The Battle of Monte Cassino

The French

At Monte Cassino the French were represented by the French Expeditionary Corps – the FEC – commanded by Lt Gen Alphonse Juin.  The FEC consisted of four divisions: 1st French Motorized Division (Maj Gen Diego Brosset), 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division (Maj Gen Andre Dody), 3rd Algerian Infantry Division (Maj Gen Joseph de Monsabert) and the 4th Moroccan Infantry Division (Maj Gen Francoise Sevez). 

During the First Battle of Monte Cassino the FEC operated on the Allied far right – in the mountains east of Cassino.  The French commander believed that the battle could be won but a flanking movement through the mountains which would bypass the main German fortifications in the Cassino sector.  The French attack, conducted by the North African divisions successfully advanced taking one after another the mountains held by the German 5th Mountain Division.  However as their casualties mounted the attack started loosing momentum and unfortunately French requests for reinforcements were refused so the advance was halted.   The advance by the French North African divisions was impressive and even though it did not achieve the breakthrough that Gen Juin hoped it would they still managed to capture key heights east of Cassino that allowed for Allied advance into Cassino from that direction as well as for the assaults against Monte Cassino. 

Having suffered heavy casualties the FEC did not take part in further fighting until the 3rd battle of Monte Cassino where it was deployed on the Allied center left – in the same Auruncian Mountains where the British Corps failed to advance during the 1st Battle.  Repeating their performance from the eastern sector earlier on, the FEC penetrated through the tough terrain which was often lightly defended as the Germans considered it impassable.  Their rapid advance carried them right through the mountains and into the German rear which threatened to cut their forces at Cassino off and forced them  to order a withdrawal towards the north.    Thus, the Gen Juin's earlier theory that success could be achieved by cutting through the the thinner German defences in the flanking mountains was finally validated.  Unfortunately the Allied leadership insisted on launching frontal assaults against the strongest German positions leading to enormous casualties that were nowhere near justified by the territorial gains they led to. 

Unfortunately the FEC's Moroccan troops stained their honour by brutal acts committed against the Italian civilian population that overshadowed their valour.  After the fighting died down the Morrocans went on a rampage in the villages in the region  raping women of all ages as well as young boys.  More than seven thousand were raped, some to death and some eight hundred men were killed for trying to protect their families.  These crimes are known as the Marrochinate (crimes committed by the Moroccans) and they still remain deeply ingrained in the memory of the Italian population in the Monte Cassino region. 

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