WITH THE LIRI VALLEY OPENED, and Anzio relieved, Fifth Army drove on Rome, while Eighth Army fanned out into Central Italy. The enemy had no alternative to a long retreat. Any defence system covering the capital could be pierced or by-passed. With Rome lost, it was sound strategy to shorten communications and to fall back on terrain where natural obstacles would assist the defenders. The Germans therefore withdrew northwards for two hundred and twenty-five miles. The retreat which began at Roccasecca on May 25th ended on June 18th at Ripa Ridge.
Throughout this period Eighth Indian Division remained in the van of the chase, harrying the enemy with a persistence which bore handsome dividends in the form of casualties inflicted, prisoners taken and equipment captured. The pursuit began auspiciously. On May 27th after the fall of Roccasecca, a mobile force of 6th Lancers, 3/8 Punjabis and New Zealand tanks caught up with the enemy in the gorge of the Melfa Valley, north of Route 6. At a blown bridge the column fell upon a rearguard, killing 25 Germans and taking 14 prisoners. An observer reported:
"The famed German paratroopers ran pell-melll, scrambling over rocks and diving into shelters as we came upon the scene. Some put up a weak show of resistance, but others surrendered at once. Famished prisoners pocketed their pride and asked for food. They marched back munching biscuits past the huge German cemetery at Roccasecca."
This incursion into the hills took the Indians out of the Liri Valley and off the main axis of advance. This circumstance was turned to advantage when Sixth British Armoured Division, closing on Arce at the top of the valley, was held up. 17th Brigade passed through 19th Brigade, sent one group on a detour to the north as a feint, and attacked the features covering Arce from the east. Royal Fusiliers and 1/5 Gurkhas, supported by New Zealand tanks, stormed Frajoli on the evening of May 27th. Stiff fighting cost the enemy approximately 100 riflemen from One Hundred and Fourteenth Jaeger Division. On the next day, 1/12 Frontier Force Regiment attacked Monte Pavone, a commanding feature which covered the approach to Arce. One and a half companies of German paratroopers stood at bay on the crest of the peak. Subedar Sadhu Singh's Sikhs were pinned down as they tried to close. After tremendous efforts, the New Zealanders worked their tanks three-quarters of the way up the mountainside. They fired at the trees over the enemy positions in order to obtain air bursts whose shrapnel might reach the Germans in their slit trenches. The paratroopers, who were dug in on the reverse slopes, destroyed themselves through over-confidence. Perceiving the Indians to be comparatively few in numbers, they sprang to their feet and charged up the hillside. The Sikhs for an instant were astounded by such foolhardiness; as one man they rose with their war cry of "Sat siri akal!" and leapt to meet their assailants. It was bayonet to bayonet, and the paratroopers were outmatched. They broke and ran. The Sikhs swept forward to seize the enemy positions, capturing a number of prisoners, including a German officer with two bayonet wounds.
Consequent upon this success, 21st Brigade passed through and occupied positions immediately above Arce. Next morning (May 29th) 1/5 Gurkhas and elements of Sixth British Armoured Division entered the town. It was a local fiesta day, celebrated to commemorate a wandering Englishman who had become patron saint of the town in the Middle Ages. The arrival of British troops on such a day was particularly felicitous. The Indian brigades had now reached the gorge of the Liri, where it turns into the north-east towards its source near Avezzano. It was necessary to bridge the river in three places, a delay which enabled the Germans to extricate themselves from the too close attentions of their pursuers. 6/13 Frontier Force Rifles and a squadron of 6th Lancers followed the retreating enemy up Route 82, towards Sora, where enemy anti-tank guns blocked the road. It would have been impossible to dislodge the enemy without casualties had not a Spitfire spotted the holdup, and forced the Germans into cover with series of dummy dives. With the gun crews off guard, the Lancers rushed the position, inflicting 40 casualties.
19th Brigade, also with Lancers and tanks, had struck across country to the left with a view to harassing the flank of one of the main lines of retreat. On approaching Veroli, about ten miles west of the Liri, an enemy rearguard several hundred strong was encountered. 6th Lancers were ambushed losing three armoured cars and their crews. A sharp little action followed, in which intervention by another lone fighter bomber helped greatly. On the morning of June 2nd, Frontier Force Rifles cleared Veroli. The Indians were now veering back towards the axis of advance of the Sixth British Armoured Division. To avoid confusion it was necessary to keep to the right of Via Macerosa, the main north-bound highway. This entailed a certain amount of road making, but did not materially slow up the pursuit. 21st Indian Infantry Brigade, with 18th New Zealand Armoured Regiment attached, became the spearhead of the Division, and moved north on Guarcino through the hills, where the road described a right-angled bend to the west, along the lower haunches of Monte Agnelo. For once the Germans were stupid in their dispositions for defence. Their rearguards had dug in on the slopes of the mountain immediately above the town, in full view of 1/5 Mahrattas across the valley. When the weapons of the Indians were emplaced, no German could move on the hillside without being sniped. Divisional mortar teams had a field day, and plastered the German positions while the infantry cleared Guarcino. Forty shell-shocked members of Fifth Mountain Division surrendered, and as many more were killed, for the loss of one Mahratta.
The capture of German demolition squads at Guarcino revealed no road wrecking to have been accomplished before Subiaco, fifteen miles ahead. On June 5th, in order to facilitate the pursuit, Eighth Indian Division was transferred from Thirteenth to Tenth Corps. This shift ended a happy association with New Zealand armoured regiments. On the infantry's call the Kiwi tank men would go anywhere, and would undertake any task. Neither sheer slopes nor boulders nor deep gullies deterred them; in one fashion or another they barged and squirmed up the mountain sides. If the ground proved impossible, their bulldozers hurried forward to clear the way. When not in action they reconstructed or improved the mountain tracks and roads.
Eighth Division now entered wilder and more mountainous country. Many escaped prisoners of war who had hidden away among the upland farms began to come in. 19th Brigade covered the 15 miles to Subiaco in two days. At the entrance to the town a bridge which crossed a chasm had been blown. The enemy apparently regarded this demolition as a major obstacle, but Frontier Force Rifles, having brought up a mule train, swung into the hills and entered Subiaco from the north, trapping the rearguard. Once again German engineering squads were among the captures, and another fifteen miles of road was discovered to be free of demolitions.
