This was the British operation by Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese’s 8th Army in Italy to break through the German defences of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ (25 August/21 September 1944).
The defences known to the Allies as the Gothic Line and to the Germans as the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ or ‘Goten-Stellung’ and the Italians as the ‘Linea Gotica’ constituted the last major line of defence for the forces commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the Oberbefehlshaber ‘Südost’ and commander of Heeresgruppe ‘C’ in the later stages of World War II, and extended along the summits of the northern part of the Apennine mountain range during the fighting retreat of the German forces in Italy against the Allied Armies in Italy command under the leadership of General the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander.
Adolf Hitler had grave concerns about the state of preparation of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’, and also feared that the Allies could use their amphibious capabilities to outflank this defence line with landings behind its left flank on the Adriatic Sea coast and/or its right flank on the Ligurian Sea coast. He therefore decided to downgrade the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ its importance in the eyes of the world in general and the combatants in particular by ordering a change in the name, which was pregnant with historical connotations, on the grounds that if the Allies did managed to break through they would be unable to use the more impressive name to magnify their victory claims. In response to Hitler’s instruction, Kesselring accordingly renamed it the ‘Grüne-Linie’ (green line) in June 1944.
The fruit of the slave labour of more than 15,000 persons, the defences of the line comprised 2,000 or more well-protected machine gun nests, casemates, bunkers, observation posts and artillery fighting positions designed to defeat any Allied breakthough effort. The line was initially breached during ‘Olive’ (iii), which is also known as the Battle of Rimini, but the German forces were nonetheless able to retire in good order right across the eastern part of the line. The Germans’ ability to withdraw consistently in good order without undue loss of men and matériel continued to characterise the fighting in northern Italy right up to March 1945, for despite their penetration of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ the Allies were unable to achieve any decisive breakthrough, which had therefore to wait until April 1945 and the US ‘Grapefruit’ and British ‘Buckland’ final offensives of the Italian campaign.
‘Olive’ (iii) was probably the greatest battle of matériel fought in Italy, and involved more than 1.2 million troops. In its widest sense, including the US parallel undertaking, the operation took the form of a great pincer manoeuvre carried out by the British 8th Army against Generaloberst Heinrich-Gottfried von Vietinghoff-Scheel’s 10th Army and farther to the west by Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s US 5th Army against General Joachim Lemelsen’s 14th Army. The hardest fighting in ‘Olive’ (iii) was for the coastal city of Rimini which, already severely hit by bombing attacks, had 1.47 million rounds fired against it by the artillery of the Allied land forces. According to Leese ‘the battle of Rimini was one of the hardest battles of Eighth Army. The fighting was comparable to El Alamein, Mareth and the Gustav Line (Monte-Cassino).’
After the Allies’ nearly concurrent ‘Diadem’ breakthrough at Cassino and ‘Buffalo’ break-out from the Anzio lodgement during the spring of 1944, the Allied nations fighting in Italy (USA, UK, India, Canada, Poland, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Greece and co-belligerent Italy) finally had a chance to trap the German forces in a pincer movement and thereby fulfil some of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s strategic goals for the lengthy and costly campaign against the Italian ‘underbelly’ of the Axis alliance. This would have required Clark’s 5th Army to commit most of Major General Lucian K. Truscott’s US VI Corps from Anzio to a drive straight to the north-east from Cisterna and thereby complete the strategic envelopment envisaged in the original planning for the ‘Shingle’ landing at Anzio, that is to flank the 10th Army and cut its axis of withdrawal from the ‘Gustav-Linie’ defences at Cassino: however, fearing that the 8th Army might beat his forces to Rome, the capital of Italy, Clark opted for a propaganda coup and diverted a major part of the US VI Corps to an advance to the north-west in an attempt to ensure that the US forces of the 5th Army secured the prestige of liberating Rome.
