World War Two: Italy; Volturno-Mountains and Bernhard Line (ISC-3-13)

By changing the corps boundary on 14 October to expedite the 10 Corps crossing of the Volturno, General Clark gave the British the 3rd Division objective, the long ridge running northwest from Triflisco for about twelve miles to Teano, and thereby freed the 3rd Division for a drive to the northeast. The modification delighted General Lucas. It narrowed his VI Corps zone and directed his elements along converging rather than diverging lines of advance.

Blow, a swift movement by the 3rd Division would assist the 34th Division, which was having some difficulty building bridges across the Volturno. That 10 and VI Corps would be drawing apart was not Lucas’ immediate concern, and in any event adjustments could be made later.

While General Clark informed General McCreery of his decision, General Lucas, who had been apprised first, instructed General Truscott to shift from a northwesterly to a northeasterly orientation. Thus, when Clark told Lucas, “Start it at once, Johnny,” Lucas could answer, “It is already on the way.”

The VI Corps temporarily continued to regulate traffic across the bridge ceded to the British. When a tank destroyer fell off the bridge during the night, drowning four men and fouling the structure, the corps halted movements for several hours until the wreckage could be cleared. However, enough British troops had crossed the river by then to relieve the Americans on the Triflisco ridge.

The drive beyond the Volturno would take the Fifth Army into what was then somewhat vaguely called the German Winter Line south of Cassino. Capturing the objectives assigned by the 15th Army Group headquarters, a line through the villages of Sessa Aurunca, Venafro, and hernia, roughly twenty-five to forty miles distant, would put the army into a position for a crossing of the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers and subsequent entrance, near Cassino, into the valley of the Liri and Sacco Rivers, the most direct route to Rome.

Blocking the Fifth Army was the XIV Panzer Corps, which had prepared a series of three fortified lines of defense. The forward wall was the Barbara Line, an ill-defined and hastily constructed position resembling a strong outPost line of resistance; it ran from Monte Massico near the west coast through the villages of Teano and Presenzano and into the Matese Mountains. The Bernhard Line -far more formidable-was a wide belt of defensive positions anchored on the mouth of the Garigliano River, on the forbidding masses of Monte Camino, Monte la Difensa, Monte Maggiore, and on the hulking height of Monte Sammucro.

Behind the Bernhard Line stood the Gustav Line-the strongest of the three-based securely on the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers and the natural fortress of Monte Cassino. The Gustav Line ran across the Matese range and into the Adriatic sector, where the LXXVI Panzer Corps was strengthening its defenses along the Sangro River. The Germans would defend the Barbara and Bernhard Lines stubbornly enough, but they would try to hold the Gustav position.

The principal object of the Tenth Army was to gain time-to fight cheaply, to use troops and materiel economically, to inflict maximum casualties on Allied forces while withdrawing slowly enough to permit construction of fortifications on all three lines, particularly the Bernhard and Gustav positions. The major purpose of the Fifth Army was to reach the German defensive positions before they could be organized and consolidated.

The fighting would take place in desolate mountains, creased by narrow valleys and deep gorges; on brush-covered heights, bald slopes, and high tablelands; along unpaved roads and mule tracks hugging mountain ledges. Late autumn weather would add fog, rain, and mud to the difficulties of the terrain.

After a few days of operations in this area the Fifth Army would characterize the enemy opposition as stubborn delaying action. Strong rear guard units were barring progress by well-executed demolitions, usually covered by long-range automatic and artillery fire, by frequent small-scale but intense counterattacks, and by tenacious possession of ground until threatened or attacked by superior forces.

Mountain Warfare

In the VI Corps zone immediately beyond the Volturno River, the existence of three roads in large part determined the corps maneuver. Each division was assigned a road: the 3rd, a dirt track winding for about ten miles through defiles and around craggy crests to Dragoni; the 34th, a secondary road running about seven miles up the western side of the upper Volturno valley to Dragoni; the 45th, an indifferent road on the eastern side of the upper Volturno leading to Piedimonte d’Alife. These poor roads, obstructed by demolished bridges, mines, booby traps, and roadblocks, would slow the corps.

When General Truscott received news on the afternoon of 14 October that the direction of advance for his 3rd Division had been changed, he immediately informed the 7th Infantry, which had occupied the western part of Monte Caruso and which had already started some troops northwest to Teano. Suddenly ordered to turn to the northeast, the regimental commander, Colonel Harry B. Sherman, at 1645 sent his 3rd Battalion to capture the hamlet of Liberi before dark. Four miles away, Liberi would be a good jump-off point for Dragoni, his eventual objective. Supported by tanks and tank destroyers, the battalion moved less than a mile before striking resistance at the Village of Cisterna. Although it fought all night to crack the defense, the German troops held their ground. Hoping to bypass the resistance at Cisterna, Colonel Sherman committed his 2nd Battalion on the left at midnight. Despite long-range enemy fire in the broken tableland north of Cisterna, the 2nd was a mile beyond the village by daylight, 15 October. Since the battalion could move but slowly in the mountains.

Sherman committed his 1st Battalion on the right at 0830. This battalion drove through the hamlet of Strangolagalli, then attacked directly across a series of small dash board ridges toward Liberi. The Germans at Cisterna, having delayed the American advance for one day and now about to be outflanked on both sides, withdrew. When the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry, moved into Cisterna at 1500, 15 October, the Germans were gone.

The 3rd Battalion reverted to regimental reserve and the 1st Battalion on the right went on to secure a foothold on the high point of a ridge running through the village of Villa. About a mile short of Liberi, the battalion received such intense enemy fire that it was forced to halt. On the left, the 2nd Battalion, making steady if slow progress across broken ground, continued its advance after darkness, inching its way toward Villa. Shortly after midnight, machine gun fire brought this 2nd Battalion to a sudden standstill.

To get the attack moving again, Colonel Sherman recommitted his 3rd Battalion at 0330, 16 October, on the left of the 2nd Battalion. Twice repulsed by artillery and mortar fire in its efforts to storm a vital hill between Villa and Liberi, the gel Battalion was then hard put to beat off a sharp counterattack in approximate platoon size. The 1st and 2nd also fought off counterattacks.

At an impasse, Sherman scheduled a coronated attack for the following morning. He sent his Cannon Company up the road to support the 2nd Battalion in the middle. General Truscott helped out by temporarily attaching to the 7th Infantry the 3rd Battalion of the 15th Infantry, which was clearing the division left.

While Colonel Sherman prepared his reinforced regiment for the attack, the Germans withdrew from Liberi during the night and retired to another defensive position. When the 7th Infantry launched its attack at 0615, 17 October, there was no opposition. At 1000, the 2nd Battalion marched into Liberi. Sherman released the battalion of the 15th Infantry. The advance toward Dragoni continued until shortly before noon, when the leading troops of the 1st Battalion reached the next German delaying position.

Enemy rifle, machine gun, tank, and artillery fire pinned down the battalion and kept it immobile for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion, followed by the 3rd, moved into the hills to bypass the German position. This accomplished, the troops returned to the road and moved forward until they struck resistance again. Once more the 2nd Battalion took to the hills, trying to envelop a German roadblock. Late that afternoon, as the Germans seemed ready to withdraw from Dragoni, General Truscott informed Colonel Sherman that he expected American troops to be in Dragoni by daylight, 18 October. To comply with this instruction, Sherman ordered the 3rd Battalion to blast through the opposition along the winding road.

The 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry, attacked just before nightfall, apparently catching the Germans on the point of abandoning their positions. Shortly after midnight American troops were on high ground just south of and overlooking Dragoni, and during the hours of darkness patrols descended into the village.

When daylight came on 18 October, the battalion moved across and cut the Liberi-Dragoni road, securing in the process another and more advantageous hill. The 2nd Battalion, having taken high ground west of Dragoni, sent patrols to the northwest to cut the lateral road running from Dragoni westward to Highway 6. The 1st Battalion and the rest of the regiment came forward during the day and organized the high ground dominating Dragoni, and from there the regiment used mortar fire to interdict the road leading eastward across the upper Voltumo. Over General Truscott’s protest, General Lucas instructed the division commander to halt and wait for General Ryder’s 34th Division to come abreast. Truscott told Sherman to rest his regiment. “You have done a damn good job

with those battalions …. ” he said.

In the left of the 3rd Division zone the 15th Infantry had overcome much the same conditions and the same sort of resistance in advancing about ten miles to the villages of Roccaromana and Pietramelara. The regiment had jockeyed its units to outflank resistance as men climbed hills, reconnoitered for passes and trails, and sought to grapple with an elusive enemy. Many attacks made during darkness over steep, brush-covered hills had exhausted and scattered troops and intensified the problems of unit control. In each case, the Americans had dislodged small groups of Germans who had skillfully placed their few weapons so as to deny movement along the natural avenues of advance, forcing the small American units to make tortuous outflanking movements. By the time the Americans established fields of fire and ranges for mortars and artillery, the Germans, having accomplished their mission of delaying the advance, had retired to the next position, where the same dreary and wearisome process had to be repeated. In making this short advance during the five days from 14 through 18 October, the 3rd Division had sustained 500 battle casualties.

The Second Volturno Crossing

General Ryder had hoped to hold off the advance of his 34th Division for a day or two after crossing the Volturno and taking Caiazzo, because he wanted bridges installed to insure getting his heavy weapons and artillery, as well as an adequate flow of supplies, across the river. He secured permission from General Lucas the night of the 14th to confine his activity on 15 October to patrolling. But when General Clark phoned the corps commander a little later to tell him that the Germans seemed to be retiring and that he wanted VI Corps to pursue at once, Lucas called Ryder to tell him that he “must not lose contact and must push on as hard and vigorously as possible.” In compliance, Ryder ordered the 135th Infantry, in the right of the division zone, to drive ahead to Dragoni.

The 135th Infantry had captured the village of Ruviano on the morning of 15 October, but in the rolling grain fields, vineyards, and olive groves immediately beyond the regiment met stiff resistance that slowed progress. Trying to get his troops moving, General Ryder on the morning of 16 October instructed the 168th Infantry on the left to attack along the road from Caiazzo to Alvignano, a village about halfway between the Volturno River and Dragoni. He hoped thus to loosen the resistance beyond Ruviano. The 168th Infantry also struck firm opposition; it took a day of hard fighting to move about two miles to Alvignano.

The stubborn defense reflected the local importance to the Germans of the road network around Alvignano and Dragoni. At both villages, roads run northeastward to bridges, about two miles apart, across the upper Volturno. German units withdrawing from the pressure exerted by the 34th and 3rd Divisions needed these routes, and about three battalions of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division fought skillfully to keep the roads open.

While the 135th Infantry pushed doggedly beyond Ruviano along a ridge line for three miles to a height overlooking Dragoni, reaching that objective on the morning of 18 October, the 168th Infantry was moving with difficulty toward Dragoni. General Ryder had thought of passing the 133rd Infantry through the 168th to take Dragoni, but the advance of 3rd Division troops to ground dominating the village from the west and across the road west of Dragoni made it desirable for the 34th Division to block German movements eastward across the upper Volturno.

The German use of smoke in the area around Dragoni indicated that heavy equipment and large caliber weapons were still being evacuated across the bridge. A swift crossing by the 34th Division might disrupt that withdrawal and perhaps trap some German rear guards pulling back from the 45th Division, which was advancing along the eastern side of the upper Volturno valley from Monte Acero. To take the highway and the railroad bridge that was still intact a little more than a mile northeast of Dragoni became the task of the 133rd Infantry. Ryder had intended to reinforce the 133rd with contingents of the 135 th, but a savage counterattack against the 168th Infantry, apparently a last German effort to mask the final withdrawal from Dragoni on 18 October, prompted him to hold back the 135th to insure his security. Arranging with General Truscott to have the 3rd Division keep Dragoni and the river crossing interdicted by fire, General Ryder directed his 168th Infantry to seize the town, the 133rd to take the bridge. Later during 18 October, he would send the 135th Infantry to seize the crossing site at the destroyed bridge near Alvignano.

As the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 133rd Infantry attacked on the afternoon of 18 October up the west bank of the upper Volturno toward the Dragoni bridge, the 1st Battalion followed on the right rear, covering the regimental flank along the river. When the sound of heavy firing from the direction of Dragoni indicated that the two assault battalions were about to become involved in a fire fight for the bridge, the 1st Battalion commander came to an independent decision. Departing from the exact letter of his instructions, he sent a reconnaissance patrol to find a ford across the river. By crossing to the east bank, the battalion might bypass the resistance and drive rapidly to the regimental objective.

The lieutenant at the head of the patrol, which consisted of a rifle platoon and several members of the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon, located a place that looked fordable. He started infiltrating men across the river. Unfortunately, the river was too deep; every man wading into the water soon had to swim. Persisting in his search, the lieutenant around dusk discovered a shallow bottom not far upstream from the destroyed Alvignano bridge. By this time half his force was across the river and manning a rather thin and somewhat precarious defensive line. The lieutenant informed the battalion commander of his success in finding a ford, and the battalion commander received permission from regiment to cross.

Since it would be dark before the battalion could get across the Volturno, the lieutenant put his entire platoon on the far side of the river as a covering force. He marked the ford with willow sticks cut from bushes along the river and pushed into the mud of the river bed. Since he had no tape, he had his men tie toilet paper to the sticks to make them visible in the darkness. He placed guides on the near bank and instructed them to tell every man of the battalion to keep just to the left of the line of sticks when crossing.

German artillery fire was by then falling on the crossing site, but all the foot elements of the 1st Battalion waded the Volturno at a cost of one casualty. Pushing rapidly up the east bank, the battalion approached the Dragoni bridge around midnight, 18 October. At that point, German troops set off prepared charges and destroyed the structure, leaving only the low gray stone abutments and one arch still standing.

Fortunately, the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon had been working at the ford, improving the crossing

site with rocks pulled from the river bed to establish a roadway of sorts. At daylight all the antitank guns and prime movers, the communication jeeps, and a 3/4 –ton truck loaded with ammunition moved safely across and joined the infantry near the destroyed Dragoni bridge.

Coming up on the west side of the river, the other two battalions of the 133rd Infantry reached Dragoni during the morning of 19 October and forded the stream. The relatively swift movement of the regiment, however, had trapped no German rear guards.

