A Diversionary Operation
Having breached the Gothic Line, Allied commanders were confident that they would soon sweep a broken and defeated enemy into the Po Valley. They were soon to learn that, to the contrary, heavy fighting still lay ahead. Even before the Fifth Army had begun its assault on Il Giogo Pass, the Eighth Army got its first bitter taste of what lay ahead as the army attempted to exploit its penetration of the Gothic Line on the Adriatic flank.
Since the start of the Eighth Army's phase of the offensive on 25 August, the Germans, skillfully defending along a series of ridges extending in a northeasterly direction from the Apennines, had exacted for each ridge a heavy toll in Allied personnel and matériel. Yet General Leese still had a reserve of uncommitted units: the British 4th and the 2d New Zealand Divisions and the 3d Greek Mountain and British 25th Tank Brigades. He also had ample reserve stocks with which to replenish matériel losses.
The Eighth Army nevertheless continued to be plagued by the superior armor and firepower of German tanks. Even the introduction of ammunition that increased the firepower of the British tanks failed to compensate for their deficiencies vis-à-vis the heavier armor and more powerful guns of the German Panther. During the lull after the futile attempt to take the Coriano Ridge, Eighth Army logistical staffs had made strenuous efforts to bring forward new heavy British Churchill tanks, which were just beginning to arrive in Italy. At the same time, new 76-mm. U.S. Sherman tanks and 105-mm. self-propelled guns were arriving from the United States. Although U.S. units had priority on deliveries, the British received some of the new equipment. However, it would take considerable time to forward replacements to units still in close contact with the enemy.
When the heavy rains of the first week in September and a determined enemy had brought the Eighth Army to a halt before the Coriano Ridge, the army was still eight miles short of the Marecchia River, which marks the southern boundary of the Romagna Plain for which the British were striving. Ahead of the army lay three more of the northeastward extending ridges or spurs that had been serving the Germans as alternate lines of defense: the Ripabianca, a mile north of the Coriano Ridge, covering the crossings of the Formica Creek; the San Patrignano, from which the enemy could dominate the crossings of the Marano, two miles beyond the Formica; and two miles farther, the San Fortunato Ridge overlooking the Ausa River. Eighth Army aerial reconnaissance indicated that the enemy had developed fieldworks only on the latter ridge and thus
could be expected to conduct only delaying operations on the Ripabianca and the San Patrignano Ridges.1
To the fieldworks along the San Fortunato Ridge the Germans had given the designation, the Rimini Line. The positions included dug-in tank turrets reminiscent of the fortifications of the Hitler Line in the Liri valley. Because the Rimini Line was the last possible defensive position short of the Romagna plain, the Germans could be expected to defend it stubbornly.
Since 8 September General Leese had shifted the burden of operations to the 5 Corps on his left flank, in order to permit the 1st Canadian Corps to rest and regroup, for he planned to use the latter to make the main assault on the Coriano Ridge, the key to Rimini. Extending northeastward for five miles, from the village of San Savino to a point on the coast five miles southeast of Rimini and near the fishing village of Riccione, the Coriano Ridge covered the southern approaches to Rimini. To assist the Canadian corps, General Leese had reinforced it with three of his four reserve units; the British 4th Division, 3d Greek Mountain Brigade, and British 25th Tank Brigade. The fourth, the 2d New Zealand Division, was to remain in reserve with the 2 Polish Corps.
On 9 September the Eighth Army commander outlined a revised plan of operations designed to carry the army northward thirty miles beyond Rimini to Ravenna and provide control of the Romagna Plain. From there General Leese expected to be able to turn the German Tenth Army's left flank and roll it up toward Bologna and to make a junction with Clark's Fifth Army.
In the first phase of the revised plan Leese intended both the British 5 Corps and 1st Canadian Corps to converge upon the Coriano Ridge--the British from the left and the Canadians frontally. During the lull General Leese had reversed the operational roles of the British 5 and 1st Canadian Corps. The 5 Corps was to work its way around the western flank of the ridge to divert enemy attention from preparations being made by the Canadian corps to make the major assault against its eastern extremity. The 700 guns that had signaled the opening of the Gothic Line offensive on 25 August were to fire in support of the 5 Corps' three infantry divisions as they advanced beyond the Conca River toward the town of Croce, five miles southwest of Coriano, while the 1st Canadian Corps' 5th Canadian and British 1st Armoured Divisions were to exploit capture of the ridge and secure bridgeheads over the Marano River. During the third phase the Eighth Army (the 1st Canadian Corps then leading the way) was to cross the Marecchia and deploy onto the Romagna Plain. The 1st Canadian Corps commander, General Burns, planned at that time to employ either the 2d New Zealand Division or the 5th Canadian Armoured Division as an exploiting force. To help the main effort by the Canadians, General Leese impressed upon the 5 Corps commander, General
Sir Charles Allfrey, the importance of maintaining enough pressure in his sector to prevent the enemy from shifting forces to check the Canadian thrust on the coastal flank.2
Resuming the Offensive
Even as the Fifth Army's II Corps on 12 September began its assault against the Gothic Line north of Florence, the British 5 and 1st Canadian Corps--their way prepared by the fires of the 700 guns supplemented by an offshore naval force of gunboats and destroyers and by hundreds of sorties by bombers of the DAF--resumed the Eighth Army offensive on the Adriatic flank. Although priority on air support had been shifted to the central sector to support the Fifth Army, the Eighth Army still had the full support of the DAF. On 13 September that consisted of more than 500 tons of bombs during 900 sorties, 700 of which were flown in close support of ground operations.
