Into the Winter Line
By changing the corps boundary on 14 October to expedite the 10 Corps crossing of the Volturno, General Clark gave the British the 3d Division objective, the long ridge running northwest from Triflisco for about twelve miles to Teano, and thereby freed the 3d Division for a drive to the northeast. The modification delighted General Lucas. It narrowed his VI Corps zone and directed his elements along converging rather than diverging lines of advance. Now, a swift movement by the 3d Division would assist the 34th Division, which was having some difficulty building bridges across the Volturno. That 10 and VI Corps would be drawing apart was not Lucas' immediate concern, and in any event adjustments could be made later.
While General Clark informed General McCreery of his decision, General Lucas, who had been apprised first, instructed General Truscott to shift from a northwesterly to a northeasterly orientation. Thus, when Clark told Lucas, "Start it at once, Johnny," Lucas could answer, "It is already on the way."1
The VI Corps temporarily continued to regulate traffic across the bridge ceded to the British. When a tank destroyer fell off the bridge during the night, drowning four men and fouling the structure, the corps halted movements for several hours until the wreckage could be cleared. However, enough British troops had crossed the river by then to relieve the Americans on the Triflisco ridge.
The drive beyond the Volturno would take the Fifth Army into what was then somewhat vaguely called the German Winter Line south of Cassino. Capturing the objectives assigned by the 15th Army Group headquarters, a line through the villages of Sessa Aurunca, Venafro, and Isernia, roughly twenty-five to forty miles distant, would put the army into a position for a crossing of the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers and subsequent entrance, near Cassino, into the valley of the Liri and Sacco Rivers, the most direct route to Rome.
Blocking the Fifth Army was the XIV Panzer Corps, which had prepared a series of three fortified lines of defense. The forward wall was the Barbara Line, an ill-defined and hastily constructed position resembling a strong outpost line of resistance; it ran from Monte Massico near the west coast through the villages of Teano and Presenzano and into the Matese Mountains. The Bernhard Line--far more formidable--was a wide belt of defensive positions anchored on the mouth of the Garigliano River, on the
forbidding masses of Monte Camino, Monte la Difensa, Monte Maggiore, and on the hulking height of Monte Sammucro.2 Behind the Bernhard Line stood the Gustav Line--the strongest of the three--based securely on the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers and the natural fortress of Monte Cassino. The Gustav Line ran across the Matese range and into the Adriatic sector, where the LXXVI Panzer Corps was strengthening its defenses along the Sangro River. The Germans would defend the Barbara and Bernhard Lines stubbornly enough, but they would try to hold the Gustav position.3
The principal object of the Tenth Army was to gain time--to fight cheaply, to use troops and matériel economically, to inflict maximum casualties on Allied forces while withdrawing slowly enough to permit construction of fortifications on all three lines, particularly the Bernhard and Gustav positions. The major purpose of the Fifth Army was to reach the German defensive positions before they could be organized and consolidated. The fighting would take place in desolate mountains, creased by narrow valleys and deep gorges; on brush-covered heights, bald slopes, and high tablelands; along unpaved roads and mule tracks hugging mountain ledges. Late autumn weather would add fog, rain, and mud to the difficulties of the terrain.4
After a few days of operations in this area the Fifth Army would characterize the enemy opposition as stubborn delaying action. Strong rear guard units were barring progress by well-executed demolitions, usually covered by long-range automatic and artillery fire, by frequent small-scale but intense counterattacks, and by tenacious possession of ground until threatened or attacked by superior forces.5
In the VI Corps zone immediately beyond the Volturno River, the existence of three roads in large part determined the corps maneuver. Each division was assigned a road: the 3d, a dirt track winding for about ten miles through defiles and around craggy crests to Dragoni; the 34th, a secondary road running about seven miles up the western side of the upper Volturno valley to Dragoni; the 45th, an indifferent road on the eastern side of the upper Volturno leading to Piedimonte d'Alife. These poor roads, obstructed by demolished bridges, mines, booby traps, and roadblocks, would slow the corps.
When General Truscott received news on the afternoon of 14 October that the direction of advance for his 3d Division had been changed, he immediately informed the 7th Infantry, which had occupied the western part of Monte Caruso and which had already started some troops northwest to Teano.6 Suddenly ordered to turn to the northeast, the regimental commander, Col. Harry B. Sherman, at 1645 sent his 3d Battalion to capture the hamlet of Liberi before dark. Four miles away, Liberi would be
a good jump-off point for Dragoni, his eventual objective. Supported by tanks and tank destroyers, the battalion moved less than a mile before striking resistance at the village of Cisterna. Although it fought all night to crack the defense, the German troops held their ground.
Hoping to bypass the resistance at Cisterna, Colonel Sherman committed his 2d Battalion on the left at midnight. Despite long-range enemy fire in the broken tableland north of Cisterna, the 2d was a mile beyond the village by daylight, 15 October. Since the battalion could move but slowly in the mountains, Sherman committed his 1st Battalion on the right at 0830. This battalion drove through the hamlet of Strangolagalli, then attacked directly across a series of small washboard ridges toward Liberi.
The Germans at Cisterna, having delayed the American advance for one day and now about to be outflanked on both sides, withdrew. When the 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, moved into Cisterna at 1500, 15 October, the Germans were gone.
The 3d Battalion reverted to regimental reserve and the 1st Battalion on the right went on to secure a foothold on the high point of a ridge running through the village of Villa. About a mile short of Liberi, the battalion received such intense enemy fire that it was forced to halt. On the left, the 2d Battalion, making steady if slow progress across broken ground, continued its advance after darkness, inching its way toward Villa. Shortly after midnight, machine gun fire brought this 2d Battalion to a sudden standstill.
To get the attack moving again, Colonel Sherman recommitted his 3d Battalion at 0330, 16 October, on the left of the 2d Battalion. Twice repulsed by artillery and mortar fire in its efforts to storm a vital hill between Villa and Liberi, the 3d Battalion was then hard put to beat off a sharp counterattack in approximate platoon size. The 1st and 2d also fought off counterattacks.
At an impasse, Sherman scheduled a co-ordinated attack for the following morning. He sent his Cannon Company up the road to support the 2d Battalion in the middle. General Truscott helped out by temporarily attaching to the 7th Infantry the 3d Battalion of the 15th Infantry, which was clearing the division left.
While Colonel Sherman prepared his reinforced regiment for the attack, the Germans withdrew from Liberi during the night and retired to another defensive position. When the 7th Infantry launched its attack at 0615, 17 October, there was no opposition. At 1000, the 2d Battalion marched into Liberi. Sherman released the battalion of the 15th Infantry.
The advance toward Dragoni continued until shortly before noon, when the leading troops of the 1st Battalion reached the next German delaying position. Enemy rifle, machine gun, tank, and artillery fire pinned down the battalion and kept it immobile for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, the 2d Battalion, followed by the 3d, moved into the hills to bypass the German position. This accomplished, the troops returned to the road and moved forward until they struck resistance again. Once more the 2d Battalion took to the hills, trying to envelop a German roadblock. Late that afternoon, as the Germans seemed ready to withdraw from Dragoni, General Truscott informed Colonel Sherman that
he expected American troops to be in Dragoni by daylight, 18 October. To comply with this instruction, Sherman ordered the 3d Battalion to blast through the opposition along the winding road.
