However highly we must esteem courage and firmness in war, and however little prospect there is of victory to him who cannot resolve to seek it by exertion of all his powers, there still is a point beyond which perserverance can only be termed desperate folly, and therefore can meet with no approbation from any critic . . . .
CLAUSEWITZ, On War
From Ridge to Ridge
In mid-September, while the Fifth and Eighth Armies were battling through the Gothic Line, the Combined Chiefs of Staff met in Quebec for a second time in order to prepare plans for what was then thought to be the final phase of the war against Germany. The Americans, believing that Eisenhower's armies in northwestern France stood on the threshold of victory over the Germans, were at that point inclined to lend a more sympathetic ear to British pleas for bringing the campaign in Italy to a successful conclusion. General Marshall took pains to reassure his British counterpart, Imperial Chief of Staff General Sir Alan Brooke, that the U.S. Fifth Army would not be withdrawn "until General Wilson had completed the campaign then under way to defeat [Kesselring]." The Joint Chiefs of Staff therefore gave tacit support to British proposals for trans-Adriatic operations designed to outflank the Germans in the Po Valley. Landing craft that had been employed earlier in the landings in southern France would be made available for an amphibious operation against the Istrian peninsula; but since that same shipping would soon be needed for the Pacific, the Americans placed a time limit on its availability. For that reason, SACMED (General Wilson) had to make up his mind by 10 October whether to undertake an amphibious assault in the Adriatic.1
Heartened by the turn in the fortune of strategies long deferred in the Mediterranean, Churchill summoned Wilson and Alexander to meet with him on 8 October during a brief stopover at Naples en route to Moscow for a conference with Stalin. At Naples the British made a preliminary survey of ways to take advantage of the American offer to support a trans-Adriatic amphibious operation. The survey disclosed two possible courses of action: a seaborne attack on the Istrian peninsula, including the capture of Trieste; or a landing south of Fiume followed by a thrust northward toward that city. Which to choose, the conferees agreed, would depend upon the situation in Yugoslavia and the state of Allied resources in the Mediterranean Theater.
In Yugoslavia the military situation was unclear. German Army Group E, commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Maximillian von Weichs and consisting of about 240,000 men divided among 15 German, Bulgarian, Croatian, and Cossack divisions, had withdrawn from Greece to hold temporarily along the line of the Athens-Salonika-Belgrade railroad. Opposing the Germans and their allies were approximately 180,000
guerrillas, mostly under the leadership of Marshal Tito.2
As for Allied resources, the situation was equally obscure and full of drawbacks, such as a growing shortage of infantry replacements and the rather short time limit the Americans had placed on the use of the sealift in the Mediterranean Theater. Wilson was asked to undertake a study concerning the feasibility of an amphibious operation in the light of those factors and report his conclusions and recommendations as soon as possible to the CCS in London.3
Two days later Wilson submitted a report that offered little comfort to the advocates (Churchill and Alexander being those most prominent) of amphibious operations on the Adriatic flank. For the next few months there seemed, in Wilson's view, little likelihood that the Allied armies in Italy could contribute directly to the outcome of the campaign in northwestern Europe. It seemed more likely that a Russian drive into Hungary would have a far greater chance of forcing Kesseling's withdrawal from northern Italy than anything Alexander's armies might accomplish in the immediate future. Moreover, a Russian advance would very probably cause the Germans to withdraw from the Balkans as well and leave Tito's partisans in control of the Dalmatian coast.
If current Allied operations in Italy continued at their existing pace through November, not until December at the earliest could troops be withdrawn from the front to prepare for a seaborne assault. In Wilson's view, an amphibious operation against the Istrian peninsula was thus out of the question before early spring of 1945. To mount an assault even at that time, Wilson believed, would require reinforcements in the form of three fresh Allied divisions before the end of 1944; for unless the Russians forced Kesselring to withdraw during the winter, the Allies would have to husband existing strength in Italy in order to mount a spring offensive. As originally planned, an amphibious operation against Istria was to be accomplished with one airborne and two seaborne divisions in the assault phase and a fourth division in the follow-up.
As for the second course of action--landing south of Fiume followed by an overland advance on that city--it would depend largely upon German movements in Yugoslavia over the next few months. Even without an airborne division, that operation would nevertheless need the same amount of assault shipping, although possibly somewhat less than an assault against Istria.
Wilson's rather cautious forecast was enough to convince the CCS that hope for a trans-Adriatic amphibious assault had to be abandoned. In the event the Germans failed to capitulate before the end of the year, Eisenhower would need all of his divisions for a major offensive in early 1945. November and December would therefore be crucial months, during which the enemy had to be kept fully engaged on all fronts.
It was thus vital that the armies in Italy maintain strong pressure against Kesselring "and that," in the words of the CCS, "could be done only by continuing to fight hard in the peninsula itself." Under those circumstances, troops hardly were to be spared from the main battlefront for a major amphibious assault.
In taking their position, the CCS concluded "that the overland offensive in Italy should be relentlessly pursued until the major offensive in northwestern Europe had been launched, probably at the end of December." They recommended that the American sealift be retained no longer in the Mediterranean and that no additional divisions be moved into the theater. The latter point was driven home with additional force two days later when President Roosevelt personally intervened to reject a request from Churchill to divert to Italy two, or possibly three, American divisions about to leave the United States for Europe.
