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Stuck in front of the Gustav Line - and "The Plan"

by RichardCory

You are browsing in:

Archive List > World > Italy

Contributed by 
RichardCory
People in story: 
John Cory
Location of story: 
Italy - Gustav Line
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A6326318
Contributed on: 
23 October 2005

We arrived at the RHQ of the 8th, Survey in time for lunch and after this we surveyors, six in all, were collected by the transport of ‘Don’ Troop of the sound ranging battery. Thus, the long journey from the UK. had ended.

The Troop was at rest, in Carano village, in front of the Massico Ridge occupied by the enemy. From the top of the church tower the front could be seen including Cassino and Gaida, 7 miles away.

After being introduced to all and sundry we were given a talk about the Regiment. It was formed at the beginning of the war, the nucleus being a territorial counter-battery intelligence unit, the home-base being in south Wales.

They have served in North Africa and had taken part in the greatest artillery barrage of all times up to then, resulting in victory at El Alemien, when the German Afrika Corp and the Italian army were soundly beaten, resulting in total surrender of enemy forces in North Africa.

The enemy immediately occupied Italy by pouring in troops form Germany. The Regiment was in the invasion of Italy which took place on the beaches of Salerno, South of Naples. It was a touch and go affair, to establish a foothold, and then fighting on all fronts, except the sea, against a determined defence.

Allied forces eventually became stuck northwards in front of the enemy’s defence position — the ‘Gustav Line’, stretching across the mountains, from Gaeta to Ortona.

Churchill secretly decreed that the war in Italy must be pursued vigorously, to force the enemy to commit the maximum number of divisions to Italy, at the time of ‘Overload’ — the invasion of Europe, over the Channel.

With this in mind and to break the deadlock up against the Gustav Line, a further beachhead invasion took place, this time at Anzio. Unfortunately crack Panzer troops happened to be in the area who were able to contain the invasion to a confined pocket and with the help of artillery made the area a very unhealthy one for the Allies.

Hitler proclaimed that the Gustav Line would be held at any sacrifice, ensuring that Rome would not fall to the Allies. He also realised that further Allied occupation of territory north would enable two-way bombing by Allied airforces to take place over Germany, including the southern cities and industrial areas.

Both sides sent in reinforcements resulting in 25 Allied Divisions facing 23 German Divisions, the latter having terrain advantage in defence.

The Gurkas who had valiantly held the forward slopes to Cassino suffered heavy losses and had been withdrawn. Three further attempts to take Cassino had failed, first by US Troops, then by the New Zealanders when the monastery itself was bombed, then again by the New Zealanders when Cassino town was bombed. Heavy casualties were suffered on each occasion.

Thus the situation became static and the enemy felt they had contained the Allied advance northwards, and could expect a victory at Anzio.

The stage was set for the secret plan ‘Diadem’ agreed by the Allies, a concerted three front attack, along the Russian Front, the break through the Gustav Line and capture of Rome, and the commencement of the second front, ‘D’ day, invasion of Europe from over the Channel.

A huge amount of artillery began to move up towards the Gustav Line, well hidden from the eyes of the enemy.

Settling in with Don Troop — Village Life — First spell of Action

The majority of Surveyors in the troop had been teachers in civvy street, including the three officers and the No. 1 sergeant, by the name of Netley. We six newcomers joined the troop as replacements. We were soon put through our paces to find out what we know. We did observing and computations and dummy HQ work. I was offered the chance to be a draughtsman which meant more work in speeding up.

For a short spell we moved back, to Casaluce, a village south of Naples. A visiting MO. gave us all a Typhus injection and then we went to RHQ for a bath. The latter turned out to be three showers in a tent and a good size boiler outside with a fire underneath, which looked as though it would blow up any minute. We had to take along our water wagon, to give back the amount of water used.

A journey of 80 miles followed, north for awhile, then along the 8th. Army front, over the Apennines and through a pass to Spinete. This village commanded a good view of a range of snow-capped mountains. My billet was a farmhouse, perched on the mountainside.

Mike and I had a look around the village and found a piano and looked forward to a good play. Mike was one of the original members of the regiment and had been a classics and music master at a public school. Very gifted, as a pianist and in languages, but hopeless in Maths. He failed the standard. He begged to be allowed to stay on in the regiment and became a driver. And so he remained, somewhat absent-minded but perfectly happy. He had to be watched, he had the habit of playing a tin whistle whilst driving.

