In the Winter Line
The Sangro Front
To tie down the Germans until the spring of 1944 at least--in order to contain the maximum number of German troops in Italy and, if possible, draw additional men and supplies from the Russian front and from the forthcoming cross-Channel invasion area in Normandy--the Allied armies had to continue on the offense in Italy. Even though offensive operations would be costly, perhaps unrewarding, there was no alternative. Ahead lay Rome, and in the eyes of the world, whoever held Rome had won the campaign in southern Italy.
General Alexander planned a coordinated effort to gain Rome by outlining early in November an ambitious operation to take place in three phases. First, he would have the Eighth Army attack across the Sangro River to the Pescara River, take Pescara on the east coast, and then turn on Highway 5 toward Rome. Pescara was 150 miles from Rome, but a substantial thrust, he thought, might so threaten the German forces on the west side of the Italian peninsula as to compel them to withdraw to positions north of Rome. Second, he would have the Fifth Army attack through Cassino and into the Liri-Sacco valley to Frosinone, within tactical distance of Rome. Third, the Fifth Army would then launch an amphibious operation in the vicinity of Rome to facilitate entry into the capital. All available air support would go to the Eighth Army during the first phase and shift to the Fifth Army for the second and third phases.1
The Eighth Army had closed to the lower Sangro River by mid-November, and in compliance with General Alexander's directive, General Montgomery planned a large, well-prepared assault.2 The 5 Corps, controlling the 2d New Zealand Division, which had come forward from Foggia, and the 8th Indian and 78th Divisions, was to send the 78th across the river near its mouth to seize a bridgehead. The Indian division was to pass through the 78th and smash the Sangro defenses. Then the 78th was to pass through the 8th and drive all the way to Pescara. On the immediate left, the 2d New Zealand Division was to cross the Sangro and advance through Orsogna to Chieti. There the New Zealanders were to swing southwest on Highway 5 and move toward Avezzano to knock on the "back door" to Rome. General Montgomery deemed air and
armor support essential to crack the Sangro defenses, and he had General Alexander's promise of all the available air support.
Kesselring, accompanied by his chief of staff, Westphal, visited the LXXVI Panzer Corps sector in mid-November and found the strength of the defenses on the Adriatic front satisfactory. The ranging fires of what seemed to be reinforced British artillery and exceptionally lively fighter-bomber activity clearly indicated an imminent attack. Facing the Eighth Army, the newly arrived and inexperienced 65th Division in the coastal sector was very confident; the capable 16th Panzer Division, awaiting orders for transfer to the Russian front, was in close support; and the superior 1st Parachute Division occupied good mountain positions.
Although weather conditions in November were execrable, General Alexander was impatient to get the offensive under way. General Montgomery therefore launched his strong attack on the 20th. Despite the rain and cold, the 78th Division crossed the Sangro River and established a small bridgehead, too small to permit the 8th Indian Division to pass through. When continued rain had raised the river to flood level and washed out all the bridges the British had placed across the stream, Montgomery had to postpone further attacks despite the jeopardy of the 78th Division elements on the far bank.
For the Germans, the postponements were fortunate. The 65th Division, which had borne the brunt of the attack, had taken severe losses, the commander himself losing an arm. Concentrated British artillery fire and an air bombardment that occurred in barely suitable weather took so heavy a toll of several infantry battalions that by evening of the second day of Montgomery's effort, Westphal judged that the 65th Division "to all intents and purposes no longer existed."3
Kesselring and Lemelsen had already acted to reinforce the front. Early in November, Kesselring had sent the 44th Division, which had become available from northern Italy, to Tenth Army. When the British struck the Sangro defenses, Lemelsen was moving the 44th into the Mignano area to relieve the 26th Panzer Division. He had shifted the 26th Panzer Division early that month from the LXXVI to the XIV Panzer Corps to prevent a Fifth Army breakthrough at the Mignano gap. Now, though the 44th Division was somewhat late in arriving near Mignano, the lull over the Fifth Army front permitted the Tenth Army commander to commit the 26th Panzer Division in the Adriatic sector. Hurrying across the peninsula, the 26th Panzer Division settled into defensive positions and made ready to bolster the 65th Division and preserve the 16th Panzer Division from further depletion before its transfer out of the theater.
