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Cassino – The Hollow Victory

By: John Ellis (587/35769)
Publisher: Andre Deutsch ISBN: 0-233-97569-1

The battle for Monte Cassino, the heights barring the Allies’ gateway to Rome in January 1944, were among the bitterest of the whole of the Second World War. The Allies alone deployed 27 Divisions, backed up by 1,900 front line tanks and 4,000 combat aircraft. Casualties were horrendous. Almost 105,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded, as well as at least 80,000 Germans. The six months’ fighting constituted a grim epic comparable only to such modern Armageddons as Verdun and Passchendaele, Iwo Jima and Stalingrad. Four major assaults were launched against the seemingly impregnable German defences. Thousands died in each one and between times thousands more endured terrible privations as they shivered in their slit trenches and dugouts, awaiting the next agonizing scramble forwards.

But Cassino was not only the mightiest battle of the Western European war, it was also the culmination of vital political processes in the Alliance, First, it was the final outcome of the long struggle between Churchill and Roosevelt as to whether the assault on Europe should be opened through Italy or France. Secondly, it was the only engagement of the war where units of so many of the Allies-British, Americans, Indians, New Zealanders, Poles, French and Canadians – fought side by side.

John Ellis has made controversial assessments of the commanders in the f8ield, among whom the French General Juin was outstanding. The Germans were resilient and resourceful. The other Allied Generals, Alexander, Clark and Leese, showed little flair but no little jealousy and prejudice.

But if the conclusions of Cassino: The Hollow Victory do not reflect well on the generals, Mr Ellis has only praise, and immense compassion, for the ordinary soldiers who fought and died to obey their orders. Their sufferings and their heroism are present on every page, through eye-witness vignettes from both sides of the hill.

John Ellis has gathered together a great deal of hitherto unpublished archive material, and his excellent text is supplemented by first-rate maps and photographs , and a detailed bibliography, glossary and orders of battle. Here, at last, is a book that tells the full story of this famous battle, and unforgettably underlines the fact that for the front-line soldier all war is physical and spiritual torment.

March 2008


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