Along the Arno
While General Clark's decision to pause along the Arno during the second half of July had forfeited the temporary advantages provided by Operation MALLORY MAJOR through destruction of the Po bridges, timing of the aerial operation had been Alexander's responsibility rather than Clark's. Furthermore, General Clark saw several compelling reasons for holding his army south of the river, most important of which was the condition of men and equipment. The ports of Civitavecchia, San Stefano, and Piombino were just beginning to take up some of the slack caused by leaving Naples and Anzio far to the rear, but the essential port of Leghorn had yet to begin to function. Moreover, in Clark's opinion, the demands of Operation ANVIL had already deprived his army of the reserves necessary to continue the advance beyond the Arno without a pause for rest and reorganization.1 That was a theme to which the Fifth Army commander would frequently return. Since the Eighth Army would not reach the Arno between Pontassieve and Florence until the end of the month and would, like the Fifth Army, also have to pause and reorganize before continuing, MALLORY MAJOR's brief opportunities were forfeited by the Eighth Army as well.
That Crittenberger's IV Corps, at least, was desperately weary and in no condition to continue the advance beyond the Arno without pause there seemed little doubt. Everybody was near exhaustion and in desperate need of rest, although, as Alexander reminded Clark, no more so than the enemy.
There were organizational changes too that required a pause. The 1st Armored Division, then in corps reserve, had on 17 July also acquired a new commanding general, Maj. Gen. Vernon E. Prichard, former commander of an armored division in the United States. Like Ryder, General Harmon went home to assume command of a corps. Three days later the 1st Armored Division undertook a thorough reorganization, one that had been postponed since September 1943, when the U.S. Army had adopted a new Table of Organization and Equipment for armored divisions. Although the new organization was an outgrowth of the 1st Armored Division's own experiences in the North African campaign, the division had been unable to reorganize in September, since part of the unit had been fighting in Italy and the rest was in Algeria preparing to move to Italy. In the months since Salerno some elements of the division had been in almost continuous contact with the enemy. As the Fifth Army pulled up to the Arno, the time to make the changes had come.2
The 1943 TOE had cut the strength of an armored division from 14,620 men to 10,937, but because the 1st Armored Division had been understrength, less than a thousand had to be transferred. In essence, the reorganization eliminated one armored regiment as well as headquarters of the other two. In their stead were three separate tank battalions and three separate armored infantry battalions, which could be thrown together in various mixes with supporting units to form two combat commands, while new small headquarters, designated division trains, controlled the division reserve and supplies. The reorganization cut the number of medium tanks from 250 to 154. The basic reasons for the reductions were control and maneuverability, the old heavy division having proved ponderous.3
On 25 July headquarters of the II Corps, which had been in army reserve for the past few weeks, came forward on the army right flank to take control of the 85th, 88th, and 91st Divisions. Clark, nevertheless, intended no extensive operations along the Arno since he planned to conserve Keyes' corps to carry the main burden of the army's offensive against the Gothic Line north of the river.4
After the capture of Leghorn, Clark began to withdraw the Fifth Army's combat divisions to afford all a rest period off the line. To make that easier, he turned over a 10-mile sector of the defensive line to four automatic weapons antiaircraft battalions converted into infantry, thereby releasing a battle-weary 34th Infantry Division. Infantry units in rest areas furnished mortars, machine guns, automatic rifles, and radios to equip the antiaircraft battalions for their new role. Tank destroyers, tanks, and batteries of 3.7-inch and 90-mm. antiaircraft guns provided heavy fire support. Brig. Gen. Cecil L. Rutledge, erstwhile commander of the 45th Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade, commanded what became known as Task Force 45.
