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

    In the 2nd Moroccan ID zone, the 5th M.T.R., having contained the enemy counterattack, in turn launched its attack at 14.00 hrs, aided by the entire AD/2. At 14.30 hrs [the 7th Coy of the II./5th, supported by the 3rd Coy (I./5th) counter-attacked and] retoook the lost ground. [Taking advantage of the momentum, the 7th Coy surged forward] and, after very stiff fighting, reached the top of San Croce, between 17.00 and 18.00 hrs, capturing 39 enemy soldiers including 2 officers. But it only had a tenuous hold on the summit, with an uncertain supply situation. [During the night the situation changed slightly in their favor, as the 3rd Coy joined the 7th atop the Mt San Croce].

    In the sector of the 3rd Algerian ID, the 7th Alg.T.R. throughout the day was subjected to heavy fire from enemy automatic weapons and mortars. [The regiment had to seize the Mt Carella and press on to the Mt Rotolo. Behind an artillery preparation of half an hour, the II./7th Alg TR, aided on its right by the 7th company (Giroult), of the 4th M.T.R., reached the foot of the Mt Carella without much difficulty. But at 07:00 hrs, while only 100 meters short of the mountaintop the II./7th Alg.T.R. ran into heavy enemy fire from mortars and blockhouses and had to fall back]. The regiment launched several assaults; it managed time and again to work its way up close to the top of Mt Carella, but did failed to drive off the enemy, who was well entrenched in blockhouses and supported by counter-attacking forces. Finally, when darkness came, the 7th Alg.T.R. was forced to disengage and fall back due to the heavy losses incurred.

    On the left, the 4th M.T.R., 2nd Moroccan ID, was to support the 7th Alg.T.R. by securing a foothold on the north-eastern flank and the reverse slopes of the Mt Carella. Colonel Lappara decided to commit his 2nd battalion (Battalion Rio). Like the Algerians, they encountered stiff opposition. The 7th Company [company Giroult] was pinned down and suffered losses in the order of 40 to 50 men including 3 section leaders. When darkness fell, the 4th M.T.R., fell back to the line O1 (northwest heights of Rio Il Gallo, hill 1004, Colle dell'Arena). [However, the remnants of two leading sections of the Giroult company, which were closest to the crest alongside the II./7th Alg.T.R., were unable to disengage. Cut off, hiding among the rocks, only 40 meters from the forward enemy positions, they held out until the end of the night, returning to the own lines at dawn with only 25 survivors. One of the Moroccans, a light machine gunner called Ahmed, had to be left behind, wounded in his thigh by a machine gun burst, which left him practically immobile. Evading enemy patrols, while suffering unbearable pain, he slowly dragged himself back over the rocky slope through cold and snow. After five days he finally was picked up by a French patrol, completely exhausted and with a swollen thigh, having traversed a distance of 3 kilometers].

    [The weather, which had been clear until then, suddenly deteriorated. An icy rain began to fall again, further aggravating the supply problems. Rain, traffic, and enemy artillery combined to keep roads and bridges in a condition that required constant work for the engineers]. The front line by the evening of the 23rd passed through Fontaine Rinalda (2.5 km east of San Biagio), the summit of Mount San Croce (1184 m), hills 1029 and 1004, Colle Ciccurro and Valvori (sketch 25).

    Leichte Ladungwerfer Minen.jpg
    The French action reports frequently mention enemy bombardments with "Minen", which might be the 20 cm Leichte Ladungswerfer: or Spigot Mortar. An Allied Intelligence report from WW2: This electrically fired weapon, recently developed for service in engineer units of the German Army, is used principally to destroy minefields, concrete fieldworks, wires, etc. Two types of ammunition are used with the mortar: a heavy high-explosive bomb and a smoke bomb. The range is comparatively short. Range (max. with H.E. bomb) 766 yds (Courtesy: leichter Ladungswerfer)

    The Germans also are known to have used Panzerwurfminen: Lone Sentry: How to Throw the Panzerwurfmine (U.S. WWII Intelligence Bulletin, March 1945, WWII)

    As a result of the changed plans announced by General Clark during the day, the operation of the F.E.C. [, the first attempt to break the Gustav Line in the north at the mounts San Croce and Carella,] was halted. A report from the 3rd Bureau set out the new situation: "According to General Juin, the F.E.C.'s main weight, until then focused in the center and in a north-westerly direction, will have to shift to the left wing and in a westerly direction. This change of direction will pose a problem. A particularly difficult problem, given the allotted deadlines (it is the evening of the 23rd and the attack on the new axis must be launched on morning of the 25th) and the terrain difficulties; in particular, the artillery will have to carry out a reorganization, in order to be ready to effectively support the operation. In addition, the area where it has to concentrate is served by one second grade mountain road, the road to San Elia, damaged by enemy artillery fire and still being demined and repaired by the engineers. It is by this route that, in a single night (that of the 24th to the 25th), have to pass, among others, three groups of artillery, two companies of tanks and the tank destroyers of the 7th RCA".

    January 24, 1944: from 10:15 a.m., after an intense artillery and mortar bombardment, the enemy, in a strength of approximately two companies, launched counter-attacks against the northwestern and western slopes of the San Croce. Heavy fighting took place; our units nevertheless held on to the summit of the Croce. Around noon, the enemy infantry attacks were alternated by renewed artillery bombardments. Then, between 14:30 and 15:30 hrs, after a very intense mortar concentration, a sharp counter-attack was launched. Despite the arrangements made to support the 5th M.T.R., the enemy was in a strong position and recaptured the summit of the San Croce between 15:00 hrs and 15:30 hrs. The 5th M.T.R., however, succeeded in limiting the thrust, by holding fast about 300 meters east of the summit.

    A captured document showed that the German high command considered the Gustav line as a strategic position, whose integrity had to be safeguarded at all costs. Besides that, the determination shown by the opponent in his attempt to retake the San Croce, confirmed that the top of this massif formed the pivot of his defense in this area. Nevertheless, General Doddy, GOC of the 2nd Moroccan ID, was determined to retake the summit of the San Croce. For this he needed strong artillery support and he asked for two new artillery groups to be brought forward urgently.

    But, General Juin, GOC of the F.E.C. announced that it was no longer necessary to carry out the mission. In fact, within the new operational plans given by the GOC 5th US Army - as related above: "the operation of the F.E.C., which had been resumed on the morning of the 23rd on the same bases as that of the 21st, was no longer a priority". [The two French Divisions were now within the defenses of the Gustav Line and Juin felt that the introduction of one more division into the battle could make the difference and would allow them to break through. General Clark however could not spare any forces. He had other plans for his divisions, for he wanted them to attack across the lower ground closer to the sea. Juin, although very satisfied with the performance of his men and the way it had impressed his allies, later gave vent to his frustration: “With an extra division, perhaps it could have been possible on the evening of 15 January to penetrate more deeply toward Atina, a strategic point on which we could develop a wide outflanking movement above Cairo and Cassino before descending again into the Liri valley. But behind my two joined-up divisions, who were pretty exhausted, there was nothing left".

    The French attack had caused the commander of the XIV. Panzer Korps, Generalleutnant Von Senger, some concern, for he knew that he had no reserves behind Atina to halt it. If the French would reach the town there would be nothing to prevent them from pushing south across the mountains to the Liri Valley. It was with some relief that Von Senger heard the news that the French attack had faltered for he now could concentrate his attention to the other operations more to the south.]

    Mainarde French KIA.jpg
    The French Moroccan Tirailleurs again lost many men killed in action in the assault up the mountainside of the Mt. Croce (courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/battagliad...519630871266/3791501117539784/?type=3&theater)

    It had been a costly day for the division: casualties amounted to 156 men, including 30 killed. And, with this, ended as far as the 2nd Moroccan ID was concerned, the effort to pierce the Gustav line. Though it had been unable to produce a breakthrough, it had forced the Germans to engage, and maintain in this area, forces they lacked elsewhere, particularly at Anzio.

    The balance sheet for January was particularly high for the Moroccan division and its attached units: 578 killed, including 19 officers, 2,329 wounded including 29 officers, and 114 missing; or, a total amount of casualties of 3,021, not including the non-battle casualties; in particular 900 men had been evacuated for "frozen feet". These losses were only partially offset by the arrival of reinforcements from North Africa (1,540 men) and 500 hospital returnees.

