. Implementing this policy, the United States looked toward Berlin. Raiding the German capital, the USAAF reasoned, would force the Luftwaffe into battle. Consequently, on 4 March, the USSTAF launched the first of several attacks against Berlin. [33] Fierce battles raged and resulted in heavy losses for both sides 69 B-17s were lost on 6 March but the Luftwaffe lost 160 aircraft. The Allies replaced their losses the Luftwaffe could not. [34]

At the tail end of the Battle of Berlin the RAF made one last large raid on the city on the night of 24–25 March, losing 8.9% of the attacking force, [35] but due to the failure of the Battle of Berlin, and the switch to the tactical bombing of France during the summer months in support of the Allied invasion of France, RAF Bomber Command left Berlin alone for most of 1944. Nevertheless, regular nuisance raids by both the RAF and USAAF continued, including the Operation Whitebait diversion for the bombing of the Peenemünde Army Research Center. In 1945, the Eighth Air Force launched a number of very large daytime raids on Berlin, the last of them being on 18 March (there were bombing raids to Falkensee and Spandau, near Berlin, in 28th March), [36] the 15th Air Force launched its only bombing mission to Berlin on 24 March, [37] and for 36 nights in succession scores of RAF Mosquitos bombed the German capital, ending on the night of 20/21 April 1945 just before the Soviets entered the city. [38]

The largest American raid on Berlin Edit

1,500 bombers of the Eighth Air Force, protected by some 1,000 fighters attacked the Berlin railway system on the forenoon of 3 February 1945 in the belief that the German Sixth Panzer Army was moving through Berlin by train on its way to the Eastern Front, [39] thinking the Sixth Panzer Army would use the Tempelhof railyards for the move. [40] This was one of the few occasions on which the USAAF undertook a mass attack on a city centre. Lt-General James Doolittle, commander of the USAAF Eighth Air Force, objected to this tactic, but he was overruled by the USAAF commander, General Carl Spaatz, who was supported by the Allied commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower and Spaatz made it clear that the attack on Berlin was of great political importance in that it was designed to assist the Soviet offensive on the Oder east of Berlin, and was essential for Allied unity. [41] [42]

In the raid, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Rosenthal of the 100th Bombardment Group flying in a pathfinder B-17G, s/n 44-8379 — commanding the entire First Air Division's bomber force on this raid [43] — Friedrichstadt (the newspaper district), and Luisenstadt (both divided between the boroughs of Kreuzberg and Mitte, the central area) and some other areas, such as Friedrichshain, were severely damaged. The bombs used in this raid consisted mostly of high explosive ordnance and not incendiary munitions. The area that suffered the greatest damage did not include railway main lines, which were more northern (Stadtbahn) and southern (Ringbahn), but did include two terminal stations of Berlin (Anhalter and Potsdamer Bahnhof, the latter of which had already been out of service since 1944 due to bomb destruction). [ citation needed ]

The bombing was so dense that it caused a city fire spreading eastwards, driven by the wind, over the south of Friedrichstadt and the northwest of neighboured Luisenstadt. The fire lasted for four days until it had burnt everything combustible in its range to ashes and after it had reached waterways, large thoroughfares, and parks that the fire could not jump over. Due to the exhaustion of German supplies the German anti-aircraft defense was under-equipped and weak so that out of the 1,600 US aircraft committed, only 36 were shot down and their crews taken as prisoners-of-war. [44] First Air Division commander Lt. Col. Rosenthal was among those shot down and survived, but was rescued by the Soviet armed forces and eventually returned to England. [45]

A number of monuments, such as French Luisenstadt Church, St. James Church, Jerusalem's Church, Luisenstadt Church, St. Michael's Church, St. Simeon Church, and the Marcher Protestant Consistory (today's entrance of Jewish Museum Berlin) as well as government and Nazi Party buildings were also hit, including the Reich Chancellery, the Party Chancellery, the Gestapo headquarters, and the People's Court. [42] The Unter den Linden, Wilhelmstrasse and Friedrichstrasse areas were turned into seas of ruins. Among the dead was Roland Freisler, the infamous head justice of the People's Court. The death toll amounted to 2,894, fewer than might have been expected because the raid took place in daytime with relatively few incendiary bombs. The number of wounded amounted to 20,000, and 120,000 were left homeless or "dehoused". [44]

Another raid on 26 February 1945 [46] left another 80,000 people homeless. Raids continued until April, when the Red Army was outside the city. In the last days of the war the Red Air Force also bombed Berlin, as well as using Ilyushin Il-2 and similar aircraft for low-level attacks from 28 March onwards. By this time Berlin's civil defences and infrastructure were close to collapsing but civilian morale held. After the capture of Berlin, Soviet General Nikolai Bersarin said, referring to the Red Army's artillery and rocket bombardment, that:

"the Western Allies had dropped 65,000 tons of explosives on the city in the course of more than two years whereas the Red Army had expended 40,000 tons in merely two weeks". Later, statisticians calculated that for every inhabitant of Berlin there were nearly 30 cubic meters (39 cubic yards) of rubble. [47]

Up to the end of March 1945 there had been a total of 314 air raids on Berlin, with 85 of those coming in the last twelve months [48] Half of all houses were damaged and around a third uninhabitable, as much as 16 km² of the city was simply rubble. Estimates of the total number of dead in Berlin from air raids range from 20,000 to 50,000 current German studies suggest that a figure in the lower part of this range is more likely. [49] This compares to death tolls of between 25,000 and 35,000 in the single attack on Dresden on 14 February 1945, and the 42,000 killed at Hamburg in a single raid in 1943, with both the Hamburg and Dresden raids each having lower casualty totals than the 9/10 March 1945 Operation Meetinghouse single firebombing raid on Tokyo, devastating some 15.8 square miles (40.9 km²) causing the loss of at least 100,000 lives in the Japanese capital. [50] The relatively low casualty figure in Berlin is partly the result of the city's distance from airfields in Britain, which made large raids difficult before the liberation of France in late 1944, but also due to the city's superior air defences and shelters. [ citation needed ]