Helped by that firepower, the Canadian infantry and armor managed during the first day to establish a secure foothold on the Coriano Ridge just south of the town of Coriano. Throughout the 13th and on into the night, troops of the Irish Regiment of Canada drove a battalion of the 29th Panzer Division from the town, house by house. Many of the defenders withdrew only to fall into the hands of troops from the British 5 Corps' 4th Division, coming up on the left of the ridge. Without pausing to consolidate their newly-won positions, the Canadians hastily tackled their next objective, marking the second phase. By evening of the 14th they had reached the south bank of the Marano River, two miles northwest of the Coriano Ridge, and during the night established several bridgeheads beyond the river.
Despite having to relinquish the Coriano Ridge, General Herr, LXXVI Panzer Corps commander, still maintained the integrity of his front by withdrawing his troops to delaying positions along the San Patrignano Ridge, midway between the Marano and Ausa Rivers. There the Germans delayed the Canadians throughout the 15th and gained time to improve fieldworks along the Rimini Line, especially those on the San Fortunato Ridge, two miles north of the Ausa. As at Coriano, the Germans turned the village of San Fortunato into a strongpoint. South of the Ausa River and three miles from the San Fortunato strongpoint, the Germans developed a second strongpoint around the monastery of San Martino, situated on a small knoll overlooking Route 16, the coastal road leading to Rimini from the southeast. Well-concealed artillery in defilade behind the San Fortunato Ridge supported the positions.3
Since the main highway and railway serving the coastal flank and connecting with the major routes across the Romagna Plain had to be cleared before any large-scale operation could be undertaken beyond the Marecchia River, General Burns directed his attention to
the San Martino strongpoint. As the Canadian armor and infantry approached on the 16th, defending troopers of the 1st Parachute Division, veterans of the Cassino battle many months before, disappeared into well-prepared bunkers and called down heavy artillery fire immediately in front of their lines. Caught in the open plain between the Marano and the Ausa, the Canadians had to fall back to their starting point, the bridgeheads over the Marano.
The action was costly. Instead of renewing the assault immediately, Burns spent the next day regrouping and reorganizing. Trusting to darkness to conceal the next assault, he attacked again during the night of the 17th. A diffused light, created by beams from searchlights on the reverse slope of the Coriano Ridge thrown against low-hanging clouds, helped troop commanders maintain control. Yet so well registered were the German guns on open ground over which the attackers had to pass that the darkness was but a small handicap. The fire left the Canadians "sweating and bleeding on the low ground" south of the Ausa River.4
For all the damage inflicted by German artillery, the two successive Canadian assaults had taken a sharp toll among the defenders. Lacking replacements, the German commanders realized that they would soon have to yield the positions south of Rimini, regardless of whether artillery support remained intact.5
Along the entire Pisa-Rimini line the battle of attrition, for such it had become, had reached a climax. The U.S. II Corps had broken through Il Giogo Pass across a seven-mile front on the 18th, and the next day the neighboring British 13 Corps stood on the threshold of a breakthrough of both the Casaglia and San Godenzo Passes, on the Faenza and Forli roads. Along the Adriatic front, as well as in the Apennines, the Allies had pushed back both flanks of the Tenth Army, so that, to General Vietinghoff, the army's front resembled a dangerously bent bow. Doubting that the bow could bend much further without breaking, the Tenth Army commander urged Kesselring to allow him to relieve tension by withdrawing in the center. With units thus made available, Vietinghoff expected to shore up the army flanks. Although Kesselring agreed in principle, he told Vietinghoff that an authorization to withdraw would be given only if the situation grew worse. That afforded little consolation for the Tenth Army commander.6
As it turned out, neither Kesselring nor Vietinghoff had long to wait for the situation to worsen. During the night of the 19th the 1st Canadian Corps, behind a heavy bombardment from land, sea, and air, crossed the Ausa River and stormed the slopes of the San Fortunato Ridge to seize Villa Belvedere, a large country mansion only 600 yards from the village of San Fortunato and command center of the enemy strongpoint. Bypassed by the successful Canadian assault to the west, the paratroopers abandoned the San Martino position and slipped away. Again it seemed as if the bow would snap and the Canadians break through,
but again the elements were destined to intervene. In a heavy rain the Germans broke contact and withdrew beyond the Marecchia, some four miles away. Bogged down by muddy roads and halted by swollen streams, the Canadian armor was unable to exploit the capture of the San Fortunato Ridge.7
The Capture of Rimini
