Cassino Memorial, Italy
Remembering Sikh Soldiers in Italy
Bhupinder Singh Holland has complied a list of Sikh soldiers who died in Europe during the Great War and are buried at various cemeteries in Italy. Remembering and honoring the fallen is the greatest tribute we can give to all those who gave their lives for our tomorrow.
In Memory of
Naik AMAR SINGH
11053, 2nd Bn., 11th Sikh Regiment
who died age 30
on 13 September 1944
Son of Prem Singh and Punjab Kaur; husband of Gurdial Kaur
of Jhanir, Sardulgarh, Patiala, India.
Remembered with honour
Commemorated in perpetuity by
the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
(From one of the graves)
Source: Discovery Civilization
Source: Discovery Civilization
Source: Discovery Civilization
The Cassino Memorial is situated within Cassino War Cemetery, which lies in the Commune of Cassino, Province of Frosinone, 139 kilometres south-east of Rome. Above it, at a distance of 1 kilometre, is the dominating hill on which stands the Abbey of Monte Cassino. Take the autostrada A1 from Rome to Naples and leave it at the Cassino exit. At the junction of this exit and the road into Cassino, is the first of 6 clearly visible signposts to the cemetery and Memorial.
On 3 September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland, the invasion coinciding with an armistice made with the Italians who then re-entered the war on the Allied side. Progress through southern Italy was rapid despite stiff resistance, but by the end of October, the Allies were facing the German winter defensive position known as the Gustav Line, which stretched from the river Garigliano in the west to the Sangro in the east. Initial attempts to breach the western end of the line were unsuccessful. Operations in January 1944 landed troops behind the German lines at Anzio, but defences were well organised, and a breakthrough was not actually achieved until 18 May, when Cassino was finally taken.
The site for CASSINO WAR CEMETERY was originally selected in January 1944, but the development of the battle during the first five months of that year made it impossible to use it until after the Germans had withdrawn from Cassino. During these early months of 1944, Cassino saw some of the fiercest fighting of the Italian campaign, the town itself and the dominating Monastery Hill proving the most stubborn obstacles encountered in the advance towards Rome. The majority of those buried in the war cemetery died in the battles during these months. There are now 4,266 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated at Cassino War Cemetery. 284 of the burials are unidentified. Within the cemetery stands the CASSINO MEMORIAL which commemorates over 4,000 Commonwealth servicemen who took part in the Italian campaign and whose graves are not known.
Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Cassino Memorial, Forli Cremation Memorial, Sangro River Cremation Memorial has graves of Sikh soldiers of the 11th Sikh Regiment, 1st Punjab Regiment, 2nd Punjab Regiment, Nabha Akal Infantry, 16th Punjab Regiment, 8th Punjab Regiment,15th Punjab Regiment, 12th. Frontier Force Regiment, 6th Duke of Connaught’s Own Lancers (Watson’s Horse ), 13th. Frontier Force Rifles, King George V’s Own Bengal Sappers and Miners, 13 Indian Mule Coy, 17th Indian Inf. Bde. Sig. Sec etc, and inscribed on these graves are the words ik onkar siri waheguru ji ke fateh, sanskare gaye in Gurmukhi. Ancona War Cemetery, Arezzo War Cemetery, and Rimini Gurkha war Cemetery are full with Gurkha’s soldiers and a shalok from the Bhagwad Gita is written. Similarly Bari War Cemetery, Florence War Cemetery, Forli Indian Army War Cemetery, and Ravenna War Cemetery have Muslim soldiers, mostly from united Punjab, buried with inscriptions from the Qu’ran.
There are a total of 41 Cemeteries and 4 memorials in South and North of Italy namely Cassino Memorial, Forli Indian Army Cremation Memorial, Rimini Gurkha War Cremation Memorial, and Sangro River War Cremation Memorial. Common Wealth War Graves Commission Register has recorded 5727 causalties of WW-2 in Italy of which the British Indian forces in Cemeteries are (2830) and commemoration by Memorial are (2897). Rimini Gurkha War Cemetery has the largest (618) soldiers, and other notable are Sangro River War Cemetery (517), Forli Cemetery (492), Cassino War Cemetery (431), Salerno War Cemetery (385), Arezzo War Cemetery (378), Cassino Memorial (1440), Forly Cremation Memorial ( 768 ), Sangro Cremation Memorial (517).
The story of British Indian Army in Italy starts in September 1943 when 8th Indian Division attacked and took over Larino which is near the city of Termoli. After crossing river Sangro, German strong defence line known as Berhardt Line was attacked and succeeded in joining the 4th Indian Division already in action at Cassino. Now both the Divisions were ready to attack and finally suceeded in breaking the German stronghold in May 1944. The German forces started retreating north from Rome to the Gothic Line and were pursued by the 10th Indian Division and others, and heavy losses were inflicted on the retreating German forces in June 1944. On 9 April 1945, a strong offensive was launched by Indian forces across the Senio and Santerno rivers and they reached river Po on the night of April 25-26. By May 2, they had penetrated beyond the river Adige, when the German forces finally surrendered.