The Nazi regime was acutely aware of the political necessity of protecting the Reich capital against devastation from the air. Even before the war, work had begun on an extensive system of public air raid shelters, but by 1939 only 15% of the planned 2,000 shelters had been built. By 1941, however, the five huge public shelters (Zoo, Anhalt Station, Humboldthain, Friedrichshain and Kleistpark) were complete, offering shelter to 65,000 people. Other shelters were built under government buildings, the best-known being the so-called Führerbunker under the Reich Chancellery building. In addition, many U-Bahn stations were converted into shelters. The rest of the population had to make do with their own cellars. [51]

In 1943, the Germans decided to evacuate non-essential people from Berlin. By 1944 1.2 million people, 790,000 of them women and children, about a quarter of the city's population, had been evacuated to rural areas. An effort was made to evacuate all children from Berlin, but this was resisted by parents, and many evacuees soon made their way back to the city (as was also the case in London in 1940–41). The increasing shortage of manpower as the war dragged on meant that female labour was essential to keep Berlin's war industries going, so the evacuation of all women with children was not possible. At the end of 1944 the city's population began to grow again as refugees fleeing the Red Army's advance in the east began to pour into Berlin. The Ostvertriebenen ("refugees from the East") were officially denied permission to remain in Berlin for longer than two days and were housed in camps near the city before being moved on westwards it is estimated less than 50,000 managed to remain in Berlin. By January 1945 the population was around 2.9 million, although the demands of the German military were such that only 100,000 of these were males aged 18–30. Another 100,000 or so were forced labor, mainly French Fremdarbeiter, "foreign workers", and Russian Ostarbeiter ("eastern workers"). The key to the Flak area were three huge Flak towers (Flaktürme), which provided enormously tough platforms for both searchlights and 128 mm anti-aircraft guns as well as shelters (Hochbunker) for civilians. These towers were at the Berlin Zoo in the Tiergarten, Humboldthain and Friedrichshain. The Flak guns were increasingly manned by the teenagers of the Hitler Youth as older men were drafted to the front. By 1945 the girls of the League of German Girls (BDM) were also operating Flak guns. After 1944 there was little fighter protection from the Luftwaffe, and the Flak defences were increasingly overwhelmed by the scale of the attacks.


The Allied landings in Italy in September 1943 by two Allied armies, following shortly after the Allied landings in Sicily in July, commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander, the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the 15th Army Group (later retitled the Allied Armies in Italy), were followed by an advance northward on two fronts, one on each side of the central mountain range forming the "spine" of Italy. On the western front, the American Fifth Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, which had suffered very heavy casualties during the main landing at Salerno (codenamed Operation Avalanche) in September, moved from the main base of Naples up the Italian "boot" and on the eastern front the British Eighth Army, commanded by General Sir Bernard Montgomery, advanced up the Adriatic coast.

Clark's Fifth Army made slow progress in the face of difficult terrain, wet weather and skillful German defences. The Germans were fighting from a series of prepared positions in a manner designed to inflict maximum damage, then pulling back while buying time for the construction of the Winter Line defensive positions south of the Italian capital of Rome. The original estimates that Rome would fall by October 1943 proved far too optimistic.

Although in the east the German defensive line had been breached on the Adriatic front and Ortona was captured by the 1st Canadian Division, the advance had ground to a halt with the onset of winter blizzards at the end of December, making close air support and movement in the jagged terrain impossible. The route to Rome from the east using Route 5 was thus excluded as a viable option leaving the routes from Naples to Rome, highways 6 and 7, as the only possibilities Highway 7 (the old Roman Appian Way) followed along the west coast but south of Rome ran into the Pontine Marshes, which the Germans had flooded.

Highway 6 ran through the Liri valley, dominated at its south entrance by the rugged mass of Monte Cassino above the town of Cassino. Excellent observation from the peaks of several hills allowed the German defenders to detect Allied movement and direct highly accurate artillery fire, preventing any northward advance. Running across the Allied line was the fast flowing Rapido River, which rose in the central Apennine Mountains, flowed through Cassino (joining to the Gari River, which was erroneously identified as the Rapido [9] ) and across the entrance to the Liri valley. There the Liri river joined the Gari to form the Garigliano River, which continued on to the sea.

With its heavily fortified mountain defences, difficult river crossings, and valley head flooded by the Germans, Cassino formed a linchpin of the Gustav Line, the most formidable line of the defensive positions making up the Winter Line.

In spite of its potential excellence as an observation post, because of the fourteen-century-old Benedictine abbey's historical significance, the German commander in Italy, Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, ordered German units not to include it in their defensive positions and informed the Vatican and the Allies accordingly in December 1943. [10] [11]

Nevertheless, some Allied reconnaissance aircraft maintained they observed German troops inside the monastery. While this remains unconfirmed, it is clear that once the monastery was destroyed it was occupied by the Germans and proved better cover for their emplacements and troops than an intact structure would have offered.

Plans and preparation Edit

The plan of the Fifth Army commander, Lieutenant General Clark, was for the British X Corps, under Lieutenant General Richard McCreery, on the left of a thirty-kilometer (20 mi) front, to attack on 17 January 1944, across the Garigliano near the coast (5th and 56th Infantry Divisions). The British 46th Infantry Division was to attack on the night of 19 January across the Garigliano below its junction with the Liri in support of the main attack by U.S. II Corps, under Major General Geoffrey Keyes, on their right. The main central thrust by the U.S. II Corps would commence on 20 January with the U.S. 36th Infantry Division making an assault across the swollen Gari river five miles (8 km) downstream of Cassino. Simultaneously the French Expeditionary Corps (CEF), under General Alphonse Juin would continue its "right hook" move towards Monte Cairo, the hinge to the Gustav and Hitler defensive lines. In truth, Clark did not believe there was much chance of an early breakthrough, [12] but he felt that the attacks would draw German reserves away from the Rome area in time for the attack on Anzio (codenamed Operation Shingle) where the U.S. VI Corps (British 1st and U.S. 3rd Infantry Divisions, the 504th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, U.S. Army Rangers and British Commandos, Combat Command 'B' of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, along with supporting units), under Major General John P. Lucas, was due to make an amphibious landing on 22 January. It was hoped that the Anzio landing, with the benefit of surprise and a rapid move inland to the Alban Hills, which command both routes 6 and 7, would so threaten the Gustav defenders' rear and supply lines that it might just unsettle the German commanders and cause them to withdraw from the Gustav Line to positions north of Rome. Whilst this would have been consistent with the German tactics of the previous three months, Allied intelligence had not understood that the strategy of fighting retreat had been for the sole purpose of providing time to prepare the Gustav line where the Germans intended to stand firm. The intelligence assessment of Allied prospects was therefore over-optimistic. [13]

The Fifth Army had only reached the Gustav Line on 15 January, having taken six weeks of heavy fighting to advance the last seven miles (11 km) through the Bernhardt Line positions, during which time they had sustained 16,000 casualties. [14] They hardly had time to prepare the new assault, let alone take the rest and reorganization they really needed after three months of attritional fighting north from Naples. However, because the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff would only make landing craft available until early February, as they were required for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Northern France, Operation Shingle had to take place in late January with the coordinated attack on the Gustav Line some three days earlier.

