Problems and Plans: With the Fifth Army in firm possession of lodgment, Operation AVALANCHE moved into its second phase: the capture of Naples. Once captured and transformed into a logistical base, Naples would have to be made secure. This the Fifth Army would do by advancing twenty-five miles beyond Naples to the Volturno River, which was far enough beyond the city to provide protection against hostile attack, infiltration, artillery fire, and raids.! Before the invasion, Allied planners had given some thought to the idea of capturing Naples by driving across the Italian peninsula from the heel, a maneuver the road net would have facilitated. But now the Fifth and Eighth Armies, co-ordinated by the 15th Army Group, would move up the boot of Italy abreast, their first objectives, respectively, Naples and the airfields around Foggia.
As early as 17 September, when General Alexander suspected the impending German withdrawal from the Salerno beachhead, he passed along some thoughts to guide his subordinate commanders on future operations. His ideas differed from those advanced by Allied planners a month before the invasion.
Then, the Allies had expected the Germans to hold tenaciously to Naples and Foggia. But now Alexander guessed that they would be unable to retain Naples for long because of their need to withdraw to the north to shorten their lines of communication. Nor would they, he estimated, be able to preserve control over Foggia because of their lack of strength in Apulia. Thus, General Clark and General Montgomery could start immediately toward their objectives, even though a pause would probably occur somewhere in the process to allow bringing up additional supplies and troops necessary to complete the advances.
While Fifth Army was bringing the battle of Salerno to a close, Eighth Army was consolidating its forces along the eastern shore of the peninsula. When the 1st British Airborne Division, ashore at Taranto on 9 September and beyond Bari two days later, made contact on its left with the 1st Canadian Division coming up from Calabria, the meeting represented the first step in bringing together the SLAPSTICK and BAYTOWN troops. The 5 Corps headquarters came ashore at Taranto on 18 September and made ready to receive at Bari both the 78th British Division, expected from Sicily in the next few days, and the 8th Indian Division, due to arrive from Egypt in the next few weeks. By 19 September, the 13 Corps had the 1st Canadian and 5th Divisions moving into the Auletta and Potenza areas and coming abreast of the Fifth U.S. Army.
Although only about 8,000 men of the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) opposed Eighth Army on the approaches to Foggia, Montgomery was unable to advance rapidly. The distance of his units from the Calabrian ports of Reggio and Crotone caused him serious logistical problems, and the tasks of switching his logistical base from Calabria to the Adriatic ports and of regrouping his forces required time.
General Montgomery organized his immediate operations into two parts. He would capture the Foggia airfields, then cover them by seizing ground about forty miles beyond-the hills north and west of the Foggia plain and the lateral Vinchiaturo-Termoli road running along the Biferno River. These operations would get under way in the last days of September. The Germans, for their part, were reexamining their original strategy of delaying the Allies in southern and central Italy until they could construct a strong defensive line in the Northern Apennines.
In consonance with the original concept, Kesselring, on the day after the Salerno landings, had drawn on a map a series of successive lines across the Italian peninsula suitable as delaying positions. A few days later, having mastered his temporary difficulties with the Italians around Rome, he began to consider the possibility of going over to the defensive altogether somewhere south of Rome. One of the lines he had drawn was through Mignano, about fifty miles north of Naples and ninety miles south of Rome; this line, sometimes called the Reinhard Line, more often referred to as the Bernhard Line, offered excellent ground for defensive works. A dozen miles north of Mignano, the terrain around Cassino, to be known as the Gustav Line, provided an even better prospect for prolonged defense. If Tenth Army could gain enough time for Kesselring to construct fortifications along these lines, Kesselring might be able to halt the Allies far below the Northern Apennine position. Fighting the Allied forces below Rome had certain obvious strategic and tactical advantages. In addition, it would preserve the integrity and independence of Kesselring’s command, for otherwise his forces would go under Rommel. The final decision on whether to defend below Rome rested, of course. with Hitler. Until he made his decision, the original plan of withdrawal remained in effect. Instructing Vietinghoff to retire slowly to the Volturno River, Kesselring directed him to hold there until at least 15 October in order to allow time to construct defensive positions on the next line farther to the north.
Withdrawing to any defensive line across the entire Italian mainland meant that Vietinghoff had to bring the 1st (Fallschirmjäger) Parachute Division north to align it with the troops on the west coast. Since OKW refused to release troops from northern Italy to reinforce the paratroopers in the Foggia area, he instructed Heidrich, the division commander, to fight a nominal delaying action as he withdrew. The first good line on which to anchor a withdrawal even temporarily was the Biferno River, just north of Foggia.