The 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, attacked just before nightfall, apparently catching the Germans on the point of abandoning their positions. Shortly after midnight American troops were on high ground just south of and overlooking Dragoni, and during the hours of darkness patrols descended into the village. When daylight came on 18 October, the battalion moved across and cut the Liberi-Dragoni road, securing in the process another and more advantageous hill. The 2d Battalion, having taken high ground west of Dragoni, sent patrols to the northwest to cut the lateral road running from Dragoni westward to Highway 6. The 1st Battalion and the rest of the regiment came forward during the day and organized the high ground dominating Dragoni, and from there the regiment used mortar fire to interdict the road leading eastward across the upper Volturno.
Over General Truscott's protest, General Lucas instructed the division commander to halt and wait for General Ryder's 34th Division to come abreast. Truscott told Sherman to rest his regiment. "You have done a damn good job with those battalions . . . ." he said.7
In the left of the 3d Division zone the 15th Infantry had overcome much the same conditions and the same sort of resistance in advancing about ten miles to the villages of Roccaromana and Pietramelara. The regiment had jockeyed its units to outflank resistance as men climbed hills, reconnoitered for passes and trails, and sought to grapple with an elusive enemy. Many attacks made during darkness over steep, brush-covered hills had exhausted and scattered troops and intensified the problems of unit control. In each case, the Americans had dislodged small groups of Germans who had skillfully placed their few weapons so as to deny movement along the natural avenues of advance, forcing the small American units to make tortuous outflanking movements. By the time the Americans established fields of fire and ranges for mortars and artillery, the Germans, having accomplished their mission of delaying the advance, had retired to the next position, where the same dreary and wearisome process had to be repeated.
In making this short advance during the five days from 14 through 18 October, the 3d Division had sustained 500 battle casualties.
The Second Volturno Crossing
General Ryder had hoped to hold off the advance of his 34th Division for a day or two after crossing the Volturno and taking Caiazzo, because he wanted bridges installed to insure getting his heavy weapons and artillery, as well as an adequate flow of supplies, across the river. He secured permission from General Lucas the night of the 14th to confine his activity on 15 October to patrolling. But when General Clark phoned the corps commander a little later to tell him that the Germans seemed to be retiring and that he wanted VI Corps to pursue at once, Lucas called Ryder to tell him that he "must not lose contact and must push on as hard and
vigorously as possible."8 In compliance, Ryder ordered the 135th Infantry, in the right of the division zone, to drive ahead to Dragoni.
The 135th Infantry had captured the village of Ruviano on the morning of 15 October, but in the rolling grainfields, vineyards, and olive groves immediately beyond the regiment met stiff resistance that slowed progress. Trying to get his troops moving, General Ryder on the morning of 16 October instructed the 168th Infantry on the left to attack along the road from Caiazzo to Alvignano, a village about halfway between the Volturno River and Dragoni. He hoped thus to loosen the resistance beyond Ruviano. The 168th Infantry also struck firm opposition; it took a day of hard fighting to move about two miles to Alvignano.
The stubborn defense reflected the local importance to the Germans of the road network around Alvignano and Dragoni. At both villages, roads run northeastward to bridges, about two miles apart, across the upper Volturno. German units withdrawing from the pressure exerted by the 34th and 3d Divisions needed these routes, and about three battalions of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division fought skillfully to keep the roads open.
While the 135th Infantry pushed doggedly beyond Ruviano along a ridge line for three miles to a height overlooking Dragoni, reaching that objective on the morning of 18 October, the 168th Infantry was moving with difficulty toward Dragoni. General Ryder had thought of passing the 133d Infantry through the 168th to take Dragoni, but the advance of 3d Division troops to ground dominating the village from the west and across the road west of Dragoni made it desirable for the 34th Division to block German movements eastward across the upper Volturno. The German use of smoke in the area around Dragoni indicated that heavy equipment and large caliber weapons were still being evacuated across the bridge. A swift crossing by the 34th Division might disrupt that withdrawal and perhaps trap some German rear guards pulling back from the 45th Division, which was advancing along the eastern side of the upper Volturno valley from Monte Acero. To take the highway and the railroad bridge that was still intact a little more than a mile northeast of Dragoni became the task of the 133d Infantry. Ryder had intended to reinforce the 133d with contingents of the 135th, but a savage counterattack against the 168th Infantry, apparently a last German effort to mask the final withdrawal from Dragoni on 18 October, prompted him to hold back the 135th to insure his security. Arranging with General Truscott to have the 3d Division keep Dragoni and the river crossing interdicted by fire, General Ryder directed his 168th Infantry to seize the town, the 133d to take the bridge. Later during 18 October, he would send the 135th Infantry to seize the crossing site at the destroyed bridge near Alvignano.
As the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 133d Infantry attacked on the afternoon of 18 October up the west bank of the upper Volturno toward the Dragoni bridge, the 1st Battalion followed on the right rear, covering the regimental flank along the river. When the sound of heavy firing from the direction of
Dragoni indicated that the two assault battalions were about to become involved in a fire fight for the bridge, the 1st Battalion commander came to an independent decision. Departing from the exact letter of his instructions, he sent a reconnaissance patrol to find a ford across the river. By crossing to the east bank, the battalion might bypass the resistance and drive rapidly to the regimental objective.
The lieutenant at the head of the patrol, which consisted of a rifle platoon and several members of the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon, located a place that looked fordable. He started infiltrating men across the river. Unfortunately, the river was too deep; every man wading into the water soon had to swim. Persisting in his search, the lieutenant around dusk discovered a shallow bottom not far upstream from the destroyed Alvignano bridge. By this time half his force was across the river and manning a rather thin and somewhat precarious defensive line. The lieutenant informed the battalion commander of his success in finding a ford, and the battalion commander received permission from regiment to cross.
Since it would be dark before the battalion could get across the Volturno, the lieutenant put his entire platoon on the far side of the river as a covering force. He marked the ford with willow sticks cut from bushes along the river and pushed into the mud of the river bed. Since he had no tape, he had his men tie toilet paper to the sticks to make them visible in the darkness. He placed guides on the near bank and instructed them to tell every man of the battalion to keep just to the left of the line of sticks when crossing.
German artillery fire was by then falling on the crossing site, but all the foot elements of the 1st Battalion waded the Volturno at a cost of one casualty. Pushing rapidly up the east bank, the battalion approached the Dragoni bridge around midnight, 18 October. At that point, German troops set off prepared charges and destroyed the structure, leaving only the low gray stone abutments and one arch still standing.
Fortunately, the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon had been working at the ford, improving the crossing site with rocks pulled from the river bed to establish a roadway of sorts. At daylight all the antitank guns and prime movers, the communication jeeps, and a ¾-ton truck loaded with ammunition moved safely across and joined the infantry near the destroyed Dragoni bridge.
