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March on Rome

March 3, 2012

Each entry on this post builds chronologically on the ones before. Journal entries are written in italics. Comments are written in bold print. I gratefully acknowledge the sources I used to follow and understand Al’s journal and have listed them on the page, “Where to Learn More”.

April 16.
Embarked British transport in convoy –

April 17.
Departed Oran – in the Mediterranean Sea.

April 20.
Arrived port of Naples, Italy, 1000.  Saw many wrecked ships and damaged harbor. Left Naples, 1400, by train, and arrived Bagnoli, Italy to another replacement depot, a former college.

April 26.
Trfd to 437 AA-AW-Bn., Headquarters Btry, near Cascano, Italy.  Arrived soaking wet from all day rain.

May 7.
Trfd. to “C” btry, 437 AAA-AW-Bn., #8 gun position, near Vaglie, somewhere in the hills overlooking the Gargliano River.
Lived in caves, due to continuous German shellings whose target was nearby bridge. Our mission was to protect this bridge. Very hot spot, witnessed close by infantry battles at nite and bombardments and strafing by the enemy.

May 11.
Start of big drive toward Rome and points North (2300), just as I went on guard duty. Immense bombardment by
our field Artillery, many of whom were firing overhead and uncomfortably close. A bunch of us just sat and watched
 the barrage. Heard General Clark’s special order of the Day over telephone while in fox hole, read to all crews by 
1st Sergeant. Will never forget this nite.

May 12.
Barrage still going on relentlessly.

May 15.
Enemy planes dropped flares and were fired upon. Two “C” Btry men killed by enemy shelling.

May 19.
March order to Cereno – stone pit. Much German wrecked equipment there.

May 24
Cassino finally falls.

May 25.
March order to Pontecorvo- two frenchmen buried nearby – Cassino Monastery in sight. Near Esperia. 985
F.A.
(The monastery Al mentioned was built in 529 AD by Saint Benedict to honor St. John the Baptist, and destroyed by the Allied forces in 1944.  The monastery’s location high in the mountains gave the Germans good visibility and made it hard for the  Allies to claim. They sought and received permission to attack it since they believed the Germans were using the building. It turns out that the Germans had not been using it until after the bombing.This article on WWII Europe mentioned that General Clark hadn’t wanted to witness the bombing so was some distance away, but the inaccuracy of the bombs almost cost him his life.)

May 26.
Moved three miles Northwest of Pontecorvo, near Pico, in Liri Valley. Front: 2 miles.

May 27.
Moved to wheat field, dug in, and immediately upon completion, march order. Oh, my G.I. back! Mission: guarding field Artillery.

May 28.
Moved thru Pico – Germans there two days before – to another nearby position 10 miles from front.

May 30.
Bivouaced near Castro, our cots turned in at 3 A.M. Was I mad!

May 31.
Moved to position near Patrica and Frosinone. Area heavily mined.

June 2
Bivouaced near Priverno, Mensano, Roccagorga, Roccasecca with F.A.

June 3.
March order to Artena – Valmontone – first sight of German dead – many near our position. Road bombed and [?] – closest yet – phew! Won’t forget this either.

June 4.
Rome entered by Allies.

June 5.
Allies seize Rome.

 At the Teheran conference of the three major Allied powers in November, 1943, the decision was made to put priority on Operation Overlord, the cross-Channel attack on Normandy and on Operation Anvil, a supplementary landing in the South of France.  The goal in Italy was limited to the capture of Rome, followed by the advance to the Pisi-Rimini line.

But the Allied Forces were not where they’d hoped they’d be in January, 1944.  While remaining focused on the the plan to invade Normandy in mid-summer of 1944, the Allies had made the decision to keep as many German divisions as possible pinned down in Italy. They launched an offensive designed to confuse the Germans with three fronts but it didn’t work.

In February, the Allies planned Operation Diadem, coming up the Liri Valley from the Anzio beach-head.  It was similar to the January offensive but better planned and coordinated. The plan was to launch it it about 3 weeks before the cross-channel invasion at Normandy.  The 5th Army under General Clark was in charge of the Garigliano sector on the left and the Anzio beach-head. There were disagreements and delays among the Allied leaders about the strategy.  Finally,  Eisenhower said that, if a major amphibious campaign couldn’t be launched by March 20, most of the shipping in Italian seas would need to be withdrawn to support Operation Overlord.

The spring offensive finally took place, starting on May 11th,at 11 p.m. with massive military bombardment, followed by the the advance of the artillery, which coordinates with Al’s journal.  As part of the U.S. 5th, tasked with crossing the Garagliano river, his unit headed toward Valmontone along Route 6. The U.S. 5th made slow progress against the enemy’s resistance.  The French Corp made progress in their sector, finally, which helped the Americans.

Again, there was disagreement among the American and the British about what to next.  U.S. General Clark, it was said, decided  he wanted the 5th Army to be the first to enter Rome. The U.S. 1st Armored and 3rd Infantry reached Cori, beyond the coastal Rt. 7 but short of Rt. 6 by the 25th, after a 12 mile advance and met up with the British 2nd Corps that was driving north along rt. 7.  A German division rushed to the scene to stop the thrust. That was the point when General Clark swung his drive toward Rome with all but one of his forces. The last continued to Valmontone . This last unit was held up 3 miles of Rt. 6.  Regardless, Clark’s movement was also slowed down by German resistance.  Deadlock was prevented by the success of the U.S. 36th Division on May 30 in capturing Velletri on Rt. 7. German forces finally gave way and the Americans entered Rome on June 4th.

The liberation of Rome made headlines around the world but the defeat of the first Axis capital came at a great price for Allied forces.  Over 3,000 American soldiers died and over 13,000 were wounded.  The British 8th Army counted 11,000 casualties.

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From → History, World War II

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