Freyberg and the Abbey at Monte Cassino

Discussion in 'Italy' started by Slipdigit, Aug 23, 2011.

  1. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Thanks all.

    As I mentioned, I am reading on the subject and was interested in what he (Freyberg) had to say about that aspect of the campaign, since it appeared that in the upper levels of command, he was the one who initiated the request and pushed for it the hardest.
     
  2. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    ... he was the one who initiated the request and pushed for it the hardest.

    Probably depend of the source but I think that actually Tuker and (later) Dimoline were strongest supporters for bombardment of the monastery (as it was their division which had task to capture it) even thought that they requested pulverizing of the whole ridge not just monastery but in the end because of many errors only monastery was bombed. Maybe you would find this article interesting

    http://www.rafpa.com/doc2.pdf
     
    Slipdigit likes this.
  3. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Probably depend of the source but I think that actually Tuker and (later) Dimoline were strongest supporters for bombardment of the monastery (as it was their division which had task to capture it) even thought that they requested pulverizing of the whole ridge not just monastery but in the end because of many errors only monastery was bombed. Maybe you would find this article interesting

    http://www.rafpa.com/doc2.pdf


    Thanks, I'll copy and look at it later on.
     
  4. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Sol
    I wouldn't be too hard on Dimoline as he was stuck with the leadership of the 4th Indian Div. when Tuker went off to a Naples Hospital with jaundice on the very eve of the battle - greatness was thrust upon him indeed.
    Cheers
     
  5. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Sol -
    Have just tried to plough through Holland's take on Cassino in your link on RAFA et al - BUT - as I did with his "Italy's year of Sorrow"- would consign that tome to the shedder......in that he appears to be in love with Tuker and all his greatness - he goes a bit too far by saying that the final battle for North Africa was his plan alone..THIS IS NOT SO -

    If anyone is due the credit for that it should be Montgomery as it was he who sent the 4th Indian plus the 7th Armoured Div and the 201st Bde of Guards over to the 1st Army sector and suggested to Alexander who was commanding 18th Army group at that time that he incorporate that force with 1st Army's 6th Armoured Div - 4th Inf Div - 21st and 25th Tank bdes- with Jorrocks(Horrocks) - yes Jorrocks "he's your man"-* to lead that joint force from Medjez el bab to Tunis - as true History now relates - the game was over in 48 hours......Tuker was merely a Maj.Gen in charge of a division in that Battle, as he would have been at Cassino !

    * see Monty - "Master of the Battlefield" Nigel Hamilton Trilogy

    Cheers
     
  6. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    I seem to remember reading that an observation plane was sent up and one of the observers, an officer, swore that he had seen a radio transmitter ariel, which helped make the decision to bomb.

    Can anyone confirm this?

    Regards
    Tom
     
  7. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Tom,

    According to the official history of the US Army Air Forces in World War II, the American Generals Eaker (Supreme Air Force Commander in the Mediterranean) and Devers (Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theatre)

    " flew over the Abbey in a Piper Club at a height of less than 200 feet and Eaker states flatly that he saw a radio aerial on the Abbey and enemy soldiers moving in and out of the building"

    source - "Fred Majdalany, Cassino, Portrait of a Battle."

    regards
    Richard
     
  8. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Richard,

    Many thanks for the confirmation, it was a while since I read the account.

    Regards
    Tom
     
  9. DaveW53

    DaveW53 Member

    ... am mainly interested in what Freyberg had to say post-bellum about the destruction of the abbey, if anything at all.

    Jeff, if you are willing to do the research, perhaps one of the following books would reveal Freyberg's thoughts/comments, though it's not guaranteed. There is Bernard Freyberg V.C.: Soldier of Two Nations by Paul Freyberg (son of) and Freyberg's War by Matthew Wright. However, a word of warning, both books have been criticised for attempting to exonerate every decision made by Freyberg. Both have limited availability on tinternet.

    Perhapd someone on this forum with access to this material will look up the Monte Cassino sections and feedback?
     
