The Preliminaries for Anzio
The decision had been made to execute an amphibious landing at Anzio without first getting the Fifth Army up the Liri valley to Frosinone. Although immediate attainment of the town, miles away, was out of the question, the closer to Frosinone General Clark could get his army before the Anzio operation was launched, the quicker he could reach what would, until then, be an isolated beachhead at Anzio. For this reason, the entrance to the Liri valley was far and above the most important objective of the Fifth Army.
The way into the Liri valley, which extended in the direction of the Fifth Army advance, was barred by the lateral water line of the Rapido and Garigliano Rivers. Beyond the single line of these rivers, Monte Cassino on the north and the heights around Sant'Ambrogio on the south form the walls of the Liri valley. The Fifth Army would have to cross the Rapido and Garigliano Rivers to get into the valley, and here too, along the river line, was the best place for General Clark to try to pin down the German forces and thus assist the Anzio landing. If Clark could attract additional German forces to the defense of the river line, he would facilitate the Anzio operation even more. If he could at the same time break through those defenses and gain entrance into the Liri valley, he would assure relatively quick linkup with the Allied troops in the Anzio beachhead.
In early January 1944, the Fifth Army was still about eight miles away from the river line. Before General Clark could launch the massive attack he planned there, his forces had to eliminate several positions held by German defenders.
Two miles beyond San Pietro, which the Fifth Army had taken late in December, was the strongpoint of San Vittore. Near San Vittore and north of Highway 6 were La Chiaia, Monte Majo, and the fortified village of Cervaro. South of Highway 6, beyond Monte Lungo, were Cedro Hill, Monte Porchia, and Monte Trocchio. Not until the German defenses at these points were reduced would the Fifth Army be in position to batter at the gate of the Liri valley.
The fight for these places during the first ten days of January was a continuation of the operations begun in December. According to General Clark's instructions, and with respect to the objectives yet to be attained, the British 10 Corps was to take Cedro Hill and then cross the Garigliano River and establish a bridgehead near Sant'Ambrogio, with the ultimate objective of securing the high ground dominating the Liri valley from the south. The French Expeditionary Corps, which had
replaced VI Corps, was to cross the high ground near the headwaters of the Rapido and attack across the mountains near Cassino that overlook the Liri valley from the north. The II Corps, making the main effort in the center, was to capture the strongpoints obstructing the direct approaches to Cassino along Highway 6--the villages of San Vittore and Cervaro, and the heights of La Chiaia, Monte Majo, Monte Porchia, and Monte Trocchio. When the British and French attacks gave the Fifth Army the walls of the Liri valley, II Corps was to cross the Rapido River and commit the 1st Armored Division for a drive up the valley toward Frosinone and eventually to Rome.1 The discussions early in January leading to the decision to launch the Anzio operation imparted a sense of urgency to the attempts to reach the river line of the Rapido and Garigliano.2
As it turned out, the operations during the first days of January were carried largely by the II Corps. The 10 Corps, which had reached the Garigliano River along its lower reaches, patrolled extensively and prepared plans to cross the river when II Corps on its right came closer to the water line. The single attack launched by the 10 Corps was an unsuccessful attempt to take the 500-foot height of Cedro Hill during the night of 4 January. Rather than try again while under observation by German troops on nearby Monte Porchia, which is 200 feet higher than Cedro Hill, General McCreery waited for the II Corps to take the dominating ground.
In the zone of the French Expeditionary Corps the relief of the 45th Division by the 3d Algerian Division and the transfer of corps control from the VI to the French Expeditionary Corps headquarters required a period of settling in. The 2d Moroccan and 3d Algerian Divisions patrolled and reconnoitered, and General Juin studied the best way of advancing in the almost trackless mountains that constituted his area.