That night the 135th Infantry forded the Volturno near the Alvignano bridge, moving during the hours of darkness to avoid enemy artillery fire. Hampered by swampy ground, sporadic German artillery fire, and occasional mine fields, the regiment moved north for four miles along the Alvignano-Alife road during the dark and foggy morning of 20 October. That afternoon troops entered the old walled village of Alife. Bombed by B-25’s a week earlier, Alife was a mass of rubble, its bridge destroyed, its ruins full of mines and booby traps left by the Germans. There the 34th Division prepared to take over what had formerly been the zone of the 45th Division.

The Upper Volturno Valley

The 45th Division, after taking Monte Acero near the confluence of the Volturno and Calore Rivers, had driven up the eastern part of the upper Volturno valley, its advance obstructed by determined German rear guards bolstered by artillery and tank fire and occasional air attacks. Had General Middleton been able to secure close air support for his ground troops, he might have accelerated his progress. Between 11 and 17 October, he requested on six different occasions bombings of targets of opportunity spotted by forward observers-artillery positions, road traffic, and in one instance a column of German vehicles moving bumper to bumper. He was refused for a variety of reasons: “all fighter-bomber aerodromes unserviceable”; targets received too late for aircraft to take off“; “weather in area reported impossible.” Six prearranged missions laid on between 14 and 18 October to provide direct support to 45th Division forward elements were far from satisfactory-the weather had “interfered with the detailed execution of the above programme.”

A bombing and strafing attack by twenty German planes on 14 October and tank fire bolstered by strafing on the following day prevented the 45th Division from taking Faicchio, a village stronghold on dominating ground just beyond Monte Acero. Not until the Germans abandoned Faicchio during the night of 15 October did the division advance.

For four more days the 45th Division shouldered its way into the valley, covering the eight miles from Faicthio to Piedimonte d’ Alife by dogged persistence. Late on 19 October, when leading elements entered the village, the attack came to an end. On the following day the 45th Division went into corps reserve, leaving to the 34th Division the task of continuing the drive up the east side of the valley.

Placing his 135th Infantry in division reserve at Alife, General Ryder extended the control of his 168th Infantry over Dragoni to free the 3rd Division for an advance to the northwest, and sent the 133rd Infantry into the narrowing Volturno valley toward San Angelo d’ Alife, five miles away.

The advance of the 133rd Infantry had scarcely got under way when the Germans caught the 100th Infantry Battalion in open flats not far from Alife. From positions in the foothills of the Matese Mountains the Germans delivered rifle, machine gun, artillery, and Nebelwerfer fire on the Americans. The sound from the Nebelwerfer rockets, called “screaming meemies,” probably terrified the Americans more than the fire itself. The men scattered in panic. With the battalion disorganized, the regimental advance came to a halt before it really began.

Hoping to demolish the German defenses by firepower, the regiment saturated the area with mortar and artillery shells. But the enemy positions on the mountain slopes were difficult to pinpoint, and the fires were apparently ineffective. Two artillery battalions, the 125th and 151st, crossed the Volturno into the regimental area, but their fires, including a concentrated expenditure of 1,134 rounds delivered in a 20-minute period on the morning of 21 October, failed to stop the German guns. When a Cub artillery observation plane discovered several German tanks in a willow grove near the river, the 125th Field Artillery Battalion fired 736 shells with little result; the resistance remained firm.

For three days the 133rd Infantry tried to move forward without success. Then the Germans broke contact and withdrew. On the fourth day, the morning of 24 October, troops walked into the vacuum and took not only Sant Angelo d’Alife but also Raviscanina unopposed. The advance of seven miles in the upper valley of the Volturno during four days cost the 133rd Infantry a total of 59 men killed and 148 wounded. The entire 34th Division had suffered more than 350 casualties in the period of a week.

The week had not been easy for the Germans either. “We withdraw 5 kilometers,” a German noncommissioned officer wrote in his diary. “Are under heavy artillery fire. Had several wounded. Master Sergeant Bregenz killed …. My morale is gone.” [n3-13-10 Incl II to VI Corps G-2 Rpt 44, 1530, 22 Oct 43.]

The Coastal Zone

Headed toward the lower part of the Garigliano River, 10 Corps was fighting in the coastal area-a countryside of grain fields, vineyards, orchards, and olive groves, cut by drainage canals, tree-lined streams, deep ravines, and sunken roads, and rimmed by sand dunes and marshes.

A dozen miles north of the Volturno, a hill mass heaves up from the coastal plain; topped by Monte Massico and Monte Santa Croce, this high ground commanded the corps approach routes from the south as well as the Garigliano valley to the northwest. To the northeast stand still greater heights-Monte Camino, Monte la Difensa, and Monte Maggiore.

The 46th Division, working along the coast, had reached the Regia Agnena Nuova Canal, four miles north of the Volturno, by 15 October; there, strong opposition halted the division for three days. Late on the evening of 18 October, the 46th forced a crossing and secured a bridgehead, which was subsequently enlarged and reinforced. Three ferries operating continuously brought enough men, equipment, and supplies to the far side to make feasible a movement in force to Monte Massico and Monte Santa Croce.

Meanwhile the 7th Armoured Division, after bridging the Volturno at Grazzanise on 16 October, advanced slowly across low, wet ground, its progress obstructed by demolitions and rear guard resistance. At the Regia Agnena Nuova Canal the division made an assault crossing and fought through grain fields and olive groves for three miles to Sparanise on 25 October. Highway 7, leading through the Cascano pass between Monte Santa Croce and Monte Massico, was at hand.

In the right of the 10 Corps zone, the 56th Division had been fighting along the Triflisco ridge to open Highway 6 and gain access to Teano. The terrain was extremely rugged. Some ridge crests were so narrow that only a single platoon could be deployed. Supplies often had to be carried by hand. Furnishing fire support was frequently impossible. Yet the division moved forward and by 22 October was ready to concentrate for an attack into the Teano valley.

Since the ground in the center of his corps was not particularly suitable for armored operations, General McCreery halted his divisions and on 24 October switched the zones of the 7th Armoured and 46th Divisions, an exchange that was completed four days later. With his immediate objectives the heights of Monte Massico and Monte Santa Croce, McCreery set 31 October as the date for opening the attack. He directed the 56th Division on the right to make the main effort through Teano to Roccamonfina, five miles beyond; the 46th Division, now in the center, to drive up Highway 7 and through the Cascano defile to seize ground controlling the road network around Sessa Aurunca; the 7th Armoured Division to protect the left flank and simulate a threat up the coastal route through Mondragone. Ships offshore were to support the attack by furnishing gunfire.

Several days before the jump-off date, British patrols discovered that the Germans were about to disengage. As the enemy thinned his front-line dispositions and began to draw back, British units followed to maintain firm contact. By 29 October, the 56th Division was within a mile of Teano, the 46th was at the entrance of the Cascano pass, and the 7th Armoured Division reported definite German withdrawal in the coastal area.

Hoping to disrupt German movements, General McCreery launched his attack a day earlier. On 30 October, the three divisions pushed forward, the 56th taking Teano, the 46th advancing a mile into the Cascano pass, the 7th Armoured doing little more than making its presence felt because of extremely muddy ground that bogged down vehicles. The 10 Corps attack continued-the 56th Division capturing Roccamonfina on 1 November and Monte Santa Croce four days later; the 46th moving through the Cascano pass and taking control of the Sessa Aurunca area; the 7th Armoured clearing the coastal region as far as the lower Garigliano River. McCreery had failed to disrupt the German withdrawal, but his troops made good progress. On 2 November patrols from the 7th Armoured and 46th Divisions reached and reconnoitered the near bank of the Garigliano.

The advance had been surprisingly easy; the action for the most part consisted of eliminating numerous machine gun positions by small unit maneuver and firepower. The XIV Panzer Corps in its coastal sector had abandoned the Barbara Line.

Once through the Massico barrier and in control of the ground dominating the lower Garigliano valley, 10 Corps turned to the hills that stretched to the north-Monte Camino, Monte la Difensa, and Monte Maggiore. Held by the Germans, this unbroken lateral mountain barrier extended about eight miles between the Cascano pass and the Mignano gap, which provided an onening for Highway 6 on the way to Cassino, twelve miles beyond. To make possible a Fifth Army drive through Mignano to Cassino, 10 Corps would first have to gain possession of Camino, Difensa, and Maggiore on the left side of the highway, while VI Corps took the high ground on the right. In this area the Barbara Line was still intact.

More Mountain Warfare

In the VI Corps zone the 3rd Division was consolidating positions in the high ground immediately west of Dragoni, the 34th Division trying to advance in the upper Volturno valley, and the 45th Division was in corps reserve. When the 34th Division reached the head of the upper Volturno valley. General Lucas would have to shift his corps dispositions in order to draw closer to 10 Corps. At that time, he would have to send the 3rd Division to the northwest to attack toward the high ground dominating the Mignano gap, get the 34th Division and perhaps the 45th across the upper Volturno River to seize Vena fro, and make provision for protecting his right flank in the virtually impassable foothills of the Matese mountain range.

The immediate task was to clear the upper Volturno valley, and this entailed a continuation of the 34th Division attack. General Ryder passed the 135th infantry through the 133rd to continue the advance beyond Raviscanina. In support of the regimental attack scheduled for the morning of 26 October, the 34th Division Artillery began to fire successive concentrations at 0530, moving the fire ahead of the assault units 100 yards every six minutes. Whether the preparation was effective soon became academic.

Early morning darkness and a heavy morning mist obscured terrain features and the line of departure; combat units and supply parties soon became confused and lost their sense of direction. The attack deteriorated as the men became disorganized. Fortunately, there was almost no opposition on a side road to AiIano, and a battalion of infantry moved forward two miles and took the hamlet that afternoon. But resistance on the main road in the regimental zone prevented an advance to Pratella. For two days the Germans held. When General Ryder passed the 168th Infantry through the 135th on the morning of 28 October, the Germans, were withdrawing – even before the heavy artillery preparation and a fighter-bomber attack struck Pratella. American patrols entering the village on 30 October found the Germans had gone. With long-range artillery fire harassing the advance elements and contact with the enemy confined to scattered small arms and machine gun fire the 34th Division reached the bank of the Volturno River on 3 November.

Meanwhile, General Clark had given General Lucas the 504th Parachute Infantry to protect the VI Corps right flank. This experienced unit, equipped with light weapons and trained to operate independently, had a reputation for skillful patrolling and infiltration, valuable for a task that would involve scouting virtually impassable mountainsides and maintaining contact with the Eighth Army on the other side of the Matese range.

General Lucas dispatched Colonel Tucker’s paratroopers on 27 October five miles beyond Raviscanina to Gallo. After setting up a base there, Tucker extended patrol operations toward Isernia, about fifteen miles distant and just across the Fifth Army boundary in the British army zone of advance. Two days later Colonel Tucker reported that his troops were meeting only small and isolated German detachments and observing only very light enemy vehicular movements along the Venafro-Isernia road.

The corps commander had called his division commanders together on 27 October to talk over plans, and the discussion had been, he remarked, “hot and heavy.” Not a council of war, because Lucas was determined to make his own decisions, the conference was wholesome, he believed. “These primadonnas feel,” Lucas wrote, “that they had their day in court and I get the ideas of men of great combat experience.”

From the conference and his own thinking emerged General Lucas’ instructions for the next phase of operations. On 29 October he ordered the 504th Parachute Infantry to cut the Venafro-Isernia road; the 34th and 45th Divisions to cross the upper Voltumo River; and the 3rd Division to be ready to seize Presenzano, a village that would give the division a foothold on the high ground overlooking the Mignano gap from the east.

The 3rd Division jumped off on 31 October. Attacking northwest from the Roccaromana area immediately west of Dragoni, two regiments moving abreast crossed the small valley carrying the lateral road that connects Raviscanina and Highway 6. Having cut the road, the 15th Infantry and the 30th Infantry took two hill masses dominating the hamlet of Pietravairano.

Because this advance had been relatively easy, General Truscott secured permission to advance on both sides of Highway 6 to the Mignano gap. Against a surprising absence of opposition, the 7th Infantry crossed Highway 6 and cut the Roccamonfina-Mignano road. By 3 November the regiment had gained the wooded height of Friello Hill west of Highway 6, where the troops found many mines and booby traps but few Germans. The 15th Infantry, also moving quickly, attacked up Highway 6, sending a battalion to seize the high ground above Presenzano. By 3 November, the 15th Infantry was at the southern edge of Mignano on the east side of Highway 6.

With 10 Corps holding Monte Massico near the coast and the 3rd Division beyond Presenzano, it became obvious that the German troops defending the Barbara Line had pulled back. They had gained time with little expenditure of men and materiel. They had used the terrain to good advantage, careful to employ defiladed ground for shelter and dense woods for concealment. Their artillery fires had been effective-having registered and adjusted artillery on the likely approach routes, they were able to fire without direct observation. Small mobile infantry units supported by long range artillery fire had conducted a skillful rear guard action.

The final surge by 10 Corps to the lower Garigliano, Monte Massico, and Teano had been made possible by intentional German withdrawal; the lower Garigliano provided the Germans with a better obstacle and the high ground immediately behind the river better positions than those they had abandoned. The final drive by the 3rd Division to the high ground around the Mignano gap had been made possible by anything but an intentional German withdrawal. Two inexperienced German infantry divisions, the 94th and 305th, had come from Rommel’s Army Group B area into Kesselring’s 0B SUED command for assignment to Tenth Army. The 94th was to come under the XIV Panzer Corps, the 305th under the LXXVI Panzer Corps on the east coast, When Kesselring, concerned about the possibility of Allied amphibious hooks, ordered Vietinghoff to speed the construction of coastal defenses to protect the deep Rank, particularly between Gaeta and Terracina, Vietinghoff assigned this task to the 94th Division. To help the 94th, he withdrew several engineer battalions from the Mignano sector. The transfer of the engineers delayed completion of a strongpoint under construction at Mignano and prevented work oft the-massif holding Prcsenzano, projected as an advancedbastion of defense, from being carried out as extensively as planned. There had been little to stop or slow down the 3rd Division.

Except for these swift advances, Allied progress had been slow and costly. General Clark Was irritated. “So am I,” General Lucas wrote in his diary. But he could see no other way. The troops could not be pushed beyond their capabilities.

