Breakout From the Beachhead
As Operation BUFFALO entered the second day, General Harmon's 1st Armored Division prepared to exploit its success beyond the railroad. His two combat commands were to cross Highway 7 to occupy the X-Y Line, or first phase line, about a mile and a half northeast of the railroad. Thereafter, on corps' order, the axes of the combat commands were to diverge: Colonel Daniel's CCA, on the left, was to turn northward toward Velletri to occupy the O-B, or second, phase line, some four miles northwest of Cisterna, and block the enemy believed to be in the vicinity of Velletri; Allen's CCB, on the right, was to swing northeast of Cisterna in the direction of Giulianello, a village seven miles beyond Cisterna and midway between Velletri and Cori, to occupy the O-B Line in that sector. If all went well General Allen's command would become the armored spearhead of the drive through the corridor toward Valmontone and Highway 6, Operation BUFFALO's ultimate objective, about thirteen miles away.1
As the advance resumed at 0530 on the 24th, Colonel Linville's 6th Armored Infantry Regiment led the way for CCB, with the 2d and 3d Battalions forward. A company each of medium and light tanks supported each battalion. Leading both battalions were two companies of dismounted armored infantrymen, each supported by an attached machine gun section.
Between the railroad and Highway 7, leading northwestward out of Cisterna, tall reeds and dense brush covered the terrain, which, near the highway, became increasingly compartmentalized by gullies and ravines. Not unusual during the advance through the dense vegetation was an experience of a company commander from the 3d Battalion. Following his platoons on foot, 1st Lt. Mike Acton almost bumped into an enemy officer who suddenly stepped out of a thicket. Acton and the German drew their pistols at the same time. Acton's weapon jammed; the German fired but missed. A quick-thinking runner in Lieutenant Acton's headquarters section shot the German officer.
Progressing slowly toward the highway the two battalions, often without physical or visual contact, fought their way through or around small groups of enemy soldiers well concealed in the reeds and brush. To speed the attack and draw the enemy out into the open, General Allen ordered medium tanks from the 2d Battalion of Colonel Simmerman's 13th Armored Regiment to take the lead. Followed closely by Linville's infantry and harassed only by scattered and poorly directed artillery fire, Simmerman's tanks moved northeastward along a narrow dirt road that
provided the only cleared corridor through the thick vegetation to within a hundred yards of Highway 7. A platoon and an infantry detachment remained behind to mop up any bypassed enemy.
In moving to within assault distance of the highway, CCB's tanks and infantry had overrun the 954th Infantry Regiment's main battle position. The burden of defense in the sector fell thereafter upon the men of the 362d Artillery Regiment, with the help of a few survivors of the 954th. As the tanks resumed their attack German artillery, deployed along the west side of Highway 7, fought back at point-blank range. The guns included 88-mm. dual-purpose pieces that destroyed six tanks before the defenders fell back on the artillery regiments secondary firing positions. Yet the 1st Armored Division's tanks overran those positions too, before an enemy panzer reconnaissance battalion, which had taken the entire night to move from the vicinity of Albano, could reinforce the sector.
By noon the medium tanks were in position on their objective, the X-Y Line, a low ridge beyond Highway 7. Scarcely had they gained the objective when antitank guns located on high ground to the northwest opened fire. In response to a call from Colonel Simmerman for artillery support, the 91st Field Artillery Battalion fired 130 rounds, knocking out at least one piece and destroying a building concealing another. The artillery support was in a way a mixed blessing, since for two hours short rounds fell intermittently among the medium tanks despite repeated demands by Colonel Simmerman that the firing cease. Eventually the gunners determined which piece was faulty.
A similar error also temporarily checked Colonel Linville's 6th Armored Infantry following the tanks. When small arms fire from enemy positions on a knob overlooking the highway from the east pinned down the infantry just west of the highway, short rounds from artillery trying to dislodge the enemy fell among the American infantry. The rounds continued to fall even after the enemy had ceased firing and had apparently withdrawn. Not until 1400 did the infantry reach the highway and proceed across the road to join the tanks on CCB's objective.
Having crossed Highway 7, CCB had cut one of the two major roads serving the Germans in Cisterna. That accomplished--and with it what appeared to be a critical penetration of the enemy's 362d Division--General Harmon passed on to General Allen the corps' order to proceed with the second phase of the breakout offensive. Accordingly General Allen sought control of the remaining road, that leading northeastward to Cori. He told Lt. Col. Frank F. Carr to move with his battalion of light tanks to the high ground at the Colle di Torrechia, near a road junction some two miles northeast of Cisterna overlooking the road to Cori. At the same time, Allen sent the 13th Armored Regiment's reconnaissance company ahead to screen Carr's left flank and maintain contact with elements of Colonel Daniel's CCA, which were engaged in forcing what remained of the 362d Division's right wing beyond the Mole Canal.
Carr's light tanks gathered quickly in an assembly area just south of the
railroad, but soon ran into successive delays along the railroad embankment: first a mine field, then long-range artillery fire, and finally tanks of the combat command's reserve crowding onto the same crossing site over the railroad. It took Carr's tanks two hours to reach Highway 7 and regroup in a wooded area beyond.
