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

    Cold Tirailleur 9.jpg

    On December 28, the weather conditions further deteriorated (intense cold, snow). Despite this, and the difficulties it experienced in getting adequate ammunition supplies, the 8th M.T.R. continued its forward movement in order to reach its objectives: hills 1025 and 1029 [across the Chiaro River]. The regiment still benefited from the support of the entire divisional artillery (except for the I./63rd R.A.A., which supported the 5th M.T.R.) and the 6th US Corps artillery, while the Tabors continued to cover the regiment's northern flank.

    Around 15:30 hrs, elements of II./8 (5th and 7th companies) approached point 1190 [a dilapidated farm called 'cabane Mainard'; this point dominated hills 1025 and 1029 and therefore had to be taken to allow further progress across the Chiaro River]; but the companies were completely exposed on the forward side of the mountain and suffered many casualties to enemy fire. At 19:00 hrs they retired to hill 1478, which led to the abandonment of the 'cabane' Mainarde and - in consequence - to the withdrawal of the goumiers of the 8th Tabor which were trying to cross the Chiaro River higher up in the mountains to the north. The Tabor also was fired on by machine guns from the neighboring heights on the west bank.

    In the south, the 5th M.T.R. continued its preparations for an attack, which was scheduled for the following day, the 29th; a thrust across hills 1225, 1220 and the 'twin hills'.

    In short, the enemy did not try to regain the ground lost the day before, but he opposed, by all means, the crossing of the Rio Chiaro, and still occupied his positions on the Monna Casale.

    During the day, the 2nd Moroccan division had to evacuate around 100 men suffering from frostbite, especially frozen feet.

    Tirailleurs Mor in snow.jpg Moroccan Tiralleurs Italy 4.jpg
    French Moroccan Tirailleurs march through snow and ice towards the front

    Brancardiers Castelnuovo 29.12.1943.jpg
    29 December 1943, Goumiers stretcher-bearers near Castelnuovo.

    Chiaro monument.jpg
    On 28 December 1943 soldiers of the 5. Gebirgsjäger Division massacred a group of 42 innocent Italian civilians - men, women and fifteen young children (ages ranging from 1 month to 56 years). They were inhabitants from the nearby villages, who had fled the violence of war by taking refuge in the upper valley of the Chiaro River, and thus inadvertently got in between the front lines. A simple cross is placed at the site of the atrocity.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2021
  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Theatre Monna Casale 4 MTR.jpg
    Above: Map of the eastern slopes of the Monna Casale (Courtesy: "Victoire en Italie, le 2e DIM")


    On December 29th, the main weight of the division's effort shifted to the south, toward the 5th M.T.R. which was to thrust against [the eastern flank of the Monna Casale] points 1225, 1220 and also the "twin hills" [or "Jumelles" as they were called by the French] that barred the access to the summit of the Monna Casale.

    The III./5 was in the lead and attacked at 10:30 hrs, after a intensive artillery preparation by all available guns against the "twin hills", which lasted for two hours (from 08:30 to 10:30 hrs), and against points 1225, 1220, with a duration of one hour (from 09:30 to 10:30 hrs). On hill 1220 the 11th company could make no headway, because of stubborn opposition encountered on the western reverse slope, where enemy positions unattainable for shellfire had escaped the artillery bombardment. The capture of hill 1225, by the 9th company, proved also particularly difficult; here an uncertain fight lasted till the evening, without achieving - again - the capture of the western reverse slope. [In the afternoon,] both knobs of the "twins" of the Monna Casale were assaulted, from 14:00 hrs onwards, by the 10th company which, after reaching the top of the eastern hill at 16:30 hrs, had to fall back at dusk, after having suffered severe casualties - especially from intense German mortar fire [over 1000 mortar shells were reported in a short time. By the end of the day the French held the eastern slopes of 1220 and 1225, but the slightest move immediately provoked an enemy reaction with mortar shells. During the night strong enemy patrols were held off with machine gun fire and hand grenade duels].

    Elsewhere, the 8th M.T.R. also was subjected to heavy mortar fire. Despite all this, it consolidated its positions on hill 1478 (Mainarde) and probed in a westerly direction, notably toward hill 1029. To the north, the line remained unchanged; the San Michele defile was still strongly held by the enemy.

    Late that night it was decided to suspend further operations, to allow the units to have some time to rest and reorganize, and prepare for a new large-scale attack. [The hard-tested 5th MTR on to approaches of the Monna Casale was relieved by elements of the 4th MTR, and was assigned to the central sector of the 2nd Moroccan Division, the line between the Rio Chiaro and the Mainarde].

    [The War diary of the F.E.C. noted for December 30th: "a violent blizzard on the Abruzzo mountain range brings the offensive of the 2nd Moroccan ID to a stop".] On December 30, the division consolidated its positions, while maintaining contact with the enemy on the line: Costa San Pietro (1450), hills 1025, 1029, 1225 (western slopes), 1220 (western slopes) and the "twin hills" of the Monna Casale. Further south, the 45th US Inf Div had reached the Mount Rotondo (1.5 km south of Monna Casale), Mount Raimo, Mount Molino (1.5 km southeast of Acquafondata).

    On December 31st, the weather really turned foul; snow fell incessantly and, at night, a violent blizzard raged over the region. Tornadoes and squalls lasted for forty-eight hours, blocking tracks and paths, obstructing observation, and bringing to its lowest point an already very difficult situation, in terms of road connections, communications, evacuation and supplies.

    Mules in snow aa.jpg
    The turn of the year came with adverse weather, bringing the operations to a virtual standstill. Heavy snowfall and violent storms ravaged the region, adding to the hardships of the front line troops. Moroccan Goumiers lead mules down a snow covered trail near Mount Castelnuovo, Italy. 12 January 1944 (N.A.R.A. MM-5-152398) (Courtesy: Moroccan soldiers lead mules through the snow, Mount Castel Nuovo, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)

    Gums in Abruzzen.jpg
    Official caption on front: "MM-5-152399." Official caption on reverse: "Sig. Corps Radio Photo-1-12-44 / Italy! French Goums [Moroccan Goumiers], undaunted by a snow storm, prepare a meal of mountain goat in a crudely constructed barbecue at the foot of Mt. Castel Nuovo during a lull in the battle." Mount Castel Nuovo, Italy. 12 January 1944 (courtesy: Moroccan troops grill meat on a homemade grill, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories).

    As the year 1943 came to an end, the 2nd Moroccan ID, the first and only large French unit engaged alongside the Allies in Italy since the end of November, and by that time in action for 21 days, drew up its balance sheet. It amounted to more than 900 men killed, wounded and missing [211 killed, including 19 officers; 656 wounded, including 42 officers; 56 missing including 1 officer; or a total of 923 casualties (of which nearly 23% killed in action)]. To this figure must be added the men evacuated due to illnesses, accidents and, above all, frostbite. The total number largely exceeded one thousand.

    Faced with an enemy who clung to every unevenness, in a terrain that lend itself remarkably well to defense, progress had been limited; counted in kilometers: about two in the center, and a little more than three in the south of its sector; to the north, it rotated around the pivotal point of the San Michele. Moreover, the lengthy frontline, about twelve kilometers in a mountainous zone, did not always allow the division to maneuver as swift as it would have wished.

    However, by its constant battering, the division shook and partly smashed the northern wing of the Cassino gateway, which the Germans did their utmost to keep shut. The opposing forces emerged much weakened from this confrontation. It is not possible to quantify their losses in dead and wounded; on the other hand, nearly one hundred and fifty prisoners and deserters were captured; they admitted that their units had a very hard time, especially because of the amount of shellfire.

    Monna Casale 000 (1).jpg
    Map courtesy of: Google Maps
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2021
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  3. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The operations by the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division - 14 - 31 December 1943:

    2nd Moroccan ID operations Dec 43.jpg
    Frontline in blue is the approximate line attained by the Moroccans by 31 December 1943
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2020
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  4. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    2. The January offensive: Monna Casale & Costa San Pietro (1 - 12 Jan 1944):

    1944 The French Expeditionary Corps assumes command


    The 3rd Algerian Infantry Division moves into the line

    Preparation of the preliminary offensive to the battle of Cassino
    (period from January 1 to 11, 1944)



    At the beginning of the year, a second large French unit entered the line in the theater of operations in Italy.

    "Today, January 1st"
    - wrote General Juin - "almost all elements of the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division have landed and are assembling in the Caivano area. The Allied Command requested that the 3rd Algerian ID relieves the 45th US Inf Div as soon as possible and, to this end, put the Algerian division under the command of the 6th US Corps on December 30. The contacts made by General De Monsabert, in conjunction with me, with the 45th US Inf Div and the 6th US Corps, made it possible to set the successive stages of this relief. The staff of the 3rd Algerian ID joined, from today, that of the 45th US Inf Div. The 7th Algerian Tirailleur Regiment (Alg.T.R.), first regiment to be ready, moved up yesterday - December 31 - into the sector, where it relieved the American regiment of the 2nd echelon [reserve]. The other elements of the division, infantry in the lead, will follow, as soon as they are assembled, and transportation is available."

    On January 3, at noon, General Juin took over command of the zone previously assigned to the 6th US Corps, at the extreme right of the 5th US Army, with his command post at Prata Sannita. [The 45th US Infantry Div, awaiting its full relief by the 3rd Algerian ID, temporarily passed under command of the F.E.C. Attached in support was the 13th Artillery Brigade with 8 heavy regiments of 155mm and 1 regiment of 4,5 inch guns - the 13th Brigade remained in support of the French until the end of the Italian Campaign].

    Two documents are particularly revealing of the atmosphere in which this command transfer took place, as well as of the tactical intentions and logistical concerns of the F.E.C. commander [FEC messages nos. 3 and 241, to the French chief in command at Algiers of 1 and 6 January 1944]:
    "General Lucas, commander of the 6th US Corps, had made a point of solemnly marking the command transfer. Detachments of troops, American and French, with music, returned the honors, and the national anthems were exchanged. I have thanked General Lucas for this particularly moving gesture in the present circumstances ...

    ... I thus will take upon me the continuation of the relief of the 45th US Inf Div by the 3rd Algerian ID. The support elements (artillery, engineers, anti aircraft units, etc.) of the 6th US Corps are, for the time being, left at my disposal, and all have been contacted so that the transfer of command will go as smoothly as possible.

    Finally, by the opening of the French sector, on the right wing of the army, I will be given the opportunity to closely coordinate the action of the Dody's division with that of the Monsabert.

    The terrain dictates everything: the Monna Casale, at the inner wings of the two divisions, constitutes the keystone of the mountain system - on which anchors the enemy defense - between the Volturno and the Rapido on the one hand, and the defile of Cardito and the basin of Acquafondata on the other hand [see sketch no. 16].
    At the same time, I do not lose sight of the benefits that can be derived from an action in the north of my sector, consisting in harassing the enemy rear with our Tabors, who will finally find, in this area, possibilities of action corresponding to their aptitudes and their means.

    As I previously have underlined to you, the presence of General Guillaume thus appears to me essential, especially since the 3rd Tabor Group, being unloaded, will soon be available for the operations.

    Of course, I will always act in full agreement with the commanding general of the 5th US Army, and within the framework of his directives; but I still believe that my direct command over our two front-line divisions, and on our tabors, can be successful without excessive losses."

