The Pursuit Ends
Strategic Priorities: France or Italy
As the Allied armies moved beyond Rome, the inter-Allied debate over Mediterranean strategy entered a second and more urgent phase. The first phase had ended when the American Chiefs of Staff reluctantly abandoned their plans for an Operation ANVIL timed to coincide with Operation OVERLORD. Now that OVERLORD had secured a firm toehold on northern France and Rome had fallen to the Allied spring offensive in Italy, that old question of which theater--Italy or southern France--would offer the best opportunity to contain German troops and thereby assist General Eisenhower's armies in northern France had yet to be decided.
Diversion of enemy forces from northern France was the bait that Alexander extended to his American colleagues in an effort to make his own Italy-first strategy more palatable to men whose attention for several months had been fixed on southern France rather than on Italy. The primary object of the Italian campaign was, in Alexander's words, "to complete the destruction of the German armed forces in Italy and in the process to force the enemy to draw to the maximum on his reserves."1 The greatest assistance the Allied forces in Italy could offer the invasion of northern France was to divert large numbers of German divisions from France. Alexander's intelligence officers believed that by 6 June the Germans had already committed an equivalent of six additional divisions in Italy; actually, they had moved only four. An additional six divisions were believed to be in the country but not yet committed, although only two of those were regarded as even approximating full combat effectiveness. In reality, the Germans after the loss of Rome had withdrawn five divisions for rest and reorganization in the rear, while a sixth, the 92d, was disbanded.
At the time the Germans began retreat beyond Rome, Field Marshal Kesselring controlled 24 divisions--19 in his two armies, 2 in army group reserve, and 3 en route into Italy. Many were understrength or inexperienced. Two, for example, were made up of Air Force personnel from airport security battalions, including antiaircraft artillery and searchlight units. Another was composed of former prisoners of war from Soviet Central Asia, while others, made up largely of overage and convalescent troops, were suitable only for coastal defense or garrison duty.2
Alexander concluded that by the time the Allied armies had fought their way to the Northern Apennines, Kesselring would have no more than the equivalent of ten fully combat-effective divisions with which to defend the Gothic Line. Yet Alexander believed that Kesselring would need at least twelve divisions for that task, and defense of his coastal flanks would require additional divisions of lesser caliber. Alexander believed the Germans would have to bring into Italy eight to ten fresh divisions from the nearby Western Front, rather than from the hard-pressed and more distant Eastern Front, which is what the Germans eventually did. Thus, so Alexander's argument ran, a vigorous continuation of the Allied offensive up the Italian peninsula could be expected to help the Allied drive across northern France and into Germany.3
Alexander calculated that after reaching the approximate line of Grosseto-Perugia (roughly, the Frieda Line), his armies during the second half of July would be prepared to mount a full-scale attack against the Gothic Line. That presupposed that Leghorn, the remaining port on the Tyrrhenian coast, and Ancona, on the Adriatic coast, would be in hand and providing necessary logistical backup for a 20-division force. Since those divisions would be full strength, they would be more than a match for twenty-four enemy divisions of lesser strength.4
Once past the Gothic Line, his armies, Alexander expected, would be able to continue without interruption to drive the Germans from the Northern Apennines, take Bologna, and, by late summer, establish in the Po Valley a base for operations directed most likely northeastward toward Austria and the mid-Danube basin, a long-time object of British strategic interest.5 Airfields of great value to the Allied air forces in the western Mediterranean also could be secured, and the agricultural products of the Po Valley denied the enemy.
These long-range predictions rested upon the assumption that the Allied ground and air forces then in Italy would remain; whereas on 12 June, only a week after Alexander had made them, General Wilson had informed him that the Allied Force Headquarters' American-dominated planning staff remained firmly wedded to the ANVIL operation, which would have to be mounted out of resources already in the Mediterranean theater. That meant giving up the U.S. VI Corps headquarters, the FEC, and three U.S. and two French divisions. Although the final decision on ANVIL was yet to be made, it was evident as early as mid-June that planning for it at the theater level had advanced almost to the point of no return.
When Wilson and Alexander met again on 17 June at Alexander's headquarters in Caserta, the two tried valiantly to salvage something of Alexander's proposed strategy. Since the
Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington no longer viewed the purpose of ANVIL as a diversion for General Eisenhower's armies, now that those armies were securely established in France, Wilson introduced a new variation of the diversion concept by observing that the Mediterranean theater's basic mission was to prevent the Germans from reinforcing armies in France. Alexander, in turn, elaborated on the theme by increasing his estimates of 6 June. If the Germans wished to retain the Po Valley, he maintained, they would have to reinforce their armies in Italy with ten to fifteen divisions by the end of June. Those reinforcements, Alexander reasoned, would have to come from France rather than from the hard-pressed Eastern Front or from the Balkans, long seething with partisan activity. If the Germans failed to reinforce, the Allied armies by mid-July would be in the Po Valley in a position to attack across the Adige River with ten to twelve divisions in mid-August and capture the Ljubljana Gap by the end of the month.6
Although this restatement of British strategic aims found support among the air force and naval commanders also present at the meeting, it found none at all with Wilson's American deputy and planning chief, General Devers, who again pointed out that diversion of enemy forces from northern France, desirable though that might be, was no longer General Eisenhower's primary strategic requirement. The Supreme Allied Commander instead needed a major French port for bringing in American troops and supplies. Only ANVIL would satisfy that requirement.
