FIFTH ARMY REDUCED its combat activities during the last two weeks of November while preparations were being made to attack the Winter Line. From muddy flats behind the front the artillery engaged in counterbattery fire with enemy artillery, which became increasingly active; but the infantry carried on only position warfare. Our forward positions, like those of the enemy, were held as lightly as possible. Battalions were rotated to provide short intervals of rest. Patrols, however, both large and small, constantly probed the enemy's defenses.
This was a period when the men got a foretaste of the conditions under which they would fight for months to come: miserable days and nights when rain and snow turned every dirt road into a quagmire and fog hung over mountains and valley, when men struggled along slippery trails too steep even for pack mules. Stamina, perseverance, and courage in full measure were required of those who outposted the lines, slogged through the endless mud to repair broken telephone lines, carried the wounded down from the mountains, patrolled into enemy-held territory, and went on about their duties when the normal risks of warfare were intensified by the winter weather. As one soldier wrote:
These things . . . constitute war and battle: rain and mud, cold and discomfort . . . of digging and of sleepless nights and tiring days, of being afraid and of being hungry, of repairing roads and of building bridges, of being lonely . . . of an endless number of little things.
MAP NO. 4
During the two-week pause after the middle of November, the three divisions which had fought their way up from the Volturno received some rest, and the 36th Division, comprising the 141st, 142d and 143d Regimental Combat Teams, under Maj. Gen. Fred L. Walker, was brought up on 16 November to relieve the 3d Division in the Mignano Gap (Map No. 4, above). The command group of II Corps, under Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes, had arrived from Sicily in October and on 18 November took over the 3d and 36th Divisions. The 3d Division, which had been in action since the middle of September, moved back for rest and training. VI Corps, under the command of
Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas, continued to include the 34th and 45th Divisions on the right flank of Fifth Army. The 1st Special Service Force, composed of six battalions of highly trained Canadian and American troops under the command of Col. (now Maj. Gen.) Robert T. Frederick, was attached to the 36th Division on 23 November.
Plans for the Attack
The first attack in the Winter Line campaign was to be delivered against the formidable group of peaks known as the Camino hill mass, which forms one gatepost at the entrance into the Liri Valley from the Mignano Gap (Map No. 4, page 16). The dominating peak on Mount Camino, Hill 963,1 is crowned by a monastery. Two slightly lower peaks, Mount la Difensa (Hill 960) and Mount la Remetanea (Hill 907), lie less than two miles to the north of Camino. At the upper end of the Camino feature are the numerous peaks of Mount Maggiore. The entire hill mass is about six miles long and four miles wide. On the east and northeast the slopes rise steeply to the heights, then fall away gradually to the west toward the Garigliano River.
General Clark planned that two corps would make a coordinated thrust against these hills. Before the main attack, elements of the British 10 Corps were to carry out deceptive measures along the lower Garigliano to suggest a possible landing on the coast in conjunction with an attack along Highway No. 7. On the right flank of Fifth Army, VI Corps was to harass the enemy by offensive probing of his mountain positions along the entire corps front. For the main- effort in the center, 10 Corps would drive from the southern slopes toward the peak of Mount Camino, while II Corps attacked from the northeast corner of the hill mass, aiming at Mount la Difensa and Mount Maggiore. As soon as all the high ground around Camino was occupied, 10 Corps was to be prepared to relieve II Corps units as far north as Mount Maggiore. Together these operations made up Phase I of our assault on the Winter Line. They were planned to unhinge the southern part of the line, to pave the way for opening the Liri Valley, and to bring the enemy's lateral supply road, running through Cassino and down to the coast, within range of our observation and artillery.
In order to cover the movement of troops to assembly areas and to draw enemy forces from Mount Camino, the British 46 Division was
1. The figures identifying hills and points designate elevation in meters above sea level.
MAP NO. 5
ordered to take Hill 360, the southernmost spur of Camino, during the night of 1/2 December (Map No. 5, page 18). Then the 56 Division would attack the highest points of Mount Camino during the night of 2/3 December. The timing of these moves was a vital factor, for if 10 Corps could succeed before daylight of 3 December, the enemy would be deprived of the high ground from which he could threaten 11 Corps units in their assaults on the peaks further north.