The strategic result of Clark’s desire for self aggrandisement was that the bulk of Kesselring’s strength evaded entrapment and fell back to the north in a number of delaying actions, notably at a time late in June on the ‘Trasimenische-Linie’ (extending from a point just to the south of Ancona on the east coast, past the southern edge of Lake Trasimeno near Perugia, to the west coast at a point to the south of Grosseto) and in July on the ‘Arno-Linie’ (extending from the west coast along the line of the Arno river and into the Apennine mountains in the area to the north of Arezzo). This provided the Germans with the time they needed to press forward the construction of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ belt of fortifications, some 10 miles (16 km) deep, extending from a point to the south of La Spezia on the west coast, through the natural defences provided by the Apennine mountains (running unbroken almost from coast to coast, 50 miles [80 km] deep and with high crests and peaks rising to 7,000 ft [2135 m]), to the Foglia river valley and down this to the east to reach the coast of the Adriatic Sea in the area between Pesaro and Ravenna. As noted above, the defences included very large numbers of concrete-reinforced gun pits and trenches, 2,376 machine gun nests sited for interlocking fields of fire, 479 anti-tank, mortar and assault gun positions, 130,000 yards (118875 m) of barbed wire and many miles of anti-tank ditches.
If the Allies had ever tried to convince themselves that the Germans were on the edge of abandoning the Italian theatre, the nature of this new defensive position soon served to prove they they had been wildly optimistic.
Even so, the Allies were fortunate at this stage of the war that the Italian partisan forces had become very useful in the widespread disrupting of the German preparations in the higher parts of the Apennine mountains: by September 1944, German generals were no longer able to move freely in the area behind their main lines because of partisan activity, and Generalleutnant Fridolin Ritter und Edler von Senger und Etterlin, the commander of the XIV Panzerkorps later attested that he had taken the decision to travel without any indications of rank in a wholly unmarked Kübelwagen. The sense of von Senger und Etterlin’s decision was shown by the fact that Generalmajor Wilhelm Crisolli, commander of the 20th Felddivision (L), refused to adopt the same practice, and was intercepted, caught and killed by partisans as he returned from a conference.
While the layout and nature of the defences had been carefully planned, their construction was severely hampered by the poor quality of the concrete which local Italian facilities delivered as a matter of deliberate obstruction, and the slow pace and purposeful sabotage of the captured partisans forced into the construction gangs. Even so, Kesselring remained confident in the defences’ strength, especially on the Adriatic side of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’, where he said that he could look forward to an Allied attack with equanimity.
At this time the Allies considered the Italian front to be of importance secondary to that of their current offensives in France, a fact highlighted by the withdrawal, during the summer of 1944, of seven divisions from the 5th Army to take part in the ‘Dragoon’ (i) landings in southern France. By 5 August, the combined strength of the US 5th Army and the British 8th Army had fallen from 249,000 to 153,000 men, and the Allies had only 18 divisions with which to meet the 10th Army’s and 14th Army’s combined strength of 14 divisions in the line and between four and seven divisions in reserve. Despite the fact that conventional military wisdom had it that an attacker should have a 3/1 superiority to ensure success, Churchill and the British Chiefs-of-Staff committee desired strongly to break through the German defences and so open the way for an advance to the north-east through the ‘Ljubljana gap’ into Austria and Hungary. This had the military objective of threatening Germany from the rear, but Churchill was in fact more concerned with the need he perceived to forestall any Soviet advance into central Europe. From a time before the first Allied landings in Italy, the US Joint Chiefs-of-Staff committee had strongly opposed this strategy as diluting the Allied focus on France, which it saw as offering the probability of a direct thrust into Germany in accordance with established US military theory. After the Allied successes in France during the summer, however, the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff committee relaxed its opposition, and there was complete agreement among the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff committee at the ‘Octagon’ inter-Allied meeting (2nd Quebec Conference) on 12 September.
Alexander’s original plan for the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ offensive was created by Lieutenant General Sir John Harding, his chief-of-staff, and was based on an assault on the centre of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ as this was the area in which of the Allied forces were already concentrated, offered the shortest route to Alexander’s objective, the plains of Lombardy, and could be prepared and launched with the minimum possible delay. The ‘Ottington’ deception operation was mounted in an effort to persuade the Germans that the main blow would in fact be delivered on the Adriatic front.
On 4 August, Alexander and Leese met, and Alexander learned now that Leese was opposed to Harding’s concept. Leese’s argument was centred on the fact that the Allies had lost their specialist French mountain troops for deployment in ‘Dragoon’, and that the 8th Army’s greatest capability rested in tactics which combined infantry, armour and artillery in a manner which was unsuitable for employment in the high mountains of the central portion of the Apennine mountains. (It has also been suggested that Leese disliked working with Clark after the latter’s controversial decision to move on Rome at the end of May and early in June, and wished the 8th Army to win the battle on its own.) Leese recommended instead an offensive along the west coast of the Adriatic Sea. Although Harding did not share Leese’s view and the 8th Army’s planning staff had already rejected the idea of an Adriatic offensive on the grounds that it would be difficult to bring the required concentration of forces to bear, Alexander was not prepared to force Leese to adopt a plan which was against his inclination and judgement, and Harding was therefore persuaded to change his mind.
