The Battle of Monte Cassino

The Americans

During the initial stages of the fighting – the first and second Battles of Montecassino – the Americans were in overall command of the Allied forces engaged there: the multinational forces were all subordinated to the US 5th Army commanded by Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark. 
The 5th Army was multinational and its American components were the VI Corps that landed at Anzio and the II Corps that fought at Monte Cassino.  The II Corps (Lt. Gen. Geoffrey S. Keyes) was composed of two infantry divisions: 36th Texas ID (Maj. Gen. Fred L. Walker) and the 34th ID (Maj. Gen. Charles W. Ryder); and Combat Command B (Brigadier General Frank A. Allen). 

It was the II Corps that initiated the fight for the town of Cassino with its failed attempt to cross the Gari River (often mistaken for the Rapido) to the south with the intention to create a bridgehead that would allow for both a flanking attack on the German positions in Cassino as well as for the deployment of armoured forces (Combat Command B) for a drive up the Liri Valley towards Rome. 

The 20th January night attack by relatively unexperienced troops that in the confusion of moving under heavy enemy fire and often strayed off the cleared passages that ran across enemy minefields was a total failure.  The Americans of the 36th Texas division were decimated with 2,100 men dead, wounded and captured and even though their heroic efforts resulted in the establishment of a small bridgehead, once daylight came enemy fire cut them off from any reinforcements and the bridgehead was crushed.  An interview with one of the survivors of the Division that was cut off and taken prisoner on the enemy side of the Gari is in the Capital j. Films documentary Monte Cassino: The Road to Rome.  

Monument to the Texas Division soldiers who crossed the Gari at that spot.


The second ID of the Corps: the 34th, attacked north of Cassino on 24 January.  They penetrated the Rapido river and advanced south into both the outskirts of the town and into the mountains aiming to break through them into the Liri Valley and thus cut off the German Cassino position.  The American soldiers fought the German paras on the mountain slopes and their patrols made it all the was to the walls of the Monte Cassino monastery.  Their determined assaults brought victory almost within reach but the heavy casualties (2,200 men) sustained during the fighting reduced the Division's offensive strength so much that the advance had to stop. 
The heavy casualties sustained by the Americans during the 1st Battle of Monte Cassino meant that their divisions had to be withdrawn and replaced.  Thus the next time the US II Corps is seen in action is during the 3rd Battle of Monte Cassino when it moved up the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea on the Allied far left flank.  Again composed of two, albeit different, infantry divisions: 85th ID (Maj. Gen. John B. Coulter) and 88th ID (Maj. Gen. John E. Sloan), the Corps broke through the German lines and advanced north in heavy fighting.

The US cemetery at Anzio where the Monte Cassino dead are burried. 

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