A winter in the Abruzzo Mountains - French Expeditionary Corps - Italy (21 Nov 1943 - 3 Feb 1944)

Discussion in 'Allied Units - Others' started by stolpi, Nov 18, 2020.

  1. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    This is a translation of chapter II of a (French) book - in two volumes - I recently acquired, about the French Expeditionary Force (F.E.C.), written by Lt.Col. Georges Boulle and published by the Historical section of the French Military HQ Ground Forces. The chapter deals with the early engagement of the F.E.C. in the western Abruzzo mountains in the winter of 1943/44.

    In 1940, France operated three separate armies: the largely white Armée Métropolitaine, which defended the homeland, L’Armée d’Afrique, which recruited in French North Africa (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and La Coloniale, which included soldiers from France’s other territories. With the Armée Métropolitaine defeated, discredited and imprisoned in 1940, it was Juin’s very un-European Armée d’Afrique and La Coloniale, the all-volunteer Legion Etrangère (Foreign Legion) of non-French mercenary soldiers, and Berbers from Morocco who would fight in Italy and then go on to help liberate France

    The F.E.C. was predominantly composed of units of the L’Armée d’Afrique, a lightly equipped, 135.000-man army, made up mainly of territorials but led by regular French officers, which had been permitted by the 1940 armistice terms for the defense of the French colonies in North Africa (1). After the 'Liberation' of North-Africa, this Armée d’Afrique was to be expanded to a 265.000-man strong force, consisting of eight infantry and three armoured divisions, reorganized and rearmed according to US Army standards under the Anfa Agreement, reached by President Roosevelt and General Giraud on 24 January 1943 at Casablanca.

    In the course of June and July 1943, most of the units ready, three infantry and one armoured division, two Groups of Moroccan Tabors and several non-divisional support units, were assembled near Oran where they formed the Premier Corps de Debarquement (1st C.de D.). In August 1943 the 1st C. de D. was subdivided into two separate groups that were able to operate independently in different theaters of operation. The First Group comprised the 2nd Moroccan and 3rd Algerian infantry divisions, with the 3rd and 4th Groups of Moroccan Tabors and support units. By order of 18 November 1943 the First Group was redesignated 1e Armee Francais or Armée A under command of General Juin. Under this designation the force was attached to the 15th Army Group and embarked for the Italian Theater of operations on 20 November 1943. It was on request of General Juin that the designation 1e Armee Francais, with regard to General Clark, under whose command the French force was placed, was changed into "French Expeditionary Corps" (F.E.C.) on 3 January 1944, the day the corps became operational; in French it is Corps Expéditionnaire Francais (hence: C.E.F.).

    Anfa meeting Casablanca.jpg ANFA Hotel.jpg
    General Giraud (left, commander of the French troops in North Africa) and General De Gaulle (leader of the Free French) pose with the Western Allied leaders at Casablanca. During the Casablanca Conference (January 1943) the decision was made to expand and rearm the French regular Army in North Africa; the Anfa agreement, named after the Anfa Hotel in a suburb of Casablanca where the conference was held. Relations between the two French Generals, who met at Casablanca for the first time since 1940, were strained, to say the least. De Gaulle wanted neither to share any power with Giraud, nor to give any impression of collaborating with the tarnished men of Vichy, with whom Giraud had dealt. Later in the same year, Giraud and de Gaulle became co-presidents of the French Committee of National Liberation, but Giraud lost support and retired in frustration in April 1944 (photo courtesy: Casablanca Conference by Granger).

    The 2nd Moroccan Division, together with the 4th Tabor Group, was the first contingent of the F.E.C. to arrive by ship in Italy. Sailing from Bizerte and Oran in North Africa, it disembarked at Naples in November 1943. The rest of the French forces would not arrive until the end of December 1943. Dor the time being the 2nd Moroccan Division was attached to 6th US Corps. This situation lasted until the French Expeditionary Corps (FEC), under General Juin, completed its assembly and became operational on January 3rd, 1944. On that date General Juin and his Corps took over the 6th US Corps' sector on the right wing of the 5th US Army. Juin' s command consisted of the 2nd Moroccan and 3rd Algerian Infantry Divisions (the latter still missing two battalions of the 4th Tunisian Tirailleur Regiment), supported by two Groups of Moroccan Tabors (G.M.T.), the 3rd, 4th G.M.T (each the equivalent of a Brigade). Each of the infantry divisions had a theoretical strength each of 16,840 men (41% of them French Metropolitains or troops recruited from mainland France). The French build up continued during the period of Feb - April 1944. The French strength grew with the arrival of the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division and the 1st Free French Division (renamed 1ère Division motorisée d'Infanterie), as well as another Group of Tabors, the 1st G.M.T. These latter units however arrived too late to have an active share in the French winter campaign. They participated in the Spring offensive of May 1944.

    For operations in Italy, the Allies still had to be convinced of the French as an effective and loyal force and initially envisaged the French very much in a supporting role, or even as reserve or garrison troops. The Americans were concerned that training standards were below those of the US Army. The performance of the 2nd Moroccan Division at the Mount Pantano and Mainarde very much impressed the Americans, and the Allies' low opinion of the French quickly changed. The FEC would prove to be one of the Allies' most effective formations. This was partly due to the terrain, which held few surprises to troops recruited from the mountainous regions of North Africa. But the French soldiers were also well led and well suited to the sort of battles that the terrain created, where initiative and exceptional bravery were of such vital importance. The French were commanded by hard-driving officers who knew that the re-establishment of French military reputation lay in their hands. This leadership, as shall be seen, depended largely on the officers putting themselves at the front of the fighting, with inevitable consequences.

    This is a first acquaintance, as far as I am concerned, with the particularly difficult struggle in mountainous Italy and with the operations of French Moroccan and Algerian units. During the period described the French participated in what later would be known as the 'Winter Line Campaign' and the 'First Battle for Monte Cassino'. As the French study occasionally tends to be a bit summary, I added additional information from other sources (texts within [...], Quotes or seperate posts on small unit actions, entitled: "Close up").
    PS. I'm a complete novice to the Italian battlefields, so please bear with me ...

    Boulle 0.jpg Boulle 1.jpg

    Actions (1).jpg
    Sequence of the actions described:
    1. First actions: Defile of San Michele: the outflanking movement in the north (14 - 15 Dec 1943): A winter in the Abruzzo Mountains - French Expeditionary Corps - Italy (21 Nov 1943 - 3 Feb 1944)
    2. The fight for mount Pantano (16 - 18 Dec 1943): A winter in the Abruzzo Mountains - French Expeditionary Corps - Italy (21 Nov 1943 - 3 Feb 1944)
    3. The fall of the Mainarde (19 - 28 Dec 1943): A winter in the Abruzzo Mountains - French Expeditionary Corps - Italy (21 Nov 1943 - 3 Feb 1944)
    4. The January offensive: Monna Casale & Costa San Pietro (1 - 12 Jan 1944): A winter in the Abruzzo Mountains - French Expeditionary Corps - Italy (21 Nov 1943 - 3 Feb 1944)
    5. The January offensive: Acquafondata - San Elia (13 - 20 Jan 1944): A winter in the Abruzzo Mountains - French Expeditionary Corps - Italy (21 Nov 1943 - 3 Feb 1944)
    6. First attempt to break the Gustav Line: M.San Croce (21 - 24 Jan 1944): A winter in the Abruzzo Mountains - French Expeditionary Corps - Italy (21 Nov 1943 - 3 Feb 1944)
    7. Second attempt to break the Gustav Line: Battle for the Belvedere (24 Jan - 5 Feb 1944): A winter in the Abruzzo Mountains - French Expeditionary Corps - Italy (21 Nov 1943 - 3 Feb 1944)

    Abruzzo Mountains.jpg
    A scheme of the Abruzzo mountain ranges which formed the scene of the operations of the French Expeditionary Corps in Dec 1943 and Jan 1944 (courtesy: "Le 8e RTM - Un hiver dans les Abruzzes, 1943 - 1944").

    See also: De Tunis a Rome (starting at 21:41) http://archives.ecpad.fr/etapes-vers-la-victoire-n1-de-tunis-a-rome/
    and: La nouvelle armée française dans la campagne d'Italie - INA - Jalons devient LUMNI !

    (1) The 1st D.M.I., which would not be deployed in Italy until May 1944, actually had the highest percentage of Europeans of any unit at fifty-seven percent. The primary reason behind this large number was the two battalions from the Foreign Legion and the one battalion of naval marines. The 2nd D.I.M. and 3rd D.I.A. each had approximately forty-one percent. The 4th D.M.M. had the lowest numbers of Europeans at thirty-three percent. Being organized as a mountain division, it required a larger number of Africans (and the mules they handled) to transport all the matériel needed by a modern unit to fight an enemy without easy access to re-supply. The remainder of the corps was only thirty-five percent European. Overall, the FEC was sixty percent African (Source: Gaujac, Le Corps Expeditionnaire Français En Italie, 31).
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2022
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  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The French Expeditionary Corps (FEC) in Italy - Chapter II The Winter Campaign

    Untitled 1.jpg

    The first elements of the 2nd Moroccan ID and of the 4th Group of Moroccan Tabors landed on the November 22nd, 1943; the mechanized units at Naples and the L.S.T. (Landing Ship Transport) with infantry in the small ports of Bagnoli, Bahia and Puzzoli,. By 29 November the whole division was assembled near Orto di Ottela and that same day the order arrived to relieve the 34th US Inf Div in the sector Pantano - Scapoli.

    The battles of the French Expeditionary Corps - From the defile of San Michele to the Belvedere (Nov 1943 - Feb 1944)


    Arrival in Italy

    It was during the third decade of November 1943 that the first elements of the French Expeditionary Corps (FEC), arriving from North Africa, set foot on Italian soil, in the region of Naples.

    While the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division (2e Moroccan ID), under the command of General André W. Dody, disembarked from November 21 onward, General Juin, commander of the F.E.C., arrived - by plane - on the 25th, accompanied by part of his staff; he settled temporarily in the French Institute in Naples, and a week later, set up his command post in Maddaloni (25 km NNE from Naples), near Caserta where General Clarke's, commander of the Fifth US Army, was located, under whose command the F.E.C. was placed.

    General Juin remarked: "the most trusting and cordial relations are established immediately between the corresponding staff teams".

    The 2nd Moroccan ID, whose landings were carried out without incident, regrouped in the area of Caivano, Aversa (12 km north of Naples). It was attached to the 6th US Corps, with effect from December 1st, with the proviso: "to be engaged, without fragmentation, in a niche of its own". Thus assured, General Juin defined his own role: "My task, while waiting to have a Corps of myself, which is essentially what I want, will be to ensure the proper execution of Dody's action within the framework of the army maneuver, and to set up my services."


    The setting

    Having been unable to prevent the landing of the Fifth US Army in Salerno in September 1943, nor to oppose the push of the 8th British Army along the Adriatic coast, the German high command in Italy had given up defending Naples, but seemed determined to cover Rome. He had conducted a delaying fight towards the massive peaks of the Maiella and the Méta (see sketch no. 3) impenetrable in winter, which became the buttresses of the German defense. From there it was possible to dominate the flanks of the Allies in the coastal areas.

    In November 1943, the front stabilized. As General Juin arrived, the 5th US Army "was in contact with the forward positions of the so-called Winter Line of the enemy, at the lower Garigliano, at Mignano, at the Volturno near Venafro, and in rather loose contact, across the Abruzzo Appenines, with the 8th British Army of Montgomery, which extended the line towards the Adriatic along the River Sangro".

    In early December when the 2nd Moroccan ID came under command of the 6th US Corps of the Fifth US Army, operations were resumed. The Fifth US Army launched a series of offensives aimed at Rome, from Mignano, on Via Casalina (R.N.6) to Cassino and the valleys of Liri and Sacco. The initial goal was to conquer the Camino, Maggiore and Croce mountains, which formed the southern bastion of the Mignano gate (see sketch no.4), giving access to the Cassino plain. This operation, carried out in the first week of December, was completed by clearing the area between these heights and the Garigliano loop.

