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Mapping Cassino
By David Murray
May 2012

The area depicted by the Cassino '44 game map took some time to develop.

In order to provide a good simulation of all four battles the following areas would need to be shown:

  • Cassino town and the monastery
  • Monte Castellone
  • Sant’ Angelo
  • Cairo
  • The barracks
  • Pignataro

The area below is a satellite image depicting this area. The white bar shows 1 km (5 hexes); north is to the right:

The next decision was on the orientation of the hex grid. With the Rapido River and the base of the Massif running pretty much north to south, running the hex grid along that axis would facilitate scenarios crossing the Rapido and attacks along the road north of Cassino.

Next a hex grid was matched to the satellite map; this created a playing area of 51x37 hexes (approx. 10 km x 7.5 km).

With the basic parameters of the game map established it was time to get creative!

The Liri Valley

The satellite image clearly shows the route of the Rapido and Gari rivers as well as the road network. A little research revealed that the courses of the rivers have not been modified since the 1940s, and so the satellite pictures would provide accurate information on their course.

The creation of the map for the Liri Valley was relatively straightforward. It started with custom graphics for a small area of farmland. The section of custom "farmland" graphic was cloned, blended, duplicated and rotated until the valley floor was covered and the desired visual effect was gained.

The rivers were then added, and the villages of Sant’ Angelo, Cairo and Pignataro. The railway was placed next. Highway 6, the main route to Rome in 1944, is no longer the main road and the satellite images show a new dual carriageway, but Highway 6 can be easily identified and plotted on the game map.

The Massif

Without doubt the Massif was the most difficult aspect of making the map. There are no published Panzer Grenadier maps that include terrain with the elevation of the Cassino Massif. Initially the thought was to use contour lines to show elevation, but despite many attempts of showing varying elevation contour lines this idea was dropped. Line of sight and relative elevation of enemy units were too difficult to calculate.

The revised map shows seven elevation levels. The highest point on the proposed map is Monte Castellone at 771 meters. Using seven elevation levels allowed each level to be in increments of approximately 100 m. The 700 m elevation level is slightly stretched to include the summit of Monte Castellone at 771 m.

Overlaying accurate topographical maps, correctly scaled, on to the base map allowed an accurate recreation of the Massif. The first graphic shows an overlay made in the pre-war period by the Italian military ordnance service, the second by the New Zealanders during the campaign:

The maps indicate summits and the New Zealand map has the route of the "Cavendish road" that was improved by the Indian troops to allow tanks to access the Massif. Areas of cliff and Albaneta farm are also clearly marked.

The road up to Monte Cassino offered a few problems, as the 200m hex grid was insufficient to accurately map it without hexes showing two sections of road, which would be awkward in terms of rules needed. Ultimately the road was a little simplified but still retains the distinctive ‘snaking’ as it climbs the massif.

Cassino Town

Both the Italian and New Zealand maps show to scale the extent of Cassino town, and accurately place the railway station, the barracks and the "Hummock." Again using these overlays allowed these features to be accurately placed.

At each stage of the process the developing map was also checked with the satellite image to ensure accurate placement.

Other Features

The Germans dammed the Rapido in 1944 in order to flood the area north of Cassino town. Accurate details of the extent of the flooding are difficult to assess from the battle reports. However a few available details enable certain points to be identified, and using the elevation information on the Italian ordnance map it is possible to estimate the extent of the flooding.

During the battles in the Liri Valley during May, the 17th Indian Brigade had a fierce fight over a horseshoe shaped hill some 1 km west of Sant’ Angelo.

The Germans had blown large holes in the railway embankment east of the railway station to stop it being used as a route for armour into the valley.

Final Comments

The map has been very challenging to create but I feel quite pleased with the final product. It is very accurate and I hope ascetically pleasing. However, how the map works as a game tool was at the forefront of the design process.

Game map overlaid on satellite image.