Common Wealth War Graves Commission Register has recorded 5727 of total causalties of British Indian forces in Italy from September 1943 to 2 May 1945. In the register are also recorded 46 Indian soldiers of WW-I. It is quite interesting to note the overal position of the allied forces including the forces of the Commonwealth recorded by Common Wealth War Grave Commission. Below is their version of the story.
The Campaign in Northern Italy: From Rome to the Alps
The associations of the land of Italy and its people with England and the English are ancient, profound and various. The fortunes or the tastes of many of our northern race have led them in one way or another to that southern country and accustomed them to her classic inheritances. This tradition of travels and sojourns was formerly concerned with the recreations and the pursuits and studies of times of peace. In the first half of the twentieth century this course of life was interrupted, and for the first time it became the lot of the Briton to appear in Italy as a fighting man. What then ensued through the Kingdom in a series of battles and all that warfare means has found its record, in one noble form, in the actual scene, where the cemeteries of the Commonwealth are set in the varied landscape.
In order that the nature and full meaning of these many dispersed cemeteries may be more readily understood, particularly by those who now make their pilgrimages to them in the cities or in the country places, a succinct chronicle of the war in Italy from the point of view of the Commonwealth forces is given here. It reminds us of the stubborn and intense contests for key positions, and how these alternated with marches and movements on a large scale. In these great episodes the fate of individual soldiers, whose duties and posts were of the widest variety, and the locality and appearance of their last resting-places were inevitably involved.
Rome was taken by the Allies on 6th June, 1944, but the Italian campaign lasted eleven months more. Those who died in Italy during these months are buried in twenty-six war cemeteries in central and northern Italy; they number just over 17,750. The cemeteries by their locations show the course of the campaign. To the north of Rome lie first Bolsena War Cemetery, Orvieto War Cemetery, and Assisi War Cemetery, near the zone of the first halt made by the Germans after their retreat from Rome.
Farther north, Arezzo War Cemetery and Foiano della Chiana War Cemetery show where the Germans made another stand. Florence, the centre of the Arno line and the point from which the winter campaign of the Appennino’s was launched, had one war cemetery, the Florence War Cemetery near the River Arno. On the difficult routes through the mountains are the Castiglione South African Cemetery and the Santerno Valley War Cemetery. The Eighth Army’s progress up the Adriatic coast is marked by a cemetery at Ancona, and then by a cluster of cemeteries ranging from near Pesaro to just beyond Ravenna: Montecchio War Cemetery, Gradara War Cemetery, Coriano Ridge War Cemetery, Rimini Gurkha War Cemetery, Cesena War Cemetery, Meldola War Cemetery, Forli War Cemetery and Forli Indian Army War Cemetery, Faenza War Cemetery, Ravenna War Cemetery and Villanova Canadian War Cemetery. Finally in the zone of the break-through in the springof 1945 lie Argenta Gap War Cemetery and Bologna War Cemetery. Among the cities of the north, Milan, Genoa and Padua have war cemeteries, and Udine War Cemetery, in the north-east, is not far from some of the cemeteries of the 1914-18 War.
All of these cemeteries contain burials brought together into them from a considerable area round about when once the battle had passed on; some, however, were started as battlefield cemeteries-Argenta Gap War Cemetery, Castiglione South African Cemetery, Foiano della Chiana War Cemetery, Meldola War Cemetery, Montecchio War Cemetery, Santerno Valley War Cemetery, Ravenna War Cemetery, Villanova Canadian War Cemetery and Orvieto War Cemetery.
After the taking of Rome by the Allies in June 1944, the Germans, if they were to avoid a complete rout, must fall back quickly; but the Gothic Line, their next strong defensive position, roughly 242 kilometres farther north, was not yet completed, and they had to make a stand somewhere before long in order to gain time for its completion. The aim of the Allies was to reach the Northern Appennino’s if possible before the Germans could consolidate anywhere: they must reach the Arno in the shortest time possible and then use the Arno Valley as their base for a drive to Bologna. Thus it was that in the first eight days after the fall of Rome, the Fifth Army advanced some 129 kilometres along the coast, and the Eighth Army farther inland about 97 kilometres, when the Allies found resistance stiffening.
The valuable port of Civitavecchia was taken on 7th June, and was speedily made usable; beyond that, however, there was some hard fighting before the U.S. 4th Corps took Orbetello and Grosseto. In the centre, the South African 6th Armoured Division made swift progress at first towards Orvieto, but that town was not taken till 14th June, the South African drive having been held up at Bagnoregio. Much farther to the right, the New Zealanders took Avezzano on 10th June, while on the Adriatic the Germans started to withdraw. On the 9th Orsogna, after being for six months just out of reach, was at last taken by the Allies, followed by Pescara and Chieti on the 10th. On 17th June an assault was made on the island of Elba, the land forces being French, the air force American, and the naval force mostly British; all resistance on the island ceased by the 19th.