    As has been mentioned before, General Juin had not given up the hope of resuming an operation through the high mountain ranges around the enemy's left flank, to bring about the collapse of the enemy defense, as had been attempted initially - though without success - by the 2nd Moroccan ID when it entered the frontline in the second half of December.

    3rd Algerian ID general Monsabert.jpg 3rd Algerian ID TO&E.jpg


    The balance of General Goislard de Monsabert's 3rd Algerian Infantry Division had assembled at Naples by December 31st and took up position in the frontline in the period of 1 - 9 January, 1944, by relieving the 45th U.S. Inf Div to the left of the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division. The 4th Tunisian Tirailleur Regiment was incomplete, two of its battalions were still in Oran (North Africa). The Algerian Division was supported by the 3rd Group of Moroccan Tabors (G.M.T.). On the left the 7th Alg. T.R. took over the positions of the 179th and 180th US Infantry and on 3 January opened its CP at Demonio. The 3rd Alg.T.R., during the night of 8 to 9 January, relieved the 157th US Infantry on the left, on the Monte Cavallo and Colle Calanzolo; south of these positions, where the enemy the previous days had ceded to the pressure the "Special Service Forces", the "detachement Bonjour" took over at Concasale, Colle di Stefano and the Mont Majo. The artillery completed the take over during the night to 9 January not without difficulty. The batteries were positioned in the valleys and terraces next to the road Pozilli - San Elia. On 9 January, 1944, general de Monsabert officially took command of the sector.

    Further details of the arrival of the 3rd Algerian ID in Italy and the take over of the frontline can be found in the War Diary of this unit (courtesy, 'Les Grandes Unités Francaises, Tome IV' , p.751 - 757):

    3rd Algerian Div arrival Italy and take over  0.jpg 3rd Algerian Div arrival Italy and take over  1.jpg 3rd Algerian Div arrival Italy and take over  2.jpg 3rd Algerian Div arrival Italy and take over  3.jpg

    French offensive 3.jpg
    Soldiers of the 3rd Algerian Division move up to the frontline

    French offensive.jpg
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Mar 9, 2021
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  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The weather conditions, however, did not seem to favor an early resumption of operations, and they were of great concern to the F.E.C. commander [who wrote on 6 January]:
    "The storm resumed yesterday, after a relative calm of two days. Snow covers the peaks; rain and a strong wind increase traffic difficulties. Frontline troops suffer from this extremely harsh weather for which their equipment is not well adapted for ...
    I have just learned that 600 reinforcements, for the 2nd Moroccan ID, just have landed in Naples in French clothes with only one blanket and without equipment [...]. I therefore urge you to please provoke orders for the reinforcements to be dispatched fully dressed and equipped."


    The mission of the F.E.C. was the same as that previously assigned to the 6th US Corps: to reach the transversal road San Elia, Atina, and outflank the Monte Cassino - the army objective - along the heights in the north.

    But the relief of the 45th US Inf Div by the 3rd Algerian ID, on the one hand, and the prevailing foul weather, on the other - with snow on the heights and rain in the lower parts of the mountains - for the time being prevented any large-scale operations.

    The troops did not remain inactive, though. By his directive no.1 of January 6th, 1944, general Juin prescribed to adopt: "An aggressive attitude based on artillery and mortar actions, supplemented by patrols at day- and nighttime and, if necessary, by small raids or attacks, strongly supported, in order to gather intelligence, to cause losses to the enemy and to keep him busy."

    In fact, information was collected which made it possible to identify all the opposing units facing the F.E.C. a notable change in the enemy disposition occurred by the arrival of the 115. Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment (15.Pz.Gren.Div), later to be reinforced by a battalion of Alpine troops, which took over the defense of the left wing of the 5.Gebirgsjäger Division on the high mountains.

    Enemy sitiation 18.1.44 2nd Mor.jpg Enemy sitiation 18.1.44 3rd Alg.jpg


    Tirailleur 5.jpg
    Physical endurance was very high and troops, having fed full, often began an operation with no more than a day or two's of hard rations, trusting on success to bring about replenishment. The greater part of a man's load consisted of ammunition, especially grenades. Both pictures (above and below) were made during the Spring Campaign in May 1944.

    Goumiers MG.jpg
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    January 8th was marked by two events: the release of the F.E.C. Operations Order no.1 and the engagement of an element of the 3rd Algerian ID in the southern part of the Corps zone, alongside units of the 2nd US Corps.

    The Operation Order no.1 contained the mission of the F.E.C. It was first to break the enemy front established on the line Costa San Pietro, hills 1025 and 1029, the mount Monna Casale, mount Monna Acquafondata, mount Passero, then to exploit towards San Biagio and San Elia. The objective to be attained was the line San Elia, the course of the Rapido river and the San Biagio pass (at least as far as the Mass.Cupido).

    Base Map Jan offensive aa.jpg
    Map of the frontline postions of the French Expeditionary Corps (F.E.C.) on 10 Jan 1944 with planned main axis of attack by 2nd Moroccan and 3rd Algerian Divisions and the objective line in green. Re orientation: the top of the map is facing east.

    The operation was to begin, weather permitting, on the night of January 11 to 12 for the 2nd Moroccan ID, and on the 12th at 08:00 hrs for the 3rd Algerian ID. If not possible, the main attacks of the two divisions would be launched simultaneously on the 12th at 08:00 hrs.

    That same day, the 3rd Algerian ID - in the process of the taking over from the 45th US Inf Div - suffered a 'setback' that was attributable to its introduction to a sector whose northern zone was static and covered by the 2nd Moroccan ID, which was halted in its tracks, but whose southern zone was fluid because of the progress of the large neighboring unit: the 2nd US Corps. In fact, the right-flank elements of this Corps, consisting of a "Task Force B" in the afternoon seized the hills 1109 and 1270, while also occupying the Mount Majo and it was expected that the 2nd US Corps would continue its attack on the 9th, with as objective, for its right-hand elements, the Colle Caparo.

    By Special Order no.9, the GOC of the F.E.C., in close consultation with the allied commander, decided that the 3rd Algerian ID: "will relieve the units of the "Task Force B" by firmly occupying the Majo mountain, will cover the right flank of this task force, and will stand ready to provide the 2nd US Corps with any fire support that it may require". The mission would be carried out by the "detachement Bonjour" (named after the colonel commanding the 3rd Régiment Spahis Algérienes de Reconnaissance (R.S.A.R.); the divisional reconnaissance regiment), a temporary group comprising infantry elements of the 3rd R.S.A.R., of the guard company, and the I./4 Tunisian Tirailleur Regiment (T.T.R.), with a mule echelon and artillery support.

    The 3rd Algerian ID was also responsible for maintaining close contact with enemy groups spotted on the western heights overlooking Viticuso [Mt Carvello with the church of St Antonino] and on Mount Molino. January 9, at 09:00 hrs, General De Monsabert, commanding the 3rd Algerian ID, officially took over command of the so-called Venafro sector from the 45th US Inf Div.

    This sector forms a kind of bowl whose raised edge, on the enemy side is formed by the heights of the "twin hills", the Monna Casale, Monna Acquafondata, Raimo, Molino, San Antonino, and Majo mountains. These heights, except for the mount Majo, were all occupied by the enemy; he thus dominated almost the entire sector of the 3rd Algerian ID, as well as the sole supply road which connects Pozzilli to San Elia by Casale Cassinese.

    Map frontline 10.01.44 Main axis of attack (1).jpg

    Winter Line 3 Likignano - San Elia road.jpg
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2021
  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    First battle for Cassino (Jan 44)

    The first battle of Cassino saw a series of Allied attacks between Cassino and the coast, which were sequential, and timed to coincide with the Anzio landings. After the war the local German commander, General Senger, criticised this approach, as he was able to switch his reserves to meet each assault. He argued that had the Allied thrusts been simultaneous, they would have broken through. Of the attacks, the French in the north showed most promise, but was halted through lack of reinforcements. Senger, though, was most worried by the British moves in the south, which he felt would have broken through had they been properly resourced.

    On January 10, at 0:00 o'clock, General Clark, commander of the 5th US Army, signed his Operations Instructions no.13 which fixed the respective missions of the three army corps under his command: the French Expeditionary Corps, 2nd US Corps and 10th British Corps. The plan devised by Clark for the attack on the Gustav Line followed for the most part the basic strategy already outlined in December. The schedule now ran:

    12 January - FEC drive on the enemy's left toward Sant'Elia;
    15 January - 2nd US Corps drive in the center to take Mt Trocchio;
    17 January - 10 British Corps attack to envelop the enemy's right by crossing the Garigliano in the Minturno area and pushing rapidly north toward San Giorgio. Simultaneously the British were to establish a second bridgehead at Sant'Ambrogio to protect the left flank of the 2nd US Corps.
    18 January - 2nd US Corps frontal assault over the Rapido in the vicinity of Sant'Angelo in Teodice;
    22 January - 6th US Corps landing at Anzio to threaten the enemy's rear.

    On the right flank, in the more northerly mountain area, was the terrain in which Juin's divisions were to operate. There low, high, unapproachable peaks, steep valleys that lay under German observation and fire at all points, there were no roads, there was hardly any cover in the terrain; logistic supply and removal was a superhuman effort. This area had to come into Allied hands, as it gave access to the upper valley of the Rapido and the German Gustav Line. As early as January 12, the Moroccans and Algerians had begun the fight to gain favorable starting positions for the major offensive with American air support. Mountain peaks such as the Costa San Pietro and Monte San Croce and mountain villages such as San Biaggio, became targets for the Second Moroccan Division, for the Third Algerian Division these were the peaks of the Mona Casale and Mt Aquafondata and the village of San Ellia.

    Italian Front Jan 44.jpg
    Plan of attack for the First battle for Rome (Jan 44); three Corps (FEC, 2nd US and 10th British Corps) under 5th Army would push hard - in successive attacks starting with the French at the upper Rapido, followed by the British in the south along the Garigliano, and finally the Americans in the center - to force a break through of the Gustav Line in the Liri Valley, while a fourth Corps would make an amphibious landing at Anzio in the rear of the enemy defense.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2021
  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    For his part, General Juin, by Special Order no. 11, temporarily placed the "detachement Bonjour" under the command of the 2nd US Corps in order to assist its advance and to relieve the elements on the right (made up by the "Special Service Force") as it pushed forward. It was specified that when the 2nd Corps would turn to the southwest, the detachement Bonjour would revert under command of the 3rd Algerian ID. It was not to move, in a south-westerly direction, beyond the region of Colle Castellone. From there, its would move in the direction of Saint Elia.

    These first necessary arrangements being made, it remained to finalize the details of the main attack to be launched within forty-eight hours. It was then that difficulties arose concerning the coordination of the attacks of the two French divisions against the "twin hills" and Monna Casale and Mt Passero (assigned to the 3rd Algerian ID), and the hills 1220 and 1225, Mt Vautour and Il Lago [on the eastern slopes of this massif] (assigned to the 2nd Moroccan ID).

