In studying ancient combat, it can be seen that it was almost always an attack from the flank or rear, a surprise action, that won battles, especially against the Romans.
COLONEL ARDANT DU PICQ, Battle Studies: Ancient and Modern Battles.
Planning for the Offensive
The Approach to the Gothic Line: Concept of Operation OLIVE
25 August 1944
The Allied campaign in central Italy over, some of the hardest battles and the most challenging terrain of the war in western Europe still faced General Alexander's armies as they prepared to attack in the Northern Apennines. In the months to come the character of those mountains and the soggy plain of the Romagna, northeast of the Apennines largely within a triangle formed by three major roads linking the cities of Rimini, Ravenna, and Faenza, would play an important role in determining the fortunes of friend and foe alike.
Extending from the Ligurian Alps just north of Genoa, Italy's major commercial port, the Northern Apennines form a great arc extending southeastward across the peninsula, almost as far as the Adriatic coast south of Rimini, before turning southward to become the Central Apennines, the rugged spine of the Italian peninsula. The northern face of the Apennines is friendly, sloping gradually and invitingly toward the Lombard plain and the valley of the Po, while the southern face is hostile, dropping sharply and formidably into the Arno valley and a narrow coastal plain south of the naval base of La Spezia, 45 miles northwest of Leghorn. (Map X)
Although the dominant alignment of the Northern Apennines is northwest to southeast, erosion by numerous traverse streams draining both slopes of the range has cut long and irregular spurs extending northeast and southwest and left isolated peaks along the highest ridges. The range's summits rise from an elevation of 300 feet along the edge of the Lombard plain to an average crest elevation of 3,000 to 3,600 feet. Above the ridges some summits exceed 4,000 feet and in the western part of the range, 6,000 feet.
The water divide of the Apennines is not the crest line but instead a line of high ground crossed by several passes, all over 2,700 feet in elevation. Most of the water courses run relatively parallel to one another, flowing either northeast into the Po Valley, or south into the Arno River, or the Ligurian Sea. Only a few, such as the Sieve, which flows almost due east through a valley fifteen miles north of Florence, fail to conform to the pattern. The deep valleys cut by the mountain streams, together with the irregular geology of the range, divide the Northern Apennines into countless compartments marked by broken ridges, spurs, and deep, pocket-shaped valleys providing a series of excellent defensive positions.
In contrast to the more hospitable and intensively cultivated hill country of central Italy west of the Central Apennines, the Northern Apennines afford little opportunity for cross-country or lateral movement by either wheeled or
tracked vehicles. In many areas in 1944, cart tracks or mule trails were the only routes between villages. As elsewhere in Italy, grain fields, vineyards, and olive groves were spread across the valleys, hills, and lower slopes of the mountains. On the upper slopes, where there had been little erosion, chestnut, scrub oak, and evergreen forests abounded. Elsewhere centuries of erosion have exposed precipitous bare rock slopes, sheer cliffs, and razor-backed ridges.
In late September the autumn rains often turn normally small mountain streams into torrents, flooding roads and washing out culverts and bridges. With the rains in the fall of 1944 came fog and mist swirling around the mountain peaks, filling the narrow valleys, and reducing visibility to zero. At the higher elevations snow began falling in late October and in midwinter periodically blocked the passes.
Just north of Florence the foothills of the Northern Apennines extend to within a few miles of the Arno. West of the city the foothills curve northwestward, rising above a wide plain north of the river. Two spurs, extending southeast from the mountains, divide the plain into three parts. Fifteen miles west of Florence, from an elevation of 2,014 feet, the Monte Albano ridge dominates the eastern half of the plain and, four miles northeast of Pisa, the 3,001-foot Monte Pisano massif dominates the western half.
Numerous roads crossed the plain. A four-lane autostrada ran along its northern edge, connecting Florence with Pistoia and Lucca and the coastal road northwest of Pisa. A good secondary road network tied those towns with the fertile Tuscan countryside, criss-crossed by numerous drainage canals. Although in dry summer months the valley provided excellent terrain for military operations, the complex system of ditches and canals could be exploited as antitank obstacles.
The main roads that traversed the mountain range followed the dominant northeast-southwest pattern of the spurs and stream lines. An exception was the Florence-Bologna highway which followed a north-south axis. From the Arno valley twelve all-weather roads crossed the Apennines to the Lombard plain and the Po Valley, but only five figured prominently in Allied planning for the offensive against the Gothic Line. Most of the others, especially those west of Pistoia, either crossed mountainous terrain unsuited for large-scale military operations or led to points of little strategic interest. In addition, several secondary roads that would figure later in the offensive threaded across the mountains through narrow stream valleys to the Po Valley. Numerous curves, steep gradients, and narrow defiles made those roads a challenge even to peacetime motorists. Few bypasses of bridge crossings existed, and during heavy rains landslides frequently blocked the roads.
