An attack on Cassino and the Monastery was impending by the 4th Indian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division, with the prior support of a colossal air bombardment. This, of course, depended on the weather, and as there was almost constant heavy rain the project was delayed. The role of the Irish Brigade and the rest of the 78th Division was to exploit the break-through when it had been achieved. When St Patrick’s Day came the Irish Brigade were at four hours’ notice to move, but fortunately the Brigadier had made a secret pact with the Divisional Commander that nothing short of a calamity would cause the Irish Brigade to be moved before late on the 18th of March!
The day was observed with traditional ceremonial, and Major-General CF Keightley, CB, OBE, the Divisional Commander, sent a message to all ranks in which he said: ” If the whole Army fights with the same spirit and gallantry with which you have done in the past year, then the Bosche will soon be exterminated. I am confident that next St. Patrick’s Day will see this extermination complete and your return home with all the honour which will be due to you. In the meantime, let us fit ourselves for our last battles. May they be short and successful..”
The General was not far out in at least one of his prognostications.
The attack on Cassino had begun late on the afternoon of March 15, and with the gaiety of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations there was a latent, uneasy feeling of the lull before the storm. The expected storm did not break just then because the brave efforts of the New Zealanders and the Indian Division did not succeed, though backed up with one of the heaviest poundings from the air Cassino had yet endured. Still, five days after St. Patrick’s Day, the 2nd Battalion London Irish had a closer view of Cassino when they took over posts on the Rapido (Gari) River, south of the Monastery.
The river, a tributary of the Garigliano, ran straight across the Liri Valley from Cassino to Ambroglio, and it was on either side of this river that the opposing armies in this sector sat. Since the previous December some parts of the front had not changed at all. There had been a limited success by 10th Corps near the mouth of the Garigliano in January, and the French and Americans had advanced in December and reached the neighbourhood of Cassino. The French had done magnificently in the mountains north of the Liri Valley and had got up, behind Cassino and the Monastery on to Monte Castellone and Monte Belvedere, each over two thousand feet high but which were almost dwarfed by the might of Monte Cairo behind them. Those two vital positions had been taken in order to facilitate the operations against Cassino and the Monastery, which with Monte Cairo remained in German hands. The Monastery was undoubtedly the key position. It completely dominated the French line of communications from their minor mountain fastnesses. It also dominated Cassino and the Liri Valley below.