    In the second week of December, the 2nd US Corps attacked Mount Sammucro, which constituted the opposite bastion, and Mount Lungo in between, which barred the Mignano gap. The operation only obtained a half-success. The enemy reacted sharply, showing his will to keep his northern buttress protecting the road to Cassino. At the same time, it was evident that his intention was to restrict allied movements to the lower parts of the mountain ranges. In face of an enemy who resisted stubbornly, but who wore out more every day, a period of relative calm set in. This rest was used, on the allied side, to replace the most worn-out units and to create new reserves. Thus started the relief of the 34 US Inf Div by the 2nd Moroccan ID, in the northern sector of the 6th US Corps.

    The fine weather of the final days of November did not last; torrential thunderstorms swamped bivouacs, camps, parks and depots; they also made most mountain paths all but impassable. Under these conditions, General Juin reported to General Giraud in Algiers: "I can't wait to see the mule units and the engineer units from the general reserve arrive. The staff of the 4th Group of Moroccan Tabors (G.T.M.) has disembarked; I hope to get one unit of tabors sufficiently in time to be able to add it to Dody".

    Despite many difficulties, the relief was carried out without incident and, on December 11th, at 00:00 hrs, the commanding general of the 2nd Moroccan ID took command of the sector between Pizzone (incl.), in the north, and Lagone (excl.), in the south (see sketch No 4 and 5), with his command post established in Montaquila. [Relief of the 34th U.S. Infantry Division was carried out in three nights between 8 and 11 December 1943. On the night of December 8 to 9, the Moroccan infantry regiments began to relieve the American infantrymen, who, in line since the beginning of the operations, did not hide their joy at leaving this mountainous sector and in particular the mount Pantano on which they had left many of their own. Next night the artillery took up its positions. The take over was completed on the night to the 11th, when at exactly midnight command of the sector passed to General Dody. His 2nd Moroccan ID was arranged as follows: the 4th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment (M.T.R.) occupied the right zone, north of the Chiaro river, the 5th M.T.R. was on the left, south of the Chiaro, while the 8th M.T.R. was kept in reserve near Montaquila.]

    The 2nd Moroccan ID was in contact with the 45 US Inf Div , in the south, with whom it formed a corps (6th US Corps), under General Lucas; and with the 78th British Division of the 8th Army in the north.

    The mission

    [In the right of the Fifth US Army zone, 6th Corps had been advancing slowly along the two available roads across the mountain range between the Volturno and Liri valleys: one leading from Colli al Volturno to Atina (north) and the other from Filignano to San Elia (south). Both are narrow and winding and dominated everywhere by hills. They are separated by the high mountains of the Pantano, Monna Casale and Monte Croce - Mt Bianco massif. The northern route, which skirted along the southern foot of the high Abruzzo massif or Monti della Meta, was assigned to the 2nd Moroccan ID]. During the few days following the takeover, the task of the division was limited to maintaining contact with the enemy from the former positions of the 34th US Inf Div; the bad weather and difficult terrain did not permit an immediate engagement.
    General Dody took advantage of this short span of time to prepare, as part of the 6th US Corps operation, an offensive by his division against the Colli - Atina axis, following the only road existing in this area, the initial objective being the heights 1025 and 1029 (northeast of Cardito) and the commanding height of the Monna Casale (sketches no 4 and 5).

    The commander of the Fifth US Army expected, with weather improving, to resume operations on December 15th. The pressure exerted in the north by the 45th US Inf Div and the 2nd Moroccan ID - with the road connecting Atina to Cassino as ultimate objective - would assist the 2nd US Corps, and allow it to remove the obstacle of San Pietro In Fine, on the Via Casilina (RN 6), opening the direct route to Rome, over Cassino, to armour.

    Sketch 4.jpg
    Situation Fifth US Army at the start of December 1943 as the 2nd Moroccan Division took over the right wing of the 6th US Corps. Red line is the frontline as of Dec 14th, 43. Blue arrows are the planned French/American Allied operations.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2021
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  3. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Gen Juin.jpg Insigne CEF.jpg
    Left: GOC French Expeditionary Corps, general Alphonse Juin. In 1940 he had fought against the Germans and had been taken prisoner in Lille. Released in 1941 at Pétain's request, he was then made commander in chief of the French forces in North Africa. After dithering over his oath of loyalty to Vichy, Juin approved the plan for the French African army to fight alongside the Allies to liberate Tunisia, and, it was hoped, eventually France itself. Juin was a 'pied noir' (North African). He was born in Bone in Algeria and had commanded Arabs and Berbers for much of his lifetime. Right: the shoulder patch of the French Expeditionary Corps; officially the 'Corps Expeditionaire Francais en Italie' (C.E.F.I.).

    In late 1943 names like Volturno, Sangro, Rapido and Garigliano took on an ominous ring. The battles to conquer these rivers (from October 1943) are among the heaviest and most dramatic of the war. After conquering the Volturno (October 12-19), when the Allies were about to sink their teeth into the defense of the Sangro (November 19-24), the French North Africans arrived on the scene. On November 19, service troops for the Moroccans and Algerians arrived in Naples, the next day, well ahead of schedule, the infantry forces themselves.

    The 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division under General André Dody was the first element of the French Corps to arrive. Juin's headquarters followed five days later. The French Expeditionary Corps joined the ranks of the Fifth US Army. An independent command alongside the Americans, which Juin initially had preferred, was not possible at the time. Immediately after their disembarkation, the Moroccans were posted to General Lucas's 6th US Army Corps and stationed in the mountain area east of Monte Cassino. There they had their baptism of fire, in the inhospitable terrain of the Monte Pantano and in the Mainard massif, some ten kilometers in front of the strong Gustav Line, in the wet and ever colder days before Christmas 1943.

    Take over Dody & Roosevelt 7.12.43.jpg
    On 7 December 1943 at the start of the relieve of the 34th US Infantry Division, French and American officers met; on the left general Dody, next to him Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt who acted as US Liaison officer for the F.E.C. and to the right behind him, general Poydenot, the CO of the 2nd Moroccan ID's artillery.

    French Moroccans 2nd MID 1.jpg
    Soldiers of the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division arrive in transport near the frontline. During the night of 8 to 9 December 1943, the first infantry battalions lined up. On the night of 9 to10, the artillery began to occupy its positions. Finally on the night of 11 to 12 the relief was completed (courtesy © IWM NA 9735).

    The 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division passes the Volturno River on a bailey bridge

    Convoy of French 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division passes through the heavily shelled village of Alvignano in Italy on December 2, 1943

    Location: Caiazzo Italy. Date: December 2, 1943. A convoy of French 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division passes through the village of Caiazzo in Italy. Civilians stand along roadside and watch as the French Driven convoy of US trucks, trailers and jeeps passes by.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2022
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  4. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Ted Roosevelt & Juin aa.jpg
    Brig.General Ted Roosevelt and general Juin in Italy; Ted Roosevelt (a nephew of President Roosevelt) became an US liaison officer to the French Expeditionary Corps, after his relieve as assistant divisional commander of the 1st US Infantry Division. Roosevelt left Italy in Feb 1944 to become assistant divisional commander of the 4th US Infantry Division. Despite a heart condition and arthritis that forced him to use a cane, he went ashore on D-Day on Utah beach. He died in July 1944 of an heart attack.

    The preparation for the attack

    The information gathered by the 2nd Bureau (Intell Staff) of the F.E.C. from the Allied Headquarters allowed us to get a reasonable complete picture of the enemy deployment (sketch 4 - see post #2 A winter in the Abruzzo Mountains - French Expeditionary Corps - Italy (21 Nov 1943 - 3 Feb 1944)).

    The sector of the German 14th Corps (of the 10th Army) stretched from the Garigliano to Castel di Sangro (in the zone of 8th British Army, 15 km north of Castel San Vincenzo). It consisted of two divisions: the 44. Infanterie Division (I.D.), in line from Viticuso (incl) to Mount Pantano (incl), defending the sector facing the 45th US Inf Div, and the 305.I.D., from Mount Pantano (excl) to Castel di Sangro, opposite the 2nd Moroccan ID and part of the 8th British Army. In front of the French sector, the enemy had placed his forces on the heights on either side of the road Colli al Volturno - San Biagio, so that they dominated this thoroughfare (see sketches 4, 5 and following):

    - in the north, the mount San Michele, the rocky defile of Saint Michele and the mount Castelnuovo, were held by minor elements of I./578 Rgt.Inf (two companies) supported by artillery and mortars positioned in the area west of Pizzone;
    - in the center, the Mont Marrone, the mountain range of the Mainarde, and the region of Cerasuolo Vecchio, were more strongly occupied by the II./578 R.I .;
    - in the south, the II./577 R.I. occupied the Cerasuolo region with mount Pantano, and elements of the I./577 R.I. were on Monte della Battuta;
    - finally, the enemy had strong artillery, concentrated around San Biagio and Cardito, able to intervene in the central and southern forward zones.

    The 2nd Bureau, considering that as a result of the Allied offensives at the beginning of December the Germans lost important positions and were only able to stop the progress of the Fifth US Army and the Eighth British Army by committing their reserves, estimated that the German 10th Army's strength immediately at hand, was reduced to elements of three divisions, while this had been five divisions and one brigade at the end of November. It also noted, that the principle of economy of forces caused the Germans to entrust the defense of the central mountainous region to a fairly small number of troops. The 2nd Bureau concluded: "... a break-in operation in this area, followed by rapid exploitation with means adapted to mountain warfare, [therefore] can obtain considerable results and allow, in particular, the envelopment of the German defensive system blocking the road to Rome, before the arrival and commitment of the large units currently stationed in northern Italy."

    Based on this General Dody prepared his operation plan in consultation with General Juin. A report from the 3rd Bureau of the F.E.C. makes it possible to trace its genesis: "On the whole, the terrain in the sector allocated to the 2nd Moroccan ID, seems a relatively easy course - at least up to the eastern edge of the San Biagio pass - dominated by heights generally oriented north - south, that is to say perpendicular to the axis of advance of the division, which gives the enemy who occupies them excellent observation over the entire battlefield. Through this passes the only road in the area; a mountain road, which is prone to multiple and profitable destruction which the Germans will not fail to carry out before withdrawing.

    No action of any importance can be carried out in this channel, riddled with traps, and under observation from all sides. Tediously moving forward, it would suffer - even with good artillery and air support - losses disproportionate to the gains made.

    It is therefore necessary in the first place to seize the enemy observation points on the northern and southern heights. But these heights, remarkably well defended, are formed by successive ridges, perpendicular to the axis of advance of the I.D., and very difficult to access. They present veritable walls of rock, at least on their eastern slopes, irremediably funneling the effort of the attacking force and preventing any effective support from the artillery; constituting, for the enemy, ramparts behind which he can mass and maneuver his reserves at his leisure.
    Attacking them head-on would be sheer madness, cause heavy casualties, and give only fleeting results. It is therefore necessary to take them out, by maneuver, by creating, on a chosen point, a breakthrough of the position, which will impose an unanswerable threat to the entire defensive system based on these crests."

    So, right from the outset, the French concept of maneuver clearly emerges: obtaining a breakthrough in the mountainous sector, avoiding frontal attacks which only result in "operations like the Vosges 1915"; one should make a wide and swift envelopment and then strike at the enemy rear. The idea is explicitly affirmed by this sentence from General Juin: "We will do everything we can, to push our spearhead as deeply as possible."

    It was obvious that this point of view did not coincide with that of the Allied command, who depended on the lower parts of the terrain and the roads because of its means, both in terms of personnel (absence of mountain troops) and equipment (abundance of vehicles, tanks and artillery). It was nevertheless in this spirit that the GOC of the 2nd Moroccan ID designed his wide envelopment from the north.

    While the units took up position, a daring coup by the 4th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment (M.T.R.) was carried out on December 10 against the crest of Mount Castelnuovo (6 km north-west of Colli) clearing the northern part of the position and permitting a further envelopment of the massif Mont Mare - Mont Maronne. [On that day the III./4th MTR sent out three combat patrols towards the Monte Castelnuovo and the Hill 1250 which was seized after a quick action against the enemy post that held the height].

    The German prisoners taken in this action were very surprised to see French troops; they were not aware of their arrival in the sector, the relief - carried out only at night - had not been noticed by them. But, from then on, the concern of the German command for the security of its northern flank, manifested itself by incessant patrols, carried out very vigorously, with support of mortars and artillery, on the entire front of the 2nd Moroccan ID. The French post which had been established on Castelnuovo was driven off during the night to the 12th.

