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The Italian Campaign of WWII: The ‘hills of hell’

The Story


The Gustav line, a well-prepared German defensive position blocking the road to Rome, has one particularly ominous feature: the 1,500-year-old monastery of Monte Cassino. The monastery dominates the valley below, and German paratroopers dominate the monastery. In this report Peter Stursberg describes the assault on a mountainside he calls "the hills of hell" -- strewn with boulders, blasted by shells, and "thick with the heavy stench of death" from tens of thousands of irretrievable bodies. 

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: May 14, 1944
Guest(s):
Reporter: Peter Stursberg
Duration: 4:35
Photo: Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Did You know?


• The German Gustav line was the western part of their winter-line fortifications, crossing the nation from the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west to the Adriatic in the east. Monte Cassino is a mountain located in the centre of the line.
• The Battle of Monte Cassino was a series of Allied assaults on this part of the Gustav line on the way to Rome. The British Eighth Army joined the stalled U.S. Fifth Army at Cassino, one of the final obstacles before Rome.
• The ancient monastery of Monte Cassino was founded in about the year 529 AD by St. Benedict of Nursia. He was the founder of the Benedictine Order and is considered the patriarch of western monasticism.
• The monastery became one of the great centres of Christianity, and is the site where, in about 540 AD, St. Benedict wrote his famous Rule outlining the main principles of religious life.
• The site of many battles, Monte Cassino was sacked by the Lombards (an ancient Germanic people) in about 581 and the Saracens (medieval Arabs) in 883. In 1349 it was destroyed by an earthquake, and it was flattened during the Second World War. It was rebuilt each time and reconsecrated in 1964.
• In the 11th century the monastery had a scriptorium which produced many famous illuminated manuscripts. When the Second World War broke out, the great library at Monte Cassino was transferred to the Vatican.
• In early 1944, Allied planes bombed the monastery into ruin, but a German garrison was entrenched in the rubble. The Allies made three assault attempts at the heavily fortified position, but failed each time at a cost of over 50,000 lives. On May 18, Polish troops finally took the monastery.


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