History has been known to repeat itself. Today in Iraq for example, United States and Allied troops are torn when drawing up plans to win the war in the holy land. The problems stem from their not being able to directly attack certain Muslim holy locations or shrines even though Iraqi insurgents are constantly utilizing these positions as sanctuaries and initiation points for waging battles against the allied forces or the new Iraqi government. During World War II, the Axis powers with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi army also attempted to use similar tactics to fend off attacks by Allied forces.
This report discusses the Battle of Monte Cassino and the pros and cons of the Allied Forces' actions during World War II. A historic shrine was completely destroyed by the events of the Allied forces during the Battle of Monte Cassino in the Italian campaign of 1943-1944. The battle was one of the major turning points against Adolf Hitler and should therefore be completely justified. Capturing Rome was as critical to the efforts of the Allied Forces as was the D-Day invasion because Italy represented the southern gateway to Berlin. Once engaged, Monte Cassino turned into a pivotal series of battles that allowed the combined forces of British and American troops to move forward and eventually liberate Rome from the occupying German forces. This occurred only two days before the more widely known Normandy, France invasion.
World War II
Adolf Hitler came to power on the notion that the German people had been completely taken advantage of after World War I by the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler obviously believed that extending Germany's boarders to incorporate the entire world was the only way to stop the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles "Then some one has said: 'Since the Revolution the people has gained Rights. The people govern!' Strange! The people have now been ruling three years and no one has in practice once asked its opinion. Treaties were signed which will hold us down for centuries: and who has signed the treaties? The people? No! Governments which one fine day presented themselves as Governments. (The Adolf Hitler Historical Archives, vol. 4/12/1922)
Once in power, Hitler and his generals understood that they had to protect their southern flank. By signing pacts with Mussolini and the Italians, Hitler thought that he could then advance west and north in his quest for land expansion. Rome was the main area Germany intended to protect. To do this, the Germans designated several key locations called the Gustave Line which was a portion of a greater line of defense called the Winter Line.
The Gustave Line was the western portion and was often in remote mountainous regions. The Gustave Line had the objective of protecting the Liri Valley and therefore Rome. The Germans went to great lengths to fortify these areas and the bunkers and other reinforced steel and concrete positions the Germans built are still considered engineering marvels.
The Italian Surrender
Most people today are well read on the D. Day invasions of Normandy. But, not as well-known are the events that took place further south. In 1943, the Allies invaded Italy. The Allied forces moved through southern Italy with limited resistance and conquered the majority of southern Italy. The Italians quickly surrendered but the German Army was well positioned and therefore had the ability to continue to fight. "The Allies' immediate objective was the liberation of Rome. The most obvious approach to Rome was the Liri Valley (just north of Monte Cassino), and the Winter Line would prevent the Allies advancing to there." (Wikipedia, 2004) The Winter Line include the Gustave Line and the Germans were well prepared for battle there because they were supported by more than fifteen divisions throughout the area.
Hitler's Gustave Line
In January of 1944, Allied forces began an assult on the Gustav Line. The Gustave Line was basically a series of areas and cities that were heavily fortified by German troops with the intention of protecting the Father Land's southern boarder. The line was completely fortified with a series of concrete bunkers that sported powerful turreted machine-gun emplacements and was also heavily mined. It was by far the strongest German line south of the city of Rome. The most improtant part to the western section of the protective line was Monte Cassino. "The Allied governments accused the Germans of using the Monastery as a strong point, which they strongly denied, although they were dug in on the slopes of the monastery. German positions had been blasted into the rock and well camouflaged." (Eagle19, 2004)
Like freedom fighters in Iraq today, the Germans included the very historic holy monument called the monastery of Monte Cassino in the Gustave Line. "Following Allied landings in Sicily and Salerno, Monte Cassino was chosen by Field Marshal Kesselring, commanding the German armies in Italy, as the pivotal point in the elaborate defensive system known as the Gustav Line which ran across the waistline of the peninsular from the Adriatic to the Gulf of Gaeta on the Tyrrhenian Sea." (Colvin & Hodges, 1994)
Monte Cassino was designated as one of the key points by the Germans and although the Germans claimed that they had every intention of tying to protect the monastery, it eventually became a major position in the middle of the potential firing lines. The problem for the monastery was that the Roman town of Casinum was a gateway into the very important military positions of the Liri Valley and therefore the avenue to Rome. "The stubborn defense of Monte Cassino by the men of the 1st Parachute Division had delayed the allied advance in Italy and showed their esprit de corps and tenacity in battle, earning them the name "The Green Devils of Cassino" and gaining the respect of all who came up against them." (Eagle19, 2004) The Germans were well aware that no large force could pass through this area unless they moved directly through the monastery's sights.
The Monastery of Monte Cassino
The monestary of Monte Cassino was of signifigance to the Vatican and the Catholic religion because it was the first monestary built by Saint Benedict of Norcia who was one of the original sources of the Benedictine Order from around 529 CE. The area that the Monastery of Monte Cassino was located on was at an elvated altitude of over 1700 feet and consisted of very rocky hills and treachorus cliffs. The monestary was approximately eighty miles south of Rome.
All these factors made the monestary an ideal defense point for the German an Axis troops. The religious signifigance did not matte to the German general staff so the point was added to the Gustave Line. It is believed that the local community of monks was able to eveacuate most of the archive and library. "Accompanying the lorries loaded with Cassinese treasures destined for the Vatican's care were most of the eighty monks; just five monks and six priests remained with the abbot to care for the building." (Colvin & Hodges, 1994)
The Battles of the Monastery of Monte Cassino
The Battle of Monte Cassino, sometimes known as the Battle for Rome, was not just a single battle but in fact was a series of battles. "The first battle started on January 4, 1944 and the monastery atop the hill was destroyed by Allied bombing on February 15, 19944. Allied aircraft heavily bombed the ruins of the monastery and staged an assault on March 15, 19944." (Wikipedia, 2004) The battles were very costly in the numbers of lives lost by the Allied forces. The position was just too well fortified by the German army which inflicted heavy losses to raiding troops. Throughout the many attempts to reach the walls of the monestqary, Allied forces continuously got close only to be turned away. "The Germans had encompassed Monte Cassino into their defense line so the allies, although reluctant to do so, agreed that in the near future it would probably have to be bombed." (Eagle19, 2004)
The Gustave Line, as noted, was an extremely well fortified line which included a series of heavily fortified fronts. Because of the fortifications and the terrain of Monte Cassino, aerial bombing was the best option for victory and the monastery was completely destroyed by these controversial Allied bombing missions against the German line. However, victory could not have been achieved without costly losses for the Allied troops in their quest to capture Rome if they had to pass directly through the Monastery of Monte Cassino and the surrounding region so it had to be eliminated as a defensive point. By the second battle, Polish troops found the Abbey undefended because German troops abandoned the position after the heavy air assault and six months of battling. Monte Cassino had finally fallen to the Allies.
The Germans must have assumed that Allied forces would never bomb places like historic monasteries and other religious icons and therefore choose…