  10. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Jeff, if you are willing to do the research, perhaps one of the following books would reveal Freyberg's thoughts/comments, though it's not guaranteed.
    Thanks Dave. That is essentially what I was asking.
    There is Bernard Freyberg V.C.: Soldier of Two Nations by Paul Freyberg (son of) and Freyberg's War by Matthew Wright. However, a word of warning, both books have been criticised for attempting to exonerate every decision made by Freyberg. Both have limited availability on tinternet.

    Perhapd someone on this forum with access to this material will look up the Monte Cassino sections and feedback?
    :D:D Yes, please, as I suspect that finding it will be difficult here in the States.
     
  11. zola1

    zola1 Member

    Hi All,

    I have just returned from Monte Cassino, Damiano gave me and my family a personal tour of the Abbey and some of the off the tourist trail areas. I've got lots of pictures and thoughts on the area His knowledge of the battlefields and of the lie of the land, as well as many eye witness accounts is impeccable. I have lots of pictures of the trip here is a short post on it....With the drive up to the battlefield of Belevedre really impressing upon you what a tremendous feat of arms it was by the french ..the terrain is extremely difficult to move in, its horrendously exposed. Just getting water alone must have been really difficult. Take a look at this :- a reply to Clark who ordered Juin to take the area.
    He said to Juin (excerpt from the "Bataillon du Belvedere"):
    Take the Belvedere by force? Whose idea is that! Have they looked at it? First of all you have to cross two rivers, the Rapido and the Rio Secco, then drive through the Gustav Line without losing momentum in the valley, then penetrate Jerry lines and finally, in the heart of his defence system, scale seven hundred metres of rock as bare as a billiard ball, which is itself well-defended, and pounded on all sides by fire from the Cifalco and the surrounding heights, all held by the enemy! It's madness! And then to attack up there in the morning of the 25th, when it's now the evening of the 23rd and we are still here. How are we supposed to do that! Have they looked at the map? It will take us two whole days, at least, simply to make the move! It is quite a challenge, Sir!"

    Mark Clark...how did he get it so wrong... so often !!!

    Some pictures ..edited with the addition of Castle Hill, Damiano had a chat with the foreman working on the building site and we managed to get in and take some real close up shots amazing place for its observation of the valley !
     

    Attached Files:

  12. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Derrick
    Glad to read that you were impressed with Cassino- and that Damiano lived up to my words- so now you know something of the story of that campaign - and the French battle was just the first to be fought there - and might have suceeded had Clark reinforced their success instead of reinforcing the failure of his 34th Division- thus condemning us to the other three battles- and filling the cemeteries around
    there..
    no doubt you will be back there again next year...
    Cheers
     
  13. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Despite thousands of bloody postings (3600+ on this site alone) on which I cheerfully give dates & names I confess to a poor memory of events that took place so many years ago.

    I rely to a large extent on my personal diaries and when, as in this case, they have gone missing over the years, Regimental Diaries discovered on the internet since those heady days.

    Such as this excerpt that covers our stay in the Cassino area.

    My Bty was 84 Bty and so I've put it in bold font to make it easier for me to follow.

    On 2 Mar RHQ, 90 bty, less A Tp and 84 Bty, moved to Mignano. There had been heavy rain and many vehicles were bogged.

    On 3 Mar C/90 Tp moved to protect a diversion on the Speedy Express supply route. The CO ordered all SP guns to put chains on their wheels. On the night 8/9th 280 Bty completed deployed to Speedy Express to relieve US troops.

    On 15 Mar the NZ Corps operation to capture Cassino and break into the Liri Valley, which had been postponed daily since mid Feb, began at 1200 hrs. It was agreed that after a bridgehead had been established on the west bank of R Rapido a tp of 90 Bty would allot 3 guns for the defence of each bridge on the east bank, the remaining two tps to go through the bridgehead, one to protect 138 Fd Regt and the other to deploy 3 guns at each bridge on the west bank.