Toward the Rapido-Garigliano River Line
Trying to open up the direct approach to the Rapido-Garigliano river line, Cassino, and the entrance to the Liri valley, General Keyes planned a pincer movement on Cervaro and a frontal assault on Monte Porchia. He instructed Colonel Frederick's 1st Special Service Force to make a wide end run to Monte Majo on the corps right, after which Frederick would be holding high ground overlooking Cervaro. His advance would assist the attack of General Ryder's 34th Division, which would make the main effort of the corps by thrusting through San Vittore and across La Chiaia to Cervaro. On the left of Highway 6, the 6th Armored Infantry--fleshed out with other units of the 1st Armored Division to form Task Force Allen under Brig. Gen. Frank A. Allen, Jr., who commanded Combat Command B (CCB)--would move off Monte Lungo to capture Monte Porchia.3
Opposing II Corps was the 44th Division, reinforced by elements of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. These German troops were in place primarily to
delay the Americans in order to permit improvements in the Gustav Line defenses along the Rapido-Garigliano river line. Vietinghoff, who had returned to the Tenth Army command at the end of December, and Senger, the XIV Panzer Corps commander, warned the units to avoid heavy losses. Both were concerned about having enough troops to man the strong positions of the river line. On 11 January, Vietinghoff enunciated the policy that had, in reality, determined for some time the activities of the troops forward of the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers--"In the event of attacks by far superior enemy forces, a step by step withdrawal to the Gustav position will be carried out."4
The II Corps attack opened on the evening of 3 January, as the 1st Special Service Force departed its bivouac area near Ceppagna. In freezing temperatures, the troops climbed Monte Sammucro and moved through a maze of ridges and peaks to reach Monte Majo. Trained for mountain warfare, the men fought the terrain as well as the enemy. Artillery forward observers packing heavy radios through snow-covered gullies and over slippery slopes had trouble keeping pace with the infantrymen. After a day and a night of advance, having eradicated several German machine gun and mortar positions, the 1st Special Service Force on 5 January reached positions from which an assault could be mounted against Monte Majo proper.
To add strength to the attack, General Keyes moved the 142d Infantry forward that night to hold the ground gained by the 1st Special Service Force and to free Colonel Frederick's troops for the assault. He also gave Frederick two battalions of the 34th Division's 133d Infantry with which to form a composite and provisional unit called Task Force B.
Frederick moved his force out during the night of 6 January, and by dawn his troops were high on the slopes of Monte Majo. When an attack directed toward Hill 1109, a prominent spur directly overlooking Cervaro, struck resistance during the morning of 7 January, Frederick pulled back. Denied the most direct approach to the peak, he made a wide encirclement and took Hill 1270. From there the troops easily descended a ridge to Hill 1109.
The relatively light resistance encountered during the final advance proved deceptive. Counterattacks developed quickly and continued for two days. With the full force of the 36th Division artillery in direct support, Colonel Frederick's Task Force B held its ground. By 9 January, the Germans had pulled out. Monte Majo was firmly in hand.5
Twenty-four hours after the 1st Special Service Force had jumped off, the 34th Division launched its attack with two regiments abreast.6 The 168th Infantry on the right advanced on the evening of 4 January toward broken ground capped by La Chiaia hill. Not far from the line of departure, the lead company of the assault battalion was taken in ambush. Part of the company had moved through a gorge when German troops closed in, captured sixty-nine men, and brought the attack to a halt.
The regiment tried again early on 5 January and made better progress. When two assault companies were pinned down along a creek by machine gun fire, two other rifle companies outflanked the German defenders and moved to a major peak in the La Chiaia hill mass. Renewal of the attack on 6 January produced no gain, but an attack that night broke the resistance. On 7 and 8 January the regiment secured and consolidated positions high on the slopes of La Chiaia overlooking Cervaro.
The 135th Infantry, meanwhile, had sent the 1st Battalion toward La Chiaia and the 3d Battalion toward San Vittore. When day broke on 5 January the 1st Battalion was still at its line of departure, held there by machine gun and artillery fire. So devastating were the defensive fires that the battalion made no progress that day or the next.
The thrust of the 3d Battalion to San Vittore got the regiment moving. Dispensing with an artillery preparation in the hope of achieving surprise, the battalion advanced during the night of 4 January. The troops found the Germans alert, and bitter fighting took place in the stone houses along the narrow streets of the village. By the end of the day, 5 January, the Americans controlled only half the town. Twenty-four hours later, as night fell, the 3d Battalion had the rest of the village, along with 170 prisoners.
With San Vittore lost and La Chiaia under attack, the Germans withdrew. The 2d Battalion of the 135th Infantry, committed on 7 January, overran La Chiaia and continued for a mile beyond to take the few remaining knobs overlooking Highway 6. Sixteen A-36's and an equal number of P-40's bombed and strafed a German troop concentration west of La Chiaia at noon, dispersing elements the airmen later reported as preparing to counterattack; more probably the Germans were trying to fall back.7
South of Highway 6, Task Force Allen, built around the 6th Armored Infantry, had to clear two small hills on the northwest portion of Monte Lungo before an attack on Monte Porchia was feasible.8 The clearing action started on the afternoon of 4 January and continued for almost twenty-four hours. Bitter fighting and a large expenditure of artillery, tank, and tank destroyer shells finally forced the Germans to give way. As a result of the combat, the 6th Armored Infantry incurred what General Allen judged to be "heavy losses of 35 or 40 percent."9
The attack on Monte Porchia began at once. After a 30-minute artillery preparation on the afternoon of 5 January, a battalion of the 6th Armored Infantry started across a mile of low and level ground between Monte Lungo and Monte Porchia. The troops were halfway across by nightfall, and during the hours of darkness the other two battalions moved up to join the troops in the lead. On the following morning, all three battalions jumped off. Despite the effective fires of supporting tanks, which destroyed several machine gun nests located in stone farmhouses, the attack made little progress.
