Breaking the Stalemate
The operation being planned by the 36th Division and which bolstered General Clark's confidence that the Caesar Line would soon be broken was triggered by a startling discovery during the night of 27 May. Reconnaissance patrols from the 36th Division, probing the dark slopes of Monte Artemisio, a four-mile-long ridge running from northeast to southwest and overlooking Velletri from about a mile to the north, had found no sign of the enemy. Had they stumbled upon an undefended gap in the Caesar Line?
There was indeed a gap. It lay along the boundary between the I Parachute and the LXXVI Panzer Corps. It was attributable to two developments: holding the left flank of the parachute corps, the 362d Division was responsible for the Velletri sector, but severe losses in the defense of Cisterna had left it few troops for defense of Monte Artemisio. Also the Hermann Goering Division, on the right flank of the adjacent panzer corps, had been drawn to the southwest in the direction of Valmontone by the American thrust toward Highway 6, so that contact between the 362d and the Hermann Goering Divisions had never been firmly established. When General Schmalz, commander of the Hermann Goering Division, learned of the lack of contact, he sent patrols during the night of 27 May to try to reach the 362d Division. The patrols roamed across Monte Artemisio's southern slope for two miles before at last finding troops of the 362d Division near a fork in the road just northeast of Velletri.
Aware of the hazards of such a gap to the over-all defense of the Caesar Line, General Schmalz sent an engineer platoon to occupy the Castel d'Ariano, a ruin located on Monte Artemisio's crest three miles north of Velletri and two miles west of Lariano. A few hours later an officer-led patrol from Schmalz's division also occupied a group of houses at the hamlet of Menta, on the intercorps boundary. Yet those modest forces represented no more than outposts and in no sense served to close the gap, for it was on that same night of 27 May that American patrols were active on Monte Artemisio and had nowhere encountered any German troops.1
Reports of the situation on Monte Artemisio prompted General Herr, the panzer corps commander, to order Schmalz to send trucks immediately to the Hermann Goering Division's assembly area northwest of Valmontone to transport to Monte Artemisio two infantry battalions delayed during the long march from Leghorn. Herr also ordered the battered 715th Division, which had been withdrawn to the Tivoli area for reorganization, to send troops at
once to Schmalz's sector. Unfortunately for the Germans, neither the two infantry battalions nor the reinforcements from the 715th Division would arrive in time to close the breach.2
Not until the afternoon of the 29th, during a brief visit to the forward area of the parachute corps, did Field Marshal Kesselring learn of the gap. He immediately ordered Mackensen to close it. Mackensen passed along the field marshal's order, but he and his two corps commanders were satisfied that the job had already been done and took no further action. That night the army commander's report to army group made no mention of a gap on Monte Artemisio.3
The next day Kesselring learned how tenuous the link between the two corps actually was and telephoned Mackensen to express his displeasure. He brusquely pointed out that while one battalion might be sufficient to hold Monte Artemisio against probing attacks, an entire division could hardly hold it if the Americans focused on that part of the front. Mackensen nevertheless stuck to his conviction that the gap had been satisfactorily closed and that Monte Artemisio's rugged terrain and steep sides would make up for the paucity of forces.
Meanwhile, Mackensen had turned his attention to the northern flank of the Alban Hills between Lariano and Valmontone where, he rightly suspected, the Americans might soon attempt an outflanking maneuver. Indeed, General Keyes, the commander of the U.S. II Corps, which had just reached the Anzio area to take command of the force in the Artena sector between the Alban Hills and Valmontone, was even then planning such a move. To block it, Mackensen directed Herr to have the Hermann Goering Division attack at once in order to throw the Americans off balance, much as the division's reconnaissance battalion had done on the 26th. But the panzer corps commander was reluctant to commit the Hermann Goering Division to anything so ambitious, because Schmalz's entire division had yet to arrive. Herr suggested instead that Schmalz concentrate what units he had on the panzer corps' right flank with a view merely toward reinforcing German positions on the northern slope of the Alban Hills. Even as--unknown to the Germans--two regiments of the U.S. 36th Division began to climb Monte Artemisio the night of 30 May, Mackensen reluctantly accepted Herr's counterproposal.
Stratagem on Monte Artemisio
The 36th Division commander, General Walker, had informed the VI Corps commander, General Truscott, on the afternoon of 28 May of the gap on Monte Artemisio. The following day Walker called Truscott's chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Don E. Carleton, to tell him that 36th Division patrols were on the feature's forward slopes seeking a favorable passage over Monte Artemisio, thereby outflanking Velletri from the northeast. Agreeing that this was a fine idea, Carleton noted that if it could be done, "the Boche in there [Velletri] would find themselves in a tough situation, and the town might just cave in."4
Encouraged by Carleton's reaction, Walker summoned his staff officers to give them a planning concept that envisioned pinning down the enemy in Velletri with one regiment, the 141st, and with the 142d and 143d scaling Monte Artemisio.5 The 142d was to establish roadblocks to close the northern escape routes from Velletri, while the 143d, after assisting in the capture of Monte Artemisio, moved northward into the Alban Hills to seize Monte Cavo and the Rocca di Papa, two hills providing excellent observation over the entire area.