    It is interesting in the circumstances, to quote the opinion of a German officer [Major Rudolf Böhmler, Monte Cassino, 1961]: "With the French Expeditionary Corps arrived, on Italian soil, a force which was ideally suited for this theater of operations ... experienced mountaineers, the Moroccans did not intend to launch a frontal attack in difficult terrain, where they would break their heads; they chose another tactic, envelopment."

    Axis of advance 2 DIM.jpg
    Planned operation of 6th US Corps. The final objective to be attained was the lateral road from Atina to San Elia (in the red circle). Intelligence information indicated that the region San Michele - Mont Mare was only lightly held by the enemy. General Dody therefore decided for a surprise attack, at night, against the San Michele defile and across the Mont Mare pass, followed by a wide swing around the enemy left flank across the high mountains towards Cardito and San Biagio. This would avoid a costly direct attack and, if successful, compel the enemy to evacuate the entire position along the Chiaro and upper-Rapido rivers, and give access to the Atina corridor. The operation went down in the French military annals as the 'Atina Manoeuvre'.


    Attached Files:

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  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Dody 2 MID.jpg 2nd Moroccon ID TO&E.jpg

    On 7 December 1943 General Mark Clark visited the forward Headquarters of the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division at Montaquila. The visit was recorded on film. First to arrive is General Dody, GOC of the 2nd Moroccan Division. The rearward divisional Headquarters was established near Roccara-Vindola.

    Fragment of the War Diary (or Résume des marches et opérations) of the 2nd Moroccan ID re the arrival and take-over of the frontline, dispositions of units and the plans for the upcoming operation (period 2 - 14 December , 1943; courtesy Guerre 1939-1945, Les Grandes Unités Francaises, Tome IV, Campagnes de Tunisie et d'Italie, Operations de Corse et de l'Ile d'Elba hereafter: 'Les Grandes Unités Francaises, Tome IV'):
    2nd Moroccan Div relief & mission 1.jpg 2nd Moroccan Div relief & mission 2.jpg 2nd Moroccan Div relief & mission 3.jpg

    Goumiers to front 16.12.1943 NA 9823.jpg
    A transport of French Moroccan Goumiers. On December 14th,1943, the Goumiers of the 4th G.T.M. moved hurriedly by truck from Gallo to Colli al Volturno and made it only barely in time for the upcoming attack; the goumiers were incomplete, only two of its three Tabors were present and the animals, heavy weapons and radios, embarked separately in North Africa, had not yet been disembarked. General Dody gave the Tabors two sections of his 14th Mule Company but this was only a partial compensation (Courtesy: © IWM NA 9823 & © IWM NA 9825).

    Goumiers to front 16.12.1943 NA 9825.jpg

    Map positions 2nd MID Dec 14 1943.jpg

    Attached Files:

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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    1. First actions: Defile of San Michele: the envelopment in the north (14 - 15 Dec 1943)

    Cluse San Michele.jpg

    The operations in the Castelnuovo area on the right wing of the 2nd Moroccan Division; what the French called 'l'affaire de la Cluse San Michele' (courtesy: "Le 8e RTM - Un hiver dans les Abruzzes, 1943 - 1944")

    The outflanking move in the North

    The fight for the defile of San Michele
    (14 and 15 December 1943)

    The operation was connected with that of the 45th US Inf Div which advanced on the Lagone, Monna Acquafondata axis. For the success of the 5th US Army operation, it was important that the 6th US Corps simultaneously put pressure on the 44. and 305.I.D. Germans - with the 45th US Inf Div and the 2nd Moroccan ID - on H-hour: December 15 at 06:30 hrs (this date had tentatively been established before the arrival of the 2nd Moroccan ID in the frontline and was finally set on the 14th).

    No accompanying operation being envisaged by the 8th British Army, the 2nd Moroccan ID also had to secure its own right flank and maintain contact with the British.

    The French plan of attack roughly looked like this: A 'manoeuvre group', under command of Colonel Callies, commander of the infantry of the 2nd Moroccan ID, and comprising the 8th Moroccan Tirailleurs Regiment (M.T.R.), two battalions 4th M.T.R. and the 4th Group of Moroccan Tabors (-) (G.M.T.; commanded by Colonel Gautier, with 5th, 8th and 11th Tabors; at the time only the Group HQ and two Tabors were present), supported by the II./63 Regiment d'Artillerie d'Afrique (R.A.A.), would outflank the enemy defense. The manoeuvre group was to thrust along the northern mountain range and then wheel to the south in order to seize the initial objectives by surprise [specified by Operation Order no.6, of 13 Dec 1943, as the heights East of Cardito, and East and South-East of Casale; the operation would be carried out at night under the cover of darkness. The push through the mountains during the night to the 15th was to facilitate an attack, scheduled at dawn of the 15th, against the Pantano - Monna Casale, in conjunction with the action of the 45th US Infantry Div, to the south. The frontal action would be carried out with two battalions of the 5th M.T.R. and the remaining battalion of the 4th M.T.R.].

    The whole operation rested on a strict timing: the Tirailleurs of the 4th M.T.R. had to occupy the defile of San Michele and the northern pass of the Mont Mare in the evening of the 14th; having thus breached the enemy defense the main element of the group (the 8th M.T.R.) would push on through the night, reaching the general line Mont Forcellone - Colle Porcazzete - Mainarde at daybreak on the 15th. To complete the advance of the 'manoeuvre group', a frontal thrust was then to be launched - in conjunction with an attack of the 45 US Inf Div further south - led by the remaining battalion of the 4th M.T.R., on the axis Scapilo - Cardito, covered on the left by two battalions of the 5th M.T.R., operating on the high ridges of the Pantano - Monna Casale. The divisional artillery of the 2nd Moroccan ID (D.A./2) would support the operation, reinforced by the fire of three artillery groups of 105's [an artillery group being the equivalent of an artillery battalion/regiment] and a group of 155's of the 6th US Corps. The division received further American units in support: the 776th US Tank Destroyer Battalion and 3rd US Battalion Chemical Mortars. The frontal attack, linked to the operations of the 45th US Inf Div, would have to be closely coordinated with the Americans, and was set for December 15 at 06:30 hrs.

    During the day of the 14th, Tactical HQ moved to Scapoli and all units got ready for the attack. The Goumiers of the 4th G.M.T. arrived in trucks only barely in time; their animals, heavy weapons and radios, embarked separately in North Africa, had not yet been disembarked. The other elements of the 'maneuver group' also experienced much difficulty in collecting their supplies and ammunition and transporting them; the 14th mule company was not complete, and even by taking over mules from the departing Americans, who had few themselves, there were only about one hundred animals available.

    Nevertheless, the action started as scheduled on the evening of the 14th. As soon as darkness fell, at 17:00 hrs, the leading units, companies of the III./4th M.T.R.(battalion Courtois), which had to clear the heights on either side of the defile, crossed the Start Line east of the Castelnuovo massif. At 19:00 hours, the II./8e M.T.R. (battalion Delort), in the main attack, approached the rocky defile of San Michele but encountered stiff resistance there. It was only around 23:00 hours, after a violent and confused battle, that the battalion cleared the defile and reached the far end, the exit towards the Mount Mare, covered on both flanks by the III./4th M.T.R.. The latter encountered mines and fire from pillboxes on the Mount Castelnuovo, but occupied the Mount San Michele and the Colle Alto without any resistance.

    Mte San Michele opening action.jpg
    The operation against the San Michele defile Dec 14/15th, 1943 (courtesy: Le 8e RTM - Un hiver dans les Abruzzes, 1943 - 1944)

    Scapoli Rochetta.jpg
    View from Scapoli to the east with the Mounts Rochetta and Castelnuovo; to reach the line of departure for the strike at the San Michele defile, at the San Nicola farm halfway between the Mont Rochetta and the Mont Castelnuovo, required a four hour foot march in darkness over narrow winding tracks where men could sometimes only move in single file (courtesy Google street view)

    Cluse San Michele 100.jpg
    The imposing rocky defile of the San Michele as seen from the east from St.Nicola; to the right of the defile the Mon San Michele and Mon San Angelo

    Passo della Montagnola.jpg
    The Passo della Montagnola (the Col on the above map) where a small mountain track, leading up from the San Michele defile, crosses the first mountain range between the Mont Marrone and Mont Ferruccia. The outflanking group had to use this pass to move into the high mountains; view to the north toward the Mont Ferruccia/Altare (courtesy: Monte Marrone e Mare (1)!).

    In the rear, the other units of the 'manoeuver group' were well behind schedule. A few, the 5th Tabor and a battalion of the 8th M.T.R., lost direction in the darkness (at this time of year, there was no moon between 17:00 and 21:30 hrs) [the 'maneuver group' had a long, arduous, four hour approach march to the front in the pitch-dark and across unfamiliar mountainous terrain. In the darkness every man grabbed the ammo belt of the man in front, so as not to lose the column]. It was clear that the units had had too little preparation time for the attack. The German reaction also was stronger and much more violent than expected; obviously the enemy was on his guard after the first clash on the Castelnuovo during the take-over of the sector by the 2nd Moroccan ID.

    The envelopment movement, which should have commenced in full around 23:00 hrs, was seriously compromised. Colonel Callies realized that surprise, the key-element of the plan, was lost and around 23:30 hrs called off the operation for the time being. At that moment, the gains were as follows: the enemy withdrew from Mount Castelnuovo, the northern part of this ridge was cleared by the 8th Tabor [Lanquetote in his Le 8e RTM - Un hiver dans les Abruzzes, 1943 - 1944 - on the other hand, states that the 11th company of the 4th M.T.R. supported by the 79th Goumier of the 8th Tabor did not entirely dislodge the enemy from the Castelnuovo; small enemy detachments still held on to the ridge]; the II./8e M.T.R. held the San Michele defile and its western exit; [the rest of] the III./4e M.T.R. was on the Mount San Michele [9th Coy] and Colle Alto [10th Coy].

    Due to failing communications, General Dody was not informed of Colonel Callies' decision until around one o'clock in the morning of the 15th. At 01:50 hrs he in turn informed General Lucas, commander of the 6th US Corps, of the decision:
    "Due to delays in deploying the elements of the manoeuver group, in particular the tabors, the colonel commanding the manoeuver group has decided, at 11:30 p.m., to suspend the envelopment move.
    The head of the group has occupied the Col San Michele, the whole of Castelnuovo and has reached the planned line to the north of the Col.
    But, from his CP at the Col, at the time specified, the group commander took the decision indicated.
    I have been informed of this at 1 o'clock; I cannot change his decision.
    I ask you to cancel the artillery action scheduled from 6 to 7 hours, as well as the air support.
    I will enter into liaison with the 45th Inf Div to ensure cooperation, on the Pantano, with the attack of this division.
    The manoeuver group will remain in the Rochetta area and resume the operation on the 15th at nightfall."

    Thus, while assuring the commander of the 6th US Corps that he fully would support the attack the 45th US Inf Div was to launch at 06:30 hrs, [General Dody] the GOC of the 2nd Moroccan ID made it clear that he stuck to the plan of a wide envelopment, by resuming the operation of the manoeuver group in the evening of the 15th.

    The result was a reversal of the initial plan: the other units of the division charged with the frontal thrust, no longer could profit from the success of the manoeuver group, but had to attack, before the operation of the manoeuver group could be renewed. It was clear, that the single battalion of the 4th M.T.R. (the other two were attached to the manoeuver group) hardly could be made responsible for opening the axis Scapoli - Cardito; there was therefore nothing else but to commit the 5th M.T.R. as well, and push forward on the axis Mount Pantano - Monna Casale. [The 5th M.T.R. was also not at full strength, having ceded the II./5th as a divisional reserve. The battalion had moved to Montaquila].

    By operation order no.8, signed by General Dody at 02:00 hrs, it was ordained that: "The colonel commanding the 5th M.T.R. will organize, with artillery support, an operation on the Pantano in order to cover the attack prescribed at the 45th ID - Starting: 06:30 hours."

