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Monte Cassino - The Hardest-Fought Battle of WW2?


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#1 Colin Williams

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 1319 PM

Looking through Matthew Parker's book of the above title, which claims Cassino as "The largest land battle in Europe, Cassino was the bitterest and bloodiest of the Western Allies' struggles against the German Wehrmacht on any front of the Second World War. On the German side, many compared it unfavorably with Stalingrad."

Excuse me? Even allowing for the sentence above as a necessary clarification of the exaggerated title (and thereby setting aside such Pacific battles as Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Kohima-Imphal, etc. and also anything on the Eastern front from Stalingrad to Berlin) I can't see that one is doing an injustice to the veterans of Cassino to recognize that there were both larger battles (e.g., Normandy) and ones of perhaps equal intensity (e.g., Ortona, Anzio, Normandy again, the Huertgen Forest, the Reichswald, I culd go on and on).

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#2 Scott Cunningham

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 1450 PM

Tough battle but nothing like some of the Eastern Front Battles (Stalingrad) or most of the Pacific Battles (Tarawa, Pelilieu, Iwo Jima, Manila, Okinawa, Guadalcanal, etc...). I used to think the Eastern front was the most brutal front of WWII until I started reading about the pacific battles. Holy crap.
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#3 Doug Kibbey

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 1458 PM

Looking through Matthew Parker's book of the above title, which claims Cassino as "The largest land battle in Europe, Cassino was the bitterest and bloodiest of the Western Allies' struggles against the German Wehrmacht on any front of the Second World War. On the German side, many compared it unfavorably with Stalingrad."

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He seems also to have overlooked the Battle of the Ardennes (Bulge) as well as the other examples already cited. The very claim casts a pall of doubt about the readworthiness of the book.
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#4 tankerwanabe

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 1844 PM

I just don't find too many references to Cassino as dehumanizing as the other battles such as Starlingrad and I. Jima, where the survivors are scarred for life.

It was a good read though, and shed light on a little-covered battle. It was certainly a larger battle than I had previously thought.
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#5 KingSargent

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 1929 PM

Saying Cassino was the largest battle is crap. Largest (and longest) in Italy maybe.

I haven't read it, does Parker make that claim in the text? Very often publishers will change titles or put in suspet blurbs to provide something eye-catching on bookstore shelves and in catalogs. The author has very little - if any - control over what is put on the dust jacket.
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#6 T19

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 2001 PM

It was a Commonwealth /Polish Battle that was tough and hard fought. Thats why it is forgotten and not written about.

Was it the toughest?? No, but it would be top 10

#7 DwightPruitt

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 2102 PM

It was  a Commonwealth /Polish Battle

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That'll be news to the US 34th and 36th Infantry Divisions. :)
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#8 Xonitex

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 2122 PM

I used to think the Eastern front was the most brutal front of WWII until I started reading about the pacific battles. Holy crap.

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What is really amazing about the Pacific battles is the performance of the US Marines. Those guys are...whew.
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#9 larrikin

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 0321 AM

Monte Casino may have been the biggest cf, but definitely not battle. Reading various histories I am continually amazed by the cock ups of command that went on through the entire thing.
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#10 Ken Estes

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 0338 AM

Colin brings up a good topic and it would be fun to develop a set of criteria for assessing such battles. One that leaps to mind is whether a portion of participating units faced annihilation or not, or was able to break off the action, conceding defeat. Casino was the latter situation. The former was the case for 36th ID at the Rapido crossing, the allied assault waves at Salerno, 1st/29th ID assault echelon at Omaha, 1st MarDiv at Guadalcanal and 2nd at Tarawa. At Stalingrad one side and then the other had the grim prospect; the 106th ID in the Ardennes, 101st At Bastogne, shared the possibility, but in later Pacific battles [44-45] US units only geographically faced it [but always the JA]. Kohima/Imphal offered both sides the option to w/d but it was annihilation for the JA after engaging too long.

Other criteria, beyond casualties, time?
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#11 Rickshaw

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 0355 AM

I'd suggest physical environment as an addition critaria. The battles of the New Guinea campaign were over perhaps some of the most difficult and trying terrain on earth. While total numbers involved were small, their ferocity are such that they are still remembered today in historical circles as being "tough battles".
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#12 KingSargent

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 0424 AM

I'd suggest physical environment as an addition critaria.  The battles of the New Guinea campaign were over perhaps some of the most difficult and trying terrain on earth.  While total numbers involved were small, their ferocity are such that they are still remembered today in historical circles as being "tough battles".

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I'll go with that. Besides the terrain, there were the diseases, the skin ulcers that ate through limbs, and noxious pests. There are men who were never wounded or even shot at who were crippled for life just by being there.

Which is why NG and The Enema Place are on top of my list of Worthless Places that should have been left to the enemy so he can sicken and die.
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#13 Geoff Winnington-Ball

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 0716 AM

I too would contest that Cassino was by far the toughest battle of the war.. there are many more which defy description to those of us who have not had to endure that level of chaos. In no particular order: Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Ortona, Normandy, the Scheldt, and the battles for the Rhineland. There are more. What's interesting about Cassino is the truly international flavour of the thing (Americans, Canadians, English, Ghurkas, Indians, Kiwis and more), and the odds against any one attack by any one division at any given time.There's no question it was a tough slog, though. I do agree that weather and terrain (separately or together) play a part in this assessment (Baron's and King's notes about the Aussies in New Guinea is very relevant).
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#14 Rickshaw

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 0742 AM

I'll go with that. Besides the terrain, there were the diseases, the skin ulcers that ate through limbs, and noxious pests. There are men who were never wounded or even shot at who were crippled for life just by being there.

Which is why NG and The Enema Place are on top of my list of Worthless Places that should have been left to the enemy so he can sicken and die.

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"The Enema Place"?
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#15 Old Tanker

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 0849 AM

I'd suggest physical environment as an addition critaria.  The battles of the New Guinea campaign were over perhaps some of the most difficult and trying terrain on earth.  While total numbers involved were small, their ferocity are such that they are still remembered today in historical circles as being "tough battles".

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This is quite true . The % of troops downed by malaria alone was very high. NG and the Kokado Trail was an epic battle in just getting to the contact area. Just about everything was manpacked. As an example the U.S. 32nd ID could only get 0ne(1) piece of artillery positioned in the Buna campaign out of 48 pieces in it's inventory. That's an example of the terrible terrain in NG.

Cassino was brutal for a battle in a restricted relatively small area mainly a village and a mountain involved. Supply and resupply was difficult and the weather conditions bad. It also dragged on for a length of time as did Stalingrad.

However I would agree it's debateable as the worst but does rate among the top 10.
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#16 Ken Estes

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 1011 AM

"The Enema Place"?

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I think he means Guadalcanal. But it was a common thought. Werner Haupt's book on the Volkhov Front has a photo of a bridge over that river, reading "Hier begint der Arsch der Welt."
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#17 Ken Estes

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 1013 AM

However I would agree it's debateable as the worst but does rate among the top 10.

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That's if we give weight to length of time to finish the battle. Somebody will have to calculate the active days, as opposed to lulls, etc. in some battles. Otherwise, it would be easy to find 10 worse cases, no??
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#18 Ken Estes

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 1015 AM

Looking through Matthew Parker's book of the above title, which claims Cassino as "The largest land battle in Europe, Cassino was the bitterest and bloodiest of the Western Allies' struggles against the German Wehrmacht on any front of the Second World War. On the German side, many compared it unfavorably with Stalingrad."

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Colin, not wanting to spoil the ending of the book, etc. but can you relate how he justifies this, especially the 'largest land battle' part? Most curious.... Cheers, Ken
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#19 Rich

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 1029 AM

What sayeth the forum?

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That it helps if the author or publisher could define what a "battle" is. Or rather, what their definition of a "battle" is. Since many of the examples given - including Cassino - vary from be division-level battles that cover a few days to be corps or army-level operational campaigns that can cover weeks or months.

Context is always helpful. :blink:
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#20 Richard Lindquist

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 1029 AM

Which is why NG and The Enema Place are on top of my list of Worthless Places that should have been left to the enemy so he can sicken and die.

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And I would submit that Tarawa, Pelileu, and Iwo Jima were the most useless battles ever fought. The high number of casualties was not worth the strategic and tactical total non-value of the objectives. Okinawa was a bloodbath, but the objective was essential to the eventual invasion of Japan. MacArthur's push up the north coast of New Guinea went further (in miles), took place more quickly, and had far fewer casualties than Nimitz's run from Tarawa to Saipan.
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