In direct reaction to the British attack across the Sangro, Kesselring gave Lemelsen another unit, the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division which, after being evacuated from Sardinia, had been re-equipped and partially retrained. On the second day of the British offensive, 21 November, Kesselring ordered this division to the Adriatic sector. During its march from northern to southern Italy, the 90th exhibited an inefficiency
that was attributed to incompetence on the part of the division commander. Thrown precipitously into battle while command changes were being made, the division launched several ineffectual counterattacks.
For an uncomfortable moment, Westphal later recalled, the way to Pescara had been "completely open" to a British advance, and the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division could have been completely destroyed. The Eighth Army, he wrote, "did not use this chance."4
Weather conditions improved sufficiently to permit General Montgomery to resume his attack on 27 November. As more than 1,000 medium bombers, 2,000 fighter-bombers, and 1,600 fighters arrived over the battlefield to lend support, the 78th Division renewed its attack. The 8th Indian and 2d New Zealand Divisions made their assault crossings of the Sangro, the 8th to help expand the 78th Division bridgehead, the New Zealanders to initiate a drive toward Orsogna. After three days of fierce fighting, the 8th Indian Division captured a key point in the Sangro defensive system. Three days later, on December, after boldly employing tanks in snow-covered ground considered impassable by the Germans, the Indian division captured the ridge on which the Sangro defenses had been anchored. The 78th Division, attacking along the coastal road, gained ten miles and was near Ortona by 5 December. But then, having suffered 10,000 casualties during the past six months, having fought a bitter and wearying 8-day battle in miserable weather to come within fifteen miles of Pescara, the 78th Division was thrown back as it tried to take Ortona. General Montgomery judged that the division was at the point of utter exhaustion.
On 7 December the 2d New Zealand Division attacked a strong German garrison at Orsogna without success. After having failed to storm the town a second time on the 14th, the New Zealanders bypassed the defenses, threatened to outflank the garrison, and forced the Germans to depart.
Montgomery brought up the 1st Canadian Division to replace the exhausted 78th, and on 10 December the Canadians launched an attack toward the coastal town of Ortona. The fighting went on for more than two weeks, with a week of bloody fighting in the streets of Ortona that ended with Canadian troops in possession of the town on 28 December. Westphal later claimed that the Germans evacuated Ortona not because they were compelled to leave but because they wished to spare themselves unnecessary losses.
With his units seriously depleted and his troops extremely tired, with mountains deep in snow and roads impassable, General Montgomery brought his attack to a halt. He had driven the Germans from strong positions and had inflicted heavy casualties, but he had failed to make a strategic breakthrough. Pescara remained in German hands, and the back door to Rome was still closed.
General Montgomery's chief of staff, General de Guingand, later questioned the costly fighting. Although the Eighth Army attack had pulled some German units over from the Fifth Army sector and had manhandled them, the considerable casualties incurred in the process brought to his mind thoughts of
Passchendaele. "Had we gone too long?" de Guingand asked. "Were the troops being driven too hard?" In his opinion, pressing the Sangro offensive as far as the British had was a mistake. But the motivation had been compulsive: the hope that the Allies would take Rome by the end of the year.5
Plans To Breach the Mignano Barrier
Between 20 October and 24 November, General Clark issued four different operations instructions, each formulated to gain access for the Fifth Army to the Liri valley, the gateway to Frosinone and Rome.