For the plan to succeed, armor and artillery had to follow close behind the attacking infantry to help maintain roadblocks and protect the long flanks created by the thrust. Since there would also be a vulnerable line of communications extending eight miles over a ridge varying in height from two to three thousand feet, and since no more than mere footpaths and a few cart trails led over the mountain, success of the entire venture would also depend upon rapid improvement of one of the trails to enable tracked vehicles and jeeps to ascend behind the infantry regiments.6
Here was a job for the engineers. After studying aerial photographs and reconnoitering several promising trails, the 36th Division's engineers found a trail that apparently could be improved within a reasonable period. Meanwhile, Walker's infantry regiments had been making their preparations. On the morning of the 30th, the 36th Division commander laid his completed plan of operations before the corps commander at the latter's command post.7
General Walker's plan was relatively simple. While the 141st Infantry engaged the Velletri garrison, the 142d Infantry, followed by the 143d, was to pass through the lines of the 141st during the night of 30 May and scale Monte Artemisio. After reaching the ridge, the 142d Infantry was to move southwestward to the Maschio dell'Artemisio, a knob two miles northwest of Velletri, while the 143d was to move northward along the ridge to capture the Maschio d'Ariano and Hill 931, the two highest points at the northeastern end of the ridge. The 141st Infantry was then to launch a frontal attack to capture Velletri and open Highway 7.8 (Map 5)
After questioning Walker's engineer closely as to the feasibility of improving an existing cart trail up Monte Artemisio, Truscott okayed the plan. He also placed the separate 36th Engineer Regiment in direct support of Walker's division.9
The 36th Division had acquired considerable but costly experience in mountain operations at night at the hard fought battle of San Pietro the previous January. That experience would serve the division well in the coming operation. Would it be another San Pietro? General Walker thought not. He noted in his diary: "Our operations for tonight and tomorrow have promise of being spectacular. We are
Stratagem on Monte Artemisio
30 May-1 June 1944
taking chances, but we should succeed in a big way." General Clark clearly shared his subordinates' confidence.10
About an hour before midnight, the 142d Infantry, in a column of battalions with the 2d Battalion leading, headed toward the dark outline of Monte Artemisio. Aided by a new moon that afforded just enough light to enable the troops to discern a trail, the leading company reached the base of the mountain at 0130. From there they picked their way slowly through leafy vineyards covering the lower slopes. Just as dawn began to blank out the stars, the head of the column crossed an open field and began to climb a steeper slope. Seeing the summit looming before them, the men quickened their pace. At 0635 the leading squads scrambled onto the crest of Monte Artemisio, there to surprise and capture three artillery observers, one of whom was taking a bath. Not a shot was fired. That fortunate state of affairs continued throughout the morning as the 142d Infantry turned southwest along the ridge toward the 2,500-foot Maschio dell'Artemisio.11
That afternoon Germans along the main road (Highway 7) leading west from Velletri spotted the Americans atop Monte Artemisio and opened fire with several self-propelled guns assembled in support of the defenders of Velletri. Despite that fire, mostly harassing, the 142d Infantry's leading battalion pressed on to reach the Maschio dell'Artemisio in early evening. From the crest the Americans looked down on Velletri much as had advance guards of an Austrian army, under Prince von Lobkowitz, two centuries before when, instead of Germans, Spaniards Under Don Carlos of Naples were defending Velletri; the Americans were not the first to have used this route to outflank the Velletri position.12
That night the 142d Infantry established roadblocks on two of the three roads left to the enemy troops in Velletri and by morning the town was virtually surrounded. Only one escape route (Highway 7) remained open to the Germans. When news of the 142d Infantry's success reached the Fifth Army headquarters, the frustration built up during the five days of virtual stalemate vanished and, in General Clark's words, "caused all of us to turn handsprings."13
Meanwhile, the 143d Infantry had followed the 142d to the crest and then had turned right to cover that flank. Moving northeastward along the ridge toward Hill 931 and the Maschio d'Ariano, the men of the 143d encountered considerable sniper fire, but by late afternoon had eliminated it. Only at the ruins of the Castel d'Ariano was it necessary to call upon artillery support to drive from the ruins the engineer platoon from the Hermann Goering Division, which General Schmalz had committed the night of the 27th. By dark the entire Monte Artemisio ridge was in American hands.14
The next morning a party of artillery observers accompanying the 143d Infantry
were delighted to find that the summit of Maschio d'Ariano provided a 200° field of observation from the east to the southwest. Below lay supply arteries of much of the Fourteenth Army, especially those supporting the Lariano-Valmontone sector. Scores of tempting enemy targets crawled across the landscape beneath them. The only problem was to obtain enough batteries to do the firing and observers to direct them. Calls immediately went back to division and corps for every available artillery observer to come forward to help. Soon "forward observers were sitting around on the Maschio d'Ariano like crows on a telephone line, having a field day."15
"This was," General Truscott observed, "the turning point in our drive to the northwest."16
The German Reaction
Not until the afternoon of the 31st did the German Fourteenth Army headquarters become aware that the U.S. 36th Division was on top of Monte Artemisio. Dismayed, General von Mackensen quickly directed a series of countermeasures to restore his front. He ordered his two corps commanders to contain and destroy the American penetration at whatever cost, even if they had to use their last man and weapon. Corps' boundaries were to be ignored, Mackensen declared, for "in a situation of this kind, corps boundaries no longer have any meaning."17
In contrast to the earlier breakthrough on the Cisterna sector, it was the LXXVI Panzer Corps' turn to help the I Parachute Corps. Mackensen directed Herr to backstop Schlemm's positions west of Monte Artemisio with an armored reconnaissance company which was to block a road leading northward from Monte Peschio, one of the several peaks on the Monte Artemisio ridge. Other armored reconnaissance detachments were to set up blocking positions along Highway 7 between Velletri and Lake Nemi. Meanwhile, a grenadier battalion from Herr's panzer corps was to try to pinch off the American salient by a counterattack directed against the 143d Infantry's positions on the northern end of the Monte Artemisio ridge. The corps commanders were to report the results of those measures to Mackensen by 0700 the next day, 1 June.18
The Fourteenth Army commander, fully engaged in attempting to contain the penetration along the intercorps boundary, failed to inform Field Marshal Kesselring of what had happened until late on the 31st. When Kesselring learned of the 36th Division's presence on Monte Artemisio, he was furious. Had he been notified promptly, he declared, one or two battalions might have been able to handle the situation, but now the penetration had grown to such proportions that no reserves then available to army group would be able to seal it off. As far as the army group commander was concerned, this was the last straw in his steadily deteriorating relations with his subordinate.19 The
feeling was apparently mutual, for General von Mackensen too had concluded that, figuratively speaking, the gap between him and the field marshal had become as large and menacing as that on Monte Artemisio. For the third time--there had been two other occasions in February--Mackensen placed his command at Kesselring's disposal. Having already obtained Hitler's permission to relieve Mackensen, Kesselring this time accepted Mackensen's request for relief. Five days later Mackensen would leave for Germany, alter relinquishing his command to General der Panzertruppen Joachim Lemelsen.20
The countermeasures ordered by Mackensen had been tactically sound but by 1 June impossible of fulfillment. His blunder had been less in delaying to notify Kesselring of what had happened than in allowing the gap to develop in the first place.