H Hour for II Corps was set for 0620 on 3 December. The base for the attack was our position on the lower end of a ridge sloping down from Mount la Difensa to form the northeast corner of the mountain mass above Mignano. Hill 368 on this spur marked the line of departure. From it, the 1st Special Service Force was to push along the ridge toward Mount la Difensa and then beyond to take Mount
la Remetanea. This attack would cover the movement of the 142d Regimental Combat Team from 368 across the northern slopes of the mountains against Maggiore. Only diversionary action was planned on the corps' right flank, where the 141st and 143d Regimental Combat Teams held the northern side of the corridor.
The enemy force which would oppose these operations, the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, held the sector of the Winter Line stretching from Mount Camino to Mount Maggiore. The German XIV Corps had in reserve between Cassino and the coast two divisions, the Hermann Goering Panzer and the 3d Panzer Grenadier, which could reach this front within twenty-four hours.
Preparations for Operation Raincoat
Fifth Army's preparations for Operation Raincoat, the code name
CAMINO PEAKS were objectives in the first phase of the Winter Line
operations. The attacking force included Allied units which had landed on
D Day at Salerno and were now working together to take this hill mass.
II CORPS OBJECTIVES IN PHASE I were the northern peaks of the Camino
hill mass. The 1st Special Service Force attacked Mount la Difensa (Hill
960) and Mount la Remetanea (Hill 907), while the 142d Infantry, on the
right, seized Mount Maggiore (Hill 630).
for the assault on the Camino hills, were extensive and thorough. First came the movement forward of supplies, accomplished by herculean efforts of the quartermaster and engineer units. The engineers swept trails, roads, and bivouac sites for mines; hauled gravel, railroad ties, and poles for road improvements; constructed bypasses, culverts, and bridges; and kept up jeep and foot trails. The roads, maintained with so much difficulty, reached only to the base of the mountains. Here numerous dumps were established where carrying parties assembled to pack food, water, and ammunition up to the troops. To reach Cannavinelle Hill, 270 men of the 143d Infantry carried up supplies from the foothills over a hazardous trail so rough that a good pair of shoes could stand only three trips. Mules were being used here and elsewhere, but the number was not yet sufficient to meet the urgent demand. Although these difficulties were heightened by the continued rainy weather, they were so successfully met that by the end of November the front-line units had raised supply levels sufficiently to support the forthcoming, attack.
Meanwhile, artillery battalions prepared for the greatest "shoot" thus far of the Italian campaign, the air force got ready for its part in the attack, and deceptive measures were begun. The latter were intended to mislead the enemy as to the exact point where Fifth Army would strike in force. Elements of 10 Corps carried out the planned feint on the lower Garigliano; on the right flank VI Corps launched diversionary attacks four days before the Camino drive started; and even in the center of Fifth Army front, efforts were made to confuse the enemy by increased patrolling activity on the right flank of the main assault units. Division and corps artillery fire on known targets from San Pietro to San Vittore became more intense. Smoke was used daily on Mount Lungo, and, when the weather permitted, the air force bombed targets in the San Pietro-San Vittore area.
A reconnaissance in force was made toward San Pietro, to lead the enemy to believe that our main effort would be directed against that area. The mission was assigned to the 3d Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Herman W. Dammer. The Rangers were to have close support from Company B, 83d Chemical Battalion, and from the 133d Field Artillery Battalion which fired 2,218 rounds on 29 November. That night the Rangers moved up from Venafro through Ceppagna, and at 2230, led by guides from the 180th Infantry, they began the steep descent toward San Pietro through rain and mist that reduced visibility to a few feet. By 0530 the battalion reached a point about one mile east of San Pietro. Frequent attempts of patrols to reconnoiter routes to the village drew heavy small-arms and mortar fire. By noon, when it was apparent that nothing more could be accomplished without committing a major force, General Walker ordered the Rangers to withdraw under cover of darkness. Meanwhile the 133d Field Artillery fired 2,600 more rounds. The enemy reacted to the reconnaissance by increasing artillery and mortar fire in the San Pietro area, and a strong enemy combat patrol attacked during the night of 1/2 December against the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, on the southeastern tip of Mount Lungo.