Coming up on the west side of the river, the other two battalions of the 133d Infantry reached Dragoni during the morning of 19 October and forded the stream. The relatively swift movement of the regiment, however, had trapped no German rear guards.
That night the 135th Infantry forded the Volturno near the Alvignano bridge, moving during the hours of darkness to avoid enemy artillery fire. Hampered by swampy ground, sporadic German artillery fire, and occasional mine fields, the regiment moved north for four miles along the Alvignano-Alife road during the dark and foggy morning of 20 October. That afternoon troops entered the old walled village of Alife. Bombed by B-25's a week earlier, Alife was a mass of rubble, its bridge destroyed, its ruins full of mines and booby traps left by the Germans.
There the 34th Division prepared to
take over what had formerly been the zone of the 45th Division.
The Upper Volturno Valley
The 45th Division, after taking Monte Acero near the confluence of the Volturno and Calore Rivers, had driven up the eastern part of the upper Volturno valley, its advance obstructed by determined German rear guards bolstered by artillery and tank fire and occasional air attacks. Had General Middleton been able to secure close air support for his ground troops, he might have accelerated his progress. Between 11 and 17 October, he requested on six different occasions bombings of targets of opportunity spotted by forward observers--artillery positions, road traffic, and in one instance a column of German vehicles moving bumper to bumper. He was refused for a variety of reasons: "all fighter-bomber aerodromes unserviceable"; "targets received too late for aircraft to take off"; "weather in area reported impossible." Six prearranged missions laid on between 14 and 18 October to provide direct support to 45th Division forward elements were far from satisfactory--the weather had "interfered with the detailed execution of the above programme."9
A bombing and strafing attack by twenty German planes on 14 October and tank fire bolstered by strafing on the following day prevented the 45th Division from taking Faicchio, a village stronghold on dominating ground just beyond Monte Acero. Not until the Germans abandoned Faicchio during the night of 15 October did the division advance.
For four more days the 45th Division shouldered its way into the valley, covering the eight miles from Faicchio to Piedimonte d'Alife by dogged persistence. Late on 19 October, when leading elements entered the village, the attack came to an end. On the following day the 45th Division went into corps reserve, leaving to the 34th Division the task of continuing the drive up the east side of the valley.
Placing his 135th Infantry in division reserve at Alife, General Ryder extended the control of his 168th Infantry over Dragoni to free the 3d Division for an advance to the northwest, and sent the 133d Infantry into the narrowing Volturno valley toward Sant'Angelo d'Alife, five miles away.
The advance of the 133d Infantry had scarcely got under way when the Germans caught the 100th Infantry Battalion in open flats not far from Alife. From positions in the foothills of the Matese Mountains the Germans delivered rifle, machine gun, artillery, and Nebelwerfer fire on the Americans. The sound from the Nebelwerfer rockets, called "screaming meemies," probably terrified the Americans more than the fire itself. The men scattered in panic. With the battalion disorganized, the regimental advance came to a halt before it really began.
Hoping to demolish the German defenses by firepower, the regiment saturated the area with mortar and artillery shells. But the enemy positions on the mountain slopes were difficult to pinpoint, and the fires were apparently ineffective. Two artillery battalions, the 125th and 151st, crossed the Volturno
into the regimental area, but their fires, including a concentrated expenditure of 1,134 rounds delivered in a 20-minute period on the morning of 21 October, failed to stop the German guns. When a Cub artillery observation plane discovered several German tanks in a willow grove near the river, the 125th Field Artillery Battalion fired 736 shells with little result; the resistance remained firm.
For three days the 133d Infantry tried to move forward without success. Then the Germans broke contact and withdrew. On the fourth day, the morning of 24 October, troops walked into the vacuum and took not only Sant'Angelo d'Alife but also Raviscanina unopposed.
The advance of seven miles in the upper valley of the Volturno during four days cost the 133d Infantry a total of 59 men killed and 148 wounded. The entire 34th Division had suffered more than 350 casualties in the period of a week.
The week had not been easy for the Germans either. "We withdraw 5 kilometers," a German noncommissioned officer wrote in his diary. "Are under heavy artillery fire. Had several wounded. M/Sgt Bregenz killed . . . . My morale is gone."10
The Coastal Zone
Headed toward the lower part of the Garigliano River, 10 Corps was fighting in the coastal area--a countryside of grainfields, vineyards, orchards, and olive groves, cut by drainage canals, tree-lined streams, deep ravines, and sunken roads, and rimmed by sand dunes and marshes. A dozen miles north of the Volturno, a hill mass heaves up from the coastal plain; topped by Monte Massico and Monte Santa Croce, this high ground commanded the corps approach routes from the south as well as the Garigliano valley to the northwest. To the northeast stand still greater heights--Monte Camino, Monte la Difensa, and Monte Maggiore.11
The 46th Division, working along the coast, had reached the Regia Agnena Nuova Canal, four miles north of the Volturno, by 15 October; there, strong opposition halted the division for three days. Late on the evening of 18 October, the 46th forced a crossing and secured a bridgehead, which was subsequently enlarged and reinforced. Three ferries operating continuously brought enough men, equipment, and supplies to the far side to make feasible a movement in force to Monte Massico and Monte Santa Croce.
Meanwhile the 7th Armoured Division, after bridging the Volturno at Grazzanise on 16 October, advanced slowly across low, wet ground, its progress obstructed by demolitions and rear guard resistance. At the Regia Agnena Nuova Canal the division made an assault crossing and fought through grainfields and olive groves for three miles to Sparanise on 25 October. Highway 7, leading through the Cascano pass between Monte Santa Croce and Monte Massico, was at hand.
In the right of the 10 Corps zone, the 56th Division had been fighting along the Triflisco ridge to open Highway 6 and gain access to Teano. The terrain was extremely rugged. Some ridge crests
were so narrow that only a single platoon could be deployed. Supplies often had to be carried by hand. Furnishing fire support was frequently impossible. Yet the division moved forward and by 22 October was ready to concentrate for an attack into the Teano valley.
Since the ground in the center of his corps was not particularly suitable for armored operations, General McCreery halted his divisions and on 24 October switched the zones of the 7th Armoured and 46th Divisions, an exchange that was completed four days later. With his immediate objectives the heights of Monte Massico and Monte Santa Croce, McCreery set 31 October as the date for opening the attack. (Map 4) He directed the 56th Division on the right to make the main effort through Teano to Roccamonfina, five miles beyond; the 46th Division, now in the center, to drive up Highway 7 and through the Cascano defile to seize ground controlling the road network around Sessa Aurunca; the 7th Armoured Division to protect the left flank and simulate a threat up the coastal route through Mondragone. Ships offshore were to support the attack by furnishing gunfire.
Several days before the jump-off date, British patrols discovered that the Germans were about to disengage. As the enemy thinned his front-line dispositions and began to draw back, British units followed to maintain firm contact. By 29 October, the 56th Division was within a mile of Teano, the 46th was at the entrance of the Cascano pass, and the 7th Armoured Division reported definite German withdrawal in the coastal area.
