Heinrich Vietinghoff

Heinrich Vietinghoff was born in Germany in 1887. He joined the German Army and on 24th November 1938, was appointed commander of the 5th Panzer Division.

Vietinghoff took part in the invasion of Poland under General Wilhelm Leeb. Promoted to general in June 1940 he led the 46th Panzer Corps in Yugoslavia. During Operation Barbarossa he was part of Army Group Centre under General Fedor von Bock. Later he served with General Heinz Guderian in the 2nd Panzer Army.

In August 1943, Vietinghoff was sent to Italy to head the 10th Army. This involved opposing General Mark Clark and his Allied forces when they landed at Salerno in September 1943.

General Albrecht Kesselring withdrew his forces to what became known as the Gustav Line on the Italian peninsula south of Rome. Organized along the Garigliano and Rapido rivers it included Monte Cassino, a hilltop site of a sixth-century Benedictine monastery. Defended by 15 German divisions the line was fortified with gun pits, concrete bunkers, turreted machine-gun emplacements, barbed-wire and minefields.

On 25th October 1944 Kesselring was seriously injured when his car collided with a gun coming out of a side road. He was in hospital for three months and his command in Italy was taken over by Vietinghoff.

Vietinghoff returned to Germany in May 1944 to receive the Knight's Cross from Adolf Hitler. While he was away General Harold Alexander, Supreme Allied Commander in Italy, ordered a new offensive at Monte Cassino. On 12th February the exhausted US Army at Cassino were replaced by the New Zealand Corps. Alexander now decided to use these fresh troops in another attempt to capture Cassino. General Bernard Freyberg, who was in charge of the infantry attack, asked for the monastery be bombed. Despite claims by troops on the front-line that no fire had come from the monastery, General Harold Alexander agreed and it was destroyed by the United States Air Force on 15th February, 1944.

Once the monastery had been bombed, the German Army moved into the ruins. As Basil Liddell Hart pointed out later in his book The Other Side of the Hill the bombing "turned out entirely to the tactical benefit of the Germans. For after that they felt free to occupy the ruins, and the rubble provided mud better defensive cover than the Monastery would have been before its destruction. As anyone with experience of street-fighting knows, it is only when buildings are demolished that they are converted from mousetraps into bastions of defence."

After the bombing the Germans were able to halt several attempts to capture Monte Cassino. It was not until troops led by General Wladyslaw Anders (Polish Corps) and General Alphonse Juin (French Corps) that the monastery was taken on 18th May, 1944.

Vietinghoff succeeded General Albrecht Kesselring as supreme German commander in Italy on 23rd March 1945. Vietinghoff surrendered on 2nd May 1945 and remained a prisoner of war until 1946. Heinrich Vietinghoff died in 1952.

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