Air activity was severely restricted by the bad weather. On the few days when our planes could take the air, bombers attacked bridges in the Liri Valley, artillery installations, and mountain towns on various parts of the front. On 26 November, thirty-six planes bombed the enemy on hills west of Mount Camino, and on the
Artillery preparation for Operation Raincoat was the most formidable thus far in Fifth Army's campaigns. Starting at 1630 on 2 December, 925 pieces poured ton after ton of high explosive and white phosphorus shells into enemy positions. Against Mount Camino alone, 820 pieces ranging from 3-inch guns to 8-inch howitzers fired
A CAMOUFLAGED 8-INCH HOWITZER of the 194th Field Artillery
Battalion fires against Mount Camino at night on 3 December. This type of
artillery weapon, heavy, yet mobile, was used for the first time in the Italian
campaign during the heavy concentration for Operation Raincoat.
some of the most powerful and intense concentrations ever used in battle against a small area. In the one-hour "serenade" from 1630 to 1730 on 2 December, 346 pieces, including twenty-four 8-inch howitzers, fired 22,500 rounds in the II Corps sector—an average of sixty-five rounds per gun. For two days this terrific fire continued until by 1800 on 4 December the three corps in Fifth Army had fired 206,929 rounds weighing 4,066 tons. The effect of this massed artillery fire on the enemy is difficult to appraise. Prisoners captured on Camino testified that although the shelling hampered reinforcements, it also revealed clearly our intentions. Heavy casualties were reported by some prisoners, and there was much evidence that enemy morale suffered from these attacks, but those troops who were well protected in caves and deep dugouts escaped with little inconvenience other than loss of sleep.
Capture of the Main Camino Peaks
On 1 December units of 10 and II Corps were ready to launch their attack. Making their planned diversion, the 139 Brigade in the 46 Division sector led off at dusk against the Calabritto ridge barring the way to Hill 360. During the night, assault battalions met heavy opposition from machine guns and ran into minefields and wire. The British troops overcame enemy obstacles and continued the attack after daylight on 2 December, supported by heavy artillery fire and by elements of the 40 Royal Tank Regiment. The enemy held stubbornly and at the close of the day Calabritto village remained in his hands. Nevertheless, the 56 Division jumped off to attack Mount Camino and the hills below it (Map No. 6, page 24). Here too the Germans resisted strongly, and the British were unable to reach Monastery Hill (Hill 963) on 3 December.
Timing their assault with 10 Corps' drive against Camino, units of II Corps moved out to attack the northern part of the Camino hill mass. Col. Frederick's 1st Special Service Force advanced to Ridge 368 from bivouac areas after dark on 2 December. By midnight the 2d Regiment was well up the slopes of Mount la Difensa just below the cliffs of Hill 960 and before dawn had forced the enemy to give up the hill and pull back along the ridge. While the 2d Battalion organized for defense on Hill 960, the 1st Battalion moved on to take Hill 907. The Germans could not stop the mo-
MAP NO. 6
menturn of our attack, and by 0945 on 3 December, the ridge as far as Mount la Remetanea was in our hands. A German counterattack, coming on 4 December, drove the 1st Battalion back from Hill 907 to a defensive position on Mount la Difensa. The 1st Battalion of the 3d Regiment, which had been held as force reserve, was badly shot up on its way to Hill 907 by enemy artillery fire coming from the north and northeast. During the day a cold rain fell constantly, limiting visibility and adding to the great difficulty of supply and evacuation.
A prisoner had revealed that the enemy would counterattack Hill 960 at 0330 on 5 December. At about 0300 a forward observer reported a concentration of German troops in the draw west and south of Hill 907 and artillery fire was laid on those areas. When six hundred of the enemy launched the attack at 0335 the 1st Special
Service Force broke up the assault. Later in the day the 1st Regiment came up to support the 2d Regiment and during the next three days cleared the mountain of enemy troops. On the afternoon of 8 December Hill 907 was retaken; organized resistance ceased in that area.
10 Corps in the meantime had captured Monastery Hill. On 6 December in the 56 Division sector the 2/5 Queen's Infantry Battalion of the 169 Brigade occupied this feature on the crest of Camino to climax very bitter fighting, and other units drove the fiercely resisting Germans from the west slopes and out of Rocca d'Evandro by 9 December.
The 142d Infantry had the mission of capturing the ridge which forms the northwest shoulder of the Camino hills and faces Mount Sammucro across the Mignano corridor (Map No. 7, below). Mount Maggiore (Hill 630) marked the end of this ridge. The attack commenced on 3 December, with Hill 368 as the line of de-
MAP NO. 7
parture, a few hours after the 1st Special Service Force had left that point on its way toward Mount la Difensa. The 3d Battalion of the 142d Infantry led off at 0300, followed an hour later by the 2d Battalion. By 0700 Company K was clearing the enemy from Hill 370, and Company I had reached a knoll five hundred yards to the northwest. Mount Lungo was smoked by the artillery to hinder observation from across the valley. While the 3d Battalion worked along the lower slopes, the 2d was striking westward to gain the main ridge leading toward Mount Maggiore. Hill 596, halfway to Maggiore, was taken at 1030; by 1700 the battalion had skirted the Vallevona plateau and gained the final heights, which were immediately organized for defense. The 1st Battalion had crossed Ridge 369 at 0730, mopping up bypassed pockets of resistance, and prepared Hill 596 for defense.