To make up for shortages in artillery and engineers in the Fifth Army caused by earlier withdrawals for ANVIL, Clark borrowed from his British counterpart some sixty miscellaneous artillery pieces and two battalions of Royal Engineers. He also borrowed an antiaircraft artillery regiment, which he converted into infantry and assigned to Task Force 45.5
Meanwhile, Clark began to regroup his army across a 30-mile front between the Ligurian coast southwest of Pisa and an interarmy boundary close to the Elsa River, which enters the Arno at a point four miles west of Empoli. Crittenberger's IV Corps held a 23-mile sector on the army left flank as far inland as the village of Capanne, five miles east of Pontedera. Keyes' II Corps held the remaining seven miles. Within
the IV Corps sector Task Force 45 held the coastal flank, and the newly reorganized 1st Armored Division moved forward from reserve to take up a position on the right, while a regimental combat team of the 91st Division held the narrow II Corps front.
That disposition permitted the bulk of the Fifth Army to rest, so that by mid-August Clark would have five divisions--four infantry and one armored--ready to resume the offensive, while Task Force 45 would have received sufficient infantry experience to be useful either as a follow-up or as a holding force. Two additional units were on their way to join the army: the Negro 92d Infantry Division and the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, the latter a division-size unit consisting of the 1st, 6th, and 11th Regiment Combat Teams with attached supporting units. Because of limited training and relatively low strength, neither division was expected for the next few months to have more than a defensive capability. Even with the addition of those two units, the Fifth Army would have the equivalent of but seven divisions, only half as many as in May along the Garigliano River at the beginning of the drive to Rome. Reductions had also occurred in the number of corps artillery battalions, twenty-two as compared with thirty-three, and additional battalions were soon to be withdrawn for Operation ANVIL. For an army that had come to depend heavily upon massive artillery fire, that cutback was disturbing.6
By the end of July all French troops, the majority of which were
AMERICAN PATROL ENTERING PISA
Moslem, had left the Fifth Army, but the arrival of the Brazilian troops in August would give the army's G-4 little relief from long-time problems of providing rations acceptable to men of several different nationalities with widely differing dietary customs and preferences. The Brazilian menu, for example, included considerably more sugar, lard, and salt than did the American while excluding tomato juice, dried beans of all types, and rice.7
The Germans meanwhile faced far more critical difficulties with their rations. Long plagued with short supplies, the Germans, as they withdrew northward, were forced increasingly to live off the land, and especially to draw upon the agricultural resources of the
fertile Po Valley. Furthermore, among the German troops the unaccustomed heat of a central Italian summer had caused considerable hardship from heat exhaustion and illness from tainted food.8
The Eighth Army
While the Fifth Army paused along the Arno west of Florence, the British Eighth Army continued to advance on a two-corps front over terrain as challenging as that encountered around Lake Trasimeno. Beyond Arezzo there loomed the Pratomagno mountain massif, a region of few roads or trails, stretching almost thirty miles northwestward and filling the fifteen-mile-wide area between two arms of the Arno where the river, flowing south from the Northern Apennines, makes a large loop northwest of Arezzo before flowing northwest toward Florence, turning again, and flowing westward to the sea. Two highways extended beyond Arezzo: Highway 71 northward along the east bank of the Arno to Bibbiena, located at the foot of the Northern Apennines at the junction with Highway 70, and Highway 69 northwestward along the west bank of the Arno as far as Inciso in Valdarno, whence the highway divided into two parts, one continuing west of the river to Florence and the second east of the Arno via Pontassieve to Florence. With the 10 Corps following Highway 71 toward Bibbiena and the 13 Corps the valley of the middle Arno toward Florence, the two corps would again diverge, as they had south of Lake Trasimeno.