German resistance had been growing for about a week, when on 20th June the Allied forces reached the line on which the Germans had decided to make a stand-a line running past Lake Trasimene, the scene of the defeat of the Romans by Hannibal’s army in 217 B.C. By 21st June the 13th Corps was checked south-west of Lake Trasimene, and the 10th Corps in the hills north and west of Perugia. The battles for this line lasted till the end of the month. At the western end the Americans were slowed down, but not stopped; their heaviest fighting was for Cecina. The French, heading for Siena, were held up for a few days, but reached Siena on 3rd July. On both sides of Lake Trasimene, the British 13th and 10th Corps met with heavy opposition from some of the best German divisions, but the Germans were driven from their line on 28th June, and on 2nd July the 78th Division cleared the northern shore of Lake Trasimene. Thosekilled in the fighting of that month of June are buried in the cemeteries at Bolsena, Orvieto and Assisi.
The German retreat did not last long, however; on 5th July the Allies encountered resolute resistance in defence of positions just south of a line Ancona-Arezzo-Leghorn, and in particular there was a spell of fairly heavy and inconclusive fighting on both sides of the Chiana valley, leading to Arezzo. To this period belong the cemeteries at Foiano della Chiana and Arezzo. The Allied attack all along the line began on 14th/15th July; within less than a week it had succeeded in taking all the strong points of the German defences and in gaining for the Allies the ports of Ancona and Leghorn. The Americans had reached the Arno on 4th August, though it was not till 13th August that the 8th Indian Division crossed the river at Florence and occupied the city itself-two days before the landings in southern France. During the previous two months, the Allied armies in Italy had lost three American and four French divisions for these French landings, which were given priority over the Italian campaign.
The first days of August, then, saw the end of the campaign in Central Italy, and the conclusion of plans for the advance towards the Po valley. Ahead of the Allied forces was a major German defence line, known as the Gothic Line; it ran from Pesaro on the Adriatic up the River Foglia, across the Appennino’s to Bibbiena, then just south of the main Appennino watershed to a point near Pistoia, whence it cut across to the coast near Carrara, 19 kilometres south of La Spezia. The line was naturally strong, and had been heavily fortified by the Germans, whose delaying actions at Lake Trasimene and near Arezzo had given them time to complete their work on it. It was decided that the main weight of the next Allied attack must fall on the Adriatic sector of the Gothic Line; when this had forced the Germans to commit their reserves in this sector, an attack across the Appennino’s on the right of the Fifth Army front was to follow. The forces of the Allies were therefore regrouped so as to bring the weight of the Eighth Army over to the Adriatic, where for months it had been playing a holding role with a minimum of strength.
The Allied attack on the Adriatic sector began on 25th August 1944. It took the Germans by surprise and, as had been hoped, it compelled them to reinforce in that sector and to withdraw towards the Gothic Line proper. These first Allied efforts won some key positions and achieved a break-through on the River Foglia; by the beginning of September the Allies were in possession of some 32 kilometres of the main German defences but the Germans were still strongly holding the Coriano Ridge, south of Rimini. Having strengthened their positions on the Adriatic, the Germans had to withdraw elsewhere, but the Fifth Army found them in general prepared to offer resistance on the high ground north of Florence which formed the approach to the main Gothic Line defences in the Appennino’s.
In mid-September came the next Allied push; on the 12th the Eighth Army began their attack on Coriano Ridge, which after very heavy fighting was taken by the Canadians the following day; and on the 13th the Fifth Army launched their main offensive ontheir right, the 13th Corps being by then in a position to attack the main Gothic Line defences in the Appennino’s. On 15th September the first units of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force came into action with the Fifth Army. By the end of 17th September, in spite of very difficult country and strong opposition, the enemy’s main defences on Il Giogo pass had beenbroken, and by the 22nd all units of the 13th Corps and of the U.S. 2nd Corps had passed through the Gothic Line on a front of 48 kilometres. On the west coast, the U.S. 4th Corps was able to advance steadily as the Germans withdrew to their main defensive positions 19 kilometres south of La Spezia, and fighting was not heavy.
Along the rest of the front, however, the fighting had been probably the severest experienced by either Army in Italy. On 21st September the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade entered Rimini, on the Adriatic coast. On 24th September the important Futa pass, on one of the main routes across the Appennino’s, and one of the strongest defensive positions on the German line, was cleared. By the end of September the Germans had decided to abandon all their Gothic Line positions except in the extreme west. The fighting during September had been severe and the losses on both sides heavy. The Allied armies had won a great success, but at high cost, and they were unable to follow it up as they would have wished. The Eighth Army had advanced about 48 kilometres in less than a month, and hoped now to be able soon to reach the Po; but apart from their battle casualties, they now lost the 4th Indian Division and the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade, ordered to Greece, and they had not the reserve of manpower to keep up their strength.
