|A TYPICAL SOUVENIR ITALY 1944 / 1945|
19 Days from the Apennines to the Alps -- The story of the Po Valley Campaign
For this example I picked the December 19 number of 'Frontpost S|d' which deals with the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge:
Planning the knockout
On 12 February, 1945, 15th Army Group, commanded by General Mark W. Clark, issued its Operations Instruction No. 3. This directive stated the objectives of the offensive to be undertaken and outlined its fundamental strategy.
The offensive was to be divided into three general phases:
The three phases were described in detail.
In Phase I, Eighth Army was to break through the Santerno River defense while Fifth Army debouched from the mountains into the valley, and captured or isolated Bologna.
Phase II contemplated a breakthrough by either or both armies to encircle the enemy forces south of the Po, while
Phase III called for the actual crossing of the river and the capture of Verona which guarded the gateway to the Brenner.
The general outline for Operation Craftsman the title designation of Fifth Army's plan for its part of the offensive was complete by the middle of March. Fifth Army would attack with both Corps abreast, with the main effort initially astride Highway 64 until the valley of Setta Creek had been cleared and the road junction of Praduro, 15 miles north of Vergato, had been captured. A secondary effort would be made along Highway 65, to the east of 64 and generally parallel to it, while the units with the IV Corps reduced the dominating positions west of the road and came up abreast. Thereafter the weight of the Army would be concentrated west of Highway 65. Five days prior to D Day a preparatory attack was to be launched along the Ligurian Sea, to keep the enemy off balance and to maintain pressure on his right flank. Operational decisions which could be made only in the light of the situation existing after the main enemy line had been broken were not included in detailed advance instructions.
The approval of this plan, described here in brief outline, was reached only after full examination and discussion of half a dozen plans which had been considered at one time or another during the winter. The main question had been whether the principal line of attack would be up Highway 65, the most direct route to Bologna, or up Highway 64 from the southwest.
The Highway 64 route, while longer, was less heavily fortified, offered the possibility of a close envelopment of Bologna from the northwest after our troops had descended from the mountains, and also might be exploited to supply five divisions. This road, which followed the course of the Reno River and was partially defiladed from the west over much of the distance, was the more protected of the two. On the other hand, it was commanded by a ridge 15 miles long in possession of the enemy. This would have to be cleared, as would Monte Sole to the east, before the road could be used throughout its length.
A close study of all the aspects of the situation, including many which had been discarded almost immediately, led to the conviction that a direct, massed attack straight down Highway 65 would be too costly in men and materiel, and would consume a considerable period of time. Consequently all planning thereafter was restricted to operations in the area west of Highway 65 and immediately west of 64. On the extreme left of this area the re was a road net which led into Highway 9, the broad trans-pen-insular route passing through Bologna, at points only five to six miles west of the city.
Fifth Army's Operations Instruction No. 7 was issued on 1 April, and set forth the operation which was to break through the hard core of enemy resistance. Three phase lines Green, Brown, and Black were set up for control purposes. IV Corps would open the attack with the 10th Mountain on the left in the rugged country west of Highway 64, and with the 1st Armored on its right, along and to the left of the Highway. The BEF, 92d, and attached units were to protect the left flank and follow up enemy withdrawals in their respective sectors.
When IV Corps had reached the Green Phase line, which included the clearing of the ridge by the 10th Mountain, the capture of Monte Pero and the town of Vergato by the 1st Armored, II Corps would join the attack, with both corps participating in the second or Brown Phase. IV Corps was to continue pushing northeast generally parallel to Highway 64 to a point about six miles north of Vergato, and capture a number of hills and villages to the west.
II Corps was to attack with all its divisions in line, the South Africans to take Monte Sole, the 88th to take Monterumici directly to the east, the 91st to take Monte Adone and the village of Pianoro on Highway 65, with the 34th on the east of the highway. The Legnano Group was to attack on the extreme right, maintaining contact with the Eighth Army.
