Main Assault Following the Destruction of the Monte Cassino Abbey
On the night of February 17 the main assault took place.
The 4/6th Rajputana Rifles would take on the assault of point 593 with the depleted Sussex Regiment held in reserve to pass through them to attack point 444 once 593 had been taken. In the meantime, the 1/2nd Gurkha Rifles and 1/9th Gurkha Rifles were to sweep across the slopes and ravines in a direct assault on the monastery. This latter was across appalling terrain, but it was hoped that the Gurkhas, from the Himalayas and so expert in mountain terrain, would succeed. This proved a faint hope. Once again the fighting was brutal, but no progress was made and casualties heavy. The Rajputanas lost 196 officers and men, the 1/9th Gurkhas 149 and the 1/2nd Gurkhas 96. It became clear that the attack had failed, and on February 18 Brigadier Dimoline and Freyberg called off the attacks on Monastery Hill.
In the other half of the main assault the two companies from 28th (Maori) Battalion from the New Zealand Division forced a crossing of the Rapido and attempted to gain the rail road station in Cassino town; they succeeded but crucially were unable to throw a bridge across the final gap in the railway causeway before daylight so were without armoured support. With the help of a constant smoke-screen laid down by Allied artillery to hide their positions from the German artillery on Monastery Hill they were able to hold their position for much of the day. However their isolation and lack of armoured support and anti-tank guns when the armoured counter-attack came in the afternoon of February 18 made their position hopeless. They were ordered to pull back to the river when it became clear to headquarters that both the attempts to break through (in the mountains and along the causeway) would not succeed. It had been very close. The Germans had been very alarmed by the capture of the station and, from a conversation on record between Kesselring and 10th Army commander von Vietinghoff, had not expected their counter attack to succeed.
The Battle of Monte Cassino was, in fact, a desperate and costly series of battles fought by the Allies during January and February of 1944 with the intention of liberating and linking up with allies contained within the Anzio pocket.