Rome fell, and the pursuit swept on. At Arsoli, the next market town north of Subiaco, Eighth Division wheeled into the west and cleared the countryside as far as Tivoli, a summer resort fifteen miles east of the capital. Sixth British Armoured Division debouched from Rome on the western bank of the Tiber, and worked into the north on the axis of Via Flamina, the main road to Perugia. 17th Brigade, after relieving elements of Fourth British Division on the opposite bank of the Tiber, hurried on. The pace steadily quickened. On June 14th, 6th Lancers and 3/15 Punjabis swept into Terni, an important road junction, rounding up prisoners who had last heard of the Indians at Fara, 25 miles down the road. Divisional sappers had been over-worked during the rapid advance, opening tracks and clearing minefields. Engineers from 25th Army Tank Brigade now arrived to relieve them of the task of bridging the Nera at Terni. No one knows quite how it came about, but an argument between the new arrivals and their supposedly exhausted colleagues led to both parties working side by side throughout the night, with the result that the bridge was completed twelve hours ahead of schedule.
The constant harassing began to tell on the enemy. As the lovely Umbrian countryside unrolled, with its gentle contours and heavy cultivation, the advance screen of reconnaissance cars and light tanks gave the retreating Germans no rest. Persistent encroachment upset the rearguards, who on more than one occasion scattered in disorder, their missions unfulfilled. The enemy demolition sappers in particular slipped up badly. Mines often were obviously and hurriedly sown. Ammunition and supply dumps were unexploded or unburned---a sure sign of demoralization. German back area formations were rounded up while still at work, unaware of the approach of their enemies. A characteristic fat take was the bag of Frontier Force Rifles on June 16th, which included 250 prisoners, a tank, 2 guns, a considerable number of motor vehicles, and a yard of horses complete with saddlery. As the thrustful Indians forced the pace the roads became strewn with an endless litter of abandoned equipment.
The long retreat finally drew to a close. On June 17th, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders approached Assisi, historic birthplace of St. Francis, its massive monasteries arrayed along the shoulders of the mountain. Machine-gun posts on the outskirts compelled the Scotsmen to deploy and to attack in pouring rain through the vineyards and olive groves which skirted the town. 6th Lancers raced for Bastia, where the main highway crosses the Chiascio river. There they ran into trouble, for the bridge was blown, and anti-tank guns covering the demolition destroyed three armoured cars. On the far bank the enemy stood. 3/8 Punjabis moved up to deal with what appeared to be a tricky obstacle. PIATS were worked forward until they could crash their bombs into the weapon pits on the opposite bank; thereafter, arraying all available tanks and anti-tank guns in a semicircle at point blank range, the German positions were blasted. That night, three companies of Punjabis crossed the river and seized the airfield, while 6th Lancers worked down a lateral road to make contact with Sixth British Armoured Division at Torgiano, on the Tiber. Here again, anti-tank guns gave trouble, and four armoured cars were lost.
Four miles ahead, Perugia, serene and unscarred , stood on a gracious swell above the countryside. Ten miles west of the Umbrian capital the blue bowl of Lake Trasimeno, gleamed in a fairy landscape. To the north of the lake the Apennine massif became more substantial, with ruggeder slopes and higher crests. The Tiber Valley narrowed and deepened; steep and wooded slopes stretched upwards to the dominating ridges. The river was fed by a multitude of small and rapid streams, each in its own gashed ravine. Roads were few. Here was natural terrain for defence, ideally suited to the German strategy of selling ground at a high price before withdrawing to lay-back positions where such tactics might be re-enacted.
To the east of Perugia an escarpment marked the beginning of the rough country. A ridge rising to a height of one thousand feet extended for five miles between the Tiber and Chiascio rivers. The villages of Ripa and Civitella stood upon its crest, the former giving the ridge its name. In Civitella a prominent tower afforded observation for miles around.
During the afternoon of June 18th, 1/5 Gurkhas, supported by two troops of North Irish Horse, attacked the escarpment opposite Civitella. German bazooka men lying up in the village cemetery destroyed two of the Irishmen's tanks. At 0400 hours next morning the village was reported as captured and consolidated. After daybreak the Gurkhas attempted to work along the ridge towards Ripa village. As soon as the advance began, heavy shelling and mortaring revealed the presence of substantial enemy forces. German guns knocked out three tanks which reconnoitred too rashly. The enemy shoot on Civitella increased in intensity, and at 1030 hours a counter attack of approximately company strength developed from across the Tiber. The German concentrations had been observed, and the assault broke down under accurate defensive fire. At 1100 hours with Civitella secure, "D" Company of the Gurkhas supported by tanks and artillery, worked in on Ripa village. (An odd sight during this assault was Major Charles, forward observation officer, directing his guns from the top of a stepladder in the firing line, under pelting rain). Well prepared positions blocked all approaches, but as the Gurkhas felt their way around them the rearguards fled precipitately.
Simultaneously Royal Fusiliers advanced against the ridge position above the Chiascio river. At 1530 hours the leading company ran into concentrated machine-gun fire, one thousand yards south-east of its objective. The Company Commander was killed, and all other officers became casualties. Persevering, the Fusiliers worked up on the right of the Gurkhas, took over Ripa village, and reorganized the sector. During this consolidation Major Morland-Hughes, M.B.E., M.C., commanding the Gurkhas, who led his battalion in the bitter Mozzagrogna fighting, was mortally wounded---a great loss to his men and to the Division.
With Ripa ridge secured, 17th Brigade pushed on. 1/12 Frontier Force Regiment worked forward between Civitella and Ripa. A company of the Gurkhas crossed River Grande, a tributary of the Tiber, assailing the high ground on the northern bank. The enemy instantly reacted to this incursion, and the Gurkhas encountered such venomous opposition that they withdrew that evening. Frontier Force Regiment, however, had made good progress, and next day it was decided to re-cross the river. After darkness fell, "B" Company of the Gurkhas once more forded the stream, infiltrated on to the high ground, and established a bridgehead. Again the enemy struck back promptly and vigorously; lorried infantry and motor-cycle machine-gunners charged the intruders. This attack failed to win home, and morning broke on a noisy scene as enemy artillery softened up the Gurkha positions. That afternoon a second enemy counter-attack swept up; the Germans retrieved some ground only to lose it when the reserve company of Gurkhas raced into action. Concurrently, 1/12 Frontier Force Regiment had probed forward until securely ensconced on Belvedere Ridge, a long feature formerly used by the enemy for artillery observation. Attempts to throw back the Frontiersmen were broken up by prompt and accurate curtains of defensive fire.