Over the next forty-eight hours the waters of the flood-swollen Marecchia and its muddy flood plain became more effective barriers to Allied forces than anything the Germans were capable of throwing in their path. The loss of the San Fortunato Ridge and the San Martino strongpoint, last German defenses south of Rimini, meant nevertheless that General Herr could no longer expect to hold the city. On the 19th Kesselring authorized Vietinghoff to withdraw Herr's left wing beyond the Marecchia and evacuate Rimini the next night. In doing so, the Tenth Army commander, perhaps moved by the aura of history which permeated the peninsula, elected to forfeit some of the flooded Marecchia's tactical advantages by sparing the only remaining bridge across it, a 1,900-year-old stone structure built during the reign of Emperor Tiberius but still usable in 20th century warfare.8
As troops of the 3d Greek Mountain Brigade, operating on the coastal flank of the Canadian corps, prepared to enter Rimini's outskirts, the men could hear through the darkness the sound of heavy explosions as the Germans abandoned the city. Early on the 21st a motorized patrol from the Greek brigade entered. By 0800 the Greeks had reached the main square to raise their battle standard over the town hall.9 Seventy-five percent of the city lay in ruins, but among the surviving structures stood the Triumphal Arch of Augustus built in 27 B.C. With multiple bridges soon spanning the Marecchia, the Canadians the next day deployed onto Highway 9 and the Romagna Plain, "the plains so long hoped for and so fiercely fought for . . . [whose] clogging mud and brimming watercourses" would soon confront the Eighth Army with obstacles as challenging as the mountains and ridges.10
By 21 September the Eighth Army, having covered over thirty miles in twenty-six days, hardly a pell-mell pursuit, was well established in the eastern terminus of the Pisa-Rimini line. Operation OLIVE, which General Alexander had outlined to his army commanders in early August, had been completed but far behind schedule. After the fall of Rome in early June Allied commanders had confidently expected to reach that line by the end of July, but, in the months since then, the transfer of much Allied strength to other fronts with higher priority as well as a series of skillful enemy defenses had caused both the Fifth and Eighth Armies to lag behind projected timetables. To make matters worse, the heavy rains soaking the low-lying plains in the Eighth Army sector would soon turn to ice and snow in the Apennines where the Fifth Army
GENERALS CLARK AND KEYES STUDY THE II CORPS SITUATION MAP NEAR FIRENZUOLA, SEPTEMBER 1944.
was resolutely fighting from one mountain to another.
Even as the Eighth Army crossed the Marecchia and deployed onto the Romagna Plain, Clark's Fifth Army moved through Il Giogo Pass and prepared to exploit its capture. Keyes' II Corps soon crossed the Santerno River and advanced to the road junction at Firenzuola, five miles north of the pass. The once formidable defenses of the Futa Pass, thus outflanked, lay five miles to the southwest, so that not only Highway 65 but also Highway 6528, a secondary road five miles to the east that led from Firenzuola down the valley of the Santerno to Imola on Highway 9 in the Po Valley, would soon be open.
The situation offered General Clark a choice between two courses of action: either to concentrate, as originally planned, all of the II Corps' efforts along the axis of Highway 65 toward Bologna via the Radicosa Pass, seven miles beyond the Futa Pass, or divert a
portion of the corps northeastward toward Imola. The breakthrough at Il Giogo in itself pointed to a change in that it suggested a very real weakness along the boundary between the Tenth and Fourteenth Armies, which roughly followed the Firenzuola-Imola road. A rapid descent into the Po Valley in the vicinity of Imola, General Clark deduced, might take advantage of that weakness and assist the Eighth Army's operations along Highway 9 where General Leese's troops were at that point heavily engaged seventeen miles northwest of Rimini. Once established in Imola, the Fifth Army units could, Clark believed, "dispatch forces as far to the east as possible to gain contact with the rear of the German elements, demolish roads and cover other Fifth Army units that must be immediately sent out to take positions across the main highways to prevent the withdrawal of German forces." General Clark's projected plan envisioned eventual debouchment into the Po Valley at Imola of at least two American divisions, heavily reinforced with tanks and artillery, although the size of the force would depend upon the condition of the road.11
As it turned out, the condition of the Santerno valley road was to be the determining factor. Route 6528 was an inferior road, capable in the autumn of 1944, Clark soon learned, of serving as a line of communication for not more than one division under combat conditions. Although Clark told General Keyes to divert a division toward Imola, Bologna and not Imola remained the II Corps' main objective. The bulk of the II Corps--the 34th, 91st, and 85th Divisions--would continue along the axis of Highway 65 via the Radicosa Pass. As a possible reinforcement to exploit beyond Imola should the lone division moving along Route 6528 get there quickly, he shifted the 1st Armored Division's CCA from the IV Corps to army control.
