Part 8

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

Before going on, I will show you a typical FRONTPOST S\D leaflet newspaper in its original German language. The scan of the shown 'Frontpost' frontpage is reduced quality for use on the internet. That is why it is by far not as clear to read as the original. The same applies to the following scans of the leaflets original translation of both the front and reverse page.
In order to make the texts better readable in the rest of these internet pages, I will show only certain articles in good quality scans. I will omit the standard headers of the leaflets pages and mention those in the captions.

For this example I picked the December 19 number of 'Frontpost S|d' which deals with the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge:

Allied leaflet, FP91, front , original German language
Picture. A German language original 'Frontpost S|d' leaflet newspaper shelled to nazi soldiers December 1944.
Often these leaflets arrived in the condition shown:
Heavily scorched and crunched as a result of the extreme forces applied on it when being shelled.
The folds you see come from the forces applied on the paper during the firing of the shell and the expelling of
the leaflets by the explosive charge over the target aerea.
(coll. Moonen)
Allied leaflet, FP91, front , original translation
Allied leaflet, FP91, back , original translation
Pictures. The frontpage and the reverse page of the 'Frontpost S|d' original translation.
It is the same number as the scan shown at the top of this page.
(coll. Burridge)

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 strategy governing the operations was essentially the same as it had been in the previous fall, when a drive had been conceived which was to bisect northern Italy and to be followed by a debouchment from the Apennines out into the Po Valley.

The offensive was to be divided into three general phases:
(1) The capture and consolidation of a position around Bologna;
(2) The development of the Po River positions;
(3) The crossing of the Po and sealing of the Brenner route, main enemy exit from Italy, with the seizure and development of the Adige River positions. (The Adige, which flows south through Verona and thence southeastward to the Adriatic, was known to be a main German line of defense).

Articles in Frontpost No 104
Picture. Articles in Frontpost No 104, February 2nd 1945.
(coll. Burridge)
Operations Instruction No. 4, issued by 15th Army Group on 24 March, was the outgrowth of extensive preliminary planning on the part of the two armies, and covered plans for the offensive in detail. It set 10 April as D Day (later changed to 9 April), and prescribed that Fifth Army should make the main attack, following preliminary attacks to be made by Eighth Army which were to clear the plain East of Bologna. Wide enveloping movements on the part of both armies were to be made in an effort to cut off and destroy the bulk of the enemy forces south of the Po, the Eighth operating east of Bologna and the Fifth to the west, with their spearheads meeting somewhere on the south bank of the Po.

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.
On Highway 65 our forces were already within 12 miles of the city, while on Highway 64 they were 20 miles away. Along 65 the terrain was more favorable and the road net, the best in the Army area, was capable of supporting five divisions. But it was on this approach to Bologna and entrance to the Po Valley that the enemy had constructed his strongest array of defenses. All winter he had been working on this defensive system, and at Fifth Army Headquarters its character was well known. Virtually every square yard of the area bristled with mines, artillery emplacements, and all the other devices designed to make a ground assault costly in the extreme.

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.

Articles in Frontpost No 112
Picture. Articles in Frontpost No 112, March 2nd 1945.
(coll. Burridge)
The 10th Mountain's preliminary attack in late February and in the first days of March was designed to clear as much as possible of the ridge which commanded Highway 64 on the west, and actually at the close of that separate operation about three-fourths of it was in our hands. At that time a halt was called to avoid focussing too much enemy attention on this part of the line.
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.
This was desired primarily to make the enemy believe that the entire II Corps, composed of the 85th, 88th, and all supporting units, was moving over to join the Eighth Army for a major push from the right, while IV Corps took over control of the entire Fifth Army area. Although most of the + movement ; was simulated, some actual shifts did take place. Forward elements of the 88th were pulled back behind a screen of other II Corps units, and division reconnaissance parties were sent to Forli over in the Eighth Army area. A dummy II Corps command post was set up at Forli, and Army headquarters stepped up its liaison with the British. Meanwhile IV Corps set up a dummy command post in the II Corps area.