The third or Black Phase involved further advances of from three to five miles by IV Corps, while II Corps was charged with the capture of Praduro. By that time the 85th Division, after remaining in close reserve during the first two phases, was to be passed through the 1st Armored, either just before or immediately after the Brown line had been reached, depending upon the situation at that time.
A mobile reserve of armored units was to be set up during the Black Phase, with both the 1st American and 6th South African Armored Divisions using all available routes to push forward into the valley and aid in the rapid encirclement of Bologna. Once in the valley, swiftly-moving task forces composed of Infantry and Armored elements would forge out along the main avenues of enemy withdrawal to seize the Po crossings and cut off all enemy escape.
That in brief was the plan. How it developed, how the men of the Fifth fought their way down out of the mountains against the bitterest sort of enemy opposition; how they broke out into the valley and together with their valiant teammates of the British Eighth Army, compelled the surrender of the entire enemy force in Italy, is the story of the 19 short days that it took to drive from the Apennines to the Alps; after 19 long months of fighting up the peninsula to this final starting point.
An elaborate program of deception was worked out and put into effect, as a preliminary to the big push.
For ten days before the Fifth Army jumped off, certain units maintained radio silence, but the dummy CP's received dummy messages, the real headquarters handling all their communications by wire. Artillery batteries involved in the mythical move went off the air, and fired their missions by telephone. And on 9 April, before the Fifth Army jumped off, a small group of operators from the 85th Division opened a dummy radio net in the Eighth Army zone, continuing to operate it until II Corps actually had begun its attack.
All winter long the war correspondents had written dolefully about + the Forgotten Front ;. All winter long the artillery observers up front had cursed at their inability to register on the choice targets visible through their binoculars, because the big guns had been pulled out of Italy.
East side, west side
At first light on 5 April in the 92d Division sector, the Japanese-Americans of the 442d Infantry attacked in the hills just to the east of the Ligurian coastal plain. Later in the morning, the 370th was committed, and on 7 April, two days to the hour after the jump-off of the 442d, the former ack-ack men of the 473d passed through the 370th, which had been stopped by mortar barrages.
Bitter opposition was encountered from the start. The tough, battle-wise warriors of the 442d, recently returned from France, moved slowly but steadily forward, fighting every step of the way, taking their losses without faltering. On their left the 473d, seasoned by wintry months in the wildest, most rugged part of the line, found the going difficult.
All day long hundreds of heavy and medium bombers operated just ahead of the line, their attacks alternating with massed artillery barrages across the flat, marshy lands of the coastal plain. Then finally a fresh wave of heavies went over but dropped no bombs. By now the Boche had become practiced in ducking, and as he ducked, the Eighth Army took off.
The spring offensive had started.
All evening on the ninth of April, men on the Fifth Army's right could hear the sustained thunder of the artillery in the British sector. An undercurrent of excitement flowed through the army. All felt that this must be the beginning of the big push; few were aware of the magnitude of the part the Fifth was destined to play; few knew precisely what was expected of their individual divisions.
Deception had been working well, if the response of American troops not in the know was any criterion. Certain divisions had been elaborately blacked out. The 85th and 88th had spent some time in the extreme left of the IV Corps sector, with identifying markings removed, busily practicing amphibious operations. A Stars and Stripes correspondent with Fifth Army Headquarters, learning of this, protested vigorously against his paper's not being invited to send a correspondent along on the landing he assumed the 85th was to make.
A Fifth Army officer, driving to the 85th headquarters on business, asked an MP for directions. + Are you an 85th Division MP? ; + No sir. ; + Is this the way to the 85th Division C. P.? ; + I wouldn't know, sir. ; +Do you know where the 85th Division is? ; + Never heard of it, sir. ; Two hundred yards down the road he found it!
All knew that something big was about to happen. But preparations for a full-scale campaign had to be kept as secret as possible: only a minimum essential number must know of the plan in all of its details. Yet the convoys of supplies and equipment rolling day and night up the two main highways could not be misunderstood, and the vast dumps just behind the front line were their own eloquent evidence.
It could not be hoped that the enemy would not be alert to the preparations for attack; the cover plan was to keep him guessing as to just where and when it might strike.
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