Later in the day the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Marshall, who had arrived in Italy for an inspection trip following a visit to Eisenhower's London headquarters, added weight to what Devers had said. There were, Marshall noted, forty to fifty divisions in the United States ready for commitment in France. Port facilities then available in northern France were insufficient to handle such a large force and its logistical support, and to stage the divisions through the United Kingdom was impracticable. Eisenhower needed a major French port--Marseilles--through which the reinforcements could move directly. Marshall added (undoubtedly with the British interest in the Danube basin in mind) the further caveat that the divisions were, in any case, unavailable for service elsewhere in the Mediterranean theater.7
As for Alexander's estimate that the Germans would fight to hold the Po Valley, Marshall believed they would opt instead for defending the Alpine passes. Alexander's projected offensive through the Northern Apennines and into the Po Valley thus would cause no diversion of enemy forces from any front, east or west.
Acknowledging the validity of Marshall's argument, Wilson pointed out that with available resources he would be unable to mount ANVIL while at the same time pursuing a major offensive in Italy. That was the theme adopted by the advocates of Italy-first when Allied commanders met two days later on 19 June to resume their discussions. This time the air commanders, Air Marshal Slessor and General Eaker, agreed with Wilson. Once the Allied armies reached the Northern Apennines and closed with the German defenses there, Eaker observed, a diversion of air power to support the attack on southern France would necessarily reduce the Italian campaign to a defensive action. Marshall countered with the observation that once the initial phase of Operation ANVIL was completed, Allied air power would be sufficient for both France and Italy.
Marshall's arguments apparently carried some weight with Wilson, for on the 19th he threw his support to ANVIL on the condition that the Combined Chiefs of Staff back Marshall's position on the paramount need for a major port in southern France.8 The following day, in a cable to General Eisenhower in regard to future operations in the Mediterranean theater, he reiterated the familiar British position that unabated and undiminished continuation of Alexander's offensive would divert so many divisions from the path of Eisenhower's armies in northern France that the Germans would face prospects of defeat before the end of the year. If, on the other hand, Eisenhower preferred to proceed with the invasion of southern France, Wilson cautioned that the operation could not be mounted before 15 August. This would, of course, prevent both an immediate diversion of enemy divisions from France and an immediate offensive by Alexander's armies against the Gothic Line, thereby giving the Germans a badly needed respite.
The next day, the 21st, word arrived from London stating what Wilson already knew from his conversations with Marshall, that Eisenhower remained firmly committed to ANVIL. For the remainder of the month of June, Prime Minister Churchill would bombard President Roosevelt with frantic appeals to salvage something of British plans for "a descent on the Istrian peninsula and a thrust against Vienna through the Ljubljana Gap"; but the President held firm in support of his military advisers. For all practical purposes 21 June represented the passing of the point of no return for the ANVIL operation. Southern France it would be, and the campaign in Italy would have to suffer the consequences.9
In the end the dire effects so many had predicted for the Italian campaign as a result of the decision in favor of ANVIL were short-lived and far less drastic than partisans of the Italy-first theme had imagined. Even the troop withdrawals in June and July tipped the balance only slightly against the Allies in Italy, and the situation would be fully
From the Trasimeno Line to the Arno River
21 June-5 August 1944
redressed in October. By that time the Allies were destined to have five fresh divisions in Italy, while the Germans would have moved four divisions from Italy to serve on other fronts.10
Breaking the Frieda Line
By 21 June the Allied armies in Italy had reached a line extending across the peninsula from a point on the Tyrrhenian coast, some 110 miles northwest of Rome, to the Adriatic coast at a point five miles north of Pedaso. The general trend of the front remained, as it had since the fall of Rome, with the Allied left advanced and the right refused.
On the left the Fifth Army was some 30 miles short of its intermediate goal, lateral Route 68, which, paralleling the Cecina River for 15 miles, connects the town of Cecina on the coastal highway with the ancient Etruscan hill town of Volterra, 20 miles to the northeast, thence another 15 miles to a junction with Highway 2 not quite midway between Siena and Florence. (Map IX) Key to the Fifth Army's program was the Tuscan Hills, a stretch of low, rolling terrain overlooking and paralleling Highway 1 from the east. Once the enemy had been cleared from those hills, the coastal corridor would provide an excellent route of advance. The crests are generally wooded and the lower, seaward-facing slopes covered with orchards and vineyards. Since it was summer, the vegetation was in full leaf and afforded the Germans, operating under Allied-dominated skies, desperately needed concealment. East of the hills and about five miles inland, a graveled secondary road wound northward through a series of stream valleys to a junction with lateral Route 68, eight miles east of Cecina.