Hoping to disrupt German movements, General McCreery launched his attack a day earlier. On 3 October, the three divisions pushed forward, the 56th taking Teano, the 46th advancing a mile into the Cascano pass, the 7th Armoured doing little more than making its presence felt because of extremely muddy ground that bogged down vehicles. The 10 Corps attack continued--the 56th Division capturing Roccamonfina on 1 November and Monte Santa Croce four days later; the 46th moving through the Cascano pass and taking control of the Sessa Aurunca area; the 7th Armoured clearing the coastal region as far as the lower Garigliano River. McCreery had failed to disrupt the German withdrawal, but his troops made good progress. On 1 November patrols from the 7th Armoured and 46th Divisions reached and reconnoitered the near bank of the Garigliano.
The advance had been surprisingly easy; the action for the most part consisted of eliminating numerous machine gun positions by small unit maneuver and firepower. The XIV Panzer Corps in its coastal sector had abandoned the Barbara Line.
Once through the Massico barrier and in control of the ground dominating the lower Garigliano valley, 10 Corps turned to the hills that stretched to the north--Monte Camino, Monte la Difensa, and Monte Maggiore. Held by the Germans, this unbroken lateral mountain barrier extended about eight miles between the Cascano pass and the Mignano gap, which provided an opening for Highway 6 on the way to Cassino, twelve miles beyond. To make possible a Fifth Army drive through Mignano to Cassino, 10 Corps would first have to gain possession of Camino, Difensa, and Maggiore on the left side of the highway, while VI Corps took the high
10 Corps Drive to the Garigliano
26 October-4 November 1943
ground on the right. In this area the Barbara Line was still intact.
More Mountain Warfare
In the VI Corps zone the 3d Division was consolidating positions in the high ground immediately west of Dragoni, the 34th Division trying to advance in the upper Volturno valley, and the 45th Division was in corps reserve. When the 34th Division reached the head of the upper Volturno valley, General Lucas would have to shift his corps dispositions in order to draw closer to 10 Corps. At that time, he would have to send the 3d Division to the northwest to attack toward the high ground dominating the Mignano gap, get the 34th Division and perhaps the 45th across the upper Volturno River to seize Venafro, and make provision for protecting his right flank in the virtually impassable foothills of the Matese mountain range. (Map 5)
The immediate task was to clear the upper Volturno valley, and this entailed a continuation of the 34th Division attack. General Ryder passed the 135th Infantry through the 133d to continue the advance beyond Raviscanina. In support of the regimental attack scheduled for the morning of 26 October, the 34th Division Artillery began to fire successive concentrations at 0530, moving the fire ahead of the assault units 100 yards every six minutes. Whether the preparation was effective soon became academic. Early morning darkness and a heavy morning mist obscured terrain features and the line of departure; combat units and supply parties soon became confused and lost their sense of direction. The attack deteriorated as the men became disorganized. Fortunately, there was almost no opposition on a side road to Ailano, and a battalion of infantry moved forward two miles and took the hamlet that afternoon. But resistance on the main road in the regimental zone prevented an advance to Pratella. For two days the Germans held. When General Ryder passed the 168th Infantry through the 135th on the morning of 28 October, the Germans were withdrawing--even before the heavy artillery preparation and a fighter-bomber attack struck Pratella. American patrols entering the village on 3 October found the Germans had gone. With long-range artillery fire harassing the advance elements and contact with the enemy confined to scattered small arms and machine gun fire, the 34th Division reached the bank of the Volturno River on 3 November.12
Meanwhile, General Clark had given General Lucas the 504th Parachute Infantry to protect the VI Corps right flank. This experienced unit, equipped with light weapons and trained to operate independently, had a reputation for skillful patrolling and infiltration, valuable for a task that would involve scouting virtually impassable mountainsides and maintaining contact with the Eighth Army on the other side of the Matese range.
General Lucas dispatched Colonel Tucker's paratroopers on 27 October five miles beyond Raviscanina to Gallo. After setting up a base there, Tucker extended patrol operations toward Isernia, about fifteen miles distant and just across the Fifth Army boundary in the British army zone of advance. Two days later Colonel Tucker reported that his
VI Corps Advance
26 October-4 November 1943
troops were meeting only small and isolated German detachments and observing only very light enemy vehicular movements along the Venafro-Isernia road.13
The corps commander had called his division commanders together on 27 October to talk over plans, and the discussion had been, he remarked, "hot and heavy." Not a council of war, because Lucas was determined to make his own decisions, the conference was wholesome, he believed. "These primadonnas feel," Lucas wrote, "that they had their day in court and I get the ideas of men of great combat experience."14
From the conference and his own thinking emerged General Lucas' instructions for the next phase of operations. On 29 October he ordered the 504th Parachute Infantry to cut the Venafro-Isernia road; the 34th and 45th Divisions to cross the upper Volturno River; and the 3d Division to be ready to seize Presenzano, a village that would give the division a foothold on the high ground overlooking the Mignano gap from the east.15
The 3d Division jumped off on 31 October. Attacking northwest from the Roccaromana area immediately west of Dragoni, two regiments moving abreast crossed the small valley carrying the lateral road that connects Raviscanina and Highway 6. Having cut the road, the 15th Infantry and the 30th Infantry took two hill masses dominating the hamlet of Pietravairano.
Because this advance had been relatively easy, General Truscott secured permission to advance on both sides of Highway 6 to the Mignano gap.16 Against a surprising absence of opposition, the 7th Infantry crossed Highway 6 and cut the Roccamonfina-Mignano road. By 3 November the regiment had gained the wooded height of Friello Hill west of Highway 6, where the troops found many mines and booby traps but few Germans. The 15th Infantry, also moving quickly, attacked up Highway 6, sending a battalion to seize the high ground above Presenzano. By 3 November, the 15th Infantry was at the southern edge of Mignano on the east side of Highway 6.
With 10 Corps holding Monte Massico near the coast and the 3d Division beyond Presenzano, it became obvious that the German troops defending the Barbara Line had pulled back. They had gained time with little expenditure of men and matériel. They had used the terrain to good advantage, careful to employ defiladed ground for shelter and dense woods for concealment. Their artillery fires had been effective--having registered and adjusted artillery on the likely approach routes, they were able to fire without direct observation. Small mobile infantry units supported by long-range artillery fire had conducted a skillful rear guard action.