    This setback in carrying out the wide envelopment, according to General Juin, was partly due to a lack of preparation time: "[It all] was, in my opinion, a little too hasty. It would have been necessary, in view of the difficulties encountered, to wait twenty-four hours longer to prepare it better. " [letter of Juin to Giraud at Algiers of 18 Dec 1943];

    and partly to the insufficient number of mules:
    "100 mules for 8 battalions [...]. We cannot insist enough on the need to provide the Tirailleur Regiments with enough mules. Maneuver - in this theater of operations - is ipso facto devoid of trafficable paths. All supplies must therefore be carried by mules and, often, over long distances. Otherwise, the maneuver will have to be abandoned and the American procedure adopted, of systematic nibbling". Or as General Juin concluded: "Pas de Mulets, pas de Manoeuvre" [No mules, no maneuver", report December 26, 1943].

    Terrain: Mount Michele & defile of San Michele & Mount Castelnuovo

    Mont San Michel & defile.jpg
    View from the crest of the Mount Cappello del Prate across the Valle di Mezzo toward the east with from left to right the Mount S. Angelo, Mount Michele, the rocky defile of San Michele and part of the Mount Castelnuovo; in the background the Lake of Castel San Vicenzo (Courtesy: Le Mainarde Grande Anello - Escursione su varie cime over 2000 delle Mainarde - PNALM)

    Mont CEF 3 aa.jpg
    Sketch from about the same point of view; map courtesy: 3D map of the world by PeakVisor

    Terrain: Mount Marrone & Castelnuovo & Scapoli

    Castelnuovo & Mont Marrone.jpg
    Castelnuovo at the foot of the Mont Castelnuovo with the Mount Marrone rising in the background. As one French officer [colonel Goutard] wrote: "From December 11th to 15th, the Moroccans familiarized themselves with this harsh sector, tormented, naked rocks, only bearing on their steep slopes, from place to place, a few coppice of stunted trees. An icy wind sweeps these ridges. Snow accumulates in the depths and folds of the ground. No serious shelter exists against the cold. Our men lack warm clothes, shoes adapted to the snow and, from the first days on, cases of "frozen feet" appear." (Courtesy: Monte Mare e Marrone)

    The village of Scapoli was home to the Headquarters of the 4th M.T.R. From the towering peaks of the Mount Marrone and the forward positions on the Mount Castelnuovo enemy observation posts stared down on the French positions and controlled the entire area with shellfire.

    Scapoli dec 1943.jpg
    Dec 1943 Scapoli was still under enemy observation, as is indicated on the road-sign "Attention observatoires Boches" (photo courtesy: French troops take cover in Scapoli, Italy, 1943 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories).

    Scapoli 000 1.jpg
    Hustle and bustle in Scapoli 's main street: nowadays the Corso Kennedy. The photo was taken on Dec 14th, 1943, just prior to the start of the operations (courtesy Il Museo del CIL – Benvenuti a Scapoli)

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Feb 18, 2022
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  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Moroccan Goumiers

    The Goumier was a Moroccan irregular soldier, usually recruited from the Berber mountaineers of the Atlas, and commanded by French officers and non-commissioned officers. These light troops were especially adapted to mountain warfare and were often able to infiltrate and outflank their enemy through difficult terrain, or terrain that was thought of as impassable. They distinguished themselves by their odd assortment of British helmets, their turban (rezza), US webbing, their sandals and knife (koumia) and their long, striped, blanket-like tunics (the djebella) which reached to their ankles. As soldiers, the Goumiers were considered ‘robust, very hardy, tireless marchers’ and ‘excellent marksmen’. They were organized in Groups of Tabors, Tabors and Goums. A groupement de tabors marocains, or Group of Maroccan Tabors (G.M.T.) was the equivalent of a brigade of irregular infantry; a Tabor equated to a battalion; a Goum to a Company. Goum is derived from the Arabic word of Qum (= a band or troop). A Tabor included Headquarters, one Heavy weapons Goums (mortars and MG), and three Goums. Its strength was about 65 French officers and NCO's and 859 native NCO's and men, with 247 horses and mules. A Group was composed of HQ and three Tabors, strength about 3,100.

    Four Groups of Moroccan Tabors (G.M.T.) were put at the disposition of the Allied command for service in Europe, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th G.M.T. To coordinate the activities of these units with the staff of the regular army and the residence general of Morocco, and to facilitate their role in the Allied armies, a new entity was created in July 1943—the Commandment des Goums Marocains (CGM) under command of Colonel Augustin-Leon Guillaume. The entire CGM, most of which was to become part of Clark’s Fifth Army, was composed of: 1,077 Frenchmen (246 officers, 727 sergeants and corporals and 104 lance-corporals) 12,570 Moroccans (924 moquaddem [sergeants], 1,683 maoun [corporals] and 9,963 Goumiers).

    In November the 4th G.M.T. (Colonel Soulard) was the first of the Tabor units to embark for Italy, followed by the 3rd G.M.T. (Colonel Massiet du Biest) at the end of December 1944. The 1st G.M.T. joined the F.E.C. only at the beginning of April 1944. The 2nd G.M.T. (Colonel de Latour), did not participate in the operations on the Italian mainland; it took part in the conquest of the Islands of Corsica in September 1943 and Elba in June 1944.

    Goumiers arrive front.jpg
    Moroccan Goumiers, usually recruited from the Berber Mountain tribes, were lightly armed troops especially adapted to mountain warfare. Wearing their traditional uniform and bearing American equipment, they march towards their billets in the Letino sector, Italy, 17 December 1943.

    Goumier Moroccan.jpg
    Moroccan Goumiers arrive at the front (starting at 3:09)

    Goums 1.jpg Goums 2.jpg
    The four Groups of Moroccan Tabors were commanded by General Augustin Leon Guillaume, who came from the French Alps, a very experienced colonial officer with many functions in the French army in Morocco. His captivity in the First World War also left him with few positive feelings towards Germans. Guillaume's force initially consisted of 7,880 men, including 700 French. Probably between ten and twelve thousand Moroccan goums were deployed during the war.

    3egtm Tabors.jpg 4egtm Tabors.jpg
    The insignia of the 3rd and 4th Group of Moroccan Tabors (G.M.T.); in French it's Groupe de Tabors Marocains, hence the abbreviation G.T.M.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2022
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  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    "Pas de mulets, pas de manoeuvre"

    Mules column 2.jpg Moroccan Tiralleurs Italy 2 aa.jpg

    The separate 'Compagnie Muletière' consisted of 4 sections of 50 pack mules, so a total of 200 pack animals in a company. The maximum load capacity of a mule is 100 kg; therefore, the transport capacity of a company is 20 tons; maximum daily distance: 20 to 30 km; speed 4 km/hour; hourly average height difference in the mountains: 350 meters per hour. The mules were also used to evacuate the wounded. The Tabors each organically had 247 horses and mules.

    Mules 2 aa.jpg Mules WIA.jpg

    As part of the development of the mountain troops, artillery pieces were specially developed and designed to be transportable on the backs of mules in several loads, or for the heaviest, towed by mules. In 1943 the 69th Régiment d'Artillerie d'Afrique (R.A.A.) set up in Morocco and supporting the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division, was initially equipped with 65 M Schneider, then in 1944 with the American 75 M, a fairly faithful copy of the previous one with pneumatic wheels. During the campaign in Italy the guns were transported either on mules or by trucks.

    canon_de_65mm_1906_montagne.jpg mulet-chargé-1943_65 mm schneider.jpg

    Brancardiers ruisseau 13.01.44.jpg
    In the trackless mountains of the Abruzzes the Mules - or Brêles as they were called by the North-Africans - often were the sole means of transport; sometimes nicknamed by the French as "Royal Brêle Force'"
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2022
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The outflanking maneuver is stopped
    The 2nd Moroccan ID attacks frontally

    The fight for Mount Pantano
    (period of 15 to 17 Dec 1943)

    For a good understanding of the course of operations, it is necessary to give a brief overview of the Pantano Massif located 7 km west of Montaquila. It presents itself as a kind of platform of an average altitude of 1080 meters, about 500 meters long in the east - west direction, and 250 meters wide in the north-south direction, from which protrude four knobs, each of an altitude close to 1100 meters, named "Peak 1" at the south-eastern corner (altitude 1100), "Peak 2" at the north-eastern corner, "Peak 3" at the north-western corner (altitude 1100 ) and "Peak 4" at the southwest corner. [The main enemy strength lay on a nose jutting out from "Peak 3", from which the Germans could sweep Peaks 1 and 2 and the draws in between, but the whole plateau, fissured by gullies, offered excellent locations for dugouts, concealed mortar positions, and minefields. In early December the American 34th US Inf Div had attempted to seize the Pantano, but only gained a hard-won hold on "Peak 1" after almost a week of stiff fighting].

    It was this height that the 5th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment (M.T.R.) had to secure on December 15, starting at 06:30 hrs, so as to cover the 45th US Inf Div. The order for the attack was signed on 15 December at 02:00 hrs.

    Again, the deadlines imposed by the overall plan were very short; the 5th M.T.R. had barely four and a half hours to transform its initial operation into a full-out attack. In addition, the II./5 (battalion Penicoult), the day before, had been put in division reserve, which left only the III./5 to the north-east of the Pantano and the I./5 on the eastern slope, holding "Peak 1" (taken over from the Americans); the two battalions were supported by the I./63e R.A.A.

    The attack was nevertheless launched as scheduled, on December 15 at 06:30 hrs. The I./5th seized "Peak 2" (unoccupied by the enemy, but protected by mines and flanking fire) and then struck out for "Peak 3". Pinned down by intense fire, it was forced to fall back around 14:00 hrs, and abandon "Peak 2" suffering heavy losses, in particular in the leading 1st company.

    CEF 5 Pantano.jpg
    The Mount Pantano was situated across the valley from the Mount Castelnuovo and Mount Marrone and dominated the Colli - Cardito axis from the south; view to the north of the Mount Pantano and its four knobs, with the Mount Marrone and the Mount Castelnuovo in the background.

    CEF 5 Pantano 2.jpg
    "Peak 1" of the Pantano massif was captured in early December 1943 by elements of the 34th US Inf Div and handed over to the Moroccans. They inherited a nearly impossible position and "hung as if by fingernails on the edge of a ridge" entirely dominated by the enemy; see also attached file (Maps courtesy 3D map of the world by PeakVisor)

    French US KIA Pantano.jpg
    When the French took over Mt Pantano the bodies of fallen Americans on the steep hangs of the Mt Pantano epitomized the fierceness of the battle fought by the 34th US Inf Division. There had been no time to evacuate them and all the French could do was to cover them with overcoats.

    Pantano Tiralleurs.jpg
    A mortar section of the 5th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment on the approaches to the Mount Pantano, Dec 1943. To prevent them from running out of ammunition, the support companies of the Tirailleur Battalions often took only half of their heavy weapons (mortars and heavy machine guns) into the mountains; the crews without weapons were employed to carry extra ammunition.

    Meanwhile, in the north in the sector held by the 'maneuver group', the situation deteriorated even further after the abortive night attack of the 14th. The enemy regained the initiative; abundantly equipped with automatic weapons, supported by heavy mortar fire and an artillery battery, and reinforced by [a battalion of] the 576.Infantry Regiment (I.R.) (taken from the sector opposite the British), he attacked the II./8th M.T.R. holding the San Michele defile, and the III./4th M.T.R. on Mount San Michele (see sketch no 6). Ultimately, by the end of the day, after heavy fighting, the III./4th M.T.R. had to evacuate Mount San Michele; which in turn forced the II./8th M.T.R. to abandon the defile.

    These events, in the north and south, led to the following conclusion: resuming the wide outflanking movement around the northern flank by the evening of the 15th, was no longer feasible; on the contrary, it became necessary and urgent to reinforce the units, responsible for carrying out the frontal thrust, in order to comply with the overall operational plan of the 6th US Corps.

    From 14:30 hrs, General Dody signed a special order prescribing new measures, of which, he wrote to the recipients: "The reasons will be indicated to you later"

    Undoubtedly, the many difficulties encountered, hindering the smooth running of the operation on the northern flank, will have done little to lessen the deep aversion of the Allied command for this kind of maneuver. This would only change under the pressure of subsequent events and were based on arguments which should be pointed out now, since they would influence the rest of the campaign for some time. General Juin also recognized a certain logic in them. In his letter to the general commander-in-chief in Algiers [general Giraud], he wrote: "Thus confronted with a 'fait accompli', and after a conference with Dody, General Lucas, commander of the 6th US Corps, rightly desirous to leave the 'Boche' no respite, considered it preferable to resume the frontal attack by a more closely tied action of his two divisions [...] Personally, I deplore the abandonment of the initial plan [...] But we can not avoid this effort, undertaken on the entire front of the 5th US Army at the cost of equal sacrifices, which will, moreover, bear fruit by forcing the enemy, hard pressed by these (frontal) attacks, to withdraw to a position further back, which he is feverishly preparing."