This series of sharp little actions was proving expensive. Already 17th Brigade had lost half as many men as in the great battle of the Gari. Relief was overdue, for Eighth Indian Division had been fighting steadily with little real rest since the previous November. It was known that Tenth Indian Division was on its way to take over, but General Russell and his men were loath to relinquish the front, as one of his officers put it, "without dotting the Hun one for all the nuisances he had committed". On June 23rd, 3rd King's Own Hussars replaced North Irish Horse as the 17th Brigade's tank regiment, and it was decided to sally once more into the upland ground which had been defended so obstinately. This farewell attack succeeded brilliantly. In a single bound the Hussars carried Piccione, five miles north of Ripa, caught the enemy by surprise and wrought havoc. Two hundred Germans were killed, 50 mules captured, and 1100 guns destroyed. Gurkhas, Royal Fusiliers and Royal West Kents followed up to consolidate. Bitter fighting occurred at Columbella, where it was necessary to withdraw the West Kents and to beat up the area with artillery before the ground could be held. The enemy bared his teeth at every attempt to infiltrate, and the situation was still involved when the advance parties from Tenth Indian Division arrived.
After eight and a half months of continuous slogging, Eighth Indian Division was relieved and went out to rest. Seldom has any formation won more laurels in its first campaign.
TENTH INDIAN DIVISION took over in a countryside which might have been of its own choosing. Ahead stretched a sea of mountains, with high crests and deep troughs. During the tedious years of waiting in Syria, Cyprus and Palestine, the theme of all Divisional training had been mountain warfare. The men had lived and worked in the mountains. They had thought and dreamed of them. Mountain warfare is flexible and individual, and General Reid had deeply inculcated the basic tactics. The values of high ground and dead ground, of observation points and hidden approaches, of unobtrusive infiltration and deep penetration---a score of such lessons, learned laboriously in training areas, were now to be tested in actual combat.
Corps orders called for Tenth Indian Division to advance along both banks of the Tiber, through the heart of the mountains. The average width of the Tiber Valley above Perugia is somewhat under a mile. The lateral valleys which feed the great Roman river are of no particular length or depth: after entering the foothills they quickly deteriorate into bush-filled gullies impassable to all but the goat-footed.
Two roads, one on each bank, follow the Tiber meanders. At intervals of from ten to twelve miles flourishing market towns have grown up around the sites of old castles and fortifications, usually on a bend or in a loop of the river. On the high ridges and saddlebacks small villages tightly cluster around the churches, whose towers or spires afford observation over miles of countryside. When Tenth Indian Division came into the line at the end of June, the cereal crops had been harvested and the luxuriant fruits for which the valley is famed were still unripe. On the high wooded crests the foresters were cutting and peeling pine, beech, and larch logs, to be slid into the valleys on the first snows.
Tenth Division was deployed with 20th and 25th Brigades east of the river, and 10th Brigade on its western bank. 20th Brigade occupied the right sector of the Divisional front, with 8th Manchesters on the extreme flank, 2/3 Gurkhas in the centre, and 3/5 Mahrattas on Belvedere Ridge. Northwards and eastwards beyond the right flank, 12th Lancers and Skinners' Horse roamed the tracks and hills in a kingdom of their own, covering an open flank which extended over the crests of the Apennines, where the cavalrymen made tenuous contact with the reconnaissance groups of Second Polish Corps on the Adriatic front.
The Divisional tour of duty opened ominously and with rough welcome. On the afternoon of June 28th, troop carriers which had brought up 20th Brigade pulled off the road under Ripa Ridge while waiting for outgoing loads. A vicious concentration shoot, ranged to a yard, crashed down upon them. In a twinkling fourteen vehicles went up in flames. The enemy, well aware that a relief was taking place, raided 8th Manchesters as they took over from 17th Brigade on Monte Pilonico. Costly fighting ensued before the raiders were repelled,
While the Mahrattas were effecting the relief of Frontier Force Regiment, a direct hit on company headquarters killed and wounded a number of officers and men.
On June 29th, 25th Brigade, two battalions strong, relieved 21st Brigade on a line running north and south, its left flank resting on the Tiber at Bosco. On the other side of the river, 10th Indian Brigade augmented by 3/18 Garhwalis assumed responsibility on a wide front to the west of Perugia, its sector reaching more than half-way to Lake Trasimeno. 1st Guards Brigade under Divisional command, filled in the gap between Bosco and Perugia. As soon as the advance began and the line was clear of the Umbrian capital, 10th Brigade spread out and took over the Guards' sector, its four battalions operating on a front of nearly ten miles. To assist in covering such an extensive sector, 3rd Hussars, 12th Lancers, King's Dragoon Guards and troops of Royal Horse Artillery were placed under Divisional command.
Battle tactics called for continuous harassing, linked with unremitting attempts to infiltrate and to penetrate deeply into the defended zone. These probes were intended to compel the enemy to disperse his forces and to weaken his hold upon key positions. Where it was possible, such positions would be by-passed after they had been isolated, to be mopped up at leisure. The tactical plan resembled the making tide, which pokes long intruding fingers into the beach before sweeping in a flood over the islands of higher sand.
The advance began against light opposition, with 20th Brigade safely across the River Grande by the evening of July 1st. Next day, 3/5 Mahrattas carried out the first of a series of characteristic outflanking moves. Self-contained for forty-eight hours, the battalion followed a screen of reconnaissance cars into the north-east until well embodied in enemy territory. The armoured vehicles continued on in the same direction, but the Mahrattas wheeled into the west, and under cover of the foliage of the Ventia ravine. reached and seized Monte Falone without alarm. 2/3 Gurkhas, essaying a similar manoeuvre, had less luck, and clashed with outposts on Monte Urbino. On Tiberside, King's Own and 3/1 Punjabis made good progress, clearing a number of villages and brushing aside isolated parties of the enemy, who from the woods and orchards around the hamlets sniped and bickered with the Indian patrols as they worked forward.
To the west of the Tiber, 10th Brigade joined in the advance on a two-battalion front. They moved across the grain of the ground, and found heavy going. Uphill, downhill, ford a stream, uphill, downhill, ford again. By July 2nd the Brigade was within reach of the first of the German lay-back positions ten miles north of Perugia. Here Monte Corona, a thickly wooded pinnacle, and Monte Acuto, a broad bald sugarloaf, barred the way. The enemy appeared to hold these crests in strength. 4/10 Baluchis and 2/4 Gurkhas swung away on long night marches over unreconnoitred country. Before dawn the Baluchis were on Acuto and the Gurkhas on Corona. After initial surprise, the Germans reacted energetically. A counter attack on the morning of July 3rd threw back the Baluchi company which had occupied the crest of Monte Acuto. A similar attempt against the Gurkhas had less success, but sporadic fighting continued. These objectives promised to give trouble until July 4th, when Thirteenth Corps troops, advancing west of Lake Trasimeno, captured the important road centre of Cortona. This success threatened to trap the enemy on 10th Brigade's front. The fighting on the mountain tops ceased, and the Germans retired hurriedly while an exit remained. Seven miles further north, on the line of the River Nestore, they paused to draw breath and to face their pursuers.