The final surge by 10 Corps to the lower Garigliano, Monte Massico, and Teano had been made possible by intentional German withdrawal; the lower Garigliano provided the Germans with a better obstacle and the high ground immediately behind the river better positions than those they had abandoned. The final drive by the 3d Division to the high ground around the Mignano gap
had been made possible by anything but an intentional German withdrawal. Two inexperienced German infantry divisions, the 94th and 305th, had come from Rommel's Army Group B area into Kesselring's OB SUED command for assignment to Tenth Army. The 94th was to come under the XIV Panzer Corps, the 305th under the LXXVI Panzer Corps on the east coast. When Kesselring, concerned about the possibility of Allied amphibious hooks, ordered Vietinghoff to speed the construction of coastal defenses to protect the deep flank, particularly between Gaeta and Terracina, Vietinghoff assigned this task to the 94th Division. To help the 94th, he withdrew several engineer battalions from the Mignano sector. The transfer of the engineers delayed completion of a strongpoint under construction at Mignano and prevented work on the massif holding Presenzano, projected as an advanced bastion of defense, from being carried out as extensively as planned. There had been little to stop or slow down the 3d Division.17
Except for these swift advances, Allied progress had been slow and costly. General Clark was irritated. "So am I," General Lucas wrote in his diary. But he could see no other way. The troops could not be pushed beyond their capabilities. "Things are going slowly," he admitted, but as long as the Germans were effective and dangerous, there was no alternative to patience.18
In twenty days the Fifth Army had advanced between 15 and 20 miles along a 40-mile front. The troops had not succeeded in engaging the main body of the enemy forces. The senior commanders could only hope that the Allies had forced the Germans to withdraw faster than they had intended.
Rome was still a long way off. Nor was there evidence of an imminent enemy collapse, or the prospect of a decisive Allied strike toward the Eternal City. The discouraging frontal advance would have to continue. Unless, of course, the breakthrough of the Barbara Line meant that the Germans were about to give up southern Italy. The third crossing of the Volturno River might tell.
The Third Volturno Crossing
Getting the 34th and 45th Divisions westward across the upper Volturno River was designed to help the 3d Division take the Mignano gap and open the way for an advance to Cassino and beyond. While the 3d Division fought in the immediate vicinity of Mignano, the 34th Division was to cross the river and attack into broken ground around Colli, about five miles away, in order to anchor securely the right flank of the corps. The 504th Parachute Infantry--operating still on the right flank in terrain so difficult that it was necessary often to communicate by carrier pigeon and sometimes to send food and ammunition by overhead trolley strung across deep mountain gorges--would lend assistance by cutting the Venefro-Isernia road. The 45th Division was to push up Highway 85 for about eight miles to Venafro, then turn west and, assisted by a Ranger battalion, seize Monte Sammucro, which blocked Highway 6 north of Mignano.19
General Lucas was concerned about the river crossing. The operation would
REMOVING A GERMAN S MINE, called "Bouncing Betty" by American troops because it jumped into the air before exploding.
be complicated, he believed, particularly since the defenders held commanding ground across the river. Both assault divisions would have to be supplied over a single road under enemy observation and fire. Yet there was no avoiding it. "I must cross the river," Lucas wrote in his diary, "if I am ever to get to Rome."20
Pushed continually by General Clark, who insisted that there were few enemy troops on the far side of the river, General Lucas just as frequently requested more time to prepare. He saw no point in incurring unnecessary casualties. Reluctantly, Lucas set the night of 2 November for the crossing, though he later had to postpone the 34th Division operation for a day to give Ryder additional time to reconnoiter and get more artillery into supporting positions.
To the troops taking cover among the olive groves on the slopes overlooking the flat valley of the upper Volturno, the view to the west was far from comforting. Just beyond the river in the foreground lay Highway 85 and a parallel railroad to Venafro. Beyond these rose rugged and towering mountains. There the Germans, who had destroyed bridges and spread mines behind them, had to be waiting for those who would cross.
The first troops to ford the upper Volturno in this third crossing of the Volturno
by VI Corps were from the 45th Division. During the night of 2 November, concealed by darkness, the men of Company F, 180th Infantry, moved through clumps of willows to the water, waded the shallow stream, and took up positions high on a terraced hillside to form a covering force. During the afternoon and evening of 3 November troops of the 4th Ranger Battalion crossed the river with little trouble. Following a steep and rocky trail in single file, the men climbed into the hills, moving west toward Highway 6. About the same time the rest of the 2d Battalion, 180th Infantry, crossed the gravel bed of the river downstream, struggled up steep ridges, and advanced northwest toward the village of Ceppagna, there to cut a mountain road connecting Venafro and Highway 6. There was no opposition until morning, when the battalion met German troops on a narrow ridge near Rocca Pipirozzi, a little stone village clustered about a castle on a peak. The battalion sideslipped to the Ceppagna area to block the road and sent patrols southwest to make contact with the Rangers, who had marched all night over jagged heights for 12 tortuous miles. In the morning they too had met Germans, and they dug in on Cannavinelle Hill, 2 to 3 miles east of Highway 6.21
Upstream from the crossing sites of the 180th Infantry, the 179th Infantry had sent its 3d Battalion across the Volturno very early on 4 November. Advancing toward Venafro through the grainfields and vineyards of the valley, the men made good progress against virtually no opposition. By midmorning the battalion was at the outskirts of Venafro, but there machine gun fire halted the troops. One rifle company fought its way through the town to the safety of a small hill immediately to the north, but the remainder of the battalion could not move from the flat and exposed ground until after dark. The 1st and 2d Battalions had meanwhile crossed the river and come forward. On the following morning the regiment attacked into the high ground to eliminate the few defenders who had temporarily delayed the capture of Venafro.
The 34th Division crossed the Volturno with two regiments abreast, the troops moving through the farmland of the muddy valley to positions along the low near river bank shortly before midnight, 3 November.22 After an artillery preparation of thirty minutes, the troops waded the swift and icy stream. Some hostile mortar and artillery fire came from the hills, but the worst obstacle was the large number of mines and booby traps planted in the valley, their trip wires seemingly attached to every grapevine, fruit tree, and haystack. Commanders and staffs of the higher headquarters could follow the progress of the advancing troops by the explosions.
The assault regiments crossed Highway 85 and moved into the hills against stiffening opposition. By about noon of 4 November the leading units were on the initial objectives of the division. The heavy casualties caused by mines made it impossible to continue the attack without reinforcement, and General Ryder therefore brought over the rest of his division.
With VI Corps across the upper Volturno and hammering on the Bernhard
RESCUE AT THE VOLTURNO; COLLAPSED PONTON BRIDGE IN THE BACKGROUND
Line, General Lucas' concern vanished. "All is well tonight," he wrote in his diary on 4 November.23 Good news, too, was the fact that the 504th Parachute Infantry had managed to get a patrol over the mountains and into Isernia; the village was clear of enemy troops--no German troops were being assembled there for a strike against the VI Corps right flank.
The Germans at the Bernhard Line
The crossings of the upper Volturno River during the nights of 2 and 3 November had taken the Germans somewhat by surprise. They had expected crossings, since the river was fordable all along its upper reaches and the valley was difficult to defend, but not so soon. The Germans had come to anticipate that American attacks, especially across rivers, would be carefully prepared. Consequently, the unit that had been defending the area, the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division (reinforced by small elements of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division) had planted a profusion of mines and left merely outposts to cover its movement into the Bernhard Line positions.