Roads available to the Allies south of the Arno were fewer than those the Germans might use for their support in the Po Valley, and heavy military traffic had left most in a bad state of repair. The U.S. Fifth Army's western sector had better lines of communications than those occupied by the British Eighth Army east of the Central Apennines, and to compound the issue, in winter the few existing roads were more frequently covered with ice and
snow than those west of the Apennines.
The rail lines also favored the west coast, for two of Italy's best railroads, both double-tracked, paralleled the coast west of the Apennines. If worked to capacity the lines could deliver an estimated 10,000 tons daily in forward railheads. On the east coast north of San Severo there was only a single-track line over which a peak capacity of about 3,000 tons per day could be delivered to the railhead.
On the German side of the mountains one of the tactically most useful roads in the Po Valley and Lombard plain was Highway 9 (the old Via Emilia), which paralleled the northern base of the Apennines and ran from Rimini on the Adriatic northwestward to Milan, the industrial and population center of the region. The cities of Cesena, Forli, Bologna, Modena, Reggio, and Parma, all northern termini for roads crossing the Apennines, were located along the highway. The road thus was an important factor for enabling Kesselring to shift his forces rapidly behind his front and keep supplies moving into the mountains.
Although the valley's excellent road and rail network gave the Germans shorter and better lines of communications, Allied air superiority created serious problems, especially with the railroads. All of the frontier lines entering Italy, except those on the east and west coasts, crossed vulnerable Alpine passes and converged at the foot of the Alps at important junctions where traffic was rerouted for different parts of Italy: Genoa, Turin, Milan, Verona, Trieste, and Mestre (rail terminal for Venice). With the exception of Genoa, all of these cities lay on an east-west trunk route from Turin to Trieste and had connections with the distribution centers of Genoa and Bologna, which controlled most of the traffic from the north into peninsular Italy. Destruction of those junctions, or one of the railway bridges before the junctions, would have disrupted Italy's north-south as well as east-west rail traffic. The fact that the Italian railways had few loop lines for decentralizing the main traffic streams made them particularly vulnerable, although thus far the Germans and their north Italian allies had shown a remarkable ability to keep people and goods moving between the Alps and the Apennines.1
The Gothic Line
In developing the Gothic Line in the Northern Apennines, the Germans had created a defensive zone in considerable depth. The origins of the defenses actually antedated the Italian campaign. In August 1943, before the Allied landings in southern Italy, Field Marshal Rommel, then Army Group B commander in northern Italy, had begun reconnaissance for defensive positions in the Northern Apennines, whence the Germans might withdraw in the event of an Allied invasion of Italy.2
Reconnaissance for the projected defensive zone continued throughout the
remaining months of 1943, but actual work began only in the following spring under a paramilitary German Construction agency, Organization Todt, employing several thousand Italian civilians. From the vicinity of Massa on the Ligurian coast about forty miles northwest of Leghorn, the Gothic Line extended eastward along the ridge line of the main Apennines chain to foothills north of the Foglia River. From there the line ran along the crest of one of the range's many spurs to Pesaro on the Adriatic coast, some forty miles northwest of Ancona. The line covered a total air line distance of some 180 miles.
When Kesselring became senior German commander in Italy, he turned attention away from the Northern Apennines, in keeping with his plan to stand instead in the south. Until the spring of 1944 little of the Gothic Line existed except as pencil markings on maps in the German headquarters; but the rapid collapse of the front south of Rome in late May and early June, as well as instructions from the high command, finally prompted Kesselring to refocus on the Northern Apennines. In early summer antitank defenses on the more exposed sectors of the projected line were strengthened with mine fields and the civilian population was evacuated from a "dead zone" 20-kilometers deep in front of what would become the main line of resistance. Within that zone all roads, bridges, and communications facilities were either to be destroyed or prepared for demolition.
After the U.S. Fifth Army broke through the Caesar Line in June, Hitler had ordered construction work on the Northern Apennines positions accelerated. By July the western portion of the Gothic Line had been completed. That that segment was finished first was attributable not to the importance with which the Germans viewed the western portion but to its relative unimportance, so that the positions there were less complex. A breakthrough in the west would be no real attraction to the Allies, the Germans reasoned, since it would cut off no large bodies of German troops from their lines of communications with Germany. Moreover, few roads traversed the sector. The two most important, Highways 12 and 64, crossed the mountains, respectively, at Abetone Pass, about twenty-three miles northeast of Lucca, and at Porretta, some seven miles north of Pistoia. The Serchio River valley north of Lucca, the Reno valley north of Pistoia, and the Arno-Savio valley, all penetrating deep into the region, were narrow and easily defended, thus unlikely avenues of Allied attack.