    The GOC 2nd Moroccan ID estimated that the "twin hills" and the line of heights 1220 and 1225 should be attacked simultaneously. The hard battle in this area by the 2nd Moroccan ID, in December, had demonstrated the necessity, which was agreed by the both the GOC's of the F.E.C. and the 3rd Algerian ID. But General Dody, based on the experiences acquired during the previous engagement, insisted - also at the express request of his regimental commander of the 4th M.T.R. [colonel Lapara], tasked with the capture of hills 1220, 1225 - that the infantry attack must take place at night under cover of darkness, so as to avoid the enemy fire, which had proven particularly deadly at day-time. He proposed to set "H" hour at 06:00 hours, at the latest. At this time of the year dawn came around 7:30 am; the attack would therefore benefit from 90 minutes of darkness. However, although the troops of the 2nd Moroccan ID knew the ground well, such was not the case with the 3rd Algerian ID. And, therefore, General de Monsabert argued: "That it is not possible to request a night assault from a battalion (of the 7th Alg.T.R.) freshly arrived on its line of departure, which did not have time to carry out the necessary reconnaissance for this kind of operation before "D" day." He proposed to push back "H" hour for the infantry attack to 07:30 hours, that is to say at dawn.

    Finally, on January 11, General Juin set the start of the infantry assault of the 3rd Algerian ID on the "twin hills" of the Monna Casale, at 06:30 hours, with the start of the artillery preparation at 06:15 hours. Regarding the 2nd Moroccan ID, a slight time difference seemed to have been agreed, since General Dody's operation order mentioned that the attack would be launched between 06:00 and 06:30 hours, [the Moroccan division was free to proceed with a nightly surprise attack against the enemy on the Costa San Pietro] while specifying that no artillery or mortar support was allowed before 06:15 hours (the time set by the F.E.C. for the start of general preparation).

    Monna Casale 000 plan of attack 12 jan 44.jpg
    Plan of attack by the inner wings of the 2nd Moroccan and 3rd Algerian ID against the Monna Casale massif for 12 Jan 1944.

    Theatre Monna Casale 4 MTR.jpg
    Map of the operational area of the 4th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment (courtesy: Victoire en Italie, le 2e DIM")


    January 11th was spent with the preparations for the offensive the following day. A final conference of the GOC's of the F.E.C., the 2nd Moroccan and 3rd Algerian Divisions was held in Venafro. The situation was examined again and the missions specified:
    a) The 2nd Moroccan ID, reinforced by elements of a French regimental group (4th Group Moroccan Tabors (G.M.T.), III./64 RAA, 32nd Gr. A.A.A., 2 mule companies, 1 engineer company) and American units (1 medium tank company, 1 Bn of TD's, 1 Bn of Chemical Mortars and 1 Artillery Group) was responsible for seizing:

    - The Costa San Pietro and its height 1450, with a so-called 'outflanking' group formed by the II./8 M.T.R., the 5th Tabor, and two goums from the 8th Tabor;
    - hill 1025, with the two other battalion of the 8th M.T.R .;
    - hill 1029, with two battalions of the 5th M.T.R .;
    - and the line of heights 1225, 1250, with the entire 4th M.T.R.

    It was then to exploit in the direction of San Biagio by coordinating the movement of its left with the advance of the 3rd Algerian ID, and by ensuring the flank protection of the latter.

    The 2nd Moroccan ID would cover its own right flank, facing north, along the crevice of the San Michele and the mounts Mare and Cavallo, with the 4th G.M.T. (11th Tabor and part of the 8th Tabor). Finally, contact with the 8th British Army would be maintained by a detachment of the 3rd Moroccan Spahis Regiment (M.S.R.) in the Castel San Vincenzo area. And, in this regard, General Juin announced that he had asked General Clark (5th US Army) to intervene, in order to have the overextended right of the F.E.C. covered more effectively, with an action of the 13th British Corps, 8th Army, to capture Pizzone as well as the Mount San Michele which constituted a constant menace to the rear of the 2nd Moroccan ID.

    Dispositions and mission of the 2nd Moroccan ID on January 11th, 1944, from north to south, as specified by the War Diary (courtesy: 'Les Grandes Unités Francaises, Tome IV', p. 595):

    2nd Moroccan Div dispositions 11-1-1944.jpg

    b) The 3rd Algerian ID, also reinforced with elements of a French Regimental Group (7th Regiment de Chasseurs d'Afrique (R.C.A.), I. and II./64th R.A.A., 40th Gr.A.A.A., 1 mule company, 1 pioneer company) and American units (1 Coy of medium tanks, 1 Bn of TD's, 1 Artillery Group), and temporarily disposing of the 180th US Infantry Regiment with two battalions - replacing two battalions of the 4th Tunisian Tirailleur Regiment (Tun.T.R.) not yet arrived - received as mission to:

    - dislodge the enemy from the "twin hills", the mounts Monna Casale and Passero. This task was assigned to the 7th Alg.T.R., in conjunction on the right with the 4th M.T.R. of the 2nd Moroccan ID;
    - to seize the mount Monna Aquafondata, and to exploit on the axis Vallerotonda, San Elia; this mission was entrusted to the 3rd Alg.T.R .

    The division, finally, had to secure - facing to the north-west - the heights bordering the south-eastern bank of the Rapido, and maintain liaison to the south with the 2nd US Corps. This last mission was the responsibility of the detachement Bonjour, already engaged.

    The fire support was arranged in such a way that both divisional artilleries could lend each other mutual support. An American Corps artillery group was also added, as we have seen, to each Infantry Division (the Meyer group to the 2nd Moroccan ID and the Anderson group to the 3rd Algerian ID), while two other groups (Handy and Jay) received general support missions and, in particular, counter-battery tasks.

    The allied air force (US XII. A.S.C.) had to support the attack by bombarding enemy battery positions and assembly areas, and by harassing (bomb and machine gun) the axes of San Biagio, Atina and Aquafondata, San Elia.

    3rd Alg ID mission.jpg
    Dispositions and mission of the 3rd Algerian ID on January 11th, 1944, from north to south, as specified by the War Diary (courtesy: 'Les Grandes Unités Francaises, Tome IV', p. 755):

    Untitled.jpg
    Moroccan troops lead heavily-laden mules up a steep mountainside. Official caption on front: "MM-5-152296." Official caption on reverse: "Sig. Corps Radio Tele-Radioed 1-8-44. Italy! Using pack mules to carry their equipment and supplies in the rough mountain terrain, French colonial troops of a Moroccan Division move up hill to take positions on Italian front." Italy. 8 January 1944 (courtesy: Moroccan troops lead mules up a steep mountainside, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)

    Pack train near Cerasuolo.jpg
    Pack trains move into the mountains near Cerasuolo on January 11th, 1944.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2021
  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Base Map Jan offensive 12th.jpg
    Operations on Jan 12th,1944, by the FEC; re orientation: the top of the map is facing east.

    The battles for the Costa San Pietro

    hill 1025 and 1029, the Monna Casale

    the Monna Acquafondata, and the eastern slopes of the "Gustav Line"

    (period from 12 to 20 January 1944)


    On January 12, 1944, at 06:15 hrs the artillery opened the preparatory bombardment. The infantry of the 2nd Moroccan ID led off first; followed, at 06:30 hrs, by the 3rd Algerian ID. The enemy seemed surprised and the response of his artillery and mortars was weak. The reason for this became known later, after prisoner interrogations: the 5th Mountain Division was caught while retreating [his artillery and support units were in transfer to new positions on the western bank of the Rapido river].

    But his frontline infantry stood fast and stubbornly resisted, making maximum use of automatic weapons, echeloned in depth, and grenades.

    From 06:15 hrs on, due to the absence of a supporting attack of the 13th British Corps - which was unable to fulfill the request to protect the right flank of the F.E.C. - the 2nd Moroccan ID sent patrols toward Pizzone, while the "covering detachment" dispatched patrols of its tabors to the mounts Mont Mare and Marrone.

    At the same time, the III./4th M.T.R. took hills 1220 and 1225, and the II./4th M.T.R. overran the ridge line between point 1225 and the Chiaro River [taking over 30 POWs].

    From 06:30 hrs on, the III./7e Alg.T.R. fought hard to seize the "twin hills", [the forward bastion of the Monna Casale] which prevented, by flanking fire, all progress of the III./4 M.T.R. forward of point 1220 and 1225. At dawn, the 8th M.T.R. took point 1025, and the detachement Bonjour [I./4th Tunisian T.R.] seized San Antonino which had been evacuated by the enemy [and the Mt Pile, despite heavy mortar fire; the battalion took 10 POWs].

    From then on the enemy resistance focused on the Costa San Pietro, the "twin hills" and the Mount Raimo.

    In the morning, the I./85 G.J.R. - which had already lost hill 1025 to the 8th M.R.T. - was forced to abandon hill 1029 under the pressure of the 5th M.T.R. [At 06:30 hrs, two battalions of the 5th Moroccan Tirailleurs passed through the line held by the II./5th M.T.R. and at 07:15 hrs seized hill 1029 without much opposition; 28 POWs are taken. By the evening the regiment occupied the western slopes of Hill 1029 and the eastern edge of Cerro Grosso].

    The center of the enemy front, the part astride the road leading to San Biagio and Atina, now threatened to crack. The enemy desperately clung to the two buttresses that were likely to prevent such a rupture:

    - to the north of the road the 115. Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment (P.G.R.) occupied the Costa San Pietro; the "covering detachment" (II./8th MTR and tabors) managed to seize the summit of hill 1450, but was driven off again. A second attack then was mounted which, after having fixed the enemy in the northern part of the Costa San Pietro, finally led to the fall of point 1450 and the occupation of the southern part;

    - south of the road, the III./85 G.J.R. [5. Gebirgs-Jäger-Division] was holding on to the "twin hills" and had counter-attack elements on the so-called "Vauture"-ridge [which runs SW-NE from the Monna Casale, and forms a watershed between the massif and the road to Cardito]. From the "twin hills," he turned back all attempts of both the III./7th Alg.T.R. - which nevertheless twice managed to gain a foothold on the position - and the III./4th M.T.R., which was subjected to deadly flanking fire each time it moved beyond points 1220 and 1225. And, having elements on the "Vautour"-ridge, he also blocked the route of the II./4th M.T.R. along the river;

    - finally, further south, the 100th G.J.R. tenaciously resisted the advance of the 3rd Alg.T.R. [, commanded by Colonel De Linarès,] which did not succeed to seize the Mount Rotondo. [The II./3rd Alg.T.R., suffering heavy casualties, fought its way up the mountain. The 7th Coy reached the summit to within 100 meters, but was unable to drive off the enemy]. Taking advantage of the success of the détachement Bonjour on its left, the [3rd battalion of the] regiment nevertheless overran the enemy opposition on the mount Molino [(hill 1028) in the course of the afternoon; the attacking 9th Coy received assistance of the 7th Regiment Chasseurs d'Afrique (R.C.A.), whose 36 M-10 Tank Destroyers pounded the enemy positions with direct shell-fire; the action yielded 25 POWs].

    POW Mt Molina 8.1.44.jpg
    A POW of the 5th Gebirgs-Jäger-Division taken at the Mt Molino. Wounded four times in action, and veteran of one year of fighting in Russia, this German prisoner prior to his capture in the vicinity of Mt. Molina believed that the Germans were winning in Russia, and had full confidence in a German victory. (Courtesy: German prisoner smokes a cigarette, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)


    In the afternoon:


    The III./7 Alg.T.R. seized the "twin hills" in the third assault, at 13:45 hrs. Having removed this blockage, the situation suddenly became fluid and a forward movement started: the 7th Alg.T.R. continued towards the summit of the Monna Casale (point 1395). To its right, the 4th M.T.R. - no longer hindered by flanking fire - pushed on beyond point 1220 and 1225.