The resulting ‘Olive’ (iii) ordained that the 8th Army should attack to the north-west along the west coast of the Adriatic sea toward Pesaro and Rimini and thereby persuade the Germans to commit reserves from the centre of the country. The 5th Army would then attack in the weakened central sector of the Apennine mountains to the north of Florence in the direction of Bologna with Lieutenant General S. C. Kirkman’s British XIII Corps under command on its right wing to fan out toward the coast and so create a pincer with the 8th Army’s advance. This change of plan left the 8th Army with a mere three weeks to prepare the detailed operational orders and organise the two-week movement of the V Corps and I Corps from the original forming-up area to the south of Lake Trasimeno to the new start positions behind the Polish II Corps. Apart from the men of the assault divisions, this involved the movement of some 60,000 tanks, vehicles and guns across the Apennine mountains between 15 and 22 August. At the same time a new deception plan, codenamed ‘Ulster’, was initiated to convince Kesselring that the main attack would be delivered on the centre of the front.
On the Adriatic coast, the 8th Army had Generał dywizji Władysław Anders’s Polish II Corps with Generał brygady Nikodem Sulik’s 5th ‘Kresowa’ Division in the front line and Generał brygady Bolesław Bronisław Duch’s 3rd ‘Carpathian’ Division in reserve. To the left of the Poles was Lieutenant General E. L. M. Burns’s (from 10 November Lieutenant General C. Foulkes’s) Canadian I Corps, which had Major General C. Vokes’s (from 1 December Major General H. W. Foster’s) Canadian 1st Division with Brigadier T. Ivor-Moore’s British 21st Army Tank Brigade under command in the front line and Major General B. M. Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5th Armoured Division in reserve. For the opening phase the corps artillery was strengthened with the addition of the artillery of Major General A. D. Ward’s British 4th Division. To the west of the Canadian I Corps was Lieutenant General C. F. Keightley’s British V Corps with Major General J. L. I. Hawkesworth’s (from 6 November Major General C. E. Weir’s 46th Division on the right and Major General A. W. W. Holworthy’s Indian 4th Division the left; in reserve were Major General J. Y. Whitfield’s 56th Division, Major General R. A. Hull’s 1st Armoured Division, Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer’s 7th Armoured Brigade and Brigadier J. N. Tetley’s 25th Army Tank Brigade. Farther to the rear was Ward’s 4th Division waiting to be called forward to join the corps. The 8th Army’s left flank was guarded by Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery’s (from 6 November Lieutenant General Hawkesworth’s) X Corps with Major General D. Reid’s Indian 10th Division and two armoured car regiments, the 12th and 27th Lancers.
Before the start of ‘Olive’ (iii), the Canadian I Corps’ front was covered by patrolling Polish cavalry units and that of the British V Corps by patrolling elements of the Italian Liberation Corps. In army reserve, also waiting to be called forward, was Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg’s New Zealand 2nd Division.
Facing the 8th Army was von Vietinghoff-Scheel’s (from 25 October Lemelsen’s 10th Army, and more specifically General Traugott Herr’s LXXVI Panzerkorps. Initially, this latter had only three divisions: Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich’s (from 18 November Generalmajor Karl-Lothar Schulz’s) 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision facing the Poles, Generalmajor Wilhelm Raapke’s 71st Division inland on the parachute division’s right and Generalmajor Harry Hoppe’s 278th Division on the corps’ right flank in the hills and in the process of relieving Generalleutnant Max-Günther Schrank’s 5th Gebirgsdivision.
The 10th Army controlled another five divisions in General Valentin Feurstein’s LI Gebirgskorps covering the 80-mile (130-km) sector of the front on the right of the LXXVI Panzerkorps and a further two divisions (Generalmajor Ralph von Heygendorff’s 162nd Division [turkestanische] and Generalleutnant Alfred-Hermann Reinhardt’s 98th Division replaced by Generalleutnant Dr Fritz Polack’s 29th Panzergrenadierdivision from 25 August) covering the Adriatic coast behind the LXXVI Panzerkorps. In addition, Kesselring had in army group reserve Generalmajor Ernst-Günther Baade’s (from 9 December Generalleutnant Gerhard Graf von Schwerin’s) 90th Panzergrenadierdivision and Generalmajor Eduard Crasemann’s 26th Panzerdivision.