There the matter might have rested but for the Prime Minister's return to the fray on 21 October. On that date, during a stopover on return from Moscow, Churchill once again conferred with his commanders in Naples. The British Prime Minister's appetite for a mid-Danube or Balkan venture apparently had been whetted by the Red Army's recent successes in Czechoslovakia and Hungary and, only the day before the meeting, by the capture, with the assistance of Tito's partisans, of Belgrade. Henceforth the Yugoslav partisans, their ranks swelled to over 200,000, would fight as organized units alongside the Red Army, and Tito and his partisans would no longer be as dependent as before upon Allied aid.4
Acting on Churchill's instructions, Wilson proposed to the CCS on 24 October that as soon as the U.S. Fifth Army had captured Bologna, the Allied armies would pass to the defensive along or near the La Spezia-Bologna-Ravenna line. Alexander then could withdraw from the front up to six divisions with which to mount an amphibious operation or an administrative landing along the Dalmatian coast, depending upon the degree of control over the area then exercised by Tito's partisans. Once the Allied landing force had established a beachhead at Zara, three or four divisions could pass through to begin, during the first week of February, 1945, an overland advance on Fiume and Trieste. After the divisions captured Fiume, Wilson projected increasing the Allied force in Yugoslavia to six divisions and with them continuing northward to cut Kesselring's line of communications with Austria and Weichs' Army Group E in the Balkans. At the same time, Allied air forces in Italy, with assistance of a partisan uprising, would cut the German escape routes across the Alps, while the remaining Allied forces in Italy crossed the Po Valley. In order to preserve at least the threat of trans-Adriatic operations, Wilson requested permission to keep in the Mediterranean for the time being amphibious shipping for at least one division. Meanwhile, Wilson suggested switching the major air effort from Italy to harass the remaining Germans out of Yugoslavia.
Unfortunately for the expectations of Alexander and his staff, that plan found no more favor with the CCS than had the former. Actually, the plan's failure to provide either for a full engagement of Kesselring's armies during December and January, or even a compensating threat to his lines of communications, cost the Mediterranean command its major support within Allied planning circles. Churchill too was deeply disappointed by Wilson's apparent inability to undertake operations across the Adriatic before the end of 1944. On 30 October the Prime Minister observed that "one of the absurd things in all the plans which are submitted by the Mediterranean Command is the idea that if they move in February they will be in time to affect anything."5
The Prime Minister at that point somewhat reluctantly threw his support to the Imperial Chief of Staff's proposal that the Allies limit themselves beyond the Adriatic to increasing their support to the Yugoslav partisans. Since Wilson's plan to move on Trieste in February 1945 would be too late to provide the necessary support for Eisenhower's offensive in northwestern Europe, SACMED should, in Churchill's opinion, give up this plan unless somehow he, Wilson, could mount it before the end of the year, and that was manifestly impossible. On the 31st, the JCS concurred in the British proposal and added a recommendation that Wilson be directed to make Bologna his immediate objective. Once having reached the line La Spezia-Bologna-Ravenna, the Allied armies should continue to maintain pressure on Kesselring's armies in order to keep as many Germans as possible tied down in northern Italy.
The German high command, for its part, had a reasonably good notion of Allied capabilities and limitations in the Mediterranean. Allied schemes for trans-Adriatic operations were known to the Germans, but had not been taken seriously. Since the British intervention in the Greek civil war in October, the WFSt (Armed Forces Operations Staff) believed that Allied forces in the Mediterranean area lacked the strength to support landings either at Fiume or Trieste while at the same time supporting the Greeks and maintaining an active front in northern Italy. There was also a question whether either the Russians or Tito's partisans, after their capture of Belgrade on 20 October, would still welcome large-scale Allied operations in Yugoslavia and, even more doubtful, in the mid-Danube region, which the capitulation of Rumania in August and of Bulgaria in September had placed in the Red Army's zone of operations. Indeed, the German intelligence officers had accumulated considerable evidence indicating that they would not be welcome.6
Oblivious to the strategic debates and analyses in Allied and German planning circles throughout October, the combat troops on both sides attacked and counterattacked in the foggy mountain valleys and ridges of the Apennines and in the flooded plain of the Romagna where September had sloshed to an end with brimming water courses and washed-out roads vying with enemy fire
as obstacles to Allied progress. On the Fifth Army's front Keyes' II Corps had passed through the Radicosa Pass on the heels of a withdrawing enemy, and its four infantry divisions prepared to close the twenty miles separating them from Bologna and the Po Valley. On the Army's right flank the British 13 Corps had assisted its neighbor, as the fall offensive moved into October, by taking over several miles on the right of the II Corps to give the latter a narrower front on which to concentrate its strength. To the II Corps' left Crittenberger's IV Corps had continued, through a series of limited-objective operations, to try to hold enemy divisions on its front and thereby prevent Kesselring from shifting troops eastward to oppose the II Corps. Yet all those efforts had had only limited success, for the flanking units were themselves holding wide sectors with minimum forces and were unable to apply much pressure.
Although September had seen both the Fifth and Eighth Armies make impressive gains by breaking through the Gothic Line and driving, respectively, to within sight of the Po Valley and moving northwestward along Highway 9, some seventeen miles from Rimini to a point just east of Cesena, both were still far from their original goals of destroying the Tenth Army south of the Po and pushing the Fourteenth Army north of the river. The worsening weather and attrition of the September battles made it seem, at least to General Alexander, that those goals could not be gained in the near future.
On 21 September Alexander informed the Chief of the Imperial General Staff that, although the Allied armies in Italy had inflicted severe losses on the enemy, Allied losses also had been heavy. The Allied commander added that the nature of the terrain in the mountains as well as in the Romagna Plain necessitated a three-to-one superiority in troop strength for successful offensive operations. Since his armies were not likely to achieve that ratio in the foreseeable future, General Alexander believed that decisive victory in Italy was no longer possible before the end of the year--a conclusion that the U.S. Army's Chief of Staff, General Marshall, had reached in August. Five days later Alexander returned to the same theme in a message to the theater commander, observing that "the trouble is that my forces are too weak relative to the enemy, to force a breakthrough and so close the two pincers. The advance of both armies is too slow to achieve decisive results unless the Germans break, and there is no sign of that."7
Shortages of replacements had been felt first among Eighth Army units. The Greek 3d Mountain Brigade, which had captured Rimini, had been withdrawn from the front for eventual movement to Greece for use in a civil war then wracking that recently liberated country. An Indian division was also to be withdrawn by the end of October for shipment to the Allied Southeast Asia Command. There was little likelihood that replacements for those units would be forthcoming, for Allied strategic attention, especially that of the Americans, was focused on northwestern Europe, so that Alexander
had little choice but to somehow raise the needed manpower through reorganization of his own command.