    On the left, [the capture of the mount Molino by the III./3rd Alg.T.R. gave Colonel De Linarès, the regimental CO, a chance to outmaneuver the enemy on the Monna Acquafondata and mount Rotondo, which were still holding up his advance. The capture of San Antonino and the Mt Molino opened the possibility for an attack against the Monna Acquafondata from south to north, instead of the frontal attack from east to west as ordered. In the middle of the fight, he therefore asked General de Monsabert for authorization to reverse his operation to the south and, for that, to delay his attack. The general accepted and set the time for a renewal of the operation at 17:30 hrs. Leaving the Monna Casale operation to unwind by itself, he put all his available reserves at the disposal of Colonel De Linarès, and directed him to thrust in the direction of San Elia. This shift would lead to the rapid advance that was to follow. The removal of the Monna Acquafondata was entrusted to III./3rd Algerian T.R., which would attack on the Molino axis - 960 - 1040 - 1325. The battalion jumped off at on schedule at 17:30 hrs, after an artillery preparation, and after having slid south along the enemy held Mt Raimo, it approached the Monna Acquafondata from the flank. At 18:00 hrs hill 960 was occupied. At 20:00 hrs the 10th company arrived on 1040 and at 03:30 hrs the summit 1325 was taken. This accelerated the fall of the Mount Rotondo (1000), the II./3rd signaled that the 5th Coy finally was atop the hill. At dawn, the village of Acquafondata was found evacuated by the enemy. The 3rd Algerian Division had achieved its objectives and broken the enemy line south of the Monna Casale].

    Linares 3rd ATR.jpg
    Colonel De Linarès, the CO of the 3rd Algerian Tirailleur Regt (right), with members of his staff. By taking advantage of the opening on his left, he outflanked and broke the enemy defenses south of the Monna Casale in the afternoon of January 12th.

    Evidently the enemy's concerns rose [on the 12th], which was reflected by an unusual air activity. Several formations of five to ten FW 190 and Me 109 aircraft flew over the F.E.C. sector during the afternoon. Around 15:00 hrs, one of these formations bombed and strafed the village of Cerasuolo, killing about a dozen of men. In return he lost a total of four aircraft, shot down by the anti-aircraft artillery. [The bombs hit the CP of a supporting American mortar company, and set on fire a truck of the 5th M.T.R., filled with enemy POW's].

    Under severe pressure from our troops in the center and in the south, where he was forced to give ground, the enemy tried to retake the buttress to the north of the road, from where he could threaten any attempt to exploit in the direction of San Biagio: the Costa San Pietro, partly taken by the II./8th M.T.R. and the tabors. Three times in the afternoon the 115.Panzer-Grenadier-regiment (P.G.R.) furiously counter-attacked. One of these attacks was carried out by approximately two companies dressed in white and wearing skis. They were - as was to become known later - Jäger of the 3rd Alpine Battalion (Hochgebirgs-Jäger) who were sent to reinforce the 115. P.G.R. Nevertheless, all enemy attacks were repelled, by the effective support given by the artillery.

    Cerasuolo bombing.jpg
    Photograph: "MM-5-152661." Official caption on reverse: "Sig. Corps Photo-1-16-44-Italy: Smoldering debris on a street in Cerasuolo bombed and strafed by German planes just a few minutes before this photo was taken. Sig. Corps Rad. Tele." Cerasuolo, Italy. 16 January 1944 [sic = must be 12.1.1944].(courtesy: Soldiers climb over rubble in a bomb-damaged town, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)

    Cerasuolo POWs.jpg
    German prisoners of war carry a wounded French soldier. Official caption on front: "MM-5-152669." Official caption on reverse: "Sig. Corps Photo-1-16-44-Italy: German prisoners acting as litter bearers help evacuate French casualties from the town of Cerasuolo. Sig Corps Rad. Tele." Cerasuolo, Italy. 16 January 1944 (Courtesy: German prisoners of war evacuating French casualties in Cerasuolo, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)

    At the end of the day:

    Both divisions had secured their objectives, except in the center where the summit of the Monna Casale, the mounts Passero and Acquafondata still were occupied by the enemy.

    In the evening the order was given:
    - to the 2nd Moroccan ID [in the north]: to hold the present position on the Costa San Pietro at all costs (main effort); [in the center:] to exploit towards San Biagio [by seizing the heights northeast of Cardito, crossing the Rio Schiavonaro and entering the San Croce massif;
    and in the south: to seize Cardito, cross the Rapido and gain the first slopes of the Colle Dell' Arena].
    - to the 3rd Algerian ID, to eliminate the Monna Casale, to seize the mounts Passero and Acquafondata, to exploit in the direction of Vallerotonda and San Elia, and to keep close contact with the 2nd US Corps.

    The detachement Bonjour, which had been under the orders of the 2nd Corps since the 10th, reverted to control of the 3rd Algerian ID; the III./8e M.T.R. relieved the II./8e M.T.R. on the Costa San Pietro, in the evening. [By nightfall the tirailleurs of the 5th M.T.R. were firmly ensconced on the western slopes of point 1029 and had nearly reached the road between La Selva and Cardito; on the left they linked up with the 4th M.T.R.].

    At 23:00 hrs, General de Monsabert ordered for the 13th: "une exploitation a outrance". He not only demanded "a resolute drive in the general direction of San Elia", but [sensing a breakthrough] also specified that: "each regiment, must have ready a strong assault detachment for exploitation, which has to act boldly without worrying about its flanks".

    105 mm 12.01.1944.jpg
    French artillery effectively supported the operations of the F.E.C. on January 12th. Each division was supported by an Artillery Regiment, which consisted of 3 groups of towed 105mm howitzers, each 3 batteries of 4 pieces and a general support group of 155mm Howitzers, also towed, with 3 batteries. It therefore had 36 pieces of 105mm and 12 pieces of 155mm. In addition each Tirailleur Regiment had a Cannon Company of 6 short barreled 105 mm howitzers. (courtesy http://archives.ecpad.fr/wp-content/gallery/campagne_italie_cote_francais/TERRE-144-3147.jpg)

    M3 105 mm Howitzer.jpg
    A French served M3 105mm howitzer in Italy
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2021
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  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Base Map Jan offensive 13th.jpg
    Operations on Jan 13th,1944, by the FEC; re orientation: the top of the map is facing east.

    On January 13, 1944, the two divisions continued their operations. Only the 2nd Moroccan ID modified its dispositions somewhat to create a reserve, by taking out of the line a battalion each from the 4th and 5th M.T.R.

    On the F.E.C. front, the events - seen from north to south - unfolded as follows:

    - from 10 o'clock enemy artillery activity intensified, and several counter-attacks launched from the Colle Porcazzete, seriously threatened the III./8th M.T.R. on the Costa San Pietro. The situation became particularly critical around 16:00 hrs, and the support groups of the 4th and 5th M.T.R. were called upon to support the III./8th M.T.R. with fire from the flanks. Eventually, the situation was stabilized, but the III./8 had suffered heavy losses; its companies having been reduced to about forty men each.
    The enemy counter-attacks also delayed the advance of the left wing of the 8th M.T.R. which was still hanging back from the right wing of the 5th M.T.R. This created a dangerous gap, which the division filled up by deployment of one of the reserve battalions, the II./5e M.T.R.

    [The I. and III./5th M.T.R. pushed forward in the low region between San Pietro and Monna Casale. The enemy's reaction was quite weak. From 07:15 hrs artillery observers reported the capture of hill 1029. Germans had been seen raising their hands and throwing down their weapons. Hill 1025 was occupied: 28 prisoners taken. At 09:30 hrs Colonel Joppé, commander of the regiment, reported that his men had taken objective 01 and Molino Pietro. The I./85th Gebirgsjäger Regiment had been pushed aside. The village of Cardito and Mass Cupido, objectives of the 2nd phase, were directly threatened. It seemed that a breakthrough had been realized.] The 5th M.T.R. entered Cardito [and La Selva], evacuated by the enemy, and in the afternoon crossed the Rio Schiavonara (or upper Rapido) near Mass.Giacchetta, 1.5 km north-west of Cardito. [Patrols worked their way up the forward slopes of the mount Croce, where they were halted by enemy opposition].

    Battle for hill 1029.jpg
    Advance of the 5th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment on 12 and 13 Jan 1944 towards Cardito and La Selva and the upper Rapido River; on the 12th the 3rd Bn on the left and the 1st Bn on the right, pass through the 2nd Bn, which is holding the line of departure and moves into division reserve (courtesy: 2 GM Italie 43-44 - 5e RTM)

    - The 4th M.T.R., which coordinated its movements with those of the 7th Alg.T.R. (3rd Algerian ID) on the left, pushed forward toward the Rapido meeting little enemy resistance - the I./4th in the lead [which had relieved the II. and III./4th]. It was only subjected to a few mortar rounds from the crest of the "Vauture"-ridge [The 2nd Coy on the right seized Cardito, while its left hand Coy crossed the Rapido and pushed on to the Colle Della Arena. The 2nd Coy captured an enemy detachment at Cardito which was about to carry out destructions in the village and to the road to San Biagio]. At the end of the day the 4th M.T.R. has taken the Colle Martino and occupied the mount Il Lago (1220).

    - The 7th Alg.T.R. from 07:15 hours, completed the occupation of mount Monna Casale by seizing the 1395 summit. And, in the early the afternoon, seized the mount Passero (1388).

    - [As has been mentioned before,] in the course of the night to the 13th (at about 03:30 hours), the 3rd Alg.T.R. took 1325, the summit of mount Monna Acquafondata, which led to the fall of mount Raimo (1000); at daybreak, [the I./3rd Algerian T.R., until then held in reserve, passed through the village of Acquafondata without difficulty, occupying the western edge of the basin of Acquafondata, but, in the afternoon, was stopped by strong resistance in front of the Mount Ferro (1080), which was not overcome until early next morning].

    As for the detachement Bonjour, it continued its advance by pushing back an enemy battalion which successively clung to the mounts Pile and Pagano. The II. and III. battalions of the 4th Tunisian T.R. (the Tunisian regiment up to then had only one battalion committed, the I./4th, which had been attached to the detachement Bonjour) were expected to arrive and soon to be engaged.

    [A French intelligence report summed up the results of the two day battle as follows: Breakthrough: January 12, 1944. On January 12th, in the morning, the silence of the landscape was broken on all sides. The general attack surprised the German units. On the crest of Monna Casale, the III./85 Gebirgjäger Regiment (GJR) resisted energetically. On the Costa San Pietro, the Germans of the 115th Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment, rejected from their positions, set out to counter-attack. But, in the center, the line was pushed back: the I./85 GJR, was submerged and driven off points 1025 and 1029; Cardito and Mass Cupido were directly threatened, and with that the road of San Biagio. On January 13th, the III./85 GJR abandoned Monna Casale and fell back on the Rapido. The remnants of its companies were collected by II./85, which, after having been hastily refilled, was rushed forward from San Biagio to Colle San Eustachio. Costa San Pietro, Cardito, La Selva, Mass Cupido, were lost to him. The situation was serious. A last and violent counter-attack of the 115.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment on the Costa San Pietro was again broken up by artillery fire. The line of the Rapido must be held at all costs: the units of the 85 GJR were too weak to withstand another attempt at breakthrough; all the local reserves were deployed, independent companies, squadrons of the G.R.D. 95 [Div.Recce], engineer units. The Gustav line was devoid of troops: was there enough time to bring in reinforcements?].