Calling a temporary halt, General Allen ordered another artillery preparation, this one employing smoke as well
MEN ON MONTE PORCHIA
as high explosive. When the battalions assaulted again, one succeeded in going all the way to the crest of Monte Porchia. The position was precarious, for the battalion's losses had been so severe that only about 150 effectives remained. Because the other battalions had also taken heavy casualties, Allen sent 350 men of the 48th Engineer Combat Battalion to the top of Monte Porchia to fight as infantry. With this reinforcement, plus large amounts of artillery, tank, and tank destroyer fire, Task Force Allen extended its hold over the objective.10
A German counterattack during the evening of 5 January almost pushed the task force off Monte Porchia, but despite considerable confusion on the high ground, the troops held. The following day the Germans fought only to cover the withdrawal of their troops from Monte Porchia and San Vittore.
Some of the units making up Task Force Allen had been in the line a total of ten days and task force casualties were high: 66 men killed, 379 wounded, and an unknown number missing. The 6th Armored Infantry alone reported 480 men missing in action, though most of these troops would return to their units after a few days. In addition, the task force lost 516 men to nonbattle causes--trench foot and exposure to the
weather.11 The severe battle casualties were blamed partly on the failure of the radios to operate in mountain country. But most of the losses, both battle and nonbattle, came from the inexperience of the task force units, which were in combat for the first time.12
With Monte Porchia in American possession, Cedro Hill became untenable for the Germans and they withdrew. British troops, having unsuccessfully tried to take the hill during the night of 4 January, marched up the slope and occupied the high ground on 8 and 9 January.13
Now the Germans forward of the Rapido-Garigliano river line were occupying only the small mountain village of Cervaro and Monte Trocchio. Since the depleted 6th Armored Infantry seemed incapable for the moment of further combat, General Keyes instructed General Ryder to seize Cervaro with the 34th Division, then sweep south across Highway 6 to Monte Trocchio.14
Unexpected difficulties undermined the 168th Infantry's attack that started on 10 January--resistance on nearby heights presumed clear of enemy forces, enemy artillery fire from flanks believed no longer occupied, and terrain features incorrectly judged as being relatively favorable. It took an air strike on Cervaro on the morning of the 11th and an artillery pounding to give the infantry sufficient impetus for a thrust into the village, which by then had been reduced to rubble and shattered masonry. In the cellars of the wrecked stone houses in Cervaro the Germans found excellent defensive positions and held out until the next day, when the 168th rooted them out. Continuing beyond Cervaro, the regiment advanced toward Monte Trocchio. On the morning of 13 January, troops of the 168th were a mile from the hill.
By then the battle had entered a new phase. The water line had come within General Clark's reach, and with it the entrance into the Liri valley.
The German Situation
The single water line ahead of the Fifth Army was composed of three rivers: the Rapido, which rises near Monte Santa Croce and flows southwest for about 15 miles past the eastern edge of Cassino and across Highway 6; the Gari, which starts 4 miles south of Highway 6 at the point where a creek joins the Rapido and which meanders across the flood plain for no more than 3 miles before it joins the Liri River; and the Garigliano, which is born at the meeting of the Gari and Liri waters, and sweeps south and southwest for more than 15 miles to the sea.
The Rapido valley, cut by many streams and canals, varies in width from 2 to 3 miles. It opens into the Liri valley, which extends to the northwest and merges with the valley of the Garigliano, which quickly fans out from a width of 2 miles to more than 12 near the coast.
Extremely heavy rains and melting snow in the mountains had turned the rivers into torrents running at high flood stage during the month of January. All the rivers had overflowed their banks, inundating much of the lowland, and the Germans had worsened this condition
THE LIRI VALLEY
by diverting the Rapido to create an artificial marsh, a bog too soft in many places for vehicles and other mechanical equipment of modern armies to operate.15
The main line of resistance in the belt of defenses called the Gustav Line was on the far side of the water.16 Started early in November, the field fortifications along the west bank of the Garigliano, Gari, and Rapido Rivers were designated the "final" line of defense south of Rome.
The line was rooted in the high ground backing the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers. In the hills behind the Garigliano in the Sant'Ambrogio area, on the steep and barren slopes of Monte Cassino, and among the jumbled mountain peaks near the source of the Rapido, the Germans had blasted and dug weapons pits, built concrete bunkers and steel-turreted machine gun emplacements, strung bands of barbed wire and planted mine fields--making lavish use of the box mine, which was difficult to detect because it had almost no metallic parts--to block the few natural avenues of advance. They had sited mortars on
MUD AND THE 36TH DIVISION SUPPLY DUMP, MIGNANO AREA
reverse slopes and placed automatic weapons to cover the forward slopes. In the town of Cassino they had strengthened the walls of the stone buildings with sandbags to protect weapons crews.
