First Assault in the Battle of Monte Cassino

The first assault was made on January 17.

Near the coast, British X Corps (56th and 5th Divisions) forced a crossing of the Garigliano (followed some two days later by British 46th Division on their right) causing General von Senger, commander of German XIV Panzer Corps and responsible for the Gustav defences on the south western half of the line, some serious concern as to the ability of the German 94th Infantry Division to hold the line. Responding to Senger's concerns, Kesselring ordered the 29th and 90th Panzer Grenadier Divisions from the Rome area to provide reinforcement. There is some speculation as to what might have been if X Corps had had the reserves available to exploit their success and make a decisive breakthrough. The corps did not have the extra men, but there would certainly have been time to alter the overall battle plan and cancel or modify the central attack by U.S. II Corps to make men available to force the issue in the south before the German reinforcements were able to get into position. As it happened, 5th Army HQ failed to appreciate the frailty of the German position, and the plan was unchanged. The two divisions from Rome arrived by January 21 and stabilized the German position in the south. In one respect, however, the plan was working in that Kesselring's reserves had been drawn south. The three divisions of X Corps sustained 4,000 casualties during the period of the first battle.

On 17th January 1944 began the unsuccessful frontal attacks of allied troops against positions strongly assured by Germans around the city Cassino. The assaults and grim ditch fights did not only cause innumerable victims on the defenders side but also on the aggressors´ side. During the anacrusis of the second echelon of New Zealand´s second division, their commander general Bernard Freyberg (1889-1963) ordered therefore the massive bombardment of the defence positions and of the Abbey. Behind its walls he suspected a German radio- and enlightenment station.