Monte Cassino is a small hilltop in Italy, about 80 miles south of Rome, Italy, a mile to the west of the town of Cassino, for which it is named. This unlikely hill has been thrust to prominence several times in past centuries.
The Montecassino Monastery, was founded by St. Benedict about 529 of the Christian Era on the remnants of a preexisting Roman fortification of the municipium Casinum. The heathen cult was still practised on this mountain site in the temple of Apollo and in a nearby holy grove next to a sacrifice area adjoining it.
Montecassino became famous for the prodigious life and the Sepulchre of its Founder. Throughout the ages, the abbey has looked upon as a place of holiness, culture and art for which it became renowned on world-wide.
The Battle of Monte Cassino, World War II
The Battle of Monte Cassino consisted of four separate battles fought over the course of five months. Forces from the United Kingdom, United States, Poland, New Zealand, Canada, Free France, India, and others were involved among the Allies.
The key significance of these battles was it led to the eventual linkup between the Anzio pocket in the south and Allied troops trapped farther north. The linkup of forces led to the eventual capture of Rome, the first Axis capital to fall in the war.
The Allies had two main objectives: (1) To draw the Germans away from the Anzio beach-head, and then (2) To drive quickly towards Rome.
The Allies had twenty-one divisions and eleven brigades opposing fourteen German divisions and three brigades.
German casualties, caused by the attack on March 15th and the heavy artillery fire, was severe. A March 23rd diary entry of a high ranking XIV Corps officer states that the post-battle strength of the battalions engaged varied from 40 to 120 men.
The fourth and final assault on Monte Cassino resulted in an Allied victory, but only because the Allies decided to overwhelm the Germans through sheer weight of numbers. Simultaneously, the Germans had weakened their positions prior to the battle by withdrawing some troops to France.
The breakthrough at Cassino meant that the Allies were able (within a week's time) to join up with the Anzio beach head and then to capture Rome. The loss did considerable damage to Axis morale.
The Monte Cassino Cross
Initial allied assaults led by American and British forces were unable to take Monte Cassino Abbey from the Germans. For the final assault on the Abbey the Polish 2nd Corps took their place and were successful in taking Monte Cassino after three weeks of fierce fighting and exposure to heavy enemy fire from the mountainous terrain around the Abbey.
Upon taking the Abbey, the Poles raised the flag of Poland over the ruins of the monastery.
To commemorate the victory and the gallantry of their soldiers, the Polish government (then in exile) created the Monte Cassino Cross to honor those who fought in the campaign. A total of 48,498 crosses were awarded to Polish soldiers who took part in the battle.