Under cover of prearranged artillery concentrations fired by the 91st Field Artillery Battalion, the tanks turned eastward toward the Colle di Torrechia. Rolling toward that objective, they encountered little resistance as they overran a Tiger tank, its 88-mm. gun in full working order. Faced with such a swarm of light tanks, the German crew apparently decided against giving battle and escaped on foot into the underbrush. Soon after dark a battalion of armored infantry joined the tanks to help hold the Colle di Torrechia, while a battalion of medium tanks took up positions about half a mile behind the advance elements to give depth to the defense.
Meanwhile, on the 1st Armored Division's left Colonel Daniel's CCA, advancing to the northwest astride Highway 7, experienced similar success. Such heavy losses had the 362d Division incurred that even with reinforcement by the panzer reconnaissance battalion that General von Mackensen belatedly ordered transferred from the I Parachute Corps, the division could do no more than execute a fighting withdrawal. As night fell CCA's 81st Reconnaissance Battalion had reached a position within four miles of Velletri from which a sortie toward the town could be made the next morning to determine how well defended it was. The 362d Division's front was split, with the troops in front of Cisterna separated from the rest of the division. The stronghold of Cisterna now almost isolated, its defenders awaiting the inevitable--not passively, however, for there was still plenty of fight left in them, as the infantrymen of the 3d Division were soon to learn.
While the advance of CCB's light tanks to the Colle di Torrechia was in effect a partial envelopment of the enemy stronghold of Cisterna, the job of completing the envelopment of the town still belonged to General O'Daniel's 3d Division, whose 30th Infantry, closer to the town, was doing the job on the west, the 15th Infantry on the east. The 7th Infantry in the division's center was to pin the enemy in Cisterna and later reduce the town. At the same time the regiment was to assist the 30th Infantry in the envelopment. With its reserve battalion, the 7th Infantry was to take the settlement of La Villa, a mile northwest of Cisterna, and cut Highway 7 in the vicinity of the Cisterna cemetery. The battalion thereby would serve as a blocking force against the Germans in Cisterna lest they interfere with the 30th Infantry's wheeling movement to get in behind the town, while at the same time affording a starting line for an attack to take the Cisterna defenses in flank.
At 0400 on the 24th, the 3d Division's artillery fired for fifteen minutes in front of the 7th Infantry's left wing. Four hours later the artillery repeated the performance. Meanwhile, the reserve battalion, the 1st, had moved up in the darkness in rear of the positions gained in the first day's fighting.
Following the second artillery preparation,
the 1st Battalion began to advance in a column of companies and reached high ground within 400 yards of the railroad after experiencing nothing more disturbing than an occasional round of enemy shellfire. Yet when Company C, in the lead, started to move across flat, exposed ground leading to the railroad, rifle and machine gun fire erupted from the edge of a wood close to La Villa. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Frank M. Izenour, then committed another company in a flanking maneuver against this opposition, enabling Company C to get moving again behind the fire support of the battalion's 81-mm. mortars. Passing through a cut in the railroad embankment in the face of only occasional German small arms fire, the company moved quickly into La Villa. In the hamlet the men searched in vain for a tunnel that the division G-2 believed led to Cisterna.
Continuation of the attack to cut Highway 7 and gain the Cisterna cemetery was delayed when a company of tanks and a platoon of tank destroyers that were to assist failed to arrive. When at last seven tanks appeared, Colonel Izenour ordered Company B to get on with the attack. As it turned out, not even those tanks were needed. In half an hour, by 1600, Company B and the tanks were astride Highway 7 at the cemetery with no sign of the enemy.
Colonel McGarr's 30th Infantry, in the meantime, had been building up to the railroad and the highway to the northwest to get into position for the enveloping maneuver. The advance involved a thrust by Company F, which had led the regiment's attack on the first day to within a hundred yards of the railroad, and by the fresh 1st Battalion, to which Company F was temporarily attached.
At dawn on the 24th, Company F on the left and Company B on the right, each supported by a platoon of heavy machine guns, advanced toward a group of low hills, west of the Femminamorta Canal, that overlooked the railroad from the south. From the high ground the two companies would be able to cover the move of the rest of the 1st Battalion across the railroad on the other side of the canal.
The 41st Field Artillery Battalion fired several concentrations before the infantry moved out, but the Germans responded to the new attack with automatic weapons and mortar fire from positions near a group of ruined stone houses atop two knobs south of the railroad. Rather than attempt what might have been a costly frontal attack against the positions, Company F swung far to the left in an outflanking maneuver. That move carried the western knob and enabled Company B to clear the eastern knob quickly. By 1100 Company F and the entire 1st Battalion had closed up to the railroad.
The 30th Infantry's 3d Battalion, astride the Ponte Rotto road, found even easier going. Hearing movements before daylight in the vicinity of an enemy strongpoint along the Femminamorta Canal, men of Company L deduced that the Germans might be withdrawing. In an attempt to catch them before they got away, the company hastened along the canal toward the position, but too late. At the strongpoint Company L found only twenty-four enemy dead. Moving on to a
second position nearby, the company found that, too, abandoned.
In midafternoon, as the 1st Battalion prepared to cross the railroad and seize the high ground just beyond, the 3d Battalion made ready to develop the enveloping maneuver by advancing to a road junction a mile and a half northeast of Cisterna on the forward slopes of the Colle di Torrechia, not far from the objective of the light tanks of Colonel Carr's battalion of the 1st Armored Division's CCB. Indeed, had not the infantry battalion incurred delays, the two forces might have arrived on their adjacent objectives at approximately the same time. While the 3d Battalion's move constituted the left arm in the envelopment of Cisterna, it was also designed to put the 30th Infantry in position to assist the 15th Infantry in a drive early the next morning on Cori.