By the end of July the 10 Corps' 4th Indian Division had reached the entrance of the upper Arno valley, and the 10th Indian Division had secured an area in the Sansepolcro plain; but there the divisions had to pause to regroup in order to sideslip to the west toward the Pratomagno massif.9 The 13 Corps, meanwhile, continued toward Florence without pause. General Kirkman sent the 13 Corps down the Arno valley, with the British 6th Armoured Division making the main effort on the corps right astride the river. On the corps left the 6th South African Armoured Division continued its advance west of the Chianti Hills, and in the center the British 4th Division maintained contact between the two armored forces. If the enemy continued to withdraw north of Arezzo, Kirkman intended to hold the 2d New Zealand Division in corps reserve. Otherwise, he intended to commit the New Zealanders to reinforce his main effort. The 13 Corps also had the 8th Indian Division, formerly with the 10 Corps, as well as the British 25th Tank Brigade from the army reserve and the 1st Army Artillery Group from the 5 Corps.10
The corps got going on 16 July on a broad front northwest of Arezzo. In a quick thrust beyond the city the 6th Armoured Division's 26th Armoured Brigade seized intact the Ponte à Buriano, a bridge across the upper Arno six miles northwest of the city, but the next day when the rest of the division attempted to cross, fire from high
ground to the northwest so disrupted the column that the commander ordered a search for an alternate crossing. The search located a ford concealed from enemy observation and fire, but after only a few hours' use it deteriorated so badly that it had to be abandoned.
There the British 6th Armoured Division might have been forced to halt, except that the next day, the 17th, the 6th South African Armoured Division gained the ridge of the Chianti Hills. From the high ground the South Africans were able to direct flanking fire against the Germans opposite the 4th Division in the corps center and on the eastern flanks of the hills. That forced the Germans to fall back far enough to enable the British armor to cross the Arno in strength and, by the 20th, to capture high ground near Castiglione Fibocchi.
It was clear at that point to General Kirkman that the Germans intended to make a stand to block the middle Arno valley and the lower slopes of the Pratomagno massif east of the valley with Schlemm's I Parachute Corps, which had the 1st Parachute, 15th Panzer Grenadier, and 334th Divisions deployed opposite the 13 Corps right flank in the Arno valley. West of the valley the 715th Light Infantry Division was in the process of relieving the Hermann Goering Division along a sector extending from the valley to the ridge line of the Chianti Hills. Having lost heavily in May at Anzio, the 715th Division had been reinforced and reorganized with replacements from the Reich. Although most of the men lacked battle experience, they were deployed in terrain so devoid of roads as to favor the defenders. West of the Chianti Hills, between Highway 2 and Route 222, the Germans had deployed the 4th Parachute and 356th Divisions across a ten-mile sector opposite the South African armored division.
After studying those dispositions and reflecting on the slight progress made thus far in the Arno valley, General Kirkman decided that the best route to Florence lay west of the Chianti Hills on his left flank, which General Leese was about to extend to take over the FEC sector from the Fifth Army. On 20 July he decided to shift the main effort to that flank and began moving there the 8th Indian Division and the New Zealand division from his reserve. The 8th Indian Division, with the armor of the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade in support, was to operate on the corps left flank, while the New Zealanders were to pass through the FEC's 2d Moroccan Division early on the 22d and drive northward toward the Arno River crossings at Signa, five miles west of Florence. To the New Zealanders' right the South Africans were to advance astride Route 222 to Impruneta, five miles south of Florence. To the South African division's right and east of the Chianti Hills, the 4th Division, supported by the 25th Tank Brigade, was to advance toward Pontassieve and cross to the north bank of the Arno at Poggio Alberaccio, seven miles east of Florence. The British 6th Armoured Division was to continue to operate on the right flank.
Thus regrouped, the 13 Corps resumed its advance on 21 July. For the next two weeks the corps battled its way through a series of well-sited and skillfully defended positions to within seven
AERIAL VIEW OF FLORENCE
miles of the Arno west of Florence. Late on 2 August the New Zealanders fought to the top of La Poggiona, high ground five miles southwest of Florence overlooking Highway 2 from the west, the last remaining favorable defensive terrain south of Florence and west of the Chianti Hills. With that loss those enemy forces still east of the highway began to thin out. By the morning of 3 August the Germans were in full retreat across the entire corps front.
Along Highway 2 during the night of 3 August the Imperial Light Horse of the 6th South African Armoured Division entered the southern portion of Florence and the next day reached the Arno. There the South Africans discovered that all of the Florentine bridges had been demolished except the picturesque Ponte Vecchio. Narrow and lined on either side with shops, the Ponte Vecchio was unsuitable for anything but foot traffic, and the Germans had blocked both ends with demolished buildings. West of the city the New Zealanders quickly closed up to the south bank of the Arno, and the 8th Indian Division secured the high ground above Montelupo, eleven miles west of the
city. By nightfall of 5 August the 13 Corps was in firm control of the south bank of the river from Montelupo eastward to Florence.
