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1st Battalion, 9th Gurkha Rifles
Monte Cassino

Martyrdom on Hangman's Hill

The Gustav Line was one of the major barriers to an advance by the United States Fifth Army on the western side of the Italian peninsula, and the heavily fortified monastery at Monte Cassino was the chief obstacle in the drive to the Rapido River. All attempts to capture this key feature failed. An Allied aerial bombardment reduced the monastery to rubble, but this actually improved the defensive capability of the place.

It was here that the 1/9th [1st Battalion, 9th Gurkha Rifles] endured a martyrdom, clinging for sixteen days [starting 17 March] to a position known as Hangman's Hill [Point 435] in the shadow of the monastery. The Germans tried to cut off all communications and supplies, and nearly succeeded. The troops there could only take out their casualties and bring in supplies at night, even then they were under shellfire. An attempt to airdrop supplies was only partially successful; half the containers rolled down the mountain out of reach. Men were killed trying to retrieve them. For a time Hangman's Hill became a focal point for the battle, both sides striving with all their strength for this tiny piece of terrain.

The Gurkhas' opponents were the German 1st Parachute Division, which had been described as 'one of the greatest fighting formations ever to take the field'. The Gurkhas were taking daily losses, they were on short rations, and it was obvious that they could not advance. Efforts of a New Zealand corps to relieve them failed. Even so, Gurkha morale remained high. When told that they were going to pull out, some asked, 'But who is going to relieve us?'

To effect a withdrawal, every effort was made to deceive the enemy. During the day an airdrop was made. With the help of a rum ration, the last to leave sang and played music while their comrades stole away. Then it was over. Only eight officers and 177 other ranks survived out of nearly a thousand. General Sir Francis Tuker [commanding 4th Indian Division] said of this battle that it 'will go down to history as one of the most stubborn ever fought'. Today, on a giant boulder near Hangman's Hill is carved the badge of the 9th Gurkha Rifles.

Source: The Gurkhas. Byron Farwell. Copyright © 1984, Byron Farwell. publ. W W Norton, 1984. pp. 199-201. ISBN 0-393-01773-7.

The Battles for Cassino, by E D Smith, indicates 1/9 was on Hangman Hill from 17 to 25 March, 9 days. I take this as more authoritative because it is more focused on that scene and time.

Note in Perspective:
Both the 34th and 88th Divisions took part in the Battles of Monte Cassino. Given the serendipity of finding several books about the Gurkhas and Monte Cassino, I am pleased to honor this Gurkha battalion at the Third Battle of Monte Cassino.

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