    In short, during January 12 and 13, 1944, concluded the 3rd Bureau of the F.E.C.: "The assaults of these two days therefore finally resulted in a break-in of the German defense. The break will now be exploited to reach, as soon as possible the objective determined by the 5th US Army."

    The same report gave an overview of the losses suffered by the F.E.C. during those forty eight hours. They were about 800 in total (killed, wounded, missing and evacuated for various reasons), distributed approximately as follows: almost 400 in the 2nd Moroccan ID, more than 300 in the 3rd Algerian ID, and around 75 for attached units (mainly among the tabors). But this is only a minimum. The enemy, for his part, had without doubt also suffered severe losses, if we may judge by the single figure of 231 prisoners (160 taken by the 2nd Moroccan ID and 71 by the 3rd Algerian ID), not including the captured enemy wounded who passed through medical channels.

    [The French attacks shook the 5.Gebirgsjäger-Division and on the 13th General Ringel, the GOC of the mountain division, reported casualties of 80% in some units and warned that his division was in danger of being overwhelmed. On the evening of the 13th the AOK 10 sanctioned a withdrawal of the 5. Gebirgsjäger-Division, and by part of the 44. I.D. on its right flank, to the line (from north to south) of the Mt San Croce - Vallerotonda - Portella]

    German POWs.jpg
    German POWs taken by the French during the January operations at the Costa San Pietro (courtesy http://archives.ecpad.fr/gallery/15/)

    French Tirailleurs.jpg Moroccan Tiralleurs Italy 3 75.jpg
    A wounded Moroccan Tirailleur is evacuated to the rear during the fighting at the Costa San Pietro (courtesy: “One hundred years of photography in the French Armed Forces”. Sixth episode. Jacques Belin: an army photographer in the Army of Africa. | Actualités du musée de l'Armée).

    Google 3D Costa San Pietro.jpg
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2021
  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    1. Terrain: Costa San Pietro

    Costa San Pietro.jpg
    After a skilful approach march, the companies of the II./8th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment (Battalion Delort) climbed the Costa San Pietro from the deep Chiaro ravine. Often clinging to jagged rocks, they had to climb and descend successively on trails made treacherous by the frost. It was barely daylight when the Moroccan skirmishers stormed their objective, a sort of anvil reaching 1,450 meters. Enjoying the surprise effect, shouting their war cry: “Allah ihl Allah! Mohammed rassoul Allah!” , they, thanks to their irresistible elan, drove off an enemy who was nevertheless skillfully installed and resisted in particular with mortars. Sketch drawn by one of the artillery observation officers of the Costa San Pietro massif as seen from the Mainarde. View across the valley of the Rio Chiaro.
    (courtesy: Un hiver dans les Abruzzes, 1943 - 1944)

    Mainarde pt 1190.jpg
    View from the forward slope of Costa San Pietro across the deep gully of the Chiaro towards the Mt Mare; the French Moroccans had to cross this deep ravine in order to climb the Costa San Pietro (courtesy: Facebook)

    Costa San Pietro Jan 12th 1944 (1).jpg
    The Costa San Pietro: after the 2nd/8th M.T.R. (Delort) had gained a foothold on the ridge on January 12th, it was held against several counterattacks of the 115.P.G.R. reinforced by a the separate 3rd Battalion of Alpine Troops. The 2nd battalion in the process suffered heavy losses and its companies by the end of the day counted merely 25 men each. Next morning the 3rd/8th (Allard) took over the position from the 2nd battalion, it also was subjected to sharp enemy counterattacks but did not yield. The 3rd also suffered heavily with companies reduced to 35 to 40 men each. On the 14th the fighting died down; the enemy had resigned himself to the loss of the Costa San Pietro, but remained in possession of the commanding heights to the north (Map courtesy: Google maps).

    Costa San Pietro Jan 15th.jpg
    Intelligence Map of the 2nd Moroccon Division, situation January 15th, 1944. Note that the independent 3rd Alpine Battalion remained in position of the heights on the right flank of the 8th MTR: Mt Porcazette/Mt Moronna della Rosa, the Mt Cavallo and the Coste dell'Altare (courtesy: Victoire en Italie, 2e DIM").

    Lago Selva & Costa San Pietro.jpg
    Costa San Pietro as seen from the west, from the bank of the Lago Selva. The height commanded the valley and road toward San Biagio.

    Mainarde French Radio post.jpg
    The 8th R.T.M. occupied hill 1450 of the Costa San Pietro and held on there despite three sharp counterattacks, which were contained by the remarkably precise and rapid fire of the 63 Régiment d'Artillerie d'Afrique (R.A.A.). In 36 hours the French artillery fired 10,000 rounds. Three of the forward observation officers were lost, all of them killed: Lieutenants Thonier, Le Masne and Mornard. Lieutenant Thonier, ensuring the forward liaison of the III./63rd R.A.A. with the 2nd battalion of the 8th M.T.R., Thonier regulated the fire of his group, during three counter-attacks without regard for his own safety in the most dangerous situations, constantly exposing himself to have better observation. Impatient, he directed the fire from the front line with the infantry. It was during the third counterattack, after announcing by radio that he was moving around to observe better, that he was fatally hit in the chest. Vibrant and passionate, he had won the admiration of the infantry by his audacity and his temper. Next day, January 13th, the enemy renewed his counterattacks but again was driven off by the combined fires of up to 5 groups of artillery. After that, the enemy abandoned all hope of ever regaining Hill 1450 of the Costa San Pietro, which constituted the hinge of its line of defense in the north (photo courtesy http://archives.ecpad.fr/le-peintre...eau-irriera-et-la-campagne-ditalie-1943-1944/)


    2. Terrain: Monna Casale

    Monna Casale southern slope.jpg

    The southern slope of the Monna Casale. The mountain fell in an attack in the early morning of 13 January to the 1st battalion of the 7th Algerian Tirailleur Regiment (photo courtesy: Monte Monna Casale e Acquafondata!

    Thomazo Nez_de_cuir.jpg

    The III./7th Alg.T.R, leading the attack against the Twin Hills, which barred the access to the Monna Casale, had an unlucky start as a mortar shell hit the battalion's orders group and removed the battalion’s command element. The battalion commander, Lt.Col. Jean-Robert Thomazo, was severely wounded by a shell fragment which took away part of his nose and three of his officers were killed. Thomazo, who stayed in the Army, later was nick-named 'leather-nose', because of the leather strap that covered his wound. The assault was launched nonetheless and resulted in furious hand to hand combat in the darkness in which the two leading Coys, the 10th and 11th, suffered severe losses. Both peaks changed hands several times. The advance stalemated, but 2nd Lieutenant Piau, only surviving officer of the battalion, assisted by two sergeants, by noon rallied the debris of two companies - no more than 60 men - and finally succeeded in clearing the Twin Hills around 13:30 hrs. This handful of Tirailleurs, desperately cramped on these arid peaks, resisted all attempts by the enemy to retake the position, even resorting at some point, when ammunition ran out, to throwing boulders down the mountain slope. The 2nd Coy of the I./7th thereupon continued the attack and after darkness reached the summit of the Monna Casale.

    2002_01_04_005-2444-908-670-100.jpg
    From the summit of the Monna Casale looking towards the left (south-west) is the Mt Acquafondata (1325), both mountains are connected by a saddle ridge .... the Mt Acquafondatea was taken in a night attack by the 3rd Algerian T.R. in the early morning of the 13th of January.


    Mon Casale to Mt Passero (1).jpg
    .... hard west of the summit of the Monte Casale, separated by a sharp ravine, is the Mt Passero. Both the Mt Acquafondata and Mt Passero were taken by the Algerians in the course of January 13th following the enemy retreat. In the far distance, on the west bank of the Rapido, the high peak of the Monte Cairo, part of the Cassino massif; beyond it to the far left the inviting Liri valley which led up to Rome; in the center the Monte Cifalco, which towers high above the town of San Elia the objective of the 3rd Algerian ID . To its left the Belvedere. In between the latter two mountains the Belmonte valley which connects Cassino to Atina (photos courtesy: Monte Monna Casale e Acquafondata!.


    3. Terrain: Acquafondata village



    Acquafondata terrain.jpg

    Above: The village of Acquafondata fell at dawn on January 13th, 1944, to the 3rd Algerian Tirailleur Regiment, commanded by Col. de Linares. In the hours of darkness the regiment slipped past the enemy defenses on the Mt. Raimo, took the latter and then scaled the slopes of the Mt Acquafondata, whose summit was reached by 03:30 hrs by a company of Algerian Tirailleurs of the III./3rd Algerian T.R. This success opened the gate to the 3rd Algerian ID for an advance to Vallerotonda and San Elia. Below: picture of the village of Acquafondata in January 1944.

    Acquafondata 13.01.44 000.jpg


    Mt Rotondo 3rd Alg TR.jpg
    Colonel De Linarès outflanking maneuver of January 12th that led to the fall of the Mt Monna Acquafondata (1325) and the village of Acquafondata. The summit of 1325 fell to the III./3rd Algerian T.R. in the night of 12th to the 13th (courtesy: 'Le 3e Regiment de Tirailleurs Algeriens en Italie").

    Vallerotonda 15.01.44.jpg
    Just west of Acquafondata lay a last rise, whose military summit, called by the French the Col de Acquafondata, or "Col du Général", offered a wide view of the San Elia basin and the Rapido valley. French officers at the Col de Acquafondata looking down on the village of Vallerotonda; in the distance the Mt Cairo massif and Mt Cifalco (photo courtesy: http://archives.ecpad.fr/le-peintre...eau-irriera-et-la-campagne-ditalie-1943-1944/)

    Acquafondata Col du General.jpg
    General de Monsabert at the Col de Acquafondata, later known as "Col du Général", looking down to the west, a view that, in the morning of the14th, triggered his decision to continue the pursuit of the retreating enemy.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2021
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  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    On January 14th, according to the directive no.338/CEF/3/TS, it was important to exploit the results achieved thusfar, by pressing on toward San Biagio, Atina (2nd Moroccan ID) as well as Vallerotonda, San Elia (3rd Algerian ID).

    General Juin clearly indicated that of these thrusts, the one towards Vallerotonda, San Elia was the most important, the capture of the latter village was essential for the advance of the army.

    The 2nd Moroccan ID was given the mount San Croce as objective. No longer the main effort, it lost some of its American support units which reverted to the 5th US Army (the 3rd Bn Chemical Mortars and the 805th TD Battalion), but General Dody would benefit from an action on his right flank - envisaged for January 15 and 16 - by the 78th British Inf Div on the Alfadena, Barrea axis, which had to eliminate the threat of German counter-attacks against the right of the 2nd Moroccan ID, seeking to retake the Costa San Pietro.

    The 3rd Algerian ID, operating on the main axis of the F.E.C. (Vallerotonda, San Elia) was responsible for establishing a bridgehead over the Rapido, north-west of San Elia, and for maintaining a close link with the 2nd US Corps, which, beginning on the 15th, would start operations against the mount Trocchio and would push on toward the Rapido between Cassino and San Angelo.