The 8th Army crossed the Metauro river and launched its attack on the outposts of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ on 25 August. In the area over which the Polish II Corps on the coast and the Canadian I Corps on the coastal plain, to the Poles’ left, advanced towards Pesaro the coastal plain narrows and it was planned that the Polish II Corps, which had been weakened by losses and lack of replacements, would go into army reserve as the front on the coastal plain became a wholly Canadian preserve. The Germans were taken by surprise, as evidenced by the fact that both von Vietinghoff-Scheel and Heidrich were absent on leave. The Germans were in the process of pulling their forward units back into the ‘Grün I’ fortifications of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ proper, and Kesselring was initially uncertain whether this was the start of a major offensive or merely the 8th Army advancing to occupy vacated ground before the main Allied assault was delivered on the 5th Army’s front toward Bologna. On 27 August, Kesselring still believed that ‘Olive’ (iii) was merely a diversion, and thus would not prepared commit reserves to the front. It was not until 28 August, when he saw a captured copy of Leese’s order of the day to the 8th Army before the start of the offensive, that Kesselring conceded that a major British offensive was in progress, and three divisions of reinforcements were ordered from Bologna to the Adriatic front, a process which would take two days before the divisions were in position.
By 30 August, the Canadian and British corps had reached the ‘Grün I’ main defensive positions extending along the ridges on the northern side of the Foglia river. Taking advantage of the Germans’ lack of strength, the Canadians drove through and by 3 September had advanced another 15 miles (24 km) to the ‘Grün II’ line of defences extending inland from the Adriatic coast near Riccione. The Allies were now close to breaking through to Rimini and the Romagna plain. The LXXVI Panzerkorps on the 10th Army’s left wing had withdrawn in good order behind the line of the Conca river, however, and the fierce resistance of the 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision, supported by intense artillery fire from the Coriano ridge in the hills on the Canadians’ left, halted the advance.
Meanwhile, the V Corps was finding it very difficult to make progress in the more difficult hill terrain with its poor roads. On 3/4 September, while the Canadians once again attacked along the coastal plain, the V Corps made an armoured thrust to dislodge the Coriano ridge defences and reach the Marano river, and thus open the way to the plain beyond for a rapid exploitation by the armour of the 1st Armoured Division, which was poised for just this opportunity. After two days of very heavy and bloody fighting, characterised by heavy losses on each side, the British had to call off their assault and reassess their strategy. Leese decided to outflank the Coriano ridge positions by driving to the west in the direction of Croce and Gemmano to reach the Marano river valley, which curved behind the Coriano ridge positions to the coast some 2 miles (3.2 km) to the north of Riccione.
The Battle of Gemmano has been described as the ‘Cassino of the Adriatic’. After 11 assaults between 4 and 13 September, first by the 56th Division and then the 46th Division, it was the turn of the Indian 4th Division, which made the twelfth attack at 03.00, after a heavy bombardment, on 15 September and finally took the German defensive positions. Meanwhile, to the north and on the other side of the Conca river valley, a similarly sanguinary engagement was being ground out at Croce on the way to the small independent and neutral statelet of San Marino. The 98th Division held its positions with the utmost tenacity, and it took five days of constant fighting, often door to door and hand to hand, before the 56th Division was able to take Croce and indeed to advance about 1 mile (1.6 km) past it before digging in on the evening of 13 September. That night the Indian 4th Division gained a foothold to the south of Gemmano, which was finally captured by the 46th Division and the Indian 4th Division on the morning of 15 September. The British-led forces now readied themselves to move toward Montescudo and exploit the German confusion.
The 46th Division took Montescudo on 15 September, and on the following day the 56th Division entered Mulazzano, directly to the north of Montescudo and equally close to the border of San Marino. The fighting moved to the west from here, with the 56th Division and 46th Division on the northern and southern flanks respectively, but both were held back by strong German resistance.
Early in September, the Germans had sent a strong force into San Marino to prevent the use of this little city state by the Allies, for this would give them control of one of the major roads in the area, and allow artillery observers to occupy the mountain peaks. The defending force was drawn from the 278th Division, and the Indian 4th Division was allocated the task of seizing San Marino on 17 September.