His first gave II Corps part of the 10 Corps zone. While 10 Corps feinted a crossing of the lower Garigliano, II Corps would actually cross the river and clear a hill mass dominating the Liri valley from the south. This would permit VI Corps to enter the valley and advance, generally along Highway 6, the major inland road to Rome.6
The difficulty of clearing the shoulders of the Mignano gap led Clark to issue his second directive early in November. This one assigned the main effort to VI Corps on the right--to cross the Rapido River and outflank the high ground behind Cassino on the north. At the same time, II Corps, after crossing the Rapido, would seize that high ground, and 10 Corps would cross the lower Garigliano to protect the left flank of a drive subsequently developed along Highway 6 in the Liri valley.7
The slow progress in the Mignano area prompted Clark's third directive during the period of the lull in operations. In this he placed the II Corps in the center to make the main effort directly along the axis of Highway 6 into the Liri valley, with the adjacent corps assisting.8
The full realization of the strength of the German defenses brought General Clark to his fourth directive, concerned with more immediate objectives. Instead of looking optimistically beyond the Mignano barrier to the Liri valley, he prescribed an attack in three phases--first a thrust on the left of the Mignano gap, followed by a thrust on the right, and finally an attack through the center to gain entrance into the Liri valley.
This last directive, which would determine Fifth Army action during the following month and a half, specifically instructed the 10 and II Corps to co-operate in the first phase to secure the Camino-Difensa-Maggiore mountain mass on the left of the Mignano gap, while VI Corps harassed the enemy and tried to disperse his reserves. After 10 Corps had seized Monte Camino and II Corps had captured Monte la Difensa and Monte Maggiore, 10 Corps was to extend its positions to relieve II Corps and free it for the next phase of operations. In this phase II Corps would capture Monte Sammucro, while 10 Corps carried out diversionary activities along the lower Garigliano and VI Corps pushed toward the mountains immediately north and northwest of Cassino. Finally, with both shoulders of the Mignano gap secured, VI Corps was to seize the high ground behind Cassino, II
Corps was to attack along Highway 6 to Cassino, ready to move into the Liri valley to create an opportunity for an armored breakthrough and exploitation, and 10 Corps was to protect the left flank by forcing a crossing of the Garigliano and continuing to advance in the coastal zone.9
Allied intelligence officers had no illusions about the German intention to resist. "To judge by the violence of the enemy counterattacks" in early November, one estimate read, Fifth Army appeared to have broken into the forward areas of the Winter Line. If the hills overlooking the Mignano defile in fact comprised the forward line of a wide belt of defenses stretching to the Rapido River in the Cassino area, the stubborn resistance around Mignano was likely to continue to block Allied entrance into the Liri valley.10
For more than a month Allied observers had been watching with growing concern the German activities in the Cassino area and along the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers. The Garigliano, one report stated, "a distinct obstacle and natural defense line, particularly on its lower reaches," though not quite so wide as the Volturno, had practically the same discharge rate and was therefore "unquestionably the deeper and faster flowing." Since all bridges would probably be demolished by the time Allied troops got there, ponton bridging would be required in quantity for initial crossings. If the Germans manipulated several power dams to flood the valleys of the Liri, Rapido, and Garigliano Rivers, they could impede bridging operations, wash out temporary bridges, and make "all roads adjacent to the river . . . impassable."11
Prisoners of war, civilians, and reconnaissance flights brought word that the Germans were placing extensive supply installations around Cassino, maintaining dumps forward of Cassino merely on a day-to-day basis. Supplementing this information were reports of persistent motor movements that showed a large-scale concentration of German troops taking place behind the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers. Along the river line, estimated by Allied intelligence to be one of the strongest natural defensive positions south of Rome, German units were blasting gun pits and other positions out of solid rock.12 They were clearing both sides of the Rapido of trees and shrubbery to create fields of fire. They were digging and camouflaging rifle pits, erecting small wooden forts reinforced by concrete, building pillboxes, preparing antitank ditches, sowing mines, and putting up wire entanglements.13
