The Winter And Gustav Lines
The Cassino Tour
On 3 September 1943, shortly after the overthrow of Mussolini, the Italians signed an armistice with the Allies which was quickly followed by the joint Anglo-American Fifth Army landings at Salerno. The reinforced German armies provided stiff resistance with heavy counter attacks until the Eighth Army, which had landed around the 'toe' of Italy was able to join forces with those at Salerno. Naples was occupied and the two Allied armies advanced up the Italian peninsula until they were held by the Germans on their winter 'Gustav' Line. Against a backdrop of appalling Italian winter weather, formidable German defences and the dilution of their forces in anticipation of the Normandy landings, the multinational Allied armies consisting of divisions from France, North Africa, Poland, New Zealand, India, Britain and America fought bitterly to take the key to the Gustav Line, Monte Cassino.
Mention the Second World War in Italy and most people think of Cassino. Certainly, the rebuilt, ancient monastery still lours over the Liri valley and is much visited, but who goes to see the bloodbath of the Winter Line, which held the British and US forces at bay whilst Cassino and the Gustav Line were completed? And who examines the river crossings on the Garliano where British forces almost turned the German line, or the high mountains above Cassino where French Algerians and Moroccans came close to breaking through? Patrick Mercer, himself the son of an Italian campaign veteran, will take you to places that are rarely visited, places that saw some of the worst fighting of the War, the places where Hitler's ambitions in Europe foundered. Much of this tour will involve exploration on foot across uneven ground and so a fair level of fitness will be required from all participants.
"The battle of Cassino was the most gruelling, the most harrowing and in one aspect perhaps the most tragic of any phase of the war in Italy".
General Mark Clark
Fly from London Gatwick to Naples and settle in to our hotel in the centre of San Pietro, where the Germans defied US 36th Division three times.
To Monte Lungo and examine the Mignano Gap and the museum of the allied attacks there. Return to San Pietro and look at operations of the US 1st Special Service Force and General Mark Clarke's design for battle.
Travel to Monte Camino and survey the whole of the Winter Line. From the high point on Monastery Hill we will then walk down into Guards' Wood and look at the two battles there following the course of 56th London Division.
After watching the film 'The Battle for San Pietro' we will move towards Cassino taking in the battle for San Vittore and the fall of Monte Trocchio.
We will look at the crossings on the River Garliano and the Rapido including the failed attempt by 36th Texas Division. From there we will look in detail at the first battle of Cassino and travel to the extreme left flank of the German position where the French Corps tried to break through.
The second and third battles of Cassino are the focus, including the New Zealanders' actions in the town, Albaneta Farm, and the far reaches of Phantom Ridge. We will look in detail at Point 593 and the extensive German positions there.
The penultimate day is dedicated entirely to walking Cavendish Road behind Snakeshead Ridge and the German Cemetery in Caira.
After visiting the museum of the Winter Line we will return to Naples Airport and then to Gatwick.