Monte Trocchio, at over 400 metres, proved an excellent viewing platform for the Allies in early 1944 after it had been first occupied by American forward units in the middle of January. During the Cassino campaign, it was used by Air Force spotters, nicknamed ‘Rover David’, that were able to call up sorties when requested as though they were on a cab rank.
On the evening of 13th May 1944, the Irish Brigade started moving from Presenzano to a forward concentration area just behind Monte Trocchio before crossing the Gari river, via Congo bridge, on the afternoon of 14th May. In the bridgehead area, they started to prepare themselves to move forward in support of the British 4th Infantry Division and the Skins commenced the Irish Brigade’s assault in the early hours of 15th May.
John Horsfall, then second in command of 2 LIR, recalled the scene on the morning of 14th May 1944:
“I brought the battalion up to its concentration area behind Monte Trocchio. Trocchio was a small ugly feature in comparison with its neighbour but it was very useful just now beside the river – the one and only bastion and rampart possessed by the attackers. The Royal Air Force had a command post up there, with fighter bombers permanently on call by whoever needed their services. And their presence was evident enough as, time after time, whole squadrons screamed down on to invisible targets ahead and sheets of flame went skywards as they did so….….here at Trocchio, utter chaos reigned. As it provided the last cover from view before reaching the Gari, somewhat naturally, it was heavily congested with assorted troops, tanks and vehicles all heading for the crossing points. Forward movement, by then, had slowed to a crawl as the enemy artillery observers had naturally concentrated on the bridges and had already hit a number of them.
But the German gunners had plenty to spare for Trocchio. It was a cheerless stunted spot and the hillside looked as though a hurricane had struck it. Seared and torn under the shelling, one would remember the destruction – and the satanic hiss of the splinters as they ripped through the olive trees every few seconds. For several hours that afternoon, Monte Trocchio was a screaming madhouse with this, and our own guns, in serried ranks behind it, replying in kind.”
Climbing Trocchio today entails starting from a track in the car park area just behind the mountain but if you come off the marked path, then the ascent can only be completed by scrambling on all fours across the limestone boulder strewn slopes. Once at the summit, the view is quite stunning: the line of the Gari river below and you can also see along the Rapido valley to the right and across to Monastery Hill with the mass of Monte Cairo directly behind it. The Liri Valley stretches out invitingly northwards. To the south/east, the line of Route Six is also clearly seen as it emerges from the mountains surrounding the Mignano Gap.
Wild horses now roam the upper slopes of Trocchio and a ruined castle surmounts the northern edge of the ridge. There’s even a picnic table to welcome you if you’ve succeeded in reaching the top and it is certainly true that the view from the top of Trocchio is a whole lot more scenic than the view looking towards the “small ugly feature” of a mountain.