These first miles marked the end of the easy going for Tenth Indian Division. On both sides of the Tiber the ground now favoured the defenders. A regrouping of enemy forces brought the reinforced and rested Three Hundred and Fifth Division into the line on the Indians' front.
25th Brigade, working along the eastern fringe of the Tiber Valley, was first to encounter stiffened resistance. Ten miles beyond their start line, 3/1 Punjabis and King's Own found the little village of Pierantonio a tough nut to crack. An attack on the night of July 2nd cost the British battalion 3 officers and 33 men, of whom 12 were killed. The next day, after a concealed approach march from the west, the position was taken without difficulty. A patrol went forward to reconnoitre Umbertide, a sprawling factory town of yellow-and-grey-walled houses which had grown up around the site of an ancient fortress. This centre likewise was free of the enemy, and 25th Brigade came up in line with the two flank brigades. 3/1 Punjabis immediately pushed on and established contact with the enemy at Montone, five miles to the north, a village standing on a peak above the Tiber Valley. It was an ideal defensive position, as the tracks to the village from south and west climbed open spurs, while on the east the summit was protected by a precipitous hillside. The village and a ridge behind it running into the north, were held by a battalion of One Hundred and Fourteenth Jaeger Division.
On July 6th, 3 /1 Punjabis attacked from the south. Throughout the burning heat of the afternoon Sikhs and Mussalman companies battled their way forward across the open countryside. As they surged to gain the shelter of the village, blasts of defensive fire caught them. Colonel Dalton was mortally wounded and his men suffered severely. Fortunately General Reid had not staked everything on the frontal attack. In the dark hours of the previous night 8th Manchesters of 20th Brigade had unobtrusively infiltrated through the hills on the right, and before dawn had tiptoed in upon the German garrison of Carpini, three miles to the east of Montone. Fifteen of the enemy were killed and a number of prisoners taken in a brisk scrimmage in the dark. Following up, King's Own in the next night likewise encircled the Brigade flank in an arduous twelve-mile march over ridges and rivers, and arrived before first light on the crest of Monte Cucco, a mile behind the positions in which the enemy confronted the Punjabis. Without pause King's Own swept down the hillside, into Montone village from the rear. Surprise was complete, and British bayonets were at work before the Germans were awake. The Jaegers in characteristic fashion stuck it obstinately, and several hours of street fighting ensued before Montone was cleared and held. Twenty Germans were killed and sixty-five prisoners taken in return for nineteen British casualties. Lance-Corporal Huntingdon, of Goole, and Private Bradley, of Llanelly, exploited a technique of their own in winkling sullen Boches out of cellars, and the pair brought in twenty-five prisoners.
It would have been unlike the enemy to accept such reverse. A counter-attack was anticipated. To meet such threat 3/5 Mahrattas at midnight on July 7th, passed through Monte Cucco and worked into the north along a bare razor-backed ridge, with precipitous slopes on either side. On this narrow neck of high ground, two platoons bumped into a task force of Germans debouching from their start line on a wooded crest. Pandemonium broke loose as the leading troops clashed. Both German and British gunners, standing by for the signal, intervened with curtains of defensive fire. The British shoot was remarkably accurate, dropping only 300 yards ahead of the Mahrattas. The Indians knew their enemies to be trapped and went in with the steel. Amid battle cries and screams the ridge was cleared, and the Mahrattas pressed on towards Monte Falcione, a bald-headed hilltop. Northumberland Fusilier machine-gunners raked the summit before the rush went in. With the Mahrattas in full cry the assault swept over the crest. Darkness and the noise persuaded a number of Jaegers to remain cowering at the bottom of their slit trenches, easy prey for the mopping-up squads.
At Morlupo a halt was called, and the gains were consolidated. Throughout the following day, the Mahrattas from their lofty perch on the crown of the mountain, scanned the countryside ahead and below, while artillery and mortar shoots searched for enemy strong points. "It was like stirring an ant hill with a stick," wrote an officer. "Every time a ranging shot went over, the target area spewed out Germans who dived into prepared positions." On the following day, two companies of Mahrattas attempted unobtrusively to reach the crest of Monte Marucchino. For a time their progress was undetected, but the watchers at Morlupo saw. an Italian who was driving his cows down the forward slopes of the mountains, halt and rush into a large farmhouse. Out poured Germans into their slit trenches, and the fight was on. The Mahrattas emerged from cover and raced up the hillside to encounter murderous machine-gun fire from the thickly wooded crest.
Meanwhile the right flank of the Morlupo position was under counter-assault. A swift enemy rush had pushed back a platoon of Mahrattas from Point 624, one of their forward posts. 2/3 Gurkhas were on their way forward to relieve, and it was decided to restore the situation before they arrived. Without support weapons the intrepid Mahrattas dashed to the attack. As they closed, a machine-gun nest swept them to earth at point-blank range. The company commander and six non-commissioned officers fell dead. Naik Yashwent Ghadge, the only man of his section unhurt, charged on. Throwing a grenade he followed in with tommy-gun blazing. He reached the emplacement out of ammunition, and hurled himself upon the remaining machine-gunners, whom he beat to death with his clubbed tommy-gun. A sniper brought him down with a mortal wound, and he died across the bodies of his enemies. He had saved his company, his dauntless courage winning a posthumous Victoria Cross.
The Mahrattas dug in and waited, but the enemy had had enough and made no further attempt to attack. On the next ridge to the north, a company of the Manchesters had seized a strong-point situated in an ancient castle, which yielded some interesting loot in the form of feminine apparel, cosmetics and wine. Beyond the British flank Skinners' Horse scoured the open countryside as far as the village of Petralunga, at the end of a track on the crest of the High Apennines. In this fastness the partisans and a group of escaped Allied prisoners of war were in control. The enemy was alert, his mountain troops maintaining a cordon in the hills behind the village. The presence of Skinners' Horse led the Germans to close up on all sides, but under cover of a diversionary counter-attack the cavalrymen were able to slip away. For some days clashes continued, as the enemy was in no mood to relinquish his grip upon this mountain position which commanded two of the important lateral roads to the Adriatic coast.