First assault: X Corps on the left, 17 January Edit

The first assault was made on 17 January. Near the coast, the British X Corps (56th and 5th Divisions) forced a crossing of the Garigliano (followed some two days later by the British 46th Division on their right) causing General Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin, commander of the German XIV Panzer Corps, and responsible for the Gustav defences on the south western half of the line, some serious concern as to the ability of the German 94th Infantry Division to hold the line. Responding to Senger's concerns, Kesselring ordered the 29th and 90th Panzergrenadier Divisions from the Rome area to provide reinforcement. There is some speculation [ by whom? ] as to what might have been if X Corps had had the reserves available to exploit their success and make a decisive breakthrough. The corps did not have the extra men, but there would certainly have been time to alter the overall battle plan and cancel or modify the central attack by the U.S. II Corps to make men available to force the issue in the south before the German reinforcements were able to get into position. As it happened, Fifth Army HQ failed to appreciate the frailty of the German position and the plan was unchanged. The two divisions from Rome arrived by 21 January and stabilized the German position in the south. In one respect, however, the plan was working in that Kesselring's reserves had been drawn south. The three divisions of Lieutenant General McCreery's X Corps sustained some 4,000 casualties during the period of the first battle. [15]

Main attack: II Corps in the centre, 20 January Edit

The central thrust by the U.S. 36th Division, under Major General Fred L. Walker, commenced three hours after sunset on 20 January. The lack of time to prepare meant that the approach to the river was still hazardous due to uncleared mines and booby traps and the highly technical business of an opposed river crossing lacked the necessary planning and rehearsal. Although a battalion of the 143rd Infantry Regiment was able to get across the Gari on the south side of San Angelo and two companies of the 141st Infantry Regiment on the north side, they were isolated for most of the time and at no time was Allied armour able to get across the river, leaving them highly vulnerable to counter-attacking tanks and self-propelled guns of Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt's 15th Panzergrenadier Division. The southern group was forced back across the river by mid-morning of 21 January. Keyes pressed Walker to renew the attack immediately. Once again the two regiments attacked but with no more success against the well dug-in 15th Panzergrenadier Division: the 143rd Infantry Regiment got the equivalent of two battalions across, but, once again, there was no armoured support and they were devastated when daylight came the next day. The 141st Infantry Regiment also crossed in two battalion strength and, despite the lack of armoured support, managed to advance 1 kilometre (0.62 mi). However, with the coming of daylight, they too were cut down and by the evening of 22 January, the 141st Infantry Regiment had virtually ceased to exist only 40 men made it back to the Allied lines.

Rick Atkinson described the intense German resistance:

Artillery and Nebelwerfer drumfire methodically searched both bridgeheads, while machine guns opened on every sound. GIs inched forward, feeling for trip wires and listening to German gun crews reload. to stand or even to kneel was to die. On average, soldiers wounded on the Rapido received "definitive treatment" nine hours and forty-one minutes after they were hit, a medical study later found. " [16]

The assault had been a costly failure, with the 36th Division losing 2,100 [17] men killed, wounded and missing in 48 hours. As a result, the army's conduct of this battle became the subject of a Congressional inquiry after the war.

II Corps try north of Cassino: 24 January Edit

The next attack was launched on 24 January. The U.S. II Corps, with 34th Infantry Division under Major General Charles W. Ryder spearheading the attack and French colonial troops on its right flank, launched an assault across the flooded Rapido valley north of Cassino and into the mountains behind with the intention of then wheeling to the left and attacking Monte Cassino from high ground. Whilst the task of crossing the river would be easier in that the Rapido upstream of Cassino was fordable, the flooding made movement on the approaches each side very difficult. In particular, armour could only move on paths laid with steel matting and it took eight days of bloody fighting across the waterlogged ground for 34th Division to push back General Franek's German 44th Infantry Division to establish a foothold in the mountains.

French Corps halted on the right flank Edit

On the right, the Moroccan-French troops made good initial progress against the German 5th Mountain Division, commanded by General Julius Ringel, gaining positions on the slopes of their key objective, Monte Cifalco. Forward units of the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division had also by-passed Monte Cifalco to capture Monte Belvedere and Colle Abate. General Juin was convinced that Cassino could be bypassed and the German defences unhinged by this northerly route but his request for reserves to maintain the momentum of his advance was refused and the one available reserve regiment (from 36th Division) was sent to reinforce 34th Division. [18] By 31 January the French had ground to a halt with Monte Cifalco, which had a clear view of the French and U.S. flanks and supply lines, still in German hands. The two Moroccan-French divisions sustained 2,500 casualties in their struggles around Colle Belvedere. [19]

II Corps in the mountains north of Cassino Edit

It became the task of the U.S. 34th Division (joined temporarily by the 142nd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division, which had been held in reserve and unused during the Rapido crossing) to fight southward along the linked hilltops towards the intersecting ridge on the south end of which was Monastery Hill. They could then break through down into the Liri valley behind the Gustav Line defences. It was very tough going: the mountains were rocky, strewn with boulders and cut by ravines and gullies. Digging foxholes on the rocky ground was out of the question and each feature was exposed to fire from surrounding high points. The ravines were no better since the gorse growing there, far from giving cover, had been sown with mines, booby-traps and hidden barbed wire by the defenders. The Germans had had three months to prepare their defensive positions using dynamite and to stockpile ammunition and stores. There was no natural shelter and the weather was wet and freezing cold.