Exploiting the Penetration
The successful penetration by the 36th Division on 31 May aided the other divisions of the VI Corps south of a line between Lanuvio and Campoleone, for it offered opportunities unforeseen during the past four days, a period which had been marked by grinding, costly, and frustrating fighting.21 Seeing also a chance of outflanking the enemy in the Alban Hills, General Clark decided to shift the burden of the drive on Rome to General Keyes' II Corps. This was the headquarters which two days earlier had assumed control of General O'Daniel's reinforced 3d Division, whose forces had been augmented by the arrival of the 85th Division.
Acknowledging that the II Corps, in the vicinity of Valmontone, would soon be astride Highway 6, Alexander, at Clark's request, adjusted the interarmy boundary to afford the Fifth Army exclusive use of Highway 6 between Valmontone and Rome, as well as the hills overlooking the highway from the north where Clark expected to employ the FEC. Thus Clark would be able to make the final drive on Rome with all three of the Fifth Army's corps along the axes of two main highways, 6 and 7, instead of only along Highway 7, as he had planned originally when sending Truscott's VI Corps into the Alban Hills.22
At the same time that Alexander was adjusting his interarmy boundary, Kesselring did the same. The German commander shifted the boundary of Vietinghoff's Tenth Army northwestward in order to give the Fourteenth Army's hard-pressed LXXVI Panzer Corps a narrower front. This Kesselring did by broadening the sector of the XIV Panzer Corps' and placing the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, hitherto on the LXXVI Panzer Corps' left flank, under the control of the former corps.23
Before the II Corps could move on Rome, the corps had first to complete
Operation BUFFALO's original mission: to block Highway 6, capture Valmontone, and secure the high ground north of the town as well as the northeastern slopes of the Alban Hills. Thereafter, on Clark's order, the corps was to pursue the enemy northwestward astride Highway 6 toward Rome and, at the same time, send mobile forces southeastward along the highway to fall upon the flank and rear of those enemy forces retreating before the FEC and the British Eighth Army. Meanwhile, the FEC, having completed mopping up operations in the Lepini Mountains, was to secure the high ground in the vicinity of Segni on the northern slopes of those mountains and then cut Highway 6 near Colleferro before moving on northwestward to Cave and Palestrina, some ten miles away, to cover the II Corps' right flank and rear as it passed beyond Valmontone. Ultimate goal of the French was to seize a crossing of the Tiber east of Rome.24
Concurrently, the VI Corps was to attack along the axes of Highway 7 and the Via Anziate, the latter the main road running north from Anzio into the Alban Hills, to secure the southwestern half of the Alban Hills and cut the enemy's routes of withdrawal through Rome before sending forces southwestward to pin the Germans against the Tiber southwest of the city. On the VI Corps' left flank the British 1st and 5th Divisions, once again attached to Truscott's corps, were to follow up the enemy withdrawal toward the Tiber and help destroy those enemy forces trapped east of the river.25
The stage was at last set for the final drive on the Italian capital--a drive which was to become in effect an intra-army contest as to which corps--Truscott's VI or Keyes' II--would be first in Rome. On 31 May it had seemed to Clark that the odds favored Keyes, for, except for the 36th Division, all of Truscott's corps still faced the most heavily defended sector of the Caesar Line, that which stretched southwestward from Velletri to the sea. Moreover, the terrain would give Keyes' corps an advantage, for in front of the II Corps stretched the most favorable ground that corps had faced since the beginning of the May offensive along the Garigliano.
Between Highway 6 and the Via Prenestina to the north lay a belt of slightly rolling and intensively cultivated farmland varying in width from three to five miles and extending all the way to Rome. Unlike the former beachhead south of Cisterna, the firm, dry soil, infrequently cut by lateral drainage ditches, promised excellent footing for tanks. Supplementing the main highway, two excellent roads also ran through the corps zone to Rome: to the north of Highway 6 the Via Prenestina, and to the south, the Via Tuscolana, although the latter served the VI Corps for part of its length. To Keyes' troops these conditions represented a welcome respite from the craggy mountains and tortuous roads and trails encountered to the south. The only terrain obstacle of any consequence in the II Corps zone was the northern slopes of the Alban Hills, but the presence of the 36th Division on Monte Artemisio
The Drive for Rome
31 May-4 June 1944
would prevent the Germans from taking full advantage of that.26 (Map VII)
As General Clark adjusted his forces for continuing the drive on Rome, the British Eighth Army was still slugging its way up the Liri valley and beyond. During the afternoon of 31 May infantry of the 1st Canadian Corps entered the important road center of Frosinone astride Highway 6 twenty-five miles southeast of Valmontone, while the British 13 Corps, having bypassed Arce to the southeast of Frosinone on Highway 82, pulled abreast on the right.27 That meant that the Liri valley lay behind the two corps. From that point they were to continue northwestward up the valley of the Sacco River past Valmontone toward Tivoli, eighteen miles east of Rome. The 13 Corps was prepared to vary that route, should the army commander, General Leese, deem it propitious, in order to open additional roads leading generally northward through the Simbruini Mountains. The 10 Corps on the British right wing meanwhile was to continue to block passes in the Central Apennines to deny German intervention from the Adriatic front.