    The division reorganized during the night to the 16th, so that it was able, from the 16th, to resume its mission, which remained: securing the heights 1025, 1029 [both across the Chiaro River and commanding the villages Cardito and La Selva], and Monna Casale; but now by putting the main weight of the attack along the axis of the Mount Pantano - Monna Casale and Passero, in conjunction with the 45th US Inf Div.

    Two groups were formed, that would attack one after the other [astride the valley of the Chiaro River, flowing in a west - east course], so that each could benefit, at least at the start, of a maximum fire support by the artillery. The entire 5th M.T.R., with the 11th Tabor, and supported by two groups of the 63rd R.A.A. and a company of American chemical mortars, would launch the main attack on the axis Mount Pantano - Monna Casale, from 06:30 hrs onwards. It would be assisted, for the opening of the attack, by the fire of all of the A.D./2 [artillerie divisionnaire 2nd division] reinforced by the artillery of the 6th US Corps, that is to say, a total of six artillery groups. The 4th M.T.R., also complete (but still awaiting the arrival of its two detached battalions), supported by the II./63rd R.A.A., would strike, from 13:00 hrs, in the direction of hill 1025, which would also involve the capture of the Mainarde.

    Finally, further north, a detachment comprising the II./8 M.T.R. and the 8th Tabor would have to maintain contact with the 8th British Army and secure, in the Mont Marrone - Mont Mare area, the flank of the 4th M.T.R.

    Mont Marrone aa.jpg Mont Castel Nuovo mount.jpg
    Left: French Moroccan Goumiers in position on the Mount Castelnuovo, facing the steep and commanding Mount Marrone; in the background the snowy top of the mount Mare (courtesy: http://www.dalvolturnoacassino.it/asp/raccolta_image_view.asp?id=4095); Right: In the Castelnuovo area, the mountainsides represented almost sheer vertical cliffs, cut by narrow crevices or chimneys as these were called. After the abortive attempt to break through the defile of the San Michele the frontline in this mountainous area became static for several months; both sides reverting to position warfare.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 13, 2022
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  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    German bunker Filignano 45.jpg
    German blockhous: Most of the German automatic weapons were forward. The riflemen were behind them, covered against direct fire and ready to counterattack. Weapons were grouped, and each section was protected by bunkers and provided with prepared shelters. The German shelters consisted of dugouts reinforced with rocks, boards, and earth. The rock covering was sufficiently well extended along the front and sides to blend with the rocky terrain and thereby provided excellent camouflage. These shelters were large enough to accommodate from two to five men. Whereas the smaller shelters merely had straw for bedding, the interiors of the larger and more elaborate positions were revetted with boards and contained bunks. Some of the dugouts were strong enough to withstand direct mortar and light artillery fire.

    Killed  11.01.44 2.jpg
    Above and below: Cerasuolo area, Italy. French Morroccan soldiers killed on a hillside (photo by Newell 163RD Signal Photo Company-NARA)

    Killed 11.01.44.jpg

    Killed Mont Pantano evacation WIA 18.12.1943.jpg
    Mt Pantano, December 1943. Evacuation by litter was a four-hour-carry, under constant mortar fire, down the steep mountainside of the Mt Pantano to the village of Pantano, from where the casualties could be transported to the hospitals. Even off the slopes of the Pantano the wounded soldier was not in safety, for the enemy artillery hammered all rear areas and arrival at a hospital was sometimes delayed for many hours.

    Cerasuolo Mt Pantano peaks.jpg
    Mount Pantano and the village of Cerasuolo located at the foot of the mountain; view from the northeast of the village.

    Mont Pantano hilltop.jpg
    The summit of Mount Pantano; view eastward from peak 4, with peak 2 on the left and peak 1 on the right. In the left foreground the nose jutting out from peak 3, where the enemy main strength lay, whence they could sweep the peaks 1 and 2 and the draws in between (Photo courtesy Linea Gustav. Il campo di battaglia di monte Pantano.

    Monument Pantano.jpg
    A modest cross atop the Mount Pantano now serves as a monument for the battle that raged on the mountain in late 1943 (photo courtesy Filignano: una croce in onore dei caduti della Seconda Guerra Mondiale. Anche Monte Pantano ha il suo monumento commemorativo. - News Della Valle)
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2022
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  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The Pantano (December 16 - 18th, 1943)

    In the morning of December 16, the action of the 5th M.T.R. was the main topic. The regiment, reinforced as indicated above, launched the attack on the Mount Pantano at 06:30 hrs. The III./5, [in position north of the Pantano, between the mountain and the Chiaro river,] was given the task of seizing "Peak 2". This was achieved at 06:55 hrs, but the peak was lost again at 07:05 hrs. The I./5 [,reduced to an effective strength of two companies after the abortive attack by the 1st Coy the previous day,] still held "Peak 1". The II./5 [,released from divisional reserve at Montaquila in the afternoon of the 15th,] was engaged on the southern flank of the Mt Pantano and met stiff resistance on that part of the mountainside. [The II./5th, after an arduous six hour road march, arrived at Collemachia late in the evening of the 15th. There was little time for preparations and no time for reconnaissance as the units started the slow and difficult climb up in the darkness towards the start line on the eastern slope of hill 895. Two companies launched the attack at 06:30 hrs and worked their way up the mountain slope against stiff opposition].

    "The going is tough!"
    , reported the CO of the regiment [Colonel Joppé] to the division in the course of the morning. Division replied, at noon, as follows: "From your radio message of 10:30 hrs as well as verbal connections, it transpires that you are waiting for additional support to continue your attacks. The division has no additional support for you, other than fire [...]. You must attack in the direction of your first objective, in liaison with the regiment on your left [the regiment of the 45th US Inf Div][...]. So prepare a new action as soon as possible. Signed: Dody."

    The 5th M.T.R. continued its efforts and by the end of the morning the III./5 finally captured "Peak 2" and the II./5 [,at 12:15 hrs, after five hours of hard fighting] cleared the enemy resistance on hill 895 on the south flank of Mount Pantano. At noon, the regiment held the eastern half of the Pantano (Peaks 1 and 2) and hill 895. But casualties had been severe: nearly two hundred men were lost, including five officers killed. The regiment contended itself with consolidating the conquered positions (see sketch no. 7). [The Germans brought heavy artillery fire down on the attacking troops, but the French were also well supported by field artillery. According to a prisoner of war, the French fire killed more than two hundred of three hundred men in one enemy unit. Yet the Germans could not be driven from the mountain. From dug-in positions and well-placed blockhouses they continued to hold on the western portion of the Mt Pantano].

    Mt Pantano.jpg Pantano sketch no 7.jpg
    Thumbnails: Map of the 34th US Inf Div's attack against Mt Pantano 29 Nov and 1 Dec 1943; the fight for the hilltop lasted until Dec 4 and in the end only knob 1 was in American hands & French intelligence map of enemy dispositions on the Mt Pantano

    The afternoon brought no change in the situation. The attack by the 4th M.T.R., which was scheduled for 13:00 hrs, was cancelled. It had been impossible to reorganize the artillery in time, which had supported the 5th M.T.R. during the first part of the day. Moreover, "the regrouping following the cancelled outflanking operation was not yet finished [the two battalions of the 4th M.T.R. were still 'en route']".

    Nevertheless, appreciable gains had been made in the sector of the Mt Pantano, and the enemy was under a lot of pressure. In the south, the 45th US Inf Div had occupied Lagone. The Americans reported the arrival of elements of the 5th German Mountain Division (5th Gebirgsjäger Division) in the region.

    December 17 was, by order of General Dody, designated as a day of reorganization of the units and preparations for the resumption of the offensive. His directive (no.191/3 /O.S.) for the 17th explained his decision:
    "The proposals of the CO of the 4th M.T.R. give rise to a postponement of the planned operation (for the 17th). This operation will not pay off; it depends too closely on the seizure of the Pantano (by the 5th MTR), not yet completed. The CO of the 4th M.T.R. therefore has to draft new proposals, with the aim of gaining the objective of the division [...]. These proposals will be forwarded the 17th by 5 pm. For the day of the 17th, execute local attacks or seek to infiltrate, with a view to subsequent actions.

    The primary objective of the 5th M.T.R. remains the seizure of the Pantano and the Col de la Battuta, which is an important prerequisite for a continuation of the advance of the 45th US Inf Div and, to a large extent, the operations of the 4th M.T.R.. CO of the 5th M.T.R., considering that the terrain difficulties and the nature of the enemy defense, as well as the state of his units, make all operations impossible on the 17th, [...] will use the 16th and 17th: a) To rest his units and replenish his supplies; b) To prepare, as soon as possible, the resumption of the offensive;
    It will have available, in principle, on the 17th, the full support of all of the divisional artillery (A.D./2);
    In agreement with the 45 US Inf Div and with the 4th M.T.R., to whom the maximum fire support and lateral observation must be given, he will hand in his proposals for the 17th at 3:00 pm."

    December 17th, 1943, which, as far as the 2nd Moroccan ID's zone was concerned, was marked by a temporary pause in the operations, and therefore a day without particular importance, became in fact - and, it seemed, fortuitously - a pivotal day in the course of the winter campaign; it was that of the first organized withdrawal carried out by the enemy. The enemy, after having unleashed, during the night of the 16th to the 17th, heavy artillery and mortar fire, in particular in the sector of Mount Pantano, had left. Patrols of the 4th and 5th M.T.R. noticed, during the morning of the 17th, that enemy contact - until then very close - was lost. It soon turned out that the shellfire during the night was only intended to cover the retreat.

    In the afternoon of the 17th it was found that the enemy was in full retreat in front of the 4th and 5th M.T.R. The two regiments received the order to push forward, as soon as the moon had risen (around 23:00 hrs), and to reestablish contact.

    It was only from the 19th onwards, that the reason for this retreat would become clear, which - anyway - enabled the 2nd Moroccan ID to resume the advance on the 18th.

    CEF 1 Pantano.jpg
    A French Moroccan observation post in the high mountains. On the right part of the village of Cerasuolo (photo courtesy ECPAD Tiralleurs marocains observant à la jumelle, prêts à tirer.)

    5e RTM Filignano 18.12.43.jpg Cerasuolo 11.1.1945 2e MID.jpg
    French Moroccan Tirailleurs at the Mount Pantano. In the mountainous terrain the infantry, unable to dig in deep, was quite exposed to enemy shellfire and to the elements. It also was extremely difficult to bring up supplies and evacuate the wounded. Photo left two men of the 5th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment shelter on a mountain slope near Fillifagno; photo right two Moroccan tirailleurs at their look-out post in the area of Cerasuolo (courtesy: http://archives.ecpad.fr/categorie/collections-2/2gm/photos2gm/page/2/).

    Cerasuolo wounded French soldiers in Ambulance.jpg
    Photograph. Wounded French soldiers are loaded into ambulances. Official caption on front: "MM-5-152664." Official caption on reverse: "Sig. Corps Photo-1-16-44-Italy: French casualties evacuated from mountain positions by mule are being transferred to ambulances at an aid station in Cerasuolo. Sig. Corps Rad. Tele." Cerasuolo, Italy. 16 January 1944 (courtesy: Wounded French soldiers are loaded into an ambulance, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)

    French 105 mm Hw.jpg
    A French 105 mm Howitzer fires in support of the attack on the Mt Pantano.

    Pantano Art position.jpg
    Remnants of an artillery position east of the Pantano in the hills to the east of Selvone (Courtesy Google Street View)
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2021
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  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    End of the Pantano operations

    The battles of the Mainarde
    (18 to 27-12-1943)

    In the second half of the night of December 17-18, the 5th M.T.R. followed the enemy retreat. The III./5 occupied "Peak 3" of Mount Pantano and reached Cerasuolo (on the Chiaro River) which it found abandoned by the enemy. The II./5 seized a small enemy post on the Mount della Battuta.