Moreover, they had now come to a region of innumerable water channels which proved serious obstacles in the very rainy autumn weather, and the German determination not to yield a yard of ground without fighting for it was almost fanatical. So it was that during October the Eighth Army gained only a few kilometres of rain-sodden ground, while the Fifth Army struggled through the mountains in appalling weather against spirited resistance by some of the best German divisions in Italy, until on 27th October, almost within sight of their immediate goal, Highway No. 9, the main road along the base of the mountains from Rimini to Bologna and Milan, they had to assume the defensive. The Eighth Army continued their advance a little longer; in November they took Forli and gained the outskirts of Ravenna, and on 4th December troops of the 1st Canadian Corps entered Ravenna. By the end of December they reached the line of the River Senio and the great lagoon called the Valli di Comacchio; Faenza had been taken by the 5th Corps on 16th December after obstinate defence by the enemy.
The Allied armies, then, were halted on a winter line which in the Appennino’s was only some 16 kilometres short of Bologna, and in the plains on the Adriatic sector was formed by the Senio and the fringe of the Comacchio marshes and lagoon. Bad weather, lack of ammunition, shortage of reinforcements, and desperate resistance by the Germans at Hitler’s insistence had combined to force this halt; not until April 1945 was the general offensive resumed. The fighting during the last months of 1944 and early in 1945 is reflected in the cemeteries of Castiglione and the Santerno Valley, of Florence, and in the group between Pesaro and Ravenna.
The first operation of the spring offensive took place on 2nd April 1945, when Commandos moved against German positions on the narrow spit of land between the Comacchio lagoon and the Adriatic. Next, on the extreme left of the front, the U.S. 92nd Division started to attack up the Ligurian coast towards Massa Carrara and La Spezia. Massa was taken on 10th April, then the advance was slowed down; but it continued todamage the Germans severely, and had forced them to throw in reserves not only from close at hand but from farther east.
On 9th April the final drive of the Italian campaign began when the Eighth Army, now including the newly reformed Jewish Infantry Brigade Group, directed its main effort with the 5th Corps towards Comacchio and the Argenta Gap-that gap between the River Reno and the Valli di Comacchio, now only some 3640 metres wide between areas flooded by the Germans, and heavily defended. It was the key to Padua, Venice and the north-east. On the morning of 14th April the main offensive of the Fifth Army was started by the 4th Corps, with the U.S. 10th Mountain Division as its spearhead. To the right, the U.S. 2nd Corps gave battle the following day, the 6th South African Armoured Division making the most notable first advance. By dawn of 18th April the enemy in front of the U.S. 2nd Corps had begun an orderly withdrawal all along the line, dictated partly by the rapidity of the 4th Corps’ advance on the left.
By 21st April the U.S. 10th Mountain Division had thrust through the defences north-west of Bologna, had cut Highway No. 9 and was preparing for the drive on the Po; 2nd Corps troops and Poles from the Eighth Army were in Bologna; and on the right the Germans were retreating in complete defeat before the Eighth Army-a general withdrawal to the Po had been ordered on the 20th by the German commander-in-chief. By the night of 24th April, the Fifth Army held a front of 97 kilometres along the River Po; by the 25th they had taken about 30,000 prisoners from the disintegrating German armies. The effective elements of the German armies were largely destroyed south of the Po; although they succeeded in withdrawing large numbers of troops across the river, they lost great quantities of equipment, and no longer had sufficient fighting troops to hold another defence line.
The final days of the campaign passed in a rapid whirl of movement. A few broad strokes on the map describe it all. From the region of Bologna the Allied forces radiated in various directions. A part of the U.S. 4th Corps (including the Brazilian force) headed up Highway No. 9 and along the northern base of the Appennino’s, cutting off considerable German forces. Other elements of the 4th Corps crossed the Po, went north to Mantua and Lake Garda (just too late to capture Mussolini), and along the northern edge of the plain by Bergamo to Como and Milan. The U.S. 2nd Corps, farther east, went to Verona, Vicenza, and north and north-eastwards into the Alps. And on the extreme left, the U.S. 92nd Division followed the Ligurian coast to Genoa (which was taken by Italian partisans, as were also Turin and Milan), and surging inland, joined up with the Brazilians. Meanwhile, the Eighth Army had crossed the Po on 25th April and the Adige two days later. The Germans offered some final resistance before Indian troops took Padua and the 2nd New Zealand Division entered Venice (already underpartisan control) on the 29th. On May 1st the New Zealanders met Yugoslav troops at Monfalcone, and the following day they entered Trieste, which had already been entered from the other side by the Yugoslavs, to whom the Germans, however, had refused to surrender. Contacts had also been made in the north-west between American and French forces in Piedmont, and in the north between forces of the Fifth Army advancing from Italy and those of the U.S. Seventh Army coming southwards from Austria.
The formal end of the campaign came on 2nd May, when the representatives of the German commander-in-chief accepted the Allied terms of unconditional surrender. The campaign had lasted twenty-two months from the time of the Allied landings in Sicily, during which time the Allied armies had covered more than 1610 kilometres, a great part of that distance being through mountains. The total Allied casualties killed, wounded and missing were 312,000; of these, 42,000 of the killed belonged to the forces of the Commonwealth.