    The operation went as ordered:

    - in the sector of the 2nd Moroccan ID, there were no further German attacks on the Costa San Pietro. The enemy, it seemed, had fallen back on the Colle Porcazzete.
    The 5th M.T.R. reached hill 1040 and the western slopes of hill 1029. The 4th M.T.R. crossed the upper Rapido in the afternoon and pushed on toward Colle dell' Arena.
    The enemy, who initially hardly manifested himself, opposed the advance of the two regiments more firmly by the end of the day. Artillery and mortar fire notably revived. The enemy thus revealed his intention to stand fast on the line Rio Il Gallo, Colle dell' Arena and the eastern slopes of the Mt San Croce.

    - in the sector of the 3rd Algerian ID, the axis of advance ran from Vallerotonda to San Elia, oriented north-east - south-west, which risked to expose the right flank of the division to the enemy defenses established along the Rapido. To overcome this danger, the 7th Alg.T.R. provided flank cover [and took the Migghiota (hill 700 on the Rapido) which it held against several counter-attacks], while the 3rd Alg.T.R., carrying out the main mission, pressed on [and seized Mt Faullo, repulsing two counter-attacks in hand to hand combat] and occupied Vallerotonda by late afternoon. [By the end of the day the 3rd Algerian ID held all heights commanding the Rapido River and the plain of San Elia].

    On the southern edge of the sector, the detachement Bonjour was dissolved, due to the imminent deployment of the entire 4th Tun.T.R. Two separate detachments were formed, one under command of Colonel Bonjour with the elements of the 3rd R.S.A.R., the other under the command of Colonel Roux with the troops of the 4th Tun.T.R. These detachments, advancing together and in close contact with the 2nd US Corps, reached the Cerreto area by the end of the day.

    3rd Algerian Jan offenisve 0.jpg 3rd Algerian Jan offenisve 1.jpg 3rd Algerian Jan offenisve 2.jpg
    The operations of the 3rd Algerian Tirailleur Division during the first three days of the January 1944 offensive as detailed in the War Diary of the Division (courtesy: 'Les Grandes Unités Francaises, Tome IV', pp. 556 - 761)

    In the morning of January 15, the Allied situation seemed most favorable. The line held by the enemy, in front of the F.E.C., passed through Mt La Monna, San Biagio, followed the west bank of the Rapido, then continued on the east bank in the region of Vallerotonda and ran across the eastern heights of San Elia.

    Upon an examination of the enemy dispositions, as known on the morning of the 15th, the 2nd Bureau of the F.E.C. concluded the following: The pivot for the withdrawal on the Gustav line as prepared by the German command was the Costa San Pietro, [and, as a consequence,] the loss of this massif must impede the reestablishment of the German line as well as maintaining the link between the 5th Gebirgs-Jäger-Division and the elements of the 305.I.D. near the San Michele crevice.
    As for the German artillery, which showed itself relatively inactive during the three preceding days, it seems that the counter-battery caused serious inconvenience to him: several pieces were destroyed, according to information given by prisoners. It is also probable that a move to the west was undertaken at the time of the attack. The study of aerials revealed that previously occupied locations had been abandoned since January 12th.

    Vallerotonda.jpg
    Above: The village of Vallerotonda, flattered against the slope of Mt Castello, fell to the 3rd Algerian T.R. on 15 january 1944. To the right - across the deep cut of the valley of the Rapido - the village of Valvori and in the center the village of Valleluce at the foot of the Monte Cifalco; to the left opposite the Cifalco (974 m) and across the Secco valley, the Mt Belvedere (772 m). The village of San Elia is down in the Rapido valley to the left - not visible on the picture(photo courtesy Pignataro Interamna in Italy: general information, weather, map, photo and video).
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2021
  13. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Valerotonda Sherman.jpg
    Col de Acquafondata: A Sherman tank supports the attack on Vallerotonda and the valley of the Rapido (courtesy: http://archives.ecpad.fr/le-peintre...eau-irriera-et-la-campagne-ditalie-1943-1944/)

    Vallerotonda.jpg


    Advance towards the Rapido

    In consequence, the two divisions continued to push on relentlessly along their respective axes, in an effort to overrun the enemy in his retreat, before he could recover.

    The 2nd Moroccan ID in particular, with an eye to the conclusions of the 2nd Bureau about the imbalance on the enemy side caused by the loss of the Costa San Pietro, tried - despite the weariness of its troops - to outpace the enemy by seeking, once again, to take him from the rear. The following extracts from orders, given by General Dody to his regimental commanders, bear witness of this:

    O.P. no. 421/3 / OS of the 15th (11:20 am) for the 4th M.T.R.:
    1. You know as well as I do, that the army resumed its attacks this morning in the direction of Cassino, and that the 3rd Algerian ID advanced yesterday, without great difficulty, as far as the outskirts of San Elia.
    You also know the situation of the enemy.
    You know the mission of the division.
    You know the situation of your battalions, tired and depleted as they are, but still capable, if we want it, to overthrow the debris of the units which they have already beaten, and this despite the reactions of their arms.
    [...]
    4. In short, the 4th M.T.R. maneuvering on the left and, supporting on its right the action of the 5th M.T.R. with fire, is for today the spearhead of the division which will seize all the passes and tracks that join the San Biagio, Atina road.
    5. Go all out. There's no time to lose.

    Signed: Dody


    O.P. No. 424/3 / O.S., Of (12:45 hours) for the 5th M.T.R.:
    [...]
    2. Everything is fine, and is getting better and better, whether in the south (Cassino), San Elia, with ourselves, or even in the North (Alfadena).
    3. It is a question of exploiting, even today, the weakness of the enemy, in spite of our own.
    [...]
    Your mission is, with all force, in conjunction with the maneuver of the 4th M.T.R. in the south and, as far as possible, with the 8th, to bring down the San Croce, to clear San Biagio, then to strike even further down the road this evening in order to prevent further destructions.
    [...]
    4. Use your tanks to the maximum.
    I took steps to constitute two operating detachments: one on the axis of the road, the other in the south under Laparra.

    Signed: Dody


    Finally, O.P. 426/3 / O.S. of the 15th, for the 8th M.T.R.:
    2. ... You are obviously clear of San Pietro and La Mainarde.
    When you have gained the famous track between Fontana Rinalda and 1552, and have covered with patrols toward 1806, the security of the northern flank against the people you have shaken so much will be completely assured. Continue your operations in this sense. The high mountain is watched over by aviation and artillery.

    3. ... the 8th M.T.R. must crack the enemy north of San Biagio to the right of the 5th. Go for it.

    Signed: Dody

    At the end of the day, the 3rd Algerian ID seized most of the heights immediately to the east of and overlooking San Elia (the Madonna di Radito, Mount Faullo, heights 554 and 469) and breasted the Rapido from La Migghiota up to in the region of Mount Vado d'Acqua. The enemy continued his withdrawal, but put up strong resistance at key terrain features, and in particular on the outskirts of San Elia where he inserted extra forces from the 44.I.D. (elements of the 131. and 132.I.R.) and the 15.Panzer-Grenadier-Division (a company of the 104.P.G.R.).

    POWs Cardito Gebrigsjager 16.1.1944.jpg
    "Sig. Corps Photo-1-16-44-Italy: Group of mountain troops taken prisoner in the Allied drive on Cardito shown on the road back through a village in the Cerasuolo area under French guard. Sig. Corps Rad. Tele." Cerasuolo, Italy. 16 January 1944 (courtesy: German prisoners of war march down a muddy road, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)

    The 2nd Bureau of the 3rd Algerian ID concluded that the enemy only fought delaying actions, allowing the bulk of his troops to retreat and establish themselves in a defense position located beyond the Rapido, along the line: Belvedere, forward slopes of the Mount Cifalco, western bank of the Rapido and the Rio Gallo Maggiore.

    The 2nd Moroccan ID, with the 8th [on the right holding on to the Costa San Pietro, while the 4th] and the 5th M.T.R., advanced as far as the line Mass. Geremia, road to San Biagio (12.5 km east of this locality) until stopped by what appeared to be a continuous defensive line on the south-eastern slopes of the San Croce. [New enemy defenses were encountered at 1004 and 1029, as well as on 1040]. On the other hand the 4th M.T.R., without too much difficulty, gained the eastern slopes of Coll dell'Arena, and it seemed, at that moment, that the enemy offered only desultory resistance in this area.[However, a that stage both regiments were much overextended, lacked reserves and were too exhausted to continue the advance].

    Based on this information, the GOC of the 2nd Moroccan ID gave orders, at 18.30 hrs, to exploit without delay the apparent weakness of the enemy by seizing the San Croce (5th M.T.R.) and by enveloping this position from the south: all of the 4th M.T.R., plus a group of cavalry specially formed for this purpose by the tabors.

    The order of operations gave a number of objectives for the 4th M.T.R., about which the regimental commander asked for additional explanations. General Dody replied with O.P. no. 430, part of which read: "Open the way with all force, and engage the regiment without worrying about the 3rd Algerian ID, or the cavalrymen who are on your left and whose direction is not imperative. It is a matter of finding the gaps, and if this is not possible, to create a breach".

    This spirit, of General Dody commanding the 2nd Moroccan ID, to push without worrying about the flanks, is identical to that already expressed previously by General Monsabert, commander of the 3rd Algerian ID, who told his units on the 13th likewise to act boldly "without worrying about contact with neighbors".

    But it was already late in the day. The colonel commanding the 4th M.T.R. obviously had (by telephone?) asked for more support and a postponement, since General Dody concluded his O.P. no. 430, by writing: "Use tanks; if the maneuver cannot be done today, do it tomorrow."

    Actually, the troops were spent. Especially those of the 2nd Moroccan ID, who had been fighting continuously since November. But the enemy also had suffered. So much so that "all the forces of the 5th Gebirgs-Jäger-Division appear to have been committed during the fighting from January 12 to 15", according to the C.E.F. 2nd Bureau, which concluded:
    "The German 14.Korps, which can no longer dispose of any immediate reserves, was forced to throw into the battle battalions withdrawn from other large units in contact, to counter the threat of French forces on its northern flank.
    The loss of the Costa San Pietro, so dearly disputed, and the difficulties of contact in the Meta massif, in particular with the 305. I.D., diminishes the threat to the northern flank of the French disposition.
    With the exception of the sector of San Elia, where he hurriedly committed a motley reserve, the enemy does not seem capable to re-establish himself on the line of the Rapido or to offer serious resistance there.
    However, the particularly difficult nature of the terrain, and the absence of road connections between San Biagio and San Elia, may allow a temporary and economic defense in this sector."


    In the sector of the 2nd US Corps, the 15th was marked by the capture of the Mount Trocchio (8 km south of San Elia and 4 km south-east of Cassino).

    Offensive 12 Jan 44.jpg
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2021
  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    [During the night of 15 to 16 January 1944 the enemy opposite the 3rd Algerian ID retreated. Next morning, the 16th, the Algerians] reconnoitered San Elia - finding it abandoned - and kept it under surveillance, while they pushed patrols beyond the river, up to Mt Il Gallo and the village of Valvori - both also were found unoccupied. It was obvious that the enemy held the eastern bank of the Rapido only with outposts and had fallen back on his main defensive line (the "Gustav" Line) located on the west bank. His observation posts dominated all of the division zone; mount Cifalco, in particular, controlled the entire basin of San Elia [so much so that the single approach road from Vallerotonda to San Elia became known to the French as the "Route de la Mort" (or Death Alley)]. In the course of the day, the enemy artillery fire intensified and in particular concentrated on the region of Vallerotonda, where it caused significant losses. This meant that any new advance would have to be backed by an action of one of the large neighboring units; the 2nd US Corps [in the south] or 2nd Moroccan ID [in the north].