The heights above Cassino gave the Germans well-nigh perfect observation of the approaching Allied forces. Symbolizing the strength of the Gustav Line was the Benedictine abbey on the top of Monte Cassino, which looked to the south with hypnotic gaze, all-seeing, like the eyes in a painting that follow the spectator wherever he moves. To the Allied soldiers on the plain below, the glistening white abbey on the peak watched them with German eyes from which there was no concealment.
Occupying these formidable positions by 15 January were troops under the control of the XIV Panzer Corps, which had more than half, about 90,000, of the 150,000 men allocated to the Tenth Army. In the Rome area, the I Parachute Corps headquarters controlled 24,000 men, a reserve force for use by OB SUED against an Allied amphibious operation or against a threatened rupture of the main front. In northern Italy the Fourteenth Army had about 70,000 troops who were engaged in occupation duties and training and were also available for combat operations. An additional 95,000 men were in hospitals or on other assignments in Italy.17
Kesselring estimated his requirements
in January as 19 divisions--8 for employment on the front, 2 in operational reserve immediately behind the front, 2 in the Rome area, 3 in the Genoa area, 2 for security and pacification duties in northern Italy, and 2 to be formed in northern Italy for eventual dispatch to the Adriatic front. After the expected departures of the 90th Panzer Grenadier and Hermann Goering Divisions from Italy and the arrival of the 114th Jaeger Division some time in February, Kesselring would actually have 17 divisions. He asked for and received OKW's promise to delay the departure of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division at least until 1 March and to permit the retention for use in Italy of the recently activated 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, which was being brought up to strength and effectiveness in the north.18
With these forces available for use against the approximately equal Allied forces, Kesselring had good reason to believe, despite his lack of air and naval support, that the strong defensive terrain in southern Italy gave him an advantage far beyond the resources available to his opponents. He could look forward with confidence to keeping the Allied armies bogged down throughout the remaining winter months and probably well into the summer.
Closing to the River Line
On the Allied side, the winter weather and the absence of decisive objectives on the east coast had virtually extinguished activity on the Adriatic front. The decision to land at Anzio on the Italian west coast and General Clark's forthcoming attack to penetrate into the Liri valley had led General Alexander to consider drawing on General Leese's Eighth Army. If Clark breached the Gustav Line, Alexander would probably transfer the 2d New Zealand Division from the Eighth Army for commitment under the Fifth to help the 1st Armored Division exploit the breakthrough.19
To assist the amphibious landing at Anzio, General Clark planned a massive attack against the Gustav Line in the Cassino area. He hoped to pin down the Germans and prevent them from transferring troops to Anzio; to attract additional German forces to the Gustav Line, particularly those stationed in the Rome area; and to break through the Gustav Line and speed up the Liri valley to a quick juncture with the Anzio forces. Toward these ends, Clark ordered an attack by three corps in four phases. On the right, the French Expeditionary Corps, with the 2d Moroccan and 3d Algerian Divisions, was to lead off on 12 January by attacking along its two axes of advance--toward the villages of Atina and San Elia--and seize the high ground immediately north and northwest of Cassino. Three days later II Corps, with the 1st Armored, 34th, and 36th Divisions, was to secure Monte Trocchio, the last high ground on the near side of the Rapido River. When the French corps got to the upper reaches of the Rapido and II Corps took Monte Trocchio, 10 Corps on the left, with the 5th, 46th, and 56th Divisions, plus the 23d Armoured Brigade, was to make the initial thrust to breach the German defenses. Starting on 17 January, the British corps was to cross the Garigliano
GERMAN BOX MINE
FORWARD OBSERVER ON LA CHIAIA
River and seize two bridgeheads, one near Sant'Ambrogio, the other near the coast around Minturno. The 10 Corps was then to attack to the north and northwest to take the high ground dominating the Liri valley from the south. On 20 January II Corps would deliver the culminating blow of the attack, crossing the Rapido River south of Highway 6 to establish a bridgehead near Sant'Angelo. The corps was then to employ the maximum amount of armor for an exploitation up the Liri valley toward Frosinone.20 By then, it was hoped, VI Corps would be ashore at Anzio, its initial landings scheduled for 22 January.