The two most vulnerable sectors of the Apennines defensive zone were to be found in the central sector north of Florence, where the range is at its narrowest, and on the eastern sector south of Rimini, where the mountains fall away into low foothills and to a narrow coastal plain. In the central sector north of Florence, Highway 65 linked that city with Bologna--55 miles away--across two passes, the Futa and the Radicosa; and a good secondary road from Florence via Firenzuola to Imola, in the Po Valley twenty miles southeast of Bologna, crossed the mountains over Il Giogo Pass. On the eastern sector the coastal corridor offered a wider choice of passage to the Po Valley.
Although Kesselring had long regarded those two sectors as the most likely targets of an Allied offensive, construction on defensive works in both sectors fell behind schedule until well into the summer of 1944. On the eastern sector, an inspection in July of antitank defenses between Monte Gridolfo and the Adriatic port of Pesaro disclosed serious deficiencies. Although a complex series of antitank mine fields had been planned, only 17,000 mines, mostly of Italian manufacture, were in place by mid-July. Low brush-covered hills in that sector afforded excellent concealment and valleys and ravines at right angles to the line of defense provided covered routes of approach for troops coming from the south, yet only one antitank position had been completed. With time running out, Kesselring decided to rely instead upon a combination of antitank emplacements within the main line of resistance and a mobile reserve of self-propelled antitank guns, a tactic that had worked well in the Caesar Line south of Rome. Yet it had one serious shortcoming: vulnerability to Allied airpower. Since the Allies dominated the skies, shifting antitank guns or anything else during daylight was always hazardous. Furthermore, about 150 88-mm. guns would be needed and it was doubtful whether that many would be available in time.3
That this and other deficiencies were not corrected immediately was confirmed by a second inspection of the line in early August. Many defenses in no way met requirements, and a number of terrain features which permitted hostile observation deep into the defensive zone and which should have been incorporated into the main line of resistance were left undefended forward of it. In many areas no fields of fire had been cleared and, in some cases, access roads constructed in order to build the defenses would actually aid the Allies in getting into German positions.4
Later in the month when Kesselring himself inspected the vulnerable sectors of the line, he found that considerable late progress had been made, especially on the Adriatic flank, which earlier had bothered him so much. Yet as he pointed out to the Tenth Army commander, Vietinghoff, the antitank ditches and wire entanglements, most of which had been constructed far to the front of the main line of resistance, would have been of more value if incorporated into the main defensive zone so as to be a surprise to attacking troops.5
The Germans continued to improve the defenses during the last weeks of August. On the Tenth Army front an Italo-German engineer force under army command completed positions in a so-called advance zone (Vorfeld) of the Gothic Line, located along high ridges between northeastward flowing rivers, the Foglia and the Metauro. On the left flank engineers worked on a coastal defense position, the Galla Placidia Line, named by a whim of an imaginative German staff officer after the Byzantine princess whose tomb was an artistic treasure of nearby Ravenna. The line extended in a westerly direction from the Adriatic resort town of
Cattolica, ten miles northeast of Pesaro, westward for ten miles to the eastern boundary of the neutral city-state of San Marino, whose neutrality Field Marshal Kesselring had instructed General Vietinghoff to respect. From the northwest corner of the miniature state, the line continued seven miles in a northwesterly direction through the town of Sogliano to the Savio River three miles to the west, thence along the Savio valley northeastward to the Adriatic ten miles south of Ravenna. Although the line was primarily intended as a defensive zone against an attack from the sea, in some sectors, especially between Cattolica and the Savio River, it could also be used as a switch position for the Gothic Line. That possibility was important, for although a switch position designated Green Line II had been reconnoitered about eight to ten miles behind the Gothic Line, little work had been accomplished on it.6
Following withdrawal behind the Arno, and to deploy their units to best advantage, the Germans shifted some corps and divisions, especially in the sector held by Vietinghoff's Tenth Army and on Army Group C's flanks. On 8 August the Tenth Army's two corps exchanged places in line. Feuerstein's LI Mountain Corps moved into the mountainous sector on the army right wing adjacent to the Fourteenth Army's I Parachute Corps, and Herr's LXXVI Panzer Corps moved to the Tenth Army's left flank where the low hills of the coastal corridor were better suited to the corps' long experience in operations with mobile formations.7
