Part 7

19 Days from the Apennines to the Alps -- The story of the Po Valley Campaign

This US Fifth Army booklet describes the Battle for the Po Valley in April 1945 and the preparations for it.
Most of the Burridge leaflets are from this period (November 1944 - May 1945). So from this point on, more leaflets will be shown!

Title page of tha '19 Days' booklet
Picture. Title page of:
19 Days from the Apennines to the Alps -- The story of the Po Valley Campaign
(coll. Burridge)

"To the Officers and Men of the Fifth Army":

"You have made this book.
It is compounded of the snow and sleet of the Apennines; the tenacious mud of the mountain valleys; the heat of summer in a foreign land, and the cold of winter. It is written in the blood of your comrades; bound in the imperishable glory of their memory.
You have fought long and hard, but you have won a memorable victory. I am proud to have been one of you.
No general has ever commanded a finer army; I think no general ever will".


Lieutenant General L.K. Truscalf, Jr.
Lieutenant General, U. S. Army Commanding

Six months in the mountains

The last snows had vanished from the Apennine slopes, and the Italian peasants, certain that the war had passed them by, plowed their upland fields. Gentians and violets were beginning to appear on ridges where a long half year earlier the roar of high explosive shattered the air.
A short ten miles to the north, however, war was present in stark reality. Venturesome buttercups reconnoitered among the gun emplacements and dugouts, but they seemed foolhardy adventurers, like the handful of farmers who had filtered back to their shattered homes in the deceptive quiet of forward areas. The sun shone brightly, flanked by chill winds from the Alps. Mortars belched intermittently, machine guns argued excitedly, and 105's spat accurate death at the invisible enemy.

+ Little to report ;, said communiquis, but there were some of our patrols that didn't come back; there were German soldiers, too, who would never again yearn for the faithless Lili Marlene. The line lay sprawled like a sleeping giant, in the fitful half-waking hour before the dawn, mumbling and muttering in the maze of a disquieting dream.
It had been the sleep of exhaustion, this half year. The Fifth Army in the preceding six months had fought its way from positions in the rugged mountain areas south of Rome and from the desolate plain of the Anzio Beachhead to a point but a few miles south of Bologna, gateway to the broad valley of the Po where, within range of our binoculars, the enemy was fattening on the wealth of the low fertile farmlands. Rome had fallen, Florence had fallen, the vaunted Gothic Line had been erased from the map of Italy.

The Army had fought hard and continuously and with but little respite. Thousands of battle-tested men had fallen in the drive up the Peninsula; many thousands more had been with-drawn for the assault upon the southern bastions of France. Supply lines were long and severely strained, and winter was at hand. The enemy held the commanding ridges and peaks from the narrow Ligurian coastal plain on the west to rugged Monte Grande on the east, where the Fifth Army rubbed shoulders with the British Eighth.
Throughout the winter months the Army had rested, trained, and built up its combat equipment for the eventual knockout. Replacements and reinforcements flowed in; wornout vehicles were repaired or exchanged; reserves of ammunition were piled up, new and improved types of weapons added.

For the men in the line there was no let up. They plunged wearily through waist-deep snowdrifts on patrol; they endured bone-chilling cold and damp; the slick mud of the Apennines became a part of their daily life. Some began to forget that they had ever known any other life. The War Correspondents in Rome began to refer in their dispatches to + the Forgotten Front ;. The equivalent of ten divisions was spread out over some 90 miles of the toughest type of terrain for military operations; on the west a narrow strip of coastal plain, the rest a formidable maze of tortuous mountains. The IV Corps, commanded by Major General (now Lieutenant General) Willis D. Crittenberger, on the left flank extended from the Ligurian Sea to the Reno River, a span of 70 miles, while the II Corps, under the command of Major General (now Lieutenant General) Geoffrey Keyes, was concentrated on a 25 mile front from the Reno to the Idice and the low mass of Monte Grande. Approximately 270,000 troops of all branches and services made up the Fifth Army. They included units composed of American whites. American negroes, and Americans of Japanese descent as well as Brazilians, South Africans, and Italian elements. (A division of British East Indians had been released to the Eighth Army a short time before).