This bickering in the hills was of secondary importance, since advances in the Tiber Valley were bound to lead to enemy withdrawals on the open flank. With the enemy ejected from the Montone lay-back positions, 2/3 Gurkhas despatched strong fighting patrols to explore the massive Monte della Gorgacce buttress, five miles further north. The intervening ridges were higgledy-piggledy, heavily wooded, and with few tracks. Sheltered transport harbours were few and far between. An artillery observation officer, who accompanied one of the Gurkha patrols, was lucky enough to spot forty German vehicles, including tanks, huddled in a valley. It was a gunner's dream target; after a ranging round the Divisional twenty-five rounders, mediums and heavies, plastered the acre with everything fuseable. The result was devastation.
| || ||
|| || || |
Along the eastern Tiber bank, 25th Brigade matched the aggressive tactics of 20th in the hills. Two miles west of Montone, Colle di Pazzo, with a fortress-like church, gave 3/1 Punjabis considerable trouble before it succumbed to an assault. Numerous ravines afforded cover for mortars and other high-angle weapons, and the Punjabis advanced through continuous harassing fire. Promano was taken but the next Tiberside hamlet, San Lucia, was firmly held as part of a continuous position hinging on the bastion of Monte della Gorgacce. 20th Brigade again led in punching the hole. On the night of July 13/14, 2/3 Gurkhas, after a circuitous march, approached the mountain Positions from the west. In silence the hillmen began to clamber through the thick scrub. While two companies were winning to the summit by an unorthodox approach, a third company demonstrated from the south along the only track leading to the crest of the mountain. The enemy was completely deceived; when the rush came from an unanticipated direction, resistance broke down. Not for the first time did the maxim that "Sweat saves blood" justify itself. Two nights later, 25th Brigade struck on the river front. King's Own climbed a sheer ravine in the darkness and swept over three company objectives in fine style. Twenty-four hours afterwards, 3/18 Garhwalis, a battalion very much at home in this sort of fighting, filtered through along the boundary between 20th and 25th Brigades, and after a brisk encounter seized the last high ground south of the Soara River.
Three miles beyond the Soara, at Citta di Castello, an important topographical change occurred. The Tiber Valley began to spread out into a basin between the hills. This basin was twenty miles in length and up to five miles in width. Its tankable terrain offered an easier line of advance than the forbidding ridges on either side. Once Citta di Castello, which barred the entrance into this easy ground had fallen, Corps planned to loose armour in the basin. To give the tanks elbow room the axis of advance of Tenth Division veered into the north-west. Conforming to this change in direction, 20th Brigade shifted from the right to the left flank of the Division, crossing the Tiber. and coming up on the outside of 10th Brigade. 25th Brigade took over all responsibilities on the eastern bank of the river. The first of these was to break into Citta di Castello. Orders were issued immediately for the crossing of the Soara and the storming of the high ground in front of the town.
A canny bit of deception, in which the Divisional artillery laid down smoke screens on the German positions, while British tanks milled about and simulated attack, led to the disclosure of the enemy's defensive fire plan. Thereafter 25th Brigade knew where not to go. The tanks changed from feint to earnest, and on the night of July 20th two squadrons of 3rd Hussars forded the Soara and rumbled up a V-shaped hill against the German positions. Anti-tank guns knocked out the leading troop, but behind a concentration shoot the armour swept over the crest and ran riot among demoralized defenders. Germans scurried about, as one officer put it, "like fowls in a rainstorm", seeking only to escape.. The tanks shot them down as they ran. When King's Own followed up to consolidate, One Hundred and Fourteenth Jaeger Division had lost nine guns and three hundred men, of whom one hundred had been killed. Citta di Castello was undefended; and the thoroughly satisfied Hussars entered next morning.
Directly across the valley from the Montone area so brilliantly cleared by 20th Brigade, the River Nestore emptied into the Tiber, flowing down in a wide bend from the north-west. For the last five miles the Nestore river bottom was broad, flat and open, dominated by high ground to the north. It had been thickly mined, and constituted a continuation of the Montone-Carpini defensive position on the eastern bank of the Tiber. Its capture appeared a difficult proposition, and it lived up to its looks. On July 10th, 2/4 Gurkhas, led by Lieut.-Colonel G. A. Fullerton, D.S.O., with one company of Durham Light Infantry under command, crossed the minefields, and against exceedingly bitter opposition fought up the opposite hillside to the key German position at Trestina. The nodal area of the defence lay around the village church, which was stormed after ferocious hand-to-hand fighting. The remainder of the Durhams, following through in close support, consolidated and exploited the gains.
On July 16th three battalions smashed at the high ground overlooking Citta di Castello from the west. The Durhams stormed Monte Cedrone, taking 38 prisoners, while 2/4 Gurkhas battered their way into Uppiano. 3/10 Baluchis completed the task by seizing Monte Arnato, half-way between the Gurkha and Durham positions.
With both flanks secure, the exploitation of the Tiber Valley began. Skinners' Horse, 3rd Hussars, and Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry spread out and began to work up the widening valley above Citta di Castello. The country was very enclosed, covered with vineyards and fruit trees which. reduced visibility to twenty-five yards. From the first, fighting was confused and progress slow. Barging through the vineyards the tanks encountered enemies at touching distances. A German anti-tank gun was knocked out at a range of ten yards. Tank men opened their hatches to hurl grenades at infantry in the ditches. 10th Brigade was in touch with the armour on the left, 2/4 Gurkhas forming the link. The hillmen followed the Hussars into San Fista and San Romano, while the tanks cruised forward in the open ground to the line of the Anghiari-San Sepolcro road, where the Tiber valley again begins to narrow into a gorge. This armour foray paid handsome dividends. Not only did the incursion case the pressure on the infantry, which advanced in less favourable terrain, but the enterprise showed a profitable balance on general account. For the loss of one tank and six men, the raiders had killed one hundred and wounded three hundred of the enemy, had taken fourteen prisoners, knocked out three anti-tank guns, and destroyed a number of bazookas and machine-gun nests.
When the armour onset ended, the brigades west of the Tiber were busy mopping up in the thickly settled low ground adjacent to the river basin. Progress was slow, as the lie of the land prevented a general assault. Advances by fighting patrols or company groups invited counter-attacks on the same scale. Key positions and lines of approach were ranged to a yard by enemy guns. Intensively mined ground like wise retarded progress. Enemy agents, working in the hours of darkness, sowed Schu-mines in bivouac areas miles behind the forward troops. These devilish inventions were almost impossible to detect either by eye or by instrument. Sepoys prodding with their bayonets for antitank mines would be killed or blinded by touching off the delicate trigger of a Schu-mine which responds to a few pounds pressure. One officer, having lifted forty-six Schu-mines, was blinded and lost a leg on the forty-seventh. Lieut.-Colonel A. E. Cocksedge, D.S.O., commanding 3/5 Mahrattas, was another Schu-mine casualty in this area. It is interesting to note that when Colonel Cocksedge was wounded, his artillery liaison officer, Major James, of 68 Field Regiment, immediately assumed command of the infantry, an instance of the intimate co-operation between arms which prevailed throughout this operation.
