The battle of Monte Cassino: Both glory and dishonour for the French army

On May 18, 1944, Allied troops captured Monte Cassino in Italy, celebrated for its historic hilltop abbey, after four months of bitter fighting. The soldiers of the French Expeditionary Corps particularly distinguished themselves in the battle for this key point in the German defensive line. But their military honours are now marred by accusations of war crimes.

“Garigliano is a great victory ... France will know one day. She will understand.” On the evening of his departure from Italy in August 1944, French General Alphonse Juin spoke these words to his officers, underlining how decisive the crossing of the Garigliano River by his men had been for the Allies. Thanks to this breakthrough, the Germans finally abandoned Monte Cassino after four months of intense fighting. The road to Rome was finally open. But 80 years on, General Juin's heartfelt sentiments have not been fulfilled. The Italian campaign has gradually faded from the collective memory.

After the landings in Sicily and Calabria in September 1943, the Allied forces were bogged down in Italy. The Germans held firm, protected by the Gustav Line which stretched for 150km across the Italian Peninsula and barred the way to Rome.

Ten thousand Goumiers penetrated the Aurunci Mountains and in three weeks eliminated the entrenched German units, finally enabling an advance towards the Italian capital.

In her book, Le Gac examines this highly sensitive issue. “These crimes were of considerable magnitude,” she notes.

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