Kesselring had asked Vietinghoff to hold the Allied forces away from the Bernhard Line until 1 November, when the fortifications were expected to be completed, and Vietinghoff had performed this ticklish operation with skill,
avoiding the loss of fighting strength and enabling enough forces to withdraw to the fortifications to insure a strong defense. In the process his troops had destroyed bridges, culverts, tunnels, railroad tracks, engines, and wagons in the area they had evacuated; they had laid some 45,000 mines forward of the Bernhard Line and an additional 30,000 on its immediate approaches. Although Vietinghoff would have preferred to concentrate forces for a counterattack against either Fifth or Eighth Army, he was well aware of how useless this would be without air support. Fighting from the excellent defensive positions of the Bernhard Line would be almost as satisfying. Not a single line, it was rather a system of mutually supporting positions organized in depth to permit penetrations to be sealed off quickly.24
A special engineer headquarters under General Bessell had planned the Winter Line with foresight and directed the construction work with great competence. Italian civilians, who were paid good wages plus a bonus of tobacco and food, performed much of the labor. Mussolini's puppet government had also made available several quasi-military construction battalions.
Kesselring issued his "order for the conduct of the campaign" on 1 November. He now told Vietinghoff to be unconcerned about Allied amphibious landings in the deep flanks--OB SUED would take responsibility for repelling them; Vietinghoff was to give his full attention to a strong defense at the Bernhard Line while the construction along the Gustav Line was being completed.
A few days later, despite Vietinghoff's skillful withdrawal, Kesselring showed dissatisfaction with what he considered to be the quick crumbling of the Barbara Line. He questioned Vietinghoff's conduct of operations. Taking umbrage, Vietinghoff immediately requested sick leave. Kesselring approved the request and took temporary command of the Tenth Army until the arrival on the following day, 5 November, of Generalleutnant Joachim Lemelsen, who would command the army until 28 December, when Vietinghoff returned. Also in November, Hube was given command of an army on the Eastern Front and Generalleutnant Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin replaced him as XIV Panzer Corps commander.25
German troops in contact with the Allied armies consisted of about seven and a half divisions. The XIV Panzer Corps controlled the 94th Infantry and the 15th and 3d Panzer Grenadier Divisions, as well as a battle group of the Hermann Goering Division. Under the LXXVI Panzer Corps headquarters were the 26th Panzer, 1st Parachute, 305th Infantry, and 65th Infantry Divisions.
The order of battle was not an altogether accurate measure of troop strength. For example, the 94th Division was neither experienced nor well trained.
"It is completely illogical to send us this division," the Tenth Army chief of staff had protested in a telephone conversation with OB SUED.
"It is not illogical," Kesselring's chief of staff replied. "Hitler has ordered it."26
Logical or not, the division soon took responsibility for part of the front, but
as it turned out the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, which it was supposed to replace, would remain as well.
More important in measuring the strength of the German divisions was the reorganization that had taken place generally in October 1943. Until that time, the standard German infantry division had an antitank battalion; a reconnaissance battalion; three infantry regiments, each controlling three rifle battalions; a regiment of medium (150-mm. howitzers) artillery and three battalions of light (105-mm. howitzers or guns) artillery (for a total of 48 pieces, roughly the same number as in an American division). The division at full strength thus had a little more than 17,000 men. Dwindling supplies of manpower in the fall of 1943 prompted a drastic overhaul to reduce the size of the standard division while retaining its firepower. By giving each of the three regiments only two battalions of infantry, the Germans reduced the division to about 13,500 men. Although Hitler in January 1944 would try to trim personnel to about 11,000 troops, OKH planners would compromise and slice off only 1,000 men, making reductions chiefly in supply and overhead units. A cut in the basic unit, reducing the rifle company to 140 enlisted men and 9 officers, gave the German division about 1,200 fewer riflemen than the American division.27
Added to the reduction in the size of the infantry division, there was the difficulty of replacing losses, not only in personnel but in equipment. A battle strength of three to four hundred men in a battalion was considered good, though seldom attained. Artillery could not match Allied firepower because of limited ammunition stocks. The ground troops were denied consistent air support. There were no separate tank battalions to bolster the infantry units. Reserves were scarce.28
But all the deficiencies that plagued the Germans were more than compensated by the superior defensive positions the terrain of southern Italy offered. On the Bernhard Line the German divisions would use all their infantry battalions at the front, usually keeping the reconnaissance battalion in immediate reserve. Corps headquarters would try to have one battalion in reserve. Army would have no reserves at all, but would depend on withdrawing forces (normally an entire division) from quiet sectors to strengthen and give depth to threatened points along the front. At the beginning of November, Kesselring permitted Tenth Army to retain a battle group of the Hermann Goering Division in the line, while the rest of the division went into reserve in the Frosinone area at the head of the Liri valley. Kesselring also positioned the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division in reserve at Velletri, on the southern approaches to Rome, particularly for use against coastal invasion.
A major question troubled the German command. Would the troops in the line actually hold after a year of constant retreat in North Africa, Sicily, and southern Italy? For the troops to take seriously the order to stand fast on the Bernhard Line, the commanders at all echelons would have to have their units well in hand. Otherwise the defense would collapse.
Into the Bernhard Line
The immediate objective of the Fifth Army offensive was some twelve miles ahead--the entrance to the Liri valley, the gateway to Rome. To reach the Liri valley, the army had first to clear the shoulders of the Mignano gap, then take Cassino, and finally cross the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers. If the troops could crack the defenses at Mignano, they might be able to rush across the intervening ground to the Liri valley. (Map 6)
At Mignano, Highway 6 and the railroad to Rome come together and run side by side, overlooked on the left by the Camino-Difensa-Maggiore mountain mass, on the right by the terrain around Presenzano, the Cannavinelle Hill, and Monte Rotondo. Just beyond Mignano the highway and railroad separate, the railroad tracks going around the western edge of Monte Lungo, the road running around the eastern edge. Passing between Monte Lungo on the left and Monte Rotondo on the right, the road heads for the village of San Pietro Infine, which is set like a jewel on the forbidding height of Monte Sammucro. Before reaching the mountain, Highway 6 swings left around the high ground, bypasses San Pietro, and runs straight to Cassino.
In early November 10 Corps was at the foot of the Camino-Difensa-Maggiore mass, with the 56th Division in position to attack Camino, a mountain of steep and rocky slopes and razorback main
Fifth Army at the Winter Line
5-15 November 1943
BRITISH SOLDIERS HUGGING SIDE OF HILL, MONTE CAMINO
spurs with very little cover, looming some 3,000 feet above the Garigliano valley. Attacking on 5 November with two brigades, the 56th Division found the few natural approaches to the top carefully mined, booby-trapped, and wired, and covered by crew-served weapons in pits blasted out of solid rock.
After overcoming German outpost positions in several hamlets at the foot of the mountain, the troops started to fight up the slope on the afternoon of 6 November, a slow and backbreaking process. Units of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division defending the hill launched three counterattacks on 8 November and almost drove the British from the slope, but they held on doggedly, retaining a precarious position about halfway up.