“Things are going slowly,” he admitted. but as long as the Germans were effective and dangerous. there was no alternative to patience. In twenty days the Fifth Army had advanced between 15 and 20 miles along a 40-mile front. The troops had not succeeded in engaging the main body of the enemy forces. The senior commanders could only hope that the Allies had forced the Germans to withdraw faster than they had intended.

Rome was still a long way off. Nor was there evidence of an imminent enemy collapse, or the prospect of a decisive Allied strike toward the Eternal City Rome discouraging frontal advance would have to continue. Unless, of course, the breakthrough of the Barbara Line meant that the Germans were about La give up southern Italy. The third crossing of the Volturno River might tell.

The Third Volturno Crossing

Getting the 34th and 45th Divisions westward across the upper VoIturno River was designed to help the 3rd Division take the Mignano gap and open the way for an advance to Cassino and beyond. While the 3rd Division fought in the immediate vicinity of Mignano, the 34th Division was to cross the river and attack into broken ground around Colli, about five miles away, in order to anchor securely the right flank of the corps. The 504th Parachute Infantry operating still on the right flank in terrain so difficult that it was necessary often to communicate by carrier pigeon and sometimes to send food and ammunition by overhead trolley strung across deep mountain gorges-would lend assistance by cutting the Venefro-Isernia road. The 45th Division was to push up Highway 85, for about eight miles to Venafro, then turn west and, assisted by a Ranger battalion, seize Monte Sammucro, which blocked Highway 6 north of Mignano.

General Lucas was concerned about the river crossing. The operation would be complicated, he believed, particularly since the defenders held commanding ground across the river. Both assault divisions would have to be supplied over a single road under enemy observation and fire. Yet there was no avoiding it. “I must cross the river,” Lucas wrote in his diary, “if I am ever to get to Rome.”

Pushed continually by General Clark, who insisted that there were few enemy troops on the far side of the river, General Lucas just as frequently requested more time to prepare. He saw no point in incurring unnecessary casualties. Reluctantly, Lucas set the night of 2 November for the crossing, though he later had to Postpone the 34th Division operation for a day to give Ryder additional time to reconnoiter and get more artillery into supporting positions.

To the troops taking cover among the olive groves on the slopes overlooking the flat valley of the upper Volturno, the view to the west was far from comforting. Just beyond the river in the foreground lay Highway 85 and a parallel railroad to Venafro. Beyond these rose rugged and towering mountains. There the Germans, who had destroyed bridges and spread mines behind them, had to be waiting for those who would cross.

The first troops to ford the upper Volturno in this third crossing of the Volturno by VI Corps were from the 45th Division. During the night of 2 November, concealed by darkness, the men of Company F, 180th Infantry, moved through clumps of willows to the water, waded the shallow stream, and took up positions high on a terraced hillside to form a covering force. During the afternoon and evening of 3 November troops of the 4th Ranger Battalion crossed the river with little trouble. Following a steep and rocky trail in single file, the men climbed into the hills, moving west toward Highway 6.

About the same time the rest of the 2nd Battalion, 180th Infantry, crossed the gravel bed of the river downstream, struggled up steep ridges, and advanced northwest toward the village of Ceppagna, there to cut a mountain road connecting Venafro and Highway 6. There was no opposition until morning, when the battalion met German troops on a narrow ridge near Rocca Pipirozzi, a little stone village clustered about a castle on a peak. The battalion side-slipped to the Ceppagna area to block the road and sent patrols southwest to make contact with the Rangers, who had marched all night over jagged heights for 12 tortuous miles. In the morning they too had met Germans, and they dug in on Cannavinelle

Hill, 2 to 3 miles east of Highway 6.

Upstream from the crossing sites of the 180th Infantry, the 179th Infantry had sent its 3rd Battalion across the Volturno very early on 4 November. Advancing toward Venafro through the grain-fields and vineyards of the valley, the men made good progress against virtually no opposition. By midmorning the battalion was at the outskirts of Venafro, but there machine gun fire halted the troops. One rifle company fought its way through the town to the safety of a small hill immediately to the north, but the remainder of the battalion could not move from the flat and exposed ground until after dark. The 1st and 2nd Battalions had meanwhile crossed the river and come forward. On the following morning the regiment attacked into the high ground to eliminate the few defenders who had temporarily delayed the capture of Venafro.

The 34th Division crossed the Volturno with two regiments abreast, the troops moving through the farmland of the muddy valley to positions along the low near river bank shortly before midnight, 3 November. After an artillery preparation of thirty minutes, the troops waded the swift and icy stream. Some hostile mortar and artillery fire came from the hills, but the worst obstacle was the large number of mines and booby traps planted in the valley, their trip wires seemingly attached to every grapevine, fruit tree, and haystack. Commanders and staffs of the higher headquarters could follow the progress of the advancing troops by the explosions.

The assault regiments crossed Highway 85 and moved into the hills against stiffening opposition. By about noon of 4 November the leading units were on the initial objectives of the division. The heavy casualties caused by mines made it impossible to continue the attack without reinforcement, and General Ryder therefore brought over the rest of his division.

With VI Corps across the upper Volturno and hammering on the Bernhard Line, General Lucas’ concern vanished. “All is well tonight,” he wrote in his diary on 4 November. Good news, too, was the fact that the 504th Parachute Infantry had managed to get a patrol over the mountains and into Isernia; the village was clear of enemy troops no German troops were being assembled there for a strike against the VI Corps right flank.

The Germans at the Bernhard Line

The crossings of the upper Volturno River during the nights of 2 and 3 November had taken the Germans somewhat by surprise. They had expected crossings, since the river was fordable all along its upper reaches and the valley was difficult to defend, but not so soon.

The Germans had come to anticipate that American attacks, especially across rivers, would be carefully prepared. Consequently, the unit that had been defending the area, the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division (reinforced by small elements of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division) had planted a profusion of mines and left merely outposts to cover its movement into the Bernhard Line positions.

Kesselring had asked Vietinghoff to hold the Allied forces away from the Bernhard Line until 1 November, when the fortifications were expected to be completed, and Vietinghoff had performed this ticklish operation with skill, avoiding the loss of fighting strength and enabling enough forces to withdraw to the fortifications to insure a strong defense.

In the process his troops had destroyed bridges, culverts, tunnels, railroad tracks, engines, and wagons in the area they had evacuated; they had laid some 45,000 mines forward of the Bernhard Line and an additional 30,000 on its immediate approaches. Although Vietinghoff would have preferred to concentrate forces for a counterattack against either Fifth or Eighth Army, he was well aware of how useless this would be without air support. Fighting from the excellent defensive positions of the Bernhard Line would be almost as satisfying. Not a single line, it was rather a system of mutually supporting positions organized in depth to permit penetrations to be sealed off quickly.

A special engineer headquarters under General Bessell had planned the Winter Line with foresight and directed the construction work with great competence. Italian civilians, who were paid good wages plus a bonus of tobacco and food, performed much of the labor. Mussolini’s puppet government had also made available several quasi-military construction battalions.

Kesselring issued his “order for the conduct of the campaign” on 1 November. He now told Vietinghoff to be unconcerned about Allied amphibious landings in the deep flanks-OB SUED would take responsibility for repelling them: Vietinghoff was to give his full attention to a strong defense at the Bernhard Line while the construction along the Gustav Line was being completed.

A few days later, despite Vietinghoff’s skillful withdrawal, Kesselring showed dissatisfaction with what he considered to be the quick crumbling of the Barbara Line. He questioned Vietinghoff’s conduct of operations. Taking umbrage, Vietinghoff immediately requested sick leave. Kesselring approved the request and took temporary command of the Tenth Army until the arrival on the following day, 5 November, of Generalleutnant Joachim Lemelsen, who would command the army until 28 December, when Vietinghoff returned. Also in November, Hube was given command of an army on the Eastern Front and Generalleutnant Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin replaced him as XIV Panzer Corps commander.

German troops in contact with the Allied armies consisted of about seven and a half divisions. The XIV Panzer Corps controlled the 94th Infantry and the 15th and 3rd Panzer Grenadier Divisions, as well as a battle group of the Hermann Gӧring Division. Under the LXXVI Panzer Corps headquarters were the 26th Panzer, 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger), 305th Infantry, and 65th Infantry Divisions. The order of battle was not an altogether accurate measure of troop strength. For example, the 94th Division was neither experienced nor well trained.

“It is completely illogical to send us this division,” the Tenth Army chief of staff had protested in a telephone conversation with OB SUED. “It is not illogical,” Kesselring’s chief of staff replied. “Hitler has ordered it.” Logical or not, the division soon took responsibility for part of the front, but as it turned out the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, which it was supposed to replace, would remain as well. More important in measuring the strength of the German divisions was the reorganization that had taken place generally in October 1943. Until that time, the standard German infantry division had an antitank battalion; a reconnaissance battalion; three infantry regiments, each controlling three rifle battalions; a regiment of medium (150-mm. howitzers) artillery and three battalions of light (105-mm. howitzers or guns) artillery (for a total of 48 pieces, roughly the same number as in an American division). The division at full strength thus had a little more than 17,000 men.

Dwindling supplies of manpower in the fall of 1943 prompted a drastic overhaul to reduce the size of the standard division while retaining its firepower. By giving each of the three regiments only two battalions of infantry, the Germans reduced the division to about 13,500 men. Although Hitler in January 1944 would try to trim personnel to about 11,000 troops, OKH planners would compromise and slice off only 1,000 men, making reductions chiefly in supply and overhead units. A cut in the basic unit, reducing the rifle company to 140 enlisted men and 2 officers, gave the German division about 1,200 fewer riflemen than the American division.

Added to the reduction in the size of the infantry division, there was the difficulty of replacing losses, not only in personnel but in equipment. A battle strength of three to four hundred men in a battalion was considered good, though seldom attained. Artillery could not match Allied firepower because of limited ammunition stocks. The ground troops were denied consistent air support. There were no separate tank battalions to bolster the infantry units. Reserves were scarce.

But all the deficiencies that plagued the Germans were more than compensated by the superior defensive positions the terrain of southern Italy offered. On the Bernhard Line the German divisions would use all their infantry battalions at the front, usually keeping the reconnaissance battalion in immediate reserve.

Corps headquarters would try to have one battalion in reserve. Army would have no reserves at all, but would depend on withdrawing forces (normally an entire division) from quiet sectors to strengthen and give depth to threatened points along the front. At the beginning of November, Kesselring permitted Tenth Army to retain a. battle group of the Hermann Gӧring Division in the line, while the rest of the division went into reserve in the Frosinone area at the head of the Liri valley. Kesselring also positioned the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division in reserve at Velletri, on the southern approaches to Rome, particularly for use against coastal invasion.

A major question troubled the German command. Would the troops in the line actually hold after a year of constant retreat in North Africa, Sicily, and southern Italy? For the troops to take seriously the order to stand fast on the Bernhard Line, the commanders at all echelons would have to have their units well in hand. Otherwise the defense would collapse.

Into the Bernhard Line

The immediate objective of the Fifth Army offensive was some twelve miles ahead-the entrance to the Liri valley, the gateway to Rome. To reach the Liri valley, the army had first to clear the shoulders of the Mignano gap, then take Cassino, and finally cross the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers. If the troops could crack the defenses at Mignano, they might be able to rush across the intervening ground to the Liri valley.

At Mignano, Highway 6 and the railroad to Rome come together and run side by side, overlooked on the left by the Camino-Difensa-Maggiore mountain mass, on the right by the terrain around Presenzano, the Cannavinelle Hill, and Monte Rotondo. Just beyond Mignano the highway and railroad separate, the railroad tracks going around the western edge of Monte Lungo, the road running around the eastern edge. Passing between Monte Lungo on the left and Monte Rotondo on the right, the road heads for the village of San Pietro Inline, which is set like a jewel on the forbidding height of Monte Sammucro. Before reaching the mountain, Highway 6 swings left around the high ground, bypasses San Pietro, and runs straight to Cassino.

In early November 10 Corps was at the foot of the Camino-Difensa-Maggiore mass, with the 56th Division in position to attack Camino, a mountain of steep and rocky slopes and razorback main spurs with very little cover, looming some 3,000 feet above the Garigliano valley. Attacking on 5 November with two brigades, the 56th Division found the few natural approaches to the top carefully mined, booby-trapped, and wired, and covered by crew-served weapons in pits blasted out of solid rock.

After overcoming German outpost positions in several hamlets at the foot of the mountain, the troops started to fight up the slope on the afternoon of 6 November, a slow and backbreaking process. Units of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division defending the hill launched three counterattacks on 8 November and almost drove the British from the slope, but they held on doggedly, retaining a precarious position about halfway up.

Two days later, as the weather became colder and wetter, the British began to show signs of complete exhaustion. Losses sustained by continuous action since the invasion of Salerno had by this time so reduced combat efficiency that it became doubtful whether the troops could hold Monte Camino even if they captured all of it. An entire battalion was doing little more than carrying rations, water, and ammunition to men who were hanging to the steep slopes; evacuation of casualties was a long and wearying haul. When two rifle companies were surrounded by Germans, they held out for five days, even though they had only one day’s supply of rations and water, until a sharp local attack finally opened a path to them and made possible the withdrawal of the few soldiers who remained.

General Templer, the division commander, was ready to commit his third brigade on 12 November in a last attempt to secure the mountain when General Clark gave approval for the 56th Division to withdraw. During the night of 14 November the troops started to pull out. The hazardous job of breaking contact was completed without enemy interference, thanks for the most part to bad, weather. But this could not disguise the fact that the troops of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division) wearing thin, summer uniforms for sen’ice in “sunny Italy.” had won a defensive victory.

Much the same happened on Monte la Difensa, where the 3rd Division had committed the 7th Infantry across the corps boundary on the left of Highway 6. Attacking into a high ridge between the jagged peaks of Camino on the south and the perpendicular cliffs of Difensa on the north, the regiment employed all its battalions in the attack, hoping not only to take Difensa but also to help the British take Camino.