    The entire regiment, and the 11th Tabor, pushed forward to the west. "Peak 4" was taken. The whole Pantano massif was now in our hands, and at the end of the day, the forward defensive line passed about 1 km west of this massif: III./5 was 1 km west of Cerasuolo; the I./5 was halted by machine gun fire 500m west of 'Peak 4'; the II./5 and the 11th Tabor were 1 km west of Mount della Battuta.

    This advance of the 5th M.T.R. facilitated that of the 45th US Inf Div in the south, whose 180th Infantry - which had relieved the 179th - was on Mount La Posta. It also allowed, to the north, the progress of the left wing of the 4th M.T.R. [who occupied the positions evacuated by the enemy; the II./4th followed the enemy retreat and moved as far as the bridge over the San Pietro River, NW of Cerasuolo, and] reached the edge of hill 970 (1.5 km ESE of 1029 which was one of the division's objectives). [The I./4th held its position to the north of the stream of the San Pietro River on the Scapoli - Atina road, while the III./4th was kept in reserve and reorganzing].

    Further north in the division zone, the covering detachment (II./8 MTR and 8th Tabor) sent combat patrols which managed to cross the rocky defile of San Michele; but the enemy counterattacked and drove them off. The detachment nonetheless held on to the Mount Castelnuovo. [The I./ and III./8th were in reserve].

    On the evening of December 18, the frontline of the division generally passed, from north to south, across the Mount Castelnuovo, the southern point of the Mainarde, and along the eastern edge of the Monna Casale massif.

    The advance was important! So much so, that General Juin, when signing a letter, already typed, for General Giraud in Algiers, added the following handwritten text: "Victory! The latest news. Following our repeated attacks since the 15th, violent attacks fought out in hand-to-hand combat, the enemy was dislodged this morning from the front of our division, and we are after him. The game begins and despite a hesitant start, will not be so bad. Our Tirailleurs were splendid, we are now on the move"

    Losses, in fact, had been severe: about 700 men had become casualties since the start of the operations on the night of the 14th to the 15th. It was the 5th M.T.R. that took the worst of it, with 54 killed (including 7 officers), 243 wounded (including 9 officers) and 29 missing. The tabors were also hard tried, in particular the 11th who, since its engagement alongside the 5th M.T.R., had lost 19 killed, 119 wounded and 6 missing.

    Map positions 2nd MID Dec 18 1943.jpg
    Situation 18 December 1943: The Mt Pantano has fallen, but the Mainarde and Mona Casale are still blocking the French advance towards Atina. The French decide first to tackle the Mainarde. (Map courtesy 3D map of the world by PeakVisor)

    Winter Line 1 Mount Pantano.jpg
    Aerial of the mountain area in the left sector of the 2nd Moroccan Tirailleur Division; after the fall of the Mt Pantano and Mt della Batutta, the Moroccans faced another, even greater challenge, the imposing Monna Casale, which is the highest mountain range between the Voltuno and Liri valleys. Two roads across these mountains connect the two valleys: the Colli al Volturno –Atina road on the north side of the range, the Pozzilli–San Elia road on the south side. Both were relatively poor. (Courtesy: "Fifth Army at the Winter Line. 15 November 1943 - 15 January 1944")

    HMG 1.jpg HMG 3.jpg
    A French HMG on a moutainside; mountain warfare was conducted at close range and often resulted in hand to hand combat, handgrenades were not an unnecessary luxury and always within reach, even in a HMG position (photos courtesy: http://archives.ecpad.fr/etapes-vers-la-victoire-n1-de-tunis-a-rome/).

    Tirailleur 8.jpg

    Tirailleur 6a.jpg HMG 3.jpg
    Left: A Moroccan tirailleur moves into battle with a bunch of hand grenades on his belt. Right: A French Moroccan soldier fits a M7 rifle grenade launcher to his rifle. Firing blank cartridges this allowed him to launch a rifle grenade up to 350 meters, instead of the maximum of 30 meters achieved by hand grenades. Fragmentation, anti-tank and smoke grenades were available for the M7 grenade launcher. Curved trajectory weapons - such as mortars and grenades - and submachine guns were preferably used in mountain combat (courtesy: http://archives.ecpad.fr/etapes-vers-la-victoire-n1-de-tunis-a-rome/).)
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2022
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  13. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Monte Marrone view Scapoli aa.jpg
    View from the Mount Marrone to the southwest towards Scapoli and Cerasuolo; the mount Pantano and Castelnuovo are indicated; the Mainarde is to the right, not visible on the picture (courtesy Google Street View)

    Mainarde massif aa.jpg
    A view of the Mt Mare massif from across the valley of the San Pietro river near Collematteo (courtesy Google Streetview)
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2021
  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    General Dody decided to reshuffle his units in response to the progress made on the southern wing of his division, and the wear and tear of the troops engaged, in particular the I. and II./5 M.T.R. who were much weakened.

    Now the main effort shifted to the 4th M.T.R. and the route Scapoli - Atina. For this purpose the Tirailleurs were reinforced by a reconnaissance squadron, a squadron of light tanks of the 3rd Moroccan Spahis Regiment (M.S.R.), as well as an engineer company, because it was almost certain that parts of the road would need to be repaired, since it was known that it had already been prepared for destruction by the enemy.

    The regiment was tasked with the capture of the Mainarde, the crossing of the upper-Chiaro River, and the occupation of the hills 1025 and 1029 to the north-east of Cardito.

    The Mainarde is a stony ridge, generally oriented in a north-south direction. Its eastern gradient, the one that faced the attacking force, sharply falls off, made up of rocky escarpments and steep mountainsides it was particularly difficult to access. Its southern part culminates in hill 1478, which dominates the entire region. The Mainarde constituted a formidable obstacle, as the right wing of the 4th M.T.R. had just experienced. It also turned out that the troops could not rely too much on the artillery (II./ 63rd R.A.A.), since shellfire was almost impossible to deliver in such terrain.

    The action of the 4th M.T.R. would be covered, in the north, by the same elements (II./8 M.T.R. and 8th Tabor) and, in the south, by a single battalion of the 5th M.T.R. (the III./5) and the 11th Tabor.

    German Grenadiers Italy.jpg
    An enemy observation post near a summit in the mountains of Italy. From these high vantage points the enemy could direct shellfire on the roads and villages down in the valleys. (courtesy: 1944 : L’Italie - 1DFL).

    On December 19, the division pushed westward, along the entire width of its frontsector, which provoked - from north to south - very different enemy reactions: in the north the 8th Tabor, in the morning, managed to dislodge the enemy from the San Michele defile; it occupied part of the open space at the western exit of the cleft. But, counterattacked in the evening, and running short in ammunition, the Tabor were driven back to the northern end of Mount Castelnuovo, which the Germans retook, as well as the San Michele defile. [Next day, the Tabor again took possession of the northern edge of the Mont Castelnuaovo, but was unable to clear the defile]. Meanwhile, the II./8 M.T.R. infiltrated the Colle Rotondo area [point 1027] and, having found Mount Marrone strongly occupied, hung on to its southern spur.

    In the center, the I./4 M.T.R. [reinforced by the 78th goum (Jenny)], by mid-morning, around 10:00 hrs, managed to gain a foothold on hill 1478 of the Mainarde. But attempts to capitalize on this success were driven off by fire from two blockhouses already encountered the previous day. The enemy had learned that it was usually best to exploit the reverse slope (Hinterhang), with mere observation posts on the forward slopes. The point was to let the adversary crest the mountain, then shoot him up as he descended the other side. The blockhouses on the Mainarde were located forty meters from the ridge line, on the reverse slope, where they were out of reach of the artillery. After a mortar preparation including smoke, to blind the defenders, a company of I./4 M.T.R. attacked one of the blockhouses with a rocket launcher and seized it. Around 11:30 hrs a second blockhouse was reduced in the same way. A dozen Germans were captured. But soon after, the enemy counter-attacked in company size and, around 13:20 hrs, managed to retake the two blockhouses as well as hill 1478; the I./4 M.T.R. fell back to the southern and southeastern slopes of 1478 and remained there for the rest of the day. [The enemy counterattack was conducted by a force of up to 100 men. The enemy was much stronger than had been anticipated; on bases of earlier POW reports it was assumed that the Mainarde was only held by an understrength and demoralized company of the 5. Gebirgsjäger Division, hence the attack against the ridge had been launched by a single French Tirailleur company - unfortunately this was the second occasion in a short period of time that French intelligence erred with dire consequences; the first one being the opening attack on the San Michele].

    Meanwhile, the left wing of the 4th M.T.R. progressed up the Cerasuolo - Cardito road, to the bridge across the Rio Chiaro, at the Pietro mill.

    Further south the situation developed more favourably:
    - the elements of the flank-guard (III./5 M.T.R. and 11th Tabor) climbed the first foothills of the Monna Casale; by the end of the day the III./5 held the eastern slope of 1225 and was on 1220, while the 11th Tabor approached 1175;
    - finally, the 45th US Inf Div pushed forward of the left wing of the 2nd Moroccan ID and sent patrols in the direction of Acquafondata.

    As December 19th closed, it became clear that the enemy, pivoting around a fixed point located north of Mount Castelnuovo, continued to gradually give ground in the south. In doing so, he sought to reestablish himself in new defensive positions, for reasons which did not escape the Allied General Staff [Note of 20 Dec 1943, prepared by the French mission at 5th US Army HQ]: "The [Allied] offensive operations launched on November 28 and December 2 on the 15th Army Group front ran into the defensive system [previously] described. Until December 16, the enemy made every effort to maintain the integrity of his frontline: stubborn resistance by his elements in the first echelon, with incessant counter-attacks; engagement of local and general reserves; very strong response of artillery, mortars, and air force. [During this period] the line of contact has been firmly held [...]. [The enemy] has sought to gain additional time allowing him to complete the organization of a position further back ...
    The 305. Division, although initially spread thin, seems to have gone full out to expand his line and to block, as close as possible to the enemy, all access routes - even the most precarious - which allow us to envelop from the north, across the Abruzzo massif, his defense in depth along the road Cerasuolo - Atina. This is why the defile of Mount San Michele [...] is still occupied and so tenaciously held ...
    ... 7 battalions oppose the advance of the 2nd Moroccan ID, on both sides of the road Colli - Atina. This shift of the center of gravity of his defense towards the north-east [...] seems to indicate a very clear concern in covering the access to the massifs which, to the north of Cassino, dominate the bank of the Rapido. The appearance of [...] elements of a 5th Mountain Division is a further proof of this policy."

    Actually, it was in the sector of the 45th US Inf Div, in the region of Lagone, that first contact was made with elements of the 5th Mountain Division, on the 16th. [The 5th Mountain Division, a unit of Austrian-Tyrolian origin, had been rushed from the Leningrad sector on the Eastern Front, to Italy by the end of November 1943. Div HQ was established at Castello di Alvito, 5 km northwest of Atina]. At this point in the story, it should be noted that the presence of a company of this division was reported, a first time, in a summary of the 2nd Bureau of the 2nd Moroccan ID, drawn up on December 18 at 18:00 hrs; this company was located immediately south of I./755 I.R. approximately in the west-southwest corner of Mount della Battuta. The note of the French mission continues: "From December 17, we witness a gradual withdrawal of the units of the first echelon, carried out under continuous pressure of the allied forces, accompanied by vigorous blows, without general breaking of contact ...".

    It has to be noted, on reading the above paragraph, that the German withdrawal on the 17th in front of the 5th and 4th M.T.R. corresponded with a general reshuffling of the enemy dispositions. The document adds: "The total absence of offensive operations [...] in the sector of the 8th British Army also allows a pivoting of the right flank of the German 305th I.D., strongly entrenched with three battalions to the west of Alfadena and in the area of San Michele, to constitute a kind of offshoot resting on the Mount Carella massif, west of the Rapido, between San Elia and Cardito or San Biago."

    General Lucas (GOC 6th US Corps) and Juin followed the operations of the 2nd Moroccan ID together on the 19th. No trace of their exchange of views appears in the official documents. However, it is undeniable that the first successes of the 2nd Moroccan ID will remain linked to those of the frontal attack, as finally imposed by General Lucas under the plan of attack of the 5th Army. But it should also be remarked that the threat of the outflanking movement posed by the Moroccan ID, upon its arrival in the sector, on the northern flank of the 305.I.D., to a large extent must have incited the German command to rebalance his positions by shifting personnel from south to north, which must have facilitated the Allied push in the south. Anyway, generals Lucas and Juin were determined to continue the assault, and two new American units were placed at the disposal of the 2nd Moroccan ID: the 805th US Tank Destroyer Battalion (which was to relieve the 776th) and the 755th US Tank Battalion, with Sherman medium tanks.