About the latitude of Grosseto the trend of the coastline becomes more northwesterly, thus widening the IV Corps front and enabling General Crittenberger to employ for the first time two full divisions, the 36th Infantry and the 1st Armored. Relieving Ramey's task force, which had been screening the corps right flank, the 1st Armored Division was to clear the enemy from the hills overlooking the coastal corridor by moving along the axis of Highway 439, which joined lateral Route 68 five miles southwest of Volterra.11
Although Crittenberger, the IV Corps commander, realized that the hilly terrain was less favorable for armor than that assigned the 36th Division along the coast, he wanted to avoid the loss of time inherent in shifting divisions. He also believed that the Germans would concentrate on defense of the coastal flank and depend, as they had in the past, upon the more rugged hill terrain to aid them in the interior. A hard-hitting armored division with sufficient fire power could be expected to force the enemy from the hills and enable General Harmon's tanks to so threaten the flank of the Germans in the coastal corridor as to prompt their withdrawal. General Crittenberger, moreover, was aware that he soon was to lose the 36th Division and alerted General Ryder, commander of the 34th Division, to be prepared to relieve
Walker's 36th Division within the week.12
Learning of his latest assignment, General Harmon protested, as he had when his division had been committed in the Alban Hills south of Rome, that hill country was no place for tanks. He nevertheless again threw himself into his task with characteristic enthusiasm, gruffness, and salubrious profanity. To provide Harmon with additional infantry needed to support armor in hilly terrain where numerous defended barriers and roadblocks might be expected on narrow, winding roads, Crittenberger attached to Harmon's division the 361st Infantry (less one battalion).13 Unfortunately, those troops had never worked closely with armor, and the result would be less than ideal.14 To the armor Crittenberger also attached the 155-mm. guns of the 6th Armored Field Artillery Group, which were to provide reinforcing fires until the armored division had arrived at maximum range, whereupon the group was to shift westward to join the rest of the corps artillery in general support of the infantry along the coast.15
As the armor moved into the hills early on 21 June, Walker's 36th Division, less the attached 517th Parachute Infantry, continued along the coastal flank into a low range of hills between Highway 1 and the coast northwest of Grosseto. With the 142d Infantry on the left of the highway and the 143d Infantry on the right, the division encountered only scattered resistance en route to the Cornia River, about 10 miles away. In the process the advance would seal off a small peninsula and the little port of Piombino with valuable oil storage facilities.
For all the lack of determined resistance, the infantry's advance was considerably delayed by heavy rains on 22 June, but relief of Task Force Ramey during the day by the 1st Armored Division provided additional strength to assist the infantry on the 23d, both the 141st Infantry and the 517th Parachute Infantry. The paratroopers took over the 36th Division's left flank along the coastal highway, while the 141st Infantry joined the 143d Infantry for the drive toward the Cornia River. By nightfall on the 24th the two regiments had crossed the river and partially sealed off the Piombino peninsula, but the rear guard of the 19th Luftwaffe Field Division, retreating along the coast, got away before the last escape route could be cut.
The next day, the 25th, marked the 36th Division's last participation in the Italian campaign. After having been in action almost continuously since 28 May and having covered almost 240 road miles since the breakthrough of the Caesar Line at Monte Artemisio on 1 June, Walker's division pulled out of line in preparation for its role in southern France.
As had the earlier capture of Civitavecchia and San Stefano, the capture of Piombino would soon help to relieve pressure on Allied supply lines. Located midway between Civitavecchia and Leghorn, Piombino's harbor could handle twelve ships at a time. Like Civitavecchia, Piombino, with a prewar population
of 10,000, required extensive rehabilitation, but by the end of June the port was able to accommodate several ships. During the next three months, 377,000 tons of cargo and 1,477 vehicles were discharged and forwarded through the port, an amount almost twice that handled at Civitavecchia during the same period. In addition, 20,446 troops arrived there.16 The port's main drawback was the absence of a rail connection with the main line running northward from Rome, so that all cargo had to be forwarded by motor transport until mid-August when the Fifth Army engineers established a railhead nearby at Venturina. In addition to serving the Fifth Army, the port also received and forwarded a considerable part of the Eighth Army's ration and gasoline supplies pending capture of the Adriatic port of Ancona. Yet for all the help provided by the small ports, only Leghorn, Italy's third largest port--on 25 June still 40 miles northwest of the Fifth Army front--had facilities that could sustain a major Fifth Army offensive into the Northern Apennines, and the Eighth Army would have to have Ancona.17
Meanwhile, General Harmon's 1st Armored Division on 22 June had begun its part in the drive toward lateral Route 68. Although the air line distance was only 40 miles, the division would have to travel 120 miles over narrow, winding secondary roads to reach its objective. Here were the Tuscan Hills with steep-sided ridges, averaging 1,500 to 2,000 feet in height. To maintain firm contact with the French on his right, General Harmon ordered a preliminary move on the 21st by the 81st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion to establish contact with an Algerian division on the French left. Hardly had the battalion begun to move when heavy artillery fire drove the men to cover. Only after nightfall was the battalion able to accomplish its objective.