Two days later, as the weather became colder and wetter, the British began to show signs of complete exhaustion. Losses sustained by continuous action since the invasion of Salerno had by this time so reduced combat efficiency that it became doubtful whether the troops could hold Monte Camino even if they captured all of it. An entire battalion was doing little more than carrying rations, water, and ammunition to men who were hanging to the steep slopes; evacuation of casualties was a long and wearying haul. When two rifle companies were surrounded by Germans, they held out for five days, even though
they had only one day's supply of rations and water, until a sharp local attack finally opened a path to them and made possible the withdrawal of the few soldiers who remained.
General Templer, the division commander, was ready to commit his third brigade on 12 November in a last attempt to secure the mountain when General Clark gave approval for the 56th Division to withdraw. During the night of 14 November the troops started to pull out. The hazardous job of breaking contact was completed without enemy interference, thanks for the most part to bad weather. But this could not disguise the fact that the troops of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, wearing thin, summer uniforms for service in "sunny Italy," had won a defensive victory.29
Much the same happened on Monte la Difensa, where the 3d Division had committed the 7th Infantry across the corps boundary on the left of Highway 6. Attacking into a high ridge between the jagged peaks of Camino on the south and the perpendicular cliffs of Difensa on the north, the regiment employed all its battalions in the attack, hoping not only to take Difensa but also to help the British take Camino.
For ten days the regiment fought, trying in vain to scale the heights against strong resistance anchored on commanding ground--deadly rifle, machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire. It was difficult enough simply to exist on the narrow ledges above deep gorges. When a man needed both hands for climbing, he could carry little in the way of weapons and ammunition. Efforts to drop supplies from light planes proved unsuccessful--the material came to rest at the bottom of inaccessible ravines or fell into enemy territory. It took six hours to bring a wounded man down the mountain. Exposed to rain and cold, increasingly fatigued by the unceasing combat, the troops were unable to conquer Monte la Difensa.
The rest of the 3d Division had meanwhile been trying to take the two mountains dominating the gap just above the village of Mignano: Monte Lungo on the left of Highway 6, and Monte Rotondo on the right. Patrols reported mine fields, tank traps, and machine gun positions on both mountains, and the assault troops found units of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division and the battle group of the Hermann Goering Division in stout defense, despite their losses.
General Truscott had been resting the 30th Infantry, holding it in readiness for a final and decisive thrust in the area of the Mignano gap--an attack he intended to order when he judged the defenses on the point of crumbling. Instead, after General McCreery asked General Clark for more pressure from VI Corps to help the 56th Division on Monte Camino, and after General Clark relayed the request to General Lucas, the VI Corps commander directed Truscott to employ the 30th Infantry in a wide enveloping maneuver. Truscott protested that this would waste the regiment, but of course complied.
He sent the 30th Infantry by truck around Presenzano to the vicinity of Rocca Pipirozzi, in the upper Volturno valley. There the regiment was to pass through the troops of the 45th Division and attack westward across Cannavinelle Hill, where a Ranger battalion was dug in, to take Monte Rotondo from the east. In the meantime, a battalion of the
TROOPS OF THE 30TH INFANTRY REGIMENT MOVING OUT TO ATTACK, 6 NOVEMBER
15th Infantry attacked beyond Presenzano and headed northeastward to bolster the Rangers on Cannavinelle.30
After passing through the 180th Infantry during the night of 5 November, the 30th Infantry attacked the following morning. The regiment made little progress. Both the battalion of the 15th Infantry striving toward Cannavinelle and the battalion of the 15th sent to seize the southeast nose of Monte Lungo failed to reach their objectives.
It took another attack on the foggy morning of 8 November, this one supported by eight battalions of closely coordinated artillery, for the 3d Division to seize its goals. The 30th Infantry broke through the defenses of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, smashed its way through the dense brush covering Monte Rotondo, and reached the crest. The battalion of the 15th Infantry captured the southeast nose of barren Monte Lungo, while another battalion moved up Highway 6 between Lungo and Rotondo to secure the horseshoe curve a mile north of Mignano. During the next few days the troops of both regiments repelled counterattacks, dug more deeply into the ground for protection against hostile mortar and artillery fire, and tried to keep alive and reasonably warm and dry.31
The counterattacks against those units of the 3d Division east of Highway 6 were launched for the most part by a paratrooper battalion that Kesselring had made available to Tenth Army specifically to regain Monte Rotondo. The battalion was to have formed the cadre of a new parachute division, but Kesselring judged the danger to the defensive positions below Cassino sufficiently great to justify the unit's expenditure. Taking heavy losses, the battalion soon became ineffective.32
Near the hamlet of Ceppagna, the paratroopers had also engaged Rangers who were blocking the lateral mountain road between Venafro and Highway 6. The 1st Ranger Battalion had joined the 4th during the night of 8 November to bolster the blocking positions and permit the 180th Infantry to rejoin the 45th Division attack into the mountains behind Venafro. After a Ranger reconnaissance patrol reported a fortified German observation post on a ridge of Monte Sammucro overlooking Venafro to the east and San Pietro Infine to the west, a Ranger company set out at dawn on 11 November to eliminate the position. The Rangers drove the Germans down the ridge toward San Pietro, but more Germans soon returned to initiate two days of fierce, close-in fighting. Before it was over, two more Ranger companies had become involved. Another German counterattack on 13 November drove the Rangers out of Ceppagna and threatened to pierce the VI Corps front at Mignano, but the commitment of two more Ranger companies and heavy expenditures of 4.2-inch mortar shells restored the line. Understrength by this time, with cooks and drivers serving as litter bearers and supply porters, the Rangers held on, controlling an area of peaks on the eastern portion of Monte Sammucro and awaiting the arrival of the 3d Ranger Battalion, promised as further reinforcement in the next few days.
In the 45th Division zone troops cleared jagged cliffs and precipitous peaks as they drove slowly forward. Supply was arduous and hazardous; even the pack mules were unable to negotiate the steep trails in many places. German positions blasted and dug into solid rock had to be taken one by one. Maps were of little value, positions difficult to report.
In similar terrain, perhaps even worse, where pack mules no longer solved transportation problems, the 34th Division struggled over a series of scrub-covered hills, clearing routes through mined areas by driving sheep and goats ahead of troops, engaging in extensive patrolling, and incurring heavy casualties from exposure to the rain and cold. The only action of consequence was the spurt of a task force under the assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Caffey, Jr., who sped up a mountain road for five miles with a composite force of infantry, tanks, tank destroyers, and engineers to seize the village of Montaquila and make contact with the 504th Parachute Infantry, which had pushed through equally rugged terrain west of Isernia.