    Top of Mt  Cifalco.jpg
    View from the top of the Mt Cifalco towering high above the Rapido valley. The Mountain afforded the enemy observation over the entire San Elia basin. To the left the village of Valvori, in the far distance to the extreme left the mountain tops of the Mt Acquafondata and Monna Casale.

    In the sector of the Moroccan division the advance also came to a standstill. The weak spot detected in the enemy line turned out to be an illusion. The 4th M.T.R. which, the previous day, had met little resistance on the eastern slopes of Colle dell' Arena, sought - as planned - to push beyond the ridge. But the regiment encountered heavy enemy resistance, from well organized defensive positions on the western slopes of Colle dell'Arena.

    No further progress therefore was possible without an coordinated attack: the enemy in front of the 2nd Moroccan ID - as in the zone of the 3rd Algerian ID - held excellent positions on dominating ground, and deployed a great deal of activity with artillery and mortars. Moreover, the diversionary operation mounted by the 78th British Inf Div, to protect the northern flank of the 2nd Moroccan ID, fell short of expectations; it had to be stopped because of very bad weather conditions; snow fell in violent squalls in that part of the mountains, while the French sector benefited from fair weather.

    Finally, the troops of the 2nd Moroccan ID were spent. For all these reasons, it was decided to take a break and prepare for a coordinated attack to be launched in conjunction with the 2nd US Corps and within the framework of a larger operation of the 5th US Army.[The French had completed the tasks which general Clark had given them to perform before the next blows were delivered by 10th British Corps and 2nd US Corps and now were able to pause until January 21st].

    During the day of January 17, all actions were limited to maintaining contact so that the troops could take some rest. [San Elia was occupied on the 17th by the 3rd Algerian ID].

    Cifalco.jpg
    Artists impression of the Mount Cifalco with San Elia in the foreground
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2021
  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    3. First attempt to break the Gustav Line: M.San Croce (21 - 24 January 1944)

    On the 17th the command post of the F.E.C moved to Venafro and, in conjunction with the allied command - notably the 2nd US Corps - prepared the next offensive.

    The 5th US Army's plan of maneuver was as follows:
    - the main action, entrusted to the 2nd US Corps, would include a crossing of the Rapido in the San Angelo region, followed by an exploitation towards Frosinone;
    - the 2nd US Corps would be supported:
    In the south, by the 10th British Corps debouching from the Garigliano in the direction of San Giorgio;
    In the north, by the CEF, operating in the direction of Atina.

    It was within this framework, that General Juin announced, by his instruction IPS no. 375 /CEF/3/TS, his intention to attack the enemy position in the center, across the Colle dell'Arena, Mount Carella, Mount Bianco, Atina axis. The choice of this axis, which took into account the conclusions of report no. 277/CEF/2/S already mentioned (cf. above, January 15th), would make it possible to surprise the enemy, in case of a breakthrough, by a swift double envelopment:
    - an outflanking move to the north (towards Picinesco) to bring down the defenses erected in the region of San Biagio [by the 2nd Moroccan ID];
    - and an outflanking move to the southwest (to Belmonte) [by the 3rd Algerian ID] so as to envelop the defenses of the mount Cifalco from the north, and attempt to gain a foothold on the Belvedere to block the San Elia, Atina corridor, which the enemy used to sent up reinforcements .

    The initial assault would be led, as far as the infantry was concerned, by three regiments abreast (two belonging to the 2nd Moroccan ID and one of the 3rd Algerian ID) whose operations would be coordinated by Colonel Callies, commanding the divisional infantry of the 2nd Moroccan ID (ID/2). [he would be in charge of the action until the fall of the mount Rotondo]. Almost all of the artillery would be concentrated in support of this operation which would itself be preceded by a short artillery bombardment of just a few minutes.

    The attack of the 2nd US Corps being scheduled for January 20 in the evening (10:00 hrs), that of the C.E.F. was set for the morning of the 21st - initially at 06:30 hrs then at 05:30 hrs. However, in anticipation of that, elements of the 3rd Algerian ID (4th Tun.T.R.), on the evening of the 20th, would be engaged to cover the attack of the 34th US Inf Div on its right flank.

    The instruction IPS no. 375 also fixed the missions and zones of the divisions. Mount Carella was a target for both infantry divisions; the southern slopes were assigned to the 3rd Algerian ID, the summit and the northern slopes to the 2nd Moroccan ID.

    1st attempt Gustav Line 2nd Moroccan.jpg 1st attempt Gustav Line 3rd Algerian.jpg
    Dispositions and mission of the 2nd Moroccan and 3rd Algerian Tirailleurs Divisions for January 21st (courtesy: 'Les Grandes Unités Francaises, Tome IV', p. 609 and 767)

    January 18 and 19 were spent with gathering intelligence and getting ready for the resumption of the offensive: replenishment of supplies, movements of reinforcements; reorganizing the units etc.

    An important development occurred in the south of the 5th US Army sector. The 10th British Corps succeeded on the 19th in crossing the Garigliano and maintaining itself on the opposite bank despite violent counterattacks.

    January 20, 1944; eve of the attack. New and reliable intelligence, gathered by the 2nd Moroccan ID, on the night of the 19th to the 20th, put a bombshell under all plans: a raid, carried out in the region of San Croce, brought in some prisoners; it turned out that they belonged to a new unit, the 8th Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment (of the 3e Panzer-Grenadier-Division Mot.). According to the prisoners, the regiment of motorized infantry was rushed forward to the front, after the start of the attack of January 12th, from the region of Rome where it had been at rest. [The battalions of the 5th Mountain Division had been reduced to a 'battle strength' of between one hundred and two hundred men each, and the division as a whole had been shaken. On 15th January Kesselring decided to divert part of the 3rd Panzer-Grenadier-Division from joining 76th Panzer Korps and to send it to relieve part of the line of 5th Gebrigsjäger Division. AOK 10 on the same day sanctioned the withdrawal by the 5th Mountain Division and 44.I.D. into the Gustav Line].

    Sketches no. 23 and 24 give the location of the enemy on the eve of the 20th. A comparison with sketches no. 21 and 22, which give the situation two days earlier, shows that it was mainly the zone facing the 2nd Moroccan ID that had been reinforced with fresh troops. This fact reflected the German High Command's worries as to the strength of this part of his line.

    Map 20.01.1944 soir.jpg
    Sketch 23, the enemy situation in front of the 2nd Moroccan infantry division on the evening of January 20th, 1944. On the left the 115 P.G.R. reinforced by the III./Hoch-Gebirgs-Jäger Rgt, guarded the high mountains, the San Biagio corridor and San Croce area was occupied by the newly arrived 8. Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment. The 5. Gebirgsjäger-Division, much depleted by the previous fighting, extended the line to the south.

    As the enemy's situation had changed, it remained to be determined whether or not the already issued attack orders should be altered. General Juin decided that, despite the indication of enemy reinforcements, it was a question of sticking to the plan set out by the 5th US Army. He maintained the operation as planned for the 21st, an assault at a point that seemed the most promising and at the same time the least expensive in forces.

    On the evening of the 20th, at the beginning of the offensive of the 2nd US Corps, the 3rd Algerian ID, started operations as planned to cover the right flank of the 34 US Inf Div, with the 4th Tun.T.R. which occupied the region of Il Lago, and felt forward toward Valleluce and the eastern edges of Belvedere.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2021
  16. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Terrain: Mt Croce and Mt Carella

    Mt Croce Carella.jpg
    View from the slopes of the mount Forcellone southward, across the San Biagio corridor, towards the Mt Croce and Mt Carella massif (courtesy 3D map of the world by PeakVisor). On January 21st, the three Tirailleur Regiments F.E.C. had to cross the headwaters of the Rapido - here only a small stream - and move along the heights on the south side of the San Biagio corridor toward Atina.

    San Biagio and Atina valley.jpg
    Just beyond the village of San Biagio the corridor opens up into the broader Atina valley. View from the hills above San Biagio toward the west. On the left the steep slope of the Mt Rotolo.

    POWs WIA 2.jpg
    German POWs evacuate a wounded Tirailleur down a mountain slope (courtesy: Le 3e RTA en Italie)
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2021
  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Google map Carella massif Mounts.jpg
    Map of the operation plan for the attack on 21 January 1944, it provided for an attack on the inner wings of both Divisions. Once the mount Bianco had been taken the 2nd Moroccan Division would strike north towards Pisinesco and the 3rd Algerian would drive on westwards toward Villa Latina and Atina, thus outflanking the Gustav Line defenses on the Costa San Pietro and the Mt Cifalco and break them open from the rear.

    The battle of the San Croce, Colle dell'Arena and Carella
    (period of January 21 to 24)



    January 21, 1944: The units of the two reinforced divisions attacked at 05:30 hours, immediately after the opening of the preparatory fire.

    Between 06:15 and 7:00, Objective 01, consisting of the southern ridges of Mount San Croce and the northwestern ridges along the Rapido, was taken (see sketch no 25). [At 05:30 hrs the III./5th MTR, which had been given the mission of seizing the hill mass formed by points 1040 and 1050. launched the 10th and 11th companies. The objective was taken at 06:10 hrs and the reverse slopes were immediately cleared. The 7th Alg. T.R. captured the Pedicone at 06:15 without much opposition; at the same time the 4th M.T.R. outflanked and captured the Colle Dell'Arena]. A surprised enemy reacted only weakly with the exception of one blockhouse on Hill 1004 [the latter resistance was broken by an outflanking move of the 4th M.T.R.]. Prisoners were captured.

    The 7th Alg.T.R. and the 4th M.T.R. side by side, in contact with each other near Hill 991, were ready to advance to the next objective, the Mt Carella; but colonel Callier, in charge of the ID/2 and coordinating the action of all three regiments (7th Alg.T.R., 4th M.T.R. and 5th M.T.R.) had made the movement of the two regiments on the left (7th Alg.T.R. and 4th M.T.R.) dependent on the conquest of Mount San Croce (Objective 01 bis) by the right-wing regiment (5th M.T.R.).

    The II./5th M.T.R. [battalion Pénicaud], which had the San Croce as its objective, started its action at 07:15 hrs. But progress was slow. Defending the Croce was the III./8.P.G.R., and it rigorously opposed the II./5th, whose advance was already made hard by the difficult ground. [Attacking with two companies forward, the 5th to the left and the 6th to the right, the battalion Pénicaud slowly fought up the mountain. After having crossed 500 to 600 meters heavy fire pinned down the infantry near the crest and caused heavy losses. One of the company commanders, Lieutenant Haberer, was fatally wounded at the head of his unit].
    The II./8th M.T.R. supported the II./5th by progressing on the road from San Biagio towards Jaconelli.