In turn, General Keyes selected Brigadier General Kendall's 88th Division, which since early September had been in corps reserve, to undertake the drive to Imola. Kendall was to attack early on 21 September through the right wing of Coulter's 85th Division. Attached to the 88th Division for the operation were the 760th Tank Battalion and a company each of the 805th Tank Destroyer and 84th Chemical Battalions. Because of the paucity of roads and trails in the region, Keyes also gave the division two and a half pack-mule companies.12
The 88th Division's left flank was to tie in with the right flank of the 85th Division, west of and parallel to the Imola road. The 88th Division would advance at first on a three-mile front that would widen to five miles at the critical point just before descent into the Po Valley. The remainder of Keyes' forces--the 85th, 91st, and 34th Divisions, in that order from a point just east of Highway 65 westward to the Prato-Bologna highway--was to bypass the Futa Pass, if possible, and concentrate on capturing the Radicosa Pass. The 91st Division's 363d Infantry
Thrust Towards Imola
24 September-1 October 1944
would, in the meantime, deal with any enemy troops still left around the outflanked Futa Pass.
For all the promise afforded by the Santerno valley and Route 6528 as a route over which the Fifth Army might come more quickly to the aid of British forces east of Cesena, the mountainous terrain flanking the valley soon proved to be the most formidable the 88th Division had yet faced in the Italian Campaign. For over half of the thirty miles between Firenzuola and Imola the black-topped road followed the winding Santerno River through a narrow gorge flanked by high mountains with steep slopes cut by narrow ravines through which small streams descended to the river. As far as the village of Castel del Rio, ten miles northeast of Firenzuola, and a road junction beyond it, the last important road junction before Imola, only a few trails led from the main road into the mountains.
Since passage through the Santerno valley hinged upon control of Castel del Rio, General Kendall, who had been in command of the division since July when an ailing General Sloan had returned to the United States, focused from the first on taking the village and nearby road junction. That feat depended on gaining the flanking high ground, a task which he assigned to Colonel Fry's 350th Infantry and to Colonel Crawford's 349th Infantry. The high ground in hand, Kendall planned to send Colonel Champeny's 351st Infantry down the main road to Castel del Rio.13
Battle For the Mountains
During the night of 20 September, Colonel Fry's and Colonel Crawford's regiments moved through the 85th Division right wing from an assembly area near Monte Altuzzo. At dawn on the 21st the two regiments, in columns of battalions, began advancing over narrow mountain trails generally toward Castel del Rio, ten miles away. An intermittent misty rain, interspersed with patches of fog, made movement difficult and at times hazardous for men, mules, and vehicles. Under those conditions it was particularly fortunate that neither regiment encountered significant resistance. Indeed, the two regiments forged so far ahead of the British 1st Division, the adjacent unit of the 13 Corps, as to expose the 88th Division's right flank. That night an infiltrating enemy patrol taking advantage of the gap surprised and captured an entire battalion command post.
Despite that incident Colonel Fry's troops, by the 23d, had captured Monte della Croce, three miles southeast of Castel del Rio, and to the left Colonel Crawford's regiment held Monte La Fine, three miles west of the village. Those successes prompted General Kendall to release Colonel Champeny's 351st Infantry and send it down the main road with the mission of bypassing Castel del Rio and taking the road junction beyond the village. Dawn on the 24th found all three of the 88th Division's regiments deployed across a five-mile front from Monte La Fine to Monte della Croce. (Map XII)
The Tenth Army left flank had been pushed back to within fifteen miles of the Po Valley, yet there had been no
breakthrough. Despite the American success, the enemy still held Castel del Rio and some of the high ground flanking the village and appeared determined to hold. Until the high ground was cleared there could be little additional progress toward Imola.
Just how determined were the Germans began to become apparent on the afternoon of the 24th when the 350th Infantry's 3d Battalion, from positions on Monte della Croce, two miles east of Route 6528, attempted to occupy Monte Acuto, 1,200 yards to the north. For the first time since the operation had begun three days before, heavy fire forced the men to ground. As the fighting intensified, Colonel Fry moved his command post onto Monte della Croce for better control of his forward units in the rugged terrain. Although General Kendall pressed for speedier progress, a chill and damp darkness found the 3d Battalion still well short of its objective. Litter bearers, hampered by uncertain footing on the rain-soaked mountain trails, could scarcely keep up with the battle's casualties.14
The Germans Reinforce
The unexpected stiffening of the enemy defense resulted from General Lemelsen having persuaded Field Marshal Kesselring to shore up an admittedly weak sector astride the interarmy boundary, where, since 19 September, contact between the Tenth and Fourteenth Armies had been limited to radio and telephone. The left wing of the Fourteenth Army was in a particularly difficult situation. For a week it had borne the full weight of the Fifth Army offensive, which, in the words of Lemelsen, the Fourteenth Army commander, had "sucked the army dry of available reserves." Unless Army Group C provided reinforcements to the I Parachute Corps on the Fourteenth Army's left wing, that corps would have to yield more ground.15
