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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 27 July 2004
This book deals with the Italian Campaign, from its beginnings mired in confusion, to the bitter struggles that gained the Allied forces yard after slow yard in central Italy, to the climatic, but empty, victory at Cassino, which cost 200,000 people their lives or health. Parker is very in touch with the soldier on the ground, and shows us their plight in intimate, frightening detail, often following the lives of several soldiers during the whole course of the campaign, giving us a detailed view of what each single infantryman or soldier had to suffer just to survive, never mind fight, in such an inhospitable place. Parker shows us the bravery of the Allied soldiers, and also the steadfast guts and intelligence of the Germans.
I have also read John Ellis' 'Hollow Victory' on the same subject, and, in comparison to Parker's book, Ellis is more concerned with allocating blame to the various Allied commanders who lead their soldiers so pitifully, and let petty squabbles get in the way of good strategy, but is perhaps less in touch with the single soldier's plight on the ground. Parker, I feel, gave a much better impression of what the 'Poor Bloody Infantry' suffered. Ellis gives us a more impressive view of the grand strategy behind the campaign, and also better describes the battles after Cassino, while Parker simply alludes to them. Parker tells us how it all lead up to Cassino though, so you can see the two books in many cases complement each other well, and for a complete understanding of this battle I would recommend first reading Parker's work, then Ellis'.
Both, individually, however, are very good histories, detailing a very long, very bitter, very hard-fought and hugely costly battle in a long, bitter war.
I would thoroughly recommend this book, especially for those who believe the Second World War was somehow 'easier' than the First. If you want to get as good an impression of war as you can from words and script, this book will show you.
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I believe the best book on Monte Cassino remains John Ellis' Hollow Victory but Parker still cuts his own piece of turf on this bloody ground. Acknowledging his debt to Ellis he adds some very interesting points of view as well as introducing some new witnesses (especially the Italian civilians). I held off buying for sometime because I thought Ellis might have said it all but am glad that I decided to buy Parker as well. Monte Cassino is a story full of small advances on terrible terrain (and, hurrah, the maps are effective and numerous) and Parker keeps one aware of what it was like to hold a "quiet" bit of the front on the massif. Parker offers useful comparisons of why (for example) the Texans failed on the river crossing but the British did not. He also remembers to record the impact that these defensive victories had on the Germans. He is perhaps less concerned with apportioning blame than Ellis, but one is no less impressed by the troops that fought there.
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VINE VOICEon 4 August 2011
Anyone who's had the opportunity to visit the Cassino battlefield is bound to be struck by the steepness of Monastery Hill and the surrounding mountains. The idea of fighting your way up its slopes seems so preposterous it makes you wonder if there really could have been a battle there. This feeling is further reinforced when you arrive at the restored monastery itself. It is difficult to believe that the building has been put back together from the bombed out rubble seen in pictures and movies. Compared with many Italian towns, Cassino itself is a very plain and functional place with modern residential areas and sprawling industrial estates on the outskirts; whatever character and charm the place had before the war has been wiped out. Even so, visiting in a typical Italian summer, it is still hard to image the horrors of the fighting which incurred in this spot in the cold and damp winter of 1944.

Matthew Parker's excellent account of the allies' four attempts to break the Gustav Line goes a long way to put the reader into the hell of these battles. When you read as much military history as I do then you do develop a certain emotional immunity to reels of casualty statistics. The author has been able to bring together numerous very moving firsthand accounts, principally of the front line infantry and engineers, and weave these into a clear and coherent narrative of the battle. This is one of the few books that have left me almost shell shocked, even to the extent of deliberately picking non-military related book to read next.

The author doesn't engage a great deal of debate about the strategy of the campaign and the handling of the battles, although there is sufficient to give the events proper context. This is history told from the ground up whether it be the exposed boulder strewn mountain tops or the flooded river valleys below. Parker is critical of the allied generals' performance but this is no polemic aimed at putting Clark or Alexander in the dock.