The German Situation
As the British approached Florence, Field Marshal Kesselring was conscious that with Leghorn, Arezzo, and Ancona already in Allied hands, all General Alexander needed to complete a system of logistical, communications, and operational bases from which to support and control an offensive into the Northern Apennines was Florence. The city and the Arno obviously constituted an advantageous delaying line before the Apennines. On the other hand, there were important arguments for abandoning Florence and the Arno.
The main argument was Kesselring's desire to preserve, as he had Rome, the city of Florence and its irreplaceable artistic and other cultural treasures. To that end, the German commander had on 23 June designated Florence an open city and ordered his army commanders to exclude all but internal security personnel from the city. That information was communicated indirectly through Vatican officials to the Allied command. Although General Alexander, as in the case of Rome, declined to issue a similar declaration, he was equally anxious to avoid fighting within the historic city.11
Similarly, to fight along the Arno and at other delaying positions short of the Gothic Line was to endanger the world-renowned artistic and architectural monuments of other Tuscan cities, such as Pisa, Lucca, and Pistoia. Even the city of Prato, a few miles northwest of Florence, contained important frescos by Fra Filippo Lippi. Moreover, stored in scores of villas and warehouses over the Tuscan countryside were priceless art treasures removed for safekeeping from Florence's famed Uffizi Gallery. Should an all-out battle develop along the Arno, those too would be endangered.12
The argument posed for Field Marshal Kesselring a critical choice. If he allowed the Allied armies to assault the Gothic Line without first having to fight through a series of forward delaying positions, he would run the risk of facing them in the Po Valley before the end of the year. He had given orders that Pisa and Florence were to be spared, but at the same time he had directed his army commanders to make the Allies fight for every gain between the Arno and the Northern Apennines. The orders were obviously inherently contradictory, since Florence, especially, was the key to the Arno position. To yield the city would necessarily lead to a withdrawal all along the north bank of the river.13
While the German commander weighed the pros and cons of holding the Arno position, his Allied opponents, despite Kesselring's unilateral declaration of Florence as an open city, harbored no doubts that he would contest,
as he had done so often before, every yard of defensible ground south of the city and possibly within it until forced to withdraw. Convinced that the Germans had yet to complete their defenses in the Northern Apennines, the Allied commanders believed that Kesselring still needed time and thus would attempt to hold along the Arno.14
As the front approached Florence, the Germans faced growing difficulties in keeping the civilian population of the city supplied with food, which had to be trucked from as far away as the Lombard plain, fifty miles to the north. The Fourteenth Army, in whose zone the city lay, was itself plagued by a shortage of transport to support its own operations and could spare few trucks to assist the hungry Florentines.15
Under those circumstances it was not surprising that, as the front neared the city, the German garrison faced mounting hostility from the population, but General Lemelsen prohibited any retaliation unless civilians engaged in hostile acts, such as guiding Allied troops over difficult terrain or informing them of the location of German positions. In such cases he did not shrink from authorizing strong punitive measures, including, in one case, reprisal by executing twenty-six civilians.16
On 31 July, as the British 13 Corps approached Florence, Lemelsen ordered destruction of all bridges within or near the city except the Ponte Vecchio.17 While that bridge is picturesque, art historians judge that it has little artistic merit in comparison with some of the others that the Germans destroyed. A consideration in Lemelsen's mind may have been that its military value was as slight as its artistic worth.