General Clark's attack began in the French zone on schedule at 0630, 12 January. General Dody's 2d Moroccan Division on the right jumped off without artillery preparation and achieved surprise in the capture of the height of Monna Casale. The 3d Algerian Division, commanded by General de Monsabert, was "less sure of itself," and prefaced its attack with a short artillery preparation, then seized an important peak dominating the route to San Elia. The German reaction was violent, and both French divisions found themselves engaged in a battle at short range where the grenade and the bayonet were the principal weapons. Beating off German counterattacks, the two divisions pressed forward. By the end of 15 January, the French had gained almost four miles, a respectable advance. Having pushed to the upper reaches of the Rapido River and moved up the slopes of Monte Santa Croce, the French were in close contact with the main defenses of the Gustav Line. There they had to pause. The 4-day
battle had exhausted General Juin's troops.21
On the direct approach to Cassino and the entrance to the Liri valley, II Corps had prepared a strong attack against Monte Trocchio, the last German stronghold before the Rapido River. Aerial photographs and statements by prisoners of war indicated many prepared emplacements on the hill, with automatic weapons pits, "no doubt," as the corps G-2 put it, protected by mine fields and wire.22 A regiment of the 34th Division and a regiment of the 36th Division moved against Monte Trocchio on the morning of 16 January, and to everyone's surprise, the troops found that the Germans had abandoned this isolated hill a mile east of the Rapido that guarded the main approach to Cassino. Three hours after the assault began American troops were neutralizing mines and booby traps on the crest of the hill. Forty-eight P-40's assigned the mission of attacking Monte Trocchio were diverted to bomb and strafe German positions along the west bank of the Rapido. By nightfall, there were practically no Germans east of the river.23
The voluntary desertion of the positions on Monte Trocchio was part of a rather extensive regrouping being carried out in the center of the XIV Panzer Corps sector. "At the moment," the Tenth Army chief of staff informed Kesselring's chief of staff on 15 January, "things here look wild; everything is on the move--the 15th, 44th, 71st, Hermann Goering, 5th, 3d, and 305th Divisions."24 Vietinghoff had ordered Senger to conduct a strong defense at Monte Porchia, and this had been done. When Monte Porchia was lost, Vietinghoff decided that Monte Trocchio was too isolated and the defensive positions were too weak to bar the entrance into the Liri valley, the obvious objective of the Fifth Army. The fortifications along the west bank of the Rapido and in the heights immediately dominating the river line were far better. He therefore set into motion a series of troop movements, including the withdrawal from Monte Trocchio, to assure, first, a strong defense at the river line and, second, a pool of locally available reserves.25
With the Fifth Army firmly up against the main defenses of the Gustav Line, with French, American, and British patrols operating to the river line and beyond, the British 10 Corps made ready to attempt the first breach of the defensive belt.
Crossing the Garigliano
General McCreery's 10 Corps was to make two river crossings, one in the alluvial plain near the mouth of the Garigliano in the Minturno area, the other closer to the Liri valley at Sant'Ambrogio. Because both bridges in the corps zone, the Minturno bridge on Highway 7 and the railroad bridge nearby, were destroyed and because the water was too deep to ford, the corps would have to use boats. There were no illusions that the crossings would be easy. The natural
barrier of the river was reinforced by excellent defensive positions in the foothills of the high ground immediately beyond; all likely approaches to the near bank of the river and exits on the far bank had been heavily mined; and numerous German patrols were operating vigorously during the hours of darkness on both sides of the river.
Convinced that he could gain no surprise in his attack, General McCreery decided to power his way across the river, using relatively large forces and strong naval, air, and artillery support. To take the Minturno bridgehead, two reinforced divisions would attack on a 4 brigade front during the night of 17 January. Specifically, the 5th Division on the left, reinforced by a brigade, and the 56th Division on the right, reinforced by Commandos, were to attack abreast. With a bridgehead 4 miles wide and 2 or 3 miles deep gained across the lower Garigliano, the 5th Division was to turn to the north toward the high ground overlooking the Liri valley. This thrust, McCreery hoped, would assist and in turn be assisted by the second crossing, which was to be launched on 19 January by the 46th Division across the upper Garigliano in the Sant'Ambrogio area. The bridgehead established by the 46th Division would protect the right flank of the forces near Minturno and, more important, guard the left flank of II Corps, which, on the following night, the 20th, was to make its assault across the Rapido.26
The 10 Corps faced the 94th Division, which had a double responsibility. Not only did it defend most of the Garigliano, it also guarded the coast as far north as Terracina, thirty miles beyond the mouth of the river, against Allied amphibious invasion. Dispersed over a tremendous defensive area, its resources stretched, the division was untested in combat. Vietinghoff and Senger judged it none too reliable. They counted on the width and depth of the river, as well as its swift current, to discourage Allied crossings. They also saw to it that 24,000 mines, an enormous number, were laid along the banks of the Garigliano in the division area.27
Despite indications of an imminent Allied attack--extensive bombing and strafing on 16 and 17 January, heavy naval shelling by two cruisers and five destroyers firing to give support as well as to gain deception, and a build-up of ground forces in the 10 Corps zone Vietinghoff anticipated no immediate developments. Although he was well aware of the shortcomings of German intelligence, he assured Kesselring over the telephone on 17 January that nothing extraordinary was in the offing--"We are having moonless nights which he [the enemy] has been avoiding so far."28
Contrary to General McCreery's expectation, the 10 Corps ground attack that jumped off at 2100, 17 January, achieved surprise. While artillery crashed into German defensive positions ahead, the initial assault units had little difficulty crossing the river and encountered little opposition on the far bank.