In the hope that General Montgomery's attack across the Sangro would pull German troops over to the Adriatic front and thin the Bernhard and Gustav defenses in the Mignano and Cassino areas, General Alexander scheduled the Fifth Army effort for 12 December. General Clark was too impatient to wait. The 15th Army Group directive that was sending the Eighth Army to knock on the back door to Rome gave the Fifth
Army commander disquieting thoughts. To General Clark the order had intimations of the irritating policy enunciated by the army group headquarters at the time of Salerno to enhance the prestige and reputation of the Eighth Army. General Clark wanted Rome for the Fifth Army, and if he was going to get it, he would, it seemed, have to hurry.14
There were other reasons for haste.15 The amphibious operation being planned to facilitate the capture of Rome had to be launched and completed before the date when the landing ships and craft destined for use in the cross-Channel attack had to be released. If Fifth Army reached Frosinone in time, the 3d Division would probably make the amphibious landing in the Rome area. To this end, General Clark persuaded General Alexander to advance the date of the Fifth Army attack to the beginning of December.16
The Camino-Difensa-Maggiore Complex
General Clark would open his December operations with an attack on Monte Camino, Monte la Difensa, and Monte Maggiore, a group of peaks and ridges about 3,000 feet above sea level that were traversed only by primitive trails. Monte Camino (Hill 963) is marked by a rocky line of jagged cliffs and crowned by a monastery. Two miles away is Monte Maggiore, a jumbled mass with three distinct peaks. The 10 Corps was to capture Monte Camino; the left flank elements of II Corps were to seize Monte la Difensa and Monte Maggiore.
To cover the movement of troops to assembly areas and possibly to draw enemy forces from Monte Camino, General McCreery directed the 46th Division to launch a diversionary attack during the night of 1 December. On the following night the 56th Division, which had already fought one exhausting battle for Monte Camino, was to drive to the highest point of the mountain. There the division would have commanding observation over much of Monte la Difensa and Monte Maggiore.
The XII Air Support Command scheduled an extensive program of assistance: on 1 December, in 720 sorties, aircraft were to drop nearly 400 tons of bombs; on 2 December, in 816 sorties, they were to release 502 tons. Each division of 10 Corps was to have one light and one medium regiment of corps artillery in direct support, three British regiments and two American battalions in general support.
Preliminary operations, starting a week before the major effort, attempted to deceive the Germans on the location of the attack. Along the lower Garigliano River, British troops patrolled aggressively, established false supply dumps, set up dummy gun positions, and conspicuously moved men and vehicles to suggest the intention of an assault river crossing. On 24 and 27 November and again on 1 December, the British cruiser Orion and four destroyers shelled the coast line between Minturno and Gaeta. LCI's and LCT's feinted close to shore near the mouth of the Garigliano on 3 November. From the increased German vehicular movements and artillery activity noted during
the last few days of the month, General McCreery was satisfied that he had attracted enemy forces to the coastal sector. When a patrol tried to cross the river during the night of 1 December to test the German reaction, it met extremely alert and strong opposition.
On the slopes of Monte Camino, despite bad weather on 26 November, 36 Allied fighter-bombers attacked German positions, while 24 B-26's dropped 38 tons of bombs on the town of Cassino. During the next two days 24 P-40's worked over Monte Maggiore. On the afternoon of 1 December, the XII Air Support Command furnished an immediate preparation for the ground attack by sending 72 B-25's, 24 A-20's, 130 A-36's, and 48 P-40's to bomb the German lines immediately ahead of the Fifth Army front--the 274 sorties were far from the promised 720, but the planes gave an impressive performance. On the following day, the air command completed a total of 612 sorties on targets close to the army front, more than 200 short of the 816 earlier promised in direct support. Prisoners of war gave conflicting testimony on the effectiveness of the air action.