Although the 3d Battalion, 30th Infantry, began to move about 1630, darkness had fallen when the men crossed the highway and passed through the cemetery. Unwittingly, the troops had cut across the rear of a battalion of the 7th Infantry just as that battalion launched an attack on Cisterna. As German mortar fire began to fall, confusion in the cemetery increased. Untangling the two forces took considerable time, so that it was close to daylight before the 3d Battalion, 30th Infantry, in an unopposed march through the darkness, could reach the road junction near the Colle di Torrechia. A projected continuation of the attack at 0630 on the 25th against Cori would have to be delayed.
With the 3d Battalion thus delayed, not until midnight did the 30th Infantry's 1st Battalion receive an order to follow. That battalion reached the objective soon after daylight, there to find preparations for mounting an attack on Cori hampered by persistent German shelling apparently directed at the light tanks of the 1st Armored Division's CCB assembled nearby on another part of the Colle di Torrechia. It would be late on the 25th before the 30th Infantry could launch its drive on Cori.
Constituting the other arm of the maneuver to envelop Cisterna, the 15th Infantry in the meantime had mounted an attack with its 2d Battalion driving due north to cross Highway 7 and the railroad, skirting Cisterna to the east, and advancing to the Cisterna-Cori road. While the 1st Battalion and Task Force Paulick, closing the gap between the division and the 1st Special Service Force, remained along Highway 7 in positions gained on the first day, the 3d Battalion was to follow the 2d and once across the railroad was to swing east to occupy the Maschia San Biagio, a wooded area a mile and a half east of Cisterna, thereby protecting the 2d Battalion's flank.
At 0730 Company G led the 2d Battalion's attack, advancing fairly readily across Highway 7 to the railroad despite harassing machine gun fire from somewhere near the railroad embankment. As the men started to cross the embankment, fire from small arms and self-propelled guns in the outskirts of Cisterna drove them back. To get the attack moving again, the battalion commander sent Company F along the shelter of the steep banks of the San Biagio Canal, a small tributary of the Cisterna Canal, to outflank the enemy from the right, but German fire halted
that maneuver too.2 The 39th Field Artillery Battalion fired several concentrations in order to silence the enemy fire, but a second try at crossing the railroad met continued opposition.
During the early afternoon the battalion commander sideslipped his companies to the right in an effort to avoid the fire coming from Cisterna. He also committed a third company as prelude to a new assault. Prevented by antitank fire from bringing tanks and tank destroyers close enough to the railroad embankment to give the infantry close support, he gained permission to move the destroyers into the 1st Special Service Force's sector on the right. From there the destroyers tried to place flanking fire on the troublesome enemy positions, but again the effect on the volume of enemy fire was negligible.
A visit in midafternoon to the 15th Infantry command post by the division commander, General O'Daniel, brought a promise of additional artillery support to help get the attack moving again; but a new attempt shortly before nightfall, this time supported by five artillery battalions, made no headway. Only after another heavy artillery preparation did the infantrymen finally cross the railroad and advance to the edge of a wood about 700 yards to the north--only to be forced back 200 yards by fire from small arms and tanks. By that time darkness had fallen.3
Taking advantage of the darkness, engineers built ramps on the steep sides of the railroad embankment so that the tanks and tank destroyers might cross. After joining the infantry, the tank destroyers before daylight on the 25th knocked out the strongpoints that had been holding up the 2d Battalion for almost twenty-four hours. At the first light of the new day, the 2d Battalion began to move again while remnants of the enemy's 955th Regiment retreated deeper into the ruins of Cisterna. In early morning of the 25th the battalion reached the Casa Montaini, a farm near the Cori road about half a mile northeast of Cisterna and within hailing distance of troops of the 30th Infantry on the Colle di Torrechia. That action completed the encirclement of Cisterna.
Even as the 3d Division's two flank regiments were getting on with that encirclement, the division commander, General O'Daniel, deemed the enemy so weakened that he had no need to delay delivering the coup de grace to Cisterna itself. While the 7th Infantry's 2d Battalion, attacking frontally against the Cisterna defenses, gained little ground during the second day, O'Daniel believed that, by hitting the enemy from the flank position held by the regiment's 1st Battalion at the cemetery alongside Highway 7, the 7th Infantry might yet take the town in one quick thrust. He told the regimental commander, Colonel Omohundro, to use his 3d Battalion. That was the unit that had failed to follow orders on the first day, but the battalion had a new commander, its former executive officer, Major Ramsey, and a quick, successful seizure of Cisterna might fully restore the confidence of officers and men alike.
Colonel Omohundro planned to begin
PATROL MOVING THROUGH CISTERNA
the assault on Cisterna with a renewed frontal attack by the 2d Battalion to serve as a diversion. Once that attack began, supporting artillery was to deliver a 30-minute barrage on the town, whereupon Ramsey's 3d Battalion was to strike from the cemetery southeastward down Highway 7. A smoke screen was to conceal the start of the 3d Battalion's attack.