Near the mouth of the river, the 5th Division had committed three battalions. Two were crossing the river in assault boats. The third had been loaded into
BRITISH 10 CORPS TROOPS SHUTTLING AMBULANCES ACROSS THE GARIGLIANO on a Bailey ponton raft.
DUKW's and LCT's in the corps rear area for transportation around the mouth of the Garigliano and a landing about 2,000 yards beyond the far bank. Only the DUKW's arrived at the correct beach on the far bank, and the debarking troops found themselves at once in the midst of thickly planted mine fields. They needed engineers to sweep, clear, and tape exit lanes off the beach. But these troops--two platoons of engineers--along with their equipment, including dump trucks, as well as crews of tanks and supporting weapons, together with their equipment, were on the LCT's, which accidentally had gone ashore on the near bank before passing the mouth of the river. It was noon of 18 January before ferries and rafts could be gathered and dispatched to the unexpected landing site on the near bank of the river in order to carry the needed men and equipment across the river mouth to where the DUKW's had landed. In the process, several vehicles moving rafts downstream along the near bank struck mines and were lost. Once ferried across, the equipment remained immobile a good part of the afternoon until mine fields were cleared. Meanwhile, the troops that had landed on the far bank in DUKW's had left the beach through a single lane they had swept and taped themselves.
Engineers were unable to construct bridges across the Garigliano because of the mines and enemy artillery fire. A truck carrying a floating treadway bay to a projected bridge site struck a mine 200 yards short of its unloading point and was disabled. Another truck trying to tow the damaged vehicle out of the
way struck another mine and was destroyed, completely blocking the route. German artillery shells falling accurately and in large volume on the near bank dispersed work parties. Calling for smoke to conceal the bridging area, the engineers tried to continue. The wind was blowing the wrong way, and work had to be abandoned.
During the first twenty-four hours of the attack only ferries and rafts could be used to reinforce the assault elements and evacuate casualties. During this period, despite mishaps, mines, enemy artillery fire, and the lack of bridges, 10 Corps got a total of ten battalions across the river.29
From the beginning of the British attack, Vietinghoff and Senger watched reports carefully to see whether 10 Corps was making a major effort or a diversion. Visiting the 94th Division area early on the morning of 18 January, Senger quickly realized the importance of the British attack and the impossibility of containing it with the 94th Division and local reserves alone. From the division command post, he phoned Kesselring, bypassing Vietinghoff in the interest of speed, and recommended that the two divisions being held in reserve in the Rome area be committed if Kesselring wished to prevent a complete breakthrough of the Gustav Line along the Garigliano.30
Always concerned over his long sea flanks in Italy and their exposure to Allied amphibious attack, Kesselring had constantly tried to keep at least two divisions under his direct control near Rome to counter any invasion in that area. In January he had two veteran organizations, the 29th and 90th Panzer Grenadier Divisions, in rest and rehabilitation centers. He was also forming and training near Rome the 4th Parachute Division, a new unit. In addition, he had the I Parachute Corps headquarters. These elements composed his central mobile reserve.
The danger posed by the British crossing of the Garigliano compelled Kesselring to consider seriously the possibility of committing his reserve. If the British enlarged their bridgehead and broke through to the Liri valley behind Cassino, they would outflank the defensive line anchored on Monte Cassino, make the Gustav Line untenable, and force Tenth Army to withdraw toward Rome.
Before acting, Kesselring phoned Vietinghoff. He learned that the Tenth Army commander had accepted the accuracy of Senger's estimate. Vietinghoff asked for the two veteran divisions for several days until the defenses along the Garigliano were re-established.