In altering the interarmy boundary north of Highway 6 to give the Fifth Army greater freedom of movement northwest of Valmontone, General Alexander, having abandoned all hope of trapping the Tenth Army, added the proviso that if it became necessary for both Allied armies to make a joint assault on the Caesar Line, the original boundary would be reinstated. In that event, the Eighth Army would attack abreast of the Fifth Army on a narrow front, with the 1st Canadian Corps astride Highway 6 and the British 13 Corps along an adjacent route, the Via Prenestina.
Once the Caesar Line was pierced and Rome fell, General Leese, the Eighth Army commander, planned to move the Canadian corps into army reserve, while the 13 Corps, passing east of Rome through Tivoli, was to lead the Army's advance northward. On the Eighth Army's far right the 10 Corps too was to drive generally northward along Highway 82 through Avezzano.
To launch the new phase of the Fifth Army's drive on Rome, the II Corps commander, General Keyes, had little time to prepare elaborate plans. The 36th Division's presence on Monte Artemisio had apparently thrown the Germans off balance. It was important to move quickly for the Germans had long since demonstrated an almost uncanny ability to recover rapidly from reverses.28
Since the 36th Division's success on Monte Artemisio raised the possibility of quickly achieving a deep salient, Clark saw the need to act with dispatch to protect the 36th Division's right flank and rear. Convinced that General Keyes would need more strength than originally contemplated to accomplish that, he decided on the evening of the 31st to give the II Corps General Sloan's 88th Division, which he had intended to hold in army reserve.29
For the drive on Rome General Keyes thus would control the 85th and 88th Divisions--the same ones with which he had broken the Gustav Line over two weeks before--plus the 3d Division, the 1st Special Service Force, and Colonel Howze's armored task force, the units that had been operating in the Valmontone corridor under General O'Daniel's command. This was a force about as formidable as that commanded by VI Corps when Clark turned it toward the Alban Hills.
Although General Keyes had no armored division, Howze's task force represented a powerful exploitation force, since it consisted of the 13th Armored Regiment (less one battalion), the 756th Tank Battalion, and several artillery, tank destroyer, engineer, and armored infantry units. Having rejoined the corps, the 91st Reconnaissance Squadron drew the mission of screening the right flank, pending further advance of the French Expeditionary Corps. General Frederick's 1st Special Service Force was also highly mobile, and each of the three infantry divisions had an attached medium tank battalion.
Before attempting to break into the Valmontone gap, Keyes first had to secure his left flank on the northeastern slope of the Alban Hills, both for his own protection and to cover the 36th Division's right flank. That was to be a responsibility of General Coulter's 85th Division (with the 349th Infantry attached from the 88th Division), which during the night of the 30th relieved a regiment of the 3d Division on the left wing of the corps in the vicinity of Lariano, midway between Artena and Velletri. The 85th Division was further reinforced with a company of tanks from Howze's task force.30
An hour and a half after midday on the 31st, Coulter's infantrymen attacked across slopes dotted with thick chestnut and pine woods, terraced vineyards, and silvery-leaved olive trees. Advancing on either side of Lariano, the 1st and 3d Battalions, 337th Infantry, encountered little opposition. Bypassing the town, they occupied high ground to the northwest. The 2d Battalion, meanwhile, sent a reinforced company in a frontal assault against the town. Although the German defenders employed considerable small arms fire, the town was in hand by nightfall. During the night the 1st Battalion continued over two miles beyond Lariano to reach the Maschio d'Ariano at the northern end of the Monte Artemisio ridge, there to relieve the 36th Division's 143d Infantry.
The 337th Infantry's attack had dealt roughly with the battalions of the Hermann Goering Division, encircling a battalion of the 1st Panzer Grenadier Regiment and driving back another from the 2d Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Under cover of a company-size counterattack supported by seven tanks, the encircled battalion escaped during the night. Nonetheless, the 85th Division managed to hold on as anchor of the left flank of the II Corps on Monte Artemisio.31
During the evening of 31 May, General Keyes outlined to his division commanders
his plan of attack to secure Highway 6 in the vicinity of Valmontone before beginning the drive on Rome. The main burden of the effort was to be borne initially by the 3d Division. This division was to capture Valmontone before continuing to the northwest to secure the corps' right flank on high ground in the vicinity of Palestrina, a few miles north of Valmontone, where the division was to remain until relieved by the FEC. With the flanks secured, the 88th Division, accompanied by Task Force Howze, was to advance as far as Highway 6, west of Valmontone, then turn northwestward.32 To the division's left Coulter's 85th Division was to cross the Alban Hills' northeast slopes to the vicinity of Frascati, about ten miles southeast of Rome. Thereafter, Coulter was to be prepared, on corps' order, to swing one regiment abruptly to the left to cut off those enemy troops opposing the VI Corps. Once the FEC arrived to relieve the 3d Division and cover the II Corps' right flank and rear north of Valmontone, General O'Daniel's division was to advance alongside the 88th Division to screen the corps' right flank.
