Spring 1945 offensive in Italy

Last updated
Spring 1945 offensive
Part of the Italian Campaign of World War II
The British Army in Italy 1945 NA24308.jpg
British troops of the 5th (Huntingdonshire) Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, part of 11th Brigade of 78th Division, pick their way through the ruins of Argenta, 18 April 1945.
Date6 April 1945 – 2 May 1945
Location
Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy and the Veneto regions, northern Italy
Result

Allied victory

Belligerents

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom

Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Polish Army
Flag of Brazil (1889-1960).svg  Brazil
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand
Flag of Italian Committee of National Liberation.svg Italian Resistance
Flag of South Africa (1928-1994).svg  South Africa
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg  Italy
and others
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
War flag of the Italian Social Republic.svg  Italian Social Republic
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Harold Alexander
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Richard McCreery
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Mark Clark
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Lucian Truscott
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg William Orlando Darby   [1]
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Heinrich von Vietinghoff   (POW)
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Traugott Herr   (POW)
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Joachim Lemelsen   (POW)
War flag of the Italian Social Republic.svg Benito Mussolini   Skull and Crossbones.svg
War flag of the Italian Social Republic.svg Rodolfo Graziani   (POW)
Strength

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg 15th Army Group [nb 1]

Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Army Group C 394,000 fighting strength [4] [nb 2]

Casualties and losses
16,258 casualties [nb 3]
incl. 2.860 killed [5]
30–32,000 casualties [nb 4]

The spring 1945 offensive in Italy, codenamed Operation Grapeshot, [6] was the final Allied attack during the Italian Campaign in the final stages of the Second World War. The attack into the Lombardy Plain by the 15th Allied Army Group started on 6 April 1945, ending on 2 May with the formal surrender of German forces in Italy.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the "United Nations" from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Italian Campaign (World War II) military campaign of World War II

The Italian Campaign of World War II consisted of Allied operations in and around Italy, from 1943 to 1945. The Joint Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) was operationally responsible for all Allied land forces in the Mediterranean theatre and it planned and led the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, followed in September by the invasion of the Italian mainland and the campaign in Italy until the surrender of the German Armed Forces in Italy in May 1945.

Lombardy Region of Italy

Lombardy is one of the twenty administrative regions of Italy, in the northwest of the country, with an area of 23,844 square kilometres (9,206 sq mi). About 10 million people, forming one-sixth of Italy's population, live in Lombardy and about a fifth of Italy's GDP is produced in the region, making it the most populous and richest region in the country and one of the richest regions in Europe. Milan, Lombardy's capital, is the second-largest city and the largest metropolitan area in Italy.

Contents

Background

The Allies had launched their last big offensive on the Gothic Line in August 1944, with the British Eighth Army (Lieutenant-General Oliver Leese) attacking up the coastal plain of the Adriatic and the U.S. Fifth Army (Lieutenant General Mark Clark) attacking through the central Apennine Mountains. Although they managed to breach the formidable Gothic Line defences, the Allies narrowly failed to break into the Po Valley before the winter weather made further progress impossible. The Allied forward formations spent the rest of the winter in highly inhospitable conditions while preparations were made for a spring offensive in 1945.

Gothic Line

The Gothic Line was a German defensive line of the Italian Campaign of World War II. It formed Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's last major line of defence along the summits of the northern part of the Apennine Mountains during the fighting retreat of the German forces in Italy against the Allied Armies in Italy, commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander.

Eighth Army (United Kingdom) army of the British Army during World War II, engaged in the North Africa Campaign

The Eighth Army was a field army formation of the British Army during the Second World War, fighting in the North African and Italian campaigns. Units came from Australia, British India, Canada, Free French Forces, Greece, New Zealand, Poland, Rhodesia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Lieutenant general, formerly more commonly lieutenant-general, is a senior rank in the British Army and the Royal Marines. It is the equivalent of a multinational three-star rank; some British lieutenant generals sometimes wear three-star insignia, in addition to their standard insignia, when on multinational operations.

Command changes

When Field Marshal Sir John Dill, the head of the British Mission in Washington, died on 5 November, Field Marshal Sir Maitland Wilson was appointed his replacement. General Harold Alexander, having been promoted to Field Marshal, replaced Wilson as Allied Supreme Commander Mediterranean on 12 December. Lieutenant General Mark Clark succeeded Alexander as commander of the Allied forces in Italy (renamed 15th Army Group) but without promotion. Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott the commander of the U.S. VI Corps from the Battle of Anzio and the capture of Rome to Alsace, having landed in the South of France during Operation Dragoon, returned to Italy to assume command of the Fifth Army.