The clearing of the sac-shaped Tiber basin ended the advance of Tenth Division on both banks of the river. On the night of July 28th, 25th Brigade joined the other two brigades on the west bank. A vigorous push into the north-west began. By July 31st, 25th Brigade were astride the lateral road at Anghiari, where the river enters a ravine in the Apennines. In front loomed the great massif of Alpe di Catenaia, with the abrupt buttress of Monte Montalto as its outpost. On the night of July 31st, after a night march of four miles across precipitous ridges, 3/18 Garhwalis appeared out of nowhere on the crest of this formidable height. Surprise was complete, and the enemy fled. The way had been opened for assault on the towering summits to the north.
A major operation now loomed, different in type to the flexible guerilla-like warfare which had characterized Tenth Division's advance from Perugia. During this month of constant fighting, in which the three brigades had advanced for more than forty miles over most difficult terrain, the technique of attack had steadily intensified. The operation had constituted invaluable training for the greater battles to come. The experience gained in deep reconnaissance, night marches, sudden assaults, and the varying tactics of surprise, gave unmistakable cues for success for the future. General Reid, ever quick-minded, hammered home the lessons learned. He had a, penchant for slogans, rightly believing that a significant phrase can mean more than a tome. As Tenth Division prepared for the critical work ahead, the instruction "Always lean forward" became its watchword. Interpreted, this slogan demanded deeper penetration, more intimate exploration of the enemy's rear, speedier infiltration. The assault must be stepped up.
Alpe di Catenaia consisted of an agglomeration of ridges and peaks rising to 4,000 feet, eight wiles to the north-west of the Divisional positions along the Sovara River. Like the great mass of Prato Magno to the west of Arezzo, and the Alpe della Luna to the east of the Tiber, this solid block could not be by-passed by way of either of the river valleys. These inhospitable trackless heights must be stormed before sufficient forces could be deployed to meet the enemy in his main positions around Florence. Nor was infiltration feasible amid this tangle of ravines, peaks and ridges. The massif could only be taken by frontal assault.
Three Hundred and Fifth German Infantry Division held Alpe di Catenaia with all three regiments in the forward positions. In addition, elements of Fifteenth Panzer Grenadier Division and One Hundred and Fourteenth Jaeger Division were available as reserves. A survey of the terrain made it apparent that at most a brigade group could be maintained on the crest of the mountains, so that the assault must go in against heavy odds. A jeep track would he pushed through as rapidly as possible, but the construction even of the roughest road up the precipitous hillsides promised to take too long to influence the course of the battle.
20th Brigade, which had been resting for a week, was selected to lead the assault. At 2100 hours on August 3rd, 3/5 Mahrattas followed by 2/3 Gurkhas and 8th Manchesters, crossed the Sovara and began to work up the slopes. Machine-gun nests opened fire, but false crests and deep, wooded ravines gave the Mahrattas cover as they clambered up the hillsides. The battalions were organized on a mule and man-pack basis and the assault troops were heavily laden. To maintain reasonable speed of movement required tremendous physical effort. The loose shale surfaces gave uncertain footing, and the heavy undergrowth compelled constant detours. Fortunately the enemy had concentrated the bulk of his troops on the higher ridges, and the slopes were too steep. to be effectively curtained by defensive fire. The Mahrattas plodded on, and two and a half hours after crossing the river, reached their start line at Point 941. High above loomed the defended positions, where Point 1201 stood at the northern tip of a ridge running into the main system. At 0200 the assault went in with the bayonet. After grim and bitter fighting the Mahrattas surged over the crest and destroyed the garrison of Point 1201. Without pause "B" Company moved off in the darkness, feeling for Monte Filetto, the first of the pinnacles which crowned the main ridge. Once again a swift rush broke into the enemy positions. Daylight revealed the Mahrattas to be firmly established on the southern buttresses of Alpe di Catenaia.
To march four miles, climb three thousand feet and storm two strong positions, made a great night's work. Dawn brought no rest. During the forenoon the Mahrattas began to infiltrate along the high saddleback towards the summit of Monte Altuccia. When evening fell two companies had secured this wooded peak. Leaving 'D' Company in garrison, "C" Company pushed on across the connecting ridge towards Monte Castello, the highest crest of all, standing four thousand six hundred feet above the valley. 2/3 Gurkhas moved up in close support while King's Own supplied garrisons for Points 941 and 1201, covering the right flank of the advanced positions. For a loss of one hundred men a foothold had been gained in the heart of the German defences.
It is difficult to understand why the enemy, with a full division available, launched no counter-attack during the first twenty-four hours of the new battle. It is possible that the Mahrattas' audacious enterprise caught the Germans unaware. Moreover, enemy communications, stemming from a lateral road between the Arno and Tiber valleys, were little more than goat paths along a bleak and precipitous mountainside. Furthermore, mist and rain cloaked the high crests and pinnacles, limiting accurate observation. In lieu of counter-attack, therefore, enemy artillery groups for hour after hour plastered the approaches to the ridges. King's Own reported six hundred shells as their portion of a single day's hate. The Gurkhas counted one thousand shells during the hours of daylight, with no man killed and only a few wounded. The shoot searched the rear areas and ignored the summits of the ridges---an indication that the enemy was unaware of the exact situation and was groping for targets.