More ticklish was the job of withdrawing from close contact with the Allied divisions in the Salerno beachhead. Not only did Vietinghoff have to break off operations without exposing himself to immediate pursuit, but in accordance with Kesselring’s order he had to withdraw very slowly. At the same time, he had to extend his front across the Italian mainland to link up with the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division. Vietinghoff settled the conduct of these operations on 17 September. Estimating that the dispersal of the Eighth Army had left Montgomery incapable of exerting strong pressure for several days, he decided to retain the bulk of his strength on the right (west) opposite the Fifth Army. These right flank forces, holding the Sorrento peninsula as pivot for a wheeling withdrawal, would enable him to evacuate the large supply dumps in and around Naples and to destroy the harbor and supply installations useful to the Allies.
As Vietinghoff planned to deploy his units under the XIV Panzer Corps to the west and the LXXVI Panzer Corps to the east, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division began to disengage on 17 September for withdrawal northeast and north behind strong rear guards. The 26th Panzer Division broke contact with the Allies two days later and fell back to the north from the Battipaglia area, also leaving strong rear guard forces. By the end of September, these two divisions, along with the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division, would be under the LXXVI Panzer Corps in the eastern part of the Italian peninsula.
The task of defending the pivot area devolved upon the XIV Panzer Corps, more specifically on the Hermann Gӧring Division, which controlled units of the 3rd and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions and two battalions of the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division. Vietinghoff transferred
the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division to the western portion of the Volturno line, not only to start constructing defensive positions but also to guard against Allied amphibious operations along the coast. He assembled the 16th Panzer Division, whose units were mixed with all the other divisions in the Salerno area, and sent it to the Volturno to prepare defenses in the difficult hill terrain near Capua.
For the conduct of operations between the Salerno beachhead and the Volturno River, Vietinghoff designated intermediate defensive lines and dates to denote the minimum time they were to be held by rear guard forces. Since the major task was to begin building field fortifications along the Volturno, he ordered that the Allied advance be delayed by a methodical destruction of all the lines of communication leading to the river. Kesselring was more than specific on the destruction he wanted. He directed Tenth Army to evacuate all rolling stock, trucks, buses, automobiles, and cables, and to dismantle and evacuate the war industry installations, including those manufacturing tools, typewriters, and accounting machines. The troops were to spare historic buildings, museums, churches, monasteries, and hospitals.
They were to demolish railroad sections, power plants, bridges, switch points, and water lines; to mine bridge approaches and roads; to destroy all transportation and communications facilities that could not be moved-harbor installations, docks and moles, radio and meteorological stations-water supplies and reservoirs, food supplies and storage centers, canning plants, breweries, and distilleries. Kesselring promised to send some demolition experts to help in the destruction, but if there were not enough to do the entire job, the army was to do the best it could.
The German intention to withdraw was apparent to Fifth Army intelligence officers, who noted the enemy “entrenching north of River Volturno and west of Capua.” The Allies expected the Germans to withdraw by pivoting on Salerno; to hold firm in the areas north of Salerno and Vietri; and to be well dug in near Nocera in order to block the road to Avellino and Foggia. Although strong opposition had been anticipated on the direct approaches to Naples, air reconnaissance reports indicated extremely heavy traffic going north into the interior. Of the different courses the enemy might adopt, it seemed most likely that he would choose to delay the Allied advance by what was termed “offensive-defensive tactics” at various locations. The pattern of motor movements, the German dislike of giving up ground, and a critical need for troops in other areas, which made reinforcement of southern Italy seem impractical, bolstered the Allied estimate.
Hoping for an opportunity to seize Naples quickly-for example, should the enemy front collapse suddenly, or the Allies make a decisive breakthrough General Clark had held a regimental task force of the 36th Division in readiness for a swift thrust on the right flank to Benevento, thirty miles north of Salerno. This giant step was designed to outflank Naples and cut the communications east of the city while avoiding a fight through the narrow, readily defended passes of the Sorrento ridge. But almost from the first it became all too apparent that the Fifth Army drive north from Salerno was destined to be slow.
General Clark called a conference of major commanders and key staff officers on 18 September to discuss future plans. All were soon agreed that the few available roads dictated in large measure what Fifth Army could do. The 10 Corps would have to fight through the two major mountain passes to the Naples plain, where General McCreery might commit armor to capture Naples and drive north to the Volturno. The VI Corps would have to make a flanking movement through the mountains on the right, use the two roads in its zone to cut the east-west highway, Route 7, from Naples through Avellino to Teora, and keep contact with Eighth Army on the right.
This was what General Clark ordered. Placing the 82nd Airborne and 36th Divisions in army reserve, the 36th prepared for commitment, if necessary, against Naples, he instructed the 10 Corps to make the main effort to secure the Vietri-Nocera and Salerno-San Severino passes and push on to the plain for a drive on Naples, while the VI Corps plunged into the interior with two divisions to seize the Ave Uino-Montemarano-Teora line. General Alexander imposed one restriction: Fifth Army was to keep its right flank in close touch with the Eighth Army. The rate of the British army advance would thus determine in part the speed of American progress.