Field Marshal has been the highest rank in the British Army since 1736. A five-star rank with NATO code OF-10, it is equivalent to an Admiral of the Fleet in the Royal Navy or a Marshal of the Royal Air Force in the Royal Air Force (RAF). A Field Marshal's insignia consists of two crossed batons surrounded by yellow leaves below St Edward's Crown. Like Marshals of the RAF and Admirals of the Fleet, Field Marshals traditionally remain officers for life, though on half-pay when not in an appointment. The rank has been used sporadically throughout its history and was vacant during parts of the 18th and 19th centuries. After the Second World War, it became standard practice to appoint the Chief of the Imperial General Staff to the rank on his last day in the post. Army officers occupying the post of Chief of the Defence Staff, the professional head of all the British Armed Forces, were usually promoted to the rank upon their appointment.

Sir is a formal English honorific address for men, derived from Sire in the High Middle Ages. Traditionally, as governed by law and custom, Sir is used for men titled knights i.e. of orders of chivalry, and later also to baronets, and other offices. As the female equivalent for knighthood is damehood, the suo jure female equivalent term is typically Dame. The wife of a knight or baronet tends to be addressed Lady, although a few exceptions and interchanges of these uses exist.

John Dill Army officer

Field Marshal Sir John Greer Dill, was a senior British Army officer with service in both the First World War and the Second World War. From May 1940 to December 1941 he was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), the professional head of the British Army, and subsequently in Washington, D.C., as Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission and then Senior British Representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS), played a significant role during the Second World War in the formation of the "Special Relationship" between the United Kingdom and the United States.

On 23 March Albert Kesselring was appointed Commander-in-Chief Army Group West, replacing General-Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. Heinrich von Vietinghoff returned from the Baltic to take over from Kesselring and Traugott Herr, the experienced commander of the LXXVI Panzer Corps took over the 10th Army. Joachim Lemelsen, who had commanded temporarily the 10th Army, returned to the command of the 14th Army.

Albert Kesselring German Luftwaffe Generalfeldmarschall during World War II

Albert Kesselring was a German Generalfeldmarschall of the Luftwaffe during World War II. In a military career that spanned both World Wars, Kesselring became one of Nazi Germany's most skilful commanders, and one of the most highly decorated, being one of 27 soldiers awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. Nicknamed "Smiling Albert" by the Allies and "Uncle Albert" by his troops, he was one of the most popular generals of World War II with the rank and file.

Gerd von Rundstedt German Field Marshal during World War II

Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a Field Marshal in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II.

Heinrich von Vietinghoff German general

Heinrich Gottfried Otto Richard von Vietinghoff genannt Scheel was a German general (Generaloberst) of the Wehrmacht during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. Vietinghoff commanded the German troops in German-occupied Italy in 1945.

Orders of battle

Allied manpower shortages continued; in October 1944, the 4th Indian Infantry Division had been sent to Greece and the British 4th Infantry Division had followed them in November, with the 139th Brigade of the British 46th Infantry Division. The rest of the division followed in December along with the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade. In early January 1945 the British 1st Infantry Division was sent to Palestine and at the end of the month the I Canadian Corps and British 5th Infantry Division were ordered to North West Europe, reducing the Eighth Army, now commanded by Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery, to seven divisions. Two other British divisions were to follow them to North-West Europe but Alexander was able to keep them in Italy.

4th Infantry Division (India) Indian Army combat formation

The 4th Indian Infantry Division, also known as the Red Eagle Division, is the infantry division name the Indian Army retained after the present India adopted its entire rank and structure from its parent Army, the British Army.

Greek Civil War 1946-1949 civil war in Greece

Τhe Greek Civil War was fought in Greece from 1946 to 1949 between the Greek government army — backed by the United Kingdom and the United States — and the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) — the military branch of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) — backed by Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria. It is often considered the first proxy war of the Cold War, although the Soviet Union avoided sending aid. The fighting resulted in the defeat of the DSE by the Hellenic Army. Founded by the Communist Party of Greece and supported by neighboring and newly founded Socialist States such as Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria, the Democratic Army of Greece included many personnel who had fought as partisans against German, Italian and Bulgarian occupation forces during the Second World War of 1939–1945.

4th Infantry Division (United Kingdom) British Army combat formation

The 4th Infantry Division was a regular infantry division of the British Army with a very long history, seeing active service in the Peninsular War, the Crimean War, the First World War, and during the Second World War. It was disbanded after the war and reformed in the 1950s as an armoured formation before being disbanded and reformed again and finally disbanded on 1 January 2012.