That artillery fire revealed the enemy's awareness of the armored division's presence opposite the XIV Panzer Corps. To forestall a possible breakthrough, the Fourteenth Army commander, General Lemelsen, had scraped together his remaining reserves and moved them into the corps sector.18
For the main attack General Harmon utilized two secondary roads: Highway 439 on the left for CCB and Route 73 on the right for CCA. As during the first week following the fall of Rome, the combat commands were subdivided into small task forces in order to facilitate using narrow side roads and trails to bypass demolitions and roadblocks on the main routes.19
Hardly had the armor begun to roll when General Harmon decided he needed more strength on the line. In early afternoon he inserted Task Force Howze from his reserve into the center to follow another secondary road. As it turned out, Task Force Howze made the day's longest advance: 5 miles. On the right, in the face of numerous obstacles covered by determined and accurate antitank fire, CCA managed to
gain only two miles. After losing heavily to an enemy ambush, CCB made even less progress. Over the next four days the rugged terrain and the enemy's roadblocks and demolitions continued to impose delays, but pushing forward doggedly, the division managed an average daily advance of five miles.
Along the coastal flank, General Ryder's 34th Division, after relieving the 36th Division on 26 June, had the 133d Infantry on the left astride the coastal highway, while in the center the attached Japanese-American 442d Regimental Combat Team took the place of the 517th Parachute Infantry, also scheduled for southern France. The 168th Infantry moved into position on the division's right.20
On the first day of the attack, the 27th, the 34th Division moved to within 15 miles of the intermediate objective, lateral Route 68. Paralleling that road for some 20 miles, the little Cecina River was of itself a slight military obstacle, but when defended by an enemy well established in a range of low hills beyond, it could become a formidable obstacle.
As the Fourteenth Army on Army Group C's right wing fell back toward the Cecina River and lateral Route 68, Kesselring prepared to occupy this terrain in strength by assigning to the XIV Panzer Corps the newly arrived 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division and the 19th Luftwaffe Field Division, the latter replacing the 20th Luftwaffe Field Division, which then moved to the Tenth Army. Kesselring also relieved the 162d Turkomen Division, which had been in action on the coastal flank almost continuously since 8 June, with the veteran 26th Panzer Division, thus returning the panzer division to Senger's XIV Panzer Corps. Two full corps, controlling between them eight divisions in line, with one in reserve, at that point manned the Fourteenth Army front from the Tyrrhenian coast eastward for some 35 miles to a boundary east of and parallel to Highway 2. Schlemm's parachute corps lay to the east and Senger's panzer corps to the west of that highway.21
Increased German strength was soon apparent to both attacking American divisions, the 34th and the 1st Armored. The 34th Division required an entire day to cover the six more miles toward Route 68 and the Cecina River and yet another to draw within two miles of the river. After dark, the 133d Infantry's Company K led the 3d Battalion in a dash for the river but in a maze of orchards and vineyards ran into an ambush that forced the rest of the battalion to halt and wait until dawn before resuming the advance. That was the first indication of the presence of the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division. Although the bulk of the division lay in corps reserve near Leghorn, One of its regiments had entered the line.22
The 1st Armored Division took four days to achieve a comparable advance, in the process crossing the upper reaches of the Cecina River where the stream runs several miles south of
Route 68. As the division's combat commands approached the road on the 30th, sharp resistance, mainly from the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division and newly arrived elements of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division, ensconced on the high ground along the road, brought the armor temporarily to a halt.23
Faced with evidence of German reinforcement, the 34th Division commander, General Ryder, decided to use his reserve, the 135th Infantry, to swing to the east in an effort to envelop what appeared to be the strongest defenses along the coast south of the town of Cecina. The regiment was first to relieve the attached 442d Infantry, then move along a ridge three miles inland that overlooked the coastal corridor and prepare to cross the Cecina four miles east of the coastal highway. Unfortunately for Ryder's plan, the high ground overlooking that particular sector of the river line was held by the 26th Panzer Division, a unit that had given good account of itself in the battles south of Rome.
At dawn on the 30th, Company E led the 1st Infantry's 2d Battalion across the river to establish a modest bridgehead, but when the battalion attempted to reinforce the bridgehead, heavy fire from the high ground pinned the men to the ground. A second effort, this time with armor support, came to grief when enemy antitank gunners destroyed all but two of a force of eleven Sherman tanks. The two surviving tanks withdrew under protective fire to the south bank, leaving only the beleaguered infantry clinging to the little bridgehead through 1 July.