The Flanking March
The new VI Corps operation started on 20 September, when General Middleton’s 45th Division on the right, already through Eboli , moved toward Oliveto, ten miles away, and General Truscott’s 3rd Division began to move through Battipaglia toward Acerno, a dozen miles distant. On that day Major General John P. Lucas took command of the VI Corps. He had commanded the 3rd Division at Fort Lewis, Washington, had been a War Department observer in North Africa early in 1943, and had commanded III Corps at fort McPherson, Georgia. In May 1943, sent by General Marshall to North Africa again , this time to help General Eisenhower keep in touch with the com bat troops, General Lucas became in Eisenhower’s words, his “American Deputy.” Characterized by Marshall as having “military stature, prestige, and experience,” Lucas in early September replaced General Bradley as commander of II Corps in Sicily. From there he went to the Salerno beachhead.
General Lucas was a firm believer in making maximum use of artillery to speed his advance and reduce American casualties. But artillery could not solve his problems north of Salerno. The German delaying forces proved elusive in the mountainous terrain of the VI Corps zone, ground penetrated only by secondary roads with steep grades, innumerable switchbacks, and bridges difficult to bypass. Although resistance was not always strong or stubborn, the German delaying action was exceptionally well organized. Machine guns and small artillery emplacements were cleverly concealed, and units in the rear and on higher ground protected them by small arms fire. To advance, American infantry had to work slowly up the slopes and outflank the rear guard detachments.
By then the Germans had usually broken contact and withdrawn to the next prepared delaying position. The 3rd and 40th Divisions on 21 September ran into opposition that held up their advance guards for a day. A destroyed bridge covered by riflemen and machine gunners stationed on the opposite side of a gorge stopped the 3rd Division just south of Acerno. and it took cross-country marches through the mountains for the leading regiment to disperse the enemy and occupy the town. Similarly, before the advance regiment of the 15th Division could take Oliveto, it had to outflank positions defending the town and mount an organized assault.
Relying heavily on demolitions to delay the Americans, the Germans destroyed more than twenty-five bridges between Paestum and Oliveto. To repair the bridges or construct bypasses was time consuming, even with the invaluable Bailey bridge-“a knock-down steel bridge Which is put together like a boy’s E rector Set and is then pushed out across the span to be bridged.” Any hope for a rapid advance soon faded, although the engineers, on whom a great part of the burden of the advance fell, performed epic feats. “There was no weapon more valuable than the engineer bulldozer,” 2nd Lieutenant Ernest Childers, though he had fractured his instep, led eight men up a hill near Oliveto toward two German machine gun positions; while his men covered his advance, he crawled to one and destroyed it with a grenade, then crawled to the other, where he threw rocks until the gunners raised their heads. whereupon he killed them with rifle fire. Corporal James D. Slaton, lead scout of an infantry squad. eliminated three machine gun positions with bayonet, rifle fire. and a grenade. There by making it possible for two assault platoons to advance to objectives near Oliveto. Both Childers and Slaton were awarded the “Medal of Honor.” General Truscott later wrote, “no soldiers more effective than the engineerswho moved us forward.”
The American mechanized forces for the most part fought the terrain rather than the enemy. The high, steep banks along the narrow roads prevented proper deployment of vehicles; canals, irrigation ditches, and streams hindered movement; thick foliage impeded visibility; and debris from shelled buildings blocked the narrow streets in the villages. As a result, the artillery, tank destroyers, and tanks were often a liability rather than an asset.
Battle became a matter of infantry maneuver by small units operating with a minimum of support. The normal method of advance was by regiment, along a road, with a small advance party on foot accompanied by a few vehicles transporting weapons, ammunition, and communications. The troops brushed aside light resistance. When halted by larger forces, usually defending at an obstruction, for example a demolished bridge, the regiment kept one battalion on the axis of advance to maintain contact and protect the deployment of artillery, while the other battalions took to the hills to outflank the enemy position.
When the enemy was dispersed and the site was clear of small arms fire, engineers removed any other obstacles and built a bypass or repaired the bridge. The advance then began again, generally with another regiment taking the lead.
It was difficult for some to understand why progress was so slow. Air force commanders, for example, were impatient because they wanted to establish air units on the fields in the Naples area. General Clark also showed impatience, for he looked to VI Corps to outflank Naples and loosen the German hold on the port area. “Absolutely essential,” he told General Lucas on 24 September, “that they [Middleton and Truscott] continue full speed ahead in order to influence decisively our attack on Naples.” Not much could be done. The same problems hampered progress beyond Ceerno and Oliveto on the roads, respectively, to Montemarano and Teora. The terrain channeled mechanized movements to the few narrow roads. Bridging material became critically short. The delaying actions of only a few German detachments slowed the advance out of all proportion to the number of German troops actually involved. The additional requirement imposed on the 45th Division, to keep contact on the right with the Eighth Army, also retarded the advance by making necessary extensive patrolling on the flank.