By early February, American infantry had captured a strategic point near the hamlet of San Onofrio, less than 1 mile (1.6 km) from the abbey and by 7 February a battalion had reached Point 445, a round-topped hill immediately below the monastery and no more than 400 yards (370 m) away. An American squad managed a reconnaissance right up against the cliff-like abbey walls, with the monks observing German and American patrols exchanging fire. However, attempts to take Monte Cassino were broken by overwhelming machine gun fire from the slopes below the monastery. Despite their fierce fighting, the 34th Division never managed to take the final redoubts on Hill 593 (known to the Germans as Calvary Mount), held by the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Parachute Regiment, part of the 1st Parachute Division, the dominating point of the ridge to the monastery.

Aftermath Edit

On 11 February, after a final unsuccessful 3-day assault on Monastery Hill and Cassino town, the Americans were withdrawn. U.S. II Corps, after two and a half weeks of battle, was worn out. The performance of the 34th Division in the mountains is considered to rank as one of the finest feats of arms carried out by any soldiers during the war. [20] In return they sustained losses of about 80 per cent in the Infantry battalions, some 2,200 casualties. [19]

At the height of the battle in the first days of February von Senger und Etterlin had moved the 90th Division from the Garigliano front to the north of Cassino and had been so alarmed at the rate of attrition, he had ". mustered all the weight of my authority to request that the Battle of Cassino should be broken off and that we should occupy a quite new line. . a position, in fact, north of the Anzio bridgehead". [21] Kesselring refused the request. At the crucial moment von Senger was able to throw in the 71st Infantry Division whilst leaving the 15th Panzergrenadier Division (whom they had been due to relieve) in place.

During the battle, there had been occasions when with more astute use of reserves, promising positions might have been turned into decisive moves. Some historians [ who? ] suggest this failure to capitalize on initial success could be put down to Clark's lack of experience. However, it is more likely that he just had too much to do, being responsible for both the Cassino and Anzio offensives. This view is supported by the inability of Major General Lucian Truscott, commanding the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, as related below, to get hold of him for discussions at a vital juncture of the Anzio breakout at the time of the fourth Cassino battle. Whilst General Alexander, C-in-C of the AAI, chose (for perfectly logical co-ordination arguments) to have Cassino and Anzio under a single army commander and splitting the Gustav Line front between the U.S. Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army, now commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese, Kesselring chose to create a separate 14th Army under General Eberhard von Mackensen to fight at Anzio whilst leaving the Gustav Line in the sole hands of General Heinrich von Vietinghoff's 10th Army.

The withdrawn American units were replaced by the New Zealand Corps (2nd New Zealand and 4th Indian Divisions), commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg, from the Eighth Army on the Adriatic front.

Background Edit

With U.S. VI Corps under heavy threat at Anzio, Freyberg was under equal pressure to launch a relieving action at Cassino. Once again, therefore, the battle commenced without the attackers being fully prepared. As well, Corps HQ did not fully appreciate the difficulty in getting the 4th Indian Infantry Division into place in the mountains and supplying them on the ridges and valleys north of Cassino. This was evidenced in the writing of Maj. Gen. Howard Kippenberger, commander of New Zealand 2nd Division, after the war:

Poor Dimoline (acting commander of 4th Indian Division) was having a dreadful time getting his division into position. I never really appreciated the difficulties until I went over the ground after the war.

Freyberg's plan was a continuation of the first battle: an attack from the north along the mountain ridges and an attack from the southeast along the railway line and to capture the railway station across the Rapido less than 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Cassino town. Success would pinch out Cassino town and open up the Liri valley. Freyberg had informed his superiors that he believed, given the circumstances, there was no better than a 50 percent chance of success for the offensive. [23]

Destruction of the abbey Edit

Increasingly, the opinions of certain Allied officers were fixed on the great abbey of Monte Cassino: in their view it was the abbey—and its presumed use as a German artillery observation point—that prevented the breach of the 'Gustav Line'.

The British press and C. L. Sulzberger of The New York Times frequently and convincingly and in (often manufactured) detail wrote of German observation posts and artillery positions inside the abbey. [24] The commander in chief of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker accompanied by Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers (deputy to General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Mediterranean Theater) personally observed during a fly-over "a radio mast [. ] German uniforms hanging on a clothesline in the abbey courtyard [and] machine gun emplacements 50 yards (46 m) from the abbey walls." [25] [nb 1] Countering this, U.S. II Corps commander Geoffrey Keyes also flew over the monastery several times, reporting to Fifth Army G-2 he had seen no evidence that the Germans were in the abbey. When informed of others' claims of having seen enemy troops there, he stated: "They’ve been looking so long they’re seeing things." [27]

Kippenberger of the New Zealand Corps HQ held it was their view the monastery was probably being used as the Germans' main vantage point for artillery spotting since it was so perfectly situated for it no army could refrain. There is no clear evidence it was, but he went on to write that from a military point of view it was immaterial:

If not occupied today, it might be tomorrow and it did not appear it would be difficult for the enemy to bring reserves into it during an attack or for troops to take shelter there if driven from positions outside. It was impossible to ask troops to storm a hill surmounted by an intact building such as this, capable of sheltering several hundred infantry in perfect security from shellfire and ready at the critical moment to emerge and counter-attack. . Undamaged it was a perfect shelter but with its narrow windows and level profiles an unsatisfactory fighting position. Smashed by bombing it was a jagged heap of broken masonry and debris open to effective fire from guns, mortars and strafing planes as well as being a death trap if bombed again. On the whole I thought it would be more useful to the Germans if we left it unbombed. [28]

Major General Francis Tuker, whose 4th Indian Division would have the task of attacking Monastery Hill, had made his own appraisal of the situation. In the absence of detailed intelligence at Fifth Army HQ, he had found a book dated 1879 in a Naples bookshop giving details of the construction of the abbey. In his memorandum to Freyberg he concluded that regardless of whether the monastery was currently occupied by the Germans, it should be demolished to prevent its effective occupation. He also pointed out that with 150-foot (46 m) high walls made of masonry at least 10 feet (3.0 m) thick, there were no practical means for field engineers to deal with the place and that bombing with "blockbuster" bombs would be the only solution since 1,000 pound bombs would be "next to useless". [29] Tuker said he could not be induced to attack unless "the garrison was reduced to helpless lunacy by sheer unending pounding for days and nights by air and artillery". [30]