Codenumber T9 / Translation
Picture. A typical leaflets text aimed at specific German units. This was aimed at the Second Battalion of the 117th German Grenadier Regiment.
(coll. Burridge)
The combined line of the two armies slanted northeast across the map of Italy from the vicinity of Viareggio, in the lush resort country on the Ligurian Sea, to the marshy southern shore of Lake Comacchio on the Adriatic, passing less than 12 miles south of Bologna.
The giant had slept, but there had been brief awakenings.

Limited objective attacks had been made during the late winter and early spring. The 92d Infantry Division in early February had pushed out up along the west coast, but the enemy had been ready and had counter-attacked to recover most of the gains made by our troops.

On 19 February the 10th Mountain Division, newly arrived in the Theater, in conjunction with the Brazilian Expeditionary Force attacked Monte Belvedere and enemy-held positions along Highway 64. It was here that the Army spring offensive was later to begin. To the fresh mountain troops, trained to razor-edge fineness, but as yet lacking extensive combat experience, was assigned the task of clearing commanding heights held by the Germans.

With a verve and enthusiasm reflecting their caliber and their training, and predictive of future performance, the men of the 10th took the Serrasiccia-Campiano Ridge, Monte Belvedere and Monte Torraccia, key features covering Highway 64 north of Porretta, and continued on to the northeast. They succeeded in clearing an area within their sector five to seven miles in front of the previously held front line. The BEF kept pace, moving up on the flank of the 10th as it spearheaded the attack. After 16 days, General Truscott called a halt. It was not yet time for the full-scale spring offensive, and it was not desirable to call the enemy's attention too pointedly at this time to this part of the line.
This was the position of the Fifth Army at the beginning of April, 1945, as it prepared for the push that was to culminate in complete victory in Italy. On the left was the 92d Division, commanded by Major General Edward M. Almond, under army command. The division was reinforced by the 473d Infantry Regiment, converted during the winter from antiaircraft units, and by the 442d Infantry Regiment, the famous Japanese-American outfit already tried and tested in two theaters. In General Almond's command the 370th Infantry, 442d Infantry, and the 473d Infantry were deployed from left to right in that order. Detached from the 92d and under army command, the 365th and the 371st Infantry held positions in the desolate mountains on the right.
Here, as the army line swung sharply to the northeast along the ridges, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, commanded by Major General Joao Batista Mascarenhas de Moraes, was in position, with the 10th Mountain Division under command of Major General George P. Hays on its right. On the right of the 10th, and extending the IV Corps line to the Reno, was the 1st Armored Division, commanded by Major General Vernon E. Prichard.

Allied leaflet T59, front , original translation
Allied leaflet T59, back , original translation
Pictures. Even countries as Brazil were fighting together with the allies against the Nazis.
This leaflet is explaining to the German soldier why.
(coll. Burridge)
In the II Corps sector the 6th South African Armored Division, under Major General W.H.E. Poole, occupied the left. Next to it was the 88th, commanded by Major General Paul W. Kendall. Then the 91st, under Major General William G. Livesay, and the 34th, under Major General Charles L. Bolte. Finally, next to the Eighth Army and linking up the two forces, was the Italian Legnano Group, a combat organization of about half the strength of an American infantry division and commanded by Major General Umberto Utili. The 85th Division with Major General John B. Coulter in command was in army reserve.

Bullets and beans

The battlewise troops confronting the Fifth Army were Hitler's best. In Europe, between the giant jaws of the trap extending from the Rhine to the Oder, was compressed the remainder of the force that had once been the terror of the civilized world. All, that is, except the two armies in Italy.
These armies, although they had been pushed steadily backward, had suffered serious losses, and were laboring under handicaps of supply and lack of transport, had never been routed. Divisions were intact, and had had ample time to train and battle-season replacements. Among these units were some of the best the Wehrmacht had ever had. Their total effective combat strength was approximately equal to that of the American Fifth and British Eighth Armies, which they had fought from the toe of Italy here to the Gothic Line in the heights of the Apennines.
These German forces were virtually self-sustaining in the rich valley of the Po. What our troops had come to call The Promised Land was indeed a + land of milk and honey ;  to say nothing of wheat and rice and fruit and livestock. While southern Italy lived on semi-starvation rations, the Po Valley residents had all they needed and more, lacking only tobacco, sugar, and a few other luxuries. The Krauts had all they could eat, but because of the destruction of their oil plants, and with railroad and highway bridges out, movement to and from Germany had become a tedious and hazardous process, and they were not able to loot the country as thoroughly as they had done in Denmark and the Low Countries.

