Battlefields Tour: The Italian Campaign (Part 3).

​November 8th, 2016

Hill 593

The Polish played a major part in the Italian campaign. 

Hill 593 is adjacent to Monastery Hill and a beautiful Polish cemetery is sighted there.  They were given the arduous task of taking 593 and were led by General Anders.  Anders Army as they were known to the Brits, consisted of men captured by the Russians when Poland was overrun in 1939.  Many escaped and some were released to form the Polish Brigade, Anders himself having been imprisoned in Moscow.

Over a thousand lie here and Anders himself who survived is now buried here along with his wife Renata. His wish was to be buried with the men he led.

You will by now be getting the picture of how costly the Italian campaign was. 

There is still a knocked out Sherman close to the top of Hill 593  
20 had to get up the hill to assist the infantry, and engineers built a road up under fire.  It was named Cavendish Road after a Royal Engineer Lieutenant of the same name who was in charge.   It remains close to the top of a ridge about half a mile from the summit.

Cassino cemetery.

​Above right is the British cemetery in Cassino, the abbey can be seen in the background.

There are just over 20,000 Germans buried in the Cassino cemetery.  Unlike the British who bury the fallen on the battlefield resulting in many smaller cemeteries, Germans generally have one main site.

Their belief is that fallen soldiers return to the earth so it is a very plain and sombre setting – no flowers growing at each headstone etc.  Also there are usually a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 6 to each headstone.  Additionally there are multiple markers for larger groups.

PLease see photos below.

Following the stalemate in the Cassino area, the Anzio landings were now set in motion to try and encircle the Germans from the North and also prevent more reserves joining them.

The US 6th Corps was tasked with this under command of General Lucas.  The landings were a total success and 36,000 troops and over 2000 vehicles were landed on day 1. There were only a 100 or so Germans in that area.  However Lucas expected the usual swift German counter attack and decided to dig in and wait.  A forward patrol actually got in to Rome and reported very little German activity.  Had General Patton been there he would have moved immediately but Lucas stayed put.  This allowed the Germans to move up reserves and within 2 days 140,000 arrived. When the US tried to break out there were enormous losses and 2 entire Ranger battalions were lost.  So stalemate yet again and the Germans constructed another large defensive line known as the Caesar Line.

Like the Germans, the US have one main cemetery and US fallen are buried 3 times as a rule – once on the battlefield, then removed to a temp grave and finally to an architecturally designed memorial site.  The US site at Anzio is enormous and holds over 4,000.  The theme here is Bothers in Arms and Brotherly Love as shown in the main bronze edifice.  Indeed there are 26 pairs of brothers buried here alone.  Many service women are here too, nurses who served in forward areas.

Note the plain manicured lawns and plain crosses – only the highly decorated have gold leaf lettering. Relatives visiting can have difficulty photographing head stone inscriptions so sand from the Anzio beach is provided and rubbed in to highlight the names etc.   I have photographed one Medal of Honour holder – Sgt. Antolak – his citation is as follows :-

Medal of Honor Citation

Near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy, he charged 200 yards over flat, coverless terrain to destroy an enemy machine gun nest during the second day of the offensive which broke through the German cordon of steel around the Anzio beachhead. Fully 30 yards in advance of his squad, he ran into withering enemy machine gun, machine-pistol and rifle fire. Three times he was struck by bullets and knocked to the ground, but each time, he struggled to his feet to continue his relentless advance. With one shoulder deeply gashed and his right arm shattered, he continued to rush directly into the enemy fire concentration with his submachine gun wedged under his uninjured arm until within 15 yards of the enemy strong point, where he opened fire at deadly close range, killing 2 Germans and forcing the remaining 10 to surrender. He reorganized his men and, refusing to seek the medical attention which was so badly needed, chose to lead the way toward another strong point 100 yards distant. Utterly disregarding the hail of bullets concentrated upon him, he stormed ahead nearly three-fourths of the space between strong points until he was instantly killed by hostile enemy fire. Inspired by his example, his squad went on to overwhelm the enemy troops. By his supreme sacrifice, superb fighting courage, and heroic devotion to the attack, Sgt. Antolak was directly responsible for eliminating 20 Germans, capturing an enemy machine gun, and clearing the path for his company to advance.

General Lucas was eventually relieved of command at the insistence of the British Commander Alexander before the final break out was planned.  Mark Clark  however did not carry out orders as instructed and instead of trapping 7 German divisions to the south, swung north to Rome as he wanted to be known as the Liberator of Rome.  His moment of glory was short lived however, 2 days later on the 6th June the invasion of Normandy began and all attention turned there. 

The Italian campaign then took a back seat news wise but much more hard fighting was still to come.  Mark Clark’s lust for glory meant those German divisions were able to regroup and face the Allies yet again.  One man’s ego can have such devastating results – but look at your history books – these lessons are never learned.

Please see below for books on a similar topic.