On 11 February 1944, the acting commander of the 4th Indian Division, Brigadier Dimoline, requested a bombing raid. Tuker reiterated again his case from a hospital bed in Caserta, where he was suffering a severe attack of a recurrent tropical fever. Freyberg transmitted his request on 12 February. The request, however, was greatly expanded by air force planners and probably supported by Eaker and Devers, who sought to use the opportunity to showcase the abilities of U.S. Army air power to support ground operations. [31] Clark and his chief of staff Major General Alfred Gruenther remained unconvinced of the "military necessity". When handing over the U.S. II Corps position to the New Zealand Corps, Brigadier General J.A. Butler, deputy commander of U.S. 34th Division, had said "I don't know, but I don't believe the enemy is in the convent. All the fire has been from the slopes of the hill below the wall". [32] Finally Clark, "who did not want the monastery bombed", [33] pinned down the Commander-in-Chief Allied Armies in Italy, Alexander, to take the responsibility: "I said, 'You give me a direct order and we'll do it,' and he did." [34]

The bombing mission in the morning of 15 February 1944 involved 142 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers followed by 47 North American B-25 Mitchell and 40 Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers. In all they dropped 1,150 tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs on the abbey, reducing the entire top of Monte Cassino to a smoking mass of rubble. Between bomb runs, the II Corps artillery pounded the mountain. [35] Many Allied soldiers and war correspondents cheered as they observed the spectacle. Eaker and Devers watched Juin was heard to remark ". no, they'll never get anywhere this way." [36] Clark and Gruenther refused to be on the scene and stayed at their headquarters. That same afternoon and the next day an aggressive follow-up of artillery and a raid by 59 fighter bombers wreaked further destruction. The German positions on Point 593 above and behind the monastery were untouched. [37]

Damningly, the air raid had not been coordinated with ground commands and an immediate infantry follow-up failed to materialize. Its timing had been driven by the Air Force regarding it as a separate operation, considering the weather and requirements on other fronts and theaters without reference to ground forces. Many of the troops had only taken over their positions from II Corps two days previously and besides the difficulties in the mountains, preparations in the valley had also been held up by difficulties in supplying the newly installed troops with sufficient material for a full-scale assault because of incessantly foul weather, flooding and waterlogged ground. As a result, Indian troops on the Snake's Head were taken by surprise, [38] while the New Zealand Corps was two days away from being ready to launch their main assault.

After the bombing Edit

Pope Pius XII was silent after the bombing however, his Cardinal Secretary of State, Luigi Maglione, bluntly stated to the senior U.S. diplomat to the Vatican, Harold Tittmann, that the bombing was "a colossal blunder … a piece of a gross stupidity". [39]

It is certain from every investigation that followed since the event that the only people killed in the monastery by the bombing were 230 Italian civilians seeking refuge in the abbey. [40] There is no evidence that the bombs dropped on the Monte Cassino monastery that day killed any German troops. However, given the imprecision of bombing in those days (it was estimated that only 10 per cent of the bombs from the heavy bombers, bombing from high altitude, hit the monastery) bombs did fall elsewhere and killed German and Allied troops alike, although that would have been unintended. Indeed, sixteen bombs hit the Fifth Army compound at Presenzano 17 miles (27 km) from Monte Cassino and exploded only yards away from the trailer where Clark was doing paperwork at his desk. [41]

On the day after the bombing at first light, most of the civilians still alive fled the ruins. Only about 40 people remained: the six monks who survived in the deep vaults of the abbey, their 79-year-old abbot, Gregorio Diamare, three tenant farmer families, orphaned or abandoned children, the badly wounded and the dying. After artillery barrages, renewed bombing and attacks on the ridge by 4th Indian Division, the monks decided to leave their ruined home with the others who could move at 07:30 on 17 February. The old abbot was leading the group down the mule path toward the Liri valley, reciting the rosary. After they arrived at a German first-aid station, some of the badly wounded who had been carried by the monks were taken away in a military ambulance. After meeting with a German officer, the monks were driven to the monastery of Sant'Anselmo all'Aventino. On 18 February, the abbot met the commander of XIV Panzer Corps, Lieutenant-General Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin. [42] One monk, Carlomanno Pellagalli, returned to the abbey when he was later seen wandering the ruins, the German paratroopers thought he was a ghost. After 3 April, he was not seen again.

It is now known that the Germans had an agreement not to use the abbey for military purposes. [nb 2] Following its destruction, paratroopers of the German 1st Parachute Division then occupied the ruins of the abbey and turned it into a fortress and observation post, which became a serious problem for the attacking Allied forces.

Battle Edit

On the night following the bombing, a company of the 1st Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment (one of the British elements in 4th Indian Division) serving in 7th Indian Infantry Brigade attacked the key point 593 from their position 70 yards (64 m) away on Snakeshead Ridge. The assault failed, with the company sustaining 50 per cent casualties.

The following night the Royal Sussex Regiment was ordered to attack in battalion strength. There was a calamitous start. Artillery could not be used in direct support targeting point 593 because of the proximity and risk of shelling friendly troops. It was planned therefore to shell point 575 which had been providing supporting fire to the defenders of point 593. The topography of the land meant that shells fired at 575 had to pass very low over Snakeshead Ridge and in the event some fell among the gathering assault companies. After reorganising, the attack went in at midnight. The fighting was brutal and often hand to hand, but the determined defence held and the Royal Sussex battalion was beaten off, once again sustaining over 50 per cent casualties. Over the two nights, the Royal Sussex Regiment lost 12 out of 15 officers and 162 out of 313 men who took part in the attack. [46]

On the night of 17 February, the main assault took place. The 4/6th Rajputana Rifles would take on the assault of point 593 along Snakeshead Ridge with the depleted Royal Sussex Regiment held in reserve. 1/9th Gurkha Rifles was to attack Point 444. [47] In the meantime, the 1/2nd Gurkha Rifles were to sweep across the slopes and ravines in a direct assault on the monastery. This latter was across appalling terrain, but it was hoped that the Gurkhas, so expert in mountain terrain, would succeed. This proved a faint hope. Once again the fighting was brutal, but no progress was made and casualties heavy. The Rajputanas lost 196 officers and men, the 1/9th Gurkhas 149 and the 1/2nd Gurkhas 96. It became clear that the attack had failed and on 18 February Dimoline and Freyberg called off the attacks on Monastery Hill.

