May 18

This Day in History

World War II

May 18, 1944:

Polish Corps takes Monte Cassino

On this day in 1944, the Polish Corps, part of a multinational Allied Eighth Army offensive in southern Italy, finally pushes into Monte Cassino as the battle to break German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's defensive Gustav Line nears its end.

The Allied push northward to Rome began in January with the landing of 50,000 seaborne troops at Anzio, 33 miles south of the Italian capital. Despite having met very little resistance, the Allies chose to consolidate their position rather than immediately battle north to Rome. Consequently, German forces under the command of Field Marshal Kesselring were able to create a defensive line that cut across the center of the peninsula. General Wladyslaw Anders, leader of the Polish troops who would raise their flag over the ruins of the famous Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, commenting on the cost of the battle, said, "Corpses of German and Polish soldiers, sometimes entangled in a deathly embrace, lay everywhere, and the air was full of the stench of rotting bodies."

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