The leading element of the division, namely the 3/10th Baluchi Regiment, crossed the Marano river on the eastern border on the night of 17 September, and the 1/9th Gurkha Rifles then moved through the Baluchis to attack Points 343 and 366 near Faetano. Lying just beyond the river, these small hills were held by two battalions of the 993rd Grenadierregiment. Point 343 was taken at 05.00, but the force occupying Point 366 had to fall back after running short of ammunition. Point 343 was held through 18 September, though, with the loss of 63 men. By the evening, a force of tanks had managed to come up and stabilise the position with the aid of artillery support. The 4/11th Sikh Regiment moved around the 1/9th Gurkhas to the north, covering the northern flank of the San Marino heights, and Brigadier H. F. C. Partridge’s Indian 11th Brigade passed through them to help encircle the city. On the evening of 19 September, the 2/Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of the Indian 11th Brigade began to push into the outskirts of the city from the north, but early on the morning of 20 September was held back by defensive positions in the north-west of the city, where the road to the upper part of the city, situated higher on the mountain, began. Tanks moved into the suburbs, and a company of the Camerons moved uphill toward the summit in heavy rain. The city had been secured by a time early in the afternoon, with only 24 casualties among the attackers, and 54 prisoners taken. On 21 September the local defence force was enlisted to help mop up German stragglers, even as the Indian 4th Division pressed onward through a heavy gale and passed out of the country. Allied forces remained in occupation of San Marino for a short period following the German surrender.
Some 3 miles (4.8 km) beyond San Marino lies the Marecchia river valley extending across the 8th Army’s axis of advance and running down to the sea at Rimini.
With progress slow at Gemmano, Leese had earlier decided to renew the attack on Coriano. After a very heavy bombardment by 700 pieces of artillery and by bombers, the Canadian 5th Armoured Division and British 1st Armoured Division attacked on the night of 12 September, and the Coriano positions were finally taken on 14 September.
Once again, the way was open to Rimini. The German forces had suffered heavy losses in men and matériel, and the three divisions of reinforcements ordered to the Adriatic front would not be available for at least another day. However, the weather intervened on the side of the Germans: very heavy rain turned the rivers into torrents and halted air support operations. Movement was slowed to a glutinous crawl, and the German defenders had the opportunity to reorganise and reinforce their positions on the Marano river, so the salient into the Lombardy plain was closed. Once more, the 8th Army was confronted by an organised line of defence, the ‘Rimini-Linie’.
On the right, the Canadian I Corps on 20 September broke the German positions on the Ausa river, so opening the way onto the Lombardy plain, and Syntagmatárches Thrasyvoulos Tsakalotos’s Greek 3rd Mountain Brigade entered Rimini on the morning of 21 September as the Germans withdrew from their positions on the ‘Rimini-Linie’ behind the Ausa river to new positions on the Marecchia river. However, Kesselring’s defence had won the Germans the time they until the onset of the autumn rains further impeded the advance of the British-led forces. The 8th Army’s progress became very slow and laborious, for the mud slides caused by the heavy rain made it extremely difficult to keep the roads and tracks open, and this spawned a logistical nightmare. Although the British-led forces had emerged from the hills, the plain was wholly waterlogged and the 8th Army now found itself faced, as it had during the previous autumn, by a close-spaced succession of swollen rivers running across its axis of advance. The conditions yet again made it impossible for the 8th Army’s armour to exploit the breakthrough, and the sodden infantrymen of British V Corps and Canadian I Corps (joined by the New Zealand 2nd Division) had to grind their way forward while von Vietinghoff-Scheel pulled his forces back to new positions behind the next waterway beyond the Marecchia river, namely the Uso river a few miles to the north of Rimini. The British-led forces forced the German positions on the Uso river during 26 September, and 8th Army reached the next waterway, the Fiumicino river, on 29 September. Four days of heavy rain then forced a complete halt, and by this time V Corps was exhausted and in dire need of rest and a major reorganisation.
Since the start of ‘Olive’ (iii), the 8th Army had suffered 14,000 casualties as well as the irrecoverable loss of 210 tanks. As a result, the British battalions each had necessarily to be reduced from four to three companies, and 1st Armoured Division was perforce disbanded. Facing the 8th Army, the LXXVI Panzerkorps had suffered 16,000 casualties.