Meanwhile the sappers and road construction units had moved forward, and were hard at work on a track to the mountain top battlefield. The troops mustered for this task included three companies of Indian Sappers and Miners, a Canadian drilling section, two Italian pioneer companies and a number of specialized mechanical units. From roadhead south of the Sovara the gangs cleared a way into the river bottom, a drop of four hundred feet. Beyond the crossing, the track followed old footpaths along the steep hillside, winding in and out of gullies, marching up the bed of mountain streams and ever climbing, until six miles beyond the Sovara it reached the battle positions three thousand seven hundred feet above the valley. Giant boulders, crumbling surfaces, rocky ledges, patches of scrub and heavy forest, alike succumbed to the caterpillars, picks and shovels and high explosive of the urgent sappers. Neither enemy shell fire nor direct attack impeded the progress. (Divisional anti-tank gunners, who supplied covering parties to the construction units, beat off an enemy raiding party which had penetrated as far as truckhead, and took seven prisoners.) The teamwork and pertinacity of the engineers triumphed over every obstacle and the bare log of accomplishment does less than justice to a superb achievement.
|Mule track||5 miles built by two platoons in 18 hours.|
|Jeep track||6 miles of high quality track for jeeps and trailers completed by four platoons and two Italian pioneer companies in 66 hours.|
|Tank track||5 miles completed by three platoons in 36 hours.|
With the forward company of Mahrattas on the slopes of Monte Castello, 2/3 Gurkhas concentrated at Monte Filetto and prepared to pass through for assault on the highest ground of all. The mopping up of the heavily wooded ridges delayed the next phase of the operation, but by the evening of August 5th the hillmen had taken over, had passed through, and had established themselves firmly on the summit of Monte Castello. One company thereupon moved downhill into the north-west towards Regina, a bare eroded bluff where the main ridge curved into the east. The lie of the ground can best be visualized by thinking of the Gurkhas' favourite weapon, with Altuccia and Castello forming the handle, and Regina nestling in the crook of the blade. A narrow neck of falling ground joined Regina to Castello on one side and Regina to the eastering main ridge on the other. A deep ravine separated the crests between the extremities of the arc. Cliff faces protected the Regina position on the north and west. The ridge was held by two battalions of the Fifteenth Panzer Grenadier Division.
The first exploratory advance of the Gurkhas encountered intense resistance, and the assault was not pushed home. On the following evening, two additional companies moved up to stiffen the attack. One company, with battalion headquarters and attached machine-gunners from Northumberland Fusiliers, remained in garrison on Monte Castello. As the Gurkhas advanced to their start line, a leading section overran an enemy outpost, taking prisoners. The frightened Germans gave accurate details of the Regina defences. In view of the strength revealed it was decided to set back the attack for a few hours, pending more detailed reconnaissance of the enemy positions.
Never was a more opportune and fortunate decision. While the Gurkhas on the saddleback adjoining Regina were waiting for additional information, elements of two fresh enemy battalions crossed the deep ravine eight hundred yards behind the forward companies and after a short bombardment dashed for the crest of Monte Castello. The machine-gunners on the right flank were overrun. Had the enemy been able to seize this dominating height, the Gurkhas would have been cut off and the success of the main operation jeopardized. Quickly appraising the situation, Colonel Somerville contacted his forward companies by wireless, bade them face about, deploy and hurry back, to fall upon the rear of the attacking force. The manoeuvre was executed as planned. The Gurkhas retraced their steps, and moving silently through the night, encircled and trapped the Germans. Day broke on a fearful scene. The hillmen went berserk, hunting to the death, springing in with the stroke from behind trees, from out of the undergrowth. Screams rang through the woods as Germans fled until brought down; others knelt in the open glades with arms upraised imploring mercy. Few escaped, and for years to come foresters cutting the summer growth will find in the bracken and bramble coverts skeletons which bear mute witness to swift and fearful retribution.
That evening two companies of Mahrattas came forward to take over the assault on Regina feature from the Gurkhas. Stubborn fighting ensued with swift counter-attacks upon the heels of every Indian gain. Ammunition ran low, and the final Mahratta attack went in with the bare steel. Beaten off the crest, the enemy infiltrated back along the slopes on either side. The Mahrattas withdrew; as the Germans followed up, curtain fire crashed down on all approaches to Regina. The enemy went to ground, and no further attempts made to interfere with the retirement.
With the Castello position secure, a breathing space ensued for 20th Brigade while the flank brigades worked up along the slopes of the mountain. This operation was still in progress when Tenth Corps was obliged to relinquish a division to the imminent offensive on the Adriatic front. Thereupon Tenth Indian Division spread out over double frontage, a circumstance which led to the interruption of the Alpe di Catenaia advance. To aid in covering the extended sector, 4/11 Sikhs, 1/4 Essex and Lovat Scouts were taken under command. On August 9th Tenth Division began to sideslip into the new positions. By August 14th, when realignment was completed, the Divisional units were dispersed over fifteen miles between the Tiber and Monte Grillo, to the west of the Arno. 12th Lancers and half of Lovat Scouts patrolled the top of the Tiber basin. 25th Brigade, with 4/11 Sikhs, held the high ground astride the Sovara river. 20th Brigade remained on the Alpe di Catenaia crests. Central Force consisting of King's Own, Royal Garhwalis, and part of Skinners' Horse, guarded the western slopes of the same massif. 10th Brigade, with the remainder of Skinners' Horse and Lovat Scouts, assumed responsibility for the left flank of the Division amid the high outcrops and spurs of the Prato Magno.
With such an extensive front, it was impossible to commit the Indians to a major assault, and battle tactics reverted to the type of exploitation so successfully employed in the advance up the Tiber Valley. General Reid gave his men a new slogan "Step up. Keep stepping up," he said. In other words, wherever patrols penetrated, the support groups must be at their heels. A patrol would find an opening. A platoon would occupy the position unobtrusively. Next night a company would consolidate the ground. The battalion would then move in, and the patrols would set forth on a fresh venture.
The dispersal of forces did, not in any degree dissipate the offensive spirit of Tenth Indian Division. Instead, everyone welcomed the return to flexible operations. Over the wide front the German garrisons nowhere were safe. On the extreme right of the Division a patrol of 8th Manchesters, consisting of one officer and four men, in broad daylight penetrated an enemy minefield covering Monte Doglio, disarmed two perfunctory sentries and took twenty-six sun-bathers prisoner. (Two days later the German officer commanding the detachment walked over to surrender, complete with batman. He deserted rather than face court-martial for negligence.) Subedar Alam Singh Chaudri of 3/18 Garhwalis with four men emulated Gideon's tactics in thick undergrowth, speeding around a German post and blazing from all directions to create an impression of superior numbers. Fifteen Germans emerged waving handkerchiefs. The Nazi corporal in command, when he twigged the ruse, threw his forage cap on the ground and jumped on it in disgust. Three days after the Manchesters' exploit at Monte Doglio, Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry and Royal Horse Artillery raided the same positions in strength. The tanks ran riot, killing 60 and wounding 200, for a loss of l officer and 4 men.
