Due to the emotive appeal of the battles for Monte Cassino and the controversy which surrounded the destruction of the ancient Benedictine abbey which crowned it, the importance of the preceding battle for the Mignano Gap has been largely and unjustly ignored by military historians. In this book Alex Bowlby sets out to restore the balance.
In the autumn of 1943 the German Bernhardt Line ran through the Mignano Gap and there the XIV Panzer Korps held up the advancing US 5th Army, of which a third was made up of British troops, while defensive positions were prepared at Cassino. Had the Allies broken through before the fortifications were complete, the Road to Rome would have been open. In the event, however, it took eight divisions two months to advance seven miles at a cost of 16,000 battle casualties and 50,000 non-battle casualties caused by the appalling weather, inferior equipment and the strain of mountain fighting. The 5th Army had exhausted itself. On 13 November the Germans actually thought that they had lost the battle but on that same day the American Commander, General Mark Clark, called off the attack. By the time it was resumed the defences of Cassino were complete.
Bowlby, who has interviewed and corresponded with many of the battle's veterans, skilfully weaves into his text many first-hand accounts of the bloody fighting in the rugged and inhospitable terrain around Mignano. His book fills an important gap in the story of the Italian campaign and pays long-overdue tribute to the bravery of the men - British, American and Canadian - who fought in this curiously neglected overture to the battles to come. It certainly deserves to stand beside Fred Majdalany's classic account of Cassino on the shelves of all military historians.