Kesselring firmly believed in the need to stabilize the Gustav Line, and by 0900, 18 January, he was sure that the British effort was a major attack soon to be followed by an American attempt to get into the Liri valley. "I am convinced," he told Vietinghoff, "that we are now facing the greatest crisis yet encountered [in the Italian campaign]." What worsened the situation was the failure of the abundant mines to stop the British. Having counted on the efficacy of the mine fields and chiefly concerned with blocking a direct entrance into the Liri valley, Vietinghoff and Senger
had placed thirteen of the fifteen battalions in immediate corps and army reserve--most of them belonging to the Hermann Goering Division--north of the Liri River. It was difficult to move them to the threatened area. It would be dangerous to move them away from the Liri valley entrance. And it would be relatively easy to bring the two divisions down from Rome. Not only did the effect of the mines above the Garigliano seem to be "nil," Kesselring remarked, but "all our reserves are located on the wrong side" of the Liri River.31
According to the recollections of Kesselring's chief of staff, Westphal, "A bitter tussle now began over the disposition of the two divisions" in the Rome area. Was the situation along the Garigliano really as critical as Vietinghoff and Senger described it to be? If so, was that reason enough to endanger the Rome area by transferring the two divisions to the Tenth Army front?32
Several days earlier, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Office of Intelligence in Berlin, had visited Kesselring's headquarters. During his visit, the interception of an Allied radio message in the Italian theater seemed to indicate the possibility of an imminent Allied amphibious operation. Asked his opinion, Admiral Canaris confidently replied, "There is not the slightest sign that a new landing will be undertaken in the near future." Reassured, Westphal had categorically announced to the commanders of the Tenth and Fourteenth Armies on 15 January: "I consider a large-scale [Allied] landing operation as being out of the question for the next four to six weeks."33
Since there appeared to be no prospect of an Allied invasion, since the expansion of the British bridgehead across the Garigliano into a breakthrough to the Liri valley would make "the damage [to the Gustav Line] irreparable," and since the fate of the Tenth Army seemed to be hanging "by a slender thread," Kesselring decided to send his reserve to the Tenth Army front.34
Years later, Senger expressed doubt that Kesselring had reached the correct decision. Since Senger was no advocate of holding ground for the sake of holding ground, "In Kesselring's place," he said, "I do not believe I would have made the divisions available."35 Senger had forgotten Hitler's first rule of tactical conduct--hold every foot of ground wherever possible.
Thus, on 18 January, Kesselring dispatched the two veteran divisions from the Rome area, along with the I Parachute Corps headquarters to facilitate command and control, and on the following day, Hitler approved Kesselring's action. The Gustav Line, Hitler insisted, must be held under all circumstances and at all costs. This Kesselring set out to accomplish. The arrival in increasing numbers on 19 and 20 January of the troops sent from Rome impeded British efforts to expand the bridgehead.36
Despite trouble installing bridges--a German artillery shell had struck a small
bridge soon after its construction 2 miles above Highway 7 on the morning of 19 January and put it out of commission--and despite counterattacks launched by the 94th Division and its immediate reserves--at least three were mounted on 18 January--the British forces secured a substantial bridgehead. On 19 January, the 5th Division seized Minturno, 3 miles beyond the Garigliano, and the 56th Division, which crossed the Garigliano at four points, had consolidated its units and held a bridgehead almost 20 miles deep in the hills immediately overlooking the river. By the first light of 20 January, 287 prisoners of war had been sent to the 10 Corps rear.
The 10 Corps, however, was about to receive a sharp setback. On the corps right flank, the 46th Division committed a brigade during the night of 19 January to seize a bridgehead near Sant'Angelo. Operating near the junction of the Liri and Gari Rivers, the assault troops made three attempts to establish a bridgehead that night. The swift river current, which broke raft and ferry cables, and the strong German resistance, which benefited from the units arriving from Rome, defeated their efforts. Early on 20 January, only a handful of British troops were on the far side of the river. As the coming of daylight increased the accuracy of German fire, a successful crossing became increasingly doubtful. The men across the river were ordered to withdraw to the near bank, and the attempt to force a crossing was abandoned.37
To what extent the preparations for the Anzio landing contributed to the 46th Division's failure can be only a matter of conjecture. During the final rehearsal of the Anzio forces on 18 January, a large amount of equipment was lost in the sea near Naples. Among the losses were more than 40 DUKW's. Since they were vital for the success of the amphibious operation, they had to be replaced. "The replacement of equipment," General Clark wrote, "has embarrassed me greatly. It was necessary for me to take these dukws from the 10 Corps, who needed them badly in the Garigliano River crossing."38
The sensitivity of the Germans to the 46th Division crossing attempt and their increased opposition not only prevented 10 Corps from protecting the flank of the II Corps, which was to cross the Rapido River that evening, 20 January, but also gave evidence of the German intention to recover the ground lost on the west bank of the Garigliano.