While preparations for the attack were under way, a patrol reconnoitered from the cemetery as far as Cisterna's western outskirts but there encountered considerable machine gun and mortar fire. That response was the first hint that the town might be less readily taken than General O'Daniel had believed, and that the 3d Battalion might have a hard fight, something for which that unit the day before had shown little inclination.
The first hitch in Omohundro's plan developed when the 2d Battalion delayed its attack until a supporting platoon of tank destroyers could get forward. Scheduled to attack at 1930, the battalion did not move until shortly after the tank destroyers finally arrived at 2130. Since the 2d Battalion was to attack first, the 3d Battalion at the cemetery also had to postpone its attack, which meant there would be no further need for a smoke screen: the
7th Infantry was to hit Cisterna by night.
This unforeseen delay was the second in a series of unfortunate circumstances that had begun earlier in the day when Major Ramsey, the 3d Battalion's new commander, was wounded and evacuated to the rear. The commander of the Weapons Company, Capt. Glenn E. Rathbun, took his place. At 2145, with Company K on the left, Company D on the right, and Company L in reserve behind Company I, the battalion at last began to move through the Cisterna cemetery toward a line of departure just beyond it. An attached tank platoon and three tank destroyers were in direct support. It was then that the third in the series of mishaps occurred: the unfortunate intermingling in the cemetery with the leading battalion of the 30th Infantry and the delay of several hours before the battalions could be separated and control restored.
Even more trouble awaited the unfortunate 3d Battalion. As the men finally crossed the line of departure, heavy enemy shelling and several short rounds from U.S. artillery fell among them. That left the men badly shaken. At dawn on the 25th the battalion was only 200 yards beyond its line of departure, still about 700 yards short of the first buildings of Cisterna. When Colonel Omohundro ordered the battalion to renew the attack, withering automatic weapons fire stopped the men as soon as they attempted to move. Casualties were heavy, among them the commander of Company K, the company's third commander in four days. The attack collapsed and with it General O'Daniel's hope of quickly redeeming the battalion.
Paradoxically, the diversionary attack by the 2d Battalion into the face of the main defenses at Cisterna had been making better progress. The battalion at first ran into stubborn resistance from Germans concealed in a group of ruined houses on both sides of the railroad. Each house had to be laboriously reduced; but with the help of well co-ordinated mortar and artillery fire, the men fought through the night and gradually worked their way forward. When the two leading companies reached the railroad embankment, they called for supporting fires to lift, then rushed across at six points. Weary from the night's fighting, the companies dug in just beyond the embankment and less than 200 yards from the fringe of Cisterna. The 2d Battalion's success and the 3d Battalion's failure were destined to dictate a change in plan for the final assault into the town.
Action on the Flanks
As the 3d Division encircled Cisterna on the 24th, the 133d Infantry, serving as a screen for the 1st Special Service Force on the division and corps right, headed slowly northward, its right flank anchored on the Mussolini Canal. That night the 1st Special Service Force assembled behind the 133d Infantry and prepared to pass through its lines the next morning in a thrust toward Monte Arrestino, overlooking Cori from the southeast.
On the opposite flank, the 45th Division, after gaining its assigned objectives on the 23d, continued to hold its position northwest of Carano. Yet again
that was to be no passive operation, for at dusk on the 24th the Germans counterattacked with a reinforced battalion supported by tanks. Moving south along the west bank of the Carano Canal, the enemy struck the right flank of the 180th Infantry's 2d Battalion astride the Carano road. Under cover of heavy mortar and artillery fire and taking advantage of lush vegetation, the enemy infantry crept to within 100 yards of the American lines before being discovered. Hurling grenades at the Americans, the Germans rushed forward. During ensuing hand-to-hand fighting, the defenders were supported by eight battalions of artillery firing at the enemy's lines of communications. Although the counterattack forced back the 180th Infantry's front slightly, the lost ground was regained by midnight, and patrols that night reported that the enemy had withdrawn from the division's immediate front.
While the U.S. 45th Division lost and then regained ground on the Carano sector, the British 5th and 1st Divisions on the beachhead's western flank along the coast yielded to counterattacking enemy units from the 4th Parachute and 65th Infantry Divisions the slight gains made by the diversionary attack on the 23d. Falling back to their original front, the British held.
The German Reaction
The counterattacks mounted by the I Parachute Corps during the 24th reflected the emphasis which the Fourteenth Army commander, General von Mackensen, had placed since the beginning of the Allied breakout offensive on his right wing between the Alban Hills and the Tyrrhenian coast. The limited success of the counterattacks in holding that sector of the Fourteenth Army front was the only encouragement for Mackensen on the second day of the Allied offensive. Yet, since it at last had become undeniable that the Allied main effort was at Cisterna, the limited successes on the parachute corps front hardly brightened a day filled with gloom.4
Little time had passed during the morning of 24 May before General von Mackensen discerned that the thrusts by the American armor northwest Cisterna and the infantry on either side the town were about to drive wedges between the 362d Division and its two neighboring divisions--the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division on the right and the 715th Division on the left. The counterattacks against the U.S. 45th Division and the two British divisions were expected to ease the pressure somewhat on the right. Yet the extreme left wing of the 715th Division was still behind the Mussolini Canal and unless allowed to withdraw was likely to be pinned against the Tyrrhenian coast.
