The Battle of Monte Cassino

On the maps, the tiny Italian town of Cassino is little more than a speck. To the master strategists, it was the objective of the highest priority. But to the American, British, New Zealand, French, Indian, and Polish foot soldier who stormed its seemingly impregnable heights, it was nothing less than hell itself.

Between September 1943, when the Germans occupied the town, until its eventual capture by the Allies the following May, four distinct and bloody battles were fought for its possession. The four campaigns faced long odds from the start. Failure spelled the German occupation of Rome.

The terrain at Monte Cassino is virtually impassable—the long spine of the steep mountains with narrow littorals and rivers draining from the spine—a formidable natural area on which the Germans had skillfully improved. Wherever Allied forces tried to climb, the Germans had perfect cover and observation points from the tallied hilltop monastary and shadowed craigs. The Allies, able to utilize only a few rutted roads, founds themselves endlessly fighting their way across rivers, always under the guns of the German fortifications above them.

It was on May 18, 1944, that after many failed attempts by Allied forces to conquer Monte Cassino, this strategic point blocking access to Rome, that the 2nd Polish Corps succeeded after a bloody battle lasting seven days. Eight-hundred and sixty Polish soldiers died and 2,800 were wounded.

The Battle of Monte Cassino, won by Polish forces, has its place in history as one of the most decisive battles of World War II.

Many will gather at the Polish Cemetery of Monte Cassino in Italy to remember and honor those who survived and those who gave their lives for freedom.

An inscription on the monument in Monte Cassino is a tribute to their love of freedom:

We Polish soldiers
For our freedom and yours
Have given our souls to God
Our bodies to the soil of Italy
And our hearts to Poland.

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