Early on 2 July, the battalion tried a third time to reinforce the bridgehead. This time heavy corps artillery support and close air support from fighter bombers hammered the enemy-held high ground and carried the day. By nightfall the entire regiment had successfully crossed the Cecina and had begun to expand the bridgehead.
Resistance along the coastal route south of the town of Cecina meanwhile continued to be strong. When the 3d Battalion, 133d Infantry, resumed its attack early on the 30th, Company I in the lead required most of the morning just to recover ground lost the day before. Shortly past noon an enemy counterattack almost cut off the company from the rest of the battalion. The company saved itself only by withdrawing about 1,500 yards, thereby nullifying the gains of the forenoon. Heavy protective fires by supporting artillery finally brought the counterattack to a halt, but not before the enemy had destroyed two tanks and inflicted sharp casualties.
Since the 135th Infantry was still trying to secure its bridgehead, General Ryder saw no alternative to pressing the frontal attack by the 133d Infantry against Cecina with ever greater vigor. That the regimental commander, Colonel Schildroth, prepared to do late that afternoon when he relieved the weary 3d Battalion with the 1st Battalion, his reserve. Until darkness brought their operations to a halt, the 1st and 2d Battalions edged slowly forward, capturing six enemy guns, yet failing to drive the enemy from his positions south of Cecina.
AERIAL VIEW OF CECINA
The Germans managed to hold, but the effort had cost them so many casualties, mostly from Allied artillery fire, that the Fourteenth Army commander, General Lemelsen, decided to withdraw the right wing of the XIV Panzer Corps approximately five miles. Since the new position was no stronger than the one at Cecina, Lemelsen saw it as only another delaying line and told the XIV Panzer Corps commander to pull out the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division on the night of 2 July and move it to an area along the Arno River about seventeen miles west of Florence, there to constitute an army reserve in preparation for an eventual Allied attack against the line of the Arno.24
Before daylight on 1 July, men of the 133d Infantry, unaware that the Germans were preparing to withdraw, returned to the attack. Five hours later the 2d Battalion was inside Cecina's southeastern outskirts, where the men were checked briefly by stubborn rear guards. On the left the 1st Battalion got within 500 yards of the town, then early the following morning finally cleared paths through mine fields and soon
after daylight joined the 2d Battalion inside Cecina.
By mid-morning the battle of Cecina was over, the costliest for an American unit since the fall of Rome. Carrying the main burden of the 34th Division's frontal attack, the 133d Infantry alone lost 16 officers and 388 enlisted men killed, wounded, or missing.
The Capture of Volterra and Siena
As the fight for Cecina proceeded, General Harmon's 1st Armored Division, operating 20 miles inland along upper reaches of the Cecina River, renewed its efforts to cut Route 68 and gain the high ground beyond. That CCB achieved during the night of 30 June, moving onto the high ground immediately north of the lateral road four miles southeast of Volterra. Enemy artillery fire halted Task Force Howze two miles south of the road, a reflection of the presence of reinforcements from the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division. Only after Harmon had moved up the last of his reserves on 3 July was Howze's force able to drive the enemy back. In the meantime, seven miles to the southeast, CCA incurred numerous casualties in unsuccessful attempts to drive the enemy from a fortified village just south of Route 68, Casole d'Elsa. The village fell on the 4th to CCA and its attached 361st Infantry after three days of fighting that cost the armored regiment six medium tanks, three light tanks, and two tank destroyers. Over the next few days the 88th Division began to relieve the armor, which withdrew into army reserve, and one of the fresh regiments, the 350th Infantry, completed the conquest of Route 68 on 8 July by capturing the walled town of Volterra.25
As the IV Corps was advancing to Route 68, General Juin's French Expeditionary Corps on the Fifth Army's right wing was driving toward Siena astride Highway 2. Juin had the 3d Algerian Infantry Division on his left and, on his right, the 2d Moroccan Infantry Division.
Starting to attack on 21 June, the French soon found themselves bogged down opposite the Fourteenth Army's left wing, one of the most heavily defended sectors of the German front. There General Schlemm's I Parachute Corps had deployed from east to west the 356th Grenadier Division, the 4th Parachute Division, a regiment of the 26th Panzer Division, elements of the 20th Luftwaffe Field Division, and a regiment of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division. For the next five days, from 22 through 26 June, this strong enemy force held the French to a two-mile advance. Not until 26 June, after the neighboring 1st Armored Division had outflanked the enemy positions, did the Germans begin to withdraw and the French to make appreciable progress.