    On 21 Mar the regt was ordered to take over the task of providing a smoke screen at Speedy Express Highway and Highway 6 Bridges over R Rapido. 84 Bty took on this task. Between 1250 and 1310 hrs on 25 Mar 430 to 40 enemy aircraft in three main waves approached Cassino from the south, flying up Speedy Express and Route 6. They were engaged first by 18 guns of 84 Bty concentrated at Mignano. 90 and 280 Btys and all other local LAA engaged. Seven aircraft were destroyed in all and 84 and 280 btys claimed one each.

    On 24 Mar 280 Bty fired pointer rounds at two Me 109s and our own fighters took up the chase.

    On the night of 25/26 Mar 21 guns of 57 LAA Regt were relieved by 90 Bty, B Tp at Cervaro, A Tp, the next night, to north of Trocchio and C Tp, that same night, to San Michele. On 26 j Mar the CO was taken off duty by the MO and Maj Bent assumed temporary command. The CO went to hospital on the 27th. At about this time the regt took over 24 x 20 mm Oerlikon guns for deployment in 11 and 36 Bde areas in the mountains north of Cassino.

    On the 27th BC 84 Bty reported that the areas to be defended by the 20 mm guns were a 4.2 inch mortar area and a Jeephead. Daylight recce was believed to be impossible.

    On the night 28/29th six 20 mm were deployed in pairs and another six in pairs, on the night 29/30th. Maj Mouland returned from hospital and resumed command of 84 Bty

    On the 29th SOP guns became available for 280 Bty, the 12 existing guns having been employed, 6 to each of 84f and 90 Btys, an SP tp in each

    On 31 Mar 84 Bty was relieved of the smoke task. The bty had been congratulated by the CRA on producing a very effective screen. 84 Bty was then ordered to deploy A and B Tp|A to cover 17 Fd Regt to allow B/90 to return to its previous posn and B/84 to protect Route 6 San Pietro to Cervaro. These moves took place on 1 Apr.

    As a wireless op I led a fairly sheltered life there and because I was theoretically on call 24/7 was never farmed out to do smoke laying, stretcher bearing and general dogsbody duties that fell to most troops in that terrible area.

    It was, however, the most soul destroying of places to be in and I was well pleased when our stint came to an end and we were able to move on Northwards to Rome.

    Ron
     
  14. Niccar

    Niccar WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    In two weeks time I am going back to Cassino to pay my last respects to the lads we left behind not only there but to the Sangro cemetery as well, my son and grandson are coming with me to look after me as I can only walk about fifty yards and was hoping either Paul Reed or Owen could give me some information on the trip we are going with the company that Paul was a tour guide with and it mentions we dismount from the coach and walk to Albenita farm and as far as I know although I was there at the time I have no idea how far that is and if it is accessible with a wheelchair if not I will stay in the coach although it would be disappointing I saw enough of that hell hole when I was there my son and grandson know nothing about the war I never ever
    mentioned it so it could be quite a revelation for them

    niccar
     
  15. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Niccar.

    If you are looking to visit Albaneta Farm then you will need to get the key from the Information Office in the Monastery. They are not always keen to provide it so be prepared to be disappointed. If you have a hire car, you go the the entrance to the Polish Cemetery and as you approach it you will see a gate directly in front of you.

    Open the gate with the key and drive up the slope. The road is poor but with care it is passable. About 400m up the slope, you will see a turning on your right. Ignore that: it goes to Point 583 and Snakeshead Ridge. Carry on over the brow of the hill and you will bumb into a gate. Pass through it and you will ind yourself hugging the side of the hill. After 400m or so, you will come cross Albaneta Farm on your left.

    If you come to a large farm on your left, you have gone too far.

    Enjoy

    FdeP
     
  16. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Whilst Freyberg's personal view has never been established, I recall that Tuker conceived the original idea of bombing the Monastery although he intended it to be a coordinated air force-army attack which it clearly was not. The fault for this lies with HQ Fifth Army who failed to do the staff work required to coordinate the bombing to be followed immediately by an infantry assault to seize the ground.

    I have always gone with Alexander's view of the reason for the bombing.