As part of the reorganization, he reduced the British 1st Armoured Division to nonoperational status and transferred its infantry to the British 56th Division to bring it up to strength. Some help was also coming from outside Eighth Army resources. Two infantry brigades, recruited among refugee Poles, joined the 2 Polish Corps, adding approximately ten thousand men to Eighth Army ranks. In October, Clark finally wrung from a reluctant War Department 3,000 American infantrymen. Originally scheduled as replacements for northwestern Europe, they arrived too late to take part in the fighting during that month. General Marshall also repeated his earlier assurances that all U.S. troops then present in Italy would remain until the enemy had been defeated. That at last laid to rest the chronic concern at Alexander's and Leese's headquarters that the U.S. Fifth Army might be moved from Italy and the British left to carry the campaign alone.8
In spite of reinforcements for the Polish corps, American replacements, and assurances that U.S. troops would remain in Italy, General Alexander continued to be skeptical about the prospects for his armies. Their great autumn offensive, he reported to General Wilson on 2 October, was "a slow and costly process, and my fears are now that we may not be just quite strong enough to carry it through. I am reinforcing [Clark's] Fifth Army by giving them the [British] 78th Division for 13 Corps. It is my last remaining fully fresh division"9
Welcome though the 78th Division was to General Clark, a lone division could not suffice to alleviate the Fifth Army's chronic shortage of infantry replacements, a shortage made increasingly acute with the attrition of each passing day of combat and worsening weather. During the first week of October the II Corps' four infantry divisions had endured a daily average of 550 casualties over and above returns to units from hospitals. At that rate those four divisions, upon which rested the burden of continuing the Fifth Army's fall offensive, could maintain their T/O strength only through 10 October. Without additional replacements, the infantry strength of the divisions would be reduced by approximately 500 men for each day of fighting after that date. Under those circumstances the offensive would eventually have to come to a halt short of its goal.10
In spite of the discouraging estimates, Allied commanders saw no alternative to maintaining pressure against the Germans on all fronts. General Clark therefore ordered the II Corps to resume a full-scale effort along the axis of Highway 65 toward the village of Monghidoro, about three and a half miles north of Radicosa Pass.
North of the pass the terrain would be similar to that already encountered by the 88th Division in the Santerno valley. The drainage patterns of the
streams flanking the highway tend generally northward, with the main ridge lines paralleling the streams. Tributary streams and major transverse ridges cut across those patterns at intervals of three to four miles. Monghidoro, to which the Germans had withdrawn on 28 September, lay on the first of those ridge lines beyond the Radicosa Pass. Four miles to the north of Monghidoro the Germans had prepared a second and even stronger defensive zone along an east-west ridge line running through the village of Loiano. Work on similar defenses had also begun on two other ridge lines at Livergnano and Pianoro, ten and fourteen miles, respectively, north of the Radicosa Pass. To the II Corps commander, General Keyes, it appeared likely that the enemy would attempt to hold each ridge line until forced to withdraw, thereby forcing the Americans to pause and regroup before launching a set-piece attack against each of the positions.11
General Keyes planned to employ all four of his infantry divisions. Since that left him no reserve, he instructed each division commander to hold out a regiment and rotate his three regiments in line approximately once every five days. The corps commander had developed that plan to permit launching of coordinated attacks against the successive enemy defensive lines at intervals corresponding to the five-day rotation system. Thus, despite the shortages of infantry replacements, each phase of the offensive would be led by relatively fresh regiments returning to action after a period of rest in reserve.
During the first phase, the 85th and 91st Divisions were to make the main effort east of Highway 65 with the focus in the 85th Division's zone. General Coulter's 85th Division was to attack on a four-mile front whose left flank rested upon the Idice River [a mile east of Highway 65] and whose right flank rested upon the Sillaro Creek, some five miles east of the highway. From positions just north of the Radicosa Pass, General Livesay's 91st Division was to advance on a four-mile front astride the highway. To Livesay's left, General Bolté's 34th Division was assigned a secondary role to cover the corps left flank along the Setta Creek six miles west of the highway. West of the Santerno valley on the corps right flank, General Kendall's 88th Division was to cover that flank and maintain contact with elements of the British 13 Corps in the Santerno valley.
To further secure the flanks of the Fifth Army's main effort and enable Keyes to concentrate solely upon the Bologna sector, Clark removed the 6th South African Armoured Division from IV Corps control and placed it, together with CCB of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, under army control. That change would enable Clark to coordinate the reinforced division's advance more closely with that of the II Corps. Furthermore, the move of the British 78th Division from the Eighth Army to the 13 Corps would enable that division eventually to take over the U.S. 88th Division's sector in the Santerno valley.