To General Clark, the failure of the 46th Division to secure its objectives in the Sant'Ambrogio area
was quite a blow I was fearful that General Hawkesworth [the division commander] had a mental reservation as to the possibilities of success of his operation . . . . I flew to II Corps, feeling that it was necessary to discuss with General Keyes the results of this failure, for although the 46th effort would not entirely have protected his left flank, its failure would leave it entirely uncovered during his crossing of the Rapido River. . . I sent General Gruenther by plane to see McCreery, who feels that the [projected] attack of the 36th Division has little chance of success on account of the heavy defensive position of the enemy west of the Rapido. I maintain that it is essential that I make that attack fully expecting heavy losses in order to hold all the troops on my front and
draw more to it, thereby clearing the way for SHINGLE. The attack [of the 36th Division across the Rapido River] is on.39
What General Clark did not know was that his attack had already succeeded. The British crossing of the Garigliano River alone had not only tied down German troops but had also drawn German forces away from the Anzio landing beaches. Two of the purposes of the massive 3-corps attack at the entrance to the Liri valley had been fulfilled. Yet the chances are that even if General Clark had been aware of this, he would still have directed II Corps to carry out the next part of the operation. Despite the heavy losses he foresaw for the 36th Division at the Rapido, he still needed to get into the Liri valley to begin his drive to Frosinone and eventual linkup with the Anzio troops who were scheduled to come ashore on 22 January.
1. Fifth Army OI's, 12, 16 Dec 43.
2. See 15th AGp OI 32, 2 Jan 44.
3. TF Allen Brief Operational Rpt, 20 Mar 44; II Corps FO 18, 28 Dec 43; Ltr, Keyes to Allen, 27 Dec 43; Conference, 2 Jan 44; Directive, 4 Jan 44; and Schedule, 5 Jan 44, all in Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.
4. Steiger MS.
5. FSSF Rpt of Opns.
6. 34th Div Plan for the Attack on S. Vittore and La Chiaia, 1 Jan 44, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.
7. 34th Div AAR, Jan 44.
8. TF Allen Plan RESOLUTION, 3 Dec 43; TF Allen FO's 1-6, 3-9 Jan 44.
9. CCB (TF Allen) S-3 Jnl, Jan 44.
10. The heroism of Sgt. Joe C. Specker of the 48th Engineer Combat Battalion, who fired his machine gun so effectively despite fatal wounds, proved instrumental in the success. Sergeant Specker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
11. TF Allen Casualties, 1-11 Jan 44, II Corps G-3 Jnl.
12. See Ltr, Allen to Keyes, 11 Jan 44, II Corps G-3 Jnl.
13. See Memo, Keyes for Allen, 9 Jan 44, II Corps G-3 Jnl.
14. II Corps FO 19, 9 Jan 44.
15. See Photo Reconnaissance Wing Rpt, 5 Dec 43, and Photo Reconnaissance Unit Msg, 1355, 5 Dec 43, Fifth Army G-2 Jnl.
16. Ralph S. Mavrogordato, XIV Panzer Corps Defensive Operations Along the Garigliano, Gari, and Rapido Rivers, 17-31 January 1944, MS # R-78, OCMH.
17. Steiger MS.
19. 15th AGp OI 34, 12 Jan 44.
20. Fifth Army OI 13, 10 Jan 44.
21. Carpentier, Les Forces Alliées en Italie, pp. 68-69; La Troisième Division d'Infanterie Algerienne en Italie, Rapports d'Operations, photostat copy, OCMH.
22. II Corps Annex 1 to FO 19, 9 Jan 44.
23. Fifth Army Weekly Summary of Opns for Period Ending 2400, 20 Jan 44, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.
24. Teleconv, Maj Gen Fritz Wentzell with Gen Westphal, quoted in Steiger MS.
25. Vietinghoff MSS. See also II Corps Annex to FO 19, 9 Jan 44.
26. 10 Corps OI, 11 Jan 44, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.
27. MS # R-78 (Mavrogordato), OCMH.
28. Tenth A KTB Anl., 17 Jan 44.
29. Special Engr Rpt Based on Extracts From Chief Engr, 10 Corps Rpt on Garigliano Crossing, 15 Apr 44, Misc Rpts on Opns, Fifth Army, 1944-45. See also 15th AGp Narrative, Jan 44; and Fifth Army History, Part IV, pp. 30-34.
30. MS # C-095b (Senger), OCMH.
31. Teleconv, Kesselring with Vietinghoff, 0920, 18 Jan 44, Tenth A KTB Anl.
32. MS # T-1a (Westphal et al.), OCMH.
33. Quoted in Steiger MS.
34. MS # T-1a K1 (Kesselring); MS # T-1a (Westphal et al.). Both in OCMH.
35. Interv, Philip A. Crowl with Senger, 22 Sep 55, OCMH.
36. MS # R-78 (Mavrogordato), OCMH.
37. Fifth Army Weekly Summary of Opns for Period Ending 2400, 20 Jan 44 (dated 21 Jan 44), Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.
38. Clark Diary, 19 Jan 44.
39. Clark Diary, 20 Jan 44.