As the acknowledged head of all French forces fighting on the side of the Allies, General de Gaulle had assured Pope Pius XII that French troops would spare the historic city of Siena. Consequently, as Juin's corps approached the city, the French relied upon outflanking and bypassing maneuvers to cut off the enemy inside the city. While these tactics delayed entry, they succeeded in forcing the Germans
GENERALS CLARK AND JUIN AT SIENA
to evacuate the city so that when the first French troops entered at 0630 on 3 July they fired not a shot and not a single historic monument was damaged.26
General Juin immediately regrouped his forces to continue the advance, but with the capture of Siena much of the former élan of the French units had vanished. Even as they entered the city, General Juin received orders detaching many of his units for service with a newly formed I French Corps then assembling in the vicinity of Naples for the forthcoming invasion of southern France.27
Beyond Siena, across a 15-mile front, Juin deployed two divisions. the 2d Moroccan Infantry and the 4th Moroccan Mountain. The Germans, the Moroccans found, had turned road junctions near Colle di Val d'Elsa, 12 miles beyond Siena, and at Poggibonsi, 3 miles farther north, into strongpoints,
so that the French had to fight hard over the next four days before the enemy retired during the night of 6 July from the first of the two strongpoints. Before daylight on 7 July, Colle di Val d'Elsa and the high ground overlooking the town were in French hands. That evening the French too crossed Route 68 and continued their advance over winding mountain roads toward Poggibonsi.28
Although thirty miles of rugged terrain remained to be crossed before the Fifth Army would reach the south bank of the Arno, the worst of the terrain between Rome and the Arno at that point lay to the rear of Clark's army. As the French Expeditionary Corps prepared to continue its drive, Crittenberger's IV Corps, having moved about five miles beyond Route 68, prepared to close with the last German defenses south of Leghorn.
The Eighth Army
While the Fifth Army advanced to and beyond Route 68, the British Eighth Army had been operating on the wider of the two army fronts and over far more difficult terrain than had the Fifth Army. The front of the Eighth Army and the separate Polish corps meandered for almost 200 miles through the fastness of the Central Apennines and the less mountainous but still challenging terrain flanking Lake Trasimeno. Yet because of a superior road net, only the 30-mile sector flanking the lake was of strategic importance. It was there that General Leese had concentrated his main strength, the 10 and 13 Corps, to the east and west of Lake Trasimeno respectively. Because the lake divided the two corps, it was evident that in their assault on the Trasimeno Line they would at first proceed independently along separate axes fifteen miles apart. Once the waters of the lake were behind, a broad range of hills that divided the Chiana valley from the upper reaches of the Tiber River still would divide them. There would be no firm contact until they reached Arezzo, 20 miles north of the lake. The inability of each to influence the progress of the other would be a contributing factor to the success of the Germans over the next ten days (from 20 through 30 June) in holding the British to slow painstaking progress in some of the most difficult fighting encountered since crossing the Aniene and Tiber two weeks before.29
The Eighth Army's operational problems were further complicated after the advance beyond Rome to the Trasimeno Line had left the army's railhead and main supply base 200 miles to the rear. There were no ports on the Adriatic flank between Bari and Ancona. Although the Fifth Army's capture of the small ports on the Tyrrhenean coast helped to a degree to ease British supply difficulties, especially in gasoline, the Eighth's long lines of communication would remain until Ancona could be opened. In view of the supply problems, the Eighth Army probably would have been unable to maintain additional divisions at the front even had they been available.
General Leese, nevertheless, commanded a formidable and balanced force with which to carry out General Alexander's directive to capture Arezzo, Ancona, and Florence as bases from which to mount an offensive against the Gothic Line. On the army's left wing west of Lake Trasimeno General Kirkman's 13 Corps had an armored division, the 6th South African, and an infantry division, the British 78th, on line, and the British 4th Infantry Division in reserve. East of the lake General McCreery's 10 Corps included the British 6th Armoured and the 8th Indian Infantry Divisions. An Italian reconnaissance squadron screened the corps right flank in the foothills of the Central Apennines. There was no corps reserve.
The zone of the 13 Corps was bisected by a north-south belt of low, rolling hills overlooking two main roads on either flank--a secondary road to be followed by the South African armor on the left, and Highway 71 to serve as the axis of advance of the 78th Division on the right. The roads ran northward along the edges of what in prehistoric times had been the bed of a large lake, of which remain only Lakes Trasimeno, Chiusi, and Montepulciano, the latter two located some five miles southwest of Trasimeno. While offering terrain far more favorable than that to the east of the lakes, the region was intensively cultivated, and lush summer vegetation would conceal the enemy from Allied reconnaissance aircraft. The tactical problem of the attacking troops would be to secure a bisecting belt of hills, in the center of the corps zone, from which the enemy dominated the routes of approach to the east and west.
Opposite the 13 Corps lay the I Parachute Corps with three divisions in line: the Hermann Goering, 1st Parachute, and 334th Infantry Divisions. Their positions consisted mainly of field fortifications similar to those encountered elsewhere in Italy and supported by antitank guns well-sited in forward positions and supplemented by mortars and rockets. Ground and aerial reconnaissance of these positions had convinced General Kirkman, the 13 Corps commander, that he would have to employ all of his available forces when on 20 June he moved against the Trasimeno Line. While the 6th South African Armoured and the British 78th Infantry Divisions advanced on either flank, the British 4th Division was to move along secondary roads in the center and clear the dominating hills.