The 7th of April begin Good Friday, a procession took place around the village in the morning, representing Calvary. Headed by a blood-stained cloth held high, then an effigy of Christ on the Cross, followed by that of the Madonna, the locals kicked up a noise, which was supposed to be chanting.

Yesterday we were paid, which was fortunate as most of us were short, in the moving about we had gone without for a fortnight. Allied forces pay was in Military Lire ‘AMGOT’, paper money in various denominations, geared to Sterling for rate of exchange at the time of being paid. It was freely interchangeable with the civilian Lire which was being de-valued almost every two weeks, due to the war situation. We drew what money we wanted for the time, and left the rest in ‘Credits’.

We heard that we would be going into action and I was to be part of the advance party to setup the HQ. So off we went, a 30 mile journey to a mountain village, called Acqua Viva.

The first job was to secure billets for the troop and a suitable place for the HQ. We looked around the village requisitioning the best houses, usually one or two rooms per house. This had to be done in a gentle manner, unlike the Germans who would have thrown all the inhabitants out onto the street. We put up regimental signs on our properties.

We imposed a curfew on the population, 8.30pm and got the local policemen to nail a notice up in the square.

A valley swept below our mountain up to a further range in the hands of the enemy, being part of the Gustav Line. Our village was on the side facing away form the line, Cassino was to our left flank. We had the village to ourselves, but Polish troops were in the area, also an Indian Mule company that carried ammunition and food into the mountains.

Except for the odd shell or two passing over from both sides the front was quiet, perhaps the reason being our Poles were facing Poles on the other side. The latter were officered by Germans and mostly were pressed men. As and when they got the chance many deserted to their fellow countrymen on our side, and I understand, joined the Polish Free Forces eventually. The enemy go fed-up with their Poles and withdrew them from the line.

Survey work was progressing in setting out the base and having some spare time helped the wirers installing one of the Mics and wiring back to HQ. Then it was back to work, as I was to prepare the board. As and when survey results came in and were computed my work began, finishing at 10.00pm.

The base was in action 1 ½ hours later but I had retired to my bed — or I should say my two blankets on the floor, to try and get some sleep.

I was on first shift in the morning, 8.00am to 4.00pm, as draughtsman, then next day 12.00pm to 8.00am, followed by 4.00pm to 12.00pm. This was the pattern, 8 hours duty per day for 3 days, followed by a day off. It was more like a civvy job.

Things started on the slow side but as the days progressed began to hot-up. A new procedure followed. Each evening as darkness settled some of our artillery started up all along the line, drawing fire from the enemy. We managed to get some good plots. This regular bombardment died down after an hour and the front became silent, allowing the enemy to go to bed.

We found out that the billet housing our HQ team had belonged to the Doctor, the local fascist leader. He had died but his widow was very disagreeable, she carried on a war of evil looks and gestures. We had not been lucky in selecting this house and had to look elsewhere to get our washing done.

In our off duty periods we could spend the time as we wished, rambling in the countryside or just lazing about. We could arrange a trip possibly to the sea or a town in the rear where we could go to a forces club or see a film.

During the period I went on trips to Campo-Basso and Isernia, also back to Spinetti for an egg hunting expedition, calling on farms and trading in rations obtained form the cook house.

Eggs were short on our menu, and we came back with enough for the troop, one each, plus a few extra for ourselves and the cook.

A village custom seemed very strange to us, women carrying large copper pitchers of water balanced on their heads. Water was not laid on to the houses.

Our OC assuming the post of ‘town major’ became concerned with the untidy and filthy state of the village, the stench from sewage was becoming unbearable, the mobile collecting tank service had broken down.