Field Marshal Kesselring at last agreed to pulling back the 715th Division's left wing to the railroad, which parallels the coast approximately ten miles inland. To the approval, however, Kesselring attached the proviso that any forces thereby freed from contact with the Americans were to reinforce the defenders of Cisterna. The proviso bore little relationship to the situation on the ground, for even by nightfall of the 24th the American advances had
virtually severed contact between the 715th Division and the rest of the panzer corps.
As pressure against the 715th Division increased during the afternoon of the 24th, General von Mackensen made up his mind to exceed the authority granted by Kesselring and withdraw the entire division to a secondary line extending eastward from Cisterna toward the Lepini Mountains. When Mackensen learned in late afternoon that troops of the U.S. 3d Division were on the fringe of Cisterna and that the 1st Special Service Force had penetrated the 715th Division's center, he authorized withdrawal of the division as soon as darkness provided concealment from Allied fighter-bombers.
As the 715th Division began to withdraw that night, the commander of the 362d Division, Generalleutnant Heinz Greiner, returned to his command from his emergency leave in Germany. Taking stock of the obviously critical situation, Greiner concluded that if the garrison of Cisterna was to have any chance at escape he had to mount some kind of counterattack. While harboring no illusions about what a counterattack by his depleted forces could accomplish, he nevertheless hoped he might throw the Americans off balance long enough for reinforcements to arrive from the I Parachute Corps and for the garrison to slip out of Cisterna.
Even that faint hope had disappeared when, in late afternoon, contingents of the U.S. 1st Armored Division plunged toward the Colle di Torrechia. Either abandon Cisterna or lose all the men there, Greiner believed, but Field Marshal Kesselring refused withdrawal. General von Mackensen nevertheless went beyond his authority for the second time that day and told Greiner to pull the men back. When General Greiner that afternoon tried to pass on the word, it was too late. The garrison's radio had ceased to function. In Greiner's words, "Cisterna antwortete nicht mehr" ("Cisterna no longer answered").5
To the German command it was now clear that only the arrival of division-size reinforcements could prevent a collapse of the Fourteenth Army's center. Three divisions from the army group reserve already having departed to reinforce the Tenth Army on the southern front, the only major reserve force remaining was the Hermann Goering Division, which on the 23d had begun a march south from the Ligurian coast, over 150 miles away. Having overestimated Allied amphibious capabilities, Kesselring and the German High Command had hesitated until the last minute before deciding to use that division.
As for a shift of forces within the Fourteenth Army, even after it was clear that the Allied offensive was actually aimed at the left wing of the LXXVI Panzer Corps, General von Mackensen ordered only piecemeal transfer of small units. Why shift units and invite trouble elsewhere when he was convinced his army lacked sufficient forces to accomplish its defensive mission? As late as 19 May he had bitterly protested Kesselring's transfer to the southern front of the 26th Panzer and 29th Panzer Grenadier Divisions from the army group reserve, a reserve on which Mackensen believed he had first claim and without which he judged he had no hope of
containing the Allied offensive. The presence of the 92d Infantry Division, guarding the coast just south of the Tiber, was of little consequence as a reserve force for it was as yet an untried unit, composed largely of men still undergoing training. At that point he doubted that he could even count on being given the Hermann Goering Division, if and when it arrived at the front south of Rome, for he strongly suspected that it too would go to the Tenth Army. To Mackensen, Field Marshal Kesselring's inability to halt the offensive was proof that his belief that it could be stopped was misguided optimism. Relations between the two German commanders had become so strained as to approach the breaking point.
The Third Day
Against the backdrop of futility on the German side, all units of General Truscott's VI Corps planned to renew their assaults on the third day of the offensive, 25 May, and exploit the impressive gains already achieved--the 1st Special Service Force to take Monte Arrestino, the 3d Division to take Cisterna while at the same time driving northeastward on Cori, the 1st Armored Division to pursue the drive on Velletri and northeastward toward Valmontone via Cori and Giulianello, and the 45th Division to continue to anchor the left flank of the American force.
Throughout the night of 24 May General Truscott shifted his units preparatory to continuing the offensive the next morning. To close a gap created by the diverging axes of the 1st Armored Division's two combat commands, Truscott gave the 34th Division control of a five-mile sector north of Cisterna behind the armor. With two regiments, the division was to block any attempt by the enemy to exploit open space between the armored columns and permit the armor to move more freely in exploiting the German collapse below Cori. During the night contingents of corps artillery began displacing forward to areas south and west of Isola Bella in order to better support the continuation of the main attack.
On the extreme right flank of the corps the 36th Division engineers, who since the 23d had remained in corps reserve, had readied task forces to move southward to contact the II Corps advancing from Terracina. That night the engineers crossed the Mussolini Canal and pushed down along the coastal road through territory recently abandoned by the 715th Division. The link-up with the Americans from the Garigliano front was to occur on the morning of the 25th.
As the two fronts joined, the 1st Armored Division was advancing beyond the second phase line. Combat Command A continued to move toward Velletri against steadily increasing resistance. A combination of rugged terrain, well-sited antitank guns, and a counterattack led by Mark V tanks held the Americans four miles south of the town. The day's fighting cost Colonel Daniel's combat command seventeen tanks damaged or destroyed.