Keeping supplies flowing to the front became a nightmare. For example, in advancing beyond Acerno, the 3rd Division had two regiments in column, the leading one attacking along the road, while the men of the third regiment moved on foot across trackless mountains. To keep the third regiment supplied with food and ammunition, General Truscott had his engineers cut a trail for pack animals, no mean achievement. Fortunately, the division had formed a provisional pack train in Sicily and had brought its mules and drivers to the mainland.
When it was apparent that mules would be necessary to insure supply movements, General Clark began to look into the possibility of obtaining pack animals for the other Fifth Army divisions, which required a minimum of 1,000 animals. Only a few were available [rom local sources and from Sicily and North Africa. As divisions scoured the countryside for enough animals to organize pack train units of 300 to 500 beasts per division, corps and army headquarters requested overseas shipments from the United States. Equipment and feed for the animals were additional requirements hard to come by. Within a month, however, even though the Germans had slaughtered mules they could not take with them, each Fifth Army division had acquired a collection of nondescript beasts of burden, as well as gear of all descriptions-shoes, nails, halters, and saddles. Soldiers who knew how to take care of the animals became precious assets.
From the vantage point of the corps headquarters, General Lucas thought operations were going well-so well that he looked forward to fighting in more open country where he could use tanks. He found the dust on the roads a “terrible problem,” but probably, he philosophized, no worse than rain and mud.
Part of the 34th Division was becoming available for commitment between the 3rd and 45th Divisions, but Lucas was unable to see how he could possibly employ additional troops-how could he supply two divisions over one available road?
General Lucas’ outlook suddenly changed on 26 September-“everything has gone to hell,” he wrote in his diary. The road in front of the 3rd Division was blocked by three destroyed bridges, one go feet long, one 85 feet long, the third 125 feet long. Yet here too Lucas could see the silver lining-at least the infantry would get some rest while engineers repaired the damage.
General Clark visited General Lucas on the morning of 26 September to tell him he wanted Avellino. About twenty miles north of Salerno and twenty-five miles east of Naples, Avellino was on the main Foggia-Naples road. Seizure of Avellino, which Lucas called “the key to the situation,” would threaten to outflank the German defenders of Naples.
Since the 3rd Division would have to fight across roadless mountains to get to Avellino, Lucas tried to get part of the 34th Division forward. If the 133rd Infantry, which was ashore in its entirety, could reach the front that night, perhaps it could get within immediate striking distance of Avellino. And that, as Lucas understood the situation, would take the pressure off the British who were attacking through the Sorrento ridge and “seem rather badly stuck.”
The 34th Division commander, General Ryder, had lunch with General Lucas on the 26th and they discussed the complicated arrangements required to move the 133rd Infantry forward. The regiment, using only blackout lights, would have to travel over a narrow mountain road on a dark night, through thick dust, while supply trucks were using the same road to go in the opposite direction; it would then have to pass through the 45th Division. If the 133rd Infantry could reach Montemarano, the regiment could drive west along the main road toward Avellino and not only help the 3rd Division but also begin to threaten Naples from the east. What made the attempt particularly worthwhile was the fact that the 3rd and 45th Divisions had that day temporarily lost contact with the withdrawing Germans.
On the night of the 26th, despite a heavy rain that washed out several of the mountain bridges engineers had so laboriously constructed and also carried dirt and rocks down the mountains and across the roads in many places, the 133rd Infantry moved in seventy 2-1/2-ton trucks to an assembly area not far from Montemarano. One of the units in the regiment was the 100th Infantry Battalion, composed originally of Japanese Americans from Hawaii; it had replaced the 2nd Battalion of the 133rd Infantry, which remained in Algiers as AFHQ security guard.
While the regiment prepared on 27 September for commitment, the 45th and 3rd Divisions inched painfully forward over difficult ground to get into position for a converging attack on Avellino. To help the engineers, who were nearing exhaustion, General Lucas dispatched corps engineers to the division area. And to insure a flow of supply to the combat troops because he feared that more rain might wash out more bridges, he moved supply dumps well forward, far closer to the front than normal. On the immediate approaches to Avellino, the VI Corps re-established contact with the Germans on 28 September. The 3rd Division and 133rd Infantry prepared to assault the German defenses blocking entrance into the town. But when “it rained like hell all night,” the plans went awry. The roads became impassable. “Am running this thing on a shoestring,” General Lucas wrote in his diary, “and a thin little shoestring at that.”
When on 29 September General Alexander removed the restriction that had held the advance of the Fifth Army right flank to the progress of Montgomery’s Eighth Army, he gave General Clark another objective. “You should get Benevento early,” the army group commander directed. This objective, about fifteen miles north of Avellino, changed General Lucas’ plans. Sending the 3rd Division alone against Avellino, Lucas ordered the 133rd Infantry to cut the Avellino-Benevento highway and sent the 45th Division directly against Benevento itself.