The II Corps Begins To Move
The main line of resistance of the German LXXVI Panzer Corps, comprising the Fourteenth Army's left wing, extended eastward from the northeastern slope of the Alban Hills to Highway 6 at a point midway between Valmontone and Labico, and thence to a junction with the XIV Panzer Corps on the Tenth Army's right wing a few miles east of Valmontone. Manning the line from the Alban Hills to the interarmy boundary were the Hermann Goering Division and remnants of the 334th and 715th Infantry Divisions. This force was more impressive on paper than it was in reality, for the only units actually in line were two understrength panzer grenadier regiments and a Kampfgruppe, the latter made up of miscellaneous artillery units, most of which had lost their guns to persistent Allied aircraft. With the exception of antitank weapons, this force nevertheless possessed adequate supporting arms and services.33
Beginning at 0500 on 1 June the 85th and 3d Infantry Divisions--the 88th Division had yet to come into line in the corps' center--began moving toward their first objectives. Progress was slow during the morning, especially in the 3d Division sector. Only after repelling several tank-led counterattacks east of the Artena-Valmontone road did the 15th Infantry finally succeed, late in the day, in advancing the division's right as far as Highway 6. On the left, Colonel Howze's armored task force destroyed eight enemy antitank guns while spearheading the 30th Infantry's attack. Task Force Howze in turn lost three tanks, and snipers took a heavy toll of tank commanders. To make matters worse, darkness found both tanks and infantry still short of the highway northwest of Valmontone. Colonel Howze summed up the day's action by observing, "Our attack . . . went damned slowly."34
On the corps' left the 338th Infantry of Coulter's 85th Division ran into enemy well entrenched along a steep-sided railway embankment just northeast of Lariano. After a heavy fire fight the regiment drove the Germans from their positions, then wheeled slowly northwestward in the direction of Monte Ceraso, four miles away on the northeastern rim of the Alban Hills. When the maneuver opened a gap on the 338th Infantry's right flank, Coulter quickly closed it with the 349th Infantry.35
Meanwhile, a battalion of the 337th Infantry still on the Maschio d'Ariano, the northern knob of the Monte Artemisio ridge, came under fire from an enemy force that had been hastily assembled in the vicinity of a farm one mile to the northeast. Apparently belatedly trying to restore contact between the Fourteenth Army's two corps, the enemy had infiltrated from the north through heavily wooded draws to isolate the 1st Battalion command post and capture an entire platoon of Company D. Later in the day the battalion rallied and drove the enemy off. The rest of the 337th Infantry advanced before dark as far as Monte Castellaccio, about two miles to the north, thus providing the II Corps a secure anchor for its left flank on high ground overlooking Highway 6 from the south.36
Southeast of Valmontone General Frederick's 1st Special Service Force reached Colle Ferro, a road junction a few miles southeast of Valmontone that was important to the enemy troops withdrawing before the FEC. Surprising the Germans, Frederick's men fell upon their right flank and took over 200 prisoners, thus virtually eliminating the enemy rear guard at that point, and assuring clear passage for the 3d Algerian Infantry Division, leading the FEC advance toward Highway 6.37
Although no breakthrough had developed, there were increasing signs with each passing hour that the enemy was growing progressively weaker. Later that afternoon outposts reported seeing a white flag flying over Valmontone and hearing the sounds of heavy motor traffic moving westward. Observers also reported two big explosions, apparently demolitions, in the vicinity of Cave on the Via Prenestina, midway between Genazzano and Palestrina.38
That night the commander of the 15th Infantry telephoned 3d Division headquarters near Giulianello, reporting the noise of heavy motor traffic across his front. "Why don't you put mortar fire on it?" General O'Daniel replied with some heat. "Get an AT gun up there and plaster the hell out of everything that comes along. You can block the road any place you want to. The important thing is to shoot every goddamn vehicle that comes by there."39 Twenty minutes later the regimental commander telephoned again to say that Company E had just finished shooting up three truckloads of enemy soldiers on the road. "Good, Keep it up," O'Daniel replied, somewhat mollified.
"Don't let a single vehicle get through tonight--not one, understand?"40
With highway 6 cut by fire, even though not physically blocked, the Germans were clearly in trouble. As General Clark had noted when arguing against General Alexander's preoccupation with Valmontone and Highway 6, other roads were available for the German Tenth Army's withdrawal; nevertheless, a combination of the loss of Highway 6 and a continued American advance to the north would further restrict the Tenth Army's escape routes from the Sacco Valley. Furthermore, if the left wing of General von Mackensen's Fourteenth Army collapsed, as appeared imminent, the Americans could hardly be stopped, and the I Parachute Corps would have to abandon its relatively strong Caesar Line positions in the Alban Hills.
Early on 1 June, even as the U.S. II Corps had begun to move, Field Marshal Kesselring had told the Tenth Army's Chief of Staff, General Wentzell, to hasten the withdrawal of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division from the Sacco valley to secure the high ground north of Valmontone around Palestrina. That was to be a preliminary to the entire XIV Panzer Corps making a stand there. If the American II Corps swung northwestward toward Rome, as seemed likely, the XIV Panzer Corps would be in a position to harass the attackers' flank.41
If Kesselring's plan was to have any chance of success, the Fourteenth Army's left wing had to hold either at Valmontone or on the high ground at Palestrina until the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division could arrive. To those Germans on the scene there seemed to be little chance of that. Because of the American fire on Highway 6, the position at Valmontone was clearly untenable. Leaving only an 18-man rear guard in the town, the Germans withdrew to high ground, but the total strength then available for holding the new position was one infantry battalion supported by four Mark IV tanks, a smattering of assault guns and flak guns, and three light artillery batteries.42
At dawn on 2 June, General Keyes' II Corps renewed its attack, this time with General Sloan's 88th Division having taken over the center of the corps. That the Germans had pulled back during the night became quickly apparent. A patrol of the 3d Division's 30th Infantry led the way into Valmontone and by 1030 reported the town free of the enemy. To the left the 7th Infantry occupied Labico, on Highway 6 two miles northwest of Valmontone, and together the two regiments followed the retreating enemy toward the high ground around Palestrina, four miles to the north. By nightfall both regiments had seized footholds on the high ground against only light resistance.43
Two regiments of the 88th Division meanwhile moved toward Gardella Hill, a point of high ground overlooking Highway 6 about five miles northwest of Valmontone. Within a few hours the hill was occupied and the highway cut. Two battalions of the 351st Infantry then turned northwest astride the highway
3D DIVISION INFANTRY ENTERING VALMONTONE
and entered the road junction town of San Cesareo, seven miles northwest of Valmontone. Along the way the men counted 12 destroyed or abandoned 88-mm. guns and 14 enemy vehicles. The 85th Division on the left made similar progress, one regiment coming abreast of the 351st Infantry near San Cesareo in later afternoon, another occupying Monte Fiori, two miles south of the town.44
By 2 June the II Corps had gained control of a six-mile length of Highway 6 and, more importantly, had compromised the positions on the high ground near Palestrina which the Germans had hoped to hold pending the arrival of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division. Conflicting reports reaching Army Group C headquarters throughout the day served to conceal the full extent of the peril to the German plan to employ that division defensively, but by nightfall Field Marshal Kesselring realized that more drastic steps were needed if what was developing as a full-scale
AMERICAN INFANTRYMEN ADVANCING ALONG HIGHWAY 6 TOWARD ROME
breakthrough at Valmontone was to be contained.45
To General von Vietinghoff, commander of the Tenth Army withdrawing before the British Eighth Army, Kesselring insisted that the XIV Panzer Corps counterattack the left flank of the Fifth Army's II Corps, now beginning to move up Highway 6. Vietinghoff responded emphatically that he had neither sufficient troops nor ammunition for a counterattack of any kind. The entire XIV Panzer Corps, for example, had only fourteen combat-ready tanks. Kesselring reluctantly took him at his word and both commanders had to accept the fact that Rome would soon be lost. During the night of 2 June, Vietinghoff ordered his Tenth Army to break contact with the British
Eighth Army and retreat northward through the Simbruini Mountains to the Aniene River east of Rome.
As the full-scale withdrawal began, tension and sleepless nights began to take their toll among the senior German commanders. General von Vietinghoff, who for several months had been repeatedly incapacitated by chronic illness, turned over his command to his chief of staff, General Wentzell, and left for hospitalization in northern Italy. A few hours later Kesselring's chief of staff, General Westphal, collapsed from nervous exhaustion and was also evacuated.
The Tenth Army's retreat through the mountains was well-conceived and skillfully executed, amply fulfilling Clark's earlier prediction that there were just too many escape routes open to the Germans. Yet an examination of the map suggests that a combination of a more vigorous follow-up by the Eighth Army of the Germans in the Liri valley, and a timely blockade of Highway 6 between Ferentino and Valmontone by the Fifth Army would have made that retreat far more costly.
The VI Corps Begins To Move
Since 26 May the VI Corps, west of the Alban Hills, had gained little ground and had incurred heavy casualties in some of the hardest fighting since the previous winter. Four of the five divisions (the 36th Division had been in corps reserve for much of the period and had sustained low losses during the ascent of Monte Artemisio) had suffered a total of 2,829 casualties, including 342 killed. Those were losses comparable to, and in some instances, surpassing those incurred during the breakout offensive from the beachhead.46
That such a grim pattern of losses might still continue became evident on 1 June when the VI Corps resumed its efforts to break through the Caesar Line between Lanuvio and Campoleone. On a two-battalion front, the 179th Infantry led the 45th Division's advance astride the Albano road. The attack had penetrated the lines of an enemy infantry school regiment, a recent reinforcement to the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, but the 179th Infantry's heavy losses caused considerable disorganization in that regiment. By noon one company could muster only an officer and thirty-five men, and the other companies were little better off. The division commander, General Eagles, replaced the 179th with the 180th Infantry, so that the attack was renewed in the afternoon, but the second regiment had no more success than the first.47
To the 45th Division's right the 34th Division also resumed its efforts to capture the Villa Crocetta and the San Gennaro Ridge southeast of Lanuvio. After two hours of hard fighting, the 168th Infantry's 3d Battalion captured two hills on the ridge but was still short of complete control of the feature. On the 168th Infantry's left, the frustrating chronicle of the previous week was repeated as a platoon of the 109th Engineers struggled to within a stone's throw of the Villa Crocetta before a curtain of automatic weapons and mortar fire drove the men back down the
hill through shattered olive groves to the line of departure.48
To the corps commander, General Truscott, it was apparent that his best prospects for breaking through the Caesar Line lay with the 36th Division. Since occupying Monte Artemisio before daylight of the 31st, that division had gradually extended its positions and had virtually surrounded Velletri. Only Highway 7 remained open as an escape route for the town's garrison, the survivors of General Greiner's 362d Infantry Division. The 36th Division commander, General Walker, believed that the enemy, recognizing the hopelessness of the situation, would soon abandon Velletri.49
In reality, by early afternoon of 31 May, the I Parachute Corps commander, General Schlemm, had indeed decided that nothing was to be gained by prolonging the defense of Velletri, and accordingly had requested General von Mackensen's permission to withdraw. The Fourteenth Army commander readily assented, and that night, leaving behind a rear guard, Greiner withdrew his division along Highway 7 toward Lake Nemi, about five miles to the northwest of Velletri.50
As night fell on 1 June, the 36th Division entered Velletri, where the Americans captured 250 enemy soldiers at a cost of thirty-four casualties. With Velletri's fall, it seemed unlikely that the Germans could long hold the Lanuvio-Campoleone sector.51
Yet despite the 36th Division's success, Field Marshal Kesselring had not yet authorized Mackensen to withdraw from the southern flanks of the Alban Hills. The army group commander believed that it was important, indeed vital, to the fortunes of the German forces that the Fourteenth Army hold as long as possible in order to enable the Tenth Army to make good its escape from the upper Liri-Sacco valley. If Mackensen were flung back too quickly on Rome the Allies might be able to separate the two German armies and seize the crossing sites of the Tiber north of Rome.52
Consequently, when the 34th and 45th Divisions resumed their efforts on 2 June, the Germans continued to hold except at the Villa Crocetta, which the 34th Division finally seized. Elsewhere between Lanuvio and Campoleone, the VI Corps made little headway.53
General Clark made no secret of his keen disappointment at Truscott's failure to break through west of Velletri. "I want to take ground, but Ryder and Eagles haven't gone any place today," Clark complained to Truscott's chief of staff.54 They were engaged in a race against time, Clark added, and "my subordinates fail to realize how close the decision will be. If Kesselring manages to reinforce his positions in the Alban Hills with the 1st Parachute Division and the 90th Panzer Grenadier before I get there, they may turn the tide."55
Although upset by the lack of progress west of Velletri, Clark was encouraged by the 36th Division's prospects at Velletri and on Monte Artemisio. "If the 36th goes," Clark observed to Truscott, "I feel that there should be a breakthrough."56 Clark's confidence in Walker's division was well placed, for while Truscott's other division commanders fumed in frustration throughout 2 June, the 36th Division began a methodical exploitation of its capture of Velletri. At dawn the 142d and 143d Infantry Regiments led the way from Monte Artemisio across rolling farmland toward Monte Cavo and Rocca di Papa, which were four and a half miles away. Advancing along the only covered route of approach in its zone and taking fifty prisoners from the Rome Police Battalion, a scratch covering force hurriedly sent south from Rome, the 142d Infantry, gained a position directly east of Monte Cavo. To the right the 143d Infantry occupied Monte Tano, a mile and a half northeast of Monte Cavo. Meanwhile, the 141st Infantry, which had captured Velletri, advanced into the hills just east of Lake Nemi.57
The 36th Division's thrust opened Highway 7 as far as Lake Nemi and threatened the 362d Division's left flank with envelopment. Even the commitment of a battalion of the 1099th Infantry Regiment from the 92d Grenadier Division, an untried unit in training along the coast near Rome, failed to stem what at that point amounted to a breakthrough along the I Parachute Corps' left flank. To avoid envelopment, General Schlemm withdrew the 12th Parachute Regiment from his center and shifted it to a sector extending northeast from Lake Nemi to the corps' left flank. Yet that unit, reduced by combat losses to about the strength of a battalion, could be expected to act as little more than a delaying force.
By nightfall on 2 June, Kesselring at last reluctantly acknowledged that the Fourteenth Army too had no alternative to withdrawal and authorized Mackensen to begin pulling back his entire front, with the exception of the far right along the Tyrrhenian coast where as yet the British divisions there had exerted little pressure. The I Parachute Corps' center and left were to withdraw about a mile and a half, and the LXXVI Panzer Corps was to pull back its right wing two miles and its left one. Kesselring further directed Mackensen to bring forward all of his field replacement battalions and, if necessary, to draw upon all available military transport--even that being used to supply foodstuffs for the civilian population of Rome--to move the reinforcements to the front.
That afternoon German artillery fire opposite the 34th and 45th Divisions' sector suddenly increased in volume and continued until dark. The fire served to mask the I Parachute Corps' preparations for a withdrawal that night. As darkness fell an unaccustomed quiet settled over the VI Corps front as the Germans broke contact and withdrew to new positions.58
Suspecting that a withdrawal was taking place, General Ryder, the 34th
Division commander, ordered his regimental commanders to send out strong combat patrols that night toward the enemy lines. Patrols from the 168th Infantry met no resistance as they entered Lanuvio's dark ruins shortly after midnight. At first light on 3 June the regiment began to move and by 0900 had completed the occupation of the town. The rest of the 34th Division then advanced on both sides of Lanuvio toward Genzano, a road junction with Highway 7 three miles to the northwest where the highway skirts Lake Nemi.59
That was the opportunity General Truscott had been waiting for, to commit General Harmon's 1st Armored Division as an exploitation force. Truscott planned to send the armor astride the Anzio road toward a junction with Highway 7 at the town of Albano. Harmon, who had never reconciled himself to Clark's decision to shift the VI Corps (and his division) from the Valmontone sector, once again protested against his new mission. This was, he declared, "a hell of a place to put an armored division--on top of these mountains." Colonel Carleton, Truscott's chief of staff, replied that that was where the corps commander had said Harmon would go, and that ended the matter.60
Meanwhile, Truscott by phone urged the 45th Division commander to get his men moving as soon as possible. The 45th Division was to precede the armor toward Albano as far as the Velletri-Rome railroad northwest of Lanuvio, whereupon the armor was to pass through and, together with the 36th Division, lead the final drive to Rome.61
By the evening of 2 June both the II and VI Corps thus had broken through the Caesar Line. As dawn broke over the Alban Hills on the 3d, both corps were poised to begin the intra-army race to determine which would be first into Rome.
1. MS # C-087b (Schmalz and Bergengruen), Einstatz der Division Hermann Goering in Italien, CMH.
2. MS # R-50 (Bailey).
4. VI Corps G-3 Jnl, 28-29 May 44, 291530B May 44; Tel. C/S to CG, 36th Div, 281851B May 44.
5. The 141st and 143d Infantry had incurred heavy casualties in January 1944 along the Rapido and again on Monte Cassino. See Blumenson, Salerno to Cassino, pp. 322-51, 367-78.
6. Col Oran C. Stovall, Div Eng, typescript account of operation.
7. Ibid; Walker Diary, 29-30 May 44.
8. 36th Div Rpt of Opns, May-Jun 44; Fifth Army History, Part V, p. 142.
9. Truscott, Command Missions, p. 377.
10. Walker Diary, 30 May 44; Clark Diary, 30 May 44. See Blumenson, Salerno to Cassino, pp. 270-89, for detailed description of the San Pietro operation.
11. 142d Inf Rpt of Opns, May 44.
