The Battle of Monte Cassino (also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was a costly series of four assaults by the Allies against the Winter Line in Italy held by Axis forces during the Italian Campaign of World War II. The intention was a breakthrough to Rome.
The Allies landed in the Italian mainland on 9th September 1943, coinciding with the surrender of the Italians who then re-entered the war on the Allied side. Allied objectives were to draw German troops from the Russian front and more particularly from France, where the Normandy offensive was planned for the following year. The Allies were to push northward on two fronts. On the Western front, the US 5th Army commanded by Lieutenant-General Mark Clarke moved northward from Naples while the British 8th Army, advanced up the Adriatic Coast. The invasion progressed rapidly through southern Italy despite stiff resistance, but, by the end of October, the Allies were facing the German winter defensive position known as the Gustav Line, which stretched from the Garigiliano and Rapido rivers on the west and on the Sangro river on the east side of the Italian peninsula. On the eastern sector in Ortona and Orsagna the Canadians and New Zealanders suffered terrible casualties and the line stalled from December 1943. On the western side of the Gustav line, the German Army decided to hold their ground at the town of Cassino, in front of the Monastery. Hence, four battles for Monte Cassino raged from the 12th of January 1944 until the final occupation on May the 18th 1944. The US 5th Army’s quartermaster had assembled 600,000 shells for the operation. The Allied commanders proposed to commence the engagement by breaching the German front at the foot of Monte Cassino with the largest concentration of artillery and air power ever employed in the Italian campaign.
Between 17 January and 18 May, Monte Cassino and the Gustav defences were assaulted four times by Allied troops, the last involving twenty divisions attacking along a twenty-mile front. The German defenders were finally driven from their positions, but at a high cost. The capture of Monte Cassino resulted in 55,000 Allied casualties, with German losses being far fewer, estimated at around 20,000 killed and wounded after it’s capture by Polish troops on May 18th.
After the war ended, the abbot Ildefonso Rea headed the project to rebuild Monte Cassino precisely where it stood before, in all its former glory as well as repatriate all the valuables and documents that had been held at the Vatican during the war. The resurrected abbey was reconsecrated in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.
For the 75th anniversary we want to remember what happened and pay our respect for those who suffered and lost their lives to shape a better future for Italy and the World.
By far the most common problem that people researching their family trees come across is a shortage of accessible records relating to the Second World War. The Public Records Act governs which materials created by the government can be released over what timescales. To begin with the rule was that records over 50 years old could be released to the Public Records Office or The National Archives. That timescale was later reduced to 30 years, and more recently to 20. However, there are numerous exceptions which continue to restrict access, e.g. when release of records may cause damage to the country’s image, national security or foreign relations.
Records from the Second World War fall under these restrictions, as many of the men and women who served are still alive and wouldn’t want personal information disclosed. Thus, you won’t find the full record for a relative who fought in that war anywhere except with the Ministry of Defence.
Other Second World War serviceman’s record may be found however, such as those listing his or her death, casualty/missing reports, capture or medals awarded. Forces War Records, for example has a total of 4 million World War Two records
Was your ancestor a casualty in WWII, or in the Battle of Monte Cassino?
‘WWII Daily Reports (missing, dead, wounded & POWs)’, from the National Archives reference WO417, ‘War Office: Army Casualty Lists, 1939-45 War’, is a list of every casualty sustained by the British Army, day by day during the Second World War.