In the mountains east of Florence the LI Mountain Corps commanded five divisions: the 715th, 334th, and 305th Divisions and the 114th Jaeger Division; the 44th Division was in corps reserve. Manning the LXXVI Panzer Corps front were three divisions: the 5th Mountain and the 71st and 278th Divisions. When the panzer corps fell back into the Gothic Line, it was to take control also of Group Witthoeft's 162d Turkomen and 98th Divisions, in reserve positions guarding the coastal flank south and north of Rimini. Guarding the coastal regions at the head of the Adriatic northeast of Venice were the 94th Division at Udine and the 188th Reserve Division on the Istrian peninsula. The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division and 1st Parachute Division were in army reserve on the Romagna Plain north of Highway 9.8
To the Tenth Army's right, between Florence and Pisa, Lemelsen's Fourteenth Army still had two corps: Schlemm's I Parachute from Florence to Empoli, and von Senger's XIV Panzer westward from Empoli to the sea. The parachute corps controlled the 4th Parachute and 356th and 362d Infantry Divisions; the panzer corps, the 65th Infantry and 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Divisions. In army reserve near Bologna were the 29th Panzer Grenadier and 26th Panzer Divisions, and along the coast fourteen miles northwest of Pisa, the 20th Luftwaffe Field Division.9
Presence of the Ligurian Army under Italian Marshal Graziani along the coast farther north was testament to Kesselring's continuing concern for his vulnerable western flank. Created on 3 August, this new army replaced the former Armee Abteilung von Zangen, which earlier in the campaign had operated on the Adriatic flank of Army Group C. Graziani's Ligurian Army consisted of two corps: Korps Abteilung Lieb, a provisional corps headquarters--under the command of the 34th Division commander, Generalleutnant Theobald Lieb--which, in addition to Lieb's division, also controlled the Italian Division "San Marco," the 4th Mountain Battalion, and the Mittenwald Mountain Warfare School Battalion. The second headquarters, Generalleutnant Ernst Schlemmer's LXXV Infantry Corps, originally created to guard the Franco-Italian frontier, commanded the 42d Jaeger and 5th Mountain Divisions and the Italian Mountain Division "Monte Rosa." By mid-August Graziani's Ligurian Army had responsibility for the coastal defenses from the vicinity of the naval base of La Spezia northwestward past Genoa to the frontier.10
In mid-August, as the Allied forces began advancing up the Rhone Valley after DRAGOON's successful landings on the Mediterranean coast of France, Field Marshal Kesselring shifted the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division to the Franco-Italian border to secure the Alpine passes there, for over those passes French armies under two Napoleons had invaded Italy to win control of Lombardy on the battlefields of Marengo and Magenta. Yet in late August of 1944 Field Marshal Kesselring was more concerned about extricating from France two divisions--the 157th Mountain and the 148th Reserve--which OKW had transferred from Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz's Army Group G to Army Group C. Early in September Kesselring would relieve the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division with the 5th Mountain Division from the Tenth Army. The panzer grenadier division was then moved into Army Group C reserve along the Adriatic coast east of Venice. Until winter snows closed the passes from the Haute Savoie into the Italian Piedmont, the Germans would keep a watchful eye on the Franco-Italian frontier, for Kesselring believed that the Allies in France might be tempted to follow the ancient invasion trail and descend upon the Turin-Milan industrial complex of northwestern Italy.11
Changes in Allied Strategy
Even as Kesselring's engineers rushed to put finishing touches to their defensive works in the Apennines, Field Marshal Alexander decided upon significant changes in his plan to break through the defenses. That decision was made on 4 August at a conference among the senior British commanders gathered in the shadow of a wing of a Dakota aircraft on the Orvieto airfield at Eighth Army headquarters. The proposal to change the earlier plans had come from the army's commander,
General Leese, and "arose," as Field Marshal Alexander later described it, "from his [Leese's] judgment of his army's capabilities and the manner in which it [the army] could best be employed."12
Alexander had originally planned for the Fifth and Eighth Armies, their strength concentrated on contiguous wings, to launch a joint offensive by four army corps, controlling fourteen divisions, against the Gothic Line's central sector north of Florence. The armies were to attack simultaneously along parallel axes: the Eighth along the main routes between Florence and Bologna and the Fifth from either Lucca or Pistoia (preferably the latter) toward Modena, in the Po Valley twenty-five miles northwest of Bologna. Since Alexander doubted that Clark's forces would be strong enough to exploit much beyond Modena, and since the Eighth Army was the larger, the Allied armies commander had given Leese's army the task of exploiting to the Po.