    As for the enemy, he lost that month nearly 500 men, including ten officers, captured by the 2nd Moroccan ID. The number of dead and wounded was, judging by the statements of prisoners, undoubtedly large, but cannot be quantified - not even approximately. [What is known for example is that the combat strength of the III./8th Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment, defending the San Croce, was reduced to a mere one hundred].

    While the focus of the F.E.C. shifted southward, the 2nd Moroccan ID, passed on to the defensive, holding the sector in the north opposite the Gustav line, which ran across the Mont Mare, Colle Porcazette, the San Biagio pass, the San Croce and Carella mountains and the Colle San Martino. It had to bind the enemy forces in this area by taking an aggressive stance (sketch no. 27).

    The 2nd Moroccan ID contended itself to the defensive of its sector until March 25. In general, no further major events occurred, but for various minor changes of the division boundaries - the division for example was reinforced by an Italian motorized task force in the northern part of its zone.

    Boue 15.01.1944 5e MTR.jpg
    7 January 1944: Road conditions in the valleys were made very difficult by the weather. GMC trucks from the infantry cannon company of the 5th Moroccan infantry regiment (RTM) of the 2nd Moroccan ID advance through the mud at Montaquila to supply the first lines. (courtesy: http://archives.ecpad.fr/wp-content/gallery/campagne_italie_cote_francais/TERRE-136-2952.jpg
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2021
  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Frontline situation 23-01-1945.jpg
    Frontline situation on 23 January 1944

    [a shift to the south]

    On 23 January the 36th US Infantry Division, which had been assigned the main effort of the 2nd US Corps, broke off the unsuccessful attempt to establish a bridgehead over the Rapido River to the south of Cassino and Highway 6 and assumed a defensive role while the 34th US Infantry Division prepared to cross the Rapido north of Cassino. The Anzio landing was under way, but the battles by the British 10 Corps and of the 36th Division on the southern front thusfar gave little indication of an early junction with the beachhead.

    General Clark therefore directed that the 2nd Corps attempt to envelop Cassino from the north. The plans called for the 34th Division to cross the Rapido in face of the 44th Grenadier Division and advance south, sending part of the division down the road into Cassino, while the other elements passed through the mountains by Mt. Castellone and take the high ground dominating the town and debouch into the enemy's rear near Piedimonte. The 36th Division meanwhile would carry out a demonstration to simulate a renewal of its assault crossing, and prepare to force the Rapido north of Sant Angelo with one regimental combat team to establish a bridgehead for the passage of armour. The F.E.C., which had been fighting during 21- 23 January for Mt San Croce and Mt Carella in order to push toward Atina, was directed to turn southwest toward Terelle and Piedimonte. This shift would throw the weight of the F.E.C. to its extreme left and might impair the Cassino defenses by developing a threat to the enemy lines of communication. In contrast with the Rapido attack this new plan, which went back to the plans laid down in mid-November, called for an envelopment of Cassino from the north rather than from the south; in neither scheme was the main weight directed against Cassino itself.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2021
  3. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    3. Second attempt to break the Gustav Line: Battle for the Belvedere and Colle Abate (24 Jan - 5 Feb 1944)

    The Allied command, now seeking to break the enemy defenses of Cassino by threatening them with an outflanking move in the mountains in the north, seemed to have opted for the kind of maneuver General Juin had never ceased to support. However, the mission assigned to the F.E.C., in accordance with IPS no. 409 /CEF/3/TS of January 23, 1944, was restricted to covering the action of the 34th US Inf Div against Cassino by making the main drive on the axis Il Lago - Casale Belvedere - Colle Abate [with the 3rd Algerian ID]. This implied that the Algerians had to reorient their main axis to the south in a short time. In the meantime the 2nd Moroccan ID was to tie the enemy in its sector, which was extended southward to encompass the mounts Carella and Pedicone. It was clear, right from the start, that the Americans would carry out the main assignment and that the French only would have a supporting role.

    The task of the Algerian-Tunisian division nevertheless was significant. The mountains of Colle Belvedere and Colle Abate commanded two valleys: one which, from the village of Cairo, leads to Roccasecca by Terelle; and one which, starting at San Elia, leads to Atina by Belmonte. Securing both heights might compel the enemy to commit, and even reinforce his troops in front of the French, which would draw away some of the enemy strength opposite the Americans at Cassino. Seizing both heights, would not only allow the envelopment of the Mount Cairo from the north and an attack on the rear of Cassino, it would also allow an enlargement of the encirclement of enemy forces by driving on toward Arce.

    Belvedere Olivella.jpg

    The German defensive line followed the forward slopes of the Mount Cairo (the village of Cairo included) and the Belvedere, then made a sharp bend at Olivella and crossed the Belmonte corridor (Rio Secco valley) to join the foot of the Mount Cifalco. Very heavily fortified, with casemates, minefields, barbed wire and barricades towards the village of Cairo and on Colle Marino, it cut the Rio Secco valley with defensive works organized in depth, from Olivella to hill 155. Elements of 131.I.R. held solid positions there, anchored on hills 315 (called 375 in certain documents), 155 and 470.

    In addition to its own organic units, the 3rd Algerian ID had two direct support groups from the 64th R.A.A., the 7th R.C.A., and two companies from the 755th US Tank battalion (medium). It also could call for artillery support from the artillery of the F.E.C. and the 2nd US Corps, whose fires would be coordinated in support of both divisions: 34th US Inf Div and 3rd Algerian ID; the allied air force would give air-cover, by bombing and machine-gunning the regions of Terelle, Belmonte and Atina in particular.

    Belvedere croquis 27.jpg

    On January 24, in preparation for the attack, the 3rd Algerian ID was organized into three groups:

    - The group of Colonel Roux (commanding the 4th Tunisian T.R.) with the 4th Tun.T.R., a company of American medium tanks and a squadron of TD from the 7th R.C.A., supported by two groups of 105's and four 155's. It was tasked with the main effort. Starting from the area of Il Lago (hill 346) - Campo Piano (hill 502), it would descend into the Rio Secco valley (hill 70), cross the waist deep river near Olivella, then climb up, along two routes, the approximately 800 meters steep gradient which leads to Colle Belvedere and Abate. [Once again the French leaders chose the most difficult approach in the hope of gaining surprise and also of avoiding the elaborate defensive system in the Rapido valley];

    - the group of Lieutenant-Colonel Gonzalez de Linarès (commanding the 3rd Alg.T.R.) would ensure, with two battalions (the II. and III./ 3rd Alg.T.R.) flank cover of the group Roux to the north, on the forward slopes of the Cifalco and Lo Stazzo, supported by the guns of two groups of 105's and one group of 155's. The I./3e Alg.T.R. was temporarily placed in division reserve;

    - Colonel Bonjour's group (commanding the 3rd R.S.A.R.) with its armored elements, a company from the 755th US Tank Battalion (medium), a TD squadron from the 7th R.C.A., an infantry detachment, and in support a group of 105's and a group of 155's, would ensure the cover of the southern flank of the group Roux; and in conjunction with the 34th US Inf Div, would seize Cairo-village, Colle Marino, then would guard the road to Terelle and clear the lower slopes south of the Colle Belvedere [obviously the tanks were not supposed to climb the winding mountain road];

    The 7th Alg.T.R., heavily tested by the previous battle for the Mt Carella, was regrouping in the southern region of Acquafondata. The above three groups moved to their jumping-off positions on the night of January 24th to 25th. [This involved a move towards the San Elia basin over long and circuitous routes via Acquafondata and Vallerotonda]. The smooth execution of these movements, was a 'tour de force' on the part of the respective military staffs who prepared and regulated them, as well as the troops who had to carry them out in the darkness. [Worse was to follow: the speed with which Clark required the new assault meant that the mule trains had not yet arrived; therefore the men had to carry by hand all equipment and supplies that were required. In this case, the Tunisians elected to take along ammunition but little food or water. This would have serious consequences, for the men were not only heavily laden, but in the days to come would have to struggle against cold, hunger and thirst as well].