For ten days the regiment fought, trying in vain to scale the heights against strong resistance anchored on commanding ground-deadly rifle, machine gun, mortar. and artillery fire. It was difficult enough simply to exist on the narrow ledges above deep gorges. When a man needed both hands for climbing, he could carry little in the way of weapons and ammunition. Efforts to drop supplies from light planes proved unsuccessful the material came to rest at the bottom of inaccessible ravmes or fell into enemy territory. It took six hours to bring a wounded man down the mountain. Exposed to rain and cold, increasingly fatigued by the unceasing combat, the troops were unable to conquer Monte la Difensa.

The rest of the 3rd Division had meanwhile been trying to take the two mountains dominating the gap just above the village of Mignano: Monte Lungo on the left of Highway 6, and Monte Rotondo on the right. Patrols reported mine fields, tank traps, and machine gun positions on both mountains, and the assault troops found units of the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division and the battle group of the Hermann Gӧring Division in stout defense, despite their losses.

General Truscott had been resting the 30th Infantry, holding it in readiness for a final and decisive thrust in the area of the Mignano gap-an attack he intended to order when he judged the defenses on the point of crumbling. Instead, after General McCreery asked General Clark for more pressure from VI Corps to help the 56th Division on Monte Camino, and after General Clark relayed the request to General Lucas, the VI Corps commander directed Truscott to employ the 30th Infantry in a wide enveloping maneuver. Truscott protested that this would waste the regiment, but of course complied.

He sent the 30th Infantry by truck around Presenzano to the vicinity of Rocca Pipirozzi, in the upper Volturno valley. There the regiment was to pass through the troops of the 45th Division and attack westward across Cannavinelle Hill, where a Ranger battalion was dug in, to take Monte Rotondo from the east. In the meantime, a battalion of the 15th Infantry attacked beyond Presenzano and headed northeastward to bolster the Rangers on Cannavinelle.

After passing through the 180th Infantry during the night of 5 November, the 30th Infantry attacked the following morning. The regiment made little progress. Both the battalion of the 15th Infantry striving toward Cannavinelle and the battalion of the 15th sent to seize the southeast nose of Monte Lungo failed to reach their objectives.

It took another attack on the foggy morning of 8 November, this one supported by eight battalions of closely coordinated artillery, for the 3rd Division to seize its goals. The 30th Infantry broke through the defenses of the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, smashed its way through the dense brush covering Monte Rotondo, and reached the crest.

The battalion of the 15th Infantry captured the southeast nose of barren Monte Lungo, while another battalion moved up Highway 6 between Lungo and Rotondo to secure the horseshoe curve a mile north of Mignano. During the next few days the troops of both regiments repelled counterattacks, dug more deeply into the ground for protection against hostile mortar and artillery fire, and tried to keep alive and reasonably warm and dry. Captain Maurice L. Britt of the 3rd Division was largely responsible, despite wounds from bullets and grenades, for repelling a bitter counterattack; for his action on 10 November, he was later awarded the Medal of Honor. Private First Class Floyd K. Lindstrom, a machine gunner in the 3rd Division, was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism on 11 November.

The counterattacks against those units of the 3rd Division east of Highway 6 were launched for the most part by a paratrooper battalion that Kesselring had made available to Tenth Army specifically to regain Monte Rotondo. The battalion was to have formed the cadre of a new parachute division, but Kesselring judged the danger to the defensive positions below Cassino sufficiently great to justify the unit’s expenditure. Taking heayy losses, the battalion soon became ineffective.

N ear the hamlet of Ceppagna, the paratroopers had also engaged Rangers who were blocking the lateral mountain road between Venafro and Highway 6. The 1st Ranger Battalion had joined the 4th during the night of 8 November to bolster the blocking positions and permit the 180th Infantry to rejoin the 45th Division attack into the mountains behind Venafro. After a Ranger reconnaissance patrol reported a fortified German observation Post on a ridge of Monte Sammucro overlooking Venafro to the east and San Pietro Inline to the west, a Ranger company set out at dawn on 11 November to eliminate the position.

The Rangers drove the Germans down the ridge toward San Pietro, but more Germans soon returned to initiate two days of fierce, close-in fighting. Before it was over, two more Ranger companies had become involved. Another German counterattack on 13 November drove the Rangers out of Ceppagna and threatened to pierce the VI Corps front at Mignano, but the commitment of two more Ranger companies and heavy expenditures of 4.2-inch mortar shells restored the line. Understrength by this time, with cooks and drivers serving as litter bearers and supply porters, the Rangers held on, controlling an area of peaks on the eastern portion of Monte Sammucro and awaiting the arrival of the 3rd Ranger Battalion, promised as further reinforcement in the next few days.

In the 45th Division zone troops cleared jagged cliffs and precipitous peaks as they drove slowly forward. Supply was arduous and hazardous; even the pack mules were unable to negotiate the steep trails in many places. German positions blasted and dug into solid rock had to be taken one by one. Maps were of little value, positions difficult to report.

In similar terrain, perhaps even worse, where pack mules no longer solved transportation problems, the 34th Division struggled over a series of scrub-covered hills, clearing routes through mined areas by driving sheep and goats ahead of troops, engaging in extensive patrolling, and incurring heavy casualties from exposure to the rain and cold. The only action of consequence was the spurt of a task force under the assistant division commander, Brigadier General Benjamin F. Caffey, Jr., who sped up a mountain road for five miles with a composite force of infantry, tanks, tank destroyers, and engineers to seize the village of Montaquila and make contact with the 504th Parachute Infantry, which had pushed through equally rugged terrain west of Isernia.

The sudden if limited breakthrough by the 34th Division stemmed from the exhaustion of the widely dispersed units of the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division. Although Lemelsen called in parts of the 26th Panzer Division to bolster the grenadiers, the 34th Division’s advance did not particularly worry him. “Enemy gains,” as Vietinghoff later remarked, “constituted no great threat and every step forward into the mountainous terrain merely increased his difficulties.”

Nor was there much concern over developments on the east coast, where General Montgomery’s Eighth Army had secured the Termoli-Vinchiaturo line by mid-October to cover the Foggia airfields. When patrols met stiffening German resistance and air reconnaissance revealed considerable defensive preparations along the Trigno River, the next likely area for the Germans to make a stand, General Montgomery decided to consolidate his front, readjust his unit dispositions, bring up his rear elements, and establish a firm base before continuing his advance. However, events disrupted his plan to have 13 Corps attack toward Isernia near the army boundary in the mountains to cover a 5 Corps assault crossing of the Trigno on 28 October.

Instead, his troops were in close contact with the withdrawing LXXVI Panzer Corps a week earlier, and the 78th Division seized a bridgehead over the Trigno on the night of 22 October. This compelled the Germans to move quickly behind the river along the entire front. Blustery rain and thick mud foiled British efforts to expand the bridgehead and also forced a Postponement of the 13 Corps attack toward Isemia.

During the rainy night of 29 October, 13 Corps’ 5th Division jumped off toward Isernia, meeting increasing resistance in difficult mountainous terrain. The 5 Corps, assisted by powerful artillery and naval gunfire support, launched a heavy attack across the Trigno on 2 November. Two days later, as troops of the 13 Corps entered Isernia unopposed, meeting there a patrol from the 504th Parachute Infantry, the LXXVI Panzer Corps began to fall back toward the Sangro River. On 8 November 78th Division troops were holding high ground overlooking the Sangro, and the 8th Indian Division was coming up on the left. A week later the near bank of the Sangro was entirely cleared of Germans.

Hampered by demolitions, swollen streams, bad weather, and stiff opposition, Eighth Army in five weeks had pushed its 35-mile front forward approximately thirty miles along the coast, fifty in the interior. At the Sangro River General Montgomery faced a major defensive system, the eastern portion of the formidable Gustav Line, and there he paused to regroup and resupply his forces and to plan a co-ordinated effort for the next phase of his campaign.

Since the east coast offered few decisive objectives, the Germans remained relatively unconcerned. It was the other side of the Matese range and the Allied pressure around Mignano on the road to Rome-the 56th Division on Monte Camino and the 3rd Division at the gap -that caused the Germans anxiety. Not only was the Bernhard Line being threatened but the very route to Rome might suddenly be uncovered. Lemelsen regrouped his Tenth Army about 10 November. Leaving the LXXVI Panzer Corps only three divisions, the 1st Parachute(Fallschirmjäger) the 16th Panzer and the 65th Infantry-although the armored division was already earmarked for early transfer to the Russian front-Lemelsen gave the XIV Panzer Corj)s five divisions, the 26th Panzer, the 3rd and 15th Panzer Grenadier) and the 94th and 305th Infantry.

In army reserve he had most of the Hermann Gӧring Division near Rome Kesselring retained control of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division as OB SUED reserve. The reorganization promised little relief. The combat troops were reaching the point of utter exhaustion. Expecting an immediate breakthrough, Senger, the new commander of the XIV Panzer Corps, was of the opinion that all units in reserve ought to be committed at once to insure the integrity of the front. Then, suddenly, the Fifth Army attack came to a halt.

On 13 November General Clark told General Alexander that a continuation of the frontal attacks would exhaust the divisions, particularly the 56th and 3rd, to a dangerous degree. With Alexander’s approval, Clark halted offensive operations on 15 November. For two weeks the troops would rest and prepare for another attempt to smash through the Winter Line and reach the heights overlooking the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers and the entrance into the Liri valley.

SOURCE: SALERNO TO CASSINO; by Martin Blumenson (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Italy; Winter Campaign-The Volturno Crossing (ISC-3-12)


World War Two: Italy; Winter Campaign-The Volturno Crossing (ISC-3-12)

The Immediate Situation: In early October the U.S. Fifth Army had its left flank on the Italian west coast. Its right was anchored on the Matese Mountains of the Apennine range, a virtually impenetrable barrier along the boundary between Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army. The two armies were to advance abreast in their zones, each independently of the other, but their movements were to be coordinated because occasional lateral breaks in the barrier provided the enemy with access routes for attacks against the armies’ inner flanks.

Ahead of the Fifth Army’s front, which touched the Volturno River, was terrain difficult for offensive maneuver. North of the river for about forty miles was a mountainous region that separated the Volturno valley from the next low ground, the valleys of the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers. Narrow winding roads, steep hills, and swift streams characterized the divide, which favored defense. Sharply defined corridors would impose frontal attack on offensive forces. Allied planners constantly sought opportunities for amphibious flanking attacks and airborne operations, but the shortage of men and materiel, as well as the difficulty of the terrain and the weather, kept them from making definite plans.

In the coastal zone, where 10 Corps held a front of about twenty miles, the Campanian plain north of Naples peters out a few miles north of the Volturno River, and the relatively level area of fertile farmland, vineyards, and olive groves gives way to hills covered with olive trees and terraced plots. Inland, where VI Corps held a front of about thirty-five miles, the terrain consists of barren and rocky peaks several thousand feet high, with deep gorges, jagged ridges, and overhanging cliffs.

Traversing the area ahead of the Fifth Army were two excellent roads, both leading to Rome. Highway 7 runs from Benevento westward through Caserta and Capua to Sessa Aurunca and follows the coast. Highway 6, starting some miles above Capua, runs north for several miles before forking; the left fork goes to and beyond Cassino, the right becomes Highway 85 and passes through the upper Volturno valley to Venafro and Isernia.

The objectives that General Alexander had assigned to General Clark were the heights generally between Sessa Aurunca and Vena fro, the high ground overlooking from the south the Garigliano and Rapido River valleys. Crossing the mountain divide and reaching the objectives meant first crossing the defended river line of the Volturno. Blocking the Fifth Army as well as the Eighth, the Tenth Army had an assigned strength on I October of about 60,000 men. Facing the Fifth Army were about 35,000 troops of the XIV Panzer Corps, which occupied the north bank of the Volturno.

From the mouth of the river to a point just east of Grazzanise, the rested and highly efficient 15th Panzer Grenadier Division held a front of about twelve miles with one regiment in line and the remainder of the division guarding the coast against invasion as far north as the mouth of the Garigliano. In the center of the corps sector, on a front of about sixteen miles, almost to Caiazzo, the Hermann Gӧring Division, with four infantry battalions, a small armored group, and a large number of motorized assault guns and antiaircraft guns, possessed considerably more firepower than was normal. On the corps left, from Caiallo to Monte Acero, a distance of about ten air miles, were portions of the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, a reasonably effective organization augmented by the attached reconnaissance battalion of the 26th Panzer Division on Monte Acero. In the Adriatic sector the LXXVI Panzer Corps controlled the understrength 26th Panzer Division, the highly effective 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, and the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) and 16th Panzer Divisions.

Had Vietinghoff, the Tenth Army commander, had his way, the strong defensive forces along the Volturno would have been even stronger, but General Montgomery’s amphibious landing at Termoli during the night of 2 October had disrupted his plans. When he had broken off the battle at Salerno, he had dispatched the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division to reinforce the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division in the Adriatic sector and to cover the gap between the paratroopers and the forces engaged at the Salerno beachhead; he had sent the 16th Panzer Division to construct fortifications along the Volturno. Montgomery’s amphibious operation at Termoli forced commitment of the LXXVI Panzer Corps reserve against the British bridgehead, but the reserve force, a single infantry battalion, was obviously too small for decisive effect. Kesselring, who was visiting Tenth Army headquarters early on the morning of 3 October when news of the British landing arrived, instructed Vietinghoff to shift the 16th Panzer Division to the east coast immediately.

Vietinghoff objected. He knew that a tactical success at Termoli would be good for morale, but he thought that whether the LXXVI Panzer Corps withdrew its left flank from Termoli at once or in a few days would make little difference in the long-range development of the campaign. He favored sending reserves with sufficient strength to block a British breakout and to insure a methodical withdrawal of the panzer corps, and to achieve these limited ends he suggested moving the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, which was experienced in combat and available for transfer upon short notice. Vietinghoff believed the 16th Panzer Division important for defending at the Volturno, particularly in the difficult terrain immediately north of Caplla, which he considered the bulwark of his defensive line. Expecting the Allied forces to make their main effort toward Rome via the main highway leading from Capua through Cassino and Valmontone, he saw Allied success elsewhere as having no direct influence on operations in the main area.