Yet as the pause along the Arno lengthened into weeks, General Leese became convinced that the geographically vulnerable Adriatic flank and not the central sector north of Florence would be the most favorable point for the main attack against the Gothic Line. Kesselring had reached a similar conclusion and had shifted the center of gravity of his army group to a 20-mile-wide sector on the Tenth Army's left wing.13
General Leese's argument ran something like this: with the departure of the French Expeditionary Corps, units in the Allied armies trained and experienced in mountain warfare were few. An offensive concentrated not in the mountains but against the eastern flank of the Apennines chain, where the mountains give way to a low range of foothills overlooking a narrow coastal plain, would offer terrain better suited to the Eighth Army's mobile capabilities. There Leese also could better exploit the advantage of his superior firepower in support of a series of set-piece attacks against successive positions in the low hills between the Metauro and Foglia Rivers. Furthermore, a breakthrough in that sector would carry Allied troops more quickly onto the plain north of the Apennines than in the central sector north of Florence; and General Leese believed, erroneously, that Kesselring expected no major Allied effort in the east. An attack in the east would also reduce the forces needed for flank protection, for Clark's Fifth Army represented sufficient protection for the left flank of the main attack, and shifting eastward toward the coast would enable General Leese to rely on the coast itself for right flank protection, plus a small fleet of destroyers and gunboats. The new plan called for naval bombardment and small-scale amphibious assaults against the enemy's Adriatic flank.14
Although unstated at the time, the shift of the main offensive would also harmonize more closely with the strategic goals even then being persistently upheld in Allied councils by Prime
Minister Churchill: a thrust from northeastern Italy through Slovenia, toward which Tito and his Yugoslav partisan army were moving, and into the valley of the mid-Danube, objective of the southern wing of the Red Army. Later in the month, after the Russians overran Rumania, the military logic of Churchill's arguments and Alexander's eastward shift of the locale of his main offensive would seem in British eyes compelling.15 To what degree, if any, Churchill's views influenced, or indeed, determined Alexander's decision to change his original plans for the Gothic Line offensive, can, at best, only be inferred.
In any case, Leese's argument appealed to Alexander, who readily accepted it.16 Yet when he first submitted the new concept to the theater commander for approval, General Wilson's Joint Planning Staff, strongly influenced by General Devers, was less than enthusiastic. The staff, for example, considered the naval and amphibious operations planned against the enemy's left flank too ambitious. Neither the configuration of the coast in the Ravenna area nor the resources available would permit significant operations along the coast. Only two gunboats with 6-inch guns could be made available to supplement a small destroyer force already in the Adriatic. Nevertheless, since most operational requirements, including air support, seemed well within the theater's capabilities, Wilson approved the plan in principle, and on 6 August Alexander issued orders for preliminary operations designed to set the stage for the main offensive to be mounted from the right flank instead of the center. Yet right up to the eve of the offensive many doubts as to the plan's feasibility lingered on at Allied headquarters, especially among the American members of Wilson's Joint Planning Staff.17
On the Eighth Army front the most important problem raised by the new plan was how to continue operations in such a way as to conceal the change from the Germans. For this reason General Leese directed General Anders, the II Polish Corps commander, to resume those operations northeast of Ancona that had been interrupted on 4 August by a counterattack against the Polish bridgehead across the Misa River. The Misa was the first of a series of parallel rivers--the Cesano, the Metauro, and the Foglia--which the Eighth Army would have to cross in the coastal corridor. Those rivers and the military problems of crossing them had been a factor in Alexander's original decision to attack in the mountains, and changing the plan did nothing to make the problems go away.18
Holding the high ground north of the Misa was the 278th Infantry Division. Concern about how much longer that division could withstand pressures from the two-division Polish corps and suspicions that General Leese might even increase those pressures had been behind General Vietinghoff's shift of Heidrich's 1st Parachute Division from army reserve into backup positions behind the division.
Leese meanwhile had assigned Anders' corps a twofold task: to clear the ground as far as the Foglia River and to screen the assembly of the two assault forces, the Canadian 1st Corps and the British 5 Corps. With the 3d Carpathian Division on the right and the 5th Kresowa Division on the left, the Polish corps on the 9th began to expand the bridgehead beyond the Misa. Supported by generous allotments of artillery fire and aerial bombardment of enemy artillery positions by the Desert Air Force, the Polish corps by nightfall had cleared the five miles between the Misa and the Cesano Rivers and established modest bridgeheads beyond the Cesano, but most of those were lost the next day. The Polish troops could go no farther against well-organized resistance along high ground overlooking the Cesano from the north. Yet the attack had achieved a considerable advantage in placing the main lateral highway south of the Misa River well beyond the range of German artillery, making it available to the two assault corps for their assembly for the main offensive.
Conference With Clark
Until that point the discussion and the decision to change Alexander's original strategy had been limited to the British half of the Allied command in Italy. General Clark still had to be consulted and his co-operation obtained. When General Alexander requested the Fifth Army commander to come to Leese's headquarters for a conference on the afternoon of 10 August, he flew in with his chief of staff, General Gruenther, his G-3, General Brann, and Alexander's American deputy chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer. Already familiar with broad details of the new plan, Lemnitzer briefed Clark during the flight so that upon arrival Clark was no stranger to it.19
At General Leese's suggestion, the conference convened in a pleasant grove of trees near the headquarters. In that bucolic setting the senior Allied commanders and their chiefs of staff settled comfortably in the shade to hear General Alexander outline his new strategy. Essentially, he expanded on those arguments that Leese had used earlier. The heavy dissipation of Allied strength over the past few months, especially the U.S. Fifth Army's loss of two corps and several divisions to ANVIL-DRAGOON, Alexander declared, had greatly reduced the chances for success of a joint attack by both armies against the sector north of Florence. With the shift of the main attack from the central to the eastern sector on the Eighth Army's right flank, the U.S. Fifth Army, rather than attack as originally planned toward both Pistoia and Lucca, was to move only against Pistoia, for an attack against both objectives would
further dissipate Clark's already greatly reduced resources.
