Advance to the Gustav Line
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseIn an attempt to delay the Allied advance toward Rome, Italy, German forces set up a series of defensive lines, collectively called the Winter Line, that began with the southern-most Volturno Line to the northern-most Rome Switch Line, with the Gustav Line intending to be the strongest. The Winter Line was mainly constructed by members of the German Organization Todt, featuring many gun pits, concrete bunkers, machine gun nests, minefields, and other defensive structures, manned by troops of 15 German divisions.
ww2dbaseIn the first week of Oct 1943, British infantry crossed the Biferno River on the Adriatic Sea coast of Italy, reaching the eastern end of the southern-most Volturno Line, also known as Viktor Line; a German armor counterattack on 4 Oct nearly pushed the infantrymen back across the river, but British engineers were able to set up a bridge in time to bring up Canadian and British tanks to the front to counter the German counterattack. By 6 Oct, the territory lost to the German counterattack was regained, and the British and Canadian troops would gradually push north toward the Barbara Line. On the western end of the Volturno Line, the US 5th Army crossed the Volturno River during the night of 12 Oct, and advanced through a series of delay action engagements.
ww2dbaseThe next defensive line, Barbara Line, was reached by Allies on 2 Nov, near-simultaneously on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast by US 5th Army and on the Adriatic Sea coast by British 8th Army. In early Dec, on the western side, German troops fell back to the intermediate Bernhardt Line, also known as Reinhard Line, while on the eastern side the Germans fell back to the main Gustav Line.
ww2dbaseThe US 5th Army attacked the Bernhardt Line on 1 Dec 1943, using both US and British troops; Monte Camino and the surroundings were captured after eight days of heavy combat. On 10 Dec, US troops captured the peaks surrounding the Mignano Gap; despite gaining the advantageous terrain, the Americans could not drive the Germans out of the valley until 16 Dec, and fighting in this general area would last until the end of the year.
ww2dbaseThe British 8th Army attack on the Gustav Line began on 28 Nov 1943, one week behind schedule due to heavy rains. On 5 Dec, Canadian 1st Infantry Division under Major-General Christopher Vokes launched an attack at the German defenses along the Moro River; meanwhile, New Zealand 2nd Division marched toward Orsogna. Although the advance across the lines south of the Gustav Line had been costly in terms of casualties, the movement had been relatively swift, and the Allied leadership expected the same from the British 8th Army at the Gustav Line. As Route 5, a main highway linking Pescara on the east coast with Rome to the west, was situated less than 30 miles from the Gustav Line, several German divisions, including the tough 1st Parachute Division and 5th Mountain Division, were prepared the stand their ground. At 0000 hours on 5 Dec, Canadian troops attacked toward Villa Rogatti, immediately engaging in heavy fighting, but were able to capture the town before dawn; the mid-morning counterattack by German tanks was repulsed, but the Canadians suffered high casualties and had to abandon Villa Rogatti. A similar scene played out at San Leonardo and San Donato on the following day. In the afternoon of 8 Dec, a renewed attack was launched at San Leonardo after a two-hour artillery bombardment, finally securing a bridgehead by sundown; overnight, troops of Royal Canadian Engineers built a bridge over the Moro River to allow tanks and supply trucks to reinforce the bridgehead. San Leonardo was captured by mid-morning on 9 Dec, and remaining German forces, after holding out in positions surrounding the town for the length of the day, fell back northward about 3 miles toward the area later to be nicknamed "The Gully".
ww2dbaseMeanwhile, New Zealand troops attacked Orsogna starting on 7 Dec, with British paratroopers in support; this attack would fail to dislodge German defenders, and would be called off on the following day.
ww2dbaseThree Canadian battalions attacked "The Gully" on 10 Dec, capturing Vino Ridge, but over the next three days they would suffer heavy casualties against stubborn defense by troops of German 90th Panzergrenadier Division. On 13 Dec, however, German strength began to be dwindling, and German 1st Parachute Division was moved up to relieve 90th Panzergrenadier Division. At dawn on 14 Dec, Canadian troops attempted to flank "The Gully" by attacking Casa Berardi to the west, capturing the roads leading into the town by 0750 hours and then the town itself in the afternoon.
ww2dbaseAfter sundown on 13 Dec, 17th Infantry Brigade of Indian 8th Division toward Caldari; the fighting lasted through the following day, capturing roads between Ortona and Orsogna. By the evening on 15 Dec, the Indian troops began to make considerable breakthroughs, complemented by New Zealand troops' favorable progress at Orsogna. On 16 Dec, the Germans launched a counterattack at positions held by New Zealand at 0315 hours, which would be repulsed, exhausting both sides in the process.