The U. S. Fifth Army had been reinforced between September and November 1944 with the 1st Brazilian Division and in January 1945 with the specialist U.S. 10th Mountain Division. [7] Allied strength amounted to 17 divisions and eight independent brigades (including four Italian groups of volunteers from the Italian Co-Belligerent Army, equipped and trained by the British), equivalent to just under 20 divisions. The 15th Army Group ration strength was 1,334,000 men, the Eighth Army having an effective strength of 632,980 men and the Fifth Army 266,883. [3] [2]

The Axis had 21 much weaker German divisions and four Italian Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (ENR) divisions with about 349,000 German and 45,000 Italian troops on 9 April. There were another 91,000 German troops on the lines of communication and the Germans commanded about 100,000 Italian police. [8] [4] Three of the Italian divisions were allocated to the Ligurian Army under Rodolfo Graziani guarding the western flank facing France and the fourth was with the 14th Army, in a sector thought less likely to be attacked. [9]

Plan of attack

Allied Spring Offensive April 1945: Note that 21 ID NZ is actually the 2nd New Zealand Division SpringOffensiveItaly1945.jpg
Allied Spring Offensive April 1945: Note that 21 ID NZ is actually the 2nd New Zealand Division

Clark set out his battle plan on 18 March. Its objective was "...to destroy the maximum number of enemy forces south of the Po, force crossings of the Po and capture Verona." [10] In Phase I the British Eighth Army would successively cross the Senio and Santerno rivers and then make a dual thrust, one towards Budrio parallel to the Bologna road, Route 9 (the Via Emilia) and the other north west along Route 16, the Via Adriatica, towards Bastia and the Argenta Gap, a narrow strip of dry terrain through the flooded land west of Lake Comacchio. An amphibious operation across the lake and parachute drop would bring pressure to bear on the flank and help to break the Argenta position. Depending on the relative success of these actions a decision would be made on whether Eighth Army's prime objective would become Ferrara, on the Via Adriatica, or remain Budrio. Meanwhile, it was intended for U.S. Fifth Army to launch the Army Group's main effort at 24 hours notice from two days after Eighth Army's attack and break into the Po valley. The capture of Bologna was given as a secondary task. [10]

In Phase II, the Eighth Army was to drive north west to capture Ferrara and Bondeno, blocking routes of potential retreat across the Po. U.S. Fifth Army was to push past Bologna north to link with Eighth Army in the Bondeno region to complete an encirclement of German forces south of the Po. The Fifth Army was also to make a secondary thrust further west towards Ostiglia, the crossing point on the Po of the main route to Verona. [11] Phase III involved the establishment of bridgeheads across the Po and exploitation north.

The Eighth Army plan (Operation Buckland) had to deal with the difficult initial task of getting across the Senio, with its raised artificial banks varying between 6 metres (20 ft) and 12 m (40 ft) in height, honeycombed with defensive tunnels and bunkers front and rear. V Corps were ordered to make an attack on the salient formed by the river into the Allied line at Cotignola. On the right of the river's salient was 8th Indian Infantry Division, reprising the role they played crossing the Rapido in the final Battle of Monte Cassino. To the left of the 8th Indian Division, on the left of the salient, the 2nd New Zealand Division would attack across the river to form a pincer. To the left of V Corps, on Route 9, the Polish II Corps would widen the front further by attacking across the Senio towards Bologna. The Poles had been desperately under strength in the autumn of 1944, but had received 11,000 reinforcements during the early months of 1945, mainly from Polish conscripts in the German Army taken prisoner in the Battle of Normandy the previous summer . [12]

Once across the Senio the assault divisions were to advance to cross the Santerno. Once the Santerno was crossed, British 78th Division would also reprise their Cassino role and pass through the bridgehead established by the Indians and New Zealanders and drive for Bastia and the Argenta gap, 23 kilometres (14 mi) behind the Senio, where the dry land narrowed to a front of only 5 km (3 mi), bounded on the right by Lake Comacchio, a huge lagoon running to the Adriatic coast, and on the left by marshland. At the same time British 56th Division would launch the amphibious flank attack along Lake Comacchio. On V Corps' left flank the New Zealand Division would advance to the left of the marshland on the west side of Argenta while the Indian Division would pass in Army Reserve. [13]

The Fifth Army plan (Operation Craftsman) envisaged an initial thrust by IV Corps along Route 64 to straighten the army front and to draw German reserves away from Route 65. II Corps would then attack along Route 65 towards Bologna. The weight of the attack would then switch westward again to break into the Po valley skirting Bologna. [14]

Battle

In the first week of April, diversionary attacks were launched on the extreme right and left of the Allied front to draw German reserves away from the main assaults to come. This included Operation Roast, an assault by British 2nd Commando Brigade and armour to capture the seaward isthmus of land bordering Lake Comacchio and seize Port Garibaldi on the lake's north side. Meanwhile, damage to other transport infrastructure having forced Axis forces to use sea, canal and river routes for re-supply, Axis shipping was being attacked in bombing raids such as Operation Bowler.