Consequently, Vietinghoff was constructing a series of positions south of the Bernhard Line and placing his major defensive strength along the road from Capua to Cassino, and he counted heavily on the armored division. Sending the division on a long march across the peninsula through the mountains to Termoli would be wearing on the tanks, and even if the tanks arrived in reasonably good condition, the support of the division’s small infantry component of four battalions was hardly strong enough to eradicate the British bridgehead. Disturbed by Kesselring’s instructions, Vietinghoff started neither the 16th Panzer Division nor the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division off to Termoli.

The night of 3 October, around 2230, Kesselring learned from his chief of staff, Generalmajor Siegfried Westphal, that the 16th Panzer Division was not racing across the Italian peninsula as he had directed. Kesselring ordered Vietinghoff to comply with instructions immediately. Vietinghoff had no choice but to relay the orders, and on the morning of 4 October the 16th Panzer Division started to move to the east coast.

Making a forced march of more than seventy-five miles over the mountains, the division got some elements to Termoli late that morning; the bulk of the division reached the Italian east coast twenty-four hours later. Subsequent counterattacks failed to eliminate the British bridgehead. Two days later Vietinghoff approved the LXXVI Panzer Corps proposal to retire to the next defensive line, the Trigno River, and the withdrawal began that evening.

To Kesselring, it appeared that the 16th Panzer Division had arrived at Termoli belatedly and had entered the battle piecemeal. Vietinghoff, Kesselring was convinced, had bungled the operation. To Vietinghoff the commitment of the armored division had not only failed to halt the British but had deprived him of troops who were constructing and were therefore familiar with the key defenses behind the Volturno.

The 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, not so good a unit in Vietinghoff’s judgment as the 16th Panzer Division, replaced the latter along the Volturno. A reinforced regiment came in first, the remainder of the division arriving in separate groups over a period of several days starting about 10 October. The bulk of the division would reach the area only after the Allied assault crossing jumped Off.

Two infantry divisions, the 305th and 65th, were moving south from northern Italy to strengthen Kesselring’s forces, but they were scheduled to be in Vietinghoff’s Bernhard positions in mid-October; they would have no influence on the battle at the Volturno. Later the 9Jth Division would become available to Vietinghoff. The 16th Panzer Division would eventually be dispatched to the Eastern Front in the USSR.

Since Hitler had stressed the need to gain time along the approaches to the Bernhard Line to permit fortification of that line, Kesselring ordered Vietinghoff to contest every foot of territory. He asked Vietinghoff to hold at the Volturno until 15 October at the least, and the Tenth Army commander promised to do so.

Having consolidated the Tenth Army front and having closed the gap between Benevento and the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division, Vietinghoff built up his front as solidly as possible, but retained mobile units in ready reserve to seal off penetrations and guard his open flanks on the seacoasts. He accelerated the work of the construction units, the engineers, and special division detachments that were trying to get the positions forward of the Garigliano ready for defense by 1 November.

Aside from the absence of air support, Vietinghoff’s primary weakness, as he saw it, was his inability to replace troop and materiel losses. He was receiving replacement troops for only a small percentage of his casualties, no artillery, and few serviceable tanks. Unless a drastic change in policy occurred, he could look for no improvement.

The Volturno River itself provided an excellent obstacle to defend, particularly in early October when heavy rains put the river in flood condition. Rising in the mountains near Isernia and descending southwestward to the vicinity of Venafro, the Volturno turns to the southeast and parallels the coast about thirty miles inland for a distance of some twenty-five miles. Near the village of Amorosi it receives the waters of the Cal ore River, which has flowed westward and northward for almost fifty miles. The Volturno then bends to the southwest, going for twelve miles through an intensely cultivated farm valley flanked by scrub-covered hills and barren mountains to the Triflisco gap; from there, at the beginning of the coastal belt, it meanders in large loops through olive groves to the sea at Castel Volturno.

While acknowledging the value of the river-from Amorosi to the coast-for defense, Vietinghoff was conscious of several disadvantages. The river bed was deeply cut in some places, and this would mean dead ground for some German weapons. The south bank, occupied by Allied soldiers, was higher than the north at some points. Hilly terrain near Capua and north of the river would hamper German observation and limit the effectiveness of German artillery. While the mountainous area north of the river favored delaying operations, it offered no natural barriers on which to anchor a defense.

From the Allied point of view, the lower reaches of the Volturno formed a serious obstacle along almost sixty miles of the Italian peninsula. Once across the river, the Fifth Army would have no assurance of easy progress. Hills could be covered by cross fires from mutually supporting positions. Demolitions and mines would certainly be used effectively. Destroyed bridges and culverts could be expected. Ambush was always possible, and crew-served weapons could easily cover the few natural avenues of advance.

For the Fifth Army, speed was essential for movement to the north. The autumn rains had swelled the rivers and turned the valleys into mud. But the approach of winter and worsening weather served as both carrot and stick to entice and drive the Allied forces on in the hope of denying the Germans time to fortify the ground beyond the Volturno that the Allied command was already calling the Winter Line.

To maintain the momentum of the advance north from Naples, General Clark instructed General McCreery, whose 10 Corps seemed to be making faster progress toward the Volturno than VI Corps, to cross the river without waiting for General Lucas’ forces to come abreast. But rains, enemy demolitions, and determined rear guard action delayed the 10 Corps approach to the river. Then swampy ground prevented a quick concentration of troops and supplies. A rapid and improvised assault crossing proved to be out of the question. McCreery estimated 9 October as the earliest date he could be ready to attack.

Still hoping to get across the Volturno before the Germans could fully organize their defenses along the river. General Clark told General Lucas to go ahead. The 3rd Division was in place and ready to make a crossing, and these troops alone, Lucas thought, gave him a superiority of three to one in men, tanks, and guns over the German defenders. But two divisions, he felt, were necessary in order to insure sustained progress on the other side of the river.

Confident that the 45th Division would advance from the Benevento area down the Calore River valley fast enough to protect the corps right flank near Montesarchio, thus making it possible to move the 34th Division from Montesarchio in time to accompany the 3rd Division in the assault crossing, Lucas planned to sideslip the 3rd Division to the left to make room along the front for the 34th.

Thereupon, the 3rd and 34th were to cross the river abreast, both employing the tactics of stealth and surprise. These preparatory movements would take time, and despite General Clark’s hope for an earlier crossing, General Lucas, like McCreery, estimated he could attack no sooner than 9 October.

The prospect of a simultaneous assault crossing by 10 and VI Corps on that date soon vanished. Neither McCreery nor Lucas was ready. When McCreery suggested he could attack on 11 October, General Clark instructed Lucas to attack on the preceding night. If American troops seized the ridges north and northwest of the Triflisco gap, they would hold the ground that dominates the plain as far as the sea and thus facilitate the British attack.

But this operation had to be Postponed too. “Rain, rain, rain,” General Lucas wrote in his diary. “The roads are so deep in mud that moving troops and supplies forward is a terrific job. Enemy resistance is not nearly as great as that of Mother Nature.”. It was more than rain and muddy roads that caused delay. The paucity of roads in the VI Corps area and German artillery fire hampered and slowed the movement of the 34th Division from Montesarchio to the Volturno.

On 9 October General Clark ordered the two corps to make a co-ordinated attack during the night of 12 October. An assault along the entire length of the river would disperse and stretch the enemy forces and facilitate crossings at many places. Once across, the troops were to continue toward and into the Winter Line.

One point drew Clark’s particular attention. Unless the 45th Division drove swiftly north and west from Benevento for twenty-two miles down the Calore valley to the juncture of the Calore and Volturno Rivers and then advanced into the valley of the upper Volturno, the forces on the right of the assault crossings would have an exposed flank. The nearer the 45th Division was to the Volturno by 12 October, the less uneasy the 34th Division would have to be about its right. And if the 45th Division could drive into the upper Volturno valley before the river crossings, it would threaten the left flank of the German forces defending the river line.

The Attack down the Calore Valley

General Middleton’s 45th Division was in control of the Benevento area on 9 October. Assigning a reinforced battalion of the 180th Infantry to guard his right flank and placing the 157th Infantry in reserve, Middleton sent the remainder of the division westward down the Calore Valley toward the confluence of the Calore and the Volturno. His only path of advance was a corridor four to five miles wide, obstructed by rough hills, deep ravines, and narrow roads, which gave German delaying forces ample opportunity for ambush, demolition, and harassment.

When General Lucas visited General Middleton on 9 October to press for speed, .Middleton said frankly he could not guarantee it. His men had been in continuous action for a month and were tired. Lucas did not “believe they are as tired as he thinks,” but he promised Middleton he would try to give the division a rest once VI Corps was across the Volturno. This apparently had the desired result, for Lucas found the division’s progress on the succeeding days excellent.

With the 179th Infantry clearing the northern part of the Calore valley and the 180th the southern part, the division fought the terrain more than the enemy for three days. On 12 October, as the division approached Monte Acero, it began to appear that the 45th would reach the valley of the upper Volturno without setback and secure the right flank of the two divisions that were scheduled to cross the river downstream that night. Sudden resistance developed during the afternoon and dashed that hope.

To the Germans, Monte Acero was a sensitive point. Defended by the reconnaissance battalion of the 26th Panzer Division) the height provided observation over the entire east-west Volturno valley. In the opinion of Hube, the XIV Panzer Corps commander, Monte Acero was essential if Vietinghoff was to make good his promise to Kesselring to hold the Volturno line at least until 15 October.

Machine gun and mortar fire from Monte Acero halted the lead elements of both American regiments, but the reconnaissance battalion in defense could not for long block the determined division. Advancing through the fire, the 180th Infantry took the village of Telese on the division left, while contingents of the 179th Infantry pushed onto the southern nose of Monte Acero itself.

Fighting continued throughout the night. The turning point in the action came when Company K of the 179th Infantry penetrated German positions on the southeast slope, then withdrew because it was unable to clear the slope of defenders. Unaware of the withdrawal, the Germans counterattacked before daybreak against the spot where the company had been. They were caught in an artillery firetrap and took heavy losses.

Shortly after daylight, Company K, reinforced by another company, cleared the eastern slope of Monte Acero. General Middleton then committed the 157th Infantry in the center, and elements of this regiment fought their way around the western side of the hill. By nightfall, 13 October, it was apparent that the Germans were withdrawing from Monte Acero, the eastern anchor of their Volturno defensive line.

It still took Middleton’s men another day to clear the Germans from the Calore valley. Thus, despite the withdrawal of the reconnaissance battalion from Monte Acero, Vietinghoff made good his pledge to hold at least until 15 October-not until that day was the 45th Division ready to drive into the entrance of the upper Volturno valley.

The Main Crossings

As it finally evolved, General Lucas’ plan to put VI Corps across the Volturno called for two divisions to force crossings over a Is-mile stretch of the river between Triflisco on the left flank and the Calore confluence on the right. The 3rd Division was to make the main effort between Triflisco and Caiazzo and assist British troops who were to advance along Highway 6 from Capua to Teano. The 34th Division, crossing on an 8-mile front, was to help the 45th Division get into the upper Volturno valley, then be ready to swing westward and laterally, also toward Teano.

The Volturno in front of VI Corps varied from 150 to 220 feet in width and from 3 to 5 feet in depth. Although the river was fordable at most points, the current, made swift by the rains, dictated some crossings by boat. The banks, from 5 to 15 feet high, were steep, and the rainfall that had made them muddy and slick would hamper boat launchings.

Brush and olive groves on the hill slopes on the far shore would provide some concealment for troops, but the open fields on the south side of the river gave no covered approaches to crossing sites. The road net at the Volturno was poor, inadequate for the quick movement of large bodies of men and their equipment and supplies. Despite these disadvantages, VI Corps headquarters was optimistic over the prospect of successful crossings.

In General Truscott’s plan of attack, two hill complexes immediately beyond the Volturno were vital for the success of the 3rd Division effort: the Triflisco ridge and Monte Caruso. Directly across the river from the American-held Monte Tifata on the division left, the Triflisco ridge is actually an extension of Monte Tifata, the two heights separated only by the bed of the Volturno. Here the river is so narrow that troops dug in on the northern slope of Monte Tifata regularly exchanged small arms fire with German soldiers hidden among stone quarries and olive orchards across the Volturno. Seizing the Triflisco ridge would facilitate a 10 Corps advance to Teano: eliminate dominant observation of the 3rd Division’s main axis of advance, a narrow valley leading northwest along the east side of the ridge; and remove commanding observation over the best bridge site in the 3rd Division zone, the narrow banks between the ridge and Monte Tifata. Although aerial photographs showed strong defenses on the southern nose of the Triflisco ridge, General Truscott expected the 10 Corps crossing near Capua to help the 3rd Division assault.

The other vital terrain feature on the north bank was Monte Caruso, opposite American-held Monte Castellone. About four miles north of the river, Monte Caruso commands both the valley of the Volturno and the narrow valley leading northwest. Standing in front of Monte Caruso and rising from the valley floor like mounds are two solitary hills, Monticello and Monte Mesarinolo. All three heights appeared to be strongly defended.

Figuring that the Germans expected an attack at or near Triflisco, General Truscott planned to feint there on his left while making his main effort in the center directly toward Monte Caruso, the troops to bypass Monticello and Monte Mesarinolo and leave them for the forces on the division right. Once he held Monte Caruso, he assumed he could place such heavy enfilade fire on the Triflisco ridge that this fire, in concert with the British attack outflanking the ridge to the west, would force the Germans to abandon the ground.

Specifically, General Truscott would have the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, and the heavy weapons companies of the 30th Infantry make the feint by concentrating fire against the Triflisco ridge. If the Germans shelved signs of withdrawing, the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry, was to cross. Through it all the Germans on the ridge were to be cheated of their observation advantage by a blanket of smoke.

With the enemy thus diverted on the left, the 7th Infantry was to cross the river and drive directly to the westernmost tip of Monte Caruso. On the right two battalions of the 15th Infantry were to take Monticello and Monte Mesarinolo, then move to capture the easternmost tip of Monte Caruso. At daylight of 13 October, a company each of the 751st Tank and 601st Tank Destroyer Battalions, their vehicles waterproofed, were to ford the river.

Since surprise was an integral part of his plan, Truscott took special precautions to preserve it, He kept his artillery strength hidden by ordering half the pieces to be silent during the few days preceding the attack. He held the 7th Infantry in a concealed bivouac area near Caserta while the 15th Infantry alone maned the 3rd Division front. After the 34th Division came into the line, relieving the 30th Infantry of the 3rd Division, which shifted quietly out of the area, he arranged with General Ryder to have any 34th Division men captured while on patrol give a 3rd Division identification to deceive the enemy. Coupled with surprise was Truscott’s trust in punch. Once started, he told his subordinate commanders, the attack must be kept moving without pause.