    Fragment of the Divisional War Diary for January, 24th, 1944:
    3e Alg Div 24 - 1.jpg
    3e Alg Div 24 - 2.jpg

    3e Spahis IWM NA 9720.jpg
    Colonel Bonjour (on the left), CO of the 3rd Regiment Spahis Algerien de Reconnaissance (R.S.A.R.), in discussion with two of his officers. The 3rd Spahis, former horse cavalry, formed the reconnaissance element of the Algerian division and were armed with armoured cars and light tanks; this picture was taken in early December 1943 prior to the start of the French operations (courtesy: © IWM NA 9720)

    San Elia.jpg
    Algerian Tirailleurs move up to the frontline near San Elia (courtesy: http://archives.ecpad.fr/lengagemen...-campagne-ditalie-decembre-1943-juillet-1944/)

    For more details of the week long battle for the Belvedere, see also this excellent web-site: The week of fighting - Monte Cassino Belvédère

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Nov 13, 2021
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  4. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The breakthrough of the Gustav Line (January 25 and 26, 1944)

    In the early morning of the 25th, at 07:00 hrs, the 4th Tun. T.R. of the 3d Algerian Division opened the attack. Colonel Roux, the CO of the 4th Tunisian T.R., committed his II. (Major Berne) and III. (Major Gandoët) battalions, the Benjamins, the last to join the regiment after a late arrival from Africa. The I. (Major Baqué) was held in reserve. Cloud was low on the mountains, mist filled the valleys, and a thin rain was falling. By-passing the enemy's strong positions on Mount Cifalco the Tunisians began the assault on Le Propaia with the 9th Coy (III./4th). The hill was a vital point as it commanded the crossing points of the Secco River and also controlled the entrance to the Belmonte defile from the north. Though surprised by the maneuver, the enemy offered stiff resistance, but] most of the Le Propaia was cleared by 08:15 hrs by the 9th company. The company had almost reached the northern summit (hill 470), but suffered 50% casualties. Leading his men in the assault, Captain Pierre Denée, the Coy CO, was severely wounded at 09:30 hrs. At that point, the second-in-command, 2nd Lieutenant El Hadi Ben Kacem Ben Battab took over and led his men, even after his forearm was severed by shrapnel, in a final bound through the casemates towards the top, until he was mortally wounded by a machinegun burst. Rifleman Barelli carried out El Hadi's last order: to fire a red double-fired rocket, signalling the capture of Hill 470; the time now was 10:30 hrs. The enemy however still clung to the northern end of the ridge and, in an effort to maintain this key-position, for the remainder of the day launched several vigorous counter-attacks. The 9th Coy grimly held on but in the process sacrificed itself; ultimately only 18 survivors were left, led by Sergeant Ahmed.

    [Colonel Roux, the CO of the 4th Tunisian T.R., having established his Tac HQ on hill 522, decided not to wait until hill 470 had been completely secured.] Taking advantage of the momentary neutralization of hill 470, the III. and II./4th Tun.T.R. moved against the Belvedère. From 08:30 hrs, the two battalions quickly traversed the valley of the Rio Secco [, the III. (Gandoët) on the right passing by the area of the chapel Casa Luciense and the II. (Berne), on the left, moving from the edge of San Elia. All the while harassed by enemy fire, the men waded through the more than waist deep water of the Secco river, which in normal times was a shallow, placid stream (hence Secco: dry), but now much swollen by the abundant rain.] Once across, the men without taking time to reduce the enemy resistance encountered on the lower part of the slopes, because of the intense enemy shellfire, pressed on to the gullies in the northeast and southeast escarpments of the Belvedère. One of these, previously discovered by the battalion commander Major Gandoët, commanding the III./4e Alg.T.R., was named after him: the "Le Ravin Gandoët". It was situated just south of hill 315, which constituted the western buttress of the defensive line across the Secco valley.

    cifalco foot.jpg
    Valleluce and the Mont Propoia at the foot of the Cifalco. The Mont Propoia was used as a springboard by the Tunisians in their attack on the Belvedere. While the 9th Coy of Captain Denée attacked the summit (hill 470), just visible to the right, the rest of the 2nd battalion skirted around the southern edge of the spur, passing through Casa Luciense, it pushed on towards Olivella and the Secco river. The 3rd Bn meanwhile attacked further down the valley from the edge of San Elia. In the distance the lonely Mount Trocchio (center left) and the village of Cassino at the foot of the Monte Cassino (center right), all located in the American sector (photo courtesy Google Street View)

    Secco River.jpg
    The Secco River near l'Olivella

    Then there followed an exhaustive climb up the mountainside, equipment and ammunition had to be manhandled due to the lack of mules (the time for preparation, which had been very short as we have seen, was insufficient for the pack trains of mules to reach the new sector).

    [On the left Berne's II./4th Tun.T.R., crossing the Rio Secco south of Ollivella and following a narrow mule track zig-zagging up the steep mountain slope, steadily toiled and fought a way up towards points 721 and 700. The 5th Company (Thouvenin) took point 721. The 7th Company (Capt. Tixier) in the meantime probed forward to point 700, which dominated the upper stretch of the winding mountain road to Terelle. By dusk points 700 and 721 had fallen, but the enemy counter-attacked immediately, savagely, and unavailingly, forcing Tixier to abandon the summit of 700 and cling on to its eastern slope]. In one of the furious fights that evening Berne was wounded by a shell emanating from Mt Cifalco. Command of the II./4th passed to Captain Léonie. He [ordered his companies to consolidate and] established a tenuous link with the 11th company on his right, so that some kind of continuous frontline was created on objective O1. In late afternoon, with heavy losses, heights 681 [III./4th] and 721 [II./4th], had been taken - objective O1 was secured. [The French now occupied the eastern and southern knobs of the ring of camel-humps that was mount Belvedere. They looked into a saucer showing traces of cultivation in a thin soil which had been carried up by generations of Italian peasants. There was one small spring of water, soon to be surrounded by the bodies of French and German soldiers. Unbearable thirst had made these men barter their lives for the chance of a drink. Across the saucer rose the northern part of mount Belvedere, point 862 (Colle Serro) and further off points 915 and 875 (Colle Abate and Colle Cupone)].

    Gandoet Ravine.jpg
    The Gandoët Ravine the perilously steep 2,000ft climb used by the Tunisian 3rd battalion to reach the Belvedere (photo courtesy: Facebook)

    Meanwhile, the I./4e Tun.T.R., under Major Bacqué, assisted by elements of the Bonjour group, cleared the remaining enemy resistance in Olivella after the passage of II. in III./4e Tun.T.R., and in the evening the battalion ascended the hill to point 382 and the southern slopes of Belvedere to relieve the elements of the assault echelon.

    As the day drew to a close, the situation was confused south of hill 470 [which had been recaptured by the enemy in late afternoon. An enemy breakthrough towards Casa Luciense had been forestalled by Major Gandoët, only by personally leading his Support Company forward in a bayonet charge. Meanwhile the 10th Company held hill 155 in the Belmonte valley, on the left bank of the Secco River, pending the arrival of the 3rd Alg.T.R. that was to take over this flank, but was delayed. The situation] was obscure in the defile south of 315, known as 'Ravin Gandoët', serious clashes took place on 681; hill 721 was still in our possession, and advanced elements probed westwards toward 771. [During the evening Gandoët ordered two sections of the 10th Coy - one led by 2nd lieutenant Bouakkez, the other by Nicolas - and a section of Heavy MGs from the Support Coy up the Gandoët Ravine to reinforce the lonely 11th Coy of Jordy, these reinforcements arrived on 681 at 01:00 hrs (Jan 26th) and brought along a much needed resupply of hand grenades. For his part, Colonel Roux, decided to direct the 2nd Coy and the Support Coy of his I./4th (Bacqué), held in reserve at San Elia, towards hill 470 to shore up the defense of Gandoët's III./4th, whose 9th Coy by now had virtually ceased to exist. At the same time he ordered Bacqué's remaining Coys (1st and 3rd) up the Belvedere to reinforce the II./4th; the 1st Coy to back up the position at hill 721 and the 3rd Coy that of 681].

    Belvedere Map 1 000.jpg

    General Juin summed up the day, in his report No. 459 / CEF / 3 / TS already mentioned above: "This operation was, on all counts, carried out remarkably well; in particular the infantry-artillery liaison was perfect." Then, dealing with the situation on the left wing of the zone, the report mentions: "The 34th US Inf Div had succeeded in getting across the Rapido with some elements south of Cairo (village), but then bogged down at the foot of the mountainside, which it could not ascend; the left wing of the 3rd Algerian ID, whose advance was linked to that of this large unit, therefore also had to halt in front of the Colle Marino."