This thrustfulness on the Tiber was re-enacted on the opposite flank, where 10th Brigade with Durhams and Gurkhas leading, pushed deeper and deeper into the fastnesses of Prato Magno. In the broken country, Wheeler Force, consisting of Skinners' Horse and part of Lovat Scouts, operated over a wide front, probing and harassing the scattered enemy outposts. On August 22nd, Lovat Scouts picked up a prisoner who revealed the enemy's signal for a general withdrawal. Next evening three Italian partisans passed through the lines, located the headquarters of 115th German Reconnaissance Regiment, and from near at hand fired the proper flares. From hill to hill detached units repeated the signal. Within fifteen minutes demolitions and dump explosions began. Next day Prato Magno was clear of the enemy.
In the centre, on Alpe di Catenaia, 20th Brigade had gone into reserve, leaving 25th Brigade in charge of the Divisional front between the Arno and the Tiber. For a fortnight after the massacre on the approaches to Regina the enemy held grimly to this feature, until progress on the flanks weakened his hold. On the night of August 19th, 3/1 Punjabis stalked Regina from the rear, and secured the crest against negligible opposition. Two nights later, 3118 Garhwalis cleared Monte Foresto further down the slopes. (Lieutenant G. R. Grogan, M.C., in the course of this latter operation, attacked a house single-handed and captured 29 prisoners.) The enemy withdrawal was now in full swing. From Tiberside for 15 miles westward, the Indians probed, infiltrated, mopped up and pushed on. At Rassina, five miles south of Bibbiena, the Arno runs through a narrow gorge. Hills on both sides rise sheerly to 1,500 feet above the valley. The road is accommodated in a ledge cut in the cliff side. Any attempt to force this gap would have resulted in demolitions which would have blocked the highway indefinitely, so 10th Brigade swung into the hills, brushed aside opposition. by-passed the bottleneck, and hurried on. On August 27th, King's Dragoon Guards found the right flank to be open, with the Germans retreating into the mountains to the north-east. On the same day a patrol of 25th Brigade reached Bibbiena, the last important centre on the Arno below Florence. Among those liberated was Professor Fanny Copeland, O.B.E., a Scotswoman who had lived for twenty years in Yugo-Slavia. Her joy at liberation was concealed behind the pawky comment that she had expected to hear the pibroch and to see kilts on the leading troops.
By the end of August the eviction of the enemy from the upper Arno and Tiber valleys was all but complete. The Germans were withdrawing into the shelter of their latest and greatest defensive barrier on the wall of the High Apennines. During the months of retreat their engineers had toiled earnestly at the construction of a fortified zone along the crests of the mountains which stood in middle air a few miles to the north. The Gothic Line, as the new system was named, began on the Adriatic plain among the rolling ridges anchored to the buttress of the tiny city republic of San Marino. Thereafter, marching across high saddlebacks and steep-sided valleys, the defences followed the southern glacis of the highest watershed in Italy.
The Gothic Line had been highly publicized by the enemy. The Germans had dropped and fired over pamphlets touchingly entreating the Allies to avoid the carnage attendant upon assault upon such mighty fortifications. To Tenth Indian Division, however, the new positions meant no more than higher mountains and more numerous enemies, which in turn meant that additional effort that good soldiers conserve for emergency. As the Indian brigades closed upon the Gothic Line outposts, the prevalent attitude of the sepoys was one of curiosity and eagerness. It was left to 1/2 Punjabis, which had returned to the Division on August 26th as a component of 25th Brigade, to put the matter to the test.
On September 2nd this fine battalion approached Monte del Verna, a position of great strength on the outskirts of the fortified zone. The operation began in characteristic impromptu fashion. A patrol of platoon strength reconnoitring the village of Montellone, suddenly fixed bayonets and charged at the dead run. The German garrison, caught off guard, was overwhelmed, twenty being killed and sixteen captured. From this satisfactory takeoff the Punjabis moved to the east along the lateral road against La Verna. On September 5th the assault went in. Desperate fighting followed. The Punjabis cleared Monte Faggiolo with the bayonet. The enemy smashed back, only to break his teeth on a granite defence. Five counter-attacks were repulsed in the course of the day, and it took five hours of mopping up to destroy the diehard squads who fought to the death around La Verna.
With this important feature in the bag and the Punjabis still full of fight, the attack turned into the east and struck for the high ground under the shoulders of Monte Castelsavino. Pouring rain beat on the faces of the indomitable sepoys as the assault was launched on a two-company front. The Indians had outran their artillery and surged unsupported to the battle. Fighting of unbridled bitterness followed as they broke through the defences. By the end of the day the German garrison was destroyed, sixty-five dead being picked up along the ridge. Exhausted and chilled to the bone, the triumphant Punjabis handed over to King's Own, who pushed on through heavy mist and rain to storm the summit of Castelsavino.
On 20th Brigade's front, across the Arno to the west, the advance likewise pressed remorselessly. On September 1st, Manchesters and Mahrattas were in contact with Gothic Line outposts at Poggio, Baralla and Gressa. Skinners' Horse brought up a seventy-five millimetre gun and pumped an introductory shell at the Line. In front of Gressa the Mahrattas engaged in a wild hurly-burly with enemy raiders who left eleven dead and two prisoners in a futile attempt to snatch identifications. By the middle of September Tenth Indian Division was closed up against the main German positions on its entire front. From Bulciano on the right to Morciano on the left the mountains were studded with strong-points in which the enemy stood in strength. Nevertheless, the reconnoitring craft of the Indians enabled small detachments to penetrate this fortified zone. Moving by night and lying up by day these stealthy patrols spied out the land and brought back valuable information. To test German intentions the Manchesters staged a mock attack near Morciano which revealed the pattern of the enemy's defensive fire plan. A series of similar devices enabled the Indians to ink in the picture of what confronted them. The more they learned the surer they felt that they had the foe's measure. All ranks looked forward to a major operation with the greatest confidence.
Tenth Division, however, was not destined to fight in the mountains it knew so well. At the beginning of September Eighth Army had opened a massive offensive on the Adriatic front. In the last ten days of that month the Indians were relieved and at once moved to join in the great new battle. Wheeler Force, which consisted of Skinners' Horse, the Manchesters and Nabha Akal Infantry (a fine State Forces unit lately arrived from Middle East) remained behind to open up Route 71 between Bibbiena and Florence. For the next month this detached column mopped up and harried rearguards in such fashion as to earn encomiums from the Army Commander. At the conclusion of this task the Manchesters, reduced to skeleton strength by casualties and repatriation of long service men, left the Division. The other units rejoined their respective formations on the Adriatic front.
Before following Tenth Indian Division into the Adriatic battle, it is necessary to record the fortunes of others during the advance through Central Italy.
Table of Contents