How the American 5th Army's attempt to take Rome on the move failed

How the American 5th Army's attempt to take Rome on the move failed
American soldiers pass the Roman Colosseum on the road after entering Rome. June 5, 1944

Positional battles

In September 1943, Anglo-American troops landed in Italy, but were unable to defeat the German forces outright, although they had complete superiority in the air and at sea. On October 1, Naples was taken, after which the fighting in Italy became protracted. The Germans occupied most of the country, whose government capitulated to the Allies.

The Wehrmacht successfully defended itself, skillfully used the mountainous terrain, and destroyed communications to contain the enemy (Operation Axis; Operation Baytown. Allied landing operation in Italy; How the Wehrmacht stopped the Anglo-American Avalanche).

The fighting quickly took on a positional character. German divisions in October - early November 1943 retreated to a pre-prepared line along the Sangro and Garigliano rivers (120 km south of Rome), retaining Central Italy. In late November and December 1943, the British and Americans made several attempts to break through the German defenses, but without success. Having crossed the Sangro River on the northwestern section of the front and wedged in for 15–20 km, the Allies went on the defensive.

American soldiers inspect a Wehrmacht Panther tank of the 4th Tank Regiment, abandoned on the Gustav Line, near San Giovanni Incarico

The forces of the parties

The 15th Army Group of Italy's allies, under the command of British General Harold Alexander, included the American 5th and British 8th armies. By the beginning of 1944, the group included 19 divisions (16 infantry, 2 tank and 1 airborne) and 4 separate tank brigades. Taking into account the reserves that were located in Sicily and North Africa, the Allies had 32 divisions in the region. This made it possible to quickly strengthen the group in Italy.

The combined air forces (15th tactical and 12th strategic American air armies, British tactical air forces), which had up to 15 thousand aircraft, interacted with the 4th army group, as well as the united allied navy - 130 warships of the main classes, a large number of auxiliary, landing ships, etc.

British soldiers push out a stuck CWT truck in Italy. February 1944

The Allied forces were opposed by the German Army Group C under the command of Field Marshal A. Kesselring - the 10th and 14th armies (a total of 21 divisions, including 2 tank divisions). The Germans controlled Central and Northern Italy. They were significantly inferior to the Air Force - about 370 vehicles, and to the Navy - only 13 submarines. The Nazis could not seriously threaten the enemy’s sea communications.

German ZSU Sd. Kfz. 10/5 and an Italian-made armored car Panzerspähwagen AB41 201(i) on the road between Rimini and Ancona in Italy

German defense

In the current situation, the German high command decided, making maximum use of the mountainous terrain of the territory south of Rome, to switch to a tough defense. With smaller forces, pin down and exhaust the enemy troops, preventing them from breaking out from the Apennine Peninsula. On the Italian front they decided to build a series of defensive lines located one behind the other.

The main one was the so-called occupied in November 1943. Gustav's line from the front line along the Garigliano, Gari, Rapido rivers, along the Maella mountain range and further to the north. Engineering work on this line was carried out until the beginning of 1944. The river banks were mined, the Garigliano and Rapido valleys were flooded, strong buildings in Cassino and other cities were turned into strongholds. The firing positions were covered by anti-personnel and anti-tank barriers.

In December 10, 25–1943 km from the Gustav Line, they began to prepare a second defense line - the so-called. Hitler's line. It covered the valley of the Liro River northwest of Cassino. Long-term defensive structures, anti-tank obstacles, and minefields were erected there.

The defense was held by the 10th German Army of General Heinrich von Vietinghof (14th Panzer and 76th Army Corps). As of January 1, 1944, the army consisted of 14 divisions (5 infantry, 4 motorized, 2 tank, 2 parachute and 1 mountain rifle). 11 divisions occupied the Gustav Line, 2 motorized and 1 parachute divisions were located in the Rome area (army reserve).

The troops of the 14th Army under the command of General Eberhard von Mackensen (76th Panzer and 1st Parachute Corps), a total of 7 divisions - 5 infantry, motorized and mountain rifle, occupied the defense in Northern Italy. Units of the 14th Army were used to organize antilanding defense and fight against partisans. It was also an army group reserve.

It was not possible to organize a full-fledged anti-landing defense of the coast of the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic Seas. The coast was too large and the troops were too few. Therefore, defensive structures were erected only at some naval bases.

Army reserves, coast guard battalions, and coastal and anti-aircraft artillery units were supposed to fight enemy landings.