    As a matter of fact, the Bonjour group was unable, despite all its efforts, to conquer Colle Marino, whose approach over the valley floor turned out to be impracticable for armour, due to the floods and soggy ground; only troops on foot could approach the Colle Marino, but the Bonjour group - as we know - had very few supporting infantry [The enemy had inundated the valley by moving the river bed of the Rapido. Six tanks of the Bonjour Group who tried to move across the sodden ground got stuck in the mud.]

    Briefly: "the enemy opposes our advance with all of his infantry and artillery fire; he resists vigorously, and counter-attacks whenever possible". He also took steps to counter the attack; in addition to the 131.I.R. whose presence was already known, prisoner statements enabled us to identify the I./191.I.R., and there were also indications of the imminent arrival of two battalions of the 134.I.R. [On the German side Von Senger believed that January 26th would be a day of crisis for he judges that Juin might be aiming at Terelle thus 'causing the Cassino block to cave in from the north'. A frantic hunt for reinforcements resulted, on 25 January, in the immediate commitment of the 2nd Battalion, 191st Grenadier Regt (71st Inf Division), and in the infantry role of an engineer company and some gunners. Kesselring himself authorized 1st and 3rd battalions, 134th Grenadier Regt (44th Inf Division) from so-called 'reserve', an assault-gun battery, and a troop of Nebelwerfer, to be sent to the Belmonte area. Another reinforcement was 103rd Reconnaissance Battalion from 94th Inf Division's front.]

    By the end of the 25th, orders were issued for the following day, the 26th: the 3rd Algerian ID had to seize the Colle Abate, but not proceed beyond this peak until the 34th US Inf Div had come abreast, and support the latter's progress with the maximum of its fire.

    The operations of January 25th, 1944, as described by the War Diary of the 3rd Algerian Division:
    3e Alg Div 25 - 1.jpg
    3e Alg Div 25 - 2.jpg

    Panorama Belvedere Cifalco.jpg
    Panorama of the Belvedere, with the Secco Valley in the center and the mount Cifalco to the right. The village of Cairo is on the left (just outside the map). (Courtesy : Juin, "La Campagne d'Italie")

    Italian visit to Hill 470 the objective of the 9th Coy of Captain Pierre Denée:

    .... Hill 315 with the Gandoët Ravine (bit shaky):
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2021
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  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    [After a night without rest ] the 4th Tun.T.R., although much weakened, resumed the attack on the 26th. [The 4th Tunisians were to seize the O2 objective, the Colle Abate 915 (with two companies (5th and 6th) of the II./4th - Capt Léonie) and Colle Cupone 862 (with the 11th company of Jordy - III./4th reinforced during the night by the arrival of two sections of the 10th Coy)].The regiment was supported, on the right, by elements of the 3rd Alg.T.R. which were to take up a position astride the valley of Rio Secco, between hills 470 and 315, in order to cover the flank and rear of the 4th Tun.T.R. against enemy counter-attacks from the direction of Belmonte. As for the 7th Alg.T.R., its presence was sorely missed; though it received orders to join the division and depart from Acquafondata in the evening of the 25th, it would not be able to intervene in the battle until the afternoon of the 27th.

    The F.E.C. commander also specified the role of the Moroccan division. Order was given: "To the 2nd Moroccan ID, to concentrate its efforts to covering the northern flank of the 3rd Algerian ID: in particular, its artillery should be able to give fire support in the region of Mount Cifalco and be able to take on all threats of counter-attack on the northern flank of the 3rd Algerian I.D."

    General Juin also indicated: "That at the same time, it was suggested to the 5th US Army to take advantage of the 'salient' on the Belvedere and attack from the rear the enemy defenses of the ridges between Cairo and Cassino, which the 34th US Inf Div had not been able to take frontally; the position conquered by the 3rd Algerian I.D. obviously presented an excellent base for an action towards the south - south-west."

    January 26, 1944. In the morning, the last remnants of the 9th company of the III./4e Tun.T.R. still held on to the slopes of 470, while the I./3e Alg.T.R. moved towards point 155 to block the valley of Belmonte. [Finally released, Gandoet assembled his troops: the remaining sections of the 10th Coy, the Support Company and HQ Company of his battalion and the 2nd Coy and Support Company of the I./4th. This force crossed the Rio Secco and climbed up the Gandoet Ravine towards the 11th Coy (Jordy) on hill 681. The head of the column reached 681 at 14:00 hrs]. The I./4th Tun.T.R. deployed on the Belvedere, pushed towards the west and seized the heights 771 and 700.

    From 16:30 hrs, the 4th Tun.T.R. launched an attack at the O2 objective, formed by the elevations of the Colle Abate: hills 862 and 915. At 18:00 hrs, the III./4th Tun.T.R. took 862; the II./4th Tun.T.R. steadily fought its way up the slopes of 915; it was not until late in the evening around 23:00 hrs that the battalion finally cleared 915, but it suffered heavy losses in the process [By now the troops were exhausted, they were without food and water for two days and nearly out of ammunition, as no supplies had yet reached the French atop the Belvedere].

    Bouakkaz Hill 862.jpg
    An extraordinary incident occurred during the fighting on the 26th. 2nd Lieutenant Bouakkez had publicly sworn to be the first on Hil 862 but was killed as he charged forward at the head of his section in the afternoon of the 26th. Three tirailleurs picked up his body and bore it forward. Themselves miraculously surviving, they placed the dead officer on the summit, the first to reach it, faithful to his oath. Picture: a dramatized version of the body of Bouakkez carried up by his men to hill 862.

    An Italian visit to the "Picco senza Nome" ; the images demonstrate - especially at the end of the film - how Colle Secco or Hill 862 very much overlooked the positions of the III./4th Tun.T.R. on the Belvedere (bit shaky & never mind the music).

    Thus at the end of the second day of the battle, a break-in of the 'Gustav line' had been achieved in the French zone. However it was an tenuous hold, which could easily be undone if the constant menace that hung over the right flank and rear of 4th Tun.T.R. materialized; in fact, down in the [Belmonte] valley, the I./3rd Alg.T.R. and the 9th company of the III./4th Tun.T.R. [reinforced] which tried to establish and reestablish themselves at respectively hill 315 and 470, were repeatedly counter-attacked by elements of the III./134.I.R. and were unable to establish a solid defense of the valley: hill 315 was taken, then lost again; 470 could not be recaptured. [The French, having by-passed Mount Cifalco, had partly uncovered their right and had provided the enemy with an opportunity to drive southeast against this weakened flank. Furthermore the French position was dominated by the enemy held mount Cifalco from where he could direct shellfire on all movements].

    Another cause for the tenuous success won by the 3rd Algerian I.D. was the failure of the attack of the 34th US Inf Div, on the left of the French division. Report no. 459/CEF/3/TS notes on this subject: "On the other hand, the 34 US Inf Div was still unsuccessful in a new attempt to break through. Faced with the futility of these vainly repeated efforts, first by the 36th US Inf Div then by the 34th - to attack the German position head-on, the American command also realized that the only feasible maneuver was the one I had proposed, the day before. He therefore decided that a regiment of the 36th Division would move up into the sector of the 3rd Algerian I.D. to attack in the direction of Castellone. The time it would take to move and make the unit ready, made it necessary to set the date of the operation on the day after tomorrow, in the morning."

    The War Diary of the 3rd Algerian Division for that day reports:
    3e Alg Div 26 - 1.jpg

    The Germans react (27 Jan 44)
    «Tenir, tenir, tenir.» C'est l'unique mission qui est donnée a tous.

    January 27: During the night of the 26th to the 27th the threat to the 4th Tun.T.R. became reality. The enemy was fully aware of the fact that the French salient, driven into the northern flank of Cassino, might bring about a collapse of the defenses of the Gustav Line, and he therefore collected all his local reserves. [Two companies of the I./191st (71. Inf.Div), later reinforced by III./134th (44, Inf. Div), attacked from Belmonte.] By dawn of the 27th, the situation seemed completely turned in the enemy's favor; his forces, setting off from Belmonte, moved into the valley of Rio Secco, moving around and infiltrating through the position of I./3 Alg.T.R.