On the evening of October, as darkness settled over the Volturno valley and a full moon rose, customary night patrols worked their way to the river, drawing an occasional burst of fire or flare, while artillery units were careful to continue seemingly normal fire patterns. In the rear areas, infantrymen of the assault battalions checked and assembled special equipment-rope for guidelines across the river, kapok life preserver jackets (luckily, a thousand had been found in a nearby Italian warehouse), rubber life rafts borrowed from the Navy, and improvised log and pontoon rafts. Engineers were busy with assault boats and rubber pneumatic floats. Artillerymen studied their fire plans. As H-hour approached, engineers loaded rubber pontoons on trucks, truck drivers warmed their motors, and long lines of infantrymen began to move to forward assembly areas.

At midnight the 3rd Division began its demonstration on the left against the Triflisco ridge. An hour later corps and Division artillery opened fire all along the front with high explosive. At 0155, 13 October, the gunners mixed smoke shells with the high explosive for the last five minutes of fire to screen the crossing sites. A few minutes before the artillery was scheduled to lift, men of the 7th Infantry slogged across muddy fields to the river. At 0200 they started to cross. The Germans by now were well aware that this would be no ordinary and uneventful night. Alerted by the suddenly heavy Allied artillery fires, they expected a major assault. They could anticipate attacks at some obvious crossing sites, but where the main weight would be thrown would probably become apparent only after daybreak.

While carrying parties of American soldiers on the near shore were struggling to get boats and rafts down the slippery bank to the water’s edge, advance groups of the 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry, waded the river to anchor guide ropes on the far side. Even with guide ropes it was hard to control the frail assault craft in the swift current. Weakened by days of rain, the roots of some of the trees to which the ropes were tied gave way. Improvised rafts sometimes broke up. Through it all, long-range German machine gun fire whipped the crossing sites. Fortunately, a high cliff like north bank created one of the dead spots Vietinghoff had been concerned with and prevented most of the fire from striking the men on the river itself.

Darkness and smoke also affected the accuracy of the enemy gunners. The crossing went more slowly than expected and dawn was breaking before the last man of the 1st Battalion reached the far bank. The accuracy of the German fire began to improve, and the last boat to pull away from the south bank took a direct hit from an artillery shell.

On the far shore, men of the 1st Battalion assembled along a sandbar under cover of the steep bank. They moved up-stream in column, clinging to the bank for protection against the enemy machine gun fire and for support against the current. A few mines exploded, most of them throwing up spectacular geysers of water and mud that caused little damage. Several artillery shells splashed harmlessly into the river. After walking up the bed of a small tributary of the Volturno, the men deployed across the fields just south of Highway 87, which parallels the Volturno. Here they dug in to protect the regimental left flank and to form a base of fire for the other two battalions that were to head directly for Monte Caruso.

The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 7th Infantry, in that order, had crossed the river in column, some of the men in assault boats, others wading through the icy water holding their rifles over their heads with one hand, clinging to guide ropes with the other. Scrambling up the muddy bank of the north shore, they struck out for the dark and massive bulk of Monte Caruso.

Machine gun nests and individual enemy soldiers fighting from irrigation ditches were quickly eliminated, and by 0900 the foremost elements of the lead battalion were at the foot of the hill objective. With good observation of German positions in the valley and on the hill, the infantry called for fire from artillery and tank destroyers. Against slackening resistance, the troops moved up the slope. By noon the advance elements were digging in on the western tip of Monte Caruso, and the rest of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were moving up to secure the ground.

Waterproofed tanks and tank destroyers had been trying to cross the river since daylight, but each time a bulldozer approached the river to break down the bank and give the heavy vehicles access to crossing sites, enemy fire drove it back. Around 1000, after learning from an intercepted German message that a counterattack was imminent, General Truscott ordered the armored vehicles to cross at once, no matter what the obstacles. Pick and shovel work by engineers finally tore down enough of the bank to allow the tanks to get to the water’s edge, and shortly after 1100 the first tank climbed the low sandbank on the far side of the river. By early afternoon, 15 tanks and g tank destroyers were across. The German counterattack never came, apparently having been broken up by artillery fire before it could begin.

By the end of the day the entire 7th Infantry was across the Volturno, and infantrymen held the western part of “Monte Caruso. On the division right, men of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 15th Infantry had climbed down the rocky slopes of Monte Castell one and headed for Monticello and Monte Mesarinolo, the isolated hills on the valley floor. After wading the river, the troops immediately found themselves in close contact with Germans along the river bank. Battle raged at short range until the weight of the increasing numbers of troops coming across the river broke the opposition.[n12-11] The troops then swept up their hill objectives, where they organized the ground. Rafts and rubber boats carried machine guns, mortars, and ammunition across the river and bolstered the positions.

Strong concentrations of German artillery Anti-tank fire pounded the two hills occupied by the 15th Infantry, but American counterbattery fire gradually forced the Germans to desist. During the afternoon, with enemy pieces virtually silenced, the two assault battalions pushed on to their next objective, the high ground on the eastern part of Monte Caruso, the Germans giving way before them.

[n12-11 Captain Arlo L. Olson spearheaded the regimental advance and knocked out at least two enemy machine gun emplacements. For these and similar actions during the next thirteen days. Captain Olson was Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.]

On the division left, where the key ridge above Triflisco remained to be taken, the goth Infantry, assisted by the 1st Battalion of the 15th, had made a demonstration and kept the Triflisco ridge covered with smoke. With five infantry battalions of the division well on their way to securing their objectives during the afternoon of 13 October, General Truscott told the goth Infantry to cross the Volturno. The 2nd Battalion made two attempts to cross the water and storm the ridge. Both failed against stubborn resistance. Although the crossings of the 7th Infantry east of the Triflisco ridge threatened to make the ridge itself untenable for the Germans, the British assault on the immediate left had stalled.

The Germans remained in possession of the Triflisco ridge until nightfall. Under the cover of darkness, they began to withdraw. When troops of the 30th Infantry crossed the river during the night they found that they could march up the ridge and take it with little trouble. To Vietinghoff, the “very cleverly planned and forcefully executed attack” of the 3rd Division, which had feinted defenders away from the main crossing sites, was the key action at the Volturno.

In his Opinion, the 3rd Division had avoided the mistake made by Allied troops at Salerno: without waiting until pockets of resistance were cleared, it had advanced regardless of the threats on its flanks. Having won the dominating slopes of Monte Caruso and strengthened its positions with a rush of reinforcements, the 3rd Division could not be denied. The left flank of the Hermann Gӧring Division, holding the major positions in the center of the XIV Panzer Corps line, had been crushed on the first day’s fighting, and the 3rd Division bridgehead, four miles deep by the morning of 14 October, was too large to be destroyed.

Helping to give the bridgehead stability was the work of the engineers, who had moved their bridging equipment to the river during the early morning hours of 13 October. Working under fire, the engineer bridge construction parties incurred casual ties. Shells damaged rubber floats. Mines blew up several trucks. Although forced to take cover frequently, the engineers by the end of the day had built two bridges, a light one primarily for jeeps and an 8-ton structure capable of carrying trucks. Doth required frequent patching and repair as a consequence of enemy shell fragments. Early the next morning several German planes bombed and strafed the bridges, damaging them slightly.

Engineers were to have constructed a 30-ton bridge for tanks on 13 October, but they could not start work until the following day, after the Germans had relinquished their hold over the Triflisco ridge. Even then the cover of smoke was necessary. Six hours after work began, the bridge was ready. Not long thereafter approaches across muddy fields connected the bridge with Highway 87, and the ferry service that had operated continuously to bring equipment and supplies forward was no longer necessary. With three bridges assuring the continuous flow of men and materiel into the forward area, the 3rd Division was ready on 14 October to exploit its bridgehead on the north bank of the Volturno. Surprise and aggressiveness had contributed handsomely to the division’s achievement. Casualties during the crossing had not been excessive for an assault against a defended river line. The division had lost about goo men on 13 October, the first day of the attack.

The Crossing On the Right Flank

The objective of General Ryder’s 34th Division was a triangular area defined on the south and east by the Volturno and on the northwest by Highway 87, about four miles from the bend of the river. Outside the objective area but dominating the ground was Monte Acero, which General Middleton’s 45th Division was to take before the river assault crossings.

General Ryder divided his front into two regimental zones. He instructed the 168th Infantry on the left to take Caiazzo at the westernmost point of the objective triangle, the 135th to take the high ground on the right. One battalion of the 133rd Infantry was to be ready to reinforce the attack wherever needed. His attached tank battalion General Ryder kept in its assembly area because he judged the steeply sloping ground of a jumbled mass of hills on the far side of the Volturno to be unsuitable for armor.

A total of 96 guns and howitzers in support of the 34th Division opened general preparatory fires at 0145, 13 October. Fifteen minutes later, as infantrymen slid down the muddy banks of the Volturno, some to wade through the water, others to paddle across in assault boats, the artillery covered the crossing points with high explosive and smoke.

The first men of the 168th Infantry crossed the river without difficulty, but succeeding troops had a harder time. The swift current swept assault boats out of crossing lines. Men wading in shoulder-deep water lost radios and mine detectors. Enemy machine gun fire from the flat fields close to the river bank and from olive groves on the hill slopes added its hazard. It took almost five hours for the assault battalion to get completely across the river.

Once across, the troops found surprisingly little resistance until they moved into the brush-covered hills. Caiazzo, a fortified village on the brow of a steep slope, was a German strongpoint, and it was difficult to root out the defenders. Heavy and sustained artillery shelling seemed to have little effect, and not until the following morning, 14 October, when four tank destroyers forded the stream and gave direct fire support did the Germans evacuate the village.

Assault troops of the 135th Infantry had also crossed the river, all of them wading over during the early morning hours of 13 October. There was no serious resistance. The Germans withdrew at once. The Americans moved rapidly, and less than an hour after the initial crossings they were sending prisoners to the rear. A flurry of tank fire from Amorosi on the right flank briefly slowed the advance, and a pocket of bypassed Germans held up movement for a short time. But as the 45th Division reduced the defenses on Monte Acero off to the 34th Division’s right, the 135th Infantry easily took its objectives three miles from the abrupt bend of the Volturno River.

What explained the relative ease of crossing was the fact that only part of the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division had arrived at the Volturno, and that but recently. The units had hardly settled into their defensive positions when the attack struck.

Despite the quick crossing by the 34th Division, the operation almost came to a halt because all good bridging sites in the division zone remained under German observation. Whenever engineers tried to put in a bridge, German artillery dispersed them. In an effort to speed their bridging operations, engineers who had been assigned to span the river with a light vehicular bridge had inflated their rubber floats before loading them on trucks. When the head of the truck column reached the river several hours after daybreak on 13 October, enemy artillery fire disabled 3 trucks at once and shell fragments punctured many floats, some beyond repair. Unloading 12 trucks, the engineers launched three floats. Almost immediately, an artillery shell destroyed all 3, inflicted casualties on the troops, and brought activities to a halt.

That afternoon the engineers pulled their equipment back to a concealed assembly area, where they patched their salvageable floats. In the evening, after smoke pots had been moved to the river to screen the site, another bridging effort was made. To no avail. The German artillery fire continued to be heavy and accurate.

An engineer reconnaissance party finally located another bridge site. This one was defiladed, but the approach roads were poor and the river was seventy feet wider than at the original place. Because of the additional width of the river and the loss of nearly half the floats, the engineers had to borrow equipment. Moving to the new site at 0300, 14 October, the engineers completed a bridge by 1030. Not long afterward, as soon as the muddy approach routes could be improved and the far bank swept of mines, trucks began to cross into the bridgehead.

During the afternoon of 14 October, with the Germans no longer in possession of observation from Caiazzo, engineers began to construct a 3o-ton Treadway bridge, which they completed shortly after midnight. German planes made several unsuccessful passes at the bridge the next morning. By then traffic was rolling steadily across both bridges, including artillery.

Having cleared a substantial bridgehead almost four miles deep by the afternoon of 14 October, the 34th Division was ready to take up pursuit operations. The division had lost about 130 men during the crossing on the first day, 13 October.

The Crossings on the Left

Facing the Volturno River in the coastal area, 10 Corps had a difficult assignment. Between Monte Tifata above Capua and Castel Volturno on the coast, a distance of more than 15 miles, the ground is relatively flat on both sides of the river. Numerous canals drain the area, the most important being the Regia Agnena Nuova Canal, which parallels the Volturno from Capua to the sea about 4 miles north of the river. There were few trees on the south side of the river, but a belt of olive groves, vineyards, and scattered timber on the north bank offered the Germans excellent cover, while Monte Massico, about 8 miles north of the Volturno, gave them superior observation.

High river banks and flood levees obstructed British fields of fire. Recent rains had filled the river and canal beds to the point, here no fords were available and had turned all approaches to the river, except the few main roads, into mud. In the right of the 10 Corps area, the 56th Division had only one road in its zone, the major route that crossed the Volturno at Capua. The 7th Armoured Division in the center had only a single country road crossing the river at Grazzanise. The 46th Division had used a highway crossing the river at Cancello ed Arnone and a narrow unimproved road at Castel Volturno.

In many places these roads resembled causeways, built several feet above the adjacent fields. With their usual thoroughness, the Germans had destroyed all the culverts along these roads and had demolished the bridges across the Volturno. They had sited their guns to harass movements along the highways leading to the north. A hard-surface road paralleling the river on the south bank of the Volturno was directly under hostile observation and would be useless until the Germans were driven back beyond Monte Massico.

Because all possible bridge sites in the corps zone were within short range of German mortars and small arms, and because all reconnaissance movements during daylight hours drew immediate fire, British patrols were unable to cross the river. Thus, there was no way of measuring the width or depth of the Volturno with accuracy. Running through marshland, normally canalized between steep banks, the river had overflowed. Much of the coastal plain, which is at sea level or just below, was wet, for a drainage system of canals emptying water into the sea by means of pumps had not been in operation for about ten days and British troops had little success getting the pumps working.

