Cauldron

The Battle of Monte Cassino - 17 January – 18 May 1944

Episode Summary

In this episode, we are diving into one of the more controversial and least covered battles of WWII - the fight for Monte Cassino. A sideshow to the main events of Normandy and the Eastern Front, the Italian Campaign was no less violent or brutal, consuming men and material at the same rate as the worst fighting in either World War. The ancient monastery of the Benedictine Order loomed over the entire battlefield like some Tolkein-Esque evil tower. Time and again, the Allied soldiers mentioned the ever-present feeling of being watched by Monte Cassino, and its eventual destruction was likely inevitable. But the bombing of such a culturally relevant sight has become the lasting legacy of the battle - is "military necessity," as Eisenhower phrased it, always the right path? Are there any structures of historical significance that should be outside the realm of warfare? In the case of Monte Cassino, both Allied intelligence at the time of the fighting and inquiries after the war found no German occupation of the monastery. And unfortunately for the Gurkha, Indian, New Zealand, and eventually the Poles that had to try and take the rubble that was Monte Cassino, the bombing had made the Axis position ten-fold more challenging to assault. By battles end, the Axis forces along the Gustav Line had been dislodged and sent reeling north. Rome was taken soon after, and the overwhelming might and logistical superiority of the democracies were brought to bear on the Wehrmacht for the first time in Europe proper.

Episode Notes

In this episode, we are diving into one of the more controversial and least covered battles of WWII - the fight for Monte Cassino. A sideshow to the main events of Normandy and the Eastern Front, the Italian Campaign was no less violent or brutal, consuming men and material at the same rate as the worst fighting in either World War. The ancient monastery of the Benedictine Order loomed over the entire battlefield like some Tolkein-Esque evil tower. Time and again, the Allied soldiers mentioned the ever-present feeling of being watched by Monte Cassino, and its eventual destruction was likely inevitable. But the bombing of such a culturally relevant sight has become the lasting legacy of the battle - is "military necessity," as Eisenhower phrased it, always the right path? Are there any structures of historical significance that should be outside the realm of warfare? In the case of Monte Cassino, both Allied intelligence at the time of the fighting and inquiries after the war found no German occupation of the monastery. And unfortunately for the Gurkha, Indian, New Zealand, and eventually the Poles that had to try and take the rubble that was Monte Cassino, the bombing had made the Axis position ten-fold more challenging to assault. By battles end, the Axis forces along the Gustav Line had been dislodged and sent reeling north. Rome was taken soon after, and the overwhelming might and logistical superiority of the democracies were brought to bear on the Wehrmacht for the first time in Europe proper.

 

So this time on Cauldron, let's go back to the frigid rain and icy peaks of the Southern Apennine Mountains. The late winter in the Liri Valley, waterlogged and deadly, bristling with the guns and traps of a dug in and ready Wehrmacht. To 1944, a time when the Grand Alliance was shaky at best, Stalin demanding the Western powers spill blood so his armies could catch their breath. To a time when the Americans were still trying to figure out how best to use their incredible strength and regularly failing. To a time when the British relied on their colonial forces for much of the heavy-lifting, and those colonial fighters never failed. To a place where 100's of years of art, culture, and religious thought resided in one of the world's most elegant and beautiful monasteries. Perched over the land like humanity had placed all his finest things on a grand pedestal in the hopes it would remain unharmed forever; the monastery was doomed from the battles beginning. Let's go back to what historian Matthew Parker has called "The Hardest-Fought Battle of World War II." Let's go back to January to May 1944, and the battle of Monte Cassino.

Checkout the interview I did with author/historian Matthew Parker here - https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-matthew-parker-author-monte-cassino-hardest/id1345505888?i=1000480879271

Also for some fantastic photos and maps go to here - https://www.matthewparker.co.uk/About_the_author.php

To buy a copy of Parker's excellent book Monte Cassino - The Hardest-Fought Battle of World War II go here - https://www.matthewparker.co.uk/buyonlineoptions.php

Main source - Monte Cassino - The Hardest-Fought Battle of World War II by Matthew Parker

Artwork - terrybogard392 @ Fiverr

Music - The Future Ancient Now - Nathan Moore