    The enemy penetrated as far as Olivella; there they reoccupied the old defensive positions and cut off the supply lines to the 4th Tun.T.R. on the Belvedère and Colle Abate. [Simultaneously, atop the Belvedère, the II./4th, which was very low on ammunition, was counterattacked; the enemy attempted to recapture the Colle Abate (915) and the adjacent Mt Cupone (875), both so hard won the previous day].

    Action against the Belvedere and Colle Abate.jpg
    The above tactical map, like some of the battle reports, gives other altimeters than those used in the text, which has to do with the consulted topographic map; there exist several maps of the area, each showing different altimeters (map courtesy: Le Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Italie (CEFI) | Rhin et Danube)

    See for more information: The Battle of Belvedere - Monte Cassino Belvédère

    Tirailleur 4.jpg
    French Tirailleurs moving up a hill. Because the number of M1 Garand rifles that were delivered by the U.S. were inadequate to rearm the F.E.C. before it departed for Italy, the French units of the Expeditionary Corps were armed with the American Springfield M 1903A3 rifles, a bolt-action rifle that saw service in WW1. In the end it became the primary rifle used by French forces until the end of the war.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2021
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Terrain: The Secco Valley& Hill Propoïa (470)

    Belmonte Castello (1).jpg
    The Belmonte valley seen from the heights above Belmonte Castello (foreground). View to the south-east: to the left the mount Cifalco, with the mount Propoïa (with hill 470) at its foot; on the right, on the opposite side of the valley, hill 315 and to the right the Colle Belvedere; in the valley, in the far background, the village of San Elia.

    Mt Popoïa to Cassino.jpg
    View from Mt Propoïa across the Secco Valley towards the west into the Rapido Valley; the abbey of Mt Cassino is clearly visible. Down in the valley, at the foot of the Propoïa, the township of l'Olivella.

    Belmonte Gap map 000.jpg
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2021
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  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Terrain: Mt Cifalco

    Mt Cifalco and Mt Cierro.jpg
    The Monte Cifalco as seen from the edge of the Belvedere. The Monte Cifalco remained firmly in enemy hands during the battle for the Belvedere; the dominating position offered him excellent observation. Also note the almost sheer vertical drop of the mountainside of the Belvedere, which the heavily packed Tunisian Riflemen had to scale; the so-called Gandoët Ravin, which was used by Gandoët's III./4th Tunisian Tirailleur Regiment, is somewhat to the left.

    An Italian visit to German fortifications on the top of the Mt Cifalco:
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2021
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  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Terrain: The Belvedere and Colle Abate

    Mont Cairo.jpg
    The Colle Belvedère and Abate. Towering high above the hard-fought plateau is the Mt Cairo.

    Belvedere hills.jpg
    Hills 681 and 721 of the Belvedère right on the edge of the plateau. On 27 and 28 January the Tunisians desperately clung to these last positions on the high ground; the Gandoët ravine emerges on the plateau from the left (courtesy: gustav_it_16_Cerro).

    Belvedere Gandoet Ravine.jpg
    The Gandoët Ravine the scene of the epic climb of the III./4th Tun.T.R., commanded by Major Gandoët, to reach the Belvedëre on the 25th of January. The passage which led to Belvedère was identified by Lieutenant Jordy on 24 January 1944, i.e. the day before the fighting began. Major Gandoët reported the discovery to Colonel Roux and they decided to name it, for the needs of identification and communication among the soldiers themselves, the “Gandoët Ravine“. (Courtesy: gustav_it_16_Cerro).

    Colle Abate monument 000.jpg
    The top of the Colle Abate (hill 915) is the location of a monument for the men of the 44.Infanterie Division who defended the heights against the French attacks. From here you have a splendid view of the battlefield. The Colle Cerro (862), in the center, formed the scene of the Lieutenant Bouakkez incident. His men carried his lifeless body to the top.

    An Italian visit to the German monument on the Colle Abate (bit shaky)

    Interview with participants:
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2021
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  9. Stuart Avery

    Stuart Avery In my wagon & not a muleteer.

    stolpi, thanks for the translation & the heads-up to this excellent book!

    Just for the record, mine was a brand new copy that was cheap has chips:). I will forward on the pages of 44 Infanterie Division. Keep up the good work. I can't remember the tile of the newer version of this German Division that i bought.

    Will show a photo of it, if its OK?

    stolpi likes this.
  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Colle Belvedere & Abate 001.jpg The Colle Belvedere and Abate plateau as seen from the slope of the Mt Cairo; the settlement of Terelle is in the foreground (courtesy: Linea Gustav. Le posizioni tedesche su Monte Cairo)

    Holding the breach, despite enemy counter-attacks
    (period from January 27 to 30, 1944)

    On the 27th, around 10:00 hrs, in response to the enemy push in the Secco valley, an armored detachment of the 3rd Régiment Spahis Algérienes de Reconnaissance (R.S.A.R.) and elements of the II./3e Alg.T.R. were ordered to clear Olivella, and to support the I./3e Alg.T.R. which was tasked with securing points 470 and 315.

    From then on, events followed each other in quick succession. Having cut off the 4th Tun.T.R., the enemy attacked the heights of the Belvedère and a furious battle ensued. After an intense artillery and mortar preparation, the enemy first hit hill 915 (Colle Abate) with the I./134.I.R. reinforced by elements of the 131.I.R. At 11:00 hrs, the II./4th Tun.T.R., almost surrounded and hard pressed, was forced to abandon hill 915; the III./4th Tun.T.R., to its right, held on to 862, but the enemy also was under attack.

    At 12:30 hrs, the II./4th Tun.T.R. was driven back, slowly but certainly, up to 500 meters east of hill 700, while the III./4th Tun.T.R. - now dangerously isolated - fell back, on orders, towards the line of hills 681 and 721 (Belvedère); these withdrawals inevitably led to the loss of hills 700 and 771. The situation now reached a critical point. The supporting artillery of the 3rd Algerian ID put a veritable ring of bursting shells as close as possible around the defensive perimeter, which now was in imminent danger of being overwhelmed; in fact the II./4th Tun.T.R. was all but annihilated [the balance of the unit had been trapped on hill 915, outflanked by the enemy who infiltrated via the lower parts of the terrain. Out of ammunition, the Tunisians on the hill had no choice but to surrender; all that remained of the battalion were about 150 men, most of them from the 7th Coy of Tixier on Hill 700]. At 14:00 hrs, worse was prevented by the arrival of reinforcements of the 7th Alg.T.R.; the I. and III./7th Alg.T.R. took up position on the southern flank of the 4th Tun.T.R.; the II./7th Alg.TR was placed in division reserve. [Working their way up the southern slope of the Belvedère the two Algerian battalions took 61 POWs. All of the O2 objectives, hills 862, 875 and 915, had been lost to the enemy. Even worse the enemy had set foot on hill 771 and threatened to occupy the O1 objectives (Belvedère) with only the battered remains of the I. and III./4t Tunisian T.R. to prevent them from doing so. Yet the will of the French remained unbreakable. Major Bracqué and a few companies were driven from the lately recaptured point 771, abandoning two mortars. Bacqué planted his walking-stick in the ground and said 'Venez. Nous reviendrons chercher tout ca demain'].

    Gandoet SOS.jpg
    By noon of the 27th as the crisis atop the Belvedere reached its peak, Major Gandoët (CO of the 3rd Battalion) scribbled a message for his regimental commander, Colonel Roux: "Midi, Situation très grave. Contre-attaque massive partout. Infiltrations. Il faudrait un bataillon en renfort. Il n'y a plus de 2e Bataillon" or: "Midday, situation very serious. Massive counter-attacks everywhere. Infiltrations. We need another battalion in support. The 2nd Battalion no longer exists" (photo courtesy: Chambe, Le bataillon du Belvedere).

