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Tank Attack at Monte Cassino (Hardback)

The Cavendish Road Operation 1944

WWII Tanks Military

By Jeffrey Plowman
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 184
Illustrations: 100 colour & black and white
ISBN: 9781526764904
Published: 18th May 2020


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Early morning, 19 March 1944. Tanks manned by New Zealanders, Indians and Americans launch a daring attack along a narrow mountain track on German positions north of Monte Cassino. So began one of the most audacious Allied attempts to break through the Gustav Line and advance on Rome – and it almost succeeded. Yet the extraordinary story has seldom been told, and it has never been told before in the vivid detail Jeffrey Plowman brings to this new account.

Using operational orders, combat reports, unit diaries, post-battle photos from private and public archives and the graphic personal accounts of those who took part, he describes the construction of Cavendish Road and the course of the entire operation that followed. The planning for the attack and the men involved are described in a gripping and clear-sighted way, as is the attack itself – its initial rapid success and its ultimate failure.

Eighty years later Jeffrey Plowman reveals exactly what happened and shows how and why this bold thrust against the German strongpoints at Monte Cassino, which could have turned the course of the battle, ended in retreat. His book also features a visitor’s guide that covers the length of Cavendish Road from the village of Caira to Massa Albaneta, linking each spot with the events described in the narrative.

Not only do you get a nice read about the engineering efforts, but you get a cracking good account of the actual battle between German Fallschirmjagers and Sherman and Stuart tanks. Plenty of first-person accounts of Panzershrek and Teller Mine (turned satchel charges) being used to blow up tanks as the Allied force grinds uphill.

Contains 59 black and white photos, three black and white maps, and 34 color photos. Many of the black and white photos are credited to the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, a nice new source of photos (as the Poles took Monte Cassino). Appendices contain Allied operational orders, an OB of Revenge Force, list of awards and decorations earned on both sides, and a German after action report of the action. Enjoyed it.


Readers interested in forefathers’ war exploits will find this book tragic but gripping.

Keeping On, the quarterly magazine for Age Concern Canterbury

For anyone wanting to walk the Cavendish Road nowadays, this book will be incredibly helpful – not just in telling the story but also as an aid to navigation. The start of the path in Cairo is well signposted but after that, although the route is mostly obvious, it is not easy to pick out landmarks like Madras Circus and Phantom Ridge. This book serves to guide the walker mile-by-mile – with modern photographs for orientation and historic images which will enable one to fully appreciate the scale of the effort which was required to build the road and the bravery of the Indians, Americans and New Zealanders who traversed it. The Cavendish Road is a classic battlefield walk and this authoratitive new book is the perfect accompaniment.

Read the full review here

Phil Curme

The action to take tanks up the mountain rarely gets a mention in most books about the battles for Monte Cassino. When you read this book you will understand why. In conception it was a brilliant idea and had it been properly directed could have been an important event towards hurrying the end of the fight. The lower echelons fought with skill, tenacity, ingenuity and bravery trying to make something of the attack. Poor cooperation, coordination and communication between senior officers brought about a failure which cost a lot of lives and tanks. Tanks sent in without artillery and infantry is Ney at Waterloo and the senior officers broke their own pre-set conditions to do just that.
The author, Jeffery Plowman, has divided the book in three parts, setting the scene, the action, and the site today. The first two parts are superb and, although I haven’t used the site visit section, the up to date photographs would be of great help to anyone who does.
The maps are most helpful with both scales and Northings. The photographs scattered through the book support the text. The extensive bibliography points the way to further reading.
This is a book which is an enjoyable read although the story it tells is, once again, one of lions led by donkeys. We thoroughly recommend it.

Read the full review here

Clash of Steel

The story of the action is extremely exciting, great was the courage of the allied tankmen (who obtained different decorations listed in the appendices of the book) and unfortunately suffered several losses as part of an operation that perhaps if well supported could have achieved much more.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the guide to the places of action, which is made up of color and recent photos. The vegetation has changed a bit the features of the places that at the time had almost a lunar aspect due to the bombing. However, thanks to aerial photos and the creation of paths (not all practicable), the visit can really give the impression of how the tank crewmen had found themselves in front of a very difficult undertaking surrounded as they were from the heights all manned by German forces.

I was often in Cassino, because during the war my father was displaced a little further south, in Galluccio (a town near San Pietro Infine, made famous by the fantastic documentary by John Huston) and I know the places of the battle well, but thanks to this book I intend to return to visit the places of that brave, how vain, assault of tanks at Masseria Albaneta.

Read the full Italian review here

On The Old Barbed Wire

A fascinating account of a little known action in the long arduous campaign to take Monte Cassino. The somewhat crazy idea of outflanking the dominating heights of Cassino with a tank force - an undertaking which required the building of a road - in terrain highly unsuited to armoured warfare, ended up being something of a shambolic failure.

The attacking force is a mixture of Indians, New Zealanders, Americans and British - French and Poles also figure in the bigger picture! - fighting Germans (Italy having capitulated by this point). The book draws a vivid compelling picture of events, enlivened by firsthand accounts and illustrated with contemporary photos.

A segment at the end covers the battlefield as it is now, for those interested in visiting. I'd have preferred more/better maps, as following the action during the narrative isn't always easy. Several appendices add further supporting info.

All in all, an impressive and fascinating work. I'm left wanting to read more about the whole Cassino campaign. Thoroughly enjoyable!

A Question of Scale

The book presents a balanced account of the tank attack along the Cavendish Road to the German positions defending the Monte Cassino massif. It underlines the difficult terrain and conditions and in particular how vulnerable the tanks were when emerging from the track into open ground, where they became targets for the Germans. Good maps and images support the narrative and it rightly shifts the assault away from the South, the town and the Liri Valley to the alternative via the high ground to the North East. As with all such accounts nothing can help more in achieving understanding of the action than seeing the ground and this book certainly assists.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy
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