While the 133rd Infantry and the 45th Division drove generally north, the 3rd Division on 30 September took Avellino, then turned westward toward 10 Corps. Truscott’s troops had just come through sixty miles of mountainous terrain and the men were tired, “but there can be no stopping to rest now.” German opposition was extremely light, sometimes nonexistent, evidence that the Germans were again retiring. Their hold on Naples had been loosened. and before they could dig in on new defenses, they had to be driven to the Volturno River.
The Main Effort
The main effort against Naples was carried by the British 10 Corps, which made a 2-day shift of forces to the left to mark the transition from the battle of the Salerno beachhead to the drive on Naples. By moving the 46th Division to Vietri and the 56th Division to Salerno, General McCreery relinquished the Battipaglia-Eboli area to the VI Corps and permitted the Americans to come abreast and start their flanking march through the mountains. He also placed his infantry divisions in position to attack through the two major passes of the Sorrento hill mass-the Vietri-Nocera and Salerno-San Severino roads. Once the infantry divisions were through the Sorrento barrier and on the Naples plain, he hoped to pass the 7th Armoured Division through the 46th at Nocera for the final strike toward NapIes. The U.S. Rangers on the left were to assist.
General McCreery had looked for a quick way of getting through the high ground of the Sorrento peninsula when the Germans retired from the Battipaglia area on 18 September and air reconnaissance showed definite German movement to the north. He thought he might be able to send the Rangers through a third and smaller pass, the Maiori-Pagani road through the Chiunzi pass. If the Rangers could secure Pagani, a suburb of Nocera, and could hold dominating ground nearby. they might open the Vietri pass for the 46th Division. With this in mind, McCreery attached to Darby’s command a mobile regimental force, the 2nd Armoured Brigade, which was to debouch on the plain of Naples for operations in conjunction with the troops emerging from the Nocera defile.
The Rangers had been considerably reinforced even before the attachment of the armored brigade. To the three Ranger battalions had been added a battalion of the 143rd Infantry, a battalion (less a company) of the 325th Glider Infantry, and tank, tank destroyer, artillery, and 4.2-inch mortar elements. On 20 September General Clark further attached to Darby’s command the rest of the glider regiment, a battalion (less a company) of the 504th Parachute Infantry, and additional artillery and signal troops. Darby thus had about 8,500 troops under his command.
Even with these reinforcements, Colonel Darby could only hold the ground he had already seized. Operating from positions over 4,000 feet high, where a good part of the command could do little more than carry rations and ammunition for the others, the Rangers were thinly spread over a large area on the precipitous slopes high above the Gulf of Salerno. Darby’s troops were less than three miles from Castellammare on the Gulf of Naples-on the northern shore of the Sorrento peninsula-but plans to attack and capture this port were shelved because of German strength.
Abandoning his hope for a quick penetration through the Chiunzi pass, General McCreery relied instead on power. The 46th Division would make the main effort on the Vietri-Nocera axis while the 56th Division launched a subsidiary attack along the Salerno-San Severino road and the reinforced Rangers engaged the Germans in the Nocera-Scafati area and reconnoitered river crossings near Scafati. The 7th Armoured Division was to pass through the 46th Division at Nocera and capture high ground near Pagani, earlier designated as a Ranger objective. When Clark talked to McCreery about continuing his advance to the Volturno even as he drove to Naples, he suggested that the Rangers, after helping to seize Naples, could police the city until relieved by the 82nd Airborne Division. which would then be responsible for restoring and maintaining order.
The 10 Corps attack jumped off at first light, 23 September. What happened in one pass had little effect on the action in the others. Only a few miles interposed between lines of departure and emergence onto the plain of Naples, but in the narrow defiles. flanked by steep hillsides. the Germans defended stubbornly. The 56th Division made hardly any progress. The 10th Division with very heavy artillery support. gained less than a mile. The Rangers moved forward very little.
After several days of attack, it became obvious that the 10 Corps would need reinforcement, and General Clark began to move units of the 82nd Airborne Division by truck and by landing craft to the Sorrento peninsula. Except for Company G, 325th Glider Infantry, which was occupying the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, the units of General Ridgway’s division in Italy were assembled on 26 September. Ridgway took control of the Rangers and all units attached to them; his forces totaled about 13,000 troops-including 600 Rangers, 1,700 men of the 23rd Armoured Brigade, and supporting personnel. He placed the forces in the eastern part of his division zone under Colonel Darby, the forces in the western part under Colonel James M. Gavin, who commanded the 505th Parachute Infantry. Ridgway’s first report indicated “no substantial contact” with the enemy.
With the mission of helping the 46th Division by seizing dominating ground in the Egidio-Sala area to permit the 23rd Armoured Brigade to debouch on the plain, Ridgway planned to attack on 27 September at dusk, This would give his troops all night to secure a bridgehead across a small mountain stream between Sala and Egidio, prepare bridges and fords, and get am on the plain around Pagani before daylight. If the attack started to move and needed additional impetus, a regiment of the 36th Division. which was being readied by General O’Daniel, was prepared to land at Torre Annunziata, a dozen miles south of Naples.