Starting at dusk, 1 December, the 10 Corps ground attack got under way as the 46th Division jumped off in a diversionary effort to secure objectives near the village of Calabritto on the lower slopes of Monte Camino. The troops were so hampered by mine fields, wire, and machine gun fire that it took them all night to get through the forward line of resistance. After daybreak on 2 December, infantrymen reached to within 200 yards of Calabritto. Although tanks placed fire on stone houses in the village sheltering German strongpoints, the attack stalled. The commitment of reserves after dark had no effect. Until the 56th Division cleared the dominating slopes of Monte Camino, the 46th had little hope of taking and clearing the Calabritto area.
As scheduled in order to co-ordinate with the II Corps attack, the 56th Division jumped off during the night of 2 December, attempting to seize at least the southern half of Monte Camino, which was deemed essential for the success of the American effort.17 Making excellent progress during the hours of darkness, British troops reached the monastery on Hill 963, topping Monte Camino by morning. Enemy fire forced the lead battalion back, but an attack launched the morning of 4 December regained the crest. Again the British were pushed off, and again they tried on the following day. This time an infantry company occupied the monastery briefly. Final success came on the evening of 6 December when British troops occupied and made secure the highest point of Monte Camino. The 46th Division then took Calabritto. After three days of mopping-up operations, the Camino hill mass was cleared of enemy troops.
Like the 10 Corps, II Corps initiated operations to deceive the Germans. To make the main effort of the corps against Monte la Difensa and Monte Maggiore, to prevent the Germans from employing their reserves promptly, to keep them from being able to shift their artillery fire quickly, and to soften the defenses in areas scheduled for the next phase of operations, General Keyes increased patrol activities, scheduled special artillery
BRITISH TROOPS ON MONTE CAMINO
shoots and bombing missions, and permitted the 3d Ranger Battalion, which he moved to the corps right flank, to be identified and observed making conspicuous preparations for attack.18
The 36th Division, which would carry out the attack on the Difensa-Maggiore complex, had entered the line during a continuous rain. The troops soon became soaked and covered with mud, and the freezing cold weather added to their discomfort. There was little opportunity to dry out clothing or to have hot meals. With jeeps and trucks bogging down on the roads in the division area, particularly in newly constructed bypasses which quickly turned into mire, supplies could be motored forward only so far, then had to be hand-carried by soldiers up the mountainsides to the troop locations. Inspecting the front to be certain that the men had properly camouflaged their positions, General Walker became concerned with the state of their health: "going day and night--they surely take a beating," he wrote in his diary.19 He requisitioned 12,000 combat suits, 6,000 pairs of leather gloves, and 2,000 gasoline heaters to try to improve their living conditions.
General Alexander had cautioned General Clark to avoid heavy losses in the Winter Line. The Germans, he warned, had been fighting rear guard actions since Salerno, but they would probably make a strong defensive stand south of Rome. "Don't worry," the army
commander said, "I'll get through the Winter Line all right and push the Germans out."20
Indications of this attitude became apparent when Clark and Keyes visited General Walker's command post in November. "They want to get going," the division commander noted, "now that they have a 'fresh' division in line." But contrary to Clark's optimistic forecasts, Walker thought that progress would be difficult.21
According to intelligence estimates, the Germans had organized three battalion-size centers of resistance on the 36th Division front, one on the Difensa-Maggiore mountain mass, another on Monte Lungo, and a third in the San Pietro area. At least one and possibly two battalions were in local reserve in the Mignano area, and an additional battalion was in reserve on each flank. These forces were supported by two regiments of medium artillery, an indeterminate amount of heavy artillery, and some Nebelwerfer. Having organized their defenses in depth to take full advantage of the terrain, the Germans had sited their units for mutual support.22