As Keyes prepared to resume the drive to Bologna, he was to find some of his logistical problems somewhat easier
II Corps Attack on the Livergnano Escarpment
1-15 October 1944
to solve; gasoline, for example, would be more readily available. By 3 October, Fifth Army engineers had completed a 4-inch pipeline as far as Pontedera, eighteen miles east of Leghorn. During the rest of the month the engineers extended the line thirty-six miles farther to the northeast to Sesto, and from there it would be extended during November to the Futa Pass, some twenty miles away.12
II Corps Resumes Its Advance
Hard on the heels of a heavy artillery preparation, the U.S. II Corps at 0600 on 1 October attacked across a ten-mile front. For the first hours low clouds and fog concealed all troop movements, but later in the morning the sun broke through and gave both ground and airborne artillery observers excellent visibility. After a week of inactivity, aircraft of the tactical air command also returned to the battle. (Map XIII)
The 4th Parachute and 362d Grenadier Divisions of the I Parachute Corps took the main shock of the American attack along the defensive line hinged on the village of Monghidoro. Both divisions had sustained heavy losses during the earlier battles in defense of the Gothic Line, but they held their ground until the night of 4 October. Then under cover of darkness they broke contact and fell back four miles to the parachute corps' next planned defensive position, based on a ridge running approximately east-west through Loiano.13
The next day, the 5th, General Clark flew to the 91st Division's headquarters, then located in Monghidoro, where he expressed his pleasure over the 91st Division's performance. Well might he have been pleased, for from Monghidoro he caught his first glimpse of the Po Valley and the snow-covered Alps beyond. His goal was at last in sight, however long it yet might take to get there.14
Although Schlemm's parachute corps had held Keyes to a four-mile gain in as many days, the Germans had paid a high price. The Americans captured 858 men, and several times that number fell to American fire. But being on the defensive, the Germans could expect their losses to diminish as they fell back into successively stronger positions.
During the first four days of the attack beyond the Radicosa Pass, U.S. casualties had increased over the previous week to a total of 1,734. To that total, worsening weather, rugged terrain, and fatigue added an equal number of nonbattle casualties. Yet unless these figures increased markedly, the II Corps staff calculated that the corps still might debouch into the Po Valley and capture Bologna before the winter snows began.
As the II Corps offensive began its second phase early on 5 October, the focus shifted from Livesay's 91st Division to Coulter's 85th, which was to exploit a salient that had developed during the first phase along a ridge between the Idice and Sillaro Rivers. The division bumped almost immediately into a strong defense based on Hill 578, highest point in the Monterenzio hill mass, five miles east of Livergnano
on Highway 65. Corps intelligence officers identified the defenders as elements of the 362d and 65th Infantry Divisions supported by the 98th Infantry Division's 117th Infantry Regiment. Only on the 85th Division's left, near the Idice River, were significant gains made. There the 338th Infantry drew within striking distance of Monte delle Formiche, the highest ground on the enemy's third line of defense, an east-west escarpment running through the village of Livergnano on Highway 65 eight miles north of Monghidoro.
Meanwhile, along Highway 65, Livesay's 91st Division moved against the village of Loiano, three and a half miles north of Monghidoro. With General Keyes' approval General Livesay temporarily modified the plan for rotating regiments and kept all three on line in order to mount a stronger assault until Loiano was taken.
Overcast skies grounded fighter bombers and most artillery spotter aircraft as the 91st Division attacked at dawn on 5 October behind a 12-minute artillery concentration of a thousand rounds. Thirty minutes later the 362d Infantry's 2d Battalion entered Loiano, where Company L led the battalion house by house through the shattered village. One tank was lost to enemy fire, and that afternoon the assault company called for additional artillery fire to beat off a vigorous counterattack; but by nightfall the battalion had established an outpost line beyond the village and the 363d Infantry moved into reserve for its delayed rest.15
Before proceeding against the enemy's next defensive line, the 91st Division had to deal with a secondary delaying position two miles beyond Loiano based on a height, Monte Castellari, that constituted in effect an outpost for the next major defensive line. Hoping to surprise contingents of the 4th Parachute Division on the height, the 362d Infantry early on 7 October attacked without artillery preparation. Although the terrain was fairly open, frequent spells of rain and fog had the effect of isolating the attacking companies and subjecting them to a deadly mosaic of unsupported fire fights. So poor was visibility that not until the second day was a lone observation aircraft able to get into the air. Nevertheless, using data obtained from shell-bursts, partisan reports, and previously collected photo intelligence, supporting artillery fired a daily average of 4,500 rounds. Although unobserved, the fire apparently had effect, for early on 9 October patrols from the 1st Battalion managed to emplace rope ladders on Monte Castellari and reach its crest without serious opposition. Within a few hours the Americans had occupied the last high ground between Loiano and Livergnano, the latter the hinge of the enemy's next defensive zone, four miles beyond Loiano.
Since 5 October the center of the corps front had advanced about three miles, a rate slower than during the first phase of the operation. Although casualties remained high, they totaled some 300 less than during the first four days of the month. Furthermore, evidence was accumulating that the Germans too were having serious manpower problems.
The Livergnano Escarpment
The Germans were indeed in a difficult situation, for Schlemm's I Parachute Corps had sustained considerable losses during its withdrawal from Monghidoro to the Livergnano escarpment. Kesselring could no longer close his eyes to the fact that Lemelsen's Fourteenth Army was facing a major offensive directed against the sector south of Bologna. Although Lemelsen had managed while falling back to keep his front intact, the cumulative effect of combat losses was telling. If the Allied offensive continued undiminished, the situation of the Fourteenth Army's I Parachute Corps would soon become critical and that of the Tenth Army's LXXVI Panzer Corps, slowly falling back before the Eighth Army on the Romagna Plain, was little better. In a series of visits to corps and division command posts, Kesselring emphasized the importance of defense in depth, rather than continuation of the traditional and costly tactic of trying to cling to the main line of resistance through a succession of counterattacks. If a first counterattack failed, withdrawal to the next defensive position was to follow.16
Fortunately for the Germans, by moving into positions along the Livergnano escarpment, they were occupying the strongest natural defensive line since departing the Gothic Line. The escarpment extended eastward about ten miles, from the Monterumici hill mass in the 34th Division's zone to Monte delle Formiche and the Monterenzio hill mass in front of the 85th Division, and ended at Monte delle Tombe and the Gesso Ridge on the II Corps right flank in the 88th Division's zone.
Because the escarpment was particularly forbidding in the central sector flanking Highway 65, General Keyes decided to continue to place the main emphasis of his offensive east of the highway in the 85th Division's zone. The 91st Division astride Highway 65 before Livergnano and the 88th Division in the western edge of the Santerno valley were both to maintain pressure to prevent the enemy from shifting troops to oppose the 85th.17
The 85th Division's immediate objective was bald-crested 2,092-foot Monte delle Formiche, atop which stood a tower affording observation as far west as Highway 65 and eastward across the Idice valley. As at Livergnano, an almost perpendicular escarpment blocked the southern and southeastern approaches to the objective, with only a narrow trail that passed through a wooded ravine near the hamlet of Casa del Monte on the southwestern slope to provide a gradual route of ascent. Intelligence had identified the elements of three enemy divisions, the 94th, 362d, and 65th Infantry Divisions, deployed in the vicinity of the objective. The 85th Division commander, General Coulter, planned to employ the 338th Infantry, assisted on the left by a battalion of the 363d Infantry, attached from the neighboring 91st Division.
At 0800 on 10 October the 338th Infantry's 2d Battalion attacked toward Casa del Monte. For the first time in a
week, clear skies enabled tactical aircraft and corps and division artillery to support the attack fully. With the way cleared by overwhelming firepower, Company E encountered little resistance in scaling the escarpment through the ravine to enter Casa del Monte in early afternoon; but then the Germans counterattacked, cutting off part of the company and driving the remainder from the hamlet. While Company E fought to retake Casa del Monte, Company G came through the ravine, swung to the right and by late afternoon had worked up the slopes of Monte delle Formiche to occupy the crest and capture 53 Germans in the vicinity of a small chapel on top of the mountain. Company F arrived in time to help repulse an enemy attempt to regain the position. At that point a fresh battalion took over to continue the advance, but so staunchly did the Germans contest every foot of ground that three days later the battalion was still only a mile beyond Monte delle Formiche.
On the eastern side of the Idice valley the 337th Infantry, with a battalion of the 338th Infantry attached, fought up Hill 578, the highest point in the Monterenzio hill mass. It was midday on 13 October before the objective and 23 prisoners were in hand. Shortly thereafter the battalion captured the hamlet of Poggiolo, a thousand yards northeast of Hill 578. As the 339th Infantry relieved the 337th, German resistance stiffened. As on the western side of the valley, the 339th Infantry could push forward no more than a mile. Having established a firm foothold on the escarpment, the 85th Division could go no farther.
Meanwhile, after the British 78th Division relieved the 88th Division in the Santerno valley, General Keyes shifted the axis of the 88th Division's attack to the northwest, paralleling that of the 85th Division. Encountering increasing resistance in the new sector, the division commander, General Kendall, brought forward his reserve regiment, the 350th Infantry. That regiment's attack early on the 10th got off to a good start but soon ran into difficulty. For the better part of three days neither of the two attacking battalions made any headway until the night of the 13th after a patrol located a gap in the enemy's defenses. Passing through the gap, one battalion crossed the little Sillaro River and by the 15th had advanced over a mile beyond it. That unhinged the opposition holding up the other battalion. As the Germans fell back in some disarray, both battalions were able to pull abreast of the forward positions of the 85th Division just beyond Monte delle Formiche.
The 85th Division's limited success at Monte delle Formiche probably could be attributed in part to the 91st Division's feat in holding the enemy on the Livergnano sector astride Highway 65. It was there that the Germans had expected the Americans to make their main effort and had concentrated most of their strength. An escarpment 3 miles long and nearly 1,800 feet high made the position all the more imposing, but there were two openings through that wall, one at the village of Livergnano where Highway 65 passed, and another a wooded ravine over a mile east of the highway near the hamlet of Bigallo. It was to those two openings that General Livesay, the 91st
Division commander, turned his attention.18
To make the attack, General Livesay selected the 361st Infantry. Because of the enemy's strong position, he planned to employ all three battalions in line; the 1st on the left to launch a holding attack against Livergnano, the 2d to pass through the ravine near Bigallo and gain a foothood on the escarpment, the 3d on the right to cover that flank and tie in with the 85th Division's 337th Infantry, attacking Monte delle Formiche. After gaining the escarpment near Bigallo, the 2d Battalion was to turn westward to cut in behind the enemy defending Livergnano, while at the same time the 1st Battalion launched a frontal attack against the town. Because of sharply compartmented terrain, each of the battalions would have to operate pretty much on its own.
As the 1st Battalion prepared to make its holding attack against Livergnano early on 9 October, the Germans countered with an attack of their own, throwing the battalion off balance and off schedule. Although the Americans soon drove the enemy back into the town, the operation was delayed until midmorning. Since the 2d Battalion had already begun its approach march to the Bigallo ravine, it was vital for the 1st Battalion to make up in vigor what it had lost in time. That may have explained why the 3d Platoon of Capt. Chatlain Sigman's Company K, without waiting for artillery support, boldly stormed into Livergnano only to be driven to cover by heavy enemy fire. Instead of scattering pell mell, the entire platoon except for ten men dashed for cover into the largest building in the town, a four-story house. The other ten men took cover in a nearby pigsty. After dark Captain Sigman led the rest of his company into Livergnano and set up a defense in the four-story house.19
Just before dawn the Germans, apparently having pinpointed the company's location, attacked the building but were repulsed. In mid-morning they came back, accompanied by two tanks. Opening fire, the tanks blasted gaping holes in the walls. As the tanks lifted their fire, the German infantry stormed the ruins to overrun and capture Sigman's entire company, except for the ten men still hidden in the pigsty. That night those men managed to slip back to American lines with the story of what had happened to the rest of Company K.
The 2d Battalion, meanwhile, fared better in its efforts to pass through the ravine near Bigallo and reach the top of the escarpment. As the men of Companies E and G prepared to move, a heavy ground fog rolled in. Their approach well concealed, the two companies passed through the ravine early on the 9th and gained the escarpment without opposition. As the men prepared to continue to Hill 592, which overlooked the highway and Livergnano, the providential fog began to disperse. They had gone no more than 500 yards when heavy fire from the flanks pinned them to the ground.
The two companies had come to a halt in what resembled a tilted saucer
surrounded on three sides by enemy-held high ground, which included Hill 592 and the village of Santa Maria di Zena on the slopes of Monte delle Formiche, not yet occupied by the neighboring 85th Division. Throughout the day of 10 October the Germans poured small arms, mortar, and artillery fire at the companies. Although the battalion commander tried to get the attack moving again by committing his reserve, Company F, that company by nightfall had still to get beyond the hamlet of Bigallo at the foot of the escarpment. With one company presumably lost in Livergnano, two pinned down on the plateau above the escarpment, and a fourth stalled in Bigallo, the 361st Infantry plainly was in trouble. The only bright spot was that the 85th Division captured Monte delle Formiche to spare Companies E and G from enemy fire from at least that direction.
Early on the 11th fighter-bombers and corps artillery began pounding Livergnano's northern outskirts, apparent keystone of the enemy defenses, but when the stalled companies tried to resume their advance, resistance was much the same as before. In the hope of breaking the stalemate, General Livesay late in the day decided on an envelopment on a wider scale by sending the 1st Battalion, 361st Infantry, farther to the northwest of Livergnano and the 363d Infantry, which had reached the base of the escarpment, to the northeast. Those maneuvers, he hoped, would force the enemy to release his grip on the high ground overlooking Livergnano.
All the while, the situation of Companies E and G atop the escarpment continued to deteriorate. Even though Company F also at last reached the top of the escarpment, most of the men had to be employed in supplying the other two companies and evacuating their wounded. Evacuation was a 12-hour ordeal for both wounded and carriers over a path too steep and narrow for litters; instead, relays of men carried the wounded down the steep draw on their backs. Even an unimpeded company runner required four hours to make the trip.
Concerned that the 91st Division's lack of success at Livergnano was at least part of the reason that the 85th Division had stalled just beyond Monte delle Formiche, General Clark late in the day personally intervened to order General Livesay to reinforce the companies on the escarpment that night. Spurred by command pressure that increased as it moved down the chain of command, the 363d Infantry's Companies A and C began shortly after dark on the 11th to climb laboriously up the escarpment. They made it around dawn, to be followed later in the morning by the same regiment's 3d Battalion. West of Livergnano, the 1st Battalion, 361st Infantry, had at the same time launched its wide flanking attack, but only one platoon managed to scale the escarpment and then had to fall back in the face of an enemy counterattack.
The stubbornness and success of the enemy's defense of the Livergnano sector owed much to the arrival on the scene of the 65th Infantry Division, a relatively fresh unit that General Lemelsen had shifted from the XIV Panzer Corps sector opposite the U.S. IV Corps. Shortly after the II Corps began its
attack, the 65th Infantry Division had entered the line in the center of the parachute corps sector between the 4th Parachute and 362d Divisions.20
Some dramatic intervention, bringing substantially greater weight of firepower, was needed if the enemy was to be blasted from his strong positions along the Livergnano escarpment. A fortuitous break in the weather made that possible. After having been grounded for much of a week, observation aircraft and fighter-bombers returned to the air in large numbers on the 12th, and for the next four days Fifth Army artillerymen enjoyed their first extended period of observed fire since the breakthrough of the Gothic Line on 17 September. Between 12 and 14 October, for example, the 91st Division artillery fired over 24,000 rounds. Other divisions in the II Corps enjoyed similar support.
Medium and heavy bombers of the MATAF and MASAF also moved to the attack, joining forces to launch an aerial assault code-named PANCAKE against enemy defenses in the Bologna sector. As the skies began to clear, B-26's from the 42d TAC Wing bombed bridges and a factory in the enemy rear area. On the 12th, 177 B-25's dropped over a thousand 500-pound bombs on German supply dumps and barracks areas, while 698 heavy bombers dropped over a thousand tons of bombs on ten enemy targets. Between the 11th and 13th, the XXII TAC flew 880 sorties in support of ground troops.21
Behind the impressive artillery fire and air support, General Livesay's 91st Division at last began to extend its precarious foothold on the escarpment. On 13 October the 1st Battalion, 361st Infantry, finally scaled the escarpment to complete the wide outflanking maneuver of Livergnano from the west, and on the following day, the 2d Battalion took Hill 592, outflanked the town from the east, and proceeded westward to reach Highway 65 in the afternoon at a point just north of Livergnano. As might have been expected, the enemy abandoned the town.22
To provide a fresher force for bearing the brunt of the continuing drive on Bologna, then only ten miles away, General Keyes directed General Bolté's 34th Division to begin taking over a portion of the front just east of Highway 65 then occupied by a regiment each of the 85th and 91st Divisions. In anticipation of the shift, Keyes earlier had provided General Bolté with the 1st Armored Division's CCA, which enabled the 34th Division to begin the shift even while continuing a relatively low key attack with one regiment against the Monterumici hill mass about two miles west of Highway 65, an extension of the Livergnano escarpment. By nightfall on the 15th the 34th Division was in position in the corps center to lead the fourth phase of the offensive, scheduled to begin the next morning.23
Action on the Flanks
While the II Corps was extending and widening its salient south of Bologna during the first two weeks of October, the roles of its flanking units--the 6th South African Armoured Division on the left shoulder and the British 13 Corps on the right shoulder of the salient--increased in importance. As evidence of enemy build-up opposite the nose of the salient accumulated, General Clark deemed it vital that enemy units elsewhere be tied down to prevent further shifts to the defense of Bologna.
After taking over the bulk of the Santerno valley sector from the American 88th Division, the British 78th Division had continued to move gradually northward. Elsewhere on the 13 Corps front the British 6th Armoured Division's 1st Guards Brigade in the Monte Battaglia sector, the British 1st Division astride Highway 934 (running down the Senio valley toward Castel Bolognese in the Po Valley), and the 8th Indian Division operating astride Highway 6521, which follows the Lamone valley to Faenza on Highway 9, made scant progress. Reduced by detachments to only one brigade, the British armored division could do little more than cover the 13 Corps' right flank and maintain a tenuous contact with the Eighth Army's 10 Corps. The 13 Corps commander, General Kirkman, had been forced to draw so heavily on his less important right flank to reinforce his left that the armored units in the mountains on the right could do little more than follow up enemy withdrawals.
To the II Corps' left the 6th South African Armoured Division under Fifth Army control held a five-mile sector from the Setta Creek, on the corps' left boundary, westward to the Reno River, right boundary of the IV Corps. Advancing mainly astride Highway 6620, about two miles west of the Setta Creek, the South Africans kept the 34th Division left flank well covered during the first half of October. On the 13th they launched a set-piece attack to gain control of a ridge between the Setta Creek and the Reno River, the key to which was Monte Stanco, a 2,200-foot summit at the midpoint of the ridge. Well supported by corps and army artillery, the division made its heaviest attack since the desert campaign of El Alamein. By nightfall Monte Stanco was in hand, along with more than a hundred prisoners from both the 94th Grenadier and the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division. A relatively modest gain, the capture of Monte Stanco nevertheless opened up the eastern portion of Route 6424, a lateral road connecting Highways 64 and 6620 so that trucks no longer had to make the long haul over a tortuous secondary road. The division's right was at that point securely tied in along the Setta Creek with the U.S. 1st Armored Division's CCA, holding the 34th Division's former sector on the II Corps left flank. On the South African division's left flank the attached 1st Armored Division's CCB maintained contact with the U.S. IV Corps along the Reno River.
Holding a 50-mile front extending from the Reno valley to the coast just north of Viareggio, the IV Corps during the first half of October had the mission of covering the Fifth Army's vital supply line from the port of
INDIAN INFANTRY IN NORTHERN APENNINES
Leghorn to the central sector north of Florence, and tying down enemy units that otherwise might move against the II Corps. That was all the corps could hope to accomplish, for after losing the 6th South African Armoured Division and the 1st Armored Division's CCB to army control, the corps had a strength of little more than a reinforced division.
The Personnel Problem
In mid-October the prospect loomed ever larger that unredeemed battle losses would ultimately bring both the Fifth and Eighth armies to a halt. During the six days from 10 through 15 October, for example, the four infantry divisions of the II Corps sustained 2,491 casualties. When combined with even larger losses of the first nine days of the month, the prospects for the future were disturbing. While some of the losses could be made up by men returning to duty from hospitals and by replacements trickling into the theater, the theater's replacement pool that had served so well since the beginning of
the Italian campaign was for the first time showing signs of depletion. If losses continued at their current rate and the replacement pool was not replenished, Clark warned Alexander, the Fifth Army's offensive toward Bologna and the Po Valley would fall short of its goal.24
As for the Eighth Army, the battles to turn the Gothic Line, break into the Romagna Plain, capture Rimini, and push beyond had been, in the words of General McCreery, the new Eighth Army commander, "as bitter as at Alamein and Cassino." A total of 14,000 combat casualties since the beginning of the Gothic Line offensive bore witness to the truth of his observation.25 Yet after the capture of Rimini the Eighth Army's losses had declined sharply, while American losses had increased (13,082 American and 2,451 British).
Even as General Clark launched the third phase of his attack toward Bologna on 10 October, British Prime Minister Churchill made his appeal to his American ally for "two, or better still, three" American divisions with which to sustain the Italian campaign.26 General Marshall's negative response to the plea rested upon the same strategic principle that had supported his espousal of Operation ANVIL in early 1944. Northwestern Europe and not the Mediterranean was the main theater of operations, and a "diversion of divisions
6TH SOUTH AFRICAN ARMORED DIVISION TANKS ASSEMBLED FOR ATTACK
to Italy would withhold needed fresh troops from southern France while committing those forces to the high attrition of an indecisive winter campaign in Italy." In any case, in Marshall's opinion, additional men would no longer affect the outcome of the Italian campaign in 1944, for by mid-October the time had already passed when the Allied armies could drive the Germans from the peninsula and cross the Alpine passes along the Italo-German frontier, already blocked with snow.27 No matter what successes Alexander scored before the end of 1944, the strategic picture in the Mediterranean at that stage of the war would not, in Marshall's opinion, be altered. Yet campaigns, like other human enterprises, once undertaken, often claim their advocates long after
the undertaking has served its purpose. That was the case in Italy.