The amphibious hook proved unnecessary. Vietinghoff, who had established his first line across the Italian mainland, was pulling back to it according to schedule. On the night of 27 September, the 82nd Airborne Division jumped off, making its main effort through the Chiunzi pass. The troops met only light opposition and reached the Maples plain by morning. Their progress helped the 46th Division move three miles, Although the 46th was still several miles short of Nocera, the terrain was such that McCreery could commit the 7th Armoured Division through the infantry. With British tanks then approaching Nocera and American infantry of the VI Corps at this point threatening Vellino, the Germans fell back from San Severino and permitted the 56th Division to advance north from Salerno. On 28 September, the 23rd Armoured Brigade came through the Chiumi pass and made contact with the advance units of the armored division.
General McCreery directed the 7th Armoured Division to drive west and secure bridgeheads across the Sarno River at Scafati. Once across the river, the main body of the armored division, as to skirt Mount Vesuvius on the east and north and drive to the Volturno at Capua while the other elements and the 23rd Armoured Brigade took the coastal road to Naples. If the Germans had left Naples, the smaller force was to skirt the city on the east and drive north along the coast to the Volturno, leaving the occupation of Naples to the 82nd Airborne Division.
Opposition was scattered, but the westward drive toward Scafati and the Sarno River across the Naples plain, which was covered with fruit trees and had many villages, posed its problems. Confined to a single road, the 7th Armoured Division was extended over fifty-five miles. Unable to deploy satisfactorily, the tankers found it difficult to clear the villages and the thickly wooded country. When foliage covered tank turrets, the tankers became virtually blind. Concerned about traffic congestion, particularly at bridges. McCreery warned his commanders to keep their troops well in hand.
Early on 20 September the 7th Armoured Division seized the bridge at Scafati intact, although the other bridges across the Sarno had been destroyed. That day heavy rain and demolitions rather than active enemy opposition held back the armor. In order to bring up the tail of some 7,000 vehicles still in the Salerno area, the division constructed three bridges across the river. The roads, in the words of one report, became “literally packed” with traffic as the corps moved beyond the restricting barrier of the Sorrento hill mass. That evening patrols of the 23rd Armoured Brigade and American paratroopers swept past the ruins of Pompeii and entered Torre Annunziata.
General McCreery had planned to protect his right flank by holding back the 56th Division, once it was through the San Severino pass. But when the VI Corps took Avellino on 20 September and thereby cut the Salerno-Avellino highway, McCreery dispatched the entire division to the north.
A German rear guard held up the advance along the coastal road to Naples on the evening of 20 September but not for long. On the following clay, as opposition melted away, British troops went through the eastern outskirts of Naples and continued up the coastal road to the Volturno. The 82nd Airborne Division moved into Naples on 1 October, followed next day by the Rangers.
After meeting the U.S. 3rd Division on 2 October, the 56th Division swung northwest and together with the 7th Armoured Division, against decreasing resistance, marched through Caserta toward the Volturno River in the Capua area. Tanks and vehicles moved in closely packed columns. Three days later patrols were at the Volturno, and by 7 October the 10 Corps had closed to the river in strength.
By then the VI Corps was also at the Volturno. The 3rd Division had moved through Cancello and Maddaloni and patrols arrived at the river above Capua by 6 October. The 45th Division on 2 October had captured Benevento, which was by then no more than a mass of rubble smelling of the bodies buried under the masonry. Crossing the damaged but usable Benevento bridge that had been seized by the 133rd Infantry, the 45th moved during the next few days toward the river. The 36th Division, having arrived in Italy in entirety, marched to Montesarchio in the rear of the 3rd Division; Lucas hoped to keep its presence hidden for the moment from the Germans.
By the end of the first week of October, the Fifth Army stood at the Volturno, with Naples and its satellite ports captured, the airfields of Capodichino and Pomigliano in hand. Holding a firm base “for further offensive operations,” General Clark hoped to get across the Volturno at once and continue into the next phase of the Italian campaign. When he talked with General Lucas on 3 October about future operations, he expected the 10 Corps to be pulled out soon for assignment to the Eighth Army, while the U.S. II Corps headquarters came from Sicily to operate in the coastal area. Clark decided that the VI Corps would remain in the mountainous interior of Italy: “You know how to fight in the mountains,” he told Lucas. Maybe he did, Lucas observed, but he had had all of it he wanted already.
Like Garibaldi, the Allies had needed three weeks to get to Naples; one more week and they were at the Volturno, bringing Operation AVALANCHE to an end. The cost of establishing a beachhead at Salerno, which had taken eleven days, of capturing Naples, which had required ten more days, and of advancing to the Volturno was more than 12,000 British and American casualties, of whom approximately 2,000 were killed, 7,000 wounded, and 3,500 missing.
