In pursuing war, often someone is rash or gets carried away by fear or false assumption and makes a bad choice. This happened with the decision by Allied forces to bomb the abbey on Monte Cassino (1,600 ft elevation) south of Rome.
Allied forces were advancing northward on the Italian Peninsula and eager to reach Rome. The German commander, Field Marshall Kesselring, chose not to include the Monte Cassino hilltop and its monastery as one of his defensive positions, and he communicated this to the Vatican and to the Allied forces. The abbey was being used as a refuge by women and children.
Allied units were convinced that heavy artillery fire they were receiving was directed by spotters from Monte Cassino. With forces stalled in their advance on Rome and taking casualties, some parents objected to their sons dying because of a reluctance to destroy Germans taking advantage of the mountain top.
A British junior officer, translating an intercepted radio message, mistook the German word for abbot for a similar word meaning battalion. His superiors rashly concluded that a German military unit was using the abbey as its command post in breach of an agreement with the Vatican. The Allies ordered a bombing attack that turned the abbey into rubble. A recheck of the German radio message revealed that the message actually read: "The abbot is with the monks in the monastery". (John Ezard, The Guardian, April 3, 2000)
According to the Guardian, "Some 250 men, women and children died."
Nothing was gained by the bombing. Two days later German paratroopers moved in. The bombing and jagged rubble gave them improved protection from air and artillery attack, making it a better defensive position.
According to Wikipedia:
The certainty of "irrefutable evidence" of German use of the abbey was removed from the record in 1961 by the Office of the Chief of Military History. A congressional inquiry to the same office in the 20th anniversary year of the bombing produced the statement: "It appears that no German troops, except a small military police detachment, were actually inside the abbey" before the bombing. The final correction to the US Army's official record was made in 1969 and concluded that "the abbey was actually unoccupied by German troops."
An April 3, 2000 article in the Guardian: "Error led to the bombing of Monte Casino."
Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.