    Belvedere French soldiers.jpg
    A grim close quarter battle developed on the steep rocky slopes of the Belvedère. French Tunisian soldiers occupy a position on a mountainside, with the body of a fallen German soldier only a few steps away from their trench (photo courtesy Dal Volturno a Cassino - Fotografie ed immagini (picture 0873))

    At 16:00 hrs news of the death of the commander of the 4th Tun.T.R, Colonel Roux, became known. The command was reorganized. Colonel Chappuis, commanding the 7th Alg.T.R., now took over command of the sectors of the 7th Alg.T.R. and 4th Tun.T.R. His mission was to hold objective O1 at all costs (the Colle de Belvedere with hills 681 and 721) and to establish strong defensive positions, supported by tanks, in Olivella, so as to reopen the line of communication and allow supplies to reach his units securing the heights. The 3rd Alg.T.R. covered O1 by occupying the defile south of 315 (ravine Gandoët), the contour 155 in the valley of the Rio Secco, and by occupying the Propoïa near height 502.

    By the end of the day, Olivella finally was cleared [by a tank infantry attack yielding about 100 POWs]. Around 21:00 hrs, General Juin announced the plans of the Allied command: the mission of the 3rd Algerian ID was to hold on to the current positions at all costs; it should even - if practicable - attempt to retake hills 700, 771, 862 and 915.

    It was specified that the division in essence had to support the new American drive against Cassino. As part of this operation - which would commence on the 28th, as had been agreed on the 26th - the 142nd US Infantry Regiment (36th US Inf Div) would pass through the sector of the 3rd Algerian ID, at about 4 kilometer southwest of San Elia, during the night of the 27th to the 28th, to outflank Cairo-village from the north and then strike against Castellone. While awaiting this regiment, the 3rd Algerian ID had to hold out in a difficult situation.

    To maintain his position - we read in report No. 459/CEF, already quoted - the GOC 3rd Algerian ID did not hesitate to strip his right wing in favor of the Belvedère sector; also, almost all of the F.E.C. artillery was used in support; finally, the air force, whenever weather permitted, bombed and strafed the enemy rear areas, in particular the regions of Terelle, Capo di Chia and Belmonte.

    Thus at the cost of an incredible effort, the starting point for the allied operation of the next day was maintained. [Meanwhile no supplies had managed to come forward to the Belvedère and ammunition was very low. During the 27th, much of the fighting out of necessity had been done with the bayonet and even with rock boulders. Orders were even given to search the dead and wounded to remove their ammunition and only shoot to kill, cartridge by cartridge. All captured weapons and ammunition were used.]

    The War Diary of the 3rd Algerian Division mentions for this fateful day:
    3e Alg Div 27 - 1.jpg

    Mt Cairo - Mt Cifalco.jpg
    View of the Mt Cairo (left) and Mt Cifalco (right) from across the Rapido valley; the village of San Elia is in the foreground; in the center the Belmonte valley, with to the left the Belvedere. The French, not without reason, called the winding mountain road leading from Vallerotonda to San Elia "Route de la Mort", since it lay in full view of the enemy observation posts on the Mt Cifalco. Traffic on the road was only possible at night, during daytime only single vehicles dared to run the gauntlet (courtesy Google street view)
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2022
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  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Battle for the Colle Belvedere & Abate day by day:

    Belvedere croquis 30 -1.jpg Belvedere croquis 30 -2.jpg

    Tirailleur 11.jpg
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2021
  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Juin Monsabert Roosevelt.jpg
    General Juin (CO of the F.E.C.) with General Goislard de Monsabert; Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt is in the center. Despite the dire situation De Monsabert on the 28th, desiring not to sacrifice the gains made by fierce fighting in the preceding three days, not only told of the hard pressed 4th Tun.T.R. to hold on to the Belvedere at all costs, but he also ordered it to counter-attack and retake the O2 objectives, lost the previous day. By then the Tunisians had fought without rest and without food and water for three days, while they almost had run out of ammunition.

    General Juin wrote for the 28th: "Unfortunately, on the morning of the 28th, the American CO of the 142nd US Infantry announced that he was not ready and informed the GOC of the 3rd Algerian ID, that it was not possible for him to attack; while informing me of this situation, the latter not wanting his troops to have fought so fiercely for three days in a row, without deriving benefit from this, told me that he was ready to attack at eleven o'clock to regain the ground lost the day before. I gave him permission for that"
    [report of the general Juin, no 459 / CEF / 3 / TS, already cited].

    January 28, 1944. The 4th Tun.T.R., between 10:00 and 11:00 hrs, was to mount an attack to regain the 0 2 objectives, lost the previous day, despite the absence of the 142nd US Infantry whose intervention was delayed by 24 hours. The 4th Tun T.R. was ordered to retake the Col Abate and hill 862, while the I./7th Alg.T.R. was to capture hill 831, between 915 and Terelle, and the III./7th Algerians were to relieve the Americans on the Mass Monna. But the enemy acted first. At dawn, they violently attacked the 4th Tun.T.R. on the Belvedère from all sides, from the north and the west, as well as from the northeast. Enemy forces infiltrated again in Olivella and infiltrated onto the eastern slopes of the Belvedere. [Command of the Belvedere sector was taken over by Colonel Von Behr, the CO of the Panzer Grenadier Regiment 200 (90. Pz.Gren. Div), who arrived with his liaison officer at Terelle on the 27th, in the midst of the crisis, to arrange a relieve of the 131.Inf.Regt. He immediately rallied the remnants of the I./131st and sent them against hills 700 and 875. On the 28th further reinforcements were deployed: a 'Alarm-Kompanie' of the 44.Inf.Div and the 3rd FJ Pionier Coy, as well as the III./134th and a Coy of the 103. Aufkl.Abteilung (3. Pz.Gren.Div.)].

    Meanwhile, a new operation was carried out at Olivella and in the valley of the Rio Secco, by the detachment of the 3rd R.S.A.R., the I./3e Alg.TR and elements of the 7th Alg.T.R.

    From 14:30 hrs, the I./3e Alg.T.R. occupied hill 155 and held the southern ridges of heights 470 and 315 - whose summits were raked by intense fire from German machine guns. As for the 3 R.S.A.R. detachment, it had cleared Olivella for a second time.

    At the end of the afternoon, the positions on the Belvedere (681, 721) were firmly in our hands, and covered towards the north, by the 4th Tun.T.R.; the first phase of the mission was fullfilled. Orders were given for the execution of the second phase, to be undertaken on the 29th morning: recapture the heights 700 and 771 and the Colle Abate (862, 915) in conjunction - in the south - with the 142nd US Infantry which would strike at the area of Mass.Manna and then make a hook on Colle Santa Lucia and Mount Castelone. The 3rd Algerian ID would be supported by three additional American artillery groups placed at its disposal.

    For the 28th the entries for the War Diary of the division were:
    3e Alg Div 28 - 1.jpg

    Prisoner interrogations made it possible to establish the enemy's situation on the evening of the 28th (see sketch no 31).

    Croquis 31.jpg

    Pantano mules aa.jpg
    In early morning of the 28th, for the first time in three days, supplies carried by mules arrived at the Belvedere. Of the original column of 80 mules, only two reached the top, carrying twenty boxes of ammunition (grenades and rifle cartridges). The rest of the column could not get through, many animals were hit by shellfire and machine gun bursts. This meager supply at least made the day's operations possible. Next day, the 29th at dawn, eleven mules finally arrived at hill 382, which was held by the I./4th of Bacqué.

    January 29. From 07:00 hrs, from north to south, the III./4th Tun.T.R., the I./4th Tun.T.R. (replacing the II./4th Tun.T.R. which was all but wiped out) and the III./7th Alg.T.R. jumped off for the attack on their objectives. At 07:45 hrs, the III./4th seized hill 862; the I./4th could not reach 771, but the III./7th Alg.T.R. took hill 700. The other units continued to mop up the plain (I. and II./7th Alg.T.R.) while the I./3rd Alg.T.R. continued to besiege hills 470 and 315.

    For a time both adversaries seemed to keep each other in balance; but, very soon, the situation - for a second time - turned in favor of the enemy: between 10:45 hrs and 11:15 hrs, an enemy counter-attack drove the III./7th Alg.T.R. from hill 700 and, at 12:30 hrs, the position of III./4th Tun.T.R. on hill 862, under continuous attacks, also became precarious.

    The enemy clearly had set his sights on securing hills 681 and 721, a recapture of the Belvedère, which was precisely the key position which the 3rd Algerian ID had to defend at all costs. Saved initially, on January 27, by the timely arrival of the 7th Alg.T.R., the problem of reserves to be inserted into the fighting arose again. Since no help from the outside was available, the division had to resolve the emergency itself. The 3rd Alg.T.R. was told to strip its right flank to support the III./4th Tun.T.R. on hill 862 which now was closely ringed with artillery fire; the III./7th Alg.T.R. renewed its attack on hill 700 in order to assist the I./4th Tun.T.R. in its action on 771.