As the 8th Army paused at the end of September to reorganise, Leese was reassigned to head the Allied Land Forces South-East Asia command, and McCreery succeeded him in command of the 8th Army, his X Corps being taken over by Hawkesworth, now promoted to lieutenant general.
On the other end of the main front in Italy, Clark’s US 5th Army comprised three corps: Major General Willis D. Crittenberger’s US IV Corps on the left with Major General Vernon E. Prichard’s US 1st Armored Division, Major General E. Poole’s South African 6th Armoured Division, and two regimental combat reams (one of Major General Edward M. Almond’s US 92nd Division and the other the Brazilian 6th RCT, the first contingent of General Mascarenhas de Morais’s Brazilian 1st Division of Mascarenhas de Morais’s own Brazilian Expeditionary Force); in the centre was Major General Geoffrey T. Keyes’s US II Corps with Major General Charles L. Bolte’s US 34th Division, Major General John B. Coulter’s US 85th Division, Major General Paul W. Kendall’s US 88th Division and Major General William G. Livesay’s US 91st Division supported by three tank battalions); and on the right was Kirkman’s British XIII Corps with Major General C. F. Loewen’s British 1st Division, Major General H. Murray’s British 6th Armoured Division, Major General D. Russell’s Indian 8th Division and Brigadier R. A. Wyman’s Canadian 1st Army Tank Brigade). Like the 8th Army, the 5th Army was considered to be strong in armour and weak in infantry considering the terrain over which it was attacking.
In the front line facing Clark’s forces were five divisions of Lemelsen’s 14th Army with Crisolli’s 20th Felddivision (L) which on 1 June had become the 20th Luftwaffe Stürmdivision commanded from 15 September by Generalmajor Erich Fronhöfer, SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Max Simon’s 16th SS Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Reichsführer-SS’, Generalleutnant Hellmuth Pfeiffer’s 65th Division, Generalleutnant Heinz Greiner’s 362nd Division and Generalleutnant Heinrich Trettner’s 4th Fallschirmjägerdivision, and two divisions on the western end of von Vietinghoff-Scheel’s 10th Army (Generalleutnant Karl Faulenbach’s 356th Division and Generalmajor Hanns von Rohr’s [from 18 September Generalmajor Hans-Joachim Ehlert’s] 715th Division). By the end of the first week in September, the 20th Luftwaffe Sturmdivision and the 356th Division had been relocated to the Adriatic front together with, from army reserve, Polack’s 29th Panzergrenadierdivision and the armoured reserve of Crasemann’s 26th Panzerdivision. The 14th Army was undoubtedly not of the same fighting quality as the 10th Army as it had been badly savaged in the retreat from Anzio and some of its replacements were notable for their hasty and inadequate training.
Clark’s plan was for the II Corps to strike along the road from Florence to Firenzuola and Imola through the Il Giogo pass to outflank the formidable defences of the Futa pass on the main highway linking Florence and Bologna, while on its right the XIII Corps advanced through the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ defences to cut Highway 9 (and therefore Kesselring’s lateral communications) at Faenza. The transfer of 356th Division to the Adriatic weakened the defences around the Il Giogo pass, which was already a potential point of weakness as it was on the boundary between the 10th Army and 14th Army.
During the last week in August, the US II Corps and British XIII Corps started to move into the mountains to take up positions for the main assault on the main ‘Gotisch-Linie’ defences. The Allied forces met some fierce resistance from German outpost positions, but at the end of the first week in September, once they had completed a reorganisation necessitated by the relocation of three divisions to reinforce the hard-pressed Adriatic front, the Germans withdrew their forces to the main ‘Gotisch-Linie’ defences.
After an artillery bombardment, the 5th Army’s main assault began at dusk on 12 September. Progress in the area of the II Giogo pass was slow, but on the II Corps’ right the XIII Corps had better success. Clark grasped this opportunity to divert the 337th Infantry, which was part of II Corps’ reserve, to exploit the success of the XIII Corps. Attacking on 17 September, supported by both US and British artillery, this infantry regimental combat team fought its way onto Monte Pratone, between 2 and 3 miles (3.2 and 4.8 km) to the east of the Il Giogo pass and a key position on the ‘Gotisch-Linie’. Meanwhile the II Corps renewed its attack on Monte Altuzzo, dominating the eastern side of the Il Giogo pass, and the Altuzzo positions fell on the morning of 17 September after five days of fighting. The capture of Altuzzo and Pratone as well as Monte Verruca outflanked the formidable defences on the Futa pass, and Lemelsen was forced to pull back his forward defences, allowing the pass to be taken after only light fighting on 22 September.