No doubt remained that all or part of three German divisions then manning the parachute corps front were insufficient to hold much longer against the U.S. Fifth Army's offensive. The 334th Division held the right wing west of Highway 65; in the center was the 4th Parachute Division, hard hit in defending Il Giogo Pass; and astride the Imola road, bearing the brunt of the 88th Division's attack, were elements of the 362d Division, which Lemelsen had shifted from the XIV Panzer Corps. All three divisions were sorely in need of rest and replacements.16
The situation was serious enough to convince Kesselring to authorize transfer of two additional divisions from the Tenth Army to the Fourteenth Army. For the Tenth Army their loss at that time would not be critical, for the divisions were to come from the relatively quiet mountainous sector of the LI Mountain Corps opposite the British 10 Corps on the Eighth Army's left wing. The two, the 715th Infantry and 44th Reichsgrenadier Divisions, began moving westward between 19 and 21 September. Meanwhile, Kesselring extended the left flank of the parachute corps eastward
GERMAN PRISONERS CAPTURED NEAR CASTEL DEL RIO
in an effort to close the gap between the Fourteenth and Tenth Armies.17
Those measures, however, had come too late to prevent the American 88th Division from thrusting seven miles north-northeastward from Firenzuola to capture the heights of Monte La Fine and Monte della Croce. By 25 September the 351st Infantry had pushed to within two and a half miles south of Castel del Rio to take the village of Moraduccio. Meanwhile, a battalion each from the 362d and 44th Reichsgrenadier Divisions were in place on the summits of hills overlooking the village from the north.18
On the same day, General Keyes widened the neighboring 85th Division's front two miles to include Monte La Fine, thereby relieving Colonel Crawford's regiment of responsibility for that feature and slightly narrowing the 88th
Division's front. The corps commander's action underlined for the division commander the determination at both corps and army that his troops reach their objective quickly. General Kendall that afternoon sent General Ramey, his assistant division commander, to Colonel Fry's command post to emphasize the importance attached to a rapid descent into the Po Valley before the Germans could move sufficient reinforcements to parry the thrust. In short, keep moving.
Possibly in reaction to the command pressure, the 350th Infantry the next day captured not only Monte Acuto but also Monte del Puntale on the intercorps boundary, which would facilitate contact with the British 1st Division.
West of the Imola road Colonel Crawford's 349th Infantry captured Monte Pratolungo, then moved a mile northward to take another height west of Castel del Rio. With so much of the flanking high ground in American hands, the Germans had no choice but to abandon Castel del Rio. On their heels, troops of the 351st Infantry moved into the village.19
An even more impressive gain developed the next day when men of Lt. Col. Corbett Williamson's 2d Battalion, 350th Infantry, moved two miles beyond Monte Acuto to Monte Carnavale, there to surprise an enemy company digging in on the reverse slope. Driving the Germans from the mountain, the battalion continued toward Monte Battaglia, a mile and a half to the northeast. Passing the night short of the objective, the men on the next day, the 27th, encountered a group of partisans
who claimed to be already in possession of Monte Battaglia. Guided by the partisans along a narrow mule trail, the battalion saw no evidence of the enemy other than sporadic artillery fire.
Reaching Battaglia's crest in midafternoon, Colonel Williamson established his command post on the reverse slope. Because he was well in front of the rest of the division, he posted only one company on the summit and deployed the rest to cover a long and tenuous line of communications to the regimental command post. While a few of the partisans remained with the Americans, the others vanished into the mountains, presumably to harass the enemy. From the II Corps commander came the message, "Well done," to which General Kendall and Colonel Fry added their congratulations. Of the
high ground in the vicinity of Castel del Rio, there remained to the enemy only Monte Capello, two miles west of Monte Battaglia.
The surprising ease with which the 2d Battalion, 350th Infantry, had occupied Monte Battaglia quickly proved deceptive. Hardly had Williamson's battalion consolidated its positions than the Germans, supported by mortar and artillery fire, launched two successive counterattacks. By dark both were repulsed, but through the night enemy artillery fire continued to pick at the American positions.
The gains of the past two days had extended the gap between the 350th Infantry and the adjacent unit of the British 1st Division. Dismounted tank crews of the 760th Tank Battalion, which since the 21st had been engaged in covering the II Corps right flank, tried unsuccessfully to close the gap, which by nightfall on the 27th had grown to almost 5 miles. To close it and assure the integrity of the 350th Infantry's supply lines, General Keyes had to draw upon two armored infantry battalions of the 1st Armored Division's CCA, made available from the Fifth Army reserve.
