Monte Cassino: Opening the Road to Rome

Monte Cassino: Opening the Road to Rome

Richard Doherty
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
Monte Cassino by Richard Doherty is another book on the fighting in and around Cassino in 1944. The book covers the fighting in Italy before the campaign, the battles themselves and the subsequent advance on Rome.

Doherty has done a good job here in putting together a narrative to cover a complex and challenging series of battles. Horrendously difficult for both sides due to the terrain and the weather, Doherty brings, in general, the battles alive. That said, it does not seem to add anything new to the histories of the campaign and is a solid, workmanlike history.

The Allies broke the campaign into four battles and the Germans into three. Having described the approach to the battles, Doherty sticks with the Allied breakdown for this history and makes a good job of describing the different command structures; he pulls no punches in his opinion of the various generals and how well- or ill-suited they were to the job. The various decisions taken, such as why assault crossings were conducted despite the obvious difficulties (and you have to pity the combat troops assigned), why the monastery was bombed, why French mountain troops were not used to best effect and the like, are all explained and explored. The experiences of the soldiers in each major action are all detailed (with every Victoria Cross and Medal of Honour action described). The courage and self-sacrifice on both sides (albeit with most descriptions coming from the Allied side) are readily apparent as is some of the engineering ingenuity on both sides.

There are a few matters that made it less useful to read. This is a topic that requires some good mapping and this book does not provide it. The maps are perhaps too simplistic which did not explain too much and are grouped together at the beginning of the book; this leads to Doherty explaining some of the fighting as a long list of Italian place names (not my strong area!) which don’t always seem to match the maps which can become frustrating. Additionally, when describing units and formations, coupled with organisational changes, Doherty lists the units in long streams of descriptive paragraphs; a simple wire diagram would have been easier to understand and much simpler to put together.

This is a good book but it does have some issues that made it less useful than it might have been. I do recommend as a good general introduction to the Cassino battles and it will be staying on my bookshelf as a handy reference guide.

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