On the left, the IV Corps had fought its way to the main ‘Gotisch-Linie’: the Brazilian 6th RCT had taken Massarosa, by 18 September it had also taken Camaiore and other small towns on the way north. By the end of month, this unit had conquered Monte Prano and controlled the Serchio river valley region without suffering any major casualties. Early in October, the 6th RCT also took Fornaci and its munitions factory.
On 5th Army’s far right wing, on the right of the XIII Corps front, 8th Indian Infantry Division fighting across trackless ground had captured the heights of Femina Morta, and British 6th Armoured Division had taken the San Godenzo Pass on Route 67 to Forlì, both on 18 September.
At this stage, given the slow progress being made on the Adriatic front, Clark decided that Bologna was too far to the west along Highway 9 for its seizure to be sufficient to trap the 10th Army. He decided therefore to move the II Corps’ main thrust farther to the east toward Imola, while the XIII Corps continued to push on the right toward Faenza. Although it had penetrated the ‘Gotisch-Linie’, just like the 8th Army before it, the 5th Army found the terrain beyond the line and its defenders even more difficult. Between 21 September and 3 October, the 88th Division had fought its way to a standstill on the route to Imola suffering 2,105 men killed and wounded, which was about the same as the whole of the rest of II Corps during the actual breaching of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’.
By this time the US advance toward Imola had led Lemelsen to divert troops from the defence of Bologna, and Clark accordingly decided to switch his main thrust back toward the Bologna axis. The II Corps pushed steadily through the Raticosa pass and, by 2 October, had reached Monghidoro some 20 miles (32 km) from Bologna. Just as it had on the Adriatic coast, however, the weather had now broken, and the combination of rain and low cloud prevented air support, while the roads back to the ever more distant supply dumps near Florence became virtually impassable.
On 5 October the II Corps resumed its offensive along a 14-mile (22.5-km) front straddling Highway 65 to Bologna. The corps was supported on its right flank, as before, by the XIII Corps including Major General D. C. Butterworth’s (from 10 October Brigadier [soon Major General] R. K. Arbuthnot’s) British 78th Division, newly returned to Italy after a three-month refit in Egypt. Gradual progress was made against stiffening opposition as the 14th Army moved formations and units from the quieter sector opposite the IV Corps. By 9 October, the II Corps was attacking the massive 1,500-ft (455-m) escarpment behind Livergnano, which was sheer and appeared insuperable. However, the weather cleared on the morning of 10 October sufficiently to allow artillery and air support to be brought to bear. Nevertheless, it took until the end of 15 October before the escarpment had been secured. On the right of the II Corps, the XIII Corps was experiencing equally determined fighting on terrain just as difficult.
As the second half of October continued, Alexander came to the inescapable conclusion that despite the fighting on the waterlogged Romagna plain and the mountains of the central Apennine mountains with their torrential river and steams, autumn was now to set set in and increasing exhaustion was affecting his formations’ capabilities and increasing losses. In the circumstances, a breakthrough before the full return of winter was impossible.
Even so, on the Adriatic front the 8th Army resumed its advance on its left wing through the foothills of the Apennine mountains toward Forlì along Highway 9. On 5 October Indian 10th Division, which had been switched from the X Corps to the V Corps, had crossed the Fiumicino river high in the hills and turned the German defensive line on the river, forcing the 10th Army’s units downstream of its crossing point to pull back toward Bologna. This was, in fact, of benefit to Kesselring as it had the effect of shortening the front, which provided him with greater flexibility to switch units between the sectors of the front held by his two armies. Continuing its push along Highway 9, the V Corps on 21 October crossed the Savio river, which flows to the north-east through Cesena to the Adriatic, and by 25 October were closing on the Ronco river, about 10 miles (16 km) beyond the Savio. The Germans had withdrawn behind this waterway. By the end of the month, the advance had reached Forlì, mid-way between Rimini and Bologna.