    At noon the San Croce was still in enemy hands, though the II./5th M.T.R. managed to work its way to within 150 meters of the summit and made some prisoners. It turned out that the 12.Kompanie of the III./8. P.G.R. defended the top; the battalion's other companies (9., 10. and 11.) were divided along the reverse slopes between the mount Croce and the road to San Biagio. The resistance of III./8. P.G.R. effectively blocked the advance and used up a significant amount of the available artillery ammunition.

    This situation gave rise to a discussion between the GOC's of the C.E.F., the 2nd Moroccan ID, and Colonel Callier (commander of the ID/2.). General Dody, GOC of the 2nd Moroccan ID, was of the opinion that the left wing (7th M.T.R. and 4th M.T.R.) should not wait for the completion of the operation against the San Croce, and preferred an immediate continuation of the attack against the mount Carella. But he finally left the decision to the commander on the spot, colonel Callier, commanding the ID/2, and in charge of the operation.

    At 12:45 hours, the II./5e M.T.R. renewed the assault on the summit of the Croce; but it immediately provoked a German artillery bombardment which caused losses. Then, from 13:55 hrs, heavy enemy mortar fire prevented the II./5th once more from resuming the attack. A call for counter-battery fire, by the battalion, was answered at around 16:30 hrs, but the ammunition by then was running low, which made the French fire less effective.

    Ultimately, by the end of the day, the situation remained virtually unchanged. The 7th Alg.T.R. occupied the Mt Pedicone (Hill 1000), the 4th M.T.R. held Hill 1004 and the Colle dell' Arena, the 5th M.T.R. was on Hill 1129, 1030, and the slopes of Mt Croce - about 250 meters from the eastern summit. [The III./5th occupied point 1040 and 1050, the II./5th clung to the eastern slopes of the San Croce, while the I./5th held the area north of the Colle dell' Arena]. The 8th M.T.R. had reached Jaconelli on the San Biagio road and occupied the Costa San Pietro.

    Carella combats 21 - 24 Jan.jpg
    Sketch 25, the fighting from 21 to 22 January 1944 in the northern zone of the C.E.F.

    The day was summarized as follows in a report of the C.E.F.:

    "... The terrain difficulties, the resistance of the Germans firmly entrenched among the rocks or in blockhouses, and supported by reserves placed on the reverse slopes, did not permit a capture of the top [of the Mt Croce], despite the gallant efforts of the infantry and its able maneuvering ...
    The result of the day was a clear success for the CEF; the enemy had suffered heavy losses [according to statements from around forty prisoners (of these 36 captured by the 2nd Moroccan ID, including a lieutenant commanding a company)]; the conquest of the first objective assigned to the infantry divisions improved their situation and also gave them an excellent starting point for subsequent operations. Our losses were light [they were estimated in the order of 70 to 75 (killed, wounded and missing) for each of the divisions], the conquest of San Croce having been mainly sought by infiltration and maneuver".


    General Juin, afterwards [in a report dated January 28th], commented on the results of January 21st: "I emphasize once again that, despite the limited advance achieved, a substantial result had been gained by the significant blow dealt to the fresh units which the enemy had been obliged to throw at us and which he had, in full, to maintain on this part of the front."

    At 19:10 hrs, a operation order, signed by General Juin, set the missions for the day of the 22nd. It put an end in particular to the coordination of the 7th Alg.T.R. and 4th M.T.R. Each regiment reverted to its own division. The 3rd Algerian ID would continue the execution of the mission, already laid down in the instruction IPS no. 375, while the 2nd Moroccan ID would continue and complete the conquest of the San Croce. It would however have to "link the movement of the 4th M.T.R. to that of the 3rd Algerian ID by covering the right flank of the latter". This action was further specified as follows by the general commanding the 2nd Moroccan ID, in a message to the colonel Callier, commanding the ID/2: "It is, for the 4th M.T.R., to link its movement, by its left, to that of the 7th Alg.T.R., and to cover the latter with the maximum of infantry and artillery fire ".

    Then, late in the evening, around 23:45 hrs, and following - it seems - some updates made at the respective command levels, the GOC of the C.E.F. ordained:

    - that the operations planned for the 22nd are postponed to the 23rd. This order, addressed to the two infantry divisions, specified that the San Croce (in the sector of the 2nd Moroccan ID) must, in any case, be masked and neutralized by the maximum amount of fire (infantry and artillery) to enable the operation of the 3rd Algerian ID;
    - that the boundary between the two divisions was shifted so as "to leave the top of Carella to the 3rd Algerian ID".

    in the end, the new directives could be summarized as follows: the resumption of the offensive, initially fixed at 22, is postponed to 23; Mount Carella was, this time, entirely included in the zone of the 3rd Algerian ID and its attack no longer depended on the capture of the San Croce by the 2nd Moroccan ID.

    See for the a more detailed description of these actions from the point of view of the 8. Pz.Grenadier Regt: 3 Panzer- Grenadier Division- 3 Infanterie Division( mot.)

    Colli 19.01.44 POWs.jpg
    German prisoners of war are guarded at gunpoint. Official caption on front: "MM-5-152828." Official caption on reverse: "Sig. Corps Rad. Tele-radioed-19-1-44. Italy! German prisoners captured by a hard fighting Moroccan fighting Infantry Division are shown at a collecting point in the Colli area waiting to be transferred to the rear." Colli, Italy. 19 January 1944 (courtesy: German prisoners of war are guarded at gunpoint, Italy, 1944 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories)
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    155 mm Acquafondata.jpg
    The RACL (Régiment d’Artillerie Coloniale du Levant), one of the few heavy French artillery units (155mm), in position at Acquafondata between 18 and 30 January 1944.Three groups of artillery, I./63, II./63 and III./64 R.A.A., provided fire support to the 5th M.T.R. in the attack on the Mt Croce. In addition to groups of 155s - the IV./ 63 R.A.A. and an American battalion I./17 - target the enemy positions on the northern and western slopes. But little is known about the enemy's defense system. Instead of concentrating their fire on specific targets, the artillery is forced to target larger areas at the expense of efficiency. On the other hand, the slopes to be climbed are steep and the advance of the infantry is slow. The enemy has time to regroup between the lifting of the accompanying fire and the arrival of the first elements. He reacted with very heavy mortar and artillery fire (courtesy: http://archives.ecpad.fr/la-3e-dia-dans-le-secteur-du-belvedere-sur-le-front-ditalie/).

    155mm Acquafondata 00.jpg
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2021
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  19. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    January 22, 1944. While on the C.E.F. front, the units were preparing for the attack scheduled for the 23rd, some important events unfolded elsewhere. On our left, the 2nd US Corps was having a very difficult time crossing the Rapido. After 36 hours of relentless fighting, only the value of a regiment was across the river. That morning, the 5th US Army announced the news of the landing of large allied units in the region of Anzio. The surprise had been total and the operations were developing very favorable.

    Now the time had come to force the gate. The violent blows delivered by our troops undoubtedly constituted a valuable contribution to the overall plan.

    [On January 22, at dawn, the attempts of the battalion Pénicaud (II./5th M.T.R.) to resume the attack on the Mt Croce were unsuccessful. The exceptionally difficult terrain favored the defender. Colonel Joppé, CO 5th M.T.R., considered that it was a matter to be "solved by the 155's". General Juin approved the suspension of the operation in the north, but decided that the action against the Mt Carella would not longer depend on the capture of the Mt Croce and would be carried out on the morning of the 23rd.]

    January 23, 1944, was to become a pivotal day on which the decision was taken to a give a new direction to the offensive.

    Before that, around 4:30 a.m., about an hour and a half before the resumption of the C.E.F. offensive, the Germans launched a violent attack against the eastern slopes of the Mt Croce, held by the [battalion Pénicaud of the] 5th M.T.R. The counter-attack progressed for nearly 500 meters before being stopped around 06:30 hours. [The enemy attempted to drive the battalion Penicaud back across the Rapido River, but the battalion held bravely on to hill 1040]. The 3rd Bureau of the C.E.F. noted that:

    "despite this setback, the planned attack started as scheduled, and, according to the last messages received, the leading elements were in the immediate vicinity of the summit of the Croce and Carella mountains; the fight is very ferocious and it is not yet possible to predict the outcome.

    A number of prisoners have already been counted, including the commander of the 9th company of the 8th P.G.R.

    The 10th British Corps has improved its bridgehead west of the Aigliano and seized Trimonsuoli and the operation south-east of Rome is developing favorably.
    On the other hand, the 2nd US Corps was unable to maintain itself on the west bank of the Rapido and had to regain its starting base east of this river".


    These facts, and especially the failure of the operations of the 2nd US Corps, led General Clark to change his plan of operations. [Two days into the new attack, and without prior warning, on 23 January Fifth Army HQ ordered Juin to stop the operation and instead to shift his axis of advance to the left.] General Juin thus relates the events: "On the 23rd in the morning, the commanding general of the US Army came to see me at my CP. His intention was always to pass the Rapido so as to be able to unleash the armored forces in the general direction of Pontecorvo, Frosinone, in order to link as soon as possible the action of the main body of the 5th US Army to that of the landing corps (at Anzio). But, faced with the failure of the attempt of the 2nd US Corps, he decided to seize, beforehand, the 'hump' of Cassino and the mountains which dominate it in the northwest: the 34th US Inf Div and the 3rd Algerian ID would be in charge of the operation".

    The 3rd Algerian ID on January 25, in conjunction with an attack of the 34 US Inf Div, had to seize the Belverdere and the Colle Abate. As for the 2nd Moroccan ID, its zone would be extended southward and now included the Mount Carella and the Pedicone massif.

    These were the new instructions, received in the midst of the battle. Meanwhile, the fighting had continued on the C.E.F. front.

    Operations Italy 5 - 15 Jan 44 Rapido River.jpg
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2021
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  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Terrain: Mt San Croce

    Mt Croce hills.jpg
    The Mt Croce mass was defended by the battalions of the 8.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment (3.Panzer Grenadier Division). The battalions were spread out among the heights on the west bank of the Rapido valley: the M. Rotolo (1120 m, I./8), M. Carella (1074, I./8), M.S. Croce and astride the San Biagio road (1184 m, III./8); north of the road the line extended to the M.Cavallo (2070 m, III.Hochgeb.-Btl.). In front of this mountain range there were low coves, which were held by outposts: for example the M. Pedicone, Colle Maggiore with the Hill 1004 and the C. dell' Arena (1044 m) in front of the left sector, and Hill 1040, 1110, 1030 in front of the San Croce. The German defenders, according to their divisional history, were well aware of the reputation of their adversary, the F.E.C., who they described as the "best corps at the front. Because it combines the toughness and mountain experience of the French colonial soldiers with the tactical experience of French officers and the ample American equipment and is ardently driven by the goal of bringing glory back to the French flag. These divisions do not shy away from hand-to-hand combat and require [our] special attention [...]".

    Valerotonda piper cub.jpg
    A bird's eye view of the village of Vallerotonda in the foreground and the Mounts san Croce, Carella, Rotollo and Bianco. Valvori is to the left partly hidden by plane's wing support. The white, snowcovered mountain range, in the background, is on the north side of the San Biagio - Atina corridor. The defile of the Rapido river is clearly visible in the center. Below map that indicates the view from the small piper cub plane: photo no. 3

    Map Mt Bianco.jpg

    Mt Croce massif.jpg
    Mt Croce massif as seen from the foot of the Costa San Pietro just above La Selva, view to the west.(courtesy Google Street view)
     

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    Last edited: Mar 9, 2021

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