It took the 13 Corps eight days, until 28 June, to reach a point not quite halfway up Lake Trasimeno's western shoreline. That, nevertheless, put the corps well inside the Frieda Line, presenting the Germans with the possibility of an Allied breakthrough and prompting a slow withdrawal. The defensive battles along the Frieda Line had won for Field Marshal Kesselring an 8-day delay, but he paid a high price for it, for the Germans had lost 718 men as prisoners and probably more in dead and wounded. Over half the prisoners were from the 334th Division, which bore the brunt of the 78th Division's attack along Lake Trasimeno's western shore. Although some favorable defensive terrain remained short of the Northern Apennines, none would be as conducive to the defense as that which the Germans were forced to relinquish.
Operating east of Lake Trasimeno,
General McCreery's 10 Corps made little progress beyond the city of Perugia, some ten miles southeast of the lake. Since north of Perugia terrain was even more favorable to the enemy, General Leese, the Eighth Army commander, adopted a strategy that Alexander had employed earlier against strong defensive positions, advancing his left (13 Corps) en potence and denying his right (10 Corps). To that end, priority in men and matériel would henceforth go to Kirkman's corps to reinforce its drive on Arezzo, which on 28 June lay only 28 miles away. By the end of the first week in July McCreery's 10 Corps would be reduced to the strength of a two-division holding force, the 4th and 10th Indian Divisions.
While that was going on, the 13 Corps continued to press forward through a zone of hilly terrain ten miles deep, of which the enemy took full advantage to fight a series of staunch delaying actions. On 4 July the British 6th Armoured Division, withdrawn from the 10 Corps, gave new weight to the 13 Corps attack. During the morning the British armor ran a gauntlet of fire from a ridge overlooking Highway 71 from the east to capture the town of Castiglione Fiorentino, ten miles south of Arezzo, but from this point on, progress was slow, hampered by heavy rains and frequent demolitions, the latter covered by enemy mines and artillery fire. By the end of the day it had become clear that the Germans had reached another delaying position, from which they would have to be forcibly expelled. To the east the 10th Indian Division of the 10 Corps had by 6 July advanced beyond Perugia to capture Umbertide, ten miles north of Perugia and twenty-six southeast of Arezzo, but heavy enemy fire brought the Indians to a halt just four miles beyond the town.
Events had taken a similar course along the Adriatic flank, where, since 21 June, the Polish corps and the brigade-size Italian Corps of Liberation had reached a point twelve miles beyond Porto Civitanova, the eastern anchor of the Trasimeno Line. The Poles continued their advance during the first week of July to capture a town ten miles south of Ancona, and the Italians to reach the outskirts of another, fifteen miles southwest of the port. Thereafter, all efforts to push ahead failed in the face of resistance as determined as that before Arezzo.
Even as the Allied advance again came to a halt, this time just short of Leghorn, Arezzo, and Ancona, an ominous directive from the Allied Force Headquarters, Mediterranean Theater, reached General Alexander. Beginning on 5 July "an overriding priority for all resources in the Mediterranean Theater as between the proposed assault on southern France and the battle [in Italy] is to be given the former to the extent necessary to complete a buildup of ten divisions in the south of France."30 Although hardly unexpected, the directive nevertheless came as something of a shock, seemingly the final blow to a long-cherished hope, mainly British, but shared by many in Clark's headquarters as well, that the Italian campaign rather than ANVIL would somehow remain the
major Allied operation in the Mediterranean.
Not only the Allies but also the Germans proceeded to modify strategic guidelines that had determined their operations since the loss of Rome. Yet, unlike the Allies, the Germans were influenced more directly by events on the Italian battle front during the preceding three weeks. The success of the British Eighth Army's 13 Corps west of Lake Trasimeno and of the U.S. Fifth Army's IV Corps along the Cecina River and Route 68, as well as the advance of the 2 Polish Corps along the Adriatic to within striking distance of Ancona, impelled Field Marshal Kesselring to summon his army commanders to a conference late on 1 July at his headquarters near Florence. There the German commander revealed that a growing shortage of both replacements and matériel forced him to modify OKW's strategic guidelines calling for maximum resistance along successive lines. While such tactics had served to delay the Allies along the Frieda Line for ten days (20-30 June), it had cost the Germans heavily in men and equipment. In view of growing demands from other fronts, there was little likelihood that those losses would be made up soon.