He gave the villagers three days to clear the place up, or no rations. A small detachment of RE’s were having similar trouble getting enough men to mend the unsurfaced roads and tracks around the village. Although a paid job some did not turn up and others disappeared after awhile. With the aid of the policeman, they were threatened with prison. It was important that the potholes were filled in, these roads and tracks would get some heavy traffic, later on.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Stuck in front of the Gustav Line - and "The Plan"

Posted on: 23 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Mr Cory

I have read your account of your father's experience in Italy with great interest. However, with great respect, in setting the historical background you have confused several things:

1. "victory at El Alemien, when the German Afrika Corp and the Italian army were soundly beaten, resulting in total surrender of enemy forces in North Africa"

Unfortunately El Alamein was just the start of the long hard slog to Tunisia. It was the prelude to Torch, the Allied invasion of North West Africa and the subsequent advance to Tunisia, the theatre of operations from November 1942 to May 1943. It was in Tunis, not at El Alamein, that the Axis forces finally surrendered in North Africa.

2 "... the invasion of Italy which took place on the beaches of Salerno, South of Naples. It was a touch and go affair, to establish a foothold"

By the time of the Salerno Landings the Allies were well established in Italy. But before that the island of Pantelleria had to be conquered (June 1943), followed by the invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky, 10 July - 17 August, 1943) and, from Messina, the invasion of Italy (Operation Baytown, on 3 September 1943).

3. "Churchill secretly decreed that the war in Italy must be pursued vigorously, to force the enemy to commit the maximum number of divisions to Italy, at the time of ‘Overload’ — the invasion of Europe, over the Channel".

Treating the Italian campaign as a diversion simply to pin down German troops wasn't the intention nor was it ever feasible. The ruggered terrain in Italy requires far less troops for defence than it does for attack. You yourself later say that there were "25 Allied Divisions facing 23 German Divisions". The plan to pin down as many German trrops as possible came much later - in Operation Diadem.

3. "Anzio. Unfortunately crack Panzer troops happened to be in the area who were able to contain the invasion to a confined pocket"

There were no crack German troops in the area to oppose the landings at Anzio. The landing itself went quite well. It was the reluctance of Major General John Lucas to press forward to occupy the Alban Hills which gave the incredulous Germans time to retrieve the situation.

4. "Hitler ... realised that further Allied occupation of territory north [in Italy] would enable two-way bombing by Allied airforces to take place over Germany, including the southern cities and industrial areas"

On what grounds do you assert this? If you do have information of this point I would be interested to see it. By September 1943 the Allied bombing campaign of Germany had reached its peak and it is difficult to envisage how it could have been intensified further.

5. "The Gurkas who had valiantly held the forward slopes to Cassino suffered heavy losses and had been withdrawn. Three further attempts to take Cassino had failed, first by US Troops, then by the New Zealanders".

I am afraid you have this in the wrong order, it was the American's who were in the 1st Battle of Monte Cassino. The New Zealand Corps and the 4th Indian Division (which included the Ghurkas) were in the 2nd Battle of Monte Cassino. The German defenders finally surrendered to the Poles in the 4th Battle of Monte Cassino.

6. "The stage was set for the secret plan ‘Diadem’ agreed by the Allies, a concerted three front attack, along the Russian Front, the break through the Gustav Line and capture of Rome"

"Diadem" was simply the first of a three-part spring 1944 offensive in Italy, it had nothing to do with Russia. Stalin never gave the dates of any attack to the western Allies:

Part I: 'Diadem', the final battles for Rome.
Part II: 'Olive', the breaching of the Gothic Line.
Part III: 'Grapeshot', the destruction of Army Group C.

In his revised appreciation Alexander defined his object as 'To force the enemy to commit the maximum number of divisions to operations in Italy at the time Overlord is launched". The capture of Rome became secondary (the intention was to by-pass it) and trap the Germans. However, his subordinate, the American Lieutenant-General Mark Clark, dropped the plan which could have cut off the major part of the German forces, for a vain rush to enter Rome first. The Germans had already left Rome, when he entered with press photographers, and were streaming north.

Regards,

Peter Ghiringhelli

 

Message 2 - Stuck in front of the Gustav Line - and "The Plan"

Posted on: 23 October 2005 by RichardCory

Dear Peter,

Unfortunately here its not me who is the historian but my father "John Cory" who wrote all of this. He died in 1998.

I remember at the time he wrote this he read widely on the Italian campaign and the war in general to try to remind himself of the context.

Maybe you haven't read quite the same texts?

I think you'll have to argue it out with him, only he's dead.

Richard Cory
Geologist/Musician
(no knowledge of 2nd world war)

 

Message 3 - Stuck in front of the Gustav Line - and "The Plