Toward a Winter Stalemate
The Eighth Army Advance to the Ronco
However gloomy General Clark's assessment on 17 October of his army's situation, he could take some comfort in a decision by the Eighth Army commander two days earlier to reinforce his army's left wing south of Highway 9. Deducing that the foothills of the Apennines offered better operational terrain than the waterlogged plain and flooded rivers north of the highway, General McCreery decided to relieve the British 10 Corps on his left--which had the 1st Armoured Division in line with the 4th Indian Division in reserve--with the relatively fresh 2 Polish Corps, controlling the 3d Carpathian and 5th Kresowa Divisions. After several weeks in army reserve, the Polish corps could be expected to add considerable strength to the advance on the better drained ground south of the highway where the British 5 Corps and its 10th Indian and British 46th and 56th Divisions were currently operating. The 1st Canadian Corps, with an armored and two infantry divisions, continued to hold the remainder of the Eighth Army's front from Highway 9 to the coast, seven miles to the northeast.1
Starting from the vicinity of Galeata, twenty miles southwest of Cesena, the Polish corps' two divisions proceeded in a northerly direction along two roads running through the Rabbi and Bidente river valleys toward Highway 9, just east of Forli. Even as General Clark made his pessimistic assessment on 17 October, the 5th Kresowa Division led the 2 Polish Corps in a night attack from Galeata toward Montegrosso, a 2,100-foot peak three miles north of Galeata dominating the area between the two river valleys. Realizing that an Allied success at Montegrosso would threaten to turn the front east of Cesena opposite the Canadian corps and British 5 Corps, the Germans fought stubbornly. Polish troops nevertheless drove the last of the Germans from Montegrosso on 21 October and cleared the way for an advance by the 3d Carpathian and 5th Kresowa Divisions toward Forli, on Highway 9. Even so, it took the Poles five days to cover the six miles from Montegrosso to the town of Preddapio Nuova, on the banks of the Rabbi River nine miles south of Forli. Although the Polish troops swept into the town without opposition on the 26th, a strong German counterattack forced them to yield it later, so that not until the next day was the town retaken and secured. That was as far as the Polish corps could advance for the rest of the month.
Even as the Poles had moved against Montegrosso, the British 5 Corps to the right, from a line just beyond the Rubicone River some 7 miles southwest of Cesena attacked toward Cesena and the Savio River flowing west of the town in a northerly direction. Astride
Highway 9, the Carleton and York Regiments of the 3d Infantry Brigade on the Canadian corps left flank also moved towards Cesena. On 19 October the 5 Corps' 46th Division entered the town from the south, while the Canadians came in from the southwest. There was no opposition, for the LXXVI Panzer Corps was already withdrawing beyond the Savio. The next day the British 4th Division relieved the British 46th Division to make an assault crossing of the Savio, but long-range enemy artillery prevented British engineers from bridging the river until the 23d. In the meantime, the 4th Division held its bridgehead while the Canadians pulled up along the east bank of the Savio. During the same period, the remainder of the Canadian corps, including the 2d New Zealand Division, advanced to the Savio north of Cesena and on the 20th captured the seaport of Cesenatico, nine miles northeast of Cesena.
On 23 October the British 4th Division crossed the Savio over recently completed bridges south of Cesena to begin an advance toward the Ronco River, nine miles to the northwest. Reaching the river late on the 25th, the British waited until dark before crossing in assault boats to establish bridgeheads on the west bank; but German counterattacks over the next two days forced the British to retire to the east bank. From then until the end of the month, the 4th Division lay there, while heavy rains washed out bridges and roads to the rear, disrupting lines of communication.
To the 4th Division's left and on somewhat higher ground, the 10th Indian Division had somewhat more to show for its efforts. After crossing the Savio on the 20th, the Indians swung northwestward toward Meldola on the Ronco River some six miles south of Forli. Since the high water had swept down to the plain below, the Indian division was able to ford the Ronco near Magliano, two miles north of Meldola. Unlike their neighbors on the right, the Indians retained their bridgehead beyond the Ronco. On the 26th, they widened their bridgehead to include the town of Meldola, where resistance continued until Indian successes on high ground to the north forced the Germans on the 30th to abandon their last foothold in the town.
After capturing the port of Cesenatico on 20 October, the Canadian Corps pushed on for the next three days along the coastal road (Highway 16) as far as the Savio and the town of the same name, located near where the river enters the sea. That advance outflanked defenses northeast of Cesena and hastened the enemy's withdrawal toward the Ronco, seven miles to the northwest.
As the Eighth Army's three corps pulled up to the Ronco, General McCreery decided that the time had come to relieve the 1st Canadian Corps, which had been in contact with the enemy since the beginning of the Gothic Line offensive on 25 August. The relief took place on 28 October just short of the Ronco River by Porter Force, the task force commanded by Lt. Col. A. M. Horsbrugh Porter and composed of the 27th Lancers and 3d Canadian Armoured Reconnaissance Regiments, supported by some armor as well as by Canadian artillery and engineers. The task force's mission was
to demonstrate vigorously along the Ronco to conceal withdrawal of the Canadians.2
The next day the British 5 Corps began extending its right flank northeastward as far as the coast to take over the Canadians' former zone of operations. That would ultimately give the 5 Corps a 20-mile sector, with the 4th British and 10th Indian Divisions and Porter Force in line. The 2d New Zealand Division, in the meantime, moved into 5 Corps reserve. Since the Germans were only too anxious to keep the Ronco between themselves and the Allied forces, the relief of the Canadian corps apparently went undetected.
The end of October found the Eighth Army with three instead of four corps in contact and at a standstill across a 30-mile front extending from the Adriatic coast about eight miles south of Ravenna, southwestward along the Ronco, to within sight of Forli on Highway 9 and ten miles southwest of Faenza, longtime goal of the British 13 Corps, operating on the U.S. Fifth Army's right wing.
The state of the weary Canadian corps was symptomatic of the Eighth Army's plight. General McCreery no longer had fresh formations to throw into battle. Of his reserve divisions, the British 1st Armoured and the 56th were non-operational because of lack of replacements, the 4th Indian Division was scheduled to leave shortly for Greece, and the 46th Division had just been relieved from the line. Instead of armor exploiting across the Romagna Plain as envisioned in the plan for Operation OLIVE, the Eighth Army's push from the Marecchia to the Ronco had been a frustrating trial by mud from one brimming water course to another.
The II Corps' Plan
General Clark's Fifth Army meanwhile continued its equally frustrating ordeal in the high mountains of the Northern Apennines. There the main terrain problems continued to be the dearth of roads and trails and a seemingly endless series of ridges and peaks dominating narrow valleys. Against three peaks making up a ridge extending from Monte Adone (three miles northwest of Livergnano) via Monte Belmonte in the center to Monte Grande (eight miles northeast of the village), General Keyes, the II Corps commander, focused his attention. He planned to attack the mountains in turn, starting on the 16th with Monte Belmonte two miles northeast of Highway 65 overlooking the Zena Creek valley; then Monte Grande, dominating a narrow valley leading to Highway 9 in the vicinity of Castel San Pietro; and finally Monte Adone, just west of Highway 65.
General Keyes planned to employ against Monte Belmonte General Bolté's 34th Division, yet to play a major role in operations of the II Corps. With Monte Belmonte occupied, the division was to continue down the Idice valley to cut Highway 9 southeast of Bologna. The division was to have first priority on artillery and tactical air.3
Since other divisions of the corps had
already borne so much of the battle, General Keyes had little choice other than to employ the 34th Division, even though that move boded ill for the success of the new phase of the offensive. The division was, in General Clark's opinion, "diseased," suffering from the chronic malaise of battle weariness. Overseas for two and a half years and veterans of some of the hardest fighting since the previous winter, surviving old-timers in the division had long been clamoring to go home, and replacements soon sank into a similar state of low morale. Yet the 34th Division, even without the detached 135th Infantry, was still numerically strong.4
Artillery of the adjacent 85th and 91st Divisions was to support the 34th Division until Monte Belmonte was captured, whereupon emphasis was to shift to the 88th Division for an attack against Monte Grande, thence to the 91st Division and the third objective, Monte Adone. In the last attack the 1st Armored Division, on the 91st's immediate left, was to assist by a holding attack on the left flank of the corps.
General Bolté planned to attack with his remaining two regiments abreast. On the right and holding the widest portion of the division sector, the 168th Infantry, in a daylight operation, with a company of the 757th Tank Battalion in support, was to lead the attack astride a broad ridge forming a divide between the Zena Creek and the Idice River. The regiment's objective was Monte della Vigna, a 1,512-foot knob a little over a mile north of Monte della Formiche and a mile and a half south of the division's objective, Monte Belmonte. General Bolté expected that timely capture of Monte della Vigna would assist a later attack planned for the 133d Infantry. Assigned a narrower sector for greater concentration of firepower, that regiment was to make the main attack against Monte Belmonte by night.
As the II Corps completed preparations to make the last thrust toward Highway 9 and the Po Valley, both Generals Clark and Keyes looked to Kirkman's British 13 Corps to continue its role of tying down the 334th, 715th, and 305th Infantry Divisions. That was about all Kirkman's corps was capable of. Its right flank remained virtually stationary below Route 67, where rugged terrain and modest combat strength permitted little movement, and its left wing was being constantly extended northward to keep pace with the 88th Division and to cover the II Corps' right flank.
The II Corps' Attack Renewed
From a line of departure about a half mile north of Monte della Formiche, the 168th Infantry, with three battalions abreast, attacked at 0500 on 16 October. Hardly had the attack begun when a German antitank gun disabled the lead tank of the supporting company from the 757th Tank Battalion. The disabled tank blocked the narrow road and prevented other tanks from coming forward, breaking up the closely knit tank-infantry team upon which battlefield successes had come to depend. A heavy volume of enemy mortar and small arms fire prevented the infantry from continuing alone. By nightfall only the regiment's 2d Battalion
had managed any penetration of the enemy's positions.
While that fight raged, men of the 133d Infantry assembled for their night attack. As the battalions moved into assembly areas late in the afternoon, fighter-bombers of the XII TAC dropped hundreds of high explosive and newly-introduced napalm bombs in a saturation assault against Monte Belmonte. The aircraft flew 137 sorties and dropped 72 tons of high explosive bombs and 94 napalm fire bombs against known enemy positions on and near the objective. Shortly after the aerial attack, all guns of the supporting corps artillery opened fire.
As darkness fell over the shattered terrain, searchlights of antiaircraft units illuminated the sky to provide artificial moonlight. At 2000 the 133d Infantry attacked in a column of battalions with the 2d leading. Hardly had the first men crossed the line of departure when a heavy mortar and artillery concentration fell on one company, disorganizing the platoons and causing several casualties, among them the company commander. The battalion commander shifted that company to become his reserve.5
That was to be the enemy's sole interference that night. By dawn on the 17th Company G had almost reached the crest of Hill 401, the southernmost spur of the Monte Belmonte ridge, without physical contact with the enemy. Then suddenly, out of a thick fog that had enveloped the objective, the Germans counterattacked. Overrunning Company G, the enemy inflicted numerous casualties and captured four officers and over a score of enlisted men. The counterattack also cut off the commander of Company E and twenty of his men, who would have to wait for nightfall before infiltrating back to the 2d Battalion command post. When night came all survivors fell back to reorganize in a small ravine on Monte Belmonte's southwestern slope. Meanwhile, to the left rear, the 1st Battalion had gained a little over a mile to reach the village of Zena, near which a bridge crossed the Zena Creek, while the 3d Battalion came to within supporting distance on the 2d Battalion's right.6
Reports of the 133d Infantry's setback on Monte Belmonte's fog-shrouded slopes reached General Clark shortly after he learned of the arrival of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division opposite the II Corps and of the coming commitment of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division. The Fifth Army commander telephoned General Alexander that night to complain bitterly that his army would soon reach the limits of its endurance unless the Eighth could siphon off some of the enemy's strength. The appeal was in vain, for the Eighth Army already was fully committed.
The combined pressures of the Allied forces was insufficient to force the Germans to relax their grip on the ridges and summits south of Bologna, as became clear when at dawn on 18 October the 34th Division's 133d Infantry renewed the assault on Monte Belmonte. Again the regiment attacked in a column of battalions, with the 2d still leading. Because of persistent fog and rugged terrain, the battalions had about as much difficulty determining their
own locations as those of the elusive enemy. Under these circumstances, the 133d Infantry's experienced commander, Colonel Braun, decided in mid-afternoon to halt, to reorganize, and to replenish supplies before renewing the attack after nightfall.7
For the renewed assault, Colonel Braun committed the 1st Battalion, which since the morning of the 18th had been in reserve near the Zena bridge. To cover the regiment's left flank, the 1st Battalion was to seize high ground north of Zena, while the 2d and 3d Battalions continued toward Monte Belmonte.
Hardly had nightfall come when the enemy revealed that he had used the interval to reinforce his positions. A heavy mortar and artillery barrage hit two companies of the 3d Battalion, whereupon enemy tanks moved to within 100 yards of the lead battalions to deliver point-blank fire. Plagued by mud and poor trails, Braun's own supporting tanks and tank destroyers were too far to the rear to be of any assistance, and enemy guns matched the artillery supporting the regiment round for round. In the face of that kind of opposition, General Bolté on 20 October directed both the 133d and 168th Regiments to halt in place and regroup, the latter having at last completed clearing the enemy from Monte della Vigna but too late to be of much help to the 133d Infantry.
On the 34th Division's left, the 91st Division had also encountered heavy enemy fire--the heaviest since September--as that division attacked along the axis of Highway 65 to assist the operation against Monte Belmonte. In General Livesay's sector much of the fire seemed to be aimed at the Livergnano bottleneck with the purpose of blocking the flow of supplies along the highway. By nightfall on 19 October the 91st Division had managed to advance only three miles beyond Livergnano. West of the highway enemy forces in the vicinity of Monte Adone, two miles northwest of Livergnano, also checked General Prichard's 1st Armored Division.
The enemy's success in thwarting all three divisions comprising the left wing of the II Corps was all the more disturbing because of gathering evidence that either the enemy's 16th SS or 29th Panzer Grenadier Division was approaching or already in the area. Lacking reserves, General Keyes deemed he had little choice but to order the three divisions to assume what he called "an aggressive defense."8
Progress on the II Corps right wing meanwhile showed greater promise. There General Coulter's 85th Division had moved rapidly along a ridge east of the Idice Valley and on the 19th captured Monte Fano, one of the spurs of a ridge three miles northeast of Monte della Formiche. From that position the division was in a favorable position to assist General Kendall's 88th Division on the right during its forthcoming operation against Monte Grande, three miles to the northeast.
The growing resistance the II Corps had encountered since 17 October
stemmed largely from Field Marshal Kesselring's calculated risk (taken in mid-October) to thin out Senger's XIV Panzer Corps, opposite the IV Corps, by shifting major combat units to the sector opposite the U.S. II Corps. For the time being the Tenth Army reserve would have to be prepared to support the remaining sectors of Army Group C's front.9
Underlying Kesselring's decision was the belief that the most immediate threat to the integrity of the front lay in the Bologna sector, where an Allied breakthrough would menace the rear of that part of the Tenth Army falling back northwestward along the axis of Highway 9. In the Bologna sector itself the greatest hazard was a deteriorating situation east of Highway 65, especially along the interarmy boundary where, for the past few weeks, contact between the Tenth and Fourteenth Armies had been only intermittent.10
It had also not escaped Kesselring's attention that on the Bologna sector American operations for a month had been carried out by the same four divisions. Since their cumulative losses had undoubtedly been heavy, the German commander confidently expected that if his troops could only hold out a bit longer, the Fifth Army offensive would soon lose momentum.11
Since the beginning of October the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division (its departure for France delayed) and the 65th, 94th, and 334th Divisions had been moving from the XIV Panzer Corps to the I Parachute Corps south of Bologna. From the Tenth Army had come the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, while the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division had already been ordered from Italy's northwestern Alpine frontier and could be expected to arrive in the central sector by 22 October.12
While those changes were taking place, Senger (in Lemelsen's absence still acting commander of the Fourteenth Army) had also shifted all available artillery from his panzer corps to support the Bologna sector. Only one battery remained to protect the Abetone Pass on Highway 12 that runs from Lucca in the Arno valley to Modena on Highway 9. That fact caused neither Kesselring nor Senger concern, for they were well aware of the IV Corps' weaknesses and were confident that, in the off chance that the IV Corps should spring to life, the XIV Panzer Corps could afford to yield considerable ground before reaching terrain critical to the integrity of the Fourteenth Army's front.13
New Plans for II Corps
On 19 October General Clark determined to make a third attempt to break through to Highway 9, this time on Keyes' right wing southeast of Bologna where the operations of the 85th and 88th Divisions---the Castor and Pollux of the Fifth Army--had uncovered a weak point. Clark also hoped to force the Fourteenth Army commander to spread his forces over a wider front by stepping up efforts by the IV and 13 Corps on the II Corps flanks. Meanwhile, General Lemelsen had returned from the hospital to resume command
of his army, and Senger reverted to his corps command.
In accordance with Clark's instructions Keyes worked out a three-phase operation with Kendall's 88th instead of Bolté's 34th Division making the main effort in the first phase--this time to capture Monte Grande, three miles east of Monte Fano and only six miles southwest of Castel San Pietro on Highway 9. Reinforced by the 85th Division's 337th Infantry, the 88th Division was to attack on the night of 20 October. In the second phase Kirkman's 13 Corps was again to shift westward to take over Monte Grande while the 88th Division reverted to corps reserve for a well-deserved rest. The 34th Division, in the meantime, was to continue its efforts to capture Monte Belmonte, and the 91st Division was to improve its positions east of the Savenna Creek.14 In the third phase, emphasis was to shift back to the corps left wing as the 91st Division attacked Monte Adone, two miles northwest of Livergnano, and continued on to Pianoro, four miles north of Livergnano and only eight miles from Bologna. With Monte Adone in hand, Keyes expected the harassing artillery fire on Livergnano and Highway 65 to cease and permit a concentration of arms and men along the highway for a final drive on Bologna.
Thus far the II Corps had failed to take any of the three objectives Clark had designated on the 15th. In hope of breaking the impasse by conquest of Monte Grande, General Keyes during the night of 19 October assembled all the firepower available, including tactical aircraft that hammered at the enemy positions in and around Monte Grande throughout the day. Taking off at 15-minute intervals, fighter-bombers of the XXII TAC flew 158 sorties and dropped tons of napalm and high explosives on targets marked by divisional artillery with colored smoke. Beginning at 1700, the 88th Division's artillery, reinforced by two medium batteries each from the 248th and 178th Field Artillery Battalions, as well as seven light batteries and a medium battery from the 85th Division, began preparatory fires. The guns fired steadily for an hour against 42 selected targets while 23 supporting tanks and destroyers fired harassing missions against targets north and east of Monte Grande. That made for a total of 8,400 rounds fired in one hour. As that fire ceased, corps artillery took up the chorus with an extensive counterbattery program against all known enemy gun positions. In hope of stimulating the division commander's zeal, General Clark on the eve of the attack visited the 88th Division's command post to assure Brigadier General Kendall that his second star of rank was waiting atop Monte Grande.15
Morale heightened by the vast display of firepower, the infantrymen of the 349th Infantry set out in darkness and through a driving rainstorm toward Monte Grande and Monte Cerrere, the latter the high point of a spur a thousand yards southeast of Monte Grande. On the left, Company A, commanded by 1st Lt. John Ernser, met no resistance as it led the 1st Battalion up
Monte Cerrere. The approach concealed by the heavy downpour and darkness, Ernser's men shortly before dawn quietly surrounded a large building on the crest, believed to be the hiding place of any surviving enemy soldiers. When daylight revealed the American presence, eleven haggard Germans filed out of the building with hands high in surrender.16
On the right, the 2d Battalion meanwhile made the main attack against Monte Grande. Under fire from the time of crossing the line of departure a mile south of the objective, Company G three hours after midnight nevertheless occupied Hill 581, an intermediate knob just south of Monte Grande. From there the company was able to cover the advance of Companies E and F as they in turn came up on the left to assault the main objective. As the companies advanced, supporting artillery fire continued to crash onto the enemy's positions on the mountainside and his line of communications.
The effectiveness of that close fire support was amply demonstrated when at first light Company F's 1st Platoon leader, 1st Lt. Jack S. Parker, led his men onto Monte Grande's summit without firing a shot. The rest of the company followed to move quickly over the crest and occupy the northern slope, while Company E dug in on the reverse slope. As the inevitable counterattack ensued in no more than platoon strength, the Americans handily repulsed it, killing four of the enemy and scattering the rest back down the northern slopes of Monte Grande.
By midday on the 20th the 349th Infantry's thrusts on Monte Grande and Monte Cerrere had driven a deep salient into the I Parachute Corps from southeast of Bologna and advanced the Fifth Army's front to its closest point yet to the city. That afternoon General Kendall, his second star assured, widened the salient by sending the 350th Infantry, assisted by the 85th Division's 339th Infantry, against Montecuccoli on a ridge extending westward from Monte Grande into the 85th Division's sector. That objective soon fell to the 350th Infantry, whose 2d Battalion shortly after dark secured the village of Farneto, a mile west of Monte Grande. Over the next two days General Kendall moved the attached 337th Infantry up on the 350th Infantry's left to take over that part of the 350th Infantry's sector west of Farneto, leaving the 349th and 350th Regiments with narrower fronts for exploiting north from Monte Grande.
General Clark underscored the first real success the II Corps had achieved since mid-October by visiting the 349th Infantry's command post, where he personally congratulated Colonel Crawford and his men. With the example of Monte Battaglia still fresh in mind, Clark cautioned Crawford to be prepared to defend against almost certain German efforts to retake the height.
Clark's disappointment with the 34th Division's failure to take Monte Belmonte was as acute as his delight with the 88th Division's triumph on Monte Grande. Thus far, every effort by the 34th Division either to drive the enemy from Monte Belmonte or to proceed along the ridge south of Zena Creek had failed. There were, moreover, ominous
signs of enemy buildup opposite the II Corps' left wing west of Highway 65.
Since the current offensive had taken only one of three planned objectives, Clark decided to forego taking Monte Belmonte and Monte Adone and instead to concentrate strength on the corps right, where the enemy seemed to be weakest. On 22 October Clark directed Keyes to advance his right wing as far as Monte Castelazzo, some three miles to the northeast of Monte Grande, to a general line extending from Monte Castelazzo in the 88th Division's zone of operation northwestward three miles to Ribiano Hill in the 85th Division's zone. Those two heights, three and four miles respectively, southwest of Castel San Pietro on Highway 9, represented the enemy's last possible defensive positions short of that highway and the Lombard plain. If Keyes' corps could occupy those features before the end of the month, the Fifth Army might yet be able to debouch onto the plain before winter's snows prevented further operations in the Northern Apennines. Clark meanwhile instructed Kirkman to assist Keyes' thrust beyond Monte Grande by massing at least four brigades of the 13 Corps west of the Santerno River and by taking Monte Spaduro and a line of hills southwest of the Sillaro to increase pressure along the road between Castel del Rio and Imola.
In preparation for this final effort, Keyes instructed the 34th and 91st Divisions and 1st Armored Division to regroup to enable the 91st Division to withdraw two regiments into corps reserve, which Keyes might draw upon to repel a possible spoiling attack against the II Corps left flank. If no spoiling attack developed the reserve of six battalions might be used to exploit the expected capture of Monte Castelazzo and Ribiano Hill. Three divisions were to make only holding attacks, to include continuing efforts by the 34th Division to take Monte Belmonte.
Shortly after dark on 22 October, the 85th and 88th Divisions began the new main effort toward high ground northeast of the three heights of Monte Grande, Monte Fano, and Monte Cerrere that the divisions had previously captured. Coulter's 85th Division on the left wing was to take Hill 459, a mile northeast of Monte Fano. Kendall's 88th Division on the right was to capture Hill 568, about a thousand yards northeast of Monte Grande. Control of Hill 568 would enable Kendall to dominate Montecalderaro, a hamlet at the junction of two secondary roads leading to Highway 9, about five miles away. From the hill Kendall was to send a force a mile and a half to the northeast to occupy high ground overlooking the hamlet of Vedriano within a mile of the division's final objective, Monte Castelazzo. A second force, moving northeast from Monte Cerrere, was to cover the division's right flank along the Sillaro River.
Since Colonel Crawford's 349th Infantry had just taken Monte Grande and Colonel Fry's 350th had seen considerable action since the heavy fighting on Monte Battaglia earlier in the month, Kendall selected Colonel Champeny's 351st Infantry to lead the attack toward Hill 568. Crossing the line of departure on Monte Grande's forward slope shortly after nightfall, the 351st Infantry's 3d Battalion slipped through
the fog and darkness to reach the objective before the enemy awoke to what was happening. By 0730 on the 23d the battalion had rounded up twenty-eight Germans and sent them to the rear as prisoners. Hill 568 was in hand.17
Meanwhile, the fog that had helped the Americans gain Hill 568 concealed the arrival of first units of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division. Two counterattacks followed, but by 1015 both had been repulsed, and Hill 568 remained in American hands.18
The unexpected show of enemy strength nevertheless disturbed Colonel Champeny, who decided to continue the attack with a fresh unit, the 2d Battalion, while the 3d defended Hill 568. That night the 2d Battalion, in a column of companies with Company G leading, set out for Vedriano, a mile and a half to the northeast. Evading harassing fire from two bypassed enemy strongpoints, the company entered the village early on the 24th. Forty Germans surrendered, including two officers, but when the other companies sought to join company G in the village fire from the now alerted defenders of the two strongpoints stopped them outside.19
That hindrance meant that Company G alone would have to defend Vedriano against almost certain enemy efforts to retake it. The company seemed at first to be quite capable of doing the job, for after repulsing one small counterattack during the forenoon, Company G's commander reported that everything was under control. Yet soon thereafter an intercepted German radio message, expressing concern over Vedriano's loss and noting that the village was a vital point in the German defenses, struck an ominous note.
In early afternoon the regimental executive officer, Colonel Yeager, telephoned Colonel Champeny from the 2d Battalion command post that Company G in Vedriano had just received a German parliamentary. As events unfolded, the Germans claimed to have surrounded Vedriano, but they would allow Company G to withdraw in exchange for the 40 prisoners captured that morning. Colonel Champeny brusquely rejected the offer and began planning to relieve the beleaguered company with his reserve battalion supported by tanks. Companies E and F at the same time continued their efforts to reach Company G. Tactical aircraft also flew over the area to bomb and strafe the enemy's position.
While all that was going on, Company G's radio went off the air. An intercepted German radio message revealed the company's fate. Vedriano had been retaken and 80 Americans captured.
From the 1st Battalion in reserve on Monte Grande, Colonel Champeny brought forward a company to assist Companies E and F in their efforts to retake Vedriano; but intense small arms, artillery, and mortar fire brought all three companies to ground at the western base of the hill mass on which Vedriano stood. As withering fire produced numerous casualties, Champeny reluctantly accepted that the enemy had so reinforced that his regiment unassisted would be unable to regain the village.
The vigorous enemy reaction at Vedriano stemmed largely from two factors: the arrival during the night of 22 October of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division and the shifting of the Tenth Army's boundary westward to bring the I Parachute Corps under that army's control. The latter move put the army group's two most active fronts under a single commander and through the remaining days of October facilitated the German defense.20
After overseeing the boundary change, Field Marshal Kesselring left by auto during the evening of 23 October for a conference with General Vietinghoff, the Tenth Army commander. Traveling under blackout conditions through heavy fog over roads crowded by military traffic, the field marshal's car collided with a towed artillery piece. Gravely injured, Kesselring was taken to the nearest field hospital and later transferred to a general hospital at Ferrara, where he was to remain for several months.21
Kesselring's abrupt departure necessitated further command changes. On 27 October General Vietinghoff took over Kesselring's place in command of Army Group C. General Lemelsen then moved over from his Fourteenth Army command to take over the Tenth Army, while von Senger und Etterlin again moved from the XIV Panzer Corps to command the Fourteenth Army.22
The Attack Continues
While those changes occurred on the German side, General Kendall prepared to resume the effort to retake Vedriano. Throughout the 25th, the 351st Infantry's 1st and 2d Battalions assembled west of Vedriano, while from Hill 568 Colonel Champeny's tanks and tank destroyers, together with division artillery, shelled the enemy in the hope of softening up the objective for a night assault by the 1st Battalion. Early that evening, with the 2d Battalion covering the left flank, the 1st Battalion moved against Vedriano, Company A advancing astride a road directly toward the village, Company B trying to outflank it from the west. Company C remained in reserve.23
Company B managed to work its way halfway up the western slope of the hill before heavy machine gun fire forced a halt. Most of the company, made up largely of recent replacements, scattered, leaving behind only a handful of veterans, some of whom joined forces with a company of the 2d Battalion while others drifted over to Company A, which also came to a halt short of the objective.
Out of an early morning fog on the 26th, the Germans counterattacked. Overwhelming one of the companies of the 2d Battalion and the handful of survivors of Company B that had joined the company, the enemy slipped away into the mist with their prisoners before anybody could come to the rescue. Only one man escaped capture.
Except for the 3d Battalion's success on Hill 568, Colonel Champeny had little other than severe losses to show
TRUCK CROSSING A STEEL TRUSS BAILEY BRIDGE IN APENNINES
for his drive toward Monte Castelazzo. Three rifle companies had been severely crippled, while the enemy still held Vedriano. Furthermore, adjacent units had fared no better. Crawford's 349th Infantry had been unable to advance much beyond Monte Cerrere and the 85th Division's 337th Infantry had its hands full merely holding onto its newly won position just north of Hill 568. Four miles southeast of Monte Grande troops of the British 13 Corps had taken Monte Spaduro on the night of 23 October but had been unable to advance farther down the Santerno valley.
During the morning of the 26th, torrential rains began to fall. Within a few hours rising waters had washed out three bridges across the Sillaro. That, in effect, severed the line of communications of General Kendall's 88th Division and forced General Keyes to cancel plans for the 91st Division's 362d Infantry to pass through the 88th Division's 349th Infantry for an advance down the Sillaro valley. The washouts spelled trouble for all the troops, for only small amounts of ammunition and rations could be hand-carried across hastily constructed footbridges. From there jeeps could carry the supplies as far as Monte Grande, but the last moves would have to be by pack mules. Under the circumstances little possibility existed of maintaining a volume of logistical support sufficient to sustain the offensive toward Castel San Pietro and Highway 9. That afternoon, after obtaining General Clark's approval, General Keyes directed Coulter and Kendall to withdraw their troops to defensible ground and dig in.
The sudden deluge of rain caused similar difficulties for the Germans. In the I Parachute Corps sector rising waters in the Idice River valley on 27 October collapsed a dam near the village of Budrio, ten miles northeast of Bologna, flooding a wide area behind the German lines. For the next three days all work on defensive positions came to a standstill while German engineers and Italian civilians toiled day and night to divert the flood waters and repair the dam. Other streams washed out bridges and isolated units. For a full week troops on both sides would be able to pay less attention to fighting each other than to repairing the ravages of weather.24
An effective combination of determined enemy defenders, adverse weather, and irreplaceable personnel losses had brought the II Corps to a halt on the northern slopes of the Apennines within sight of the Po Valley, which during rare intervals of clear weather weary American infantry could glimpse just over four miles away. From the beginning of the offensive on 10 September until 26 October, the four infantry divisions that bore the main burden of the offensive had incurred 15,716 casualties, most of them in the combat arms. Of those, 5,026 were from the 88th Division, which had fought so hard, but in vain, for Vedriano. At about the same time that Keyes ordered Kendall to go on the defensive, the 88th Division commander had reported that his division was understrength by 1,243 officers and men. The already strained theater replacement pool would be hard put to make up such shortages. Furthermore, the long periods of cold, rainy weather had sapped the strength of the combat troops and brought a steady increase in nonbattle casualties; indeed respiratory diseases, trench foot, and psychiatric disorders had exacted a heavier toll than had enemy fire. Even so, the battle casualty rate had been higher than for any comparable period since the Salerno landings in September 1943. Allied commanders generally agreed that the Fifth Army's replacement system would soon break down with this casualty rate.25
Compounding the difficulties, significant shortages developed toward the end of October in artillery ammunition, forcing General Clark to impose especially severe restrictions on the use of medium caliber artillery ammunition. Heavy caliber ammunition was less of a problem, for early in the month the II Corps had lost its last two heavy battalions to the campaign in southern France, and the Fifth Army's remaining heavy artillery was in the attached British 13 Corps.26
Washed-out bridges might be rebuilt and weary units reformed after a few days' rest, but what could not be quickly restored was the diminished offensive power of four infantry divisions, understrength and exhausted after more than six weeks of almost uninterrupted combat. The predictions Clark had made on two occasions in early and mid-October that the Fifth Army's offensive could not be maintained beyond the end of the month without additional infantry replacements appeared now to have been fulfilled.27 To make matters worse, the Eighth Army advance along the axis of Highway 9 had bogged down along the Ronco River at about the same time as Clark's army came to a halt southeast of Bologna. As General Clark was later to observe, "We didn't fully realize it then, but we had failed in our race to reach the Po Valley before winter set in. Our strength was not enough to get across the final barrier to which the enemy clung."28
As October came to an end, the II Corps settled down into defensive positions
encompassing Monte Grande and Monte Belmonte that afforded control of the commanding heights east of Highway 65. Monte Belmonte finally had fallen to the 133d Infantry after loss of Monte Grande and Hill 568 prompted German withdrawal. West of the highway control of the heights was reversed, for the Germans still held Monte Adone and the Monterumici hill mass.
To the west the positions of the II Corps tied in with those of the 6th South African Armoured Division, under Fifth Army control. Throughout the month the South Africans, reinforced by the 1st Armored Division's CCB, had covered the left flank while the 13 Corps' 78th Division covered the right. Given the limited strength of those units and the unfavorable terrain over which they had to operate, they could do little more than try to keep up enough pressure to prevent the enemy from shifting units from their fronts to reinforce the sector opposite the II Corps. Since most, if not all, of the German units moving to halt the II Corps had come either from the Tenth Army opposite the Eighth Army, or the XIV Panzer Corps opposite the U.S. IV Corps, they apparently fulfilled their mission.
Operations on the IV Corps Front
Still holding an elongated 50-mile front, extending from Forte dei Marmi on the Ligurian coast to a line just short of the Reno River in the east, General Crittenberger's IV Corps had two general missions: protecting the Fifth Army's left flank and organizing and training the two recently arrived divisions--the Brazilian Expeditionary Force's 1st Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. J. B. Mascarenhas de Morales, and the American 92d Division. As part of that training, regimental size combat teams were to participate during October in limited-objective type operations.
The operations began on 6 October when the BEF's 6th Regimental Combat Team attacked a sector held by the Italian Monte Rosa Alpine Division. Crossing the Lima Creek at Bagni di Lucca, 12 miles north of Lucca, the Brazilians advanced northward up the Serchio valley for eight miles against light resistance. Showing little eagerness to stand and fight, the Italians fell back slowly into the high mountain fastness they knew so well. On the 11th the Brazilians captured the town of Barga, and at the end of the month the operation came to an end.29
At the same time, Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond's Task Force 92 began an attack on the coastal flank to afford combat experience for a contingent of the 92d Division. The task force consisted of the 92d Division's 370th Regimental Combat Team and the 2d Armored Group made up of the 434th and 435th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalions, converted into infantry and supported by the 751st Tank Battalion and the 849th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The mission was a limited objective attack toward the town of Massa, six miles northwest of Forte dei Marmi, but rather than launch a frontal attack against the still intact Gothic Line defenses
south of Massa, General Almond decided first to seize Monte Cauala and Monte Castiglione, overlooking the coastal corridor from the east.30
In a driving rain on 6 October the two antiaircraft battalions first launched a diversionary attack along the coastal plain but managed only to reach the outskirts of Querceta, a mile from their starting point at Forte dei Marmi. In the mountains overlooking the coastal plain the 370th Infantry, plagued as were all units of the 92d Division with a long-standing malaise growing from mutual distrust between mainly white officers and black enlisted men, made only slight progress on Monte Cauala's slopes. After several days of desultory fighting during which the 370th Infantry twice won and twice lost its objective, the regiment at last regained Monte Cauala's summit on the 12th and held. After General Almond called off the attack on 23 October, the sector settled down to relative inactivity for the next month and a half.31
The Offensive Is Halted
Although the weather that had helped bring the Allied ground forces to a halt had also impeded operations of the supporting tactical air force, aerial strikes against enemy lines of communications had continued throughout October. During the month MATAF dropped 4,500 tons of bombs, claimed 44 bridges destroyed and another 83 damaged, rail lines cut in 240 places, and a large number of locomotives and rolling stock destroyed. In the same period, MASAF dropped 2,500 tons of bombs on strategic targets throughout northern Italy, including the Alpine passes. As for the Luftwaffe, there was virtually no sign. Except for occasional forays over Allied lines by not more than two or three aircraft, the German Air Force had vanished from the skies of Italy.