ww2dbaseIn the morning of 18 Dec, Canadian artillery pieces mounted a heavy barrage on German positions in "The Gully", followed by an assault by Canadian and Indian troops across the Ortona-Orsogna road; this attack saw initial successes, but it was ultimately repulsed with heavy losses. Two days later, in the afternoon, the Canadians mounted yet another attack, only to find that the Germans had already evacuated "The Gully" and had fallen back into Ortona. Although Ortona would be taken by the Allies by 26 Dec, by this time British 8th Army had been exhausted. An attempt was made on the final day of 1943 to send a small party toward Pescara, but the heavy snowstorm that hindered this advance party only confirmed that the British 8th Army needed time to regroup before it could launch another offensive especially as weather conditions were about to change for the worse.
ww2dbaseToward the western coast of Italy, the US 5th Army was suffering from similar problems. Although the Germans were slowly being pushed back from the Bernhardt Line back toward the Gustav Line, and the Americans were indeed able to launch another offensive in the half of Jan 1944, capturing Monte Porchia, Monte Chiaia, Cervaro, and Monte Trocchio, the northward advance along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast was to be halted as well to regroup before challenging the western end of the German Gustav Line.
Advance to the Gustav Line Timeline
|2 Oct 1943||British commandos landed near Termoli, Italy.|
|3 Oct 1943||Troops of 11th Brigade of British 78th Infantry Division crossed the Biferno River near Termoli, Italy, linking up with British Commandos that had already landed by sea.|
|4 Oct 1943||German 16th Panzer Division attacked the newly gained bridgehead on the Biferno River near Termoli, Italy on the eastern end of the Volturno Line.|
|5 Oct 1943||German 16th Panzer Division nearly wiped out the British bridgehead on the Biferno River near Termoli, Italy; the British bridgehead was saved by the arrival of Canadian and British tanks.|
|6 Oct 1943||US Fifth Army captured Capua and Caserta, Italy. The counterattack by German 16th Panzer Division near Termoli, Italy was repulsed by Canadian and British troops.|
|7 Oct 1943||German defenses halted US Fifth Army on the Volturno River, Italy.|
|12 Oct 1943||US Fifth Army launched a second offensive on the Volturno River, Italy. Albert Kesselring ordered German troops on the Volturno Line to fall back to the Barbara Line.|
|13 Oct 1943||Marshal Pietro Badoglio's new Italian government announced a declaration of war against Germany. Meanwhile, US Fifth Army crossed the Volturno River in Italy.|
|19 Oct 1943||US Fifth Army's Volturno River offensive in Italy was stalled by resistance and weather.|
|23 Oct 1943||British elements of US 5th Army capture Sparanise, Italy.|
|27 Oct 1943||Bernard Montgomery restarted the British offensive on the eastern shore of Italy.|
|31 Oct 1943||US Fifth Army resumed the stalled offensive north of the Volturno River in Italy.|
|2 Nov 1943||Allied troops reached the German defensive Barbara Line in Italy.|
|3 Nov 1943||British 78th Infantry Division reached San Salvo north of the Trigno River in Italy.|
|4 Nov 1943||In Italy, US Fifth Army captured Isernia and joined with British Eighth Army moving up from Foggia.|
|5 Nov 1943||US Fifth Army reached the Sangro River in Italy.|
|15 Nov 1943||US Fifth Army's offensive was halted in southern Italy. Far to the north, a state of emergency was declared in Milan due to civil unrest.|
|20 Nov 1943||British Eighth Army crossed the Sangro River in Italy.|
|23 Nov 1943||Allied troops attacked across the Sangro River, Italy in strength.|
|27 Nov 1943||British Eighth Army launched an offensive across the Sangro River, Italy.|
|28 Nov 1943||British Eighth Army forced a second bridgehead across the Sangro River in Italy; German Generalmajor G. H. von Ziehlberg was seriously wounded in the action.|
|29 Nov 1943||British troops captured Mezzagrogna and Santa Maria in Italy.|
|30 Nov 1943||British troops captured Fossacesia, Italy.|
|1 Dec 1943||US Fifth Army launched an offensive on the Garigliano River in Italy, led by British X Corps.|
|2 Dec 1943||German 26th Panzer Division fortified Orsogna, Italy on the Gustav Line.|
|3 Dec 1943||New Zealand troops attacked Orsogna, Italy on the Gustav Line.|
|5 Dec 1943||Canadian 1st Infantry Division and Indian 8th Infantry Division attacked across the Moro River, capturing Villa Rogatti before dawn, but a subsequent German counterattack forced the Canadians to abandon the town and withdraw back across the river. Later in the day, Canadian troops attacked San Leonardo.|