Meanwhile, after British artillery fire destroyed the electric power lines leading to Florence, conditions for the population worsened. All water supplies were cut off, thus further fanning a growing resentment toward the Germans, whom the Florentines, as the Romans before them, regarded as the authors of all their misfortunes.18
Evacuation of Florence
Faced with the near hopeless task of supplying a densely populated urban area with the necessities of living, Kesselring decided on 2 August to abandon the city, employing paratroopers to cover the withdrawal of Schlemm's I Parachute Corps. As the paratroopers fought with their backs to the Arno throughout 3 August, the fury of the battle threatened at times to engulf Florence, despite the mutual concern to spare the city. Allied artillery fire hit those quarters south of the river, and occasional long rounds smashed into the central city, hitting among other places the Piazza Museo Instituto del'Arte and the Ponte della Vittoria, one of the bridges left standing in spite of Lemelsen's order. Allied aircraft, flying close support missions, also fired into portions of the city on both sides of the Arno.19
The next day under strong pressure from the British, the Germans, having left combat outposts along the south bank, fell back beyond the Arno east and west of Florence. Under orders to make no stand within the city, the main body of the paratroopers withdrew to the Mugnone Canal on the northwestern edge of the city. That was to serve only as a brief delaying position before withdrawal into the Heinrich Mountain Line, another delaying position located in the Mugello Hills four miles north of Florence.20 After first providing the Florentines with a two-day ration of bread, General Schlemm on 7 August withdrew the last of his troops. As the Germans left, local partisans swiftly occupied those quarters of the city south and east of the canal.21
The Ligurian Flank
While Kesselring's attention had been understandably concentrated on his central sector in the vicinity of Florence during the first week of August, he nevertheless continued to cast anxious glances toward his Ligurian flank, which he had long considered a likely site for another Allied amphibious operation. Noting that some French units had been identified in northern France, he wondered if that meant that an attack against southern France was no longer contemplated. If not southern France, perhaps the Italian Riviera? As late as 10 August intelligence officers were giving equal weight to the possibility of landings in southern France and the Italian Riviera.22
Kesselring's apprehension increased on the 11th when reports from German aerial reconnaissance disclosed the presence along the west coast of Corsica of two Allied convoys, totaling seventy-five ships. While the Germans believed most of that force was headed for southern France, some concern remained that at least part of it might attempt to land along the Ligurian coast where Marshal Rodolfo Graziani's Italo-German Ligurian Army garrisoned the coast of the Gulf of Genoa to the Fourteenth Army's left rear. As if to underscore the concern, Lemelsen and Graziani placed both of their commands on full alert, and Lemelsen moved a motorized battalion to Lucca, ten miles northeast of Pisa, as a security force against possible airborne or amphibious landings.23 For the next few days the Germans waited tensely. Although a patrol captured several Americans from the 1st Armored Division, their interrogation confirmed only the obvious fact that the armored division had returned to the front.24 The Germans also observed artillery strongpoints, heavy vehicular traffic, and the assembly of armor south and southwest of the Arno. All seemed to point to a renewal of the Allied drive northward.25
On 15 August Kesselring's long period of watchful waiting and wondering what the Allies were going to do with
those troops assembling south of Rome ended when he learned of the U.S. Seventh Army's landing in southern France. Even then he expected that the Allies might yet attempt tactical landings between Genoa and La Spezia, the Italian naval base about fifty miles northwest of Leghorn. That was yet another example of Kesselring's obsession with the possibility of hostile amphibious operations against his flanks.26
Meanwhile, both sides continued to spar in the sectors flanking Florence, while the city itself was for several days a no-man's-land, controlled by roving partisan bands. Although German rear guards easily kept the partisans at bay along the Mugnone Canal, increasing difficulties in supplying minimum rations to the civilians in those suburban quarters still held by the Germans prompted General Lemelsen on 17 August to abandon the canal line. That night, Indian infantrymen, who had entered Florence on the 13th over the Ponte Vecchio, fanned out to take over the entire city.27
With the occupation of Florence the campaign of central Italy, which had begun four months before along the Liri and the Garigliano Rivers, came to an end. The Allied drive from the Tiber to the Arno, while less costly than the major battles of the May offensive south of Rome, had taken a heavy toll nevertheless. Beyond Rome the U.S. Fifth Army captured over 16,000 Germans, while the British, Poles, and Italians added more than 7,000. The Germans listed their combat losses from mid-June to mid-August as 63,500 killed, wounded, and missing. Between Rome and the Arno the U.S. Fifth Army toll was approximately 18,000 casualties, the Eighth Army 16,000. The Allied total was about half that of the Germans, representing a much better ratio than during the drive on Rome.28
On a clear day one could see from the Allied front lines the distant outlines of the Northern Apennines where for months the Germans had been constructing defensive works even more formidable than those of the Gustav Line south of Rome. The withdrawals for southern France accomplished, the peninsula cleared up to the Arno, Allied commanders could turn full attention to the planning for an offensive aimed at breaking those defenses.