Instead of maximum resistance along successive lines, Kesselring said, the army group would try to hold along selected lines until the main forces had withdrawn to secondary, or switch, positions in sufficient strength to prevent a breakthrough. Along the first of those lines, there were three widely separated sectors of primary interest to the field marshal: Rosignano Solvay, 12 miles south of Leghorn; just north of Cortona, covering the southern approaches to Arezzo; and along the Musone River, 12 miles south of Ancona. Kesselring expected to check the Allies in those sectors as long as his limited resources would allow before falling back to a final delaying position along the Arno. That line ran from Pisa on the Ligurian coast along the Arno to Florence, thence over the mountains and along the north bank of the Metauro River to the Adriatic. Delays along those two lines would gain time to improve the Gothic Line positions in the Northern Apennines. It was as obvious to the German commander as to his Allied opposite, General Alexander, that before the Allied armies could mount a serious threat to the Gothic Line they first would have to secure and rehabilitate the ports of Leghorn and Ancona and would also need the communications centers of Arezzo and Florence.31
If either commander needed further proof that his campaign had been relegated to a secondary position, that of a large-scale holding operation, the decisions required of them during the first week of July provided it. On the Allied side, the U.S. Fifth Army had been stripped of many of its best units to swell the ranks of the forces preparing to open another front in France, while the German armies would have to get along without major replacements of men or equipment, to enable the Reich to reinforce other more critical fronts. The two decisions would, in effect, cancel one another out, so that when the Allies attacked yet another German line, they would find the situation in Italy basically unchanged.
1. See AAI Msg, MA 1364, 6 Jun 44, AAI to AFGQ, in Operations of British, Indian, and Dominion Forces in Italy, Part II, Sec. A, App. D-2.
2. Greiner and Schramm, eds., OKW/WFSt, KTB, IV (1), pp. 515-23.
3. Ibid.; SAC Despatch, The Italian Campaign, 10 May to 15 Aug 44.
4. SAC Despatch, The Italian Campaign, 10 May to 15 Aug 44.
5. Although Alexander's recommendations also included a suggestion that operations might be mounted against France from the Po Valley, a glance at the terrain and a knowledge of British desires and intentions prompts the conclusion that this was only verbal dust to be thrown into the eyes of American advocates of Operation ANVIL (southern France).
6. Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944; Michael Howard, The Mediterranean Strategy in the Second World War (New York: Praeger, 1968); Trumbull Higgins, Soft Underbelly: The Anglo-American Controversy Over the Italian Campaign, 1939-45 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1968). These works discuss the consequences of the military versus the political-military aspects of American versus British decision making.
7. Never enthusiastic about a major campaign in Italy, General Marshall had agreed to operations in southern Italy and a push toward Rome only to get a firm holding position while landing craft were being shifted from the Mediterranean to England for OVERLORD. See Pogue, George C. Marshall, Organizer of Victory, 1943-45, p. 295.
8. Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-44, p. 470.
9. Ibid., pp. 472-75. In early August the British made a final effort to persuade the Americans to either land ANVIL forces through Breton ports or permit them to remain in Italy for an advance into the middle Danube Basin. On 1 August the code designation for Operation ANVIL was changed to Operation DRAGOON.
10. For a detailed analysis of this debate as it influenced the campaign in southern France, see Robert Ross Smith, The Riviera to the Rhine, in preparation for the series, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.
11. IV Corps AAR, Jun 44.
12. Interv, Mathews with Ladue, 17 Jun 48, CMH; IV Corps AAR, Jan 44.
13. Howe, Battle History of the 1st Armored Division, pp. 354-55.
14. IV Corps AAR, Jun 44, Interv, Mathews with Ladue, 17 Jul 48.
15. Interv, Mathews with Ladue, 17 Jul 48.
16. Leo J. Meyer, MS, Strategy and Logistical History of the Mediterranean Theater, ch. XXIX, CMH.
18. AOK 14, Ia KTB, Nr. 3, 22 Jun 44, AOK 14, 59091/1.
19. 1st Armd Div, AAR, Jun 44.
20. IV Corps AAR, Jun 44.
21. Greiner and Schramm, eds., OKW/WFSt, OKW, IV (1), pp. 525-28.
22. IV Corps AAR, Jun 44; 133d Inf Opns Rpt, Jun 44; German Lagekarte, Jun-Jul 44; Fifth Army G-2 Rpts, Jun-Jul 44. Unless otherwise indicated the following section is based upon these references.
23. Howe, Battle History of the 1st Armored Division, pp. 356-60.
24. AOK 14, Ia KTB Nr. 4, 1 Jul 44, AOK 14, 62241/1.
25. Howe, Battle History of the 1st Armored Division, pp. 360-61.
26. Le Goyet, La Participation Française à la Campagne d'Italie, p. 168; Fifth Army History, Part VI, pp. 70-76.
27. Interv, Mathews with Ladue, 17 Jan 48, CMH.
29. Operations of the British, Indian, and Dominion Forces in Italy, Part II, Sec. D. Unless otherwise indicated the following section is based upon this reference.
30. SAC Despatch, The Italian Campaign, 10 May to 12 Aug 44, p. 54.
31. AOK 14, Ia KTB Nr. 4, 1 Jul 1944, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/1.