In the other half of the main assault, the two companies from 28th (Māori) Battalion from the New Zealand Division forced a crossing of the Rapido and attempted to gain the railway station in Cassino town. The intention was to take a perimeter that would allow engineers to build a causeway for armoured support. With the aid of a near constant smoke screen laid down by Allied artillery that obscured their location to the German batteries on Monastery Hill, the Māori were able to hold their positions for much of the day. Their isolation and lack of both armoured support and anti-tank guns made for a hopeless situation, however, when an armoured counter-attack by two tanks came in the afternoon on 18 February. [48] [49] They were ordered to pull back to the river when it became clear to headquarters that both the attempts to break through (in the mountains and along the causeway) would not succeed. It had been very close. The Germans had been very alarmed by the capture of the station and from a conversation on record between Kesselring and von Vietinghoff, had not expected their counter-attack to succeed. [50]

Plans Edit

For the third battle, it was decided that whilst the winter weather persisted, fording the Garigliano river downstream of Cassino town was an unattractive option (after the unhappy experiences in the first two battles). The "right hook" in the mountains had also been a costly failure and it was decided to launch twin attacks from the north along the Rapido valley: one towards the fortified Cassino town and the other towards Monastery Hill. The idea was to clear the path through the bottleneck between these two features to allow access towards the station on the south and so to the Liri valley. British 78th Infantry Division, which had arrived in late February and placed under the command of New Zealand Corps, would then cross the Rapido downstream of Cassino and start the push to Rome.

None of the Allied commanders were very happy with the plan, but it was hoped that an unprecedented preliminary bombing by heavy bombers would prove the trump. Three clear days of good weather were required and for twenty one successive days the assault was postponed as the troops waited in the freezing wet positions for a favourable weather forecast. Matters were not helped by the loss of Kippenberger, wounded by an anti-personnel mine and losing both his feet. He was replaced by Brigadier Graham Parkinson a German counter-attack at Anzio had failed and been called off.

The battle Edit

The third battle began 15 March. After a bombardment of 750 tons of 1,000-pound bombs with delayed action fuses, [51] starting at 08:30 and lasting three and a half hours, the New Zealanders advanced behind a creeping artillery barrage from 746 artillery pieces. [51] Success depended on taking advantage of the paralysing effect of the bombing. The bombing was not concentrated – only 50 per cent landed a mile or less from the target point and 8 per cent within 1,000 yards but between it and the shelling about half the 300 paratroopers in the town had been killed. [52] The defences rallied more quickly than expected and the Allied armour was held up by bomb craters. Nevertheless, success was there for the New Zealanders' taking, but by the time a follow-up assault on the left had been ordered that evening it was too late: defences had reorganised and more critically, the rain, contrary to forecast, had started again. Torrents of rain flooded bomb craters, turned rubble into a morass and blotted out communications, the radio sets being incapable of surviving the constant immersion. The dark rain clouds also blotted out the moonlight, hindering the task of clearing routes through the ruins. On the right, the New Zealanders had captured Castle Hill and point 165 and as planned, elements of the Indian 4th Infantry Division, now commanded by Major General Alexander Galloway, had passed through to attack point 236 and thence to point 435, Hangman's Hill. In the confusion of the fight, a company of the 1/9th Gurkha Rifles had taken a track avoiding point 236 and captured point 435 whilst the assault on point 236 by the 1/6th Rajputana Rifles had been repelled.

By the end of 17 March, the Gurkhas held Hangman's Hill (point 435), 250 yards (230 m) from the monastery, in battalion strength (although their lines of supply were compromised by the German positions at point 236 and in the northern part of the town) and whilst the town was still fiercely defended, New Zealand units and armour had got through the bottleneck and captured the station. However, the Germans were still able to reinforce their troops in the town and were proving adept at slipping snipers back into parts of the town that had supposedly been cleared. [53]

19 March was planned for the decisive blow in the town and on the monastery, including a surprise attack by tanks of 20th Armoured Regiment working their way along an old logging road ("Cavendish Road") from Caira to Albaneta Farm (which had been prepared by engineer units under the cover of darkness) and from there towards the abbey. However, a surprise and fiercely pressed counter-attack from the monastery on Castle Hill by the German 1st Parachute Division completely disrupted any possibility of an assault on the monastery from the Castle and Hangman's Hill whilst the tanks, lacking infantry support, were all knocked out by mid-afternoon. [54] In the town the attackers made little progress and overall the initiative was passing to the Germans whose positions close to Castle Hill, which was the gateway to the position on Monastery Hill, crippled any prospects of early success.

On 20 March Freyberg committed elements of the 78th Infantry Division to the battle firstly to provide a greater troop presence in the town so that cleared areas would not be reinfiltrated by the Germans and secondly to reinforce Castle Hill to allow troops to be released to close off the two routes between Castle Hill and Points 175 and 165 being used by the Germans to reinforce the defenders in the town. [55] The Allied commanders felt they were on the brink of success as grim fighting continued through 21 March. However, the defenders were resolute and the attack on Point 445 to block the German reinforcement route had narrowly failed whilst in the town Allied gains were measured only house by house.

On 23 March Alexander met with his commanders. A range of opinions was expressed as to the possibility of victory but it was evident that the New Zealand and Indian Divisions were exhausted. Freyberg was convinced that the attack could not continue and he called it off. [56] The German 1st Parachute Division had taken a mauling but had held.