On Daniel's right General Harmon had in the meantime moved from reserve a task force under Col. Hamilton H. Howze. The task force was composed of Lt. Col. Bogardus S. Cairn's 3d Battalion, 13th Armored
Regiment; the 2d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry; the 3d Battalion, 135th Infantry; Companies B and D, 1st Armored Regiment; and Companies B of the 635th and 701st Tank Destroyer Battalions. Colonel Howze assembled the unit during the night of 24 May near Torrechia Nuova in readiness for an advance toward the road junction of Giulianello the following day.
Striking across country, the medium tanks of Howze's task force by 1300 reached and blocked the Cori-Giulianello road about 2,500 yards south of Giulianello. When an infantry column arrived late in the afternoon, tanks and infantry moved together to clear the village before dark. Meanwhile, General Allen's Combat Command B prepared to accompany and support the 3d Division's 15th Infantry as it moved from the Colle di Torrechia toward the village of Cori on the western slope of the Lepini Mountains.
The Enemy Situation
The 1st Armored Division's thrust up the Valmontone corridor to Giulianello had irretrievably separated the 362d and 715th Divisions. Large groups of the enemy, cut off and without effective control, surrendered. By midday on 25 May, 2,640 prisoners had passed through the Fifth Army's cages at Anzio since the offensive began on the 23d. The penetration also threatened to cut off the left wing of the 715th Division, attempting to withdraw along secondary roads and trails southwest of the Lepini Mountains. The division, having exhausted its mortar ammunition and lost most of its mortars as well as its light and heavy machine guns, was in desperate straits. Contact with the attached panzer grenadier regiment, constituting the division's center, had been lost completely; communications with other subordinate units were little better. A 100-man Kampfgruppe, commanded by an artillery battery commander, constituted the division's right wing north of the Cisterna-Cori road. Supporting the Kampfgruppe were an artillery battery, firing at point-blank range, and a platoon of 88-mm. antiaircraft guns. On 25 May that was all that stood between the Americans and Cori.6
Two infantry battalions, unsupported by heavy weapons, were scattered in hasty positions in the hills to the northwest of Cori. A rifle company and the heavy weapons company, all that remained of a battalion on the division's left flank, had been ordered to reinforce these battalions, but it was doubtful whether the reinforcements would be either sufficient or in time to check the onrush of the Americans. Also, transfer of even those modest forces would leave the Monte Arrestino sector held only by the equivalent of three rifle companies.
Meanwhile, an infantry regiment from the 92d Infantry Division, guarding the coast just south of the mouth of the Tiber, had been sent to reinforce the 715th Division. That regiment had been last reported marching from Giulianello toward Cori. Without motor transport, the regiment had had to leave behind its heavy support weapons and even its field kitchens, and was not expected to reach Cori until noon on the 25th.
The Attack on Cori
Although General O'Daniel, the 3d Division commander, had originally expected the 15th Infantry to attack toward Cori no later than 0530 on the morning of 25 May, the 1st and 3d Battalions (the latter having relieved the 2d) reached their assembly points along the Cisterna-Cori road only by midmorning. The 3d Battalion had a greater distance to move from its positions south of Cisterna, and the line of march was made hazardous by numerous antipersonnel mines. Those factors prevented the battalion from reaching its line of departure before the 1st Battalion started for Cori at 1000.
With the regimental battle patrol covering the battalion's right flank, Company C led the way toward Cori across the increasingly hilly terrain that merged gradually into the slopes of the Lepini Mountains. On the left (north) of the Cisterna-Cori road moved the 3d Battalion of the 15th Infantry. Neither battalion encountered appreciable opposition. Reaching the fringe of Cori at twilight, both battalions sent patrols into the town to probe the ruins of the village. Although the patrols found no sign of the enemy, the battalion commander decided to await daylight before moving in.
The 15th Infantry had found no enemy in Cori because the reinforcements from the 92d Division had never arrived. The night of the 24th, as the regiment had marched along the Giulianello-Cori road, the men had encountered elements of the 715th Division withdrawing in the opposite direction to escape being cut off by the American thrust toward Cori. German commanders were unable to straighten out the resulting confusion before daylight exposed the crowded road to the eyes of a pilot of a reconnaissance aircraft from the XII TAC. Calling for assistance, the pilot soon had all available aircraft bombing and strafing the concentration of men and vehicles.
The Capture of Cisterna
As the remainder of the 3d Infantry Division advanced north and east of Cisterna, the 7th Infantry, charged with the task of taking the enemy strongpoint, prepared to close in for the kill. The failure of the attack against the town's north flank on the 24th and the relative success of the 2d Battalion's frontal advance the same day prompted the regimental commander, Colonel Omohundro, to give the job of taking the town to the 2d Battalion. The commander, Lt. Col. Everett W. Duvall, started the assignment by sending his reserve, Company F, around the right flank of the positions gained earlier just beyond the railroad embankment.
Attacking before daylight on 25 May, Company F quickly secured a foothold in the southwestern part of the town. Upon arrival of two medium and eight light tanks from the 751st Tank Battalion to provide fire support, Duvall ordered the company to continue toward the center of town, while Company G cleared the enemy from the southeastern section. Colonel Duvall intentionally sent the two companies on divergent axes lest in the close quarters of the rubble-filled streets one should fire upon the other.