    ‘When soldiers are fighting for a just cause and are prepared to suffer death and mutilation in the process, bricks and mortar, no matter how venerable, cannot be allowed to wear against human lives. Every good commander must consider the morale and feelings of his fighting men and what is equally important, fighting men must know that their whole existence is in the hands of a man in whom they have complete confidence. Thus the commanding general must make it absolutely clear to his troops that they go into action under the most favourable conditions he has the power to order. How could a structure which dominated the field of battle be allowed to stand? The Monastery had to be destroyed.’


    FdeP
     
  17. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Niccar

    The very best of luck to you with regards to your forthcoming trip to Cassino.

    I look forward to hearing that it all went off according to plan and don't forget to get at least one photo of you, your son & your grandson with the monastery in the background.

    With every good wish !

    Ron
     

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  18. Damiano

    Damiano In the shadow of Monte Cassino

    Hello friends,
    I'm very happy to see all this interest about the battle of M. Cassino, and I'm honored to talk with Tom and Ron, veterans who have fought there in the Liri Valley, but certainly also with other mates of this forum.
    Derrick thanks you too for your friendship, and the passion for the history; you have a wonderful family!
    As you may know, I live in the Liri Valley and in these last few years, as historical researcher, I have had the privilege of meeting many civilians who were present during the bombing of the Abbey of M. Cassino; the most interesting account that I've listened to, came from a monk who was a young seminarist in the monastery during the war. I've been lucky enough to have had the oppurtunity to meet and interview this man several times. His memory about the facts is really impressive, still vivid and when his mind does not remember some details, he helps himself with a little black notebook, where he has wrote numbers and names.

    "No German forces were in the Abbey, only off from the sacred enclosure there was a patrol of soldiers!" and it's the truth, confirmed by hundreds of people and not only from the documents. In Ciociaria (this is the name of this area of Lazio) anyone, adults and children know that inside of the Abbey there were not Germans, so for us the problem, in any kind of discussion isn’t if the German were there, but what in reality had the soldiers of the allied intelligence seen, heard or imagined and consequently reported to their commanders.

    General Fridolin Von Senger Und Etterlin, the commander of the XIV Panzer Korps, from january 1944 was the lieutenant-general of armoured troops, he was responsible for the German defense on the Gustav Line, but was also a lay member of the Benedictines order, so his great respect for the order and his deep interest was to preserve the Abbey untouched with its works of art.

    Please, let me explain my thoughts about this historical fact, first as citizen of the Liri Valley, and after as historical researcher.

    It’s really hard to have a comprehensive understanding about the 4th battles of Cassino from only the books, especially for M. Cassino, the main reason is that of the complexity of the armies engaged, for a more complete understanding it would require you to personally see every battlefield (from the valley to the mountain) involved in the fighting, to walk and to see for yourself the morphology, the orography and the hydrography of the territory. You also need to feel what kind of a hell the place was, in this part of the world war; living the coldest winter of the last twenty years, with many difficulties, starting from the essential needs (water, food and shelter) to the routes continually controlled from the main German observation post of Mount Cairo (1669m) and Mount Cifalco (900m). After this, we can place the armies in the field, open the map and the reports on the table, and talk about the alternatives in respect to the official history that we know from the books.

    Yes, the Abbey was in the “bombing zone" but its position visible everywhere from the valley and from the peaks, doesn’t necessarily mean that it was effective as an observation post.

    If we take a look at the orography of the territory, primarily from a I.G.M. topographic map of the Liri Valley and the mountain sector of Cassino, we can easily understand that the hill where the Abbey is placed, with its height at 516m, it isn't the highest in that sector. Very close to the monastery, to the north-west we have Snake's Head Ridge, 593m and Colle S. Comeo, 601m! Moreover, Mount Castellone, 771m was in the hands of the allies from the early part of the '44; it's behind the Abbey, and from there, it would have been possible, with a powerful attack, to break the German defenses and come down to Villa S. Lucia and Piedimonte S. Germano, cutting the food and ammunition supplies to the German soldiers which were fortified at the peaks close the Abbey. The commander of the French Expeditionary Corps, General Alphonse Juin had seen this, right from the first time he made an assessment of the the situation, in fact his intention was to force the defenses behind M. Cassino, passing to the mountain sector, but the allied commanders did not agree with hi.m (also a month later the Gustav Line would be broken by the French, in may '44 on the mountains of the Aurunci).