    Fragment from the War Diary of the 2nd Moroccan ID re the disposition of the unit on 18/19 December 1943 (courtesy, 'Les Grandes Unités Francaises, Tome IV', p. 579):
    WD 2nd Moroccan ID 19 Dec.jpg

    Mainarde aa.jpg
    Sketch map of the Mainarde (courtesy 3D map of the world by PeakVisor)

    Casale Mainarde aa.jpg
    The Mainarde as seen from the east from the direction of Colle Alto (Courtesy Google Street View)

    Mt Marrone CEF.jpg
    Mt Marrone and Mainarde as seen from the French lines on the lower gound: the high peak on the right is the Mt Marrone; in the middle the Mainarde. The picture was taken on Dec 25th, 1943 probably from the position of the 4th M.T.R. on the Mt la Falconara across the river San Pietro (courtesy © ECPAD/Défense Aspect des premières lignes dans le secteur du Monte Marrone.)
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2022
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    After this first enemy withdrawal the frontline stiffened again and the period of 20 to 23 December no longer brought about any significant territorial change. Despite several enemy counter-attacks, involving in particular elements of the 305. I.D., launched with strong artillery support in the southern part of the sector, the Moroccan division held on to the positions gained. Very close contact was maintained all along the line, which now ran across the San Michele, Mont Marrone, Mainarde, along the course of the upper Chiaro, and across the flanks of the Monna Casale. Of the latter, the eastern slopes of 1225 were in our hands, as were hills 1220 (except for its western flank), 1175 and 1054; our troops patrolled actively towards the enemy held "twin hills" on the Monna Casale.

    Albeit that two major modifications were made in the present positions:

    - the first one occurred on the enemy side; from intelligence gathered by our forward elements it transpired that the 305. I.D., until now in line opposite the 2nd Moroccan ID, was relieved by the 5.Gebirgs-Jäger-Division (Mountain Division). Two battalions of the 85.Gebirgs-Jäger-Regiment (the II. and III./85 G.J.R.) relieved the I. and II./577 IR [on the Monna Casale]. Only the I./578 IR, holding the northern part of the sector, seemed to have been excluded from this movement;

    - the 2nd Moroccan ID rearranged its units: starting on the morning of the 23rd, the 8th M.T.R. took over the positions of the 4th M.T.R., north of the Chiaro River.

    Attached the enemy situation in front of the 2nd Moroccan ID on 20 and 23 December 1943 as given by the intelligence maps of the division:

    Situation front 20-12-1943.jpg Situation front 23-12-1943.jpg

    Winter Line 2 gun 105 mm.jpg

    Tir Mt Marrone enemy OP 25.12.43 (1).jpg
    An enemy OP atop the Mt Marrone is targeted by the French artillery on December 25th, 1943. The II./8 MTR occupied the southern spur of the Mt Marrone, the Mont Della Rocca, finding the summit too strongly occupied by the enemy. The Mont Della Rocca is visible in the foreground to the left of the Mt Marrone the ridge of the Mainarde (photo courtesy ECPAD Dans la région du Monte Marrone, tir d'artillerie sur un observatoire allemand.).
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2021
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  16. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    Very nice work!
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  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Resuming the attack against the Mainarde (26 December 1943)

    On 24 December, by 10:00 hrs, the 2nd Moroccan Division received orders from 6 US Corps to launch an attack against the enemy lines from 15:00 hrs to surprise him while he was in the process of relieving his frontline units. The 8th M.T.R. was to seize the summits of the Mainarde (1478 & 1132), and strike for hill 1025 and 1029 situated on he west bank of the upper Chiaro. The 5th M.T.R. would assist the attack of the 8th by probing towards the Monna Casale.

    The 8th M.T.R. jumped off at 15:45 hrs; it occupied hill 970 of the Mass. San Martino, whence it pushed on to the upper Chiaro. But that was as far as it could go. It had been in line only since the previous evening and did not know the terrain well enough. The time, once more, had been insufficient; informed by the end of the morning that an attack had to be launched in the afternoon, there had been not enough time for preparations. In addition the weather conditions were bad; it was cold, and it rained, and a low hanging cloud obscured the view. [On Christmas Eve, the 24th, a strong cold wind picked up and the Mainarde Massif had its first snowfall]. The operation therefore was halted and postponed for 48 hours.

    The 5th M.T.R. for its part sent a combat patrol to the 'twin hills' [but it was repelled].

    The day of December 25 was spent with preparations for a renewal of the assault. The units took up their positions. The thrust of the 8th M.T.R. would be covered, in the north, by the 4th Group of Moroccan Tabors (G.M.T.), and the attack would be extended, in the south, by the 5th M.T.R. Difficulties arose in the coordination of actions between the 8th and 5th M.T.R., in particular with regard to the artillery support (II. and IV./ 63rd R.A.A. and 805th US TD Battalion, plus the 17th and 35th Groups - in all four battalions - of the 6th US Corps).

    The operation of the 8th M.T.R. [colonel Molle] would be carried out in two phases; first an attack on the Mainarde at H hour at 10:15 hrs [by the III./8th, Lt.Col. Allard], this was followed by an attack [by the I./8th, Lt.Col. Jannot] on hills 1025 and 1029 from H' hour, in principle three hours after H. [By that time it was expected that the heights of the Mainarde would have fallen. Another prerequisite for a successful drive on 1025 and 1029, demonstrating how much the operations were interlocked in this type of terrain, was the capture of points 1225 and 1220 which commanded the area from the south; these heights in turn were dominated by the "twin hills"].

    The 5th M.T.R., in view of the configuration of the ground, which it knew well, preferred to take out hill 1225 first (the summit of it was still in enemy hands) starting at 06:30 hrs and, when this was successful, directly push forward toward the 'twin hills', the last obstacle before the summit of the Monna Casale. With communications still insecure and difficult, General Dody was not informed of the intentions of the commander of the 5th M.T.R. [colonel Joppé] until very late, which would mean, if approved, a modification of the artillery fire plan. It was not until 21:20 hrs that the general replied to 5th M.T.R.:

    "I learned late [...] of your intention for the 26th, namely:
    - at 06:30 hrs engagement of a company to seize hill 1225;
    - subsequently, if the first action succeeds, the battalion Rognon, entering the line this night, will attempt to seize hills 990 - 300.
    My very strong opinion is as follows: tomorrow is all about the attack of the 8th M.T.R. Your action must therefore be linked, in time and space, to that of 8th M.T.R. This is the only way how everything will go well. Consequently [...] postpone the operation against 1225 and, therefore, that of Rognon. Engulf your terrain with artillery fire before H hour. Maintain this neutralization between H and H ',

    At H' hour, simultaneously attack 1225 and the ridge to the north, and thrust along the Cardito axis in liaison with the Jeannot battalion [i.e. I./8th MTR].
    For the attack of the 8th M.T.R., there is available, after H, one hour for 1478 (1st phase) and one hour for the 2nd phase, after H'. Signed: Dody "

    The 'twin hills' were not mentioned anymore.

    On December 26, the 8th M.R.T. jumped off at 10:15 hrs, with the III./8 in the north [against the Mainarde] and the I./8 in the south [in the lower area at the foot of the Mainarde], the II./8 was kept in reserve.

    Around 14:15 hrs, the III./8 (Allard) had almost reached the crest of point 1478 [one hour behind schedule; the plan of attack provided for the removal of the Mainarde ridge (1478 and 1132 and 970) approximately three hours after H, i.e. around 13:15 hrs. German deserters told that point 1478 was a lightly held outpost position and that enemy morale was at a low ebb, hence only one company - the 9th of Lieutenant Crégut - led the attack on the height. The 9th company gained a foothold on the crest], but then was driven back by a counterattack with hand grenades. [The Moroccans were rejected from the ridge with heavy losses and pulled back into the ravine to the east of the Mainarde; Lieutenant Crégut was killed, as was 2nd Lieutenant Ouzzin ben Moha and 21 Tirailleurs. However, it had been a narrow victory: the 7./85.Gebirgsjäger-Regiment, occupying point 1478, afterwards found itself short of grenades and ammunition. Colonel Allard ordered his 10th and 11th companies to quickly move forward to support the 9th, but visibility rapidly deteriorated to the point that the sections lost their way. Wireless connection soon was lost. Without sight and without support fire, Allard was forced to call off the attack. The enemy position on point 1478 proved much stronger than had been expected. It turned out that there were two enemy companies - the 7th and 6th - on the Mainarde and one - the 8th - in reserve at the Cabane Mainarde. Protected by log and stone covered dug outs, the enemy had held back his fire until the attackers got close, and, after having pinned them down, attacked repeatedly with small groups armed with submachineguns and hand grenades].

    On the left, the I./8th (Jeannot) at first made good progress. Its leading elements seized the Mas Capaldi (hill 1000) and, by the end of the day, had pushed forward as far as Mass Valletrotta (hill 964), but the advance then slackened, since the battalion received fire from [the Mass le Serre, as well as from] the rear from hill 1132 on the Mainarde, which the III./8 had failed to capture.

    At the same time, the Tabors secured the northern flank by fixing the enemy in the area of San Michele, holding the small stream of the Rio Petrara between the Castelnuovo and the Marrone mountains and patrolling vigorously in the direction of Valle di Mezzo.

    Map of the operations of the 8th M.T.R. against the Mainarde on 26 December 1943 (courtesy Eric de Fleurian, Parcours de guerre du 8e RTM, Campagne d'Italie 1943 - 1944)
    Map Mainarde 8 MTR 26 Dec 1943.jpg

    In the south, the 5th M.T.R., on the other hand, was unable to carry out the instructions received from the division. [Capture 1220 and 1225, both dominating the valley of Chiaro, and blocking all progress in the north.] The attack, which the regimental commander intended to launch at 06:30 hrs, but had been postponed for the reasons already mentioned, through intervention of the division, initially was set for 12:30 hrs, then postponed to 13:30 hrs, and eventually canceled. There were various reasons for this, among them the still failing wireless communications (division was not informed of the situation of the 5th M.T.R. until between 16:00 and 19:00 hrs) and the inability of the 8th M.T.R. to seize the objectives as scheduled. But above all it was a result of the tactical situation, the 5th M.T.R. shifting his center of gravity to the right flank, along the axis hill 1225 to Cardito, was entirely dominated by the 'twin hills' on the left. The neutralization of this commanding ground, which enfiladed the regiment, required artillery resources which were not available since priority had been given to the operation of the 8th M.T.R.. At least that is what emerges from the orders no. 273, 275 and 276, all of December 26.

    The operations would continue on the 27th as follows:
    - the 8th M.T.R. would resume the attack, no longer with two, but with all three battalions; II./8 covered by III./8, would take over the assault against 1478; the I./8, in the south, would continue to push westwards, toward the Chiaro river and hill 1029;

    - the 5th M.T.R., in accordance with the initial plan, was to resume the attack against point 1225, this time with the approval of the division to take out the 'twin hills' simultaneously if practicable; but eventually the regiment was left out of the operation, so as to be able to concentrate the maximum of the artillery support on the northern flank. It would only resume the offensive on order of the division and, in principle, not before the 28th.

    Good news, however, marked the day: a second mule company (the 15th company) from North Africa became available for the division.

    X-mas Pantano village.jpg
    Christmas celebration 1943 by men of the 5th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment in Cerasuolo near the Mt Pantano (photo courtesy http://archives.ecpad.fr/lengagemen...-campagne-ditalie-decembre-1943-juillet-1944/)

    Cerasuolo 5.Geb.JD.jpg
    December 25th, 1943, German POWs at Cerasuolo, The soldier on the right is carrying an Edelweiss insignia on his sleeve, which makes him a member of the 5.Gebirgsjäger Division (photo courtesy: http://archives.ecpad.fr/etapes-vers-la-victoire-n1-de-tunis-a-rome/)
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2021
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    French Intelligence Map of enemy situation (85. Gebirgsjäger Regt) on December 26th (Mainarde & Monna Casale)

    Enemy situation 85 GJRgt 16.12.43.jpg

    Situation map based on POWs intelligence of the positions of the 85. GJR on the Mainarde, the Cardito area (with hills 1025 and 1029) and the eastern slopes of the Monna Casale. (courtesy: Victoire en Italie, le 2e DIM).