While Company G proceeded methodically with a task that amounted to
DISARMING GERMAN PRISONERS AT CISTERNA
mopping up, the men of Company F picked their way slowly toward the center of town against machine gun and mortar fire that grew in intensity. The Germans had prepared what had apparently once been the town hall for a last-ditch defense, ringing it with antitank mines and covering all approaches with machine guns protected by rubble-covered emplacements. On the west side a well-sited antitank gun covered the entrance to an inner courtyard.
Despite support of the light and medium tanks, the attack against the town hall made little headway. Not until late afternoon, when a squad managed to emplace a machine gun atop a ruin overlooking the entrance to the courtyard, did the siege take a turn for the better. From that position, the gunner drove off the crew manning the troublesome antitank gun. A medium tank immediately came forward, destroyed the gun, and, with men of Company F close behind, rolled through the entrance into the town hall's inner court-yard. All resistance collapsed. In the gathering twilight of the 25th, three days after the breakout offensive had begun, the American infantrymen swarmed into the ruins to rout out the survivors, including the commander of the 955th Infantry Regiment.
That night General Truscott could look back with some satisfaction on the capture of Cisterna and the imminent fall of Cori. On his right wing, the 1st
Special Service Force, having gained Monte Arrestino's rugged and deserted summit, was poised for a drive across the Lepini Mountains toward the upper Sacco valley and Highway 6. The objectives of Operation BUFFALO's second phase had been gained. Truscott's VI Corps had broken out of a six-month confinement in the beachhead, and BUFFALO's ultimate objective, Valmontone and Highway 6, lay some ten miles away. The Anzio beachhead no longer existed but had become instead the extended left flank of the U.S. Fifth Army. Fifth Army's troops were much closer to Rome than were those of the British Eighth Army, still some forty miles southeast of Valmontone.
The sharp deterioration of Army Group C's situation was remarked at OKW as early as the evening of the 24th. The link-up of the Fifth Army's main forces and the beachhead, the Eighth Army's steady advance in the Liri valley, and the VI Corps' breakout at Cisterna led the German High Command to conclude that there was no alternative to withdrawal of the entire army group into the Caesar Line. Early in April the Germans had started constructing that secondary defense line between the Anzio beachhead and Rome from the Tyrrhenian coast north of Anzio, across the southern flanks of the Alban Hills to Highway 6 near Valmontone, thence over the Ernici Mountains to Sora on the Avezzano road. Despite the fact that more than 10,000 Italian laborers, under the direction of German army engineers, had worked on the defenses, the line was far from finished. From Campo Iemini, on the Tyrrhenian coast about seventeen miles southwest of Rome, across the southern slopes of the Alban Hills as far as the town of Labico on Highway 6, some two miles east of Valmontone, the line was complete; but elsewhere it was nothing more than a penciled line on situation maps.7 German records refer to the Caesar Line as the C-Stellung, or C-Position; Allied staffs simply assumed the "C" stood for "Caesar"--a logical deduction considering its location. A second line, the Campagna Riegel, or switch position, lay between the C-Stellung and Rome, but was of little significance.
To screen the Caesar Line, the Germans had put up an almost continuous barbed wire obstacle, which in some sectors attained a depth of ninety feet. They had also placed mines to block the most favorable routes of approach. While infantry firing positions and shelters in the Caesar Line resembled those along the Gustav Line, few defenses were in such depth. In the opinion of General von Mackensen, the Fourteenth Army commander, the Caesar Line was suitable for no more than a delaying action.8
The German High Command operations staff nevertheless recommended to Hitler on the evening of the 24th, even before the fall of Cisterna and the crossing of the Melfa River by contingents of the Eighth Army, that both German armies begin at least a partial withdrawal into the Caesar Line. The Fourteenth Army's right wing was to remain in place as far as Cisterna, while
the left wing (the LXXVI Panzer Corps), in co-ordination with the Tenth Army's right wing (the XIV Panzer Corps), withdrew gradually to gain as much time as possible for the occupation and preparation of the unimproved portions of the line. The operations staff also proposed that the remnants of the 71st and 94th Infantry Divisions be employed in the Caesar Line as security detachments until they could be brought up to strength with replacements. In addition to the Hermann Goering Division, which on the 23d had started shifting southward from its bases near Leghorn, the 356th Infantry Division was also to move south from the vicinity of Genoa.9
During the regular noon situation briefing on the 25th, Hitler substantially accepted those proposals and, thanks to British Intelligence, the Allied command in Italy was soon privy to this decision. The area immediately north of the Alban Hills on both sides of Highway 6--in short, Operation BUFFALO's general objective--was, Hitler and his advisers agreed, the most threatened sector. That was exactly the conclusion that Clark hoped that the Germans would reach. Moreover, his G-2 had also informed him that the Germans would attempt to reinforce with the Hermann Goering and 356th Infantry Divisions. Both Clark and Kesselring, however, would underestimate the ability of Allied aircraft to delay movement of those divisions.
In any case, Hitler insisted, the Caesar Line had to be held. Uncompleted sectors of the line were to be improved at once by using labor companies, security detachments, and local inhabitants. Delaying action in front of the line was to be aimed at inflicting such crippling losses that the Allied forces would be stopped even before reaching the line. Such an order bore little relationship to the reality of the tactical situation and would not reach Army Group C until the afternoon of the 26th, too late to do much about it.