Against the anticipated strength of these defenses, General Walker planned his attack in great detail. In general, the 1st Special Service Force, attached to his division, was to advance to the top of Monte la Difensa during the night of 2 December; the 142d Infantry, following the 1st Special Service Force, was to turn north to take Monte Maggiore. Supporting the attack by firing on targets in the valley between Monte Maggiore and Monte Lungo, the 141st Infantry was to be ready to capture Monte Lungo. If the attack overpowered the Germans quickly, the 143d Infantry was to be prepared to move into the next phase of operations and seize San Pietro.23
The II Corps opened its attack at 1630, 2 December, when 925 artillery pieces of all calibers began to pour high explosive, white phosphorus, and smoke on enemy positions, 820 of these weapons concentrating on the Camino-Difensa-Maggiore complex. In a one-hour "serenade" of massed fire, 346 pieces expended more than 22,000 rounds on Monte la Difensa. During the first forty-eight hours of the attack, the corps artillery, which had placed fourteen battalions in support of the 36th Division Artillery, would alone fire almost 75,000 shells in support, among them the shells of the new 8-inch howitzers, the first sustained combat use of the weapon.24
To the Germans, the artillery preparation, following the earlier air bombings, appeared to be of "unprecedented violence." The troops, protected by foxholes, were largely immune to the shells. But "they were completely cut off from the rest of the world by this bombardment," Vietinghoff later wrote, "and left entirely to their resources; small tactical reserves could not be moved and even irregular supply was no longer possible."25
The artillery preparation ended as darkness fell, and the 1st Special Service Force advanced against Hill 960 of Difensa, with one "regiment" in assault, another assigned supply and evacuation duties, and the third held in 36th Division reserve. Monte la Difensa was extremely precipitous and lacked man-made trails. Movement along the ridges of the mountain mass was hazardous not only because of the danger of slipping and falling into deep ravines but also because the troops were frequently silhouetted to German observation. Climbing all night up the treacherous slope of Monte la Difensa, dispersing and eliminating small enemy groups that tried to bar their progress, men of the 1st Special Service Force reached the top by dawn. During the day, the leading regiment continued beyond Hill 960 toward a high and broken ridge, Monte la Remetanea, which overlooks part of Monte Maggiore.
The advance had been surprisingly rapid, but the large area held by the 1st Special Service Force prompted General Wilbur, the 36th Division assistant commander, who had been delegated by General Walker to remain in close touch with the attack, to use the reserve regiment. As this unit ascended the slope of Monte la Difensa, it came under severe artillery and mortar fire and suffered heavy casualties. The Germans, having recovered from the artillery preparation and the swift movement of the 1st Special Service Force, were beginning to react. By the end of 3 December, Colonel Frederick, the 1st Special Service Force commander, estimated that he had at least 20 men killed, about 80 walking wounded, and the same number of litter cases. He recommended that his unit be relieved of the task of defending the high ground and suggested that relief be instituted at once. It would take at least twenty-four hours to replace a single regiment in that difficult terrain and an additional two or three hours for his men to come down the mountain.26
Relieving, even reinforcing, the 1st Special Service Force on Monte la Difensa was impossible in view of the corps commitment and the few available units. There was nothing for the men to do but hang on and fight the cold and rain, the limited visibility, the virtually impossible supply and evacuation problems, and the suddenly active German defense. When a reconnaissance patrol was pushed back from Monte la Remetanea to Hill 960 on 4 December, a battalion of the reserve regiment was too depleted to take back the ground. "Every man in unit exhausted," Frederick reported. "Needs minimum three days rest after he gets down from Hill," he added, before there could be thought of further assignment for the force.27