The prize of the operation, the city of Naples, was utterly destroyed. Allied bombing had flattened industrial Naples into a mass of rubble and twisted girders. More systematically, the Germans, too, had taken their toll. They had destroyed or removed all transportation facilities, blasted communications installations, knocked out water and power systems, and broken open sewer mains. They had demolished bridges, mined buildings, fired stockpiles of coal, burned hotels and university buildings, looted the city, ripped lip the port railroads, and choked the harbor with sunken ships and the wreckage of port installations.
It would be no easy task to establish a military base in a shattered city inhabited by hungry, unemployed people. German artillery continued to shell Naples for several days after its capture; half the population of 800,000 had fled into the countryside and those remaining had had little food for nearly ten days. The Allies would need three months to restore city life to conditions approaching normal, somewhat less time to set up a military base.
The task of restoration belonged to the Fifth Army Base Section, which was re-designated at the end of October as the Peninsular Base Section. A logistical command formed to support Fifth Army operations, the base section moved into Naples on 2 October and functioned as an advance communications zone. Although the headquarters had somewhat fewer than 600 men, it eventually directed the administration and operations of more than 33,000 assigned and attached personnel.
AFHQ had provided shipments of food for the civilian population, but in order to get the ships unloaded and the supplies distributed, the city and port had first to be cleaned up. Two engineer regiments, the 540th and 343rd, assisted by Italian laborers, cleared the streets of obstructions at more than two hundred separate locations, mended breaks in the sewers at some fifty places, and repaired the Napoleonic aqueduct, the major source of water for the city. In mid-October three Italian submarines put in and anchored at Naples to give power for pumping water in an ingenious scheme that used a trolley substation as another part of the improvised system.
In the midst of the work, a delayed fuze bomb exploded in the post office around noon, 7 October, killing and injuring about 35 soldiers and an equal number of civilians. Four days later an exploding bomb or mine in an Italian Army barracks occupied by members of the 82nd Airborne Division killed 18 men and injured 50. Beginning on 21 October, a series of German air raids struck the city. Although the air attacks were neither frequent nor particularly severe, they inflicted casualties on both troops and civilians.
By far the largest task was rehabilitating the port, which had sustained the worst destruction. Thirty major wrecks were visible in the Naples harbor, but beneath the surface the hulls of more than a hundred scuttled and sunken ships ranging in size from small harbor craft to large ocean-going liners blocked the wharfs-destroyers, tankers, tugs, sloops, corvettes, trawlers, floating cranes, tank barges. Most of the vessels had been reduced to junk before sinking. On top of them the Germans had piled lighters, cranes, locomotives, trucks, loads of ammunition, oxygen bottles, and small arms. Of seventy-three electric cranes at dockside, only one remained standing and that was badly damaged. Charges exploded under the pier cranes had blown them into the harbor and smashed the quay walls. The piers and wharves had been turned into a mass of twisted steel and debris. Harbor warehouses, grain elevators, office buildings, and railroad facilities had been dynamited into piles of ruin. Huge mountains of coal were burning.
It took three days just to extinguish the fires burning in the piles of coal. Meanwhile, Army engineers cleared passages from the city to the piers, bulldozing alleys to gain access to the port. They repaired railroads and opened truck routes. With dynamite, bulldozer, crane, and shovel, they filled craters, hacked roads through debris, cleared docks, and leveled buildings for storage space. On the fifth day of work, the first engine ran from the railroad yard along the main line of the port to Pier A.
During the same period of time, American and British naval groups were dragging mines and wreckage from the waterways and cleaning the piers to make them accessible from the ocean side. Divers, hampered by thick fuel oil covering the water, floating wreckage, and submerged cranes, worked on the underwater obstacles, while naval salvage crews removed the smaller sunken craft in order to open passageways to berthing spaces for ships waiting outside the harbor to be discharged. Larger vessels that had been scuttled adjacent to piers were left in place, and the piers were extended across the wrecks with steel and wooden bridging to provide eventual berthing for 26 Liberty ships, 0 coasters, and 11 LST’s.
While rehabilitation and restoration continued, a fleet of DUKW’s brought supplies from transports anchored offshore. As early as 3 October, landing craft were docking at berths scattered throughout the port. On 1 October a Liberty ship pulled bow-to against a pier and unloaded front hatches, then backed out, turned, and came in stern first to complete unloading. Not long afterward, berths for Liberty ships, 6 for coasters, and 8 holding berths were opened.