The Campaign in Southern Italy: From Reggio to Rome
The associations of the land of Italy and its people with England and the English are ancient, profound and various. The fortunes of many of our northern race have led them in one way or another to that southern country and accustomed them to her classic inheritances. This tradition of travels and sojourns was formerly concerned with the recreations and pursuits and studies of times of peace. In the first half of the twentieth century this course of life was interrupted, and for the first time it became the lot of the Briton to appear in Italy as a fighting man. What then ensued through the kingdom in a series of battles and all that warfare means has found its record, in one noble form, in the actual scene, where the cemeteries of the Commonwealth are set in a varied landscape.
In order that the nature and full meaning of these many dispersed cemeteries may be more readily understood, particularly by those who now make their pilgrimage to them in the cities or in the country places, a succinct chronicle of the war in Italy from the point of view of the Commonwealth forces is given here. It reminds us of the stubborn and intense contests for key positions, and how these alternated with marches and movements on a large scale. In these great episodes the fate of individual soldiers, whose duties and posts were of the widest variety, and the locality and appearance of their last resting places were inevitably involved.
The campaign in Southern Italy lasted from 3rd September, 1943, when British and Canadian troops crossed the Straits of Messina from Sicily to the mainland of Italy, until 4th June, 1944, when the first Allied troops entered Rome. During this campaign and in the subsequent period of garrison duties, just over 20,250 members of the Commonwealth forces laid down their lives in Southern Italy. They are buried in eleven war cemeteries: Bari War Cemetery; Salerno War Cemetery; Naples War Cemetery; Caserta War Cemetery; Minturno War Cemetery; Sangro River War Cemetery; Moro River Canadian War Cemetery, Ortona; Beach Head War Cemetery, Anzio; Anzio War Cemetery; Cassino War Cemetery; and Rome War Cemetery.
None of these are purely battle cemeteries; into all of them have been brought the dead from the surrounding areas. But the site of each has a particular significance. That at Bari represents the initial period of relatively easy advance, slowed down by demolitions rather than by enemy opposition, through the extreme south of the peninsula; Bari, too, was a headquarters town. Salerno was the scene of the fiercely contested American and British landings on 9th September, 1943, aimed at seizing Naples. Naples was the first major objective of the campaign. Caserta was for long the headquarters of the Allied armies in Italy, and is not far from the scenes of bitter fighting in October 1943 on the Volturno River. Minturno lies near the mouth of the Garigliano River, the crossing of which was hotly contested in January 1944. By that time the forces on the Adriatic coast had been brought to a standstill near Ortona, and the Sangro River and Moro River cemeteries mark the hardest battles on that sector, fought just before the end of 1943. The Allies made landings at Anzio in January 1944, intended to threaten the rear of the German forces farther south, and to hasten the capture of Rome; they did not finally break out from the Anzio area, however, until the end of May 1944. During these early months of 1944, too, Allied forces had been striving in vain to take and pass Cassino, where the largest cemetery in southern Italy is now situated. And eventually in June 1944 they reached Rome the ultimate goal of the campaign in southern Italy. The following paragraphs delineate that campaign in greater detail.
The plans for the invasion of Italy were necessarily dependent upon the extent of the resources available to the Allies by the end of the Sicilian campaign, and upon the material and moral condition of the Axis forces by the same time. The collapse of the Italian forces in Sicily, the heavy losses sustained by the Germans, and the downfall of Mussolini were encouraging factors, and the plan decided upon, on 16th August, provided that the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery would cross the Straits of Messina and land near Reggio, in order to secure a hold on the “toe” of Italy and open the Straits of Messina for Allied naval forces. The Army would engage German forces as strongly as possible in the South so as to contain troops that might otherwise be used to resist the coming assault on the beaches of the Gulf of Salerno. This was to be the task of the Fifth Army, a mixed British and American force under General Mark Clark, which was to land on the shores of the Gulf of Salerno, six days after the Eighth Army landings, in order to seize Naples and the neighbouring airfields.
The Eighth Army actually made its landings just three weeks after victory was gained in Sicily, in the early hours of 3rd September, 1943. The assault was made by the 13th Corps on the beaches just north of Reggio, with the 1st Canadian Division on the right and the 5th Division on the left, supported by air bombardments and a heavy artillery barrage across the Straits of Messina. Reggio town and airfield were quickly captured that day; many Italian troops surrendered early. There was no contact with the Germans on that first day. Their plan, indeed, in the first stages of the campaign was to avoid battle in order to save their troops, and to delay the Allied advance by means of mines and demolitions. Allied casualties of all kinds on 3rd September numbered only twenty-three. At first the 5th Division advanced along the north of the “toe” and the 1st Canadian Division through the mountainous centre; although opposition was weak, the advance was slowed down by demolitions and difficult country. On 6th September the Canadians switched their line of advance to the south coastal road running up towards Locri and the “instep.” By 10th September the line Catanzaro-Nicastro, across the narrowest part of the Calabrian peninsula, had been reached without any heavy opposition.