The depth of the river, normally 6 feet, was estimated at 1 to 5 feet above normal, and could conceivably rise 15 feet above normal. At possible bridge sites, the river was thought to be from 250 to 300 feet wide, with steep banks from 10 to 25 feet high. To visiting Fifth Army staff members, the 10 Corps headquarters seemed pessimistic about a crossing. The lack of ground reconnaissance, the difficulty of launching assault boats, the time required to construct bridge approaches, the limitations on bridge sites imposed by the few and in adequate approach roads, and the shortage of bridge equipment that would allow little or no losses during the operation were problems that appeared to be well-nigh insoluble.[n3-12-16]

General McCreery first thought of making his main effort on the right in order to use the superior road network around Capua and to assist the 3rd Division. But the strong defenses on the Triflisco ridge dissuaded the corps commander and made him look to the coast. Hoping to spread the German defenses, he decided to attack on a wide front, putting his major weight on the left. He directed the 56th Division to make a demonstration from the hills immediately east of Capua and a crossing in battalion size just to the west. He instructed the 7th Armoured Division to launch a holding attack at Grazzanise, with an infiltration across the river if possible. He ordered the 46th Division to make a major crossing on a 2-brigade front between Cancelloed Arnone and the coast.

To compensate for the increased difficulty of assaulting near the coast line, General McCreery secured naval assistance. Warships would fire in support of the 46th Division and provide several LCT’s to ferry a tank company around the mouth of the Volturno for a landing on the north bank of the river.

Supported by massive artillery fire augmented by naval gunfire, the 46th Division attacked in the early morning hours of 13 October. In the right of the division zone, after overcoming extraordinary difficulties, a battalion crossed the Volturno in assault boats and took precarious and exposed positions on the north bank of the river northeast of Cancelloed Arnone. The men beat back two counterattacks launched during the day but could not resist a third that came at the last light. Their positions overrun, the men made their way back across the river as best they could.

On the division left, two battalions paddled across the river. After turning back a counterattack, the men dug in along a small canal. There they remained, waiting for daylight when LCT’s were to ferry seventeen tanks around the mouth of the river and land them to give direct support to the infantry.

[n3-12-16 Rpt on Condition of Volturno in 10 Corps Zone,10 Oct 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.]

The amphibious operation went as planned, but except for a psychological lift, the tanks proved to be of little immediate use. Boggy ground near the coast immobilized most of the tanks. Mines planted in dry ground just off the beach knocked out several others. Not until engineer troops removed the German nonmetallic mines, a slow process that took most of the day, did some of the tanks become mobile.

Despite lack of help from the tanks, the infantry battalions held where they were. On the following day, 11 October, they advanced about 600 yards to make room for substantial reinforcements. Into the bridgehead came four more infantry battalions and some artillery, all of which crossed the Volturno on two ferries that operated without harassment from enemy guns-British artillery and naval gunfire had proved to be highly effective. Although more tanks were loaded in LCT’s for a landing on the north bank, they were not needed. The Germans were withdrawing. By the evening of 15 October, the 46th Division had forward elements four miles beyond the Volturno and on the bank of the Regia Agnena Nuova Canal.

The 7th Armoured Division had launched a demonstration after nightfall on 12 October in order to feint the German defenders away from the other crossing sites. Assault troops at the river’s edge had managed to get a cable across the river as well and a platoon of men crossed, though heavy fire forced them to return. Since the cable was still anchored, another effort was made shortly after midnight. Crossing in boats pulled along the cable, a small contingent reached the far shore, but it, too, had to come back. A third attempt succeeded, and when dawn came on 13 October the division was holding a small bridgehead in the Grazzanise area. On the following day, the 7th Armoured Division, reinforced the men on the far bank and expanded the bridgehead about 1,000 yards.

Near Capua, the 56th Division opened a deception demonstration designed to make the Germans expect a strong crossing in the Triflisco area. Shortly after midnight, 12 October, a company crossed the river in assault boats to strengthen the feint. Fire from strongpoints on the Triflisco ridge dislodged the men, who withdrew before daylight.

This small crossing failed to secure surprise for the main attack launched near a destroyed railroad bridge at Capua. The site was an obvious one and under good observation by the Germans, but no other suitable place existed in the division zone. The leading elements crossing in assault boats met heavy opposition at once, and some of the boats were sunk. From the volume of German fire coming from the Triflisco ridge, the 56th Division commander judged that a crossing in that immediate area was impractical.

Learning on the morning of 14 October that the 56th Division had decided that no crossing in its zone was feasible, General Clark changed the corps boundary, shifting it to the right to give the 56th Division one of the three bridges erected by the 3rd Division. Although this change deprived the 3rd Division of its 30-ton bridge and some of its roads, the 56th Division now had the means of getting across the river to protect the increasingly exposed left flank of the 3rd Division. The boundary change also placed the Triflisco ridge entirely within the 10 Corps zone.

By the afternoon of 14 October-as 56th Division troops and vehicles crossed the bridge above Triflisco to the far bank, the 7th Armoured Division expanded its bridgehead, and the 46th Division substantially bolstered its forces north of the river-the issue at the Volturno was no longer in doubt. The 10 Corps would soon be ready to exploit its crossing and drive toward the Garigliano valley.

In making the crossing, 10 Corps had sustained severe casualties. The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division) which had taken the brunt of the British main effort, had captured more than 200 prisoners and had counted more than 400 British dead and wounded. To Hube, the XIV Panzer Corps commander, it seemed unlikely that Fifth Army could continue attacking along the lower Volturno because of the extremely heavy British losses on 13 October. He expected the Americans to press their attacks to enlarge their bridgeheads east of Triflisco and to attempt to enter the upper Volturno.

Little concerned then with his sector between Triflisco and the sea, Hube decided to hold there while withdrawing his left flank to Monte Acero, which would give him an anchor for his defenses and continued observation over much of the Volturno valley. While the British built up their strength north of the river on 14 October, the Americans seized important heights, in particular Monte Acero.

Hube then asked permission to withdraw to positions behind the Regia Agnena Niuova Canal and on the heights behind Caiazzo and Monte Caruso. Since Kesselring had stipulated that he was to hold the Volturno line only until IS October, Vietinghoff approved Hube’s request to withdraw. As he became aware of the threat posed by the 34th and 45th Divisions on the inner flanks of the XIV and LXXVI Panzer Corps, he directed the withdrawal to be made along the entire front in Italy.

While the LXXVI Panzer Corps backed off from the British Eighth Army in the Adriatic sector and withdrew toward the Sangro River, where the 65th Infantry Division was constructing field fortifications, the XIV Panzer Corps withdrew slowly and grudgingly into the mountainous terrain between the Fifth Army and the valleys of the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers.

SOURCE: SALERNO TO CASSINO; by Martin Blumenson (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Italy; Volturno-Mountains and Bernhard Line (ISC-3-13)

World War Two: Italy; Winter Campaign; The Strategy (ISC-3-11)

Good Monday Morning, I am trying something new today. Hope you enjoy it!

Good morning dear friends

Hope your Monday is off to a flying start! I am trying something new on my site today so I figured y’all might enjoy it also. We have decided to try something new for the days I am not on the internet. We are posting your Daily Horoscopes, Happy Birthday for the Day, Get a Jump on Tomorrow, Daily Tarot, Daily Runes & Daily Ogham reading on our store. I know some of you might not be into all of this kind of information but those of you who enjoy your horoscopes can now get them whether I am on the net or not. I hope you enjoy your day and your horoscopes. You will find a direct link to our store where your horoscopes and other daily divination is now available for viewing.

Witches of the Craft’s Online Shoppe

This link takes you directly to them.

I hope you have a very beautiful & blessed Monday,

See you tomorrow,

Lady of the Abyss

Today’s Funny for April 21: Praise to Caffeina

Praise to Caffeina

Hail to Thee, Great Lady of the Morning!
Thy sweet aroma fills my soul with wakefulness!
Lo though the multitudes lie abed in sloth
Thou hast mercy on the sleeping!
Thou desirest the productivity of the masses!
Thou callest me to drink of the Elixer of Life,
I am refreshed!
The employer rejoiceth for the employees arrive in a timely manner!
The drivers praise Thy name!
Thy drink is better than wine,
Bring the best cream and fine breadstuffs.
Worship Her mill with gladness,
For She waketh the world with warmth.
Copyright � 2000 Kenn Baum
Published on Turok’s Cabana

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for April 21: EASTER AND THE PASCHAL FULL MOON



April 18, 2019

A “Pink Easter Moon” will rise the morning of Good Friday! Did you know that the date of Easter—April 21 this year—is tied to the full Pink Moon and the Vernal (Spring) Equinox? Understand the curious connection …


Easter is what’s known as a “movable feast”—in other words, a religious holiday that falls on different calendar dates from year to year.

The date of Easter is tied not only to the full Moon, but to the Vernal Equinox and the relationship between them, too. Thanks to this, determining when Easter will be can get more than a bit confusing.

Here’s the basic rule for finding the date:

Easter is observed on the Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, which is the first full Moon that occurs on or after the Vernal Equinox.

For example, if the Vernal Equinox occurred on March 21 and the full Moon occurred on March 23, Easter would be observed on the first Sunday after March 23.

However, that is really putting it too simply…


Differing Dates

The biggest cause of confusion regarding Easter is the tangled web of dates that are used to determine the holiday. If you take the rule given above at face value, things don’t always work out quite right.

This is exactly what happened in 2019. The Vernal Equinox occurred on March 20 at 5:58 P.M. EDT, with the full Moon reaching its peak four hours later, at 9:43 P.M. EDT.But wait—that means that the full Moon and the Vernal Equinox happened on the same date, which should have landed Easter on Sunday, March 24, right? Well, not quite.

The dates of the full Moon and the Vernal Equinox that are used to calculate Easter are not the astronomical dates of these events, but rather the ecclesiastical dates.

  • The astronomical dates of the full Moon and the Vernal Equinox are the actual, scientifically determined dates of these events. For example, the Vernal Equinox occurs at the exact moment when the Sun crosses Earth’s equator, when day and night are approximately equal. Similarly, the full Moon occurs when the Moon reaches peak illumination by the Sun.
  • The ecclesiastical dates of the full Moon and the Vernal Equinox are those determined long ago by the Christian Church, and they may differ from the actual dates of these events.

In A.D. 325, a full Moon calendar was created that did not take into account all the factors of lunar motion that we know about today. The Christian Church still follows this calendar, which means that the date of the ecclesiastical full Moon may be one or two days off from the date of the astronomical full Moon.

Additionally, the astronomical date of the Vernal Equinox changes over time (it may occur on March 19, 20, or 21), but the Church has fixed the event in their calendar to March 21. This means that the ecclesiastical date of the Vernal Equinox will always be March 21, even if the astronomical date is March 19 or 20.

Due to these rules, in 2019, the ecclesiastical full Moon occurred before the ecclesiastical Vernal Equinox, which meant that Easter would not be observed until after the next full Moon (the Paschal Full Moon) in mid-April. Thus, Easter will be held on Sunday, April 21, this year.

Fun Fact: “Paschal” stems from Pascha, the Greek and Latin word for Passover.



For the western Christian churches and others that use the Gregorian calendar for their calculations, Easter can occur as early as March 22 and as late as April 25.

For the Eastern Orthodox churches and others that use the Julian calendar for their calculations, the observance can occur between April 4 and May 8 in the Gregorian calendar.

Interestingly, Easter Sunday will remain in April for the next four years. It won’t be in March again until 2024!


The full Moon nearest to Easter can change. Sometimes, it’s the full Moon which falls in March and sometimes it’s the full Moon which falls in April.

Both tonight (April 18) and tomorrow (April 19), you’ll see a round full-looking Moon.



This new corner of will feature news, information, and cool stuff from The Old Farmer’s Almanac and its family of publications.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for April 21: WHEN IS EASTER 2019? | HOW THE EASTER DATE IS DETERMINED




April 20, 2019

Why do we celebrate Easter? And why is Easter so late this year? We’ll explain—plus, find out how the date of Easter is determined and why it changes every year!


Easter is the most important feast day on the Christian calendar.

Regularly observed from the earliest days of the Church, Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead, following crucifixion. It marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent, and the last day of the Easter Triduum (starting from the evening of Maundy Thursday, through Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday), as well as the beginning of the Easter season of the liturgical year.

The resurrection represents the triumph of good over evil, sin, death, and the physical body.


Easter is a “movable feast” and does not have a fixed date; however, it is always held on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25.

Many Eastern Orthodox churches follow the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian. In this case, the observance of Easter can occur between April 4 and May 8.

Year Easter Sunday
(Gregorian calendar)
Eastern Orthodox Church
(Julian calendar)
2019 April 21 April 28
2020 April 12 April 19
2021 April 4 May 2


Would you believe that the date of Easter is related to the full Moon?

Specifically, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full Moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox.

Interestingly, in 2019, the full Moon and the spring equinox fell on the SAME day—Wednesday, March 20. The full Moon—cresting at 9:43 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time—followed the spring equinox by less than four hours.

On religious calendars, the first full moon of spring is called the “Paschal Full Moon” (which we’ll explain below). Traditionally, Easter is observed on the Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon. (If the Paschal Moon occurs on a Sunday, Easter lands on the subsequent Sunday.)


Following the general rules above, the full Moon on March 20 (the first full Moon of spring) should have been the “Paschal Full Moon.” So, why wasn’t Easter on Sunday, March 24?

As it turns out, to make things a little simpler for the Christian Church calendars, the spring equinox was determined to always be fixed on March 21. (In reality, the equinox can happen on March 19, 20, or 21.)

Given this, the first full Moon after March 21 doesn’t occur until April 19 this year. That means … Easter will be celebrated on Sunday, April 21.

As mentioned above, Easter can fall as early as March 22 and as late as April 25. So, now we have a rather late Easter!

The full Moon in April (on the 19th) will occur on the Good Friday this year. Passover also begins at sundown on the 19th.


For those who want to dig a little deeper:

The word “Paschal,” which refers to the ecclesiastical (Christian church) calendar, comes from “Pascha,” a transliteration of the Aramaic word meaning Passover.

We are referring to a date of the full Moon determined many years ago as the 14th day of a lunar month. Ancient calculations (made in a.d. 325) did not take into account certain lunar motions.

