OPEN WEEKENDS

As World War II dragged on, Allied leaders met in Casablanca, Morocco in 1943 to debate and confirm their military strategy moving forward. While President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill made it, Premier Joseph Stalin did not due to the major military action taking place within Stalingrad. While many important decisions were made at the conference, today we will be looking into the Italian Campaign, itself a decision at Casablanca to relieve pressure from the Soviets and to try and knock Italy out of the war. This will look specifically at the Battle of Monte Cassino, which occurred between January 17 and May 18 1944.

What was supposed to be a quick offensive through the “soft underbelly” of the Axis quickly bogged down into brutal and bloody combat as Allied soldiers bashed themselves against the Gustav Line. British 8th Army was composed of several Commonwealth nations such as New Zealand, India, as well as Polish troops and invaded alongside the U.S. 5th Army. Overall Allied casualties are estimated to be around 55,000 men to the 20,000 German.

Albert DeFazio

Of the two veteran’s stories we will share today, the first is Albert DeFazio. Assigned to the 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, DeFazio was a just 19 when his unit was ordered across the Rapido River on January 20th during the push towards Monte Cassino. Accurate and devastating German machine gun, artillery, and mortars stopped the 143rd in their tracks, eventually being ordered to retreat. DeFazio recalled the terrifying effectiveness of modern artillery on the men trying to cross and the scary proposition that they will be making the exact same push shortly after this failed one. Joined by the 141st, they made it across the river with no resistance this time. Instead, the Germans waited for them to reach the open plains on the other side before opening up. DeFazio was wounded by an artillery shell in the back and was ordered by an officer to return across the Rapido for medical aid. While crossing, he and another soldier assisted a wounded lieutenant back to the aid station, dragging him for a couple miles in a rubber raft. The 36th Division suffered 2,218 casualties of their 6,000 men in the two river assaults. This wound would not be enough to send him home, and DeFazio would return to combat for the Anzio invasion where another artillery strike would give him a concussion that would cause the doctors to order for his discharge. Before that though, he would have the rare chance of running into family that lived in Italy, “I kept thinking it was all a dream. I mean, who comes all this way to fight a war and runs into family they have never met?”

Joseph Hochadel

Joseph Hochadel was a medic who served during the battle with the 34th Infantry Division when they assaulted toward Monte Cassino. He remembers, and echoes DeFazio, the horrendous and accurate artillery shelling they endured because of the superior German positions and spotting due to them holding the mountains. Once his regiment, the 133rd, fought its way to the outskirts of Cassino, it was savage house to house combat. Hochadel recalled watching the massive Allied bombing formation that leveled the area and Abby of Monte Cassino on February 15th. When their unit was eventually relieved by Indian Gurkha troops, the 34th had suffered massive casualties and would not see combat for a month while it recouped its losses. Hochadel and the rest of the troops endured brutally cold temperatures in rain and snow that played havoc with both physical and mental states of the troops. Hochadel made it through the Anzio invasion with the 34th, eventually being wounded in Northern Italy when a tank struck a mine and the resulting explosion badly wounded him and two other medics who were following it. He was evacuated to Naples and after recovering volunteered to rejoin his unit, but once he made it to them, Germany had surrendered.

Both men suffered, and still do, PTSD from their experiences in Italy with nightmares being common for both. Hochadel had massive alcohol problems after the war, but thanks to his father he was able to focus on learning to be an electrician while working at a hospital and break the habit. The harrowing experiences and sacrifices made by all the troops who served in Italy is necessary to remember, for it took the combined efforts, bravery, and blood of multiple nations to break through this German wall and push into Rome.

References

Author Unknown. Joseph Hochadel, date unknown, photograph. National WWII Museum. Accessed from https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/joseph-hochadel-34th-infantry-division.

Unknown Author. Litter bearers bring back wounded during attempt to span the Rapido River near Cassino, Italy, 23 January 1944, photograph. World War Two Today: Follow the War as it Happened… Accessed from https://ww2today.com/21-january-1944-us-troops-suicidal-assault-across-the-rapido.

Chen, C. Peter. “Battle of Monte Cassino.” World War II Database. Accessed 12 February 2021 from https://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=312.

“Following the Military Service in WWII of the PVT Ricardo De Lama.” Gotica Toscana. Accessed 12 February 2021 from https://www.goticatoscana.eu/en/the-trail-of-the-34th-infantry-division-in-wwii-34th-inf-div/#note01.

“History of the 34th Infantry Division.” Minnesota National Guard. Accessed 12 February 2021 from https://minnesotanationalguard.ng.mil/documents/2018/11/34th-infantry-division-history.pdf/.

Hochadel, Joseph. Oral History Interview by the National World War II Museum. National World War II Museum. 10 February 2010. Accessed from https://www.ww2online.org/view/joseph-hochadel#early-life-being-drafted-medic-training-and-overseas-deployment.

Ove, Torsten. Albert DeFazio, 17 August 2017, photograph. We the Italians. Accessed from https://wetheitalians.com/default/soldier-who-was-there-wants-people-remember-wwii-battle-monte-cassino.

Ove, Torsten. “Soldier who was there wants people to remember WWII battle of Monte Cassino.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 27 August 2017. Accessed from https://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2017/08/27/Soldier-penn-hills-pittsburgh-italy-albert-defazio-remember-WWII-battle-of-Monte-Cassino/stories/201708270063.

Timeline – World History Documentaries. “The War For The Abbey On The Mountain / Battle of Monte Cassino / Timeline. YouTube video, 48:40. May 17, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJdvbyB2nvg&ab_channel=Timeline-WorldHistoryDocumentaries.

“The Casablanca Conference, 1943.” Office of the Historian. Accessed 12 February 2021 from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/casablanca.

Unknown Author. Litter bearers bring back wounded during attempt to span the Rapido River near Cassino, Italy, 23 January 1944, photograph. World War Two Today: Follow the War as it Happened… Accessed from https://ww2today.com/21-january-1944-us-troops-suicidal-assault-across-the-rapido.