Meanwhile, on 8th September the armistice with Italy (agreed on 3rd September) had been publicly declared.
In the early hours of 9th September the U.S. Fifth Army made landings in the Gulf of Salerno, with Rangers and commandos on the left, the British 10th Corps making the main assault with the 46th and 56th Divisions in the centre, just south of Salerno, and the U.S. 6th Corps some 16 kilometres farther south, near Paestum. The fighting on the Salerno beaches was amongst the fiercest of the Italian campaign, the landing forces being greeted by violent resistance. The first three days were relatively successful for the Allies, but the Germans rapidly brought up reinforcements from Calabria and from the north, and for a few days the situation at the beach-head was critical. Heavy and accurate shelling from British battleships and other naval units and bombing by the Strategic Air Force had great effect, both material and moral; by 15th September Fifth Army reinforcements were arriving, and the advance of the Eighth Army from the south was proving rapid enough to give the Germans cause to fear for the safety of their left flank. On 16th September the Americans, who three days before had been forced half-way back to the beaches, found the Germans beginning to withdraw before them; with this German confession of their inability to destroy the bridgehead, the Allied hold on the mainland of Italy could be said to be firmly established.
On the same day as the Salerno landings, 9th September, the British 1st Airborne Division had landed by sea at Taranto, without opposition. There were no Germans in the town, and the Italian authorities were friendly and co-operative. The possession of this port was invaluable, as the supply position of the Eighth Army was causing anxiety; it was also improved by the capture on 11th September of the smaller port of Crotone. By 15th September the Eighth Army line ran across the “instep” of Italy, through Belvedere and Castrovillari. On the following day contact was made by the forces that landed at Reggio with the troops of the Salerno bridgehead on the left and the troops that had landed at Taranto on the right. By 21st September the entire south-eastern corner of Italy, including the ports of Bari and Brindisi as well as Taranto, was clear of the German forces. The next objectives were the port of Naples and the great airfield centre of Foggia, possession of which would immensely widen the scope of Allied bombing operations in Italy and over the Balkans.
On 27th September the Eighth Army captured Foggia and Melfi; this marked the end of that part of their campaign which consisted of rapid advances after a retreating enemy, in which the major problems had been those of overcoming demolitions and maintaining supplies. The Fifth Army had a hard struggle for the passes that lead from the Gulf of Salerno to the plain of Naples, but by 28th September the 10th Corps had penetrated them, and the city of Naples was entered on 1st October; despite German demolitions its port was rapidly made serviceable. The cemeteries at Bari, Salerno, and Naples contain casualties of the fighting up to this stage, from the south-east, the south-west, and the Naples area respectively.
The Eighth Army found the Gargano Peninsula (the “spur” of Italy) undefended, and proceeded to Termoli. Here the 2nd Special Service Brigade was landed by sea 1.5 kilometres beyond the town, captured it early on 3rd October, and soon made contact with troops of the 78th Division which, advancing from the south, had established a bridgehead across the Biferno River. This bridgehead held firm against German counter attacks, and on 7th October the Germans fell back. In the centre, the 1st Canadian Division was fightingits way slowly in difficult country, but took Campobasso on 14th October and Vinchiaturo on the 15th. The Fifth Army by the end of the first week in October had reached the Volturno River. The river was swollen by the recent rains, crossing-places were few, and the Germans had better observation. The Allied attack was launched on 12th October; strenuous fighting followed, and it was not till 25th October that both the 10th Corps and the 6th U.S. Corps had finally consolidated their bridgeheads.
By the end of October, then, both Allied armies were facing the German “Winter Line”, which stretched from the Garigliano River to the Sangro River and was a series of fortified positions in depth rather than a line. It now became increasingly evident that the original German tactics (based on an over-estimate of Allied strength) of sparing troops by avoiding battle and practising extensive demolitions had changed, and that every inch of ground would henceforth be hotly contested. The results of this change are reflected in the fact that from here northwards there are more and larger cemeteries within a smaller area than that covered by the campaign so far.
During November and December, 1943, the Fifth Army made persistent attempts to break into the Winter Line, and to occupy the mountains on either side of the gap at Mignano through which runs the road to Rome. After attacks in this area from 5th to 15th November, they had to pause. Meanwhile the Eighth Army, proceeding up the Adriatic coast, was faced by a series of river crossings. By 4th November they had crossed the Trigno River in bad weather against heavy opposition, and were preparing to attack the Sangro River positions of the Winter Line. A bridgehead across the river having been firmly established by 24th November, the final attack on German positions on the ridge north of the river began on 28th November, with the 8th Indian Division on the right, the 78th Division following through, and the 2nd New Zealand Division on the left. By nightfall on 30th November, the whole ridge overlooking the River Sangro, the main position of the Winter Line in the east, was in Allied hands. The Sangro River War Cemetery is a sign of the bitterness of the contest.