Yet Allied domination of the air could not disguise the stalemate on the ground. In tacit recognition of that fact, General Wilson directed the Allied armies in Italy to halt their offensive on 27 October with little chance that the situation would change before winter. Operations in northwestern Europe had first call on replacements, and a worldwide shortage of ammunition among the Allies meant Italy with its low strategic priority would suffer most. Chronic personnel and ammunition shortages, as well as the onset of winter weather in the mountains, the SACMED informed the Combined Chiefs of Staff, would prevent the Allied armies from carrying offensive operations on the Italian front beyond the line Ravenna-Bologna-La Spezia, and if that line were not reached by mid-November, the Allied offensive might have to be brought to a halt short of even that objective. That report hardly could have filled the hearts of the Combined Chiefs with dismay, for even though La Spezia, Bologna, and Ravenna remained in German hands, the Allied armies in Italy had already gone beyond the goal set for them at the Teheran Conference in November 1943: the Pisa-Rimini Line.32
Another factor ameliorated the failure to reach the Po Valley before winter set in: a serious food shortage in the Allied-occupied regions of Italy that threatened the civil population with the prospect of near starvation. Having to feed the population of the yet unconquered regions of northern Italy as well would have further stretched already inadequate foodstocks.
As early as July, General Wilson, at the suggestion of the Allied Control Commission, had taken note of the growing seriousness of the food situation by announcing his intention to increase the daily bread ration from 200 to 300 grams per person. When that increase was projected to include the regions of northern Italy still under German control, it became clear to Allied planners that the grain import program would have to be heavily augmented, even though the area normally exported food. Since under the most favorable conditions the Italian harvest would provide only 160 grams of the requirement, imports of over a million and a half tons would have been needed to meet the 300-gram goal for all Italy, and a world-wide shortage of both wheat and shipping made that an impossible task.33
Under those circumstances the Combined Chiefs saw the failure of General Alexander's armies to occupy northern Italy, with its heavily populated industrial region, as something short of regrettable. The Allied command could take some comfort in the fact that the enemy would have to draw upon its own limited resources to sustain the region through the winter.
1. SAC Despatch, Aug-Dec 44. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon this source.
2. Nicholson, The Canadians in Italy, p. 596.
3. II Corps Opn Rpt, Oct-Nov 44; Fifth Army History, Part VII, pp. 149-51. Unless otherwise cited the following sections are based on these sources.
4. Clark Diary, 16 Oct 44. See also General Keyes' report on 34th Division cited in Truscott, Command Missions, pp. 461-62.
5. 133d Inf Opns Rpt, Oct. 44.
7. 133d Inf Opns Rpt, Oct 44. Unless otherwise indicated the following is based upon this source.
8. Fifth Army History, Part VIII, pp. 155-56.
9. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 5, 17 Oct 44, AOK 14, Doc. 65922/1.
10. Ibid., 18 Oct 44.
11. Ibid., 19 Oct 44.
12. Ibid., 17 Oct 44.
13. MS # C-064 (Kesselring).
14. II Corps Opns Rpt, Oct 44.
15. 88th Div Opns Rpt, Oct 44. Clark, Calculated Risk, p. 400.
16. 349th Inf Jnl and file. Unless otherwise cited the following section is based upon this source.
17. 351st Inf. Jnl and file, Oct 44.
18. AOK 10, Ia KTB Anl. 9, 23-24 Oct 44, AOK 10, Doc Nr. 63426/1.
19. 351st Inf. Jnl and file, Oct. 44.
20. AOK 14, Ia KTB Anl. 5, 24 Oct 44, AOK 14, Doc. 6922/1. Effective the evening of 25 October, XIV Panzer Corps took over the sector formerly held by LI Mountain Corps, which then assumed control of the panzer corps' former sector on the Fourteenth Army's front.
21. AOK 10, KTB Anl. 9, 23 Oct 44, AOK 10, Doc. 6345/1.
22. Ibid., 27 Oct 44.
23. 351st Inf Jnl and file, Oct 44. Unless otherwise cited the following is based on this source.
24. AOK 10, Ia KTB Anl. 9, 27 Oct 44, AOK 10, Doc. 63426/1.
25. Fifth Army History, Part VII, pp. 163-64; Charles M. Wiltse, The Medical Services in the Mediterranean (Washington, 1965), p. 427; Devers Diary, 19 October 1944, in CMH.
26. Fifth Army History, Part VII, pp. 165 and 258-59.
27. Clark Diary, 6 and 15 October 1944.
28. Clark, Calculated Risk, p. 401.
29. J. B. Mascarenhas de Morales, The Brazilian Expeditionary Force by Its Commander, 2d Ed., Rio de Janeiro, 1965, pp. 57-73.
30. Fifth Army History, Part VII, pp. 172 and 178; Ulysses Lee, The Employment of Negro Troops, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II, (Washington, 1966), pp. 544-51.
32. SAC Despatch, Aug-Dec 44, p. 48; Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-44, p. 353.
33. Coakley and Leighton, Global Logistics and Strategy, 1943-45, pp. 773-779.