Gothic Line of Germany | World War II

Gothic Line of Germany | World War II

Overview

The Gothic Line was a German self-protective line during World War II's Italian Campaign. During the combat retreat of the German forces in Italy against the Allied Armies in Italy, commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander, it formed Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's last main line of defence along the summits of the northern half of the Apennine Mountains.

Adolf Hitler was concerned about the situation of the Gothic Line's preparation. He was worried that the Allies would try to outflank his defences by using amphibious invasions. Therefore, he ordered the name, with its historical overtones, modified to degrade its importance in the eyes of both friend and foe, calculating that if the Allies managed to break through, they would not be able to exploit the more spectacular name to enhance their victory claims. In June 1944, Kesselring nicknamed it the "Green Line" in reaction to this directive.

The Germans built almost 2,000 well-fortified machine gun nests, casemates, bunkers, observation posts, and artillery battle positions using over 15,000 slave labourers to oppose any attempt to break the Gothic Line. This line was initially penetrated during Operation Olive, better known as the Battle of Rimini, but Kesselring's soldiers could retreat in good order every time. This remained the situation until March 1945, when the Gothic Line was breached, but no substantial breakthrough was made; the crucial breakthrough would not come until April 1945, during the final Allied onslaught of the Italian Campaign.

Operation Olive was dubbed "the biggest material struggle ever conducted in Italy." The conflict drew a total of almost 1,200,000 troops. The fight was fought in a pincer operation by the British Eighth Army and the United States Fifth Army against the German 10th and 14th Armies. Allied land forces fired 1,470,000 bullets into Rimini, a city that air raids had previously battered.

Background

Instead, concerned that the British Eighth Army, led by Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, would beat him to Rome, Clark transferred a substantial portion of his Anzio army there to safeguard that he and the Fifth Army would have the privilege of redemptive the city.

As a result, the majority of Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring's forces slipped the noose. It retreated north, notably in late June on the Trasimene Line, which ran from the east coast just south of Ancona, past the southern shorelines of Lake Trasimeno close Perugia, and on to the west shore south of Grosseto, and in July on the Arno Line, which ran from the west shoreline along the line of the Arno. This managed to give time to consolidate the Gothic Line, a 10-mile-long belt of defenses spreading from southern of La Spezia on the west shore to the Foglia Valley on the east coast, through the Apennines' natural defensive wall, which ran nearly coast to the beach, 50 miles deep and with high peaks and crests rising to 7,000 feet, to the Adriatic Sea between Pesaro and Ravenna.

Allied Strategy

The Allies saw the Italian Front as subordinate to the offensives in France, as seen by the evacuation of seven divisions from the US Fifth Army in the summer of 1944 to participate in Operation Dragoon, the landings in southern France. The Fifth Army had shrunk from 249,000 to 153,000 men by 5 August, and they had just 18 divisions to face the combined German 10th and 14th Armies, which had 14 divisions plus 4 to 7 reserve divisions.

Nonetheless, Winston Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff were eager to breach German defences to open up a way to Austria and Hungary through the "Ljubljana Gap" in the northeast. While this would pose a threat to Germany from behind, Churchill was more concerned with keeping the Russians out of central Europe. The US Chiefs of Staff were adamantly opposed to this policy, believing it would dilute the Allied emphasis in France. Finally, following the Allied victories in France during the summer, the US Chiefs of Staff yielded, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff reached a complete agreement at the Second Quebec Conference on 12 September.

Allied Plan of Attack

On 4 August, Alexander met with Lieutenant-General Leese, the commander of the British Eighth Army, to learn that Leese was opposed to the proposal. He said that Operation Dragoon had cost the Allies their specialist French mountain forces and that the strength of the Eighth Army relied on tactics that combined infantry, armour, and guns, which could not be used in the middle Apennines' steep mountains.

It's also been stated that after the Fifth Army's contentious thrust on Rome in late May and early June, Leese despised working with Clark and wished for the Eighth Army to win the conflict on its own. Accordingly, he proposed launching an ambush along the Adriatic coast. Although Harding did not share Leese's viewpoint, and the Eighth Army planning staff had already dismissed the idea of an Adriatic offensive because bringing the required concentration of forces to bear would be difficult, General Alexander was unwilling to force Leese to adopt a plan that went against his inclination and judgement. Harding was persuaded to change his mind. The new onslaught, dubbed Operation Olive, intended for Leese's Eighth Army to attack the Adriatic coast toward Pesaro and Rimini, drawing in German troops from the country's centre.