Leese's Eighth Army was to make the main Allied effort beginning on 25 August with a three-corps attack against the German left wing along the Adriatic, to be followed at a date to be determined by Alexander by the Fifth Army's attack against the central sector of the Gothic Line. Clark's attack would begin after Alexander had determined that Kesselring had weakened the central sector by shifting forces to check Leese's attack. The operation was to be, the Allied commander observed as he had when planning the offensive south of Rome, "a one-two punch."
General Clark readily agreed that the new concept, especially on the matter of timing, seemed sound. He could easily hold on his left flank with the few forces he had there, even if the Pisano massif remained in enemy hands, and shift the rest to the central sector for the attack. His only concern was his right flank, where the distance and possible lack of co-ordination between an American attack toward Pistoia and that of the British 13 Corps on the Eighth Army's left flank constituted, in Clark's opinion, a real hazard to the success of operations in the central sector.
In raising the objection, Clark shrewdly saw an opportunity to trade off a shift of the Allies' main effort from the center to the British-controlled right for Anglo-American unity of command in the center. He appeared to be intent upon reconstructing in his own sector the concept that Alexander had just abandoned for the army group. An effective operation against the enemy's center, even if secondary, would require that both Clark's army and the British 13 Corps be under the operational control of one commander and that their axes of attack be along the shortest distance across the mountains, that is, from Florence to Bologna.
While Clark outlined his reservations with his usual earnestness, Leese lay relaxed on the ground with his arms akimbo behind his head. Turning to Clark, he offered to meet his reservations by making McCreery, the 13 Corps commander, a provisional group commander over both 10 and 13 Corps, which would enable Clark to deal with McCreery on equal terms and thus facilitate co-operation between the two. General Leese carefully avoided any mention of placing British troops once again under Fifth Army command. Yet that was exactly what Clark was after.
Several minutes of verbal sparring followed, during which General Leese rose to his feet to argue vehemently that ultimate control of his divisions had to remain with the Eighth Army. At that point, Alexander intervened. The debate, he said, really seemed to be one of cold, logical military reasoning on Clark's part, versus strong psychological and sentimental reasoning on Leese's part, which, of course, was not to be ignored. Leese finally yielded. Thus again, as during the winter offensive of 1943-44, an entire British corps, the 13 Corps, came under the Fifth Army's command.
Clark agreed that the new strategy promised to be far more effective than the old. The only remaining drawback as he saw it, was the additional delay that would be imposed upon the Fifth
Army's attack. The American commander felt keenly the growing pressure of criticism from others in the U.S. military establishment who had long opposed extension of military operations north of Rome. Almost a month had elapsed since the Fifth Army had arrived at the Arno, and every day that passed with no effort to continue the drive beyond the river increased the urgings from the partisans of DRAGOON that the Italian campaign be abandoned altogether. The Eighth Army, the theory had it, could take over the entire front while the Fifth Army moved to France. Foremost spokesman of that viewpoint in the Mediterranean theater was General Devers, who had been named commander-designate of the 6th Army Group to assume command in southern France. A long-time opponent of British strategy in the Mediterranean, he had frequently recommended to General Marshall that the Italian venture be dropped. That the campaign seemed to have bogged down at the Arno reinforced his argument.20
The Allied Plan
On 13 August Alexander's headquarters distributed to the army commanders the plan for the Gothic Line offensive (Operation OLIVE) and three days later the final order. As during the spring offensive south of Rome, General Alexander envisioned turning the Tenth Army's flank, this time the left and this time with the Eighth Army rather than the Fifth. Controlling 11 divisions on a relatively narrow front, Leese's army was to drive through the Rimini Gap, consisting of approximately 8 miles of coastal plain between Rimini and the foothills of the Apennines. Once through the gap the Canadian 1st Corps and the British 5 Corps were to deploy onto the Romagna Plain, a low-lying triangular-shaped area cut by many streams and drainage ditches and bounded on the south by Highway 9, on the east by Highway 16, paralleling the coast between Rimini and Ravenna, and to the west by Highway 67, extending in a northeasterly direction from Forli on Highway 9 to Ravenna. From the Romagna the two corps were to launch a two-pronged drive to roll up the enemy's left flank toward Bologna and Ferrara. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fifth Army, with three corps controlling nine divisions on an extended front, was to move generally northward from Florence toward the Po Valley. Both armies were in time to converge on Bologna and then exploit toward the Po. Only light forces, the British 10 Corps with the equivalent of one and a half divisions, were to operate in the mountainous terrain between the two armies. On the Fifth Army's left, between the central sector and the Ligurian Sea, the U.S. IV Corps with the equivalent of two divisions on line and one in reserve was considered to be strong enough serve as a covering force.21
Alexander's resources no longer afforded the luxury of an army group reserve with which to influence the offensive at a critical point. Yet that seemed no serious problem at the time, for both of his armies were to fight essentially separate battles. Moreover,
each army had strong corps with which to lead the assaults and sufficient forces in reserve. In a very real sense Alexander looked on the Fifth Army as his army group reserve, since under his one-two punch strategy he was to withhold Clark's army until he decided upon the most opportune moment to strike the second blow. The Fifth Army was to be prepared to move on 24-hours notice any time after D plus five.22
As had been the case south of Rome, there was also to be a deception plan with the Fifth Army playing the major role. Before the Eighth Army's attack, Clark's forces were to distract the enemy by simulating an imminent attack by both Allied armies along the 25-mile front flanking Florence. The fact that Alexander had originally planned to attack in that sector would lend credence to the deception. In preparation for attack along lines of the original plan, considerable shifting of troops and equipment had already taken place.