The sudden if limited breakthrough by the 34th Division stemmed from the exhaustion of the widely dispersed units of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division. Although Lemelsen called in parts of the 26th Panzer Division to bolster the
PACK TRAIN ON A MOUNTAIN TRAIL
grenadiers, the 34th Division's advance did not particularly worry him. "Enemy gains," as Vietinghoff later remarked, "constituted no great threat and every step forward into the mountainous terrain merely increased his difficulties."33
Nor was there much concern over developments on the east coast, where General Montgomery's Eighth Army had secured the Termoli-Vinchiaturo line by mid-October to cover the Foggia airfields.34 When patrols met stiffening German resistance and air reconnaissance revealed considerable defensive preparations along the Trigno River, the next likely area for the Germans to make a stand, General Montgomery decided to consolidate his front, readjust his unit dispositions, bring up his rear elements, and establish a firm base before continuing his advance.35 However, events disrupted his plan to have 13 Corps attack toward Isernia near the army boundary in the mountains to cover a 5 Corps assault crossing of the Trigno on 28 October. Instead, his troops were in close contact with the withdrawing LXXVI Panzer Corps a week earlier, and the 78th Division seized a bridgehead over the Trigno on the night of 22 October.
This compelled the Germans to move quickly behind the river along the entire front. Blustery rain and thick mud foiled British efforts to expand the bridgehead and also forced a postponement of the 13 Corps attack toward Isernia.
During the rainy night of 29 October, 13 Corps' 5th Division jumped off toward Isernia, meeting increasing resistance in difficult mountainous terrain. The 5 Corps, assisted by powerful artillery and naval gunfire support, launched a heavy attack across the Trigno on 2 November. Two days later, as troops of the 13 Corps entered Isernia unopposed, meeting there a patrol from the 504th Parachute Infantry, the LXXVI Panzer Corps began to fall back toward the Sangro River. On 8 November 78th Division troops were holding high ground overlooking the Sangro, and the 8th Indian Division was coming up on the left. A week later the near bank of the Sangro was entirely cleared of Germans.
Hampered by demolitions, swollen streams, bad weather, and stiff opposition, Eighth Army in five weeks had pushed its 35-mile front forward approximately thirty miles along the coast, fifty in the interior. At the Sangro River General Montgomery faced a major defensive system, the eastern portion of the formidable Gustav Line, and there he paused to regroup and resupply his forces and to plan a co-ordinated effort for the next phase of his campaign.
Since the east coast offered few decisive objectives, the Germans remained relatively unconcerned. It was the other side of the Matese range and the Allied pressure around Mignano on the road to Rome--the 56th Division on Monte Camino and the 3d Division at the gap--that caused the Germans anxiety. Not only was the Bernhard Line being threatened but the very route to Rome might suddenly be uncovered. Lemelsen regrouped his Tenth Army about 10 November. Leaving the LXXVI Panzer Corps only three divisions, the 1st Parachute, the 16th Panzer, and the 65th Infantry--although the armored division was already earmarked for early transfer to the Russian front--Lemelsen gave the XIV Panzer Corps five divisions, the 26th Panzer, the 3d and 15th Panzer Grenadier, and the 94th and 305th Infantry. In army reserve he had most of the Hermann Goering Division. Near Rome Kesselring retained control of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division as OB SUED reserve.36
The reorganization promised little relief. The combat troops were reaching the point of utter exhaustion. Expecting an immediate breakthrough, Senger, the new commander of the XIV Panzer Corps, was of the opinion that all units in reserve ought to be committed at once to insure the integrity of the front.37 Then, suddenly, the Fifth Army attack came to a halt.
On 13 November General Clark told General Alexander that a continuation of the frontal attacks would exhaust the divisions, particularly the 56th and 3d, to a dangerous degree. With Alexander's approval, Clark halted offensive operations on 15 November. For two weeks the troops would rest and prepare for another attempt to smash through the Winter Line and reach the heights overlooking the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers and the entrance into the Liri valley.
General Lucas later believed that a fresh division on the Allied side would have turned what had come close to a stalemate into a decisive Allied victory. Unfortunately, none had been immediately available. "Wars," Lucas remarked, "should be fought in better country than this."38
1. Quote from Lucas Diary, 14 Oct 43; Truscott, Command Missions, p. 974; Fifth Army OI, 14 Oct 43 (confirming verbal orders issued 1530, 14 Oct 43); VI Corps FO 8, 2100, 14 Oct 43.
2. Although the Board of Geographic names prefers the spelling Monte Sambucaro, the more familiar Monte Sammucro, which appears on Fifth Army maps, will be used in this volume.
3. Vietinghoff MSS; 15th AGp Intel Summary 22, 27 Oct 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.
4. Vietinghoff MSS; Steiger MS.
5. Fifth Army G-2 Rpt 41, 2200, 17 Oct 43.
6. 3d Div AAR, Oct 43. This section is based on the official records of the 3d Division.
7. From the Volturno to the Winter Line, p. 65. See also Lucas Diary, 19 Oct 43.
8. Quote from Fifth Army History, Part II, p. 31. See also 34th Div AAR, Oct 43. This section is based on the official records of the 34th Division.
9. No. 7 Air Support Control Ltr, Requests for Air Support by 45th Div, 18 Oct 43, G-3 Jnl.
10. Incl 2 to VI Corps G-2 Rpt 44, 1530, 22 Oct 43.
11. The following is taken from the Fifth Army History, part II, pp. 36ff.
12. See Rpt 90, AGF Bd Rpts, NATO.
13. 504th Prcht Inf AAR, Oct 43.
14. Lucas Diary, 27 Oct 43.
15. VI Corps FO 12, 29 Oct 43.
16. VI Corps FO 13, 31 Oct 43.
17. Vietinghoff MSS.
18. Lucas Diary, 29, 30 Oct, 1 Nov 43.
19. VI Corps FO 13, 31 Oct 43.
20. Lucas Diary, 29 Oct 43.
21. See Altieri, Darby's Rangers, pp. 63-64.
22. 34th Div, Volturno Crossing, 3-4 Nov 43, OCMH.
23. Lucas Diary, 4 Nov 43.
24. Vietinghoff MSS.
25. Steiger MS.
26. Tenth A KTB, 21 Oct 43.
27. Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 236-37.
28. MS # T-1a (Westphal et al.), OCMH.
29. See Vietinghoff MSS.
30. Truscott, Command Missions, pp. 384ff.; Lucas Diary, 6 Nov 43; Truscott to author, Sep 64.
31. Capt. Maurice L. Britt of the 3d Division was largely responsible, despite wounds from bullets and grenades, for repelling a bitter counterattack; for his action on 10 November, he was later awarded the Medal of Honor. Pfc. Floyd K. Lindstrom, a machine gunner in the 3d Division, was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism on 11 November.
32. Vietinghoff MSS.
33. Vietinghoff MSS.
34. The following is based on Montgomery, El Alamein to the River Sangro, pp. 133-39; Eisenhower Dispatch, pp. 134ff.; De Guingand, Operation Victory, pp. 327ff.; Fifth Army History, Part II, pp. 38-59; Vietinghoff MSS.
35. See Eighth Army Msg, 1355, 17 Oct 43, and Liaison Rpts 68 and 72, 15, 17 Oct 43, all in Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.
36. Steiger MS.
37. MS # C-095b (Senger), OCMH.
38. Lucas Diary, 6, 10 Nov 43.