Against this somber background and in spite of General Marshall's pronouncement, the Allied command in Italy, in a mood reminiscent of that of army commanders on the western front during World War I, prepared in mid-October to have one more try at capturing Ravenna and Bologna. General Alexander's plan called for the Fifth Army, after debouching from the mountains, to join with the Eighth Army in encircling and destroying the elusive Tenth Army. The hope was utterly forlorn. Neither south of Rome, during the pursuit to the Arno, nor following the breakthrough of the Gothic Line had the two Allied armies succeeded in so disorganizing the enemy as to cut off and destroy any significant portion of the German armed forces. In mid-October, following several weeks of minor advances won at the expense of numerous casualties and at the end of ever-lengthening supply lines, that possibility seemed even less likely than before.
By that time not only Allied but also German strategy in northern Italy had come to assume an air of unreality. Instead of withdrawing to the line of the Alps, a superb natural defensive barrier from which the Austro-German armies had kept the Allies at bay through much of World War I, the German high command continued to employ in defense of northern Italy many units whose presence on other fronts, while not sufficient in themselves to turn the tide of battle, could at least have won for the Germans needed time to extricate their armies. Hitler's determination to keep alive Mussolini's shadow republic and to maintain a grip on the admittedly large agricultural and industrial potential of the Po Valley seems to have been among the reasons for Kesselring's back-to-the-wall defense in the Apennines and along the swollen rivers of the Romagna Plain. As with the Allies, there was also possibly the additional factor, as already noted, that campaigns often tend to develop their own partisans; the German armed forces too had their Mediterranean faction.
Falling back on what surely seemed to the Allied commanders an interminable series of defensive positions, Kesselring's strategic and tactical problems presented him with fewer difficulties than those of his Allied counterparts. But he had other problems, among them the unexpected loss of one of his army commanders. In mid-October General Lemelsen, his Fourteenth Army commander, became ill and was evacuated to a hospital. To take command of the Fourteenth Army until his recovery, Kesselring selected the XIV Panzer Corps commander, General von Senger und Etterlin.28
Taking stock of the situation, Senger compared the situation on the Bologna sector to a thick cloth incessantly jabbed by a spear. For a time the cloth's elasticity would prevent the spear from breaking through, but eventually the cloth would give way.29
To prevent the fabric of the Bologna sector from being pierced, von Senger
promptly reinforced with the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier and 94th Divisions from his own corps, where those units had been engaged defending against the attacks of the South African armoured division. On 15 October the two German divisions entered the line south of Bologna, thereby increasing to six divisions the German forces opposing the U.S. II Corps. When General Clark's G-2 informed him that, in addition to those two divisions, the 29th Panzer Grenadier and the 90th Division were also on their way from the Tenth to the Fourteenth Army sector, the Fifth Army commander noted despairingly in his diary, "this seems more than we can stand." Clark might also have added a dictum attributed to the elder von Moltke: no plan survives contact with the enemy.30
1. Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, pp. 510-11.
2. DA Pamphlet 20-243, Aug 51, German Antiguerrilla Operations in the Balkans, 1941-44; Earl F. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East, Army Historical Series (Washington, 1968), p. 367.
3. Ehrman, Grand Strategy, vol. VI, pp. 37-51. Unless otherwise cited the following is based upon this source.
4. DA Pamphlet 20-243; Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin, p. 367.
5. Ehrman, Grand Strategy, vol. VI, p. 51.
6. Greiner and Schramm, eds., OKW/WFSt, KTB, IV (1), pp. 566-67.
7. Ehrman, Grand Strategy, vol. VI, p. 37; SAC Despatch, 13 Aug-12 Dec 44, p. 34.
8. SAC Despatch, 13 Aug-12 Dec 44, p. 34; Fifth Army History, Part VII, p. 163.
9. SAC Despatch, 13 Aug-12 Dec 44, p. 46.
10. Clark Diary, 6 Oct 44.
11. II Corps G-3 Jnl and AAR, Oct 44. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon these sources.
12. Mayo MS, Chapter XV.
13. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 5, 4-5 Oct 44, AOK 14, Doc. 65922/1.
14. Clark, Calculated Risk, p. 396.
15. 91st Div Opns Rpt, Oct 44. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon this source.
16. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. Nr. 5, 8-9 Oct. 44, AOK 14, Doc Nr. 65922/1.
17. II Corps G-3, Jnl, Oct 44; 85th Div G-3 Jnl & file, Oct 44; 88th Div G-3 Jnl & file, Oct 44. Unless otherwise indicated the following sections are based upon these sources.
18. 91st Div Opns Jnl, Oct 44. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon this source.
19. See Robert A. Robbins, The 91st Division in World War II (Washington, 1947), pp. 175-180 (a war correspondent's account of the action).
20. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 5, 9-11 Oct 44, AOK 14, Doc. 65922/1.
21. In early October the XII TAC's operational strength was increased by addition of the 27th and 79th Fighter Groups. On 19 October the command was officially redesignated the XXII Tactical Air Command (XXII TAC). See Craven & Cate, eds. AAF III, pp. 450-54.
22. 91st Div Opns Rpt, Oct 44.
23. Fifth Army History, Part VII, pp. 137-39.
24. Clark Diary, 15 Oct 44.
25. Alexander, Despatch, p. 71. On 1 October General Sir Oliver Leese had handed over command of the Eighth Army to General Sir Richard L. McCreery, former commander of 10 Corps. General Leese then departed to command British forces in Burma.
26. SHAEF Diary, Bk. XIII, 10 Oct 44, pp. 1775-76, Msg. PM to Eisenhower for Marshall.
27. Ibid., 17 Oct 44, Msg. Marshall to Eisenhower.
28. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 5, 14 Oct 44, AOK 14, Doc. 65922/2.
29. Senger, Neither Hope nor Fear, p. 276.
30. AOK 14 Ia KTB Anl. 5, 14-15 Oct 44, AOK 14, Doc. 65922/1; Clark Diary, 17 Oct 44. See also Correlli Barnett, The Swordbearers, (New York, 1964), p. 24.