The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino • Robert Capa • David Seymour • Magnum Photos

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Conflict

The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino

Magnum co-founders Robert Capa and David 'Chim' Seymour photographed the battle for mainland Italy and the long-lasting devastation wrought by the campaign.

Robert Capa The US/Canadian First Special Service Force (a unit trained in mountain fighting), in action against German forces. Outside Radicosa, near Cassino. Italy. January 4th, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A German soldier lies dead following a fight with the US/Canadian First Special Service Force. Near Cassino, Italy. January 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography An American soldier resting. Near Cassino. Italy. January, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography An abandoned farmhouse, being used by the US 3rd Infantry Division as an observation post during an attack on a nearby highway and railroad junction. Italy. January 25th, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography An American soldier resting. The US 45th Infantry Division camp. Venafro (near Cassino), Italy. Dec., 43. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography German prisoners carrying the dead and wounded. Radicosa, near Cassino. Italy. January 4th, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography An American soldier carrying a refugee. Near Cassino. Italy. January, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Civlians fleeing fighting in the mountains. Near Cassino. Italy. January 4th, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography After a battle between the Germans and the US/Canadian First Special Service Force (an elite unit trained in mountain fighting). Near Cassino. Italy. January, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A soldier of the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division, part of the French Expeditionary Corps. Near Mount Pantano, northeast of Cassino. Italy. December, 1943. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography French troops bringing food and ammunition to the American troops that had defended the hill for more than 4 weeks. Mount Pantano, near Cassino. Italy. January 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography On the left: US Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who was the Liaison Officer of the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division, composed mostly of Berber soldiers and French officers. Near Mount Panta (...)
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A soldier of the US/Canadian First Special Service Force (an elite unit trained in mountain fighting), giving medical aid to a shepherd who'd been injured by the Germans. Radicosa, near Cassino, It (...)
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography An Italian civilian guides members of the US/Canadian First Special Service Force (an elite unit trained in mountain fighting) through a recently liberated town. Radicosa, near Cassino. Italy. Janu (...)
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Refugees with an American soldier. Near Cassino, Italy. January 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography American troops coming ashore. Anzio. Italy. January, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography American troops coming ashore. Anzio. Italy. January, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Anzio front. Italy. 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Battle of Monte Cassino. Moroccan soldiers of French Army. Cerasuolo. Italy. December 1943. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography On the right: General Alphonse Juin, Commander of the Free French Corps and of the 2nd Morroccan Infantry Division, composed of Berber soldiers. The French fought side by side with the US 5th Army. (...)
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Near Cassino. Italy. December 18th, 1943. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Troops of the US/Canadian First Special Service Force. The FSSF was a multi-national unit trained in mountain warfare. Italy. 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Drivers from the French ambulance corps near the front, waiting to be called. Italy 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography The battle moved on and now the villagers can leave their mountain hiding places to rebuild their shattered homes and lives. Cassino, Liri Valleys. Italy. 1943. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
David Seymour Orphan girls playing amid the ruins of their former orphanage. Latium. Monte Cassino. Italy. 1948. © David Seymour | Magnum Photos
David Seymour Girl of Cassino with the result of her day of treasure-hunting in the ruins of the city. Latium. Monte Cassino. Italy. 1948. © David Seymour | Magnum Photos
David Seymour Three boys with the results of their day of treasure-hunting in the ruins of the city. They sell dud mortar shells to scrap merchants. Shells which upon handling prove not to be duds, are the cause (...)
David Seymour Three urchins of Cassino with the results of their day of treasure-hunting in the ruins of the city. They sell dud mortar shells to scrap merchants. Shells which prove on handling no to be dud are (...)
David Seymour Latium. Monte Cassino. Italy. 1948. © David Seymour | Magnum Photos

January 17, 1944, marked the first day of what came to be known as the Battle of Monte Cassino – the Allied forces’ extensive efforts to penetrate the Axis defensive lines in Italy, break through to Rome, and bring World War II toward it’s conclusion. The numerous defensive lines, held by Italian and German forces, collectively known as the Winter Line, stretched across much of the width of the Italian mainland, and significantly hindered the Allied advance northward to the capital. The four month campaign was hard-fought, and took a heavy toll upon Allied forces, surprising some who had expected Italy to fall with little resistance. 

The campaign was named for the prominent abbey of Monte Cassino, a landmark occupying high ground on the outskirts of the town of Cassino, itself on the Winter Line. The Allies bombarded the abbey repeatedly, and over the course of the fighting launched major assaults along the defences four times. 

Magnum Photos co-founder Robert Capa, already famed for his work during the Spanish Civil War, had followed the preceding Allied campaign in Sicily – under the name of Operation Husky – in September, 1943, before finding himself accompanying advancing troops in the push north, toward Naples. Capa had arrived in Naples to find a devastated city, and it was there that he captured his shocking, and iconic photographs of the mass funeral of young, local boys, executed by the Germans for stealing weapons to aid the resistance. 

After a late-winter sojourn, Capa found himself again at the front on the 18th of December, pushing northward from Naples over rugged landscape and in bitter weather conditions. Near Monte Cassino he photographed the amassed French-Moroccan troops who were resupplying the allies for the coming push. From here Capa went on to accompany the US-Canadian Special Service Force, an elite mountain warfare unit, and alongside them he photographed – in early January 1944 – civilians fleeing the escalating violence. Capa then relocated in order to document the amphibious attack upon Anzio – a remarkable success in an often torturous period for the advancing Allies, which took the axis defenders by surprise. 

The sprawling, multi-fronted campaign that came to be known as the Battle of Monte Cassino neared its end in May, with the famed abbey itself finally falling, controversially, to Allied bombardment on May 16, precipitating a wider collapse in the Axis defences along the lines. Capa had long since left Italy by that time, returning to London where he would start planning his involvement in the coming invasion of northern France. It was there that he would make some of his most famed work from the conflict. 

In 1948 Capa’s colleague, a great friend since his early days in Paris, and fellow Magnum Photos co-founder, David ‘Chim’ Seymour, travelled to the very battlegrounds that Capa had photographed during the hostilities. His images of Italian cities still in ruins, blinded and maimed children in varying stages of recuperation, and the piles of unexploded ordinance emphasise the long-lasting impact of the conflict on the Italian people. These images, taken from his broader post-war work The Children of Europe, underline the depth of the devastation that the conflict had wrought upon the peoples, and especially the youth, of Europe.