Men of the Jewish Brigade ride on a Churchill tank in the Mezzano-Alfonsine sector, 14 March 1945. The British Army in Italy 1945 NA23041.jpg
Men of the Jewish Brigade ride on a Churchill tank in the Mezzano-Alfonsine sector, 14 March 1945.

The build-up to the main assault started on 6 April with a heavy artillery bombardment of the Senio defenses. In the early afternoon of 9 April, 825 heavy bombers dropped fragmentation bombs on the support zone behind the Senio followed by medium and fighter bombers. From 15:20 to 19:10, five heavy artillery barrages were fired, each lasting 30 minutes, interspersed with fighter bomber attacks. In support of the New Zealand operations, 28 Churchill Crocodiles and 127 Wasp flamethrower vehicles were deployed along the front. [15] [16] The 8th Indian Division, 2nd New Zealand Division and 3rd Carpathian Division (on the Polish Corps front at Route 9) attacked at dusk. In fighting in which there were two Victoria Crosses won by 8th Indian Division members, they had reached the river Santerno, 5.6 km (3.5 mi) beyond, by dawn on 11 April. The New Zealanders had reached the Santerno at nightfall on 10 April and succeeded in making a crossing at dawn on 11 April. The Poles had closed on the Santerno by the night of 11 April. [17]

By late morning of 12 April, after an all night assault, the 8th Indian Division was established on the far side of the Santerno and the British 78th Division started to pass through to make the assault on Argenta. In the meantime the British 24th Guards Brigade, part of 56th (London) Infantry Division, had launched an amphibious flanking attack from the water and mud to the right of the Argenta Gap. Although they gained a foothold, they were still held up at positions on the Fossa Marina on the night of 14 April. 78th Battleaxe Division was also held up on the same day on the Reno River at Bastia.

5th Army offensive, April 1945 IVCorpsApr45.jpg
5th Army offensive, April 1945

The U.S. 5th Army began its assault on 14 April after a bombardment by 2,000 heavy bombers and 2,000 artillery pieces, with attacks by the troops of U.S. IV Corps (1st Brazilian, 10th Mountain, and 1st Armored Divisions) on the left. This was followed on the night of 15 April by U.S. II Corps striking with 6th South African Armoured and 88th Infantry Divisions advancing towards Bologna between Highway 64 and 65, and 91st and 34th Infantry Divisions along Highway 65. [18] Progress against a determined German defence was slow but ultimately superior Allied firepower and lack of German reserves told and by 20 April both corps had broken through the mountain defences and reached the plains of the Po valley. 10th Mountain Division were directed to bypass Bologna on their right and push north leaving U.S. II Corps to deal with Bologna along with Eighth Army units advancing from their right. [19]

By 19 April, on the Eighth Army front, the Argenta Gap had been forced, and British 6th Armoured Division was released through the left wing of the advancing 78th Division to swing left to race north west along the line of the river Reno to Bondeno and link up with the US 5th Army to complete the encirclement of the German armies defending Bologna. [20] On the same day, the Italian National Liberation Committee for Northern Italy, in command of the Italian resistance movement, ordered a general insurrection; in the following days, fighting between Italian partisan and German and RSI forces broke out in Turin and Genoa (as well as in many other towns across Northern Italy), while German forces prepared to withdraw from Milan. [21] On all fronts the German defense continued to be determined and effective, but Bondeno was captured on 23 April. The 6th Armoured Division linked with US IV Corps' 10th Mountain Division the next day at Finale some 5 miles (8.0 km) upstream along the river Panaro from Bondeno. Bologna was entered in the morning of 21 April by the Eighth Army's Polish II Corps' 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division and the "Friuli" Combat Group of the Italian Co-belligerent Army advancing up the line of Route 9, followed two hours later by US II Corps from the south. [22] On 24 April, Parma and Reggio Emilia were liberated by the partisans. [23]