|6 Dec 1943||US Fifth Army captured Monte Carnino, Italy. Canadian troops attacked San Leonardo and San Donato, Italy, but would fail to take the town.|
|7 Dec 1943||After sundown, 21st Infantry Brigade of Indian 8th Infantry Division formed a defensive line near Canadian 1st Infantry Division to allow the Canadians to launch a new offensive in the Moro River region in Italy on the following day. New Zealand troops attacked Orsogna in failure.|
|8 Dec 1943||Canadian 1st Infantry Division gained a bridgehead along the Moro River near San Leonardo, Italy; after sundown, troops of Royal Canadian Engineers built a bridge over the river for tanks to move north to reinforce the bridgehead. To the west, US troops attacked Monte Sambúcaro and the Mignano Gap, Italy.|
|9 Dec 1943||Canadian troops captured San Leonardo, Italy. US and British troops captured the surroundings of Monte Camino to the west.|
|10 Dec 1943||British Eighth Army, with Canadian elements, crossed the Moro River in Italy and entered "The Gully", capturing Vino Ridge. To the west, US troops captured the heights surrounding the Mignano Gap in Italy.|
|11 Dec 1943||The Canadian attack in "The Gully" region in Italy was met with resistance, suffering heavy casualties.|
|12 Dec 1943||The Canadian attack in "The Gully" region in Italy was met with resistance, suffering heavy casualties.|
|13 Dec 1943||The Canadian attack in "The Gully" region in Italy was met with resistance, suffering heavy casualties, but it also began to wear down the strength of the defending German 90th Panzergrenadier Division, which began to fall back and was replaced by troops of German 1st Parachute Division. Nearby, after sundown, Indian troops launched an attack toward Caldari.|
|14 Dec 1943||Canadian troops captured Casa Berardi, Italy in an attempt to outflank German defenses at "The Gully". Nearby, Indian troops captured roads between Ortona and Orsogna.|
|15 Dec 1943||Indian troops secured positions between Ortona and Orsogna in Italy, while New Zealand troops advanced toward Orsogna. Nearby, German troops mounted a counterattack on Casa Berardi, which was repulsed by Canadian troops. To the west, Units of US VI Corps and French Expeditionary Corps attacked German positions on the Bernhardt Line.|
|16 Dec 1943||German troops counterattacked positions held by New Zealand troops outside of Orsogna, Italy before dawn; the Germans failed to gain ground, but the attack also exhausted New Zealand strength in the region. To the west, US troops captured San Pietro, Italy.|
|17 Dec 1943||US Fifth Army captured San Pietro Infine, Italy after a 10-day battle.|
|18 Dec 1943||A Canadian-Indian attack across the Ortona-Orsogna road in Italy was repulsed by German troops with heavy losses.|
|20 Dec 1943||Canadian troops assaulted "The Gully" in Italy, only to find that the German troops had already fallen back to Ortona. The Canadians attempted to advance to Ortona, but was driven back by heavy machine gun fire.|
|21 Dec 1943||Canadian 1st Division attacked Ortona, Italy, beginning a period of tough street fighting in the town.|
|22 Dec 1943||Indian 19th Brigade attacked Villa Grande, Italy.|
|23 Dec 1943||In Italy, Candian troops attacked Villa Grande while Indian troops captured Vezzano and British troops attacked toward Orsogna.|
|24 Dec 1943||New Zealand 5th Infantry Brigade engaged in combat along the Gustav Line in Italy. In Ortona, Italy, German troops counterattacked against Canadian positions and caused heavy casualties.|
|25 Dec 1943||The British moved 3rd Battalion of 8th Punjab Regiment to the front lines at Villa Grande, Italy.|
|26 Dec 1943||Indian troops captured Villa Grande, Italy. Canadian troops captured Ortona, Italy after repulsing a German counterattack. To the west, US troops captured Morello Hill, overlooking San Vittore.|
|28 Dec 1943||Canadian 1st Division succeeded in taking Ortona, Italy after a heavy battle with German airborne troops; the Germans fell back across the Moro River.|
|3 Jan 1944||US Fifth Army began its offensive against the Gustav Line in Italy.|
|4 Jan 1944||US II Corps attacked along Route 6 across the Bernhardt Line in Italy.|
|8 Jan 1944||US II Corps captured Monte Chiaia and Monte Porchia, Italy.|
|10 Jan 1944||In Italy the British X Corps crossed the Garigliano River.|
|12 Jan 1944||In Italy the US 5th Army opened its offensive on the Gustav Line in appalling weather, capturing Cervaro, Italy.|
|13 Jan 1944||Allied troops captured the high ground north of Cervaro, Italy.|
|15 Jan 1944||German XIV Panzer Corps abandoned Monte Trocchio, Italy and fell back across the Rapido River; US II Corps would capture Monte Trocchio later in the same day. Meanwhile, General Juin's French troops captured Monte Santa Croce.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945