So, the Paschal Full Moon is the 14th day of a lunar month occurring on or next after March 21 according to a fixed set of ecclesiastical calendar rules, which does not always match the date of the astronomical full Moon nearest the astronomical spring equinox.

It sounds complicated, but the basic idea is to make it simpler for modern calendars. Rest assured, the dates for Easter are calculated long in advance.


Readers often ask us about the Golden Number, which was traditionally used in calculations for determining the date of Easter.

The Golden Number is a value used to show the dates of new Moons for each year, following a 19-year cycle.

The Moon repeats the dates of its phases approximately every 19 years (the Metonic cycle), and the Golden Number represents a year in that cycle. The year of the cycle can then be used to determine the date of Easter.

To Calculate the Golden Number:

Add 1 to any given year and divide the result by 19, ensuring that you calculate to the nearest whole number; the remainder is the Golden Number. If there is no remainder, the Golden Number is 19.

For example, to calculate the Golden Number for 2019, we take 2019 and add 1, resulting in 2020, then divide it evenly by 19, giving us 106 with a remainder of 6. Therefore, the Golden Number for 2019 is 6, meaning 2019 is the 6th year of the Metonic cycle.


Easter, also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday, is a festival and holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Let’s start with Pascha (Latin) which comes directly from Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Going back to the Hebrew Bible and the story of the first Passover, Moses tells the Israelites to slaughter a passover lamb and paint its blood on their door. The Lord protected the Israelites from death by passing over their doors and would not “allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down” (Ex. 12:23).

In the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7), Paul connects the resurrected Christ to Passover. He refers to Jesus as the paschal lamb who has been sacrificed for his people’s salvation. Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples during Passover, so it makes sense that the Feast of the Resurrection is connected with the Jewish holiday. Today, Christians celebrate the “Paschal mystery.”

So, where did the word “Easter” come from? The exact origin of the word “Easter” is unclear. It’s not as simple as saying it has religious origins or pagan origins.

Some historians suggest that it came from the phrase hebdomada alba, Latin for “white week,” used to describe the white garments new Christians wore when they were baptized during Holy Week. In Old German, the word became esostarum and, eventually, Easter.

The Venerable Bede, a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon historian also known as Saint Bede, writes that the word Easter comes from the Anglo-Saxon dawn goddess of fertility Eostre, also the goddess of the dawn, who originated in what is now Scandinavia. Over time, early Christians started referring to the Feast of the Resurrection by the name of the month in which it was celebrated—Eosturmonath (what we now call April).

Alternatively, Easter may have from an old German word for “east,” which in turn is derived from a Latin word for “dawn.” In the past, the word easter could mean “to turn toward the east” or “rising” and didn’t necessarily have any implied religious meaning. (Note: It was the Germans who invented the “Easter Bunny” who visited “good” children’s homes, much like they invented Santa Claus.)

Bottom line, no one knows the etymological origins of the word, “Easter.” It is one of the oldest Old English words.

In the end, it is unimportant whether Easter comes from the goddess of the dawn or the Latin word for dawn. In whatever language, Easter today is a Christian holiday to celebrate Christ’s resurrection—and the reminder that death brings life.



Traditional Easter dishes include seasonal produce as well as symbols of spring such as lamb, ham, eggs, asparagus, spring peas, hot cross buns and sweet breads, and a carrot cake.



From all the Editors here at The Old Farmer’s Almanac, we wish you a Happy Easter and a joyous spring season!


Updated on April 18, 2019




By Catherine Boeckmann

From lilies to lambs, there are many beautiful Easter symbols that have significance to us. But do you know why? The origin of the Easter egg is based on ancient fertility lore. The Easter bunny tradition came from the Germans (similar to Santa Claus). And then there are the Easter foods! Understand the symbolism and how Easter traditions began—some table talk for your Easter dinner.

Easter is the most important feast day in the Christian church, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The feast day is “movable” and always falls on the first Sunday after the first full Moon after the spring equinox … sort of.


When you think of Easter—whether you’re religious or not—which family traditions come to mind? We decorate homes with colored Easter eggs, put out baskets for the Easter bunny, gift Easter lilies, and even eat traditional foods, from lamb to ham to special sweet breads.

The history of Easter symbols is really quite interesting. It’s not as simple as saying whether they are pagan or Christian; history is a rich and beautiful tapestry woven through the ages.


The oval-shape egg has been a universal symbol in many religions across the millennia, symbolizing new life, rebirth, and fertility.

According to The Easter Book by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., “[t]he origin of the Easter egg is based on the fertility lore of the Indo-European races. To our pre-Christian ancestors, it was a most startling event to see a new and live creature emerge from a seemingly dead object. The egg to them became a symbol of spring. Long ago in Persia, people used to present each other with eggs at the spring equinox, which for them also marked the beginning of a new year.”

In Judaism, eggs are an important part of the Passover seder plate. For some Christians, the egg symbolizes the rock tomb out of which Christ emerged to the new life of his Resurrection. Also, there was a practical reason eggs that became popular on Easter: They were forbidden during the 40 days of Lent. However, chickens still laid eggs, so they were often collected and decorated.

In most countries, the eggs are stained in plain vegetable dye colors. Among Orthodox Christians, the faithful present each other with crimson eggs in honor of the blood of Christ. In parts of Eastern Europe, it’s tradition to create intricate designs on the egg with wax or twine before coloring. Called pysanki, these special eggs are saved from year to year like symbolic heirlooms and can be seen seasonally in Ukrainian shops. In Germany and other countries, the eggs are pierced and made hollow so that they can be suspended from shrubs and trees during Easter Week—much like on a Christmas tree.

Of course, many countries have egg hunts and games, too. Plastic eggs are often filled with candy treats, since it’s the end of Lent. Every year in Washington, D.C., there is an egg-rolling party on the lawn of the White House. This custom is traced back to Sunday School picnics and parades at Easter in the years before the Civil War. At these picnics, the children amused themselves with various games, and egg-rolling was one of them.


Easter comes during spring and celebrates new life. Which springtime animals better represent fertility than the rabbit or the hare, which produce so many offspring?

The rabbit symbolism had its origin in pre-Christian fertility lore, while the hare was the Egyptian symbol of fertility. The ancient Greeks thought that rabbits could reproduce as virgins, and in the early medieval times, the rabbit became associated with the Virgin Mary and commonly appeared in medieval art.

However, the “Easter Bunny,” who visits children on Easter morning, was an invention of German Protestants; the Osterhase or “Easter Hare,” brought eggs and sweets to “good children,” in the same way that Santa Claus brought gifts to well-behaved youngsters.

The Easter Hare played this Santa Claus–like role at the start of the Easter season, judging whether or not children had been obedient to their parents. The symbolism is not particularly religious, but we can be reasonably certain that the Lutherans of long ago were not intending to teach their children about fertility. Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny is something fun to do with the kids.

The Easter Bunny followed German immigrants to the American colonies in the 18th century, and the folklore spread across the United States. Initially, children fashioned nests for their Easter Bunnies out of bonnets, hats, or boxes, and this became the colorful Easter basket that we use today!


Among the popular Easter symbols, the lamb is by far the most significant of this great feast. The lamb is said to symbolize Jesus, as it embodies purity and goodness, but also represents sacrifice.

The lamb was a sacrifice made during the Jewish Passover, which is a holiday celebrating when the “angel of death” passed over the homes of those who had sacrificial lamb’s blood smeared on their doorposts, sparing the firstborn sons. Roasted lamb shanks are an important part of the Passover seder plate; roasted leg of lamb is popular for Easter in Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece.

Jesus was crucified during Passover week and then made the ultimate sacrifice, his life. He is referred to in the Bible as the “Lamb of God” and “our Passover lamb.” During Easter, we celebrate Jesus’ passover from death to life.

The oldest prayer for the blessing of lambs can be found in the 7th-century sacramentary (ritual book) of the Benedictine monastery in Bobbio, Italy. Two hundred years later, Rome had adopted it, and thereafter the main feature of the Pope’s Easter dinner for many centuries was roast lamb. After the 10th century, in place of the whole lamb, smaller pieces of meat were used.

Photo by stockcreations/Shutterstock

The ancient tradition of the Paschal lamb also inspired among the Christians the use of lamb meat as a popular food at Eastertime, and at the present time it is eaten as the main meal on Easter Sunday in many parts of eastern Europe. Sometimes, families will bake a lamb centerpiece made of butter, pastry, or sugar; this is often substituted for meat on Easter.


Since we’re talking about the Easter Lamb, let’s not forget the Easter ham. It is an age-old custom, handed down from pre-Christian times, to eat the meat of this animal on festive occasions, feast days, and weddings.

The pig is an ancient symbol of good luck and prosperity. In some German popular expressions, the word “pig” is synonymous with “good luck” (Schwein haben, i.e., “to have a pig”). In Hungary, the highest card (ace) in card games is called “pig” (disznó). Not too long ago, it was fashionable for men to wear little figures of pigs as good luck charms on their watch chains. More recently, charm bracelets for teenagers contained dangling pigs. Savings boxes for children in the figure of a pig (piggy banks) carry out the ancient symbolism of good luck and prosperity.

Smoked or cooked hams, as well as lamb, have been eaten by most European nations from ancient times and is the traditional Easter dish from coast to coast in this country. Roast pork is another traditional main dish in some countries.


Sweet breads are also a tradition, especially with the arrival of the end of Lent. For Christians, the resurrected Christ is called, “the bread of life” (John 6:35), in whom believers will find their daily spiritual sustenance.

In Russia and Austria, the sweet breads are often marked with a cross or image of a lamb. In Germany, the Easter bread is baked in loaves of twisted or braided strands(Osterstollen). Another kind of Austrian Easter bread is the Osterlaib (Easter loaf), a large, flat, round loaf marked with the cross or an image of the lamb. In Poland and other countries, too, there is a special cake called the Easter baba (Baba Wielkanocna).

In Greece, the traditional Easter bread is baked with a red-dyed egg on top, covered with two strips of dough in the form of a cross.

In Italy, the Easter bread is braided with eggs, symbolizing new life.


Hot cross buns, hot cross buns! Traditionally, this delicious sweet bun was served on Good Friday prior to Easter. Good Friday marks the end of Lent and is the day that Jesus died on the cross. The sweet bun is marked with a cross to help the bread rise and as a visible sign that the bread was “blessed.”


The magnificent Easter lily, with its sheer white petals, symbolizes life, purity, innocence, joy, and peace. The beautiful white flowers of the lily were connected with these traits well before Jesus Christ. Many ancient allegories connect the flower with motherhood. One fable tells us that the lily sprang from the milk of Hera, the mythological Queen of Heaven. This may explain why the lily is so closely associated with Mary in Roman Catholic tradition.

In early paintings, the Angel Gabriel is seen handing a bouquet of white lilies to the Virgin Mary. In other paintings, the saints are bringing vessels full of lilies to Mary and the baby Jesus. It is said that beautiful white lilies sprang up in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus wept in the last hours before he was betrayed by Judas. The lilies sprang up where drops of Christ’s sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow.

The lilies from Christ’s time were not the Easter lily that we know today (Lilium longiflorum), which is native to the southern islands of Japan and now cultivated in areas such as California and Oregon. The lilies in Jesus’ area were wild lilies of the valleys and fields. Still, our Easter lily serves as a reminder of the lilies mentioned frequently throughout the Bible. Easter lilies grace homes and churches each spring as a symbol of new life.

There are many other purely religious symbols that are related to the Lenten season: marking the forehead with ashes on Ash Wednesday, waving palms on Palm Sunday, and the symbolism of the crucifix (cross) on which Jesus died.

We wish you all a very Happy Easter!

–The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Holidays Around the World for April 21: Salzburg Easter Festival

Salzburg Easter Festival

Easter Festival (Osterfestspiele)

Begins between March 15 and April 18 and ends between March 22 and April 26; Palm Sunday through Easter Monday

Salzburg’s Easter Festival was founded by the famous conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) in 1967 to honor the works of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), and it remains one of Europe’s most elite and elegant music festivals. Those who attend pay top prices, but in return they get to hear some of the world’s greatest performers. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is the festival’s resident ensemble, and the chorus of the Vienna State Opera or the Choir of the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna perform the choral works. Von Karajan himself conducted all of the concerts, which include the works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), until his death in 1989. Now various conductors are invited. A full-scale opera is performed twice during each nine-day festival in the Grosses Festspielhaus (large festival hall), which is known for its unique acoustics and seats more than 2,000.

Salzburg Easter Festival
Herbert von Karajan Platz 9
Salzburg, A-5020 Austria
43-662-8045-361; fax: 43-662-8045-790
MusFestEurBrit-1980, p. 20

This Day in History, April 21: Brazilian Patriot Tiradentes Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered (1792)

Brazilian Patriot Tiradentes Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered (1792)

Joaquim José da Silva Xavier ([ʒwaˈkĩ ʒuˈzɛ dɐ ˈsiwvɐ ʃɐviˈɛʁ]), known as Tiradentes (August 16, 1746–-April 21, 1792, IPA: [tʃiɾɐˈdẽtʃis]), was a leading member of the Brazilian revolutionary movement known as the Inconfidência Mineira whose aim was full independence from the Portuguese colonial power and to create a Brazilian republic. When the plan was discovered, Tiradentes was arrested, tried and publicly hanged. Since the 19th century he has been considered a national hero of Brazil and patron of the Polícia Militar de Minas Gerais (Minas Gerais Military Police).

Family and early occupation
Born to a poor family in a farm in Pombal, Ritápolis, near to São João del Rey, Minas Gerais, Tiradentes was adopted by his godfather and moved to Vila Rica (now Ouro Preto) after the deaths of his parents (mother in 1755; father in 1757).

Tiradentes was raised by a tutor, who was a surgeon. His lack of formal education didn’t stop him from working in several fields, including dental medicine; Tiradentes means “tooth puller”, a pejorative denomination adopted during the trial against him. He practiced several professions — cattle driver, miner, dentist — and was a member of the Regimento dos Dragões de Minas Gerais militia. As Tiradentes was not a member of the local aristocracy, he was systematically overlooked for promotion and never rose above the rank of alferes (2nd lieutenant). Read more….