Aftermath Edit

The next three days were spent stabilizing the front, extracting the isolated Gurkhas from Hangman's Hill and the detachment from New Zealand 24th Battalion which had held Point 202 in similar isolation. The Allied line was reorganised with the exhausted 4th Indian Division and 2nd New Zealand Division withdrawn and replaced respectively in the mountains by the British 78th Division and in the town by British 1st Guards Brigade. The New Zealand Corps headquarters was dissolved on 26 March and control was assumed by British XIII Corps. [57] In their time on the Cassino front line the 4th Indian Division had lost 3,000 men and the 2nd New Zealand Division 1,600 men killed, missing and wounded. [58]

The German defenders too had paid a heavy price. The German XIV Corps War Diary for 23 March noted that the battalions in the front line had strengths varying between 40 and 120 men. [59]

Alexander's strategy Edit

Alexander's strategy in Italy was to "force the enemy to commit the maximum number of divisions in Italy at the time the cross-channel invasion [of Normandy] is launched". [60] Circumstances allowed him the time to prepare a major offensive to achieve this. His plan, originally inspired from Juin's idea to circle around Cassino and take the Aurunci with his mountain troops to break the Gustav Line, was to shift the bulk of the British Eighth Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, from the Adriatic front across the spine of Italy to join Clark's Fifth Army and attack along a 20-mile (32 km) front between Cassino and the sea. Fifth Army (U.S. II Corps and French Expeditionary Corps) would be on the left and Eighth Army (British XIII Corps and Polish II Corps) on the right. With the arrival of the spring weather, ground conditions were improved and it would be possible to deploy large formations and armour effectively.

Planning and preparation Edit

The plan for Operation Diadem was that U.S. II Corps on the left would attack up the coast along the line of Route 7 towards Rome. The French Corps to their right would attack from the bridgehead across the Garigliano originally created by British X Corps in the first battle in January into the Aurunci Mountains which formed a barrier between the coastal plain and the Liri Valley. British XIII Corps in the centre right of the front would attack along the Liri valley. On the right Polish II Corps (3rd and 5th Divisions) commanded by Lieutenant General Władysław Anders, had relieved the British 78th Division in the mountains behind Cassino on 24 April and would attempt the task which had defeated 4th Indian Division in February: isolate the monastery and push round behind it into the Liri valley to link with XIII Corps' thrust and pinch out the Cassino position. It was hoped that being a much larger force than their 4th Indian Division predecessors they would be able to saturate the German defences which would, as a result, be unable to give supporting fire to each other's positions. Improved weather, ground conditions and supply would also be important factors. Once again, the pinching manoeuvres by the Polish and British Corps were key to the overall success. Canadian I Corps would be held in reserve ready to exploit the expected breakthrough. Once the German 10th Army had been defeated, U.S. VI Corps would break out of the Anzio beachhead to cut off the retreating Germans in the Alban Hills.

The large troop movements required for this took two months to execute. They had to be carried out in small units to maintain secrecy and surprise. U.S. 36th Division was sent on amphibious assault training and road signposts and dummy radio signal traffic were created to give the impression that a seaborne landing was being planned for north of Rome. This was planned to keep German reserves held back from the Gustav Line. Movements of troops in forward areas were confined to the hours of darkness and armoured units moving from the Adriatic front left behind dummy tanks and vehicles so the vacated areas appeared unchanged to enemy aerial reconnaissance. The deception was successful. As late as the second day of the final Cassino battle, Kesselring estimated the Allies had six divisions facing his four on the Cassino front. In fact, there were thirteen.

Battle Edit

The first assault (11–12 May) on Cassino opened at 23:00 with a massive artillery bombardment with 1,060 guns on the Eighth Army front and 600 guns on the Fifth Army front, manned by British, Americans, Poles, New Zealanders, South Africans and French. [61] Within an hour and a half the attack was in motion in all four sectors. By daylight the U.S. II Corps had made little progress, but their Fifth Army colleagues, the French Expeditionary Corps, had achieved their objectives and were fanning out in the Aurunci Mountains toward the Eighth Army to their right, rolling up the German positions between the two armies. On the Eighth Army front, British XIII Corps had made two strongly opposed crossings of the Garigliano (by British 4th Infantry Division and 8th Indian Division). Crucially, the engineers of Dudley Russell's 8th Indian Division had by the morning succeeded in bridging the river enabling the armour of 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade to cross and provide the vital element (so missed by the Americans in the first battle and New Zealanders in the second battle) to beat off the inevitable counter-attacks from German tanks that would come.

In the mountains above Cassino, the aptly named Mount Calvary (Monte Calvario, or Point 593 on Snakeshead Ridge) was taken by the Poles only to be recaptured by German paratroops. [62] For three days Polish attacks and German counter-attacks brought heavy losses to both sides. Polish II Corps lost 281 officers and 3,503 other ranks in assaults on Oberst Ludwig Heilmann's 4th Parachute Regiment, until the attacks were called off. [63] "Just eight hundred Germans had succeeded in driving off attacks by two divisions", [64] the area around the mountain having turned into a "miniature Verdun". [ citation needed ] In the early morning hours of 12 May, the Polish infantry divisions were met with "such devastating mortar, artillery and small-arms fire that the leading battalions were all but wiped out". [65]

By the afternoon of 12 May, the Gari bridgeheads were increasing despite furious counter-attacks whilst the attrition on the coast and in the mountains continued. By 13 May the pressure was starting to tell. The German right wing began to give way to Fifth Army. The French Corps had captured Monte Maio and were now in a position to give material flank assistance to the Eighth Army in the Liri valley against whom Kesselring had thrown every available reserve in order to buy time to switch to his second prepared defensive position, the Hitler Line, some 8 miles (13 km) to the rear. On 14 May Moroccan Goumiers, travelling through the mountains parallel to the Liri valley, ground which was undefended because it was not thought possible to traverse such terrain, outflanked the German defence while materially assisting the XIII Corps in the valley. In 1943, the Goumiers were colonial troops formed into four Groupements des Tabors Marocains ("Groups of Moroccan Tabors" GTM), each consisting of three loosely organised Tabors (roughly equivalent to a battalion) specialised in mountain warfare. Juin's French Expeditionary Corps consisted of the Commandement des Goums Marocains ("Command of Moroccan Goumiers" CGM) (with the 1st, 3rd and 4th GTM) of General Augustin Guillaume [66] totalling some 7,800 fighting men, [67] broadly the same infantry strength as a division, and four more conventional divisions: the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division (2 DIM), the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division (3 DIA), the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division (4 DMM) and the 1st Free French Division (1 DM). [66]

Clark also paid tribute to the Goumiers and the Moroccan regulars of the Tirailleur units:

In spite of the stiffening enemy resistance, the 2nd Moroccan Division penetrated the Gustave [sic] Line in less than two-day's fighting. The next 48 hours on the French front were decisive. The knife-wielding Goumiers swarmed over the hills, particularly at night and General Juin's entire force showed an aggressiveness hour after hour that the Germans could not withstand. Cerasola, San Giorgio, Mt. D'Oro, Ausonia and Esperia were seized in one of the most brilliant and daring advances of the war in Italy. For this performance, which was to be a key to the success of the entire drive on Rome, I shall always be a grateful admirer of General Juin and his magnificent FEC.