Enemy motor transport suffered from lack of spare parts and shortage of fuel. Our air force had made almost a no-man's land of the entire Po Valley. Vehicles or trains moved in daylight only at great risk. There were no longer any bridges over the Po River and all supplies had to be ferried. Even at night movement over the roads in the Po Valley was hazardous because of the operations of our night bombers.
The magnificent job that had been done by supporting air forces was all too evident to anyone who ventured to fly out over the Po Valley on a clear day. Northward in the vast pattern of little farms, vineyards and orchards interlaced by white roads and dotted with towns and villages, hardly a sign of life and but little movement could be seen, even in such large towns as Bologna and Modena.
However, turning south and passing back over the Allied front the scene changed abruptly to one of great activity. Dust clouds hung over every road; motors, guns and tanks clustered around every farm and village building. Tiny figures could be seen moving everywhere, piling supplies, training earnestly, playing football or softball; little fear of the once vaunted Luftwaffe here.

The enemy was well supplied with arms and ammunition for defensive operations, but because he could not bring in vast quantities with which to build up his stocks it was necessary for him to hoard the supplies he had on hand. He carefully conserved his artillery, using it only when he considered it to be absolutely necessary or extremely profitable. He moved troops by motor only in emergency.
He was not, however, in any desperate position nor would he be so long as we did not attack in deadly earnest. At the beginning of April it was estimated that the enemy had on hand fourteen days of supplies of all classes, while he still had control of the great industrial region of the northwest, including the factory cities of Milan and Turin, with their automobile and airplane plants. In preparation perhaps for the development of Hitler's + National Redoubt ; in the Bavarian Alps, he had moved large numbers of drill presses, lathes, and other machine tools from these cities into the highway tunnels on the western shore of Lake Garda. Here, securely sheltered, they were used to turn out airplane engines.
But it took him a long time to move a division from one sector to another. His troops travelled only at night and on foot. Late in February General Crittenberger, questioning a Nazi prisoner as to how he had come all the way from a locality on the extreme right of the Eighth Army asked, + And how did you get here? ; + Zu Fuss ; (on foot). + All the way  you didn't ride at all? ; + Nein. Zu Fuss ; (No, walking all the way).
Here was the telling effect of the Allied air effort on the Wehrmacht in Italy. Our air forces had so persistently bombed his sources of oil and his synthetic oil plants that he was forced to adopt the most drastic conservation methods. This meant, too, that the Luftwaffe itself had been reduced to little more than a memory. Second, it meant that the capabilities of the Wehrmacht for movement had been severely restricted. Pilots frequently reported seeing trucks and combat vehicles being hauled by horses or oxen.

Was this the time? The Allied armies in France were moving forward; the Russian cannon were pounding the eastern front, and the armies in Italy were ready. Hitler from his shelter on Wilhelmstrasse had announced to the world that the German armies would fight to the last man. With the Wehrmacht on the east and west fronts slowly crumbling before the Allied attack there was some question as to the wisdom of an all-out assault in Italy. + Why attack now? ; it was asked. + Why not sit and wait until Germany collapses and save the lives we shall lose here? ; To this General Truscott gave the following answer: + It is largely a question of where the lives are to be saved. It will require just so much effort to destroy the German will to fight. The attack of this army against the German's sole remaining army may be the very factor, if launched now in coordination with the attacks on the eastern and western fronts in northern Europe, that will cause the final German collapse; I think there is a great possibility that that may prove to be the case.

+ The second point is that the German army confronting us here is in better condition than any German army has ever been in Italy, so far as strength is concerned. We know that definite shortages of certain critical supplies exist, but they are in good shape, probably better than any other German force still in the field. If we succeed in destroying the Boche here, he will be unable to withdraw to the Alps and prolong the struggle there.

+ A third point: If we sit by and wait, we allow him to continue the exploitation of northern Italy. By destroying him here, we will quickly complete the liberation of all of Italy. We will minimize the destruction that he will be able to effect; and we will deny to him the resources that will enable him to continue the struggle elsewhere, or to prolong the struggle here. These factors indicate that troops in Italy must join in the attack now.;

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