The introduction of French troops into the Itanian theater started with the Winterline battle The 2nd Maroccan Infantry Division arrived at Naple by 1st December 1943, and the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division was scheduled to arrive at the end of December. Both divisions have been trained in mountain fighting and both were aeger to vendicate the old glory of French Arms. While the 36th Division was attacking San Pietro Infine, the Vi Corps and in particolar the French 2nd Infantry Division was told to take to high ground east of Cardito, while the 45th Division was ordered to attack the peaks along the road to S. Elia. After had been successful in the first French-German encounter on the Italian front near Scapoli, the French were successful on Mount Pantano, on the Cerasuolo flat, Monna Casale. By the 21st December the troops of the VI Corps were running to Viticuso and Casale.
General Marck Clark decided to ask to the French General Juin to attack a very difficult area on the Gustav line, on the right side of Cairo massive.
General Clark had little faith in the French army. The main assault on the Gustav Line should be by British X Corps across the Garigliano River and by US II Corps across the Rapido River near Cassino. General Clark asked the French Expedition Corps to plan an attack on the mountain east of Monte Cassino, called Colle Belvedere. It wasn't an easy task. Colle Belvedere was 800 feet high and was fortified with bunkers and mines, and defended by units of the German 44th and 71st Infantry Divisions. The Rapido river should have to be crossed merely to reach the position. Yet General Juin knew he could not refuse Clark's request if the Allies were to take the FEC seriously. It was, juint noted, one of the least accessible parts of the Gustav Line, backed by the enourmous peak of Monte Cairo. the initian advance would involve crossing the Secco River and the Rapido River, then braking through the defences in the valley, before climbing more than 800 metres over bare rock, under direct observation by German Artillery spotters on Monte Cifalco. having the FEC on Colle Belvedere was essencial to the safety of the American Red Bulls Juin's Tunesians from the 3rd Algerian Division was chosen to lead tha attack. On 25 January Commandalt Gandoet was ready. The aim was to capture Hill 470, then push on along the north side of Belvedere. A ravin had been chosen and was called ravin Gandoet because it seemed to affer cover from artillery fire and the possibility of surprising the defenders on the objective. It was a bloody battle. On 31 st January not only Colle Belvedere but also Colle Abate was captured. The two French Divisions were now amongst the defences of the Gustav Line and Juin felt that the introduction of one more division into the battle would allow them to break through. Clark was not convicted, however, and he was loath to transfer any American unit to the French sector. Juin wrote on his diary: 'we saw them coming back, haggard, unshaven, their uniform in rags and soaked with mud, the glorious survivors of the regiment'. They were glorious but few. Of the assaulting companies only 30 per cent had returned unscathed.
Come and visit the Monte Cassino Battlefields with your family at a unique rate!
The " Monte Cassino Battlefield Tours for French" (about 3 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 French most meaningful sites of Cassino:
- Road from Conca Casale to Sant'Elia
- the Rapido River crossing on both sides of Sant'Elia
- Secco River in the Olivella Area and Gandoet Ravin
- Belvedere hill and Abate hill
- 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)
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Informations and Booking
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Dr. Anna Maria Priora Ph.D
WW2 Monte Cassino Battlefield expert, researcher and tour guide