However vulnerable the open flank, the Germans were unable to take advantage of it. Except for Monte Capello, the Americans at that point held all the dominating heights around the Castel del Rio road junction, and from Monte Battaglia northward the ground descended as the Santerno threaded its way to the Po Valley. In the German rear, partisan units, such as the one that had led the way to Monte Battaglia, increased the tempo of their harassment with each passing day, briefly knocking out communications between the parachute corps and Fourteenth Army headquarters. Everything seemed to favor the notion that the admittedly diversionary operation might produce an Allied breakthrough to the Po Valley, a view widely held at Clark's headquarters.20
Meanwhile, the main effort of the II Corps had made gratifying, though less dramatic, progress. There the 34th, 85th, and 91st Divisions had gained an average of six miles to close with the high ground flanking the Radicosa Pass. To the east of the II Corps sector, the British 13 Corps' 1st Division, 8th Indian Division, and British 6th Armoured Division, all echeloned to the southeast of the II Corps, pressed on at a somewhat slower pace toward Castel Bolognese and Faenza, four and nine miles respectively southeast of Imola.21
Like the Eighth Army, the Fifth Army seemed again to be on the threshold of a breakthrough, but the change in the weather that had brought the Eighth Army to a halt was to have a similar effect on the Fifth Army. For several days rain and fog grounded virtually all Allied aircraft, especially the ubiquitous artillery spotter planes, and sharply limited the effectiveness of Allied artillery fire. The I Parachute Corps and Fourteenth Army commanders, as had their colleagues on the Adriatic flank, quickly took advantage of the fortuitous break in the weather to reinforce their front.22
The Defense of Battle Mountain
With a battalion each atop Monte Carnevale and Monte Battaglia, or "Battle Mountain" as the troops called it, Colonel Fry's 350th Infantry remained slightly ahead of the rest of the 88th Division. To the left, about a mile beyond Castel del Rio, Colonel Champeny's 351st Infantry had been stalled for several days, and for the next two would try in vain to drive the Germans from Monte Capello, two miles northeast of the road junction. Farther to the left, a mile west of Castel del Rio, Colonel Crawford's 349th Infantry had no more success in its efforts to push forward.23
To Colonel Fry the 2,345-foot Monte Battaglia seemed at first an excellent position; its northwestern slopes and those of a northeastward extending spur, the directions from which the enemy might be expected to counterattack, were quite steep. Yet there were some disturbing features. Deeply indented by ravines and gullies, a grass-covered eastern slope seemed to invite the infiltration tactics at which the enemy was so adept. Monte Battaglia's treeless summit offered little cover or concealment; holes and trenches hacked out of the thin soil and an ancient ruin afforded the only shelter from either the elements or enemy fire. Almost from the moment of arrival on the summit, Colonel Williamson's men had spent their time between enemy artillery barrages and counterattacks in digging dugouts and fire trenches. Each passing hour made it clearer to Colonel Fry how difficult Monte Battaglia might
MEN, MULES, MUD
prove to hold. Well ahead of the other regiments and leading the remaining battalions of the 350th Infantry, the 2d Battalion was exposed to fire from three sides. Supplies and reinforcements could reach the men only over the narrow mule trail along a steep-sided ridge connecting Monte Battaglia and Monte Carnevale. To insure use of that trail, Colonel Fry had to deploy his other two battalions along it, enabling the 2d Battalion to concentrate on the summit. This left him little with which to reinforce if the 2d Battalion got into trouble. Rain and fog closing in on the high ground increased the likelihood of enemy infiltration and made footing on the steep trail doubly hazardous.
Hardly had Colonel Fry on 28 September completed moving his command post forward--to within 400 yards of Monte Battaglia when a message
from Colonel Williamson atop Monte Battaglia told of a "terrific counterattack" and a situation that was "desperate." It was the work of troops of the 44th Reichsgrenadier Division, [Hoch und Deutschmeister], a competent unit composed largely of Austrian levies. Supported by intense concentrations of artillery fire, the grenadiers struck in approximately regimental strength from three directions. The worst of it appeared to hit Company G, whose commander, Capt. Robert E. Roeder, led his men in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle against Germans swarming over the positions. When Roeder fell, seriously wounded, his men carried him to his command post in the shelter of the ancient ruin. After allowing an aid man to dress his wounds, Captain Roeder dragged himself to the entrance of the old building. Bracing himself in a sitting position, he picked up a rifle from a nearby fallen soldier and opened fire on attacking Germans closing in on his position. He killed two Germans before a fragment from a mortar shell cut him down. Encouraged by their captain's example, the men of Company G rallied to drive the enemy off the summit and back down Monte Battaglia's slopes.24
With reinforcement from a company of another battalion sent forward by Colonel Fry, the 2d Battalion by 1700 had beaten back the counterattack, but throughout the night German artillery fired intermittently on Colonel Williamson's positions. Although painful to the men undergoing it, the fire could in no way compare with that put out by American guns. The number of enemy rounds falling on Monte Battaglia rarely exceeded 200 a day or a maximum of 400 rounds for the entire regimental sector. On the other hand, on 1 October, when clear skies permitted artillery spotter aircraft to fly, the 339th Field Artillery Battalion alone fired 3,398 rounds.
Fighting erupted again on Monte Battaglia on 30 September, when Germans carrying flame throwers and pole charges with which to burn and blast paths through the American defenses again stormed up the mountain. For a second time they penetrated the 2d Battalion's perimeter and briefly occupied the ruins of the summit, but as before, Williamson's men rallied to drive the enemy back down the mountain. By that time the position of the men on Monte Battaglia had improved through achievements of adjacent units. On the 30th the 351st Infantry at last captured nearby Monte Capello, and elements of the British 1st Division came up on the 88th Division's right flank.
