May 2015 marked the 71th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino, fought over four main battles between 17 January and 18 May 1944. They saw the Allied Forces involved in some of the most bitter fighting of the Second World War, where steep mountain slopes and winter weather were combined with the German defenders’ determination and skill. The battles involved troops from America, Britain, Canada, France, India, New Zealand and Poland in fighting that compared in its intensity and horror with the battles of the Western Front in the First World War.
Following a major American bombing campaign in February 1944, the Germans took up position around the ancient hilltop abbey of Monte Cassino and the nearby town. The strategic importance of the area around Monte Cassino lay in its position within the 'Gustav' line, defending the approaches to Rome.
The first battle took place between 17 January 1944 and 11 February, the second battle, following a bombing assault on the abbey of Monte Cassino, took place between 15 and 18 February, the third battle between 15 and 23 March, and the fourth and final battle between 11 and 17 May 1944.
‘A nation that forgets its past has no future.’ Churchill’s words are still relevant today.
British 4.2-inch mortars in action at the start of the final offensive on Cassino, Italy, 12 May 1944.
Via IWM Collections (NA 14733)
A British soldier with a Bren gun in the ruins of Monte Cassino.
Via IWM Collections (TR 1800)
A New Zealander poses with his sniper rifle in the ruins of Cassino, 26 March 1944.
Via IWM Collections (NA 13384)
Staged reconstruction of infantry clearing buildings in Cassino, Italy, 24 March 1944.
Via IWM Collections (NA 13274)
Cameramen in uniform: AFPU cameraman Sergeant Jessiman, photographed from behind as he braces his camera against some timbers in the window of a damaged building in Cassino, Italy.
Via IWM Collections (NA 13380)
The Medical Chain of Evacuation: An RAMC orderly makes his way forward under cover of the Red Cross flag to recover a casualty during fighting at Cassino, 24 March 1944.
Via IWM Collections (NA 13276 )
Second Phase 15 February - 10 May 1944: A reconstruction (staged for the photographer during the lull in the fighting in April 1944) showing the unsuccessful New Zealand assault on Cassino town during 15 - 22 March. Infantry are shown engaging enemy positions in the ruins of Casino.
Via IWM Collections (TR 13794)
A Sherman tank and jeep of the 4th Brigade entering the ruins of Cassino, 18 May 1944. The monastery of Cassino had formed the focal point of the German Gustav Line which they had successfully defended since November 1943. The fourth offensive led by Polish and British troops secured Cassino for the Allies and caused the Germans to retreat north of Rome, which was then declared an 'open city'.
Via IWM Collections (TR 15079)
Men of the Durham Light Infantry advance through the ruins of Cassino, passing the remains of the Hotel Des Roses, 18 May 1944.
Via IWM Collections (TR 14999)
Sherman tanks and infantry in the ruins of Cassino, 18 May 1944.
Via IWM Collections (TR 15009)
Infantry of the East Surrey Regiment enter the ruins of Cassino, 18 May 1944.
Via IWM Collections (TR 14989)
Second Phase 15 February - 10 May 1944: Indian troops pass bomb shattered buildings on the outskirts of Cassino town.
Via IWM Collections (TR 12895)
Overlooked by the ruins of the hill-top monastery, South African engineers of 11th Field Company, South African Engineer Corps, clear rubble from 'Route 6', the main road through Cassino. The final German resistance had ceased only hours before.
Via IWM Collections (NA 15080)
Captured German parachute troops file past a Sherman tank of the New Zealand 4th Armoured Brigade at Cassino, 16 March 1944.
Via IWM Collections (NA 12912)
Second Phase 15 February - 10 May 1944: A Sherman tank among the ruins on the outskirts of Cassino town.
Via IWM Collections (NA 12899)
Three German prisoners walking back through the Allied lines at Cassino, along the devastated Highway 6, the route to Rome from Cassino, May 1944.
Via IWM Collections (TR 1797)
Second Phase 15 February - 10 May 1944: A German patrol captured by Maori troops of the New Zealand Division are marched to POW camps along the Via Casilina in Cassino.
Via IWM Collections (NA 12253)
Third Phase 11 - 18 May 1944: A British stretcher party carry a casualty out of Cassino after its capture. In the background is Hangman's Hill.
Via IWM Collections (NA 15003)
British and South African soldiers hold up Nazi trophy flag while combat engineers on bulldozers clear a path through the debris of the bombed out city, May 1943
Via g503.com (Photographer: Carl Mydans)
The Commander of the 8th Army, General Sir Oliver Leese walking through Cassino after its capture.
Via IWM Collections (TR 15096)
Commander of the Polish 2nd Corps, Lieutenant General Władysław Anders and the Commander of the Allied Armies in Italy, General the Hon Sir Harold Alexander salute, after General Alexander had invested General Anders with the Order of the Bath in recognition of Polish services at Cassino. Lieutenant Eugeniusz Lubomirski, General Anders' adjutant, is standing behind his commander.
Via IWM Collections (NA 15352)
The ancient abbey and town of Monte Casino - destroyed by Allied shelling
View of Cassino after heavy bombardment, May 1944, showing a knocked out Sherman tank by a Bailey bridge in the foreground with Monastery Ridge and Castle Hill in the background.
Via IWM Collections (TR 1799)
The shell-shattered road to Cassino, showing Monastery Ridge and Castle Hill in the background.
Via IWM Collections (TR 1798)
Ruined shell of the Monte Cassino Monastery a day after it was captured by troops of the 2nd Polish Corps, 19 May 1944. Photograph shows the only surviving wall of the Abbey after the bombardment of February 1944.
Via IWM Collections (NA 15141)
Sign Indicating a Minefield Amid the Ruins of the Monastery and Town of Monte Cassino
Ruins of the Monastery and Town of Monte Cassino
Third Phase 11 - 18 May 1944: A low aerial view of the Monastery showing its complete destruction.
Via IWM Collections (C 4363)
A family places flowers on the grave of an unknown British soldier killed at Cassino.
Via IWM Collections (TR 1802)
Nation in war: