The February 1944, wanton destruction of Monte Cassino Abbey, Italy, by USAAF bombers.
In November 1943, the German Army under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring formed Army Group C with 18 divisions deployed under 10th Army in central Italy (44, 65, 94, 305 Infantry: 15, 29, 90 Panzergrenadier; 5 Mountain; 26 Panzer; 1 Luftwaffe Airborne, Hermann Goering Panzer). 10th Army defended the narrow Italian front with great skill and resourcefulness, exacting a high cost for ground lost, before halting on December 27, 1943 on the Gustav or Hitler Line on the Sangro and Garigliano rivers through the Monte Cassino strongpoint. Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring ordered a 300m military exclusion zone, specifically excluding Monte Cassino Abbey from its defensive positions and informed the Vatican and the Allies of this fact.
In October, 1943, acting on his own initiative, Oberstleutnant Julius Schlegel removed the ancient library, statues and artworks from the Monte Cassino Abbey, by truck to Rome, thereby preserving them for posterity.
In January, 1944, 1.and 4.Fallschirmjaeger were absorbed into 1.Fallschirmjaegerkorps commanded by General der Luftwaffe Alfred Schlemm with Hermann Goering (HG) and 4.Fallschirmjaeger Divisions attacking the new Allied beachhead at Anzio which threatened the Gustav Line, January 1944.
In February March and April 1944, 1.Fallschirmjaeger Division defended Cassino and Monte Cassino. Colonel Heidrich’s 3.Fallschirmjaeger Regiment repulsed all attempts to take the Cassino positions. HG Panzer Division was taken out of the battle lines to rest and was renamed 1.Fallschirm-Panzer Division HG, now commanded by Generalmajor Wilhelm Schmalz. The USAAF, February 1944, bombing of Monte Cassino sent 1,500 tonnes of bombs crashing down on top of Monte Cassino Abbey thereby creating rubble and craters which were then occupied by 1.Fallschirmjaeger Division which they continued to hold tenaciously until May 13, 1944. Polish forces serving with the British Army finally drove the Germans out of the Gustav Line, May 13, 1944 and praised the German paratroops fighting qualities, their implacable enemies. The casualties suffered by the Allies were enormous, c. 50,000. German forces lost 20,000 killed. At least 10 Italian towns were obliterated from the landscape.
The bombing of Monte Cassino Abbey may have been due the incorrect translation of a German radio message: ‘Die Abt mit die Monchen in das Kloster ist jetzt.’ ‘The Abbot is with the Monks in the Monastery, now.’ The word Abbot (Abt) when written as Abt is Abteilung (Battalion), abbreviated. A book ‘With Alex at War’, published in 2000 by an Aide de Camp to British Field Marshal Alexander makes this claim. A claim that a single sentence intercepted from German Military radio traffic could have led to the destruction of Monte Cassino, founded by St Benedict in 529CE is difficult to substantiate. German Army Military radio communications, Deutsches Heeres Militarisches Rundfunk, throughout World War Two were encoded.
Post war, 1. Fallschirm-Panzer Division HG records showed written military orders confirming the 300 metre military exclusion area around Monte Cassino Abbey.
In 1950, Abbot Rea launched an international appeal for the reconstruction of Monte Cassino. In 1964, the Abbey, reborn, was reconsecrated by Pope Paul VI.