    At 14.30 hrs, the III./7th Alg.T.R. retook point 700, but then was subjected to fire coming from hill 771 which the I./4th Tun.T.R. had still not managed to clear; the III./4th Tun.T.R. was hard pressed by counter-attacks on hill 862. At 15:45 hrs, elements of the 3rd Alg.T.R. arrived to support the III./4th Tun.T.R. on 862.

    The day ended with a half-success: hills 862 and 700 were in our hands and formed two buttresses on the north- and south-western slopes of the Belvedère which the enemy had failed to conquer. Around 19:00 hrs, a first pack train of 26 mules arrived, bringing much needed food and ammunition to the soldiers on the heights. This also made possible the evacuation of the wounded.

    But the enemy remained aggressive; during the night of the 29th, and in the early morning of the 30th, he launched - though without success - two new attacks against hill 862.

    [According to General Juin, the 3rd Algerian ID had reached the limit of its endurance and if help from outside was not offered soon, the situation would get critical. On January 29th he wrote to General Clark: "The 3rd Algerian ID (...) fulfilled, at the cost of incredible efforts and significant losses, the mission that you have entrusted to her. Her morale remains excellent, but she has engaged everyone and I have no reserves left for another offensive effort (...). If [tomorrow], the 34th US Inf Div remains in its current positions, I will be obliged to withdraw the 3rd Algerian ID as soon as possible to the east of the Atina - San Elia road. It is not possible for me, to ask the Algerian division for a greater effort than that which it has just given during these last four days and I cannot take the risk of leaving it isolated in an salient on the Belvedere. I cannot provide the necessary reserves for a defensive battle on the Belvedere which would undoubtedly be very costly, the position being dominated and surrounded by enemy fire, and I cannot supply it until the Cairo - Terelle road is opened."]

    January 30, 1944. At 10:00 hrs, the I. and III./4th Tun.T.R. attacked in the direction of hill 771 which was taken around 11:00 hrs. At 14:30 hrs it was retaken by the enemy. Hill 700 - though briefly reoccupied by the enemy - was still held by the III./7th Alg.T.R., supported by elements of the 142nd US Infantry. Other American units, from the 168th US Infantry, captured Cairo-village, which allowed the Bonjour group to make a maximum effort on Colle Marino, tenaciously held by the enemy who, from there, dominated the marshy terrain which was difficult to pass with the tanks.

    The forces that secured the lower south-eastern slopes of the Belvedère and the plain of the Rapido were now reinforced by goumiers made available by the F.E.C. to the 3rd Algerian ID.

    Belvedere croquis 30 -3.jpg

    105 mm  feb 44.jpg
    The French artillery supported by several US artillery units was a key factor in beating off the enemy attempts to recapture the Belvedere position. Official caption to this photo: "A camouflage net, covering a French artillery position, is being reinstalled after a snow storm in the mountains of 'sunny Italy.'" Italy. 8 February 1944 (courtesy: Re-installation of a camouflage net over a French artillery weapon, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)

    The War Diaries entries for January 29th and 30th were:
    3e Alg Div 29 - 1.jpg
    3e Alg Div 29 - 2 & 30.jpg
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2021
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  13. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The final consolidation of the breach

    and the widening of the breakthrough towards the Mass. Manna

    (period January 31 to February 3)

    The 3rd Algerian ID was charged with making a new effort against the Colle Abate, to retake 915, in order to assist the American attack against points 871 and 862 on the Mass.Manna, to the south-east of Terelle. The conquest of hill 771 was a prerequisite for the advance of the Americans; therefore 771 would be attacked by the 7th Alg.T.R., in close coordination with the operation of the 142nd US Infantry which would push forward from hill 700 toward 720.

    On January 31, between 07:00. and 07:30 hrs, the 142nd US Infantry, followed by the 7th Alg.T.R. launched the attack. The 1st/142nd US Infantry seized 720, and the I./7th Alg.T.R. took 771 at about 08:00 hrs. At the same time, elements of the Bonjour group seized the Colle Marino; for this occasion, and because of the boggy ground which hindered the armour to operate, the small infantry detachment of the group was reinforced by the dismounted crews of the TD of the 7th R.C.A.

    At 11:30 hrs, the I./7th Alg.T.R. reoccupied 915, the top of the Colle Abate. But, around noon, enemy troops started to form up at the bottom of the western slopes of points 915 and 875. In the afternoon, around 14:30 hrs, the artillery targeted these enemy concentrations; all enemy counter-attacks on Colle Abate were repulsed by the I./7th Alg.T.R. - which held 915 - and the III./7th Tun.T.R. - which was on 862. As for the Americans, they occupied, with the 142nd US Infantry, La Capella, 750m south-southwest of 915, and Hill 862 of the Mass.Manna.

    During the night of January 31st to February 1st, an American light armored detachment succeeded in climbing the winding road Cairo, Terelle; from then on, and with a view to the possible use of this axis by our own elements, a mixed detachment was set up (with light tanks from the 3rd R.S.A.R., American medium tanks and TDs from the 7th R.C.A., and based at point 700.

    February 1st, 1944 - The 3rd Algerian ID maintained its positions despite new enemy counter-attacks on 862 and 915 (Colle Abate). In addition, a helping hand from 3rd Alg.T.R. made it possible to take hill 315, which finally completed the blockage of the Belmonte gap and thus reduced the risk of a new enemy intrusions into the valley.

    This practically meant the end of the battle.

    Ligne de front 03-02-1944.jpg

    Advanced parties of the 5th M.T.R. (of the 2nd Moroccan ID) arrived which were to replace the 3rd Alg.T.R. who, in turn, would relieve the remnant of the 4th Tun.T.R. (the II./4th had been almost destroyed, the I./4th had lost over a quarter, and the III./4th over a third of their strengths). The line held at the end of the day (see sketch no. 32) passed through Mount Ciccurro, point 510, Il Lago, 502, the southern ridge of 470 and the elevations of 155, 315. 86, 915, 720; further south, the American units continued the line, marked out by Capella, Mass. Manna, Colle Santa Lucia and Monte Castellone.

    February 2nd, 1944 - an armored detachment, which pushed on to Terelle, was hit by an intense artillery bombardment, then stopped by mines. Strong German reconnaissance patrols, supported by artillery and mortars, felt forward - without success - against Colle Abate.

    During the night of February 2nd to 3rd, a Tabor (the 17th), placed at the disposal of the 3rd Algerian ID, went to the southwest of point 700 and 720; its mission was to infiltrate towards the crest of Mount Cairo and eventually exploit toward the Col de Terelle, Mount Campanella and Colle Rotondo. This mission proved, once again, that the F.E.C. command was still considering the possibility of exploiting in the direction of Roccasecca and Acrce by the corridors of Terelle and Atina.

    February 3rd, 1944 - Both adversaries held each other in balance, a situation that would hardly change; the Germans again launched an assault on 915; they were repelled; but they retained hill 875 [Colle Cupone] on which our units were trying to take a hold. By now prospects for a possible exploitation of the breakthrough made by the French troops had considerably diminished.

    [On February 4th, the day the Tunisian Tirailleurs were relieved from the Belvedère, while returning to the rear, Major Gandoët was wounded in the Secco valley by enemy shells fired from mount Cifalco, the same concentration sadly killed the 29-year-old Lieutenant Jordy, who so bravely led his 11th company up the Gandoët ravine on Jan 25th; see Lieutenant Jordy - Monte Cassino Belvédère]

    The divisional War Diary's entries for the period of January 31st to February 3rd, 1944:
    3e Alg Div 31 - 2 &  1 - 1.jpg
    3e Alg Div 1 - 2.jpg

    German position 2.jpg
    An American GI inspects a German pillbox or "MG Panzernest" near Cairo village. These pillboxes consisted of a pre-fab 'portable' iron casted box which was sunken into the ground/rocks. The front-side is covered with boulders for camouflage. This particular pill-box was located on the road to Cairo and commanded the whole plain. In the background the town of San Elia to the right and Valvori in the center. To the left the gradient of the Mt Cifalco. Picture taken on Feb 5th, 1944.(Courtesy: GI examines a knocked-out German pillbox in a valley, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)


    ... and: Lone Sentry: Some Fortifications Observed in Italy (U.S. WWII Intelligence Bulletin, August 1944)

    Belvedere & Cassino.jpg
    Actions by the 2nd US Corps and FEC in January 1944 against the Belvedere and Cassino
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2021
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  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    During these ten days of battle the two opponents fought battles of a ferocity which is well illustrated by the facts: point 700 was taken four times by the 3rd Algerian ID; point 771, three times; hill 915, twice (and counterattacked, without success, four times by the enemy); Hill 862, twice (and counterattacked twelve times by the enemy, to no avail).