On 15 May, the British 78th Division with an attached armoured brigade under command came into the British XIII Corps line from reserve passing through the British 4th Infantry Division's bridgehead to execute the turning move to isolate Cassino from the Liri valley. [68]

On 17 May, Polish II Corps launched their second attack on Monte Cassino. Under constant artillery and mortar fire from the strongly fortified German positions and with little natural cover for protection, the fighting was fierce and at times hand-to-hand. With their line of supply threatened by the Allied advance in the Liri valley, the Germans decided to withdraw from the Cassino heights to the new defensive positions on the Hitler Line. [69] In the early hours of 18 May the British 78th Division and Polish II Corps linked up in the Liri valley 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Cassino town. On the Cassino high ground, the survivors of the second Polish offensive were so battered that "it took some time to find men with enough strength to climb the few hundred yards to the summit." [70] A patrol of Polish 12th Podolian Cavalry Regiment finally made it to the heights and raised a Polish flag over the ruins. [69] The only remnants of the defenders were a group of thirty [69] German wounded who had been unable to move.

Polish soldiers carry ammunition to the front lines just before the capture of the abbey.

Mailboats of the Bahamas: 200 Years of Maritime History

“Captain Frederick Bain of the Farrington sailing schooner Alisada in the 1930s was known to teach himself Euclid, and is believed to have been the grandfather of Prime Minister Lynden Pindling.”

“By the 1980s many people were flying inter-island. Not my family: here in 1984 my sister and her three brothers and our parents (Wiberg family) piled aboard the Deborah K. II, operated by the Archer family, for a voyage to the Abaco Cays overnight. Built as the Windhund in Germany in 1965, this vessel was captained by Garnett Archer and Donald Moss was mate. Both men or their families were interviewed for this book. The matrix tells you the Deborah K. was 348 feet long and replaced Deborah K.1984, or Stede Bonnet, 1985. She appears on schedules in 1988, 1989, and 1992, but is inactive by mid-late 1990s.”

MAILBOATS OF THE BAHAMAS: A TWO HUNDRED YEAR MARITIME HISTORY Book Details: ISBN 9780998375915, Island Books, Boston MA, due June 20, 2020, c.350 pages, colour, hardcover, e-book, Kindle, charts, bibliography, full case histories of 340 vessels to 1804, chapters by island and owners and hull type.


After D-Day, the next significant use of focused air power came in late July with the launch of Operation Cobra. A focused American advance, this was preceded by the bombing of German positions across a narrow front. The aim was to leave the defenders too weak to offer significant opposition.

Saint Lo and Vicinity – Operation Cobra.

The bombing preparation for Cobra caused some problems. Some of the planes dropped their bombs short of the German lines, hitting Americans instead. This mistake, which may have been caused by drifting smoke, shook the Allied troops and undermined their faith in their airborne comrades.

Despite such errors, the Cobra bombing was a success. It left the target area of the German lines weakened. As the Americans advanced, again with air support, the enemy crumbled. American forces punched through German lines, creating a breakthrough that ended their containment of the Normandy coast.



Robert Adams

Military | Captain | Pilot | 323rd Bomb Group
Robert H. Adams flew many missions with the 323rd Bomb Group. Promoted to Captain he was Pilot of B-26 Serial #42-107588 on the 14 January 1945 mission to bomb the bridge at Steinebrück, Saint-Vith, Belgium. .

Leo Amet

Military | Staff Sergeant | 323rd Bomb Group
Killed in Action (KIA) on B-26 mission to Euskirchen Supply Depot

Robert Anderson

Military | First Lieutenant | Bombardier | 323rd Bomb Group
Killed in Action (KIA). B-26C #41-34957 lost an engine due to oil cooler failure and forced to ditch near Iceland.

Warren Anderson

Military | Captain | Bombardier | 323rd Bomb Group
Captain Warren Anderson was Bombardier on B-26 Serial #42-107588 hit by Flak on the 14 January 1945 mission to bomb the bridge at Steinebrück, Saint-Vith, Belgium. In the Missing Air Crew Report - MACR 11926, Captain Anderson mentions he was.

William Anderson

Military | Captain | 323rd Bomb Group

Angelo Aquaro

Military | Lieutenant Colonel | Pilot | 323rd Bomb Group
Flew combat missions in the B-26 Marauder with the 455th BS, 323rd BG, then 344th BG, Ninth Air Force. .

William Archer

Military | Staff Sergeant | Engineer/Gunner | 323rd Bomb Group
Died of Injuries (DOI) B-26C 41-34709 323BG/453BS while serving as Engineer.Gunner. The crashed near Great Barton, Suffolk due to poor weather and engine failure at low altitude on 11 Sep 1943 while on return from mission to Deaumont-Le-Roger. Sergeant.

Jack Arnold

Military | Lieutenant Colonel | Bombardier B-26 Marauder | 323rd Bomb Group
Jack T. Arnold, born December 7, 1921 in Dupo, Illinois. Graduated from East High in East St. Louis, Illinois, received a first alternate appointment to West Point and enlisted in the U.S. Army Infantry. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he.

Joseph Ashburn

Military | Staff Sergeant | 323rd Bomb Group
Killed in Action (KIA). On B-26 mission to Dunkirk RR/GB. Mid-air collision due to flak. DFC, AM w/9Oak Leaf Cluster, PH

Raymond Bacon

Military | Staff Sergeant | 323rd Bomb Group
Killed in Action (KIA). On B-26 mission to Dunkirk RR/GB. Mid-air collision due to flak.

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