U.S. IV Corps had continued their northwards advance and reached the river Po at San Benedetto on 22 April. The river was crossed the next day, and they advanced north to Verona which they entered on 26 April. To the right of Fifth Army on Eighth Army's left wing, British XIII Corps crossed the Po at Ficarolo on 22 April, while V Corps were crossing the Po by 25 April, heading towards the Venetian Line, a defensive line built behind the line of the river Adige. As Allied forces pushed across the Po, on the left flank the Brazilian, 34th Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions of IV Corps were pushed west and northwest along the line of Highway 9 towards Piacenza and across the Po to seal possible escape routes into Austria and Switzerland via Lake Garda. [24] [25] On 27 April, the 1st Armored Division entered Milan, liberated by the partisans on 25 April, and IV Corps commander Crittenberger entered the city on 30 April. [26] Turin was also liberated by partisan forces on 25 April, after five days of clashes, and on 27 April General Günther Meinhold surrendered his 14,000 troops to the partisans in Genoa. [27] To the south of Milan, at Collecchio-Fornovo, the Brazilian Division bottled up the remaining effectives of two German divisions along with the last units of fascist army, taking on 28 April 13,500 prisoners. [28]

On the Allied far right flank, British V Corps, met by lessening resistance, traversed the Venetian Line and entered Padua in the early hours of 29 April, to find that partisans had locked up the German garrison of 5,000. [29]

Aftermath

Secret surrender negotiations between representatives of the Germans and Western Allies had taken place in Switzerland (Operation Crossword) in March but had resulted only in protests from the Russians that the Western Allies were attempting to negotiate a separate peace.

On 28 April, von Vietinghoff sent emissaries to Allied Army headquarters. On 29 April, they signed an instrument of surrender to the effect that hostilities would formally end on 2 May. [29] Confirmation from von Vietinghoff of the arrangements did not reach Allied 15th Army Group headquarters until the morning of 2 May. It emerged that Kesselring had had his authority as Commander of the West extended to include Italy and had replaced von Vietinghoff with General Friedrich Schulz from Army Group G on hearing of the plans. However, after a period of confusion during which the news of Hitler's death arrived, Schulz obtained Kesselring's agreement to the surrender and von Vietinghoff was reinstated to see it through. [30]

See also

Notes

Footnotes
  1. Total army group strength including Lines of Communication and support troops totalled 1,333,856 [2]
  2. In addition the army group had 91,000 Lines of Communication and anti-aircraft troops and controlled a further 100,000 local police [4]
  3. From 9 April 1945 until the end of Operation Grapeshot, thus casualties exclude those suffered during the preliminary operations.
    5th Army: 7,965 casualties. American: 6,834 (1,288 killed, 5,453 wounded and 93 missing) casualties; South African: 537 (89 killed, 445 wounded and 3 missing) casualties; Brazilian: 594 (65 killed, 482 wounded and 47 missing) casualties.
    8th Army: 7,193 casualties. British: 3,068 (708 killed, 2,258 wounded and 102 missing) casualties; New Zealand: 1,381 (241 killed and 1,140 wounded) casualties; Indian: 1,076 (198 killed, 863 wounded and 15 missing) casualties; Colonial: 46 (11 killed and 35 wounded) casualties; Polish: 1,622 (260 killed, 1,355 wounded and 7 missing) casualties.
    Italians fighting with both armies: 1,100 (242 killed, 828 wounded and 30 missing) casualties. [5]
  4. British estimated around 30,000 casualties were inflicted upon the Axis forces during this offensive, while a German staff officer estimated 32,000 casualties suffered during Operation Grapeshot. [5]
Citations
  1. Darby, William Orlando “Bill”
  2. 1 2 3 Jackson, p. 230.
  3. 1 2 Jackson, p. 223.
  4. 1 2 3 Jackson, p. 236.
  5. 1 2 3 Jackson, p. 334
  6. Jackson, p. 253
  7. Clark, 1950 p.607-09
  8. Blaxland, p. 242
  9. Blaxland, p. 243
  10. 1 2 Jackson, p. 203.
  11. Jackson, p. 204.
  12. Blaxland, p. 247
  13. Jackson, p. 225.
  14. Jackson, p. 228.
  15. Fletcher, Churchill Crocodile p35
  16. approximately one flamethrower vehicle every 64 metres along an 8 km long front
  17. Blaxland, pp. 256-258
  18. Popa, pp. 10–12
  19. Popa, p. 15
  20. Blaxland, pp. 267-8
  21. Basil Davidson, Special Operations Europe: Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War (1980), pp. 340/360
  22. Blaxland, p. 271
  23. Basil Davidson, Special Operations Europe: Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War (1980), pp. 340/360
  24. Evans, Chapter 14 View on Google Books.
  25. Popa, p. 20
  26. Basil Davidson, Special Operations Europe: Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War (1980), pp. 340/360
  27. Basil Davidson, Special Operations Europe: Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War (1980), pp. 340/360
  28. Popa, p. 23
  29. 1 2 Blaxland, p. 277
  30. Blaxland, pp. 279-80

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References