After the Battle for San Pietro Infine in December, the US 36th Texas Division needed numerous replacement to be ready for a new battle. Major-General Fred Walker was concerned about the success of the next attack and the lack of time for preparation. The Germans in front of them had excellent observation from the fortified village of Sant'Angelo in Theodice on a high bluff on the far side of the Rapido river in the centre of the valley.
He knew it had to be a night time attack, but he was worried about the river itself that could be a formidable obstacle, and the numerous mines and the barbed wire that was believed to be on both sides of the river. The attacking troops would have to carry their own boats to the river's edge, where engineers would need to construck footbridges to get the majority of the vanguard troops across. But such bridges, General Walkers had discovered, were in very short supply, along with other engineering materials.
"The rapido river, south of Highway 6, was from twenty-five to fifty feet wide, nine feet deep, and fast flowing between vertical banks about three and a half feet high from water-level. The Germans had diverted enough river-water through irrigation channels to turn the eastern, or Allied, bank into a kind of marsh. The German defencive positions at the ruined village of S. Angelo and on either side of it were well developed and were sited at distances from the river bank of between two hundred and one thousand yards. These positions were held by 1st Battalion 129th Panzer Grenadier Division and 3rd Battalion 104th Panzer Granadier Regiment, both of 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, backed by 3rd Battalion Hermann Göring Panzer Regiment. There were no covered approaches to the river on the eastern bank and the bank had been well scattered with mines."
(Molony C., History of the Second world War p. 618)
The crossing of the river started at 8.pm on 20th January, and after some hours of fighting the Americans counted 1300 dead men and 770 captured. Lets learn the story of the 141st Regiment and the 143th Regiment trying to cross the Rapido River.
|Photo:Smoke bombs used to cover the Amerocan Attack to the Rapido River (Nara)|
The Us Newspaper reports described it as the worst disaster since Pearl Harbour. The New Zealander officer Howard Kippenberger stated bluntly two weeks later : "Nothing was right, except the courage"
"In an action that lasted just short of 48 hours, the 36th Division had lost more than mille men without making a dent in the German line. Bitter arguments about the wisdom of the operationarose immediately, and after the War the veterans of the 36th Division Association called on Congress "to investigate the Rapido River fiasco". They blamed it on Mark Clark, whom they called "inefficient and inexperienced". Congress duly investigated and found no reason to blame him. The Secretary of War, Robert P. Patterson, declared that the action "was a necessary one and that General Clark exercised sound judgment in planning it and in ordering it".
(Wallace R., World war II, The italian Campain p.117)
Offer yourself an unforgettable tour on the Battlefields of Cassino and Monte Cassino
The "Monte Cassino 36th Division Battlefields tour for Americans" (aboutn3 hours) includes:
1) pickup from your arrival at the railway station in Cassino everyday at 10.00am or 02.00pm (Main Square, near the Green Kiosk)
2) about 3h30 guided tour of the American most meaningful sites of Cassino:
- Monte Trocchio slopes
- Rapido river banks and the Peace Bell
- The war monument dedicated to the 36th Texas Division
- The Commonwealth war cemetery
- Cassino town center
- Caste Hill
- The Panoramic point
- The Germans' caves
- The Abbey of Montecassino.
3) return to the railway station in Cassino at 01.30pm or 05.30pm
4) price per person 80 euros (lunch or dinner not included)
Informations and Booking
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Dr. Anna Maria Priora Ph.D
WW2 Monte Cassino Battlefield expert, researcher and tour guide