1. Clark Diary, 8 Jul 44.
2. Howe, The Battle History of the 1st Armored Division, pp. 363-66.
3. For detail see Mary Lee Stubbs and Stanley Russell Connor, Army Lineage series, Armor-Cavalry, Part I, Regular Army and Army Reserve (Washington, D.C., 1969).
4. Interv, Mathews with Ladue, 17 June 48, CMH; Chester G. Starr, ed., From Salerno to the Alps: A History of the Fifth Army, 1943-45 (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1948), pp. 297-98.
5. Clark Diary, 17 Aug 44; Fifth Army History, Part VI, p. 99. A British AA regiment was the equivalent of a U.S. AA battalion.
6. AAI Order of Battle on withdrawal of ANVIL (DRAGOON) formations, BIGOT-ANVIL, an. II to app. D-5.
7. Fifth Army History, Part VI, p. 117.
8. German military records frequently comment on these problems.
9. Operations of the British, Indian, and Dominion Forces in Italy, Part II, Sec. D. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon this source.
10. Tank brigades, unlike armored brigades, were designed for attachment to infantry divisions.
11. AOK 14, Ia Nr. 4695/44/Geh., 23 Jun 44, in AOK 14, Ia KTB Nr. 3, Anl. 611.1, 30 Jun 44, AOK 14, 59091/4; MS # C-095c (Senger), CMH; Alexander Despatch, pp. 60-61. An interesting eyewitness account as to how both sides treated the so-called open city may be found in Nicky Mariano, Forty Years with Berenson (New York: Knopf, 1966), Appendix: "A month with the Paratroopers in the front line."
12. MS # C-095c (Senger), CMH.
13. MS # C-064 (Kesselring), CMH; AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 4, 2 Aug 44, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/1.
14. Msg, FX 80724, Wilson to Troopers, 9 Aug 44, AFHQ Cable Log file (OUT), 0100/4/43.
15. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 4, 21 Jul 44, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/1.
16. Ibid., 22 Jul 44; AOK 14, Opn. Order, Ia Nr. 3041/44 g. Kdos, 14 Jul 44, in Ia KTB Anl. 4, Anl. 723, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/4.
17. AOK 14, Ia KTB. Nr. 4, 26 and 31 Jul 44, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/1.
18. Ibid., 31 Jul 44.
19. Ibid., 3 Aug 44.
20. Ibid., 4-6 Aug 44.
21. Ibid., 7 Aug 44.
22. Greiner and Schramm, eds., OKW/WFSt, KTB, IV(1), pp. 507-12.
23. The Ligurian Army was actually more of a provisional corps headquarters than an army, somewhat similar to Armee Abteilung von Zangen, consisting of the fusilier battalion of the 34th Division, the 42 Jaeger Division, the 3d and 4th Italian Mountain Divisions. See AOK 14, Ia KTB Nr. 4, 12 Aug. 44, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/1.
24. Ibid., 10 and 13 Aug 44.
25. Ibid., 14 Aug 44.
26. Ibid., 15 Aug 44.
27. Ibid., 17 and 18 Aug 44; Operations of the British, Indian, and Dominion Forces in Italy, Part II, Sec. D.
28. Fifth Army History, Part VI, pp. 106 and 111; 9th MRU, Fifth Army American Battle Casualties, 10 Jun 45, CMH; Verluste der Wehrmacht, HI/176a, CMH. Of the 17,939 casualties in the Fifth Army, American casualties totaled 11,259: 1,933 killed, 8,777 wounded, 549 missing.