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Britain's Operation Dynamo gets underway as President Roosevelt makes a radio appeal for the Red Cross, 1940
On this day in 1940, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt makes known the dire straits of Belgian and French civilians suffering the fallout of the…
By the end of 1943 the Italian campaign had become a stalemate as Field Marshall Albert Kesselring's German army group stopped the Allied advance cold at Cassino.
Benito Mussolini's self-confessed thirst for military glory battled his acute intelligence, psychological acumen, and political shrewdness for control over his military policies.
In April 1941, Germany began a lightning campaign that conquered Yugoslavia and mainland Greece, but a great threat remained: Crete.
In September 1944, after the victorious end of the Normandy campaign, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery devised a daring operation to open the way to the Ruhr by seizing a bridgehead north of the Rhine, at Arnhem.
January 1944-May 1944
Allied strategy in Italy during World War II centered on keeping the Wehrmacht fully committed so that its veteran divisions could not be shifted to help repel the cross-Channel invasion (see D-Day). However, the Allied high command mistakenly believed that the determined German defense of the invasion beaches of Salerno in September 1943 masked their preparations for retreat to the north. They never reckoned that the Germans would effectively use the weather and the terrain to turn the Italian campaign into a costly stalemate at the Gustav Line.
Mark Clark's disastrous attempt to split the Gustav Line in the Liri Valley died on the banks of the Rapido River ("the bloody Rapido") in January 1944, and when the Allied end run at Anzio also failed, there was now a stalemate on two fronts. In early February the U.S. Thirty-fourth Infantry Division failed to capture the western anchor of the Gustav Line, and one of the holiest shrines of Roman Catholicism, the abbey of Monte Cassino. A second offensive in mid-February again failed and resulted in one of the most hotly debated incidents of the war--the destruction of the abbey by Allied bombers.
The Third Battle of Cassino in mid-March was preceded by a thunderous artillery barrage from nine hundred guns and a massive aerial bombardment of the town. Follow-up ground attacks by New Zealand troops once again ended in failure. Only with the launch of Operation Diadem in May 1944 did the Gustav Line finally collapse when the Second Polish Corps succeeded in capturing the abbey on May 17, thus ending one of the longest and bloodiest engagements of the Italian campaign.
CARLO W. D'ESTE
The Reader's Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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