    The division sustained severe losses: 264 killed (including 22 officers), 1,280 wounded (including 37 officers) and 547 missing (including 5 officers), a total number of 2,091 men (including 64 officers).

    As for the 4th Tun.T.R. [which had taken the full brunt of the fighting for the Belvedere], according to its own record (given in the "Epic of the 4th Tunisian Tiralleurs Regiment") counted 207 killed (including 14 officers), 739 wounded (including 19 officers) and 426 missing (including 5 officers), that is to say 1,372 men (including 38 officers), which represented a loss of almost two thirds of the men engaged on the Belvedere. [The Regimental commander was killed, two battalion commanders were wounded and all company commanders were out of action].

    German losses were high as well. A minimum estimate, only taking into account the main enemy units engaged in the Belvedere sector, put them at around 1,050 (i.e. 190 killed, 515 wounded and 354 prisoners). Actually, nearly 450 prisoners were taken by the French forces, including the wounded evacuated by medical channels, so that the total enemy losses in reality were appreciably equal to ours. They were perhaps proportionately smaller because of the larger number of units involved.

    The 3rd Algerian ID remained on the defensive in the sector for two more months. [In the following days the battered Algerian & Tunisian units were relieved by elements of the 2nd Moroccan Division (8th M.T.R.) - who turned over the sector between Costa San Pietro and Castel San Vicenzo to a Brigade of the Italian Liberation Corps - and a regiment of the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division: the 6th M.T.R. The latter had just arrived in Italy, ahead of the rest of the Mountain Division which was still in transit to Italy, having been recently relieved from occupation duty on Corsica. On April 2nd, the 3rd Algerian Division was finally relieved by the 4th British Infantry Division and moved to the region of Teano and Salerno for a rest and refit, prior to a new engagement in operation Diadem in May 1944; or the battle for the Garigliano, as the French would call this.

    4e DMM Viticuso feb 44.jpg

    Tirailleur 3.jpg
    Photographs above and below: between 21 and 24 Feb, 1944, elements of the the 6th Moroccan T.R. (4th Moroccan Mountain Division) arrived at Viticuso as a reserve unit of the F.E.C. On 29 Feb 1944 the 6th M.T.R. was released from Corps reserve and placed under command of the 3rd Algerian ID. The regiment moved into the northern sector of the Algerian line: the Secco Valley and Valleluce, opposite the mount Cifalco. Later, between 5 and 8 March, 1944, another regiment of the Mountain Division - the 2nd M.T.R. - took over the Belvedere position from the Algerians. The North African troops often are seen carrying livestock (goats and sheep) with them, not mascots but rations on the hoof, to provide sufficient 'halal' meat ration.

    Moroccan Tiralleurs Italy 00.jpg

    Last edited: Feb 2, 2022
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Memorial & French Cemetery Venafro:

    According to Fisher, "Cassino to the Alps" (US Army in WW2, Mediterranean Theater of Operations) the French expeditionary Corps, during the winter fighting had incurred 7.836 casualties (dead, wounded or missing in action).

    At the end of the Italian Campaign the French casualties, spread over 55 smaller provisional cemeteries throughout Italy, were concentrated at three locations: Venafro (3.203 graves), Miano/Naples (1.719 graves; abolished in 1991 with the graves transferred to Venafro) and Rome (1.612 graves).

    French cemetery Venafro.jpg
    The French casualties rest on the Military Cemetery at Venafro, Italy. It is the largest French military cemetery in Italy. It was arranged near the location which served as CP for the French Expeditionary Force in Italy, during the battle of Monte Cassino (1943-1944). It includes 4,922 graves divided into two squares, one Christian-Jewish, and the other Muslim. The Venafro Cemetery was renovated in 1992, after the Miamo War Cemetery (Naples) was abolished the year before and the 1,719 graves of the latter had been transferred to Venafro.

    venafro 01.jpg

    See for more info: Le cimetière militaire français de Venafro en Italie.

    Venafro War Cemetery memorial 2.jpg

    French cemetery Venafro memorial.jpg

    The French text on the memorial: "Sur le sol d'Italie de novembre 1943 a juilliet 1944 le Corps Expeditionnaire Francais arme sur la terre d'Afrique a marque du sang de 7000 des siens la route victorieuse qui l'a conduit de Naples a Sienne avant sont nouvel elan pour la Liberation de la France."

    Venafro memorial plaque.jpg
    Memorial Plaque at the Venafro Cemetery

    Some WW2Talk members have been there (!) : Venafro French Cemetery
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2022
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  16. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    La Bataille d'Italie et le Corps Expéditionnaire Français (1943-1944)

    At 53:24 an interview with Major Gandoët at the foot of the Belvedere.

    Last edited: Mar 25, 2021
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  17. Wapen

    Wapen Well-Known Member

    View attachment 288584
    Memorial Plaque at the Venafro Cemetery

    Some WW2Talk members have been there (!) : Venafro French Cemetery[/QUOTE]
    Hey Stolpi! You really are doing French fighting in mountains. This is lovely stuff but Op Veritable is jealous. Is this because you bored of all that easy flat Rhineland cycling and needed a challenge? I'm back doing Feb 8th, trying to plot the Mattress missions against unit positions.
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The North African Tirailleur Regiment (TO&E)

    The regiment was partially motorized, that is to say it had the motor vehicles necessary to transport heavy weapons, ammunition and essential baggage, but not the companies themselves. The regiments theoretical effectives were: 92 officers, 400 non-commissioned officers and 2,600 corporals and riflemen, that is to say a total of 3,100 men in round figures, including 2,100 North-Africans, the cadres being mainly French.

    The Tirailleur Regiment included:
    - a regimental staff and a HQ company (C.H.R. or "Compagnie Hors Rang");
    - an anti-tank company (AC = Anti Tank), with 3 sections, each 4 guns of 57 towed, i.e. 12 anti-tanks, and a section of pioneers and specialized miners which was particularly valuable;
    - a company of infantry guns, with 6 howitzers (short barreled) of towed 105 mm, effective range 5,000 or 6,000 meters (artillery was under command the regimental CO - colonel - , and preferably used as a group, but could also be divided into three sections of two pieces);
    - three battalions, each comprising three companies of riflemen and an support company, plus a HQ company.

    The rifle company (compagnie de fusliers-voltigueurs (F-V)) consisted of 185 men divided into:
    - three sections of riflemen [i.e. platoons] with three groups, each armed with a machine gun and individual weapons (rifles, hand or rifle grenades, submachine guns, etc.);
    - a heavy weapons section, with two light machine guns and three 60 mm mortars.

    The support company (compagnie d'accompagnement) of the battalion included:
    - two sections of 4 heavy machine guns, i.e. 8 pieces;
    - a section of 6 mortars of 81 mm;
    - an anti-tank section of 3 AT-guns (57 mm) towed.

    In total, the regiment had a firepower of: 81 machine guns, 31 light machine guns, 24 heavy machine guns, 18 mortars of 81 mm, 27 mortars of 60, 21 anti-tank guns of 57 mm and 6 howitzers of 105 mm, which represented a considerable fire power.

    For the transport of combat equipment and reconnaissance, the regiment had, in principle, 66 jeeps, 11 amphibians, 117 trucks and about fifty trailers

    Sketch T.O.&E. Tirailleur Regiment
    TO&E Tirailleur Regt.jpg
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2022
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  19. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Hi Stolpi

    Finally got around to reading your new comprehensive thread on a probably little known aspect of WW2 - brilliant work as ever

    How do you find all those photos


  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Thank you TD - I spent a few Euro's on new books and many more hours on the Internet in search for info on this subject.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021

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