German self-propelled gun "Elephant" (Sd. Kfz. 184 Elefant), which was blown up by a mine on the road in the Nettuno area. March 1944

Allied offensive

The Allied command planned to continue the offensive and in 5-6 months reach the Pisa-Rimini line in Northern Italy. The immediate goal was Rome, which was going to be liberated in January 1944. The Allies intended to achieve this goal by combining a frontal offensive by the main forces with an amphibious assault behind enemy lines. The 5th American Army of Mark Wayne Clark was supposed to advance with the main forces (9 divisions) in the Cassino sector, the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, and land an amphibious assault in the Anzio area (100 km from the front) - the 6th Corps (about 50 thousand soldiers). The landing party was supposed to seize a bridgehead, strike in the rear of the 10th German Army, intercept the enemy’s escape route to the north, then connect with the main forces of the army and with joint efforts advance to the north-west and occupy Rome.

Churchill attached great military-strategic and political importance to the attack on Rome. The Allies sought to achieve complete dominance in Southern Europe in order to have trump cards in the game with Hitler and Stalin.

The 8th British Army, which, after General Bernard Montgomery was called to England to begin preparations for Operation Overlord, was led by General Oliver Lees, consisting of 4 divisions and 2 brigades, was supposed to hold the line occupied in December 1943 Gustav and pin down the forces of the 76th Corps of the 10th German Army. During the offensive operation, the Allies planned to encircle and destroy the main enemy forces.

Before the attack, the allied aviation from January 1 to January 21, 1944, it carried out massive attacks on highways, railways, and airfields in Central Italy. The Allies tried to destroy enemy communications and prevent the enemy from transferring reinforcements from Northern Italy. Tactical aviation alone made 23 thousand sorties.

Flying Fortress B-17 over Monte Cassino. February 15, 1944

Formations of the 5th American Army began the offensive at different times - January 12, 15 and 17, without artillery preparation. The French Expeditionary Corps, the 2nd American Corps and the 10th British Corps advanced separately and were unable to break through the German defenses.

The German command brought new forces here (up to 4 divisions) and focused all their attention on this area, which created favorable conditions for the Allied landing. The Germans were preparing their counterattack in the 10th Army zone, but it was canceled when the Allies landed troops in the Nettuno-Anzio area. The command of the 10th Army was ordered to devote all its forces to repel the landing, regardless of the exposure of its defenses. The Nazis understood that if the landing was successful, the consequences would be catastrophic for the Vietinghof army.

Gunners from the British 1st Mechanized Brigade fire a 57mm anti-tank gun at Monte Cassino

Landing at Anzio

The 6th American Corps (armored, 3 infantry, one of them British, reinforced divisions) was concentrated in early January in the areas of the ports of Naples and Salerno, and the soldiers underwent 2 weeks of landing training.

The German command suspected that the enemy was going to land a new landing force on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. A large concentration of ships was found in the Naples area. The assumption was that the enemy was preparing a deep outflanking maneuver to avoid the need to break through the strong defenses of the German army.

The landing site was not known: the Allies could land troops near the front line, near Rome or further north. However, a strong offensive by the 5th American Army began, which attracted the attention of the German command. The Allies dominated the air, which excluded the possibility of effective aerial reconnaissance towards Naples.

On the night of January 22, 1943, the landing began in the Anzio area. The landing was provided by 126 warships and 250 landing and transport ships. On the first day, Allied aircraft flew more than 1 sorties to support the landing.

Thanks to surprise, the troops landed without interference within two days. The port of Anzio was immediately occupied and began to receive ships and landing craft. By the night of January 23, 90% of the personnel, military equipment, and supplies had landed.

A Sherman tank lands ashore from a landing ship at Anzio during Operation Shingle, January 22, 1944.

The landing of British troops during the Anzio-Nettuna operation

Tanks of the 1st Panzer Division land on the Anzio bridgehead.

At this time, the road to Rome was open; south of the capital there were only a few small units of infantry and coastal artillery. Two divisions that had previously been stationed in the Rome area were sent to the aid of the 10th Army. A decisive blow by the Allied forces in the rear of the German 10th Army could lead to the collapse of its defense.

However, the Allies did not take risks in order to use the first success, and began to strengthen the occupied bridgehead. It was a semicircle with a radius of 20 km with its center at Nettuno. By the end of January, the Allies had landed up to 100 thousand soldiers on the bridgehead. General Lucas was removed for mistakes and General Truscott took command of the 6th Corps.