Towards the western end of the front, the Fifth Army had by now rested and regrouped its forces, and on 1st December launched its next attack on the mountains south of the Mignano Gap. In this attack, which succeeded by 7th December, the British troops engaged were the 56th Division. On their right, from 8th December till the end of the year there was bitter fighting for the mountains on the north of the Mignano Gap and for certain isolated hills that stand up in the gap itself. By the end of the year the Winter Line had, in General Alexander’s words, been “broken into, but not broken”, and its main strength, the Gustav Line, hinged upon Cassino, still lay ahead.
On the Adriatic Sector, the Eighth Army had been slow making progress. On 6th December the 1st Canadian Division (which had relieved the 78th Division), and on 7th December the 8th Indian Division crossed the Moro River and drove towards Ortona; in Ortona itself for over a week (20th-28th December) there was most bitter street fighting between the Canadians and the German 1st Parachute Division. Ortona fell on 28th December. Farther inland, the 2nd New Zealand Division had twice (7th and 14th December) attacked Orsogna without success, but on 24th December they occupied the high ground north-east of the town. Thereafter virtually no advance was made east of theAppennino’s until after the fall of Rome. The fighting immediately preceding this halt is marked by the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery, near Ortona.
The Adriatic Sector was left with only a sufficient force to contain the Germans there, while the full weight of the Allied armies was swung to the entrance to the Liri Valley, the gateway to Rome, and the one place where an attack in force could be developed. Plans also were now made for landings at Anzio, in an outflanking movement towards the Alban Hills (or Colli Laziali), with a view to cutting the German communications and threatening the rear of the Gustav Line.
The operations of which the Anzio landings formed a part began on 17th January, 1944, with the 10th Corps attacking across the River Garigliano with the 5th, 46th and 56th Divisions; by 19th January the 5th Division had taken Minturno (the site of another War Cemetery) and the 56th Division was in the outskirts of Castelforte. By 8th February the bridgehead across the Garigliano gained by the 10th Corps had reached its greatest extent; the Corps had suffered heavy casualties, and only in one area had it reached and exploited its original objectives. Farther inland, the Americans had failed in their first attack, their 36th Division suffering great losses; by 31st January they had made a small but important breach in the Gustav Line north of Cassino; and the French Expeditionary Force had consolidated a considerable advance into the mountains still further north.
The Anzio landings meantime had taken place, in the early morning hours of 22nd January. They achieved almost complete surprise, the port of Anzio was found almost undamaged, and there was at first practically no resistance, so that the area decided upon for the bridgehead was occupied by the evening of 23rd January, with the 1st British Division on the left, and the 3rd U.S. Division on the right. The Allies did not reach the Alban Hills, however, being held up by the enemy, who rapidly brought up such reinforcements as he was able to without weakening the defence of the Gustav Line. He was determined both to hold that line and to seal off, if he could not destroy, the new bridgehead in its rear, at Anzio. In these two aims the Germans were successful for the next four months, and the heavy cost in lives to the Allied forces is shown by the two cemeteries at Anzio and that at Cassino, the largest in Italy.
On 16th February the Germans launched their first strong attack towards the port of Anzio, driving a deep wedge into the Allied front and reaching the final beachhead line. The 18th was a critical day, but counter-attacks on the following day began to drive the Germans back, and 20th February saw the end of this offensive. On 16th February also the Allies made an attack on Cassino; it had been preceded on the 15th by the destruction of the monastery by air bombardment and artillery fire. The attack was made by the New Zealand Corps (comprising the 2nd New Zealand Division, 4th Indian Division, and 78th British Division), and its progress was at first not unsatisfactory, but the eventual gains in the face of extraordinarily stubborn enemy resistance were small, and the attempt ended on 28th February.
The next German offensive began at Anzio the following day (29th February), but was a complete failure; after 1st March the Allied bridgehead at Anzio could be considered secure.
The Allies opened their next attack on 15th March with a terrific bombardment of Cassino town. Although it was reduced to rubble its defenders, the German 1st Parachute Division, still played their part, and the debris was a hindrance to the Allied advance, especially to tanks. By 18th March the greater part of the town was in Allied hands, but on the 23rd the assault was abandoned.
After a long period of stalemate, and a regrouping of the Allied forces, the final attack on the Gustav Line began during the night 11th-12th May, and achieved surprise, catching the Germans in the midst of some reorganisation of their forces. Progress was still slow in the first stages of the battle, because of the strong defences and the doggedness of enemy resistance. The first notable success was won by the French on the left of the front, where the German line collapsed on 16th May, leaving a gap through which the French forces passed, to advance over country which the Germans had supposed impassable. By then the 13th Corps had almost pierced the Gustav Line; by the evening of the 17th they had cut Route 6, and the Poles on their right were ready for the final move on Cassino. In the morning of the 18th the town of Cassino was finally cleared, and the Polish standard was raised over the ruins on Monastery Hill.