In the meantime, Kesselring and Mackensen turned their attention to General Herr's battered LXXVI Panzer Corps on the Fourteenth Army's faltering left wing. The harried corps commander had no knowledge of the exact location of the 715th Division but guessed that it might be scattered among the towns of Cori, Norma, and Sezze in the Lepini Mountains. As for Greiner's 362d Division, it was in better shape. One regiment had been destroyed at Cisterna. Survivors of the remaining two were withdrawing in the direction of Velletri and Valmontone.10
To Kesselring it was evident that a dangerous gap had opened on Herr's front, and that Truscott's corps would soon move through to threaten Highway 6 near Valmontone. To close the gap Kesselring ordered the Fourteenth Army commander to commit the reconnaissance battalion of the Hermann Goering Division as soon as it arrived, the battalion to serve as a blocking force along a four-mile front between Lariano at the foot of the Alban Hills to an anchor on Monte Ilirio, about two miles
northeast of Giulianello. Kesselring also told Mackensen to have patrols of the 362d Division try to re-establish contact with the 715th Division.
Mackensen readily agreed that he might be able to close the gap with the reconnaissance battalion, but pointed out that it would be too thinly spread for any offensive action. As for the 362d Division, it was already overextended and probably would be unable to maintain contact with the 715th Division, even if patrols should succeed in locating the division. Mackensen had little confidence that either measure could do much to stem the American thrust toward Valmontone and Highway 6.
Mackensen, nevertheless, transmitted both orders to his panzer corps commander. Meanwhile, the corps was to establish a new defense based on former artillery positions south of the Velletri-Giulianello road. That road had to be kept open if the integrity of the LXXVI Panzer Corps was to be maintained, yet even as the order was given, the armored spearhead of the U.S. VI Corps had reached the fringe of Giulianello.
Turning to his right wing, Mackensen ordered Schlemm to begin withdrawing his I Parachute Corps into the Caesar Line. The positions there were to be held at all costs.11
As the situation on the Fourteenth Army's left wing deteriorated on the 25th, Kesselring directed Mackensen to shift additional antitank guns from the I Parachute Corps to the LXXVI Panzer Corps front. Mackensen had already transferred 48 heavy antitank guns, 8 88-mm. guns, and about half of the parachute corps' remaining assault guns to the panzer corps, leaving only 1 company of antitank guns and 8 assault guns in the parachute corps. Of the 508th Panzer Battalion's original 38 Tiger tanks only 17 remained, and those too had been moved to the panzer corps.
General von Mackensen decided that he could make no further withdrawals from the parachute corps without seriously weakening his right wing. He still believed, as he had since the beginning of the Allied offensive on the 23d, that eventually the Allied main effort was going to erupt against that right wing. The only reserve left to the I Parachute Corps, in any case, was the newly organized 92d Infantry Division, with a coastal defense mission west of Rome; and because of the condition of the roads and the shortage of transport, Mackensen doubted whether it would be possible to shift the division to Herr's front. All that Mackensen could hope to add to oppose the American thrust toward Valmontone was the panzer reconnaissance battalion of the Hermann Goering Division and, if found, the disorganized remnants of the 715th Division.
General von Vietinghoff, the Tenth Army commander, was also concerned about keeping open Highway 6 through Valmontone as long as possible, for, while he had other routes available to him, the Valmontone junction was important for a withdrawal of the Tenth Army's right wing. The integrity of Herr's corps was thus vital to Vietinghoff's plans for extricating Senger's corps from the converging Allied
armies. Meanwhile, the Tenth Army continued to fall back to a new delaying position anchored on the Sacco River near Castro dei Volsci.
1. This narrative is based upon official records of the 1st Armored Division; Sidney T. Mathews' MS, "The Beachhead Offensive;" and published works such as Taggert, ed., The History of the Third Infantry Division in World War II, and George F. Howe, The Battle History of the 1st Armored Division, "Old Ironsides" (Washington: Combat Forces Press, 1954).
2. The intrepid performance of Pvt. James H. Mills, Company F, 15th Infantry, during this attack was subsequently recognized by the award of the Medal of Honor.
3. For his role in the attack Sgt. Sylvester Antolak, Company B, 15th Infantry, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
4. Unless otherwise indicated, the German account is based upon MSS#'s T-1b (Westphal et al.) and R-50 (Bailey).
5. Heinz Greiner, Glt a.D., Kampf um Rom--Inferno am Po (Kurt Vowinckel, Verlag, Neckargemuend, 1968), p. 50.
6. MS # R-50 (Bailey). The following account is based on this source.
7. MSS #'s C-061 (Mackensen et al.) and D-211 (Bessel). See also Greiner and Schramm, eds., OKW/WFSt, KTB, IV (1), pp. 480-81.
8. Greiner and Schramm, eds., IV(1), pp. 492-94.
9. The latter division's place was to be taken by the 42d Jaeger Division. The 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, on occupation duty in northern Italy, was to be billeted along the coastal region vacated by the two divisions though not to be committed to a coastal defense role. Additional divisions from northern Europe were to be moved into Italy to reconstitute the theater's strategic reserves.
10. MS # R-50 (Bailey). Unless otherwise indicated the following section is based upon this source.
11. CINC AOK 14, Ia Nr. 1470/44 g.K chefs, 26 May 44, in AOK 14 Ia KTB Nr. 3, Anl. 462, 1-31 May 44, AOK 14, 59091/3.