As had Alexander's strategy south of Rome, the strategy in the new offensive would require the closest co-operation between the two Allied armies and their commanders. Otherwise, Kesselring would once again be able to extricate his forces as he had in June.
Alexanders decision to shift the main attack necessitated large-scale movement of troops and equipment to the right flank. The movement began on 15 August with long convoys of trucks and tracked vehicles passing eastward through Foligno, the main road junction on Highway 3, sixty miles southwest of Ancona. In eight days six thousand tanks, guns, and vehicles moved through the town.
By the last week of August the Eighth Army was deployed across a 25-mile front: from the coast inland, the 2 Polish Corps, the brigade-sized Italian Corps of Liberation, the Canadian 1st Corps, the British 5 Corps, and the British 10 Corps. The entire force totaled eleven divisions plus nine separate brigades.23
Although Alexanders decision meant the scrapping of Clark's earlier plans based upon a joint effort with the Eighth Army in the central sector, the Fifth Army commander still wanted the II Corps to make the main attack on the army's front. After Kirkman's 13 Corps had been assigned to the Fifth Army, Clark shifted the focus of his offensive eastward to a sector between Florence and Pontassieve, ten miles to the east, hoping thereby to facilitate cooperation between the American and British corps. He intended that those contingents of the 13 Corps within and east of Florence remain in place as a screening force for Keyes' II Corps until the Fifth Army offensive began, but when it became apparent that the Germans were withdrawing into the mountains to the north, Clark ordered Kirkman to cross the Arno and to regain contact.
As the II Corps relieved those Eighth Army units west of Florence, Clark also extended the IV Corps right flank eastward to afford the II Corps an even narrower front for the attack. The shift
left Crittenberger's IV Corps holding a 60-mile front with only the 1st Armored Division and the newly formed Task Force 45, but Clark reinforced the corps with the 6th South African Armoured Division from the 13 Corps. That left the 13 Corps with three divisions and a brigade--the British 1st Infantry and 6th Armoured Divisions, the 8th Indian Division, and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade. During the first phase of the offensive, Clark planned for Crittenberger's corps to simulate a crossing of the Arno, but only after the main effort was well under way was the corps actually to cross: the 1st Armored Division to drive the enemy from the Monte Pisano massif and the area eastward to Empoli, and the South Africans to occupy the high ground just beyond the river between Empoli and the intercorps boundary.24
Doubts on Both Fronts
Although both the Fifth and Eighth Army commanders had enthusiastically endorsed the new concept for the Gothic Line offensive (Operation OLIVE), a noticeable feeling of uneasiness persisted at the Allied Force Headquarters in Caserta. Less than a week before the offensive was to begin, General Devers, the deputy theater commander, had been disturbed by the jitteriness he had observed at Wilson's headquarters, "especially among the junior officers on the British side."25
There seemed to be widespread concern that the Americans would soon be withdrawn from Italy, leaving the British Eighth Army with a task well beyond its capabilities. At General Clark's headquarters too, General Devers had noted little optimism. Matching concern of the British at AFHQ about American intentions was a widespread lack of confidence at the Fifth Army headquarters in the British, a concern that they would "not fight hard enough to make a go of it."26 That kind of mutual distrust hardly boded well for the coming offensive.