    Below enlargement of the text on the map:

    Enemy situation 85 GJRgt 16.12.43 0.jpg Enemy situation 85 GJRgt 16.12.43 00.jpg Enemy situation 85 GJRgt 16.12.43 000.jpg

    Terrain: Sella delle Mainarde

    Three views of the Sella del Mainarde aka hill 1478

    Mt Marrone & Mainarde crest aa.jpg
    1) View from the western crest of the Mont Marrone to the south-east. The Mainarde is visible on the right (courtesy: https://maupanphoto.com/archivio/ap.../monti-delle-mainarde/monte-marrone-e-mare-1#!)

    Mt Marrone & Mainarde crest 3 aa.jpg
    2) the spur of the Mt della Rocca which protrudes from the Mt Marrone; the western slope of the Mainarde is to the right. On Dec 19th, the 8th M.T.R. (II./8) took possession the southern spur of the Mt Marrone and occupied the Col Rotondo; the Moroccans found the summit of the Mt Marrone strongly occupied and therefore settled on the Rotondo and from there launched the attacks on the Mainarde (courtesy: https://maupanphoto.com/archivio/ap.../monti-delle-mainarde/monte-marrone-e-mare-1#!).

    Mt Marrone & Mainarde crest 2 aa.jpg
    3) The crest of the Mainarde (or hill 1478), towering high above the deep gully which it forms with the spur of the Mt della Rocca, was the objective of several attacks by the 8th Moroccan Tiralleurs Regiment. The ridge was held by the 6. and 7.Kp of the II./85.Gebirgs-Jäger-division, while another company lay in reserve around the 'cabane le Mainarde' (courtesy: https://maupanphoto.com/archivio/ap.../monti-delle-mainarde/monte-marrone-e-mare-1#!).

    Mainarde 000.jpg
    (Map courtesy 3D map of the world by PeakVisor)

    Mt Meta.jpg
    View of the mountain ridges from the Mt della Meta; from east to west the Mt Marrone, Mt Mare and Costa San Pietro

    Cabane Mainarde.jpg
    The derelict farmbuilding of the Cabane le Mainarde still exists and is in use; it nowadays is known as the Casale Mainarde. Picture of part of the complex with the towering ridge of the Mainarde in the background (courtesy Google Maps)

    Map Colle del Mainarde.jpg
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2022
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  19. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    GBJ French offensive 2.jpg
    Above and below: Enemy prisoners of the 5. Gebirgsjäger Division are brought in during the battle. Relatively small numbers were taken during the savage December fighting; the Moroccans severely mauled part of the 85. Gebirgsjäger Regiment in their attacks on the Mainarde and took about 150 POWs.
    GBJ POWs 5GJD.jpg

    On December 27, in very cold weather, the 8th M.T.R. launched its attack at 10:15 hrs. Hill 1478 of the Mainarde - the division's the largest obstacle since the 18th - was finally cleared at 12:15 hrs by the II./8, covered on the right by the III./8. Immediately exploiting the success, the II./8 [with two companies] pushed on to the 'cabane' Mainarde [at the time an abandoned and dilapidated farm building], on the edge of hill 1190 [which overlooked the gurgling mountain stream of the Chiaro]. It occupied the 'cabane' at 15:00 hrs but could not continue beyond, [because of heavy enemy fire on the exposed snow-covered forward slope, which caused over fifty casualties among the Tirailleurs, and the fact that] the ammunition by that time was exhausted.

    The I./8 M.T.R., after having cleared hill 1132 at 10:30 hrs, pushed westward to the Chiaro River, which had been almost reached by its leading elements the day before in the region of Mass.Capaldi and Valletrotta.

    At the same time, the Tabors covered the 8th M.T.R. flank to the north. Attracted by the firefights, they - in particular the 8th Tabor - however diverged too far westward. With communication as usual very difficult, the general was not informed of this fact until late in the night; he feared that this might uncover the division's flank facing the area of Valle di Mezzo, San Michele, which was still in enemy hands. To avert this danger, he gave the following instructions at 23:00 hrs: "Due to circumstances [...] the Tabor Aunis drifted off to the west with the 8th M.T.R. Given the state of affairs, the mission of the 4th Tabors Group will be as follows:
    Protection and harassment:
    - towards the north, Valle di Mezzo, San Michele: 5th Tabor;
    - towards 1522, San Pietro: 8th Tabor."

    Although the 5th M.T.R. did not take part in the operation, it maintained close contact with the enemy all along its frontline and pushed patrols on to the 'twin hills'.

    By the end of the 27th, the forward elements of the 2nd Moroccan ID had reached a line running from the Mont Marrone to the south-eastern approaches of Mont Mare (these points were held by the Tabors), to the 'cabane' Mainarde (near point 1190), the upper valley of the Chiaro river, and the approaches of the Monna Casale: hill 1225 (eastern slopes), 1220 (whose western slopes were held by the enemy), 1175 and 1054. Further south in front of the 45th US Inf Div, the Germans still held on to the south-eastern spurs of the Monna Casale and Mount Molino.

    Sixty-four Germans were in our hands, either captured (including the commander of the 7.Kp. of the II./85 G.J.R.) or deserted. According to the POWs, the 7.Kp. - which occupied the Mainarde from points 1478 to 1132 - must be considered as entirely 'hors de combat'. The 3.Kp. - which was positioned between points 1132 and 1029 - [was taken in the rear by Moroccan elements which had bypassed the southern end of the spur. The company was badly mauled] and reduced to a third of its effectives. Only the 6.Kp., in position north of 1478, and the 8.Kp., in reserve near the 'cabane', escaped by retreating into the upper valley of the Chiaro. The commander of the 5. Gebirgsjäger Division, General Ringel, fearful for an attack in the direction of San Biagio, at once alerted the I./115. Panzer Grenadier Regiment [having been put at his disposal as a reserve by the Corps, since the division lacked a third regiment]. Part of it was rushed forward to take over the remnants of the II./85 G.J.R. However bad weather and a heavy blizzard, which swept over the region, stopped all operations.

    Map frontline 27.12.jpg
    Situation 27 December 1943: The Mainarde and Mt Marrone have fallen, but the Mona Casale still has to be tackled by the French before the road to San Biagio and Atina could be opened (Map courtesy 3D map of the world by PeakVisor)

    Monte Mare view north to Morrone delle Rose, Monte Forcellone e Monte Cavallo.jpg
    View from the Mt Mare to the west across the deep gorge of the upper-Chiaro; the frontline in these high mountains would remain static for the duration of the F.E.C. operations in the Abruzzo mountains (courtesy: Monte Marrone e Mare (1)!

    Monte Cavallo.jpg
    View from the Mt Mare to the north toward the Mt Meta; the right flank of the F.E.C., anchored on the Abruzzo Mountains, was covered by the Goumiers of the 8th Tabors, who faced elements of the 115. Panzer Grenadier Regiment, later reinforced by a battalion of Alpine Infantry (courtesy: Le Mainarde Grande Anello - Escursione su varie cime over 2000 delle Mainarde - PNALM)

    5.GJD Mainarde.jpg
    A soldier of the 5. Gebirgsjäger Division on the look-out in the high mountains of the Mainarde (courtesy: Facebook)
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2022
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  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Close up: "On veut l'avoir, cette putain de Mainarde", December 27th, 1943

    The 8th (Colonel Molle) resumed the attack on the 27th by engaging his three battalions abreast: the 2nd (Delort) in the center striking at 1478; the 3rd (Allard) to the north towards the pass and the lower slope of the Mont Mare; the 1st (Jannot) moving against 1132 and also charged again to move to the Rio Chiaro and hill 1029 beyond. The plan was to saturate the enemy defenses with fire and flood them by superior assault forces. On 1478 and 1132, the first assault wave now consisted of four to five companies; where there had been only one in the previous attack.

    Mainarde Close up attack 27.12.jpg
    The battalions of the 8th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment each attacked with two companies forward and one in reserve. A low cloud and fog covered the approach march but also hampered observation for the supporting artillery. When the 5th and 7th Coys of the 2nd battalion were pinned down short of the crest of 1478, the reserve 6th Coy was committed and maneuvered around the summit into the rear of the enemy position; this move enabled the 5th and 7th Coys to submerge the summit of the Mainarde, both made a short left and right hook respectively. The 1st Coy (Lecomte) of the 1st battalion, operating in the lower Chiaro valley, meanwhile took out point 1132 from the flank. The 3rd battalion cleared the pass between Mainarde and Mont Mare, taking out several blockhouses and machinegun nests with bayonets. To the north, in the direction of the Mont Mare and Mont Marrone, the operation was covered by the Goums of the 5th Tabor.

    Enemy fortifications on Mainarde.jpg
    Sketch of the enemy fortifications on the Mainarde (mount 1478) taken from an (vertical) aerial. Positions as of 20 December 1943. The red points represent trenches or individual weapon pits. Three blockhouses/pillboxes were positioned just behind the crest on the reverse slope in open terrain. The blockhouses each were occupied by a light machine gun and a couple of soldiers armed with submachine guns, while a dozen or so men, spread out in trenches and slit holes outside, protected the approaches and could be used for a counter-attack.

    The battle for point 1132 was ferocious and pitiless. Lieutenant Lecomte of the 1st Coy, I./8th who had to seize the crest: "Up to the top, it all worked well. But then we found in front of us a fairly strong blockhouse defended by automatic weapons and guys hiding in all the holes. We can say that the Fritz defended themselves to the limit. They threw their grenades up to three meters, then they raised their arms. Well, we didn't think so! Arms in the air before the grenades exploded, such we did not permit. So, obviously, there followed a true reckoning: no more than five or six prisoners with their Edelweiss on their caps. The rest licked the dust."

    Giroud Lecomte.jpg
    On 29 Dec 1943, during an inspection of the frontline, some of the commanders who featured in the battle for the Mainarde were visited by General Giraud (second from the right); left to right: Lieutenant Lecomte (CO 1st Coy, I./8th M.T.R.), battalion commander Jannot (I./8th M.T.R.) and Colonel Molle (CO 8th M.T.R. (photo courtesy ECPAD: Le général Giraud, André Le Trocquer s'entretiennent avec des officiers.).

    Lecomte 8 MTR.jpg
    Lieutenant Lecomte (CO 1st Coy, I./8th M.T.R.) later was decorated for the part he (and his company) had played in the capture of the Mainarde. Note the snow in the background. (photo courtesy ECPAD: La campagne d'Italie : aspects de la campagne.)

    2nd Moroccan ID.jpg
    Men of Lecomte's 1st Coy taking a rest on a mountain side (courtesy ECPAD Repos de soldats de la 2e DIM.)

    [The War Diary of the FEC for the 27th notes: "after a day of severe fighting the 2nd Moroccan Tirailleur Division seized: in the north the Mont Marrone with its point 1770 (Tabor Parlange), in the center the entire ridge of the Mainarde and the area of hill 1190 on the Rio Chiaro"]. The fall of the Mainarde was followed by a freezing cold and a true blizzard. The men of the 8th Moroccan T.R. were wearing light assault gear (jackets). They had left their bags with blankets and canvas tents at the line of departure. There was no shelter; the German dug-outs and shelters were on the western slope, exposed to enemy observation and mortar fire. Everyone just tried to dig a hole between the rocks. Darkness came with a freezing cold. The pack trains with ammunition and food had an extremely difficult time. Men fell down the glassy slopes; supply crates slid into the ravines; only few supplies reached the top. During that night there were many cases of frostbite.

    French casualties were severe. During the three day period of 26 to 28 December the 8th M.T.R. lost 305 men: 62 killed in action and 243 wounded. On the 28th a hundred more were added due to frostbite.

    Tirailleur 12.jpg
    During the night to 28 December snow fell on the battlefield of the Mainarde, adding to the miseries of live in the mountains. A frontline soldier awakens finding his shelter covered by a thick layer of snow.

    On German defensive tactics in mountainous terrain see: Recent Tactics and Ruses in Mountainous Terrain, Intelligence Bulletin, April 1944 (Lone Sentry)
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2022
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