Taking advantage of the slowness and caution of the allies, the command of Group C quickly created a new continuous line of defense. First, marching reinforcements and units from the 10th Army were transferred to the dangerous area. Then, within 10 days, two divisions were transferred from Northern Italy and one from France and the Balkans, despite enemy air superiority. By the end of January - beginning of February, there was the headquarters of Mackensen's 14th Army, the headquarters of the 76th Panzer Corps and 5 divisions.

The German headquarters, fearing for Rome and the fate of the 10th Army, on January 28 ordered Kesselring to throw the enemy into the sea. At the end of January - beginning of February 1944, there were stubborn battles: the 6th Corps tried to advance belatedly, and the Germans counterattacked. On February 3, the Americans went on the defensive.

By mid-February 1944, the 14th Army already had 8 divisions - 3 infantry, 1 parachute, 2 tank and 2 motorized, plus 4 assault gun divisions and several separate battalions with Tiger and Panther tanks. It should be noted that the Nazis could not launch flank attacks along the coast due to the dominance of the enemy’s naval artillery.

On February 16, three German divisions struck a strong blow; if successful, three more divisions were to follow. The Nazis penetrated deeply into the enemy’s defenses. After four days of the offensive, the Germans were close to the goal of the offensive - the elimination of the bridgehead. The Allies were already thinking about evacuation.

However, due to a shortage of aircraft, tanks and guns, the Germans were unable to achieve decisive success.

The Allies had great fire superiority and air supremacy. German tanks were tied to the roads, where they could be stopped more easily. The command of the 14th Army stopped the counteroffensive.

So with support fleet and the 6th Air Force Corps held the bridgehead. Both sides suffered heavy losses.

American artillerymen fire from a 155-mm M1 Long Tom cannon in the Nettuno area. February 20, 1944

Hitler demanded that the command of the 14th Army repeat the counterattack. Due to problems with the accumulation of ammunition, a new counter-offensive began only on February 29. 4 German divisions went on the attack.

Meanwhile, the Americans had completed the creation of a strong defense and were ready for an enemy attack. In addition, a thaw began, turning the area into a sea of ​​mud. The effectiveness of the armored forces was minimal. The Germans had minor successes on the first day, then the Allies themselves counterattacked. Mackensen's army went on the defensive.

After another failure, the German command abandoned attempts at new counterattacks, and in March the Germans began to create a third line of defense - the Caesar Line. The new line ran from the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea between the bridgeheads at Anzio and Rome and further to Velletri, Avezzano and Pescara on the Adriatic coast.

German self-propelled gun Sturmpanzer IV in the Nettuno-Anzio area. March 1944

In the frame, the command tank "Panther" Pz. Kpfw. V Ausf. D from the headquarters of the 1st battalion of the 4th tank regiment. In the background is the Elefant self-propelled gun of the 653rd heavy anti-tank battalion. March 1944

A battery of camouflaged German self-propelled guns "Vespe" (Sd. Kfz. 124) in the Nettuno area. March 1944

Battle of Monte Cassino

Clark's 5th American Army, reinforced by three divisions (New Zealand, Indian and French), from February 10 to 17, again stormed enemy positions in the direction of Cassino, with the forces of the 2nd American and then New Zealand corps. But this time the offensive failed.

In the second half of February, 5 more divisions were transferred to Italy from North Africa. On March 15, the third offensive of the 5th Army began. The main blow was delivered by the New Zealand corps, reinforced by the English division. This time the offensive was preceded by a powerful 4-hour artillery and air preparation. More than 500 medium and heavy bombers and 900 guns razed the city of Cassino to the ground.

However, the German garrison, well dug in, offered stubborn resistance to the Allies. The New Zealand Corps captured half of the city, but could not advance further. By March 23, the offensive had stalled.

In March, the front line stabilized - rains began, and therefore the Allied command postponed the offensive for two months until the weather improved.

Soldiers of the Moroccan division from the French Expeditionary Force on the road near Monte Cassino. The picture was taken during the change of parts in positions. The corps included two Moroccan divisions - the 2nd Infantry and the 4th Mountain.

Two German paratroopers with an MG-42 light machine gun during the battle at Monte Cassino

Thus, the Allies’ attempt to break through the German defenses almost immediately, encircle and destroy most of their forces and take Rome failed. The Nazis repelled the attacks of the Allied forces in January - March 1944, with the support of much superior forces of aviation, artillery and navy. The passivity of the British 8th Army on the northern sector of the front played a large role in this failure. The Allies did not use the possibility of attacking from this direction, as the Germans had feared.