    Too many errors occured in favor of one of the best armies of 20th century, who were homogeneous in language, weapons-ammunitions used, level of motivation, preparation and individual capability to continue the battle and the ability to make decisions and reorganize without the presence of officers. We could perhaps forget the failed attack at the Albaneta Farm (after the bombing of Cassino – 15 march 1944) on the 19th March 1944 when the 20th Armoured Regiment of the New Zealand Forces pushed up through Cavendish Road (built for the occasion from the village of Caira) in an attempt to launch an armoured attack? Unfortunately this operation was strangely unsupported by the infantry! Nine tanks destroyed, 5 dead and 9 wounded and at that time the Abbey was bombed almost 1 month previous. (15th februrary '44).

    At the end of the fighting (may ’44), the soldiers of the 12nd Geographic Company of the 2nd Polish Corps had taken a lot of information and drew prospective sketches and maps about the German emplacements in the mountain sector of Cassino; through these documents we can clearly see that on the peaks around the Abbey there were hundreds of emplacements (built in the rocks) but not one on the hill of the Abbey. In every case, as we know, after the bombing of the Monastery the soldiers of the 1st German parachute divisions fortified themselves within the ruins.

    Personally, I think that the Abbey was destroyed by the allies for the psychological effect on the soldiers and not for its real military importance and involvement in the fighting, also if one could consider it as a good motivation; in fact both the Abbey and the city of Cassino were destroyed with a disproportionate and hysterical use of bombs (for the bombing of the city 1,250 tons high-explosive bombs were dropped, and 195,969 shells fired from 748 guns) when a reasoned and efficient military operation (as the great 1st Canadian Service Special Force at M. La Defensa 1st December ’43 or the epic 3th Algerian Infantry Division in the glorious "bataille du Belvedere" 25th January – 2nd february 1944) could have had a better impact in the outcome of the conflict, both for the number of casualties (soldiers and civilians) for the duration of the campaign, that for the destruction of the ancient buildings of the Liri Valley.

    Today and for the forthcoming centuries, when the people come to the Liri Valley to see the Abbey and the villages of this green land, unfortunately they will see an imperfect and cold copy, but we know that this was the price that was paid for the freedom of the world.

    Best wishes. Damiano

    [​IMG]
     
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  19. zola1

    zola1 Member

    Derrick
    Glad to read that you were impressed with Cassino- and that Damiano lived up to my words- so now you know something of the story of that campaign - and the French battle was just the first to be fought there - and might have suceeded had Clark reinforced their success instead of reinforcing the failure of his 34th Division- thus condemning us to the other three battles- and filling the cemeteries around
    there..
    no doubt you will be back there again next year...
    Cheers

    Thanks Tom, what a day we had : ) such an interesting place definitely going back, thanks Damiano top man :)..... the heat was +40deg, whilst we were in the Polish Cemetery, there were some workers digging out some gravel..its was like working in a furnace ..all that marble reflects the heat. We went down to the Gari river crossing at Saint Angelo Theodice (please see pics) the river was rushing through in a torrent god only knows what it must been like in flood in mid winter !!! ...it felt an eerie place with the Bells as fitting memorials.... why did Clark sent those boats across there ? its such an exposed place, with the high ground of the village is right behind the bridge? We drove through the village its was built on high rocks !
     

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  20. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Damiano
    Couldn't ask for a more reasoned summary of the whole debacle and is a credit to your scholarship and learning of that action of those times - I have always considered that the first attack by the French would have been successful in cutting off the supplies to the enemy - unfortunately they were hauled back by Clark to rescue his 34th Division - thus perpetrating the horrors of the next three battles.
    Thank you for your posting

    Try and meet with Niccar when he gets there as he might need a bottle of Oxygen !
    Cheers
     

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