The Imola Drive Abandoned
Despite the 88th Division's improved position, the thrust represented nothing more than a narrow salient achieved at considerable cost. Still, if General Clark should choose to pour in fresh troops to expand the salient into a breakthrough to Imola and Highway 9, it could pose a genuine threat to the Germans. Nevertheless, the Fifth Army commander still saw the Firenzuola-Imola road as incapable of carrying the increased traffic reinforcements would generate. Nor had the thrust shown any indications of softening resistance
in front of the Eighth Army, at that point apparently checked by determined German defenders in the vicinity of Faenza. In view of that situation and of the limited capability of the single road, General Clark had no desire to divert strength from his main effort. What he apparently did not know was that the German command was unable to afford more troops to throw against the salient, and those that had been doing the fighting were close to collapse.25
The 88th Division having run into what appeared to be serious opposition and reinforcements having been ruled out, General Clark abandoned the secondary drive on Imola. He now took steps aimed at eventual shift of the left flank of General Kirkman's 13 Corps westward to take over the Santerno valley sector and enable General Keyes to concentrate on the capture of Bologna. The first step was to attach the 1st Guards Brigade of the British 6th Armoured Division, on the 13 Corps right flank, to the British 1st Division to relieve the 350th Infantry on Monte Battaglia. Later the U.S. 88th Division was to be relieved by the British 78th Division from the Eighth Army sector, while the British 6th Armoured Division took its place on the Adriatic flank. The 88th Division was then to join the other divisions of the II Corps in the drive toward Bologna astride Highway 65.
Meanwhile, Colonel Fry had received word that relief for his men on Monte Battaglia was on the way. If all went well, the British might be able to begin replacing the 350th Infantry the following night. The promise of relief had come none too soon for the 2d Battalion: all officers of Company G had either been killed or wounded and the company was down to only fifty men; Companies E and F were in little better shape.
Although relief was in sight, the 2d Battalion's ordeal was yet to end. Early on 1 October enemy artillery again began falling on Monte Battaglia. After twenty minutes the artillery lifted, and out of the semidarkness the Germans once again attacked up fog-shrouded slopes. This time, however, the sun soon burned off the fog, and a clear sky enabled artillery spotter planes to take to the air to direct defensive fires. With that support the 2d Battalion by midday was able to repel the counterattack and send some 40 enemy prisoners rearward. Shortly after midday officers from the Welsh Guards (1st Guards Brigade) arrived at Colonel Fry's command post to make a reconnaissance before relieving the 350th Infantry.26
With the arrival of the British advance party, the defenders of Monte Battaglia had reason to expect they would be off the mountain within twenty-four hours, but that was not to be. Despite aerial bombardment and counterbattery fire, enemy artillery continued to shell the summit, seriously interfering with movement of incoming troops of the 1st Guards Brigade. Three days would pass before the relief was completed and the last of the Americans trudged wearily down the trail from Monte Battaglia. Before the
last men departed on 5 October, the Germans delivered yet another counterattack, but this time the relieving British troops joined in repulsing it.27
Reflecting not only the fighting on Monte Battaglia but also that in the hills west and north of Castel del Rio, where since the 28th the 349th and 351st Regiments had attempted with scant success to extend their gains beyond Castel del Rio, losses were high. Since General Kendall's division had re-entered the line on 21 September until the last man left on 5 October, the 88th Division's three regiments incurred 2,105 casualties. That was almost as many as the entire II Corps had sustained during the six-day breakthrough offensive against Il Giogo Pass and the Gothic Line. Losses were high too from injury and sickness attributed to the rugged terrain and inclement weather. Fortunately, the Fifth Army replacement pool system, so effective since the beginning of the campaign, still functioned well. Within a few days replacements and hospital returnees brought the 88th Division's regiments back up to strength.28
The Germans Take Stock
On the German side, a week after the British 1st Guards relieved the 88th Division, the 98th Division, recently transferred from the Tenth Army, replaced the 44th Reichsgrenadier Division. Although the 98th Division earlier had suffered considerable casualties during the battle for the Rimini Line, the division absorbed some replacements during about two weeks out of line. The division's low combat capability nevertheless remained of concern to General Lemelsen, the Fourteenth Army commander. Fortunately for Lemelsen and the 98th Division, General Clark's decision to concentrate his operations along Highway 65 promised some relief for the Fourteenth Army's hard-pressed left flank. The 44th Reichsgrenadier Division, meanwhile, was moved into army reserve.29
As evidence accumulated at Lemelsen's headquarters that Clark had abandoned the thrust toward Imola, the Fourteenth Army commander concluded that the Allied command had shifted the focus of its offensive from the Adriatic flank to the central sector south of Bologna, and that as a result, pressure from the Eighth Army might ease to some degree. Field Marshal Kesselring, for his part, was not so sure. He soon realized that Clark had sufficient strength within his own army to mount a major effort against Bologna without any drawing upon the Eighth Army.30
Shift Back to Highway 65
Kesselring was right in any case, but particularly so because in blocking the road to Imola the Germans had gravely jeopardized their chances at the Radicosa Pass. There three prominent peaks, Monti Bastione and Oggioli west of the pass and Monte Canda to the east, were potentially formidable defensive positions. Higher than the summits in the Gothic Line, they also presented generally bare, treeless slopes. Yet two
of the three enemy divisions defending the pass--the 334th and 362d Infantry Divisions (the 4th Parachute Division was the third)--had taken considerable losses when contingents of the divisions had shifted hastily eastward to help shore up the defenses of the Imola sector. Thus when the three divisions making the American main effort--the 34th advancing on Monte Bastione, the 91st on Monte Oggioli, and the 85th on Monte Canda--converged on the Radicosa Pass, General Schlemm, whose I Parachute Corps controlled the sector, saw no alternative to withdrawal. Taking advantage of the fog and rain, which there as elsewhere enveloped the front, the Germans broke contact on 28 September and fell back along the axis of Highway 65 to establish a new line based on the village of Monghidoro, three miles north of the pass.
