The Fourth Battle of Monte Cassino: Operation Diadem

At 2230 on 11 May 1944, 1667 artillery pieces opened fire on German positions along a 20 mile front stretching from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Abbey at Monte Cassino. The Germans were shocked and did not suspect an Allied attack, much less the largest offensive by the Western Allies so far in the Second World War. Thirty miles to the north, the Brits, Canadians, and Americans of the US 5th Army began near suicidal fixing attacks to tie down German troops at the Anzio/Nettuno beachhead. More night attacks all along the Gustav line followed immediately behind the two hour artillery barrage. The National Guardsmen of the US II Corps attacked across the open fields of the Tyrrhenian coastal plain. The British XIII Corps began a series on contested river crossings over the Rapido and its tributaries. In the Aurunnci Mountains, Moroccan goumiers and Tunisian tirailleurs pushed up narrow passes, or used grappling hooks, ladders, and free climbed their way up and forward into the German defenses.

All of these attacks were expected to fail.

But even in failure, they would accomplish their mission in drawing German reinforcements away from the decisive operation: the Polish II Corps’ assault into the minefields, barbed wire and devastated terrain of Monastery Hill, Cassino town and, most importantly, over Snakeshead Ridge at Monte Calvario, better known to Allied planners as Point 593.

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