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Gustav Line


GUSTAV LINE, a belt of German fortifications in southern Italy during World War II. Hoping to halt the Allied invasion of Italy south of Rome, in November 1943 Field Marshal Albert Kesselring ordered the formation of three defensive belts forty miles deep. The Barbara Line and the Bernhard Line were forward positions designed to gain time to build the final and strongest Gustav Line. Allied troops called all three the Winter Line. Running from Minturno, through Cassino, across the Apennines, and behind the Sangro River to the Adriatic, it blocked the approaches to Rome through Avezzano in the east and through the Liri Valley in the west.

The Germans rooted the Gustav Line in the high ground of Sant' Ambrogio, Monte Cassino, and other peaks that gave them perfect observation over the valleys of the Rapido and Garigliano rivers. Veteran troops had concrete bunkers, machine-gun emplacements, barbed wire, mines, mortars, and artillery to employ against attackers.

Trying to enter the Liri Valley and advance to Anzio, the U.S. Fifth Army attacked the Gustav Line in mid-January 1944. British units crossed the Garigliano but were unable to break the defenses, while American attempts to cross the Rapido and to surmount Monte Cassino failed. After air bombardments destroyed the abbey on Monte Cassino, attacks by New Zealand troops on 15 February and 15 March also failed.

On 11 May, General Alphonse Juin's French Expeditionary Corps broke the Gustav Line, enabling Polish troops to take Monte Cassino, British and Canadian forces to move up the Liri Valley, and American units to advance up the coast to Anzio. Having fought magnificent defensive battles in the Gustav Line, Kesselring withdrew, abandoned Rome, and moved into new defensive positions along the Gothic Line in the northern Apennines.


Blumenson, Martin. Bloody River: The Real Tragedy of the Rapido. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970, 1998.

D'Este, Carlo. Anzio and the Battle for Rome. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

Fisher, Ernest F., Jr. Cassino to the Alps. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1977, 1993.

MartinBlumenson/a. r.

See alsoAnzio ; Gothic Line ; Monte Cassino ; Salerno .

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