12. See Spenser Wilkinson, The Defense of Piedmont, 1742-48 (London: Oxford, 1927), pp. 181ff.
13. 142d Inf Rpt of Opns, May-Jun 44; Walker Diary, 31 May-1 Jun 44; Clark Diary, 31 May 44.
14. Interv, Mathews with Col Paul D. Adams (CO 143d Inf), 27 Apr 48.
15. 143d Inf Opns Rpt, Jun 44.
16. Truscott, Command Missions, p. 377.
17. Befehl, AOK 14, Ia Nr. 2338/44, g. Kdos, 31 May 44, in AOK 14, Ia KTB Nr. 3, Anlage 487, 1-31 May 44, AOK 14, Doc. Nr. 59091/3.
19. Befehle, OB Suedwest, Ia Nr. 5914/44 g. Kdos, 1 Jun 44, in Heeregruppe C/OB SW, Vershiedenes, Ia, Jan-Jun 44, Heeresgruppe C, Doc. Nr. 75138/1.
20. MSS #'s T-1a and T-1b (Westphal et al.), CMH.
21. On the 31st, Pvt. Furman L. Smith, 135th Infantry, 34th Division, single-handedly held off an enemy counterattack until he fell mortally wounded, his rifle still in his hands. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
22. Alexander Despatch, p. 50.
23. Befehle, AOK XIV, Ia Nr. 2338/44 g. Kdos, 31 May 44, in AOK XIV, Ia KTB Nr. 3, Anlage 487, 1-31 May 44, AOK XIV Doc. Nr. 59091/3.
24. Hq, Fifth Army, OI 25, 31 May 44. See also Mathews, "The French in the Drive on Rome," Revue Historique de l'Armee, p. 139.
25. Hq, Fifth Army, OI 25, 31 May 44.
26. II Corps Opns Rpt, Mar-Jun 44.
27. Operations of British, Indian, and Dominion Forces in Italy, Part II, Sec. B.
28. II Corps Opns Rpts, May-Jun 44.
29. Clark Diary, 31 May 44.
30. 337th Inf Opns Rpt, May 44; 338th Inf Opns Rpt, May-Jun 44; 3d Inf Div Jnl, 31 May, 21210B May 44.
31. MS # R-50 (Bailey), CMH.
32. II Corps AAR, Jun 44, The Rome Campaign. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon this document.
33. MS # C-64 (Kesselring), CMH.
34. 30th Inf Narr, Jun 44; Howze MS.
35. 349th Inf Hist, Jun 44; 338th Inf Jnl, 1 Jun 444
36. 337th Inf Rpt of Opns, Jun 44; Orders, AOK 14, Ia Nr. 2359/44, g/Kdos, 1 Jun 44, in AOK 14, Ia KTB Nr. 3, Anlage 484, 1-31 May 44, AOK 14, Doc. Nr. 5909/3; Fifth Army History, Part V, p. 146.
37. Fifth Army History, Part V, p. 146; Mathews, "The French in the Drive on Rome," p. 139.
38. II Corps G-3 Jnl, 011855B Jun 44.
39. 3d Inf Div G-3 Jnl, 012310 Jun 44, Tel CO 15th Inf to CG.
40. Ibid; 3d Div G-3 Jnl, Sitrep, 020730 Jun 44.
41. Telecon, AOK 10 C/A w/Col Beelitz, OB Suedwest Opns Off, 011155B Jun 44, in AOK 10, Ia KTB Nr. 7, Anlage 20, 1-5 Jun 44, AOK 10 Doc. Nr. 55291/2.
42. MSS #'s T-1a, T-1b, T-1c (Westphal et al.) and C-064 (Kesselring).
43. II Corps G-3 Jnl, 021030B Jun 44.
44. II Corps AAR Jun 44, The II Corps Drive on Rome.
45. Telecon, AOK 10 C/S with Colonel Beelitz, OB Suedwest Opns Officer, 011155B Jun 44, in AOK 10, Ia KTB Nr. 7, Anlage 20, 1-5 Jun 44, AOK 10 Doc. Nr. 55291/2; Telecon, C/S AOK 10 w/OB Suedwest, 011220B Jun 44, AOK 10 Doc. Nr. 55291/2; MSS # T-1b (Westphal et al.) and C-064 (Kesselring). Unless otherwise indicated this section is based upon these references.
46. See 9th Machine Records Unit Fifth Army American Battle Casualties, 10 Jun 45, CMH.
47. 45th Div Opns Rpt, Jun 44; VI Corps G-3 Periodic Rpt, Jun 44; MS # T-1a (Westphal et al.).
48. Fifth Army History, Part V, p. 151.
49. 36th Div Rpt of Opns, May-Jun 44.
50. MS # R-50 (Bailey).
51. 9th MRU, Fifth Army American Battle Casualties, 10 Jun 45; 36th Div Rpt of Opns, May-Jun 44.
52. Frido von Senger und Etterlin, Neither Hope Nor Fear (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1964), p. 253.
53. VI Corps G-3 Jnl, 1-2 Jun 44, 021745B Jun 44, Tel, CG 45th Div to CG VI Corps.
54. Ibid., 021840B Jun 44; Tel, Fifth Army Adv CP to CG VI Corps.
55. Clark Diary, 2 Jun 44.
56. VI Corps G-3 Jnl, 020815B, 021415B, and 021840B Jun 44, Tels, Clark to Truscott.
57. 142d Inf Opns Rpt, Jun 44; 141st Inf Narr, Jun 44.
58. AOK 14, Ia Nr. Anl. 2411/44, 2 Jun 44, AOK 14 Doc. Nr. 590912/44.
59. VI Corps G-3 Jnl, 3-4 Jun 44; Fifth Army History, Part V, pp. 153-54.
60. VI Corps G-3 Jnl, 021500B Jun 44, Tel, Carleton to Harmon.
61. VI Corps G-3 Jnl, 3-4 Jun 44; Fifth Army History, Part V, pp. 153-54.