Adriatic Front

Eighth Army Dispositions for Operation Olive

Leese had Polish II Corps on the coast, with the 5th Kresowa Division in the lead and the 3rd Carpathian Division in reserve. The Canadian I Corps was to the left of the Poles, with the Canadian 1st Infantry Division in the front line commanded by the British 21st Tank Brigade and the Canadian 5th Armoured Division in reserve. The corps artillery was bolstered in the early stages by adding the British 4th Infantry Division's artillery. The British V Corps was west of the Canadians, with the British 46th Infantry Division on the right and the 4th Indian Infantry Division on the left of the corps front line.

German 10th Army Dispositions

The German 10th Army's LXXVI Panzer Corps was up against the Eighth Army. Initially, there were just three divisions: the 1st Parachute Division, which faced the Poles, the 71st Infantry Division, which was inland on the parachute division's right, and the 278th Division, which was relieving the 5th Mountain Division on the Corps' right flank in the hills. After that, the 10th Army had five more divisions in the 51st Mountain Corps, which covered 80 miles of the front line on the right of the LXXVI Panzer Corps, and two more divisions, the 162nd Infantry Division and the 98th Infantry Division, which the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division replaced. Panzergrenadierdivision has been covering the Adriatic coast behind LXVI Corps since 25 August. Kesselring also had the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division and the 26th Panzer Division in his Army Group Reserve.

Eighth Army Attack

As the Polish II Corps on the coast and the I Canadian Corps on the coastal land on the Poles' left advanced towards Pesaro, the coastal land narrowed, and it was decided that the Polish Corps, weakened by losses and a lack of replacements, would be placed in Army reserve, leaving the Front on the coastal plain to the Canadian Corps alone. On 27 August, he was still of the opinion that the offensive was a ruse and that he would not deploy reserves to the Front. Kesselring realised a significant offensive was underway on 28 August when he saw a seized copy of Leese's directive of the day to his Army before the attack, and three divisions of assistances were ordered from Bologna to the Adriatic Front, still needing at least two days to get into position.

The Canadian and British Corps had achieved the Green I prominent defensive positions along the ridges on the far side of the Foglia waterway by 30 August. However, the German 10th Army's left wing's LXXVI Panzer Corps had retired in good order behind the Conca river's line. The Corps' 1st Parachute Division, led by Heidrich and supported by heavy artillery fire from the Coriano crest in the hills to the Canadians' left, put an end to their advance. Meanwhile, the British V Corps was having difficulty progressing in the more challenging mountainous terrain due to the weak roads.

Battles for Gemmano and Croce

Some historians have dubbed the Battle of Gemmano the "Cassino of the Adriatic." After 11 assaults by the British 56th Division and then the British 46th Division between 4 and 13 September, the turn of the Indian 4th Division launched the 12th attack at 03:00 on 15 September after a heavy bombardment eventually carried and secured the German defensive positions. Meanwhile, to the north, on the other side of the Conca valley, at Croce, a similarly deadly battle was being waged. The German 98th Division held their locations with determination, and it took the British 56th Division five days of constant struggle, frequently door to door and hand to hand, to capture Croce.

Coriano Took and the Advance to Rimini and San Marino

The Eighth Army was again confronted by the Rimini Line, a well-organised line of defence. Meanwhile, the Eighth Army's left flank proceeded to the Marano river and San Marino's border, having secured Croce and, beyond it, Montescudo. The 9th Queen's Royal Lancers commanded to pass through the Bays, were fortunate that their assault was postponed after strong representations to higher HQ.

On the correct, the I Canadian Corps broke the German defences on the Ausa River and into the Lombardy Plain on 20 September, and the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade captured Rimini on 21 September, as the Germans removed from their Rimini Line positions behind the Ausa to new posts on the Marecchia. On the other hand, Kesselring's defence had bought him some time until the autumn rains arrived. Then, even though they were out of the hills, the lowlands were flooded, and the Eighth Army was once again confronted by a series of swollen rivers running across their line of march, as they had been the previous autumn. The weaponary of British V Corps and I Canadian Corps, combined by the 2nd New Zealand Division, had to grind their way forward. At the same time, von Vietinghoff withdrew his forces behind the next river beyond the Marecchia, the Uso, a few miles beyond Rimini, as the conditions prevented the Eighth Army's armour from exploiting the breakthrough. The LXXVI Panzer Corps had agonized 16,000 fatalities while fighting the Eighth Army. As the Eighth Army took a break at the end of September to reorganise, Lieutenant-General Richard L. Leese was sent to command the Allied land forces in Southeast Asia.

Central Front

US Fifth Army Formation

The US IV Corps, led by Major General Willis D. Crittenberger, was formed on the left by the US 1st Armored Division, the 6th South African Armoured Division, and two regimental combat teams, one from the US 92nd Infantry Division and the other from the Brazilian 6th RCT; the US II Corps, led by Major General Geoffrey Keyes, was in the centre, and the British XIII Corps, led by Lieutenant-General Sid Given the terrain they were approaching, the Fifth Army, like the Eighth Army, was thought to be strong in armour but low on infantry.