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.
To mask the actual hour for the opening of the attack, a twenty-day program of steadily increasing artillery fire was substituted for the customary preparatory barrage, with the rate of fire accelerating over three periods. In the execution of this, 342 .105 howitzers fired 7840 rounds the first five days, 19,152 rounds the second eight days, and during the last seven days, 799,390 rounds. To conceal the presence of heavy artillery reinforcements moved up during the early spring, these guns were not permitted to participate in the accelerated program. As guns moved to their attack positions they remained silent, while those remaining in the winter defense positions increased their volume of fire.

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.
But with the coming of spring equipment began to move up Highway 64 and Highway 65. Huge supply dumps were created; vast stocks of ammunition piled up; heart-warming convoys of tanks, tank destroyers and artillery rolled steadily up the roads. Officers and enlisted men broke into spontaneous cheers when they again saw 8-inch howitzers rumbling by. The time had come to move down out of the mountains.

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.
Massa, Carrara, the La Spezia naval base, and eventually the great port of Genoa were the objectives, but also these three regiments were to keep the enemy occupied on the left while bigger game was sought farther to the east.

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.
By the evening of the second day the 442d had taken two heights  Monte Cerrata and Monte Belvedere (not to be confused with the Monte Belvedere farther east,, captured more than a month earlier by the 10th Mountain Division). The 473d, twenty-four hours later, had by hard fighting gained much ground. By 9 April our troops were well on their way to Massa and the line of the Frigido River, clearing out enemy strong points as they went. Opposition had been stiff and losses heavy, but the mission was being accomplished.
On that day, with the bulk of the Fifth Army straining at the leash, the British Eighth Army attacked, with the 5th Corps and the Polish 2d Corps leading off. A stupendous air-artillery preparation preceded the jump-off, which came late in the evening. Nothing like it had ever before been seen in Italy.

Allied leaflet PT2, front , original language as spread to polish troops in German service Allied leaflet PT2, front , original translation
Picture. It was a strange fact that not only in the allied army Poles were serving. Also in the German army Poles were fighting!
Depicted on the left is the front of the original Polish language allied leaflet aimed against Poles in the German army.
To the right of it is the English translation. On the back of this leaflet was a safe conduct in both English and Polish language (not shown)
(coll. Burridge)

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.

Articles in Frontpost No 124
Picture. Articles in Frontpost No 124, April 13th 1945.
(coll. Burridge)
The Eighth, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Richard L. McCreery, crossed the Senio in a surge of power and advanced steadily for the first few days. As cosmopolitan an army as had been seen in more than a century was headed toward the Greater Reich.
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.
The army's preparations for the attack were made easier by the scarcity of enemy air observation, and his reduced capacity for aerial attack. Nevertheless no chances were taken. To support the action in the IV Corps sector it was necessary to establish dumps far up the valley along Highway 64. The sites for these were spotted but not stocked until the last night before the attacks but then every truck that could be found was sent up; by evening of D Day regular issues were being made from the new dumps. Engineers, augmented by native labor, worked without a stop patching, watering, and oiling the roads, but despite their toil, the thin mountain soil quickly resolved itself into clouds of choking dust, which rose high above the highways.

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.
Fifth Army was to attack on 12 April, the third day after the jump-off of the Eighth Army, with IV Corps leading off. But the weather forecast was unfavorable for heavy bombers. Highly unsettled conditions set in, and the weather officer asserted gloomily that the upper air was so unstable that + if you were to send a flight of heavies through there, it would create a new weather condition all its own ;.
The 12th passed, with the forecast for the 13th no better. Finally General Truscott decided that he could wait no longer  if conditions became favorable even for fighter bombers, he would give the signal. By the morning of the 14th our troops on the west coast had made substantial advances to the north and were battling their way across rivers and canals, clearing heights as they took Massa, Carrara, and other towns in their sector enroute. On our right troops of the Eighth Army, pushing northwest toward Bologna, were crowding our flank. The Fifth waited for the bell.

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