If you get a chance to visit the Cassino battlefield then do take it. The views from Monte Cassino are stunning as is the restored monastery. For those interested in the battle and those who fought and suffered there then I would highly recommend reading this work before a visit even at the expense of the sadness it will provoke.
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on 23 December 2012
This book takes you there and is a rivetting read. Nearly three decades on from the trenches and all that and it seems WWII was also being fought by lions led by donkeys... and mostly American donkeys. It is interesting how the author portrays the Americans as less than impressive: someone tell Hollywood. This is the first time I heard of the battle of Kasserine Pass: the Americans have kept this one quiet along with 'How exactly did Pearl Harbour happen'. It is amusing to read how one battalion thought they could win the war with PR and a cool nickname: then got spanked first time they had a fight on their hands. In these pages you can read of the invisible thread that would run through Korea, Vietnam and Vietraqistan. The author does not make enough of the achievement of the Polish forces in the last battle. Okay by then the abbey was not longer that big a deal as the Allies finally had enough men and firepower to attack across a wide front and win the only way MC could be won... by sheer numbers, firepower and brute force. And okay so the abbey was finally taken without a shot being fired as the Germans had done a runner. But. The Poles had three key targets to attack and had to attack them simutaneously to avoid being fired upon from the unattacked ones; and the defenders still had all the advantage of topography and natural cover; and ther Poles did draw fire and keep busy Germans that would otherwise had been directed at other troops; and those soldiers had no experience of MC before the attack. In a short space of time they probably had an intensity of fighting, casualties and fatalities that in proportion was equal of other troops who had been there longer. And this without PR and a cool nickname.
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on 5 July 2004
You have to take time out to read this book, by the time Cassino was being fought the campaign in Italy had become more or less secondary, yet this battle was one of the most ferocious battles in the whole war, on a par even with Stalingrade. The sheer horror of what happened here defies belief, when the author talks of a battalion of some 250 men in which only a handful are left after 1 night you start to understand the tragedy that unfolds. You also understand the mutual respect that seems to grow between the 2 sides as on top of everything else the conditions were beyond comprehension. Parker's thorough research ensures you can read this book taking in all the facts while at the same time experiencing the feeling of utter, eyes closing & head bent, sadness.
Delicately tied into this are stories, some related after the event, others more or less as an obituary. All relay the same message of complete despair and fear that at moments transcend to levels of unparalleled courage, ( the experiences of Spike Milligan makes you nod your heard with understanding at his nervous disposition that became world famous ) such moments in history should not be forgotten.
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on 10 November 2013
This is terrific account of the battles on the Gustav Line in Italy. This book ranks with Beevor's best and is reminiscent of a conflict as attritive as the worst of WW1 and of Stalingrad. The conflict is filled with the accounts of the individual combatants which brings the series of events to life. It is a tale of a series of pre-Monastery-storming battles where the Allies needlessly sacrificed their men in attacking and holding (usually temporally) hills and other heavily protected hillocks/ridges. Many objectives (attained at great human cost) were often lost via German counter-attack a short time after. Hundreds died as a result of 'friendly fire'. Commonwealth troops (Gurkhas, ANZAC, Indian and North African) featured greatly in the conflict which was often fought in the most appalling climatic condition. One gets the feeling that there may have been an 'expendability' with these troops bearing in mind how they were profligately deployed in many hopeless actions to breach the German line. One German combatant ascribed his side's eventual defeat to their having run out of ammunition while the Allies 'didn't run out of tanks'. Probably the Allies' most Pyrrhic victory of WW11.
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on 1 June 2008
This is an excellent book.
Parker presents the reader with a concise & authoritative account of the battle. His use of source material is excellent; the narrative is supported by eye-witness accounts from combatants from both sides of the conflict & by the testimonies of civilians. These accounts add authority to the text. The book is firmly focussed upon the experience of, & the effects of, armed conflict upon a range of individuals. Parker's criticisms of senior commenders are supported by evidence & his arguments are always reasoned & convincing & based upon a cool assessment of their actions & not upon easy prejudices. He easily avoids historicism & characature.
Perhaps the major strength of this book is in it's invocation of the experience of warfare from so many different points of view. The reader is presented the views of those who clearly believed in what they did (& are still able to justify it) & those whose health & nerves were damaged by their experiences.
A deeply affecting account.
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on 7 December 2009
This account of the Allies attempts to capture Monte Cassino from the Germans is a shattering emotional rollercoaster of a book. The factual narrative is told with the insertion of frequent personal accounts of the experiences of the soldiers on both sides. In hindsight it is clear that the campaign in Italy was a sideshow to the build-up of forces in readiness for D-Day. The soldiers in Italy became increasingly aware of this and of the limited value of their task. In fact the author quotes from a song whereby the soldiers ironically regarded themselves as "D-Day Dodgers".

The Italian campaign and the reckless decisions made in it was all the evidence that the cynics of warfare could require in condemning pointless slaughter. Decisions were made in authority with little regard for the safety of the infantry and many thousands of brave men lost their lives unnecessarily.

I suggest the book is read at a leisurely pace. To do otherwise risks a very intimidating experience.
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on 21 December 2013
The Battle of Monte Cassino was one of the most difficult of WW2 that the allies had to face. The German defences at Cassino straddled the Gustav line which blocked the Allied advance in front of Rome. The high rocky mountainous terrain was perfect for defence and a series of Allied assaults on Cassino were shattered by experienced German defenders.

Eventually it was the General Anders Polish 2nd Corps which was deployed and tasked with the job of taking the mountain.

In spite of Allied double dealing behind the Poles backs with Stalin and spurious attacks against them in the British parliament and press by Left wing and communist sympathisers or agents, the Polish units gallantly fought the German forces and eventually succeeded in capturing the mountain after the German's under pressure withdrew.
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on 1 September 2013
never realised it was so hard to take it well written with good accounts of the struggle the Americans and the commonwealth soliders had the Germans certainly didn't want to let it go.
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