Two weeks after the capture of Naples, the Allies were unloading 3,500 tons of cargo daily at the port, not quite half of the average 8,000 tons discharged per day before the war. By the end of October, with about 600 DUKW’s being used in port operations, Naples was receiving 7,000 tons daily. All American and some British supplies were coming into Naples, while additional items for 10 Corps were being unloaded at the satellite ports of Salerno, Torre Annunziata, and Castellammare. Discharging operations across the Salerno beaches were also providing cargo tonnages. Between 9 September and 1 October, more than 190,000 troops came ashore, around 30,000 vehicles were landed, and about 120,000 tons of supplies were unloaded by an average daily employment of 60 LCT’s, 30 LCM’s, and 150 DUKW’S. This success was achieved despite a violent, 2-day wind and rain storm starting during the night of 27 September, which stopped all unloading. During the storm all the LCI’s and LCVP’s in use, a total of 56, plus 21 LGT’s, 3 LST’s, and a merchant ship were driven ashore; 1 British LST’s, seeking shelter in un-cleared offshore waters were badly damaged by mines; and all of the double pontoon bridge unloading ramps were swamped.
Despite the remarkable and somewhat surprising tonnages un loaded over the beaches, in the satellite pons, and in the restored harbor of Naples, supply levels in the army dumps diminished. Ships at Naples, for example, were bursting with rations, but on 6 October the Fifth Army had only four days’ supply. Millions of cigarettes were awaiting discharge, but troops received only an occasional issue of tobacco. By 12 October, gasoline levels had Sunk to three days’ supply on hand. This condition came about because of the difficulty of transporting supplies to the forward areas. Demolitions at bridges and culverts, an inadequate road network.
and the limited use fullness of the railroads clogged the roads with traffic and overworked the limited number of trucks ashore. Repairing the railroad from Naples to Caserta took longer than anticipated, and not until mid-November was the line opened for traffic along the entire road. The Germans had also destroyed at Naples the petroleum storage tanks that had a capacity of 1 million barrels. They had ripped lip pipelines and turned unloading machinery into a mass of scrap iron. Thus, it was the end of October, after storage tanks capable of holding 100,000 barrels had been repaired, before tankers could unload directly into the storage facilities. Only then could work start on a pipeline from the port to the front.
By the end of October the Peninsular Base Section had rehabilitated the facilities in the Naples area to the extent that Fifth Army could anticipate with confidence firm logistical support for further operations.
On the other side of the Italian peninsula, Eighth Army had sent advance elements, with almost no enemy contact, to Foggia. which the Germans had abandoned on 27 September. By 1 October British troops were occupying Foggia and the nearby airfields.
To clear the Germans from the hills north and west of the Foggia plain and to reach the lateral Vinchiatnro-Termoli road near the Biferno River, General Montgomery sent 10 Corps beyond Foggia on a 2-division drive, the 78th Division moving on the coastal road to Termoli. the 1st Canadian Division striking inland through the mountains along the road to Vinchiattlro. The 5 Corps followed, protecting the west flank and the rear.
Since the 1st Parachute Division had withdrawn to the Birerno River. Where the paratroopers dug in, elements of the 78th Division had no trouble until they approached the river and reached the outskirts of Tennoli. There they met serious resistance. Launching a quick amphibious strike to secure the small port of Termoli, General Montgomery dispatched Commando forces, which were ferried by LCI (L) ‘s from Sicily, to the town. The Commandos gained surprise by landing during the night of 2 October and soon captured and cleared Termoli. However, their hold on the beachhead remained somewhat precarious until a brigade of the 78th Division came by water to Termoli on the following night.
The capture of Termoli invalidated the Biferno defensive line, and the enemy reaction was swift. The 16th Panzer Division rushed from the west coast, arrived at Termoli on 4 October, and counterattacked on the 4th, 5th, and 6th, striking not only the Termoli beachhead defenders but also the main British forces coming up the coastal road.
Flood waters of the river interfered with British bridging operations and prevented tanks and heavy supporting weapons from making firm contact with the beachhead. But on 7 October, when an additional brigade of the 78th Division was transported to Termoli by sea, the Germans disengaged and fell back to positions covering the Trigno River, the next natural line of defense. Logistical difficulties prevented an immediate British pursuit.
Meanwhile, after hard fighting in the mountains, the Canadians took Vinchiaturo. A paucity of supplies, particularly of gasoline. prevented further progress. Because the two divisions had advanced on divergent lines, General Montgomery reorganized his front on 9 October.
The 5 Corps took over the coastal area and assumed control not only of the 78th Division but also of the 8th Indian Division, which was assembling in the rear. The 13 Corps operated inland with the 1st Canadian Division and the 5th Division in column. The 2nd New Zealand Division, due to arrive in Taranto by mid-October, Montgomery decided to hold initially in army reserve.
By 11 October, with Eighth Army at Termoli and Vinchiaturo, the Foggia airfields were secure. As the air forces made ready to base heavy bombers on the fields for attacks against targets in Austria, southern Germany. and the Balkans, the invasion of southern Italy came to an end. With the Fifth Army standing at the Volturno River and the Eighth Army able to move beyond the Biferno toward the Trigno River, the Allies were on the Italian mainland to stay. The question of how far to go up the Italian peninsula was unclear debate.
SOURCE: SALERNO TO CASSINO; by Martin Blumenson (United States Army Center of Military History)