A biting wind, cold, clammy fog, virtually incessant rain, rocky ground, no shelter, insufficient blankets, cold food, and accurate German mortar and artillery fire made life miserable on Monte la Difensa. When a sudden gust of wind occasionally lifted the fog, opposing patrols sometimes found themselves only a few feet apart on the same narrow ledge and hand-to-hand combat the only alternative. "Men getting in bad shape," Colonel Frederick reported. The Germans were well hidden, and the state of communications was "heartbreaking"--
enemy mortar fire knocked out lines faster than they could be repaired.28
The 1st Special Service Force repulsed a German counterattack in battalion strength against Hill 960 just before dawn on 5 December; this turned out to be the last serious attempt to push the Canadian-American unit off the hill. As British troops secured neighboring Monte Camino, the Germans on Monte la Difensa began to withdraw, and the 1st Special Service Force advanced and cleared the few remaining enemy troops on Monte la Remetanea. Organized resistance ceased on the afternoon of 8 December. For "six cold, bloody days" the 1st Special Service Force had remained atop Monte la Difensa, incurring 511 casualties--73 dead, 9 missing, 313 wounded or injured, and 116 hospitalized for exhaustion.29
Two battalions of the 142d Infantry had followed the 1st Special Service Force up the lower slopes of Monte la Difensa during the night of 2 December before turning toward Monte Maggiore. While artillery laid smoke on Monte Lungo to the north to mask the attack, the battalions moved quickly to the high ground in a steady rain, and against surprisingly little opposition took control of the Maggiore mass. The swift success came as the result of aggressive movement and excellent artillery support. Subsequent ground action was limited to patrolling, though enemy artillery kept inflicting casualties and breaking telephone wires.
Like Monte la Difensa, Monte Maggiore has extremely broken terrain. Because the trails were too steep for mules, the men carried all their ammunition, took only a few mortars, and stuffed D ration chocolate bars into their pockets. Once the ground was secure, the reserve battalion of the 142d Infantry and two companies of the 141st took on the duties of supply carriers, while II Corps headquarters made available extra litter squads. The muddy trails were so steep in places that the men had to crawl, dragging packs by rope. The carriers had three miles to go to reach the troops on Monte Maggiore, and a round trip required twelve hours. Attempts on 5, 6, and 7 December to drop rations from A-36 fighter bombers failed, mainly because of bad weather.
As miserable as the conditions were for the 1st Special Service Force and the 142d Infantry, the Germans were having a more difficult time. The advances of these Allied units and of the British 56th Division on Monte Camino had virtually cut off a depleted regiment and the weakened armored reconnaissance battalion of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. Outnumbered, burned by white phosphorus shells, without supplies or reinforcement, the units held out until exhausted. One messenger returned to the division headquarters to report that he was the sole survivor.30
On 8 December, the 142d Infantry relieved the 1st Special Service Force on Monte la Difensa. Two days later troops of the 56th Division extended their lines from Monte Camino and relieved the Americans on Monte la Difensa and Monte Maggiore. The Camino-Difensa-Maggiore complex, a key obstacle on the road to Rome, was in Allied hands. But no continuing attack beyond to Monte
2D MOROCCAN INFANTRY DIVISION TROOPS AROUND A CAMPFIRE
Lungo and San Pietro was immediately possible. The Germans were giving way grudgingly.
In the right of the Fifth Army zone, VI Corps had been advancing slowly along the two available roads, one leading from Colli to Atina, the other from Filignano to San Elia, both narrow and winding and dominated everywhere by hills. So well interlocked were the defensive positions of the 44th and 305th Divisions that capture of any height required operations against several others. The Germans regarded the attack with respect, for they assumed, incorrectly, that the two committed American divisions were trying to bypass the mountains on the northern shoulder of the Mignano pass in order to get into the Rapido valley from the rear. Actually, the 34th and 45th Divisions had been attacking abreast since 29 November to draw enemy attention and reserves from the main effort in the Mignano area. Progress was slow. Air support was always a problem because of the weather, and artillery fire was difficult to obtain not only because targets were hard to spot but also because pieces often had to be manhandled into firing positions.