The 142d Infantry had to make ready for almost certain German counterattacks after the swift capture of its objective. Since the situation was well in hand on the eastern slopes of Maggiore, Col. George E. Lynch, commanding the 142d Infantry, ordered the 3d Battalion to withdraw after dark on 4 December, leaving Company L (reinforced) to outpost Hill 370. After a night's rest, the battalion began to carry supplies from the dump north of Caspoli to the units on Maggiore. During the night of 5/6 December, the enemy struck at Hill 630, held by Company E. As the Germans approached, Pfc. Charles A. Collet crawled forward into the open in front of his squad and knocked out a machine-gun nest with his Browning automatic rifle; this and similar actions broke up the counterattack. The next serious threat came on 7 December against Companies E and F and was again an attempt to recapture Hill 630. At 1635 Lt. Col. Samuel S. Graham reported the attack to the 132d Field Artillery Battalion, which fired 338 rounds in ten minutes. The attack diminished after this fire, and by 2300 all was quiet on Mount Maggiore. Patrols sent out the next day counted more than one hundred enemy dead. On 8 December the 142d Infantry extended its position to include Mounts la Difensa and la Remetanea, relieving the 1st Special Service Force.
As it turned out, Raincoat was a fitting name for the operation. Rain fell steadily from 2 to 4 December and greatly increased the discomfort suffered by our men. Their only shelters were a few caves in the mountainside. The 2d Battalion, 142d Infantry, had
gone up on Maggiore carrying all the ammunition possible, only a few mortars, and no food but the "D" ration chocolate bar. There was no way of getting other supplies to forward positions except by packing laboriously over rough, muddy trails constantly under enemy fire and so steep that men had to crawl some of the distance and haul the packs up by rope. In such terrain mules could not be used. Two companies of the 141st Infantry and half of the 142d Infantry carried supplies to the troops on Mounts la Difensa and Maggiore. Corps supplied additional litter squads to evacuate casualties, which were relatively light. The round trip of three miles between a point near Mignano and Mount Maggiore required twelve
MAP NO. 8
hours. Several attempts were made to drop rations by plane to the troops in these almost inaccessible positions, but the 142d Infantry on Maggiore was able to recover only one pack of "K" rations from three drops. For three days men lived on one "K" ration each and obtained water from snow or shell holes. Sleep was impossible.
In this difficult period of organizing and holding the captured mountains one of the endless chores was laying wire for communications. Artillery fire tore gaps in the lines as fast as they were repaired. For example, at 2000 on 5 December, lines to all but one company of the regiment were out. They were repaired by midnight, only to be knocked out again by nearly 150 rounds of artillery that fell on the principal trail. Our own artillery kept up a heavy fire on enemy targets, with the 131st and 132d Field Artillery Battalions in direct support of the 142d Infantry and the 1st Armored Field Artillery Regiment in support of the 1st Special Service Force.
After all objectives were taken, the II Corps units were relieved by 10 Corps according to plan (Map No. 8, page 27). By 11 December the British had taken over the entire Camino-Maggiore complex, freeing II Corps for action against Mount Sammucro. Meanwhile the 1st Motorized Group, 5,486 Italian troops commanded by Division General Vincenzo Dapino, was attached to II Corps for active participation in the campaign and on 7 December came into line at the Mignano Gap.
Operation Raincoat was definitely a success. In nine days II Corps and 10 Corps had driven the enemy from practically the entire Camino feature; Fifth Army now controlled the heights on one side of the corridor which gives access to the Liri Valley. The success owed much to diversionary attacks on the Army's left and right flanks by 10 Corps and VI Corps, which prevented the enemy from concentrating his forces against the center of our line. Although bad weather and the difficulty of locating targets in the mountains limited the effectiveness of air-ground cooperation, the missions of XII Air Support Command, combined with the concentration of our artillery fire on enemy gun positions, undoubtedly contributed to the general weakness of German artillery during our infantry attacks.
page created 20 July 2001
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