Cutting the German armies’ lateral communications remained a key objective for the Allied forces, and Kesselring later said that if in mid-October the front to the south of Bologna could not have been held, then all the German positions to the east of Bologna would have been lost. Alexander and Clark had decided therefore to make a final attempt to reach Bologna before the full arrival of winter. On 16 October, the 5th Army had gathered itself for this last effort to take Bologna. The formations of the Allied Armies in Italy were now very short of artillery ammunition because of a global reduction in Allied ammunition production in anticipation of the final defeat of Germany. The 5th Army’s batteries were therefore so heavily rationed that the total of rounds fired in the last week of October was less than the amount fired during one eight-hour period on 2 October. Even so, the II Corps and XIII Corps pounded away for the next 11 days. Little progress was made in the centre along the main road to Bologna. On the right there was better progress, and on 20 October the 88th Division seized Monte Grande, only 4 miles (6.4 km) from Highway 9, and three days later the 78th Division stormed Monte Spaduro. However, the remaining 4 miles (6.4 km) comprised notably difficult terrain and were held by forces reinforced by three of the best German formations in Italy, namely the 29th Panzergrenadierdivision, the 90th Panzergrenadierdivision and the 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision, which Kesselring had been able to withdraw from the Romagna as a result of his shortened front. By late October, the Brazilian 6th RCT had pushed the Axis forces through province of Lucca to Barga, where its advance was halted.
Early in November, while the assembly of the complete Brazilian 1st Division and some reinforcement of the 92nd Division proved useful for the 5th Army, it could not offset the loss of the formations which had been diverted to France. The situation in 8th Army was even worse: replacements were being diverted to northern Europe and the Canadian I Corps was ordered to prepare for movement to the Netherlands in February 1945. Moreover, while they remained checked in the mountains, both armies continued to have too high a ratio of armour to infantry.
During November and December, the 5th Army concentrated its effort on the dislodgement of the Germans from their well-placed artillery positions, for these had been a key feature in preventing the Allied advance towards Bologna and the Po river valley. Using Brazilian and US forces of small and medium size, the 5th Army attacked these points successively, but was unable to secure a positive outcome. By the end of the year, the defensive complex established by the Germans round Monte Castello, Lizano in Belvedere, Della Toraccia, Castelnuovo di Vergato, Torre di Nerone, La Serra, Soprassasso and Castel d’Aiano had proved itself to be very sturdy.
Meanwhile, held on Highway 9 at Forlì, the 8th Army continued a subsidiary drive up the Adriatic coast and took Ravenna on 5 November. At a time early in November, the British resumed their advance along Highway 9, and crossed the Montone river, just to the north of Forlì, on 9 November. However, in deteriorating weather the going continued to be very tough, and the Cosina river, some 3 miles (4.8 km) farther along Highway 9, was crossed only on 23 November. By 17 December, the Lamone river line had been assaulted and Faenza cleared. The 10th Army established itself on the raised banks of the Senio river, rising at least 20 ft (6.1 m) above the surrounding plain, which ran across the line of the 8th Army’s axis of advance just beyond Faenza down and down to the Adriatic coast in the area to the north of Ravenna. With snow falling and winter firmly established, any attempt to cross the Senio river was impossible, and the 8th Army campaign of 1944 drew to an end.
Late in December, the Germans committed a predominantly force of units from the Italian 4th Divisione alpina ‘Monterosa’ in ‘Wintergewitter’ (ii) to attack the left wing of the 5th Army in the Serchio river valley in front of Lucca to pin Allied units there which might otherwise have been switched to the central front. Two brigades of the Indian 8th Division were rapidly switched across the Apennine mountains to reinforce the 92nd Division. By the time this reinforcement had arrived, the Axis forces had broken through to capture Barga, but decisive action by Russell, the Indian divisional commander, halted the Axis advance, the situation was stabilised and Barga had been recaptured by the start of 1945.
In mid-December Alexander was elevated to the supreme command in the Mediterranean theatre. Clark took his place as commander of the Allied armies in Italy, redesignated as the 15th Army Group, and command of the 5th Army passed to Truscott. In the middle of February 1945, as the winter weather improved, the 5th Army resumed its attacks on German artillery positions in ‘Encore’. On this occasion the IV Corps committed two infantry divisions to accomplish the mission: the Brazilian 1st Division, tasked with taking Monte Castello, Soprassasso and Castelnuovo di Vergato; and Major General George P. Hays’s newly arrived US 10th Mountain Division, tasked to take Lizano in Belvedere, Della Torraccia and Castel d’Aiano. ‘Encore’ began on 18 February and was completed on 5 March, and prepared the way for the Allies’ spring offensives of 1945, the US ‘Craftsman’ and British ‘Buckland’.