Hampered by the terrain, bad weather, poor visibility, a stubborn defense, and increasing fatigue, the two American divisions struggled by small unit maneuver over knolls, knobs, and hills in search of objectives that were neither decisive
nor symbolic. Having moved little more than a mile by 4 December at a cost of nearly 800 casualties, the 34th Division halted, exhausted and depleted. Similarly, the 45th Division had advanced only a few miles by 9 December, when it too approached exhaustion. On 8 December General Lucas took the 34th Division out of the line, replacing it with the newly arrived 2d Moroccan Infantry Division.31
Despite some disappointment over the results of the VI Corps attack, General Clark believed that the pressure exerted by General Lucas had weakened the enemy. The insertion of the fresh French division, he hoped, would make more rapid progress possible. Meanwhile, the second phase of the Fifth Army operation, that part designed to follow the reduction of the Camino-Difensa-Maggiore complex, had started on the II Corps front.
1. 15th AGp OI 31, 8 Nov 43.
2. The following is based on: MS # T-1a (Westphal et al.), OCMH; Vietinghoff MSS; MS # T-1a K1 (Kesselring), OCMH; Eisenhower Dispatch, pp. 149-50; Montgomery, El Alamein to the River Sangro, pp. 141ff.; De Guingand, Operation Victory, pp. 328ff.
3. MS # T-1a (Westphal et al.), OCMH.
5. De Guingand, Operation Victory, pp. 333-35. Quote is from page 333.
6. Fifth Army OI 8, 20 Oct 43.
7. Fifth Army OI 9, 4 Nov 43.
8. Fifth Army OI 10, 16 Nov 43.
9. Fifth Army OI 11, 24 Nov 43.
10. 15th AGp Intel Summary 24, 10 Nov 43; Fifth Army G-2 Rpt 65, 2200, 10 Nov 43; VI Corps Sitrep, 1200, 10 Nov 43.
11. Fifth Army Engr Rpt 14, Fiume Garigliano, 17 Oct 43.
12. Fifth Army G-2 Rpts 53, 54, 56, 57, and 58, 29 Oct through 3 Nov 43; VI Corps G-2 Rpts 44 and 51, 22 and 29 Oct 43.
13. Fifth Army G-2 Rpt 79, 24 Nov 43.
14. Clark Diary, 4, 9, 17, 22 Nov 43.
15. See Notes by General Gruenther in folder marked Rapido Plans, probably drawn in November and December 1943.
16. Rooks to Smith, 18 Nov 43, Eisenhower Diary. See also Eisenhower Diary, 4 Dec 43.
17. See Ltr, Walker to Keyes, Visit to CG 56th Div, 27 Nov 43, 36th Div Opns Binder.
18. Ltrs, Keyes to Lucas, and Keyes to Walker, 26 Nov 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.
19. Walker Diary, 18 Nov 43.
20. Intervs, Mathews with Alexander, 10-15 Jan 49.
21. Walker Diary, 18 Nov 43.
22. 36th Div Annex 2 to FO 38, 30 Nov 43.
23. 36th Div FO 38, Opn RAINCOAT, 30 Nov 43. See also 36th Div Plan for the Capture of Monte Camino-Monte Maggiore Mountain Mass, 21 Nov 43, II Corps G-3 Jnl.
24. See 36th Div Artillery Annex to FO 38, and Appendix A, 30 Nov 43; Fifth Army Sitrep 86, 3 Dec 43.
25. Vietinghoff MSS.
26. Memo, G-3 for CofS, 4 Dec 43, II Corps G-3 Jnl.
27. Teleconvs with FSSF, II Corps G-3 Jnl, 5 Dec 43; Ltr, Maj Gen Robert T. Frederick to Gen Pattison, 22 Mar 65, OCMH.
28. Burhans, The First Special Service Force, p. 119. Good and detailed descriptions of small unit action may be found in this source.
29. Burhans, The First Special Service Force, p. 119; FSSF AAR, 17 Nov 43-1 Feb 44.
30. Vietinghoff MSS.
31. VI Corps FO 16, 6 Dec 43. See also Lucas Diary, 4, 7, 8, 12 Dec 43.