The Allies were only able to capture a small bridgehead behind enemy lines, enter Cassino on the main front and cross the river. Garigliano in the lower reaches. The results achieved were minimal, with a large expenditure of effort and resources. German troops completed their task: they pinned down and exhausted significant enemy forces.

German soldiers install a heavy 305-mm M16 mortar (Czech production by Skoda) into position using a tractor. Italian Front, April 1944. In total, the Czechoslovak Army in the interwar period had 17 vz. mortars. 16. All of them were captured by the Germans and entered service with heavy artillery divisions under the designation 30,5 cm Morser (t) and 638 (j), with a total of 23 pieces (together with the Yugoslav ones).

At the same time, the landing in Anzio, despite the mistakes of the command, played a positive role.

It was a successful major landing operation behind enemy lines. The 6th Corps distracted 5 enemy divisions in the first and second offensive of the 5th Army, and 9 German divisions during the third offensive. But the troops of Clark’s army failed three times to break through the defenses of the German 10th Army and connect with the landing party, putting it in a difficult position.

To protect communications and the rear (fighting partisans), the Germans had to keep 4 divisions and a brigade in Central and especially Northern Italy, weakening the front line. On May 10, 1, the 1944th Army on the Gustav Line had 9 divisions, and the 14th Army, which blocked the bridgehead in the Anzio area, had 8 divisions. Another 2 tank divisions remained in reserve.

German paratroopers observe from a trench on the Italian front. June 1944

To be continued ...
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  1. 0
    10 June 2024 07: 16
    How I love the former allies, that I read and root for the Germans.
    1. +1
      10 June 2024 07: 35
      Victor Sergeev (Victor Sergeev)
      How I love the former allies, that I read and root for the Germans.

      Likewise! Although the Germans were freaks, they fought on their own, and not with someone else’s hands like the arrogant Saxons. Typically, the Amerzos traded with Germany through third parties until the landing in Normandy.
    2. -3
      10 June 2024 16: 20
      Yes, it's mutual. Ordinary Europeans and Americans, reading and watching about the Eastern Front, also root for the Germans.
  2. +6
    10 June 2024 08: 11
    Khe khe.

    You can immediately see which articles Samsonov writes and which he copies. In the second case, it does without commissar agitations.

    However, it’s funny to read this after the author’s text about Normandy. The Blood Saxons allegedly intrigued there and delayed the landing, but here we suddenly read how they fought in 43.

    Unfortunately, they fought rather ineptly (relative to the Wehrmacht and themselves in the future, of course). The landing with decisive goals did not fail, but did not achieve any decisive goals.
  3. +3
    10 June 2024 12: 26
    Good article explaining what happened. As a curiosity and something unwritten, it can be added that during the Battle of Montecassino, if the Allies had heeded the advice of the French general, who, apparently, was Juin, to attack laterally, and not frontally, they would have taken Montecassino earlier and with much less losses. We can then talk about the Battle of Ortona, a small town but strategically important due to its position. Not so much in the number of fighters, but in the intensity of the battles. One final curiosity: during the Anzio landings, this was the only time RSI soldiers fought against the Americans.
    1. 0
      11 June 2024 01: 45
      when RSI soldiers

      What is RSI? Partisans?
      1. +1
        11 June 2024 11: 59
        The RSI is the Italian Social Republic, or more precisely those soldiers who remained loyal to Mussolini. After September 8, 1943, many soldiers from different units dispersed, some remained loyal to the king and fought on the side of the Allies, others continued to fight on the side of Mussolini. The same thing, for example, happened with the Folgor paratroopers.
    2. 0
      11 June 2024 21: 06
      Well, what would have happened there if it were, is unknown. History does not tolerate subjunctive moods. Perhaps the Germans would also find a worthy answer. But after battles, many generals in their memoirs begin to invent excuses, give advice, and so on. By the way, Manstein, Guderian and Halder were noticed in this, they say, Hitler did not listen to them here and there. Otherwise... And the “couch” generals, those, in general, are strategists on strategists.
      1. 0
        12 June 2024 12: 29
        What you write is true in many cases, but if we are talking about the Battle of Monteccasino, the proof is that when they actually listened to the French general take the long route and attack from the flank, they actually won the battle.
  4. 0
    11 June 2024 20: 41
    They didn’t even intend to capture anything; they were stupidly picking their noses, despite a huge superiority of forces.