Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Between Rome and Neapoli there is a city called Cassino with Montecasino hill that rises above. Benedictine abbey, that is situated on the top of the hill, was founded in 529 to replace the pagan shrine of Apollo. Strategic location, nearby the way from Rome to Neapoli, caused the monastery numerous attacks. During the World War II the hill became a great base for so called Winter Line formed by the German troops. When the allies landed in Sicili, the Nazis built the fortifications on the Montecasino to protect the way to Italian capital. The attempts to conquer this strategic place by allies were in vain therefore the way to Rome was still closed and even the attempts to pass round Monte Cassino did not bring expected results.
The attacks, undertaken by allies since January 1944, were led in three phases – Operation Shingle, Operation Avenger and Operation Dickens – that resulted in failure. It was the fourth phase – Operation Honker – that was successful. One of the main attacks, conducted within the fourth phase, was undertaken by 2nd Polish Corps commanded by Wladyslaw Anders. The battle started at 1.00 am on the 12th of May 1944. The soldiers was enormously difficult as they attacked in mined and exposed terrain. German troops repulsed from bunkers. Although the first attack brought great loss – especially to army leadership – but at the same time it enabled British soldiers to dislodge the German army from down part of the hill and from the town of Cassino.
Second attach, that began on the 16th of May, was a turning point. When the Poles caught the message of German troops to withdraw from Monte Cassino, the allies decided to close their way back. At night of 17/18 of May the Germans abandoned the monastery and a reconnaissance group of Polish 12th Podolan Uhlans Regiment was sent there and Polish flag was stuck on the ruins of the Monte Cassino Monastery. In the morning of 18th of May 1944 Krakow heynal was played from the hill to announce the victory of the allies. The way to Rome was again opened and already on the 4th of June (that is 2 weeks later) the capital of Italy was occupied by them.
The Battle of Monte Cassino brought a great loss to Polish army. 924 were killed during the attacks, 2930 were injured and 345 were acknowledged as missing. A great Polish cemetery on Monte Cassino reminds about the sacrifice and contribution of Polish army to this battle.