The Germans, who had suffered heavy casualties, now held their next defence line, known originally as the Hitler Line, which was very strongly fortified. It stretched across the Liri Valley farther upstream and the Allied forces had orders to push on against it before the retreating Germans had time to settle down in it. At the same time as this drive was made up the Liri Valley, the 6th U.S. Corps was to break out of the Anzio Bridgehead.
The main attack on the Hitler Line, delivered by the Canadian Corps, opened on 23rd May. In spite of stiff resistance and heavy casualties, the German line was cleared except for Aquino by noon on the 24th, and by the night of the 25th the Germans were driven from the Liri Valley east of the River Melfa.
The break-out from the Anzio bridgehead also started early on 23rd May. It achieved local surprise, rapidly gained ground, and on the 25th captured Cisterna and linked up with the American forces moving northward from Terracina.
The re-united Fifth Army was now ready for the drive on Rome, while the Eighth Army was to pass east of the city and up the Tiber valley. Speed was essential, so as to leave the Germans no opportunity to settle down in the Caesar Line, their last defensive position south of Rome, based on the forward slopes of the Alban Hills. The defences in this line were less elaborate than in the Gustav or Hitler Lines, but the terrain was difficult. On 30th May, however, the 36th U.S. Division found a weak spot on the fringe of the Alban Hills, penetrated it, and the last defences of Rome were broken. By 3rd June the Germans had no alternative but to withdraw their forces across the Tiber-a move which had alreadystarted the previous night. On 4th June the first Allied troops entered Rome, just two days before the invasion of Normandy was launched; after some skirmishing in the suburbs, the centre of the city was reached by evening. Rome had in fact been declared an open city before the Allies entered it, and the burials in the War Cemetery are mostly later garrison burials, and those of members of the British forces who died in Rome during the German occupation, as prisoners of war.
The Eighth Army in the meantime had been making steady progress up the roads towards Avezzano and Arsoli, against surprisingly stubborn resistance, and at the critical moment was ready to send forward the 6th South African Armoured Division and the 6th British Armoured Division to pursue the Germans retreating from Rome.
The Allied naval and air forces throughout the campaign had multifarious tasks in collaboration with the land forces. The most obvious and most constant task of the Navy was, of course, the transport, supply, and reinforcement of the land forces, and the protection of these operations. But on at least one occasion naval supporting fire helped to turn the scales in a crisis when, at Salerno on 15th September, 1943, four battleships, H.M.S. Rodney, Warspite, Nelson and Valiant, were brought in to help to break up the German counter-attack that threatened to destroy the Allied beach-head. At Salerno, too, H.M.S. Warspite was badly damaged by a radio-controlled glider bomb. The Anzio landings and subsequent naval operations also resulted in casualties to naval vessels.
The Air Forces had to provide cover for the initial landings-at extreme fighter range in the case of Salerno-for shipping, and for troop movements; to provide close support for troops when required; and at longer range to destroy German communications, hindering withdrawals as well as preventing supplies and reinforcements from coming up, and to bomb supply bases, factories, airfields, and other vital targets-tasks which multiplied particularly during the period of stalemate in front of Cassino. Until the Allies had a firm hold on southern Italy and were established on airfields there, air force tasks were particularly difficult. The move of the strategic air force to the Foggia airfields, although it occupied a great deal of shipping space and for a time delayed the building up of the ground forces, was fully justified by the enormously extended range over enemy targets in Europe thus made available. Throughout the campaign the Allies had air superiority, which was a decisive factor in their success.
So it is that sailors and airmen lie buried with their soldier comrades in cemeteries throughout Italy.
On many headstones some inscription from one of our own poets has been engraved. Those who recall the elegy written in Italy in 1821 by one of the English residents for another, of peculiar valour of disposition, who died young, may have in mind, as suitable to the whole company of the fallen, these lines:
They borrow not
Glory from those who made the world their prey;
And they are gathered to the Kings of thought
Who waged contention with their time’s decay,
And of the past are all that cannot pass away.
~ Shelley. Adonais (Stanza XLVIII)
A tradition has been set up that every year on the November 11 (Armistice Day 11 November 1918), hundreds of Sikhs are come from throughout Europe to Ieper to take part in the Poppy parade and pay homages at Menon Gate, the national monument of World War-I in Belgium and at Hollebeke where a monument has been built by Belgium Government and inagurated by ‘Panj Piare’ in memory of the Sikh soldiers to mark the celebration of peace on 2,3,4 of april 1999 dedicated to the 300 years of the birth of the Khalsa. Last year a delegation of the Sikhs working for the British Police also visited this place. Free meal (langer) is also served on this occasion.
Graves (Samaads) are visited by the families of these soldiers from Punjab, Europe, Canada, USA, and Great Brition. Since 1999, on May 4, the liberation day of Holland, a strong delegation of Sikhs also pays respect in Amsterdam at the National Monument of 2nd World War at Dam square.