During the night the 91st Division occupied the Radicosa Pass without opposition, and for the rest of the day, on the 29th, two regiments pushed about two miles north of the pass through a thick fog that reduced visibility to a few yards. To the flanks the 34th and 85th Divisions kept pace in their sectors. All three divisions patrolled, as actively as the persistent fog would allow, in an effort to locate the enemy's new line and determine its strength.31
By the end of September the Fifth Army's objective of Bologna lay a tempting twenty-four miles north of the forward positions of the II Corps astride Highway 65, and on a clear day the British troops atop Monte Battaglia could see the Po Valley only about ten miles away. Yet for all the strategic position of the II Corps, the rest of the Fifth Army was less well situated. To the right, the British 13 Corps, after taking over the Santerno valley sector from the U.S. 88th Division, held a 17-mile front, wider than at the start of the offensive and so extended that the corps' three divisions could make only limited advances. The same could be said of General Crittenberger's IV Corps with a 50-mile front. Already thinly spread, the corps had been weakened more when General Clark had withdrawn part of the 1st Armored Division into Army reserve. Although the IV Corps had been pushing ahead gradually, so that with the exception of Task Force 45 along the coast all units by the end of September had passed through the Gothic Line, the pace was too slow to prevent Field Marshal Kesselring from shifting units from the XIV Panzer Corps to reinforce more threatened sectors opposite the U.S. II Corps. With the approach of winter weather, the IV Corps in the coming months could hardly be expected to pick up the pace.
1. Operations of British, Indian, and Dominion Forces in Italy, Part III, Sec. B, The Eighth Army and the Gothic Line and Romagna Battles. Unless otherwise noted the following is based upon this source.
2. General Leese had earlier placed the New Zealand division and the 3d Greek Mountain Brigade under the Canadian corps for planning purposes. See Nicholson, The Canadians in Italy, pp. 532-35. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon this reference.
3. AOK 10, Ia KTB Anl. 8, 17-28 Sep 44, AOK 10, Doc. 61437/2; Horst Pretzell MS, The Battle of Rimini, in CMH files.
4. Nicholson, The Canadians in Italy, pp. 550-51.
5. AOK 10, Ia KTB Anl. Nr. 8, 17-19 Sept. 44, AOK 10, Doc. Nr. 61437/1.
6. Ibid., 19 Sep 44.
7. Nicholson, The Canadians in Italy, pp. 556-57.
8. Ibid., p. 558; AOK 10, Ia KTB Anl. 8, 21 Sep 44, AOK 10, Doc. 63437/1.
9. Nicholson, The Canadians in Italy, p. 558. The Greeks gallantly requested the Canadians to furnish a Canadian flag to be flown alongside their own.
10. Alexander Despatch, pp. 70-71.
11. Clark Diary, 21 Sep 44; Jackson, The Battle of Italy, p. 276.
12. Fifth Army History, Part VII, pp. 89-91. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon this source.
13. 88th Division Opns Rpt and Jnl, Sep 44. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon this source.
14. 350th Inf Opns Rpt, Sep 44; 88th Div Opns Rpt, Sep 44.
15. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 4, 20-21 Sep 44, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/1.
17. Ibid. A veteran of the Stalingrad and Cassino battles, the 44th Division was made up largely of Austrian levies. In recent months it had been brought up to strength with replacements from Germany. The 715th Division had experienced heavy losses the previous May and June in the battles for the Anzio beachhead.
18. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 5, 26 Sep 44, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/1.
19. 88th Div Opns Rpt, Sep 44; Fifth Army History, Part VII, pp. 93-94.
20. Clark Diary, 21 Sep 44.
22. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 5, 28 Sep 44, AOK 14, Doc. 62241/1.
23. 350th Inf S-3 Jnl, Sep 44. Unless otherwise cited the following is based upon this source.
24. Captain Roeder was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
25. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. Nr. 5, 3-7 Oct 44, AOK 14, Doc. Nr. 65922/1.
26. 350th Inf Opns Rpt, Oct 44.
28. Fifth Army History, Part VII, p. 97.
29. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. Nr. 5, 7 Oct 44, AOK 14, Doc. 65922/2.
31. Fifth Army History, Part VII, pp. 100-102; Starr, From Salerno to the Alps, pp. 138-40.