German Formation in the Central Apennines

Five divisions of Joachim Lemelsen's German 14th Army (20th Luftwaffe Field Division, 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, 65th and 362nd Infantry Divisions, and the 4th Parachute Division) and two divisions from von Vietinghoff's German 10th Army were in Front of Clark's forces. The Luftwaffe Field Division, the 356th Infantry Division, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, and the 26th Panzer Division's armoured reserve had been relocated to the Adriatic Front by the end of the first week of September. However, the 14th Army was inferior to the 10th Army in terms of quality. It had been brutally mauled during the withdrawal from Anzio, and some of its replacements had been ill-prepared.

Allied Plan

Clark's strategy was for II Corps to attack lengthways the road from Florence to Firenzuola and Imola over the Il Giogo pass, outflanking the formidable defences of the Futa pass on the principal Florence–Bologna road, while British XIII Corps would advance through the Gothic Line on their right, cutting Route 9 and thus Kesselring's lateral communications at Faenza. The 356th Infantry Division's relocation to the Adriatic reduced the defences around the Il Giogo pass, which was already a possible weak spot due to its location on the border between the 10th and 14th Armies.

Battle

The US II Corps and the British XIII Corps began moving into the highlands during the end week of August to take up positions for the main assault on the primary Gothic Line defences. Keyes attempted to flank the II Giogo Pass by attacking both the summits of Monticello and Monte Altuzzo with the 91st Infantry Division, but this failed.

The II Giogo Pass progressed slowly, but the British XIII Corps on II Corps' right made better headway. The infantry attacked on 17 September, supported by American and British artillery, and battled their way onto Monte Pratone, a crucial point on the Gothic Line about 2–3 miles east of the Il Giogo pass. Meanwhile, the US II Corps resumed its attack on Monte Altuzzo, dominating the east side of the Il Giogo Pass. The 370th received reinforcements from other units to ensure the Fifth Army's left-wing sector at the Ligurian Sea was secure.

On the far right wing of the Fifth Army's far right-wing, on the right of the British XIII Corps front, the 8th Indian Infantry Division had taken the heights of Femina Morta, and the British 6th Armoured Division had taken the San Godenzo Pass on Route 67 to Forl on 18 September, both on the trackless ground. With the slow growth on the Adriatic Front, Clark decided Bologna was too far west sideways Route 9 to trick the German 10th Army at this point.

Time Runs out for the Allied Offensive

By the second part of October, Alexander became increasingly evident that, despite the valiant fighting in the wet plains of Romagna and the rushing slopes of the central Apennines, no breakthrough would be possible before the winter weather returned.

The British Eighth Army's advance on the Adriatic Front resumed its left wing through the Apennine foothills into Forl on Route 9. The 10th Indian Infantry Division, which had moved from British X Corps to British V Corps on 5 October, had crossed the Fiumicino river high in the highlands and turned the German defensive position on the river, forcing the German 10th Army divisions downstream to retreat towards Bologna. Following their assault up Route 9, the British V Corps crossed the Savio river on 21 October, running northeast through Cesena to the Adriatic. By 25 October, they were closing in on the Ronco river, some 10 miles beyond the Savio, where the Germans had retired. Indeed, Kesselring later stated that if mid-October could not hold the front south of Bologna, all German positions east of Bologna would be lost. As a result, Alexander and Clark resolved to make one last push for Bologna before winter. Accordingly, on 16 October, the Fifth Army of the United States prepared for a final assault on Bologna.

Later Operations

The 1st Brazilian Division's full strength and partial reinforcement of the US 92nd Division had not compensated the US Fifth Army for the formations diverted to France by early November. The situation with the British Eighth Army was considerably worse. Additional cadres were being diverted to northern Europe, and the I Canadian Corps was ordered to ship to the Netherlands in the month of February of the succeeding year. Additionally, the troops continued to have an overabundance of armour compared to infantry while confined in the highlands.

During November and December, the Fifth Army focused on driving the Germans out of their well-positioned artillery positions, which had been critical in halting the Allied advance towards Bologna and the Po Valley. With snow falling and winter sets in, crossing the Senio was no longer an option, and the Eighth Army's 1944 campaign ended.

The Germans used a principally Italian force of units from the Italian Monterosa Division to attack the left-wing of the US Fifth Army in the Serchio valley in Front of Lucca in late December, in a final embellishment to the year's fighting, to pin Allied units there that might else have been swapped to the Central Front. Clark was named commander of the Allied Armies in Italy, while Lucian K. was appointed to the US Fifth Army.

Last updated: 2022-January-13
Tags: History World War II
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