On the German side also arose a crisis of confidence. Why defend the Northern Apennines, some asked, when they might develop a line far shorter by withdrawing to the Alps between Switzerland and the Adriatic? Well entrenched in a similar line during World War I, the Germans and their Austrian allies had held the Allies at bay for several years, even launching a successful counteroffensive at Caporetto and driving the Italians back into the Po Valley. Withdrawal into those same alpine positions would, in the opinion of General Wentzell, the Tenth Army's chief of staff, enable the Germans to free three to four divisions. In a conversation with Colonel Beelitz, Kesselring's operations officer, early in August, General Wentzell let his frustrations show:
There is no insight. All is lunacy. With one wing we are up in Finland, with the other down at Rhodes; in the center the enemy is in Germany . . . . It is incomprehensible. There is an old farmer's saying that in a emergency everybody rallies around the flag. We do not even think of
this. The enemy is in Germany, the war is coming to an end, but we are still up at Murmansk. Instead of rallying around the flag the wings are extended who knows how far. I cannot understand it anymore.27
Wentzell's cry of despair found no echo among German commanders. Field Marshal Kesselring had his orders to hold indefinitely in the Gothic Line. Months of planning and preparation had gone into its construction, and veteran divisions were deployed within it. To the German rear lay the rich agricultural and industrial hinterland of northern Italy, the last stronghold of Mussolini's reconstituted Fascist Republic. The German armies in Italy quite obviously would stand and fight again, this time among the rocks and crags of the Northern Apennines.
1. See Part V, The Railroad Situation from the beginning of January until the end of April 1945, Typescript Operation LIGHTNING. Ref. Nr. USDIC/SIIR 30/S6, 15 Mar 47, Special Interrogation Rpt.
2. MS # B-268 (Beckel and Beelitz), The Italian Theater, 23 August-2 September 1944, CMH; Greiner and Schramm, eds., OKW/WFSt, KTB, IV (1), pp. 16-17. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon these sources.
3. MS # C-095c (Senger), CMH.
4. AOK 14, Ia KTB Nr. 4, 1 Aug 44, AOK 14, 62241/1.
5. MS # C-064 (Kesselring), CMH.
6. Col Horst Pretzell, Battle of Rimini, MS, CMH.
7. AOK 10, Ka KTB, Anl. 8, Aug 44, AOK 10, Docs. 61437/1 and 61437/2.
9. AOK 14, Ia KTB Nr. 4, Aug 44, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/1.
10. Generalleutnant Hans Roettiger and Oberstleutnant von Cannstein, Feldzug in Italien, II Teil, Band I, Kapital 6; Greiner and Schramm, eds., OKW/WFSt, KTB, IV (1), pp. 537-38.
11. MS # C-064 (Kesselring), CMH; Greiner and Schramm, eds., OKW/WFSt, KTB, IV (1), pp. 583-84. See also Smith, MS, Riviera to the Rhine, App. A, Operations Along the Franco-Italian Frontier.
12. SAC Despatch, 13 Aug-12 Dec 44; Alexander Despatch, pp. 65-66. Unless otherwise cited the following is based upon these sources.
13. MS # T-1b (Westphal et al.), CMH.
14. Alexander Despatch, pp. 65-66; SAC Despatch, Aug-Dec 44, pp. 5-6; Nicolson, Alex, p. 263.
15. Ehrman, Grand Strategy, vol. V, pp. 390-93.
16. Whether, as has been suggested, only because of a tendency to "see the other man's point of view" seems difficult to determine, for Alexander himself has written little about the decision other than to note his own concern "at the prospect of extensive operations in the mountains without my best mountain troops, the French." Yet he had known for some time that these troops would not be available for the Gothic Line offensive. See Douglas Orgill, The Gothic Line: The Italian Campaign, Autumn, 1944 (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1967), p. 32.
17. SAC Despatch, Aug-Dec 44, pp. 5-6; Devers Diary, vol. II; Alexander Despatch, pp. 65-66; Nicolson, Alex, pp. 263-64.
18. Operations of the British, Indian, and Dominion Forces in Italy, Part III, Sec. F, The 2 Polish Corps.
19. Clark Diary, 10 Aug 44. Unless otherwise indicated, the following is based upon this reference.
20. Ltr, Gen Devers to General Marshall, 9 Aug 44, CCS 603/16, in ABC 384, Eur, Sec. 9-A; See also Devers Diary, vol. II.
21. Alexander Despatch, pp. 65-66.
23. Operations of the British, Indian, and Dominion Forces in Italy, Part III, The Campaign in the Northern Apennines, Sec. B, The Eighth Army.
24. Fifth Army History, Part VII, pp. 21-33; Hqs. AAI, Opns Order No. 3, 16 Aug 44, AFHQ AG Sec. 0100/21/2845.
25. Devers Diary, 20 Aug 44. Devers failed to note that the American officers on the JPS had opposed the plan when first submitted to AFHQ.
27. AOK 10, Ia KTB Nr. 8, 5-8 Aug 44, AOK 10, Doc. 61437/3. (Telephone conversations, 31 Jul and 6 Aug 44.)