Rudolf Böhmler was a battalion commander in the German parachute division that fought at Cassino, and was thus a key eye witness to the battle. This early account of the fighting benefits greatly from his front line experience, and those sections of the text that deal with the details of the fighting are excellent.
This account of the battle was originally written in the 1950s, when the reformed German army was attempting to restore its reputation. The Italian front appeared to provide an example of a ‘clean’ fight, and Kesselring a ‘clean’ commander, both ideas that have been firmly disproved since the 1950s. Kesselring authorised atrocities in northern Italy, and the German army took part in them.
The author was also someone obsessed by the Cold War. As a result we get an account of the struggles of General Anders’ Poles that dismisses the German role in the Polish tragedy in half a sentence, while the post-war fate of the Balkans is blamed on the Allied high command and not on the Germans. The attempt to clear the Germans of the charges of cultural looting just because they behaved well at Monte Cassino also rings rather false, as does the criticism of the Allied decision to bomb the monastery at Monte Cassino, both of which come across as rather ill judged and distasteful attempts to take the moral high ground.
It’s fair to say that the Allied commanders at Cassino would have been surprised to learn that their divisions were at full strength or their supplies virtually unlimited. Instead they would have argued that Italy was being starved of reinforcements and supplies as the western allies prepared for the Normandy landings, and until the fourth and final battle of Cassino the balance of power was fairly equal. The author also rather underplays the strength of the German defensive positions on the Gustav and the amount of work that had gone into building the fortified defensive line around Cassino. In both cases the picture is distorted by the author’s desire to emphasis the skill and determination of his men.
With those caveats in mind, you do get a good view of the first half of the Italian campaign from the German point of view, and very good material on the up-close infantry fighting.
1 - The Downfall of Mussolini
2 - Italy Capitulates
3 - The Landing in Italy
4 - Kesselring or Rommel? Cassino or Florence?
5 - In the Rain and the Mud
6 - German Troops Rescue the Monastery Treasures
7 - Monte Cassino - the Prologue
8 - The First Cassino Battle
9 - The Destruction of the Monastery
10 - Anzio-Nettuno - A Miscalculation
11 - The Second Cassino Battle
12 - The Defenders of Town and Abbey
13 - The Third Battle of Cassino
14 - Rome at Last!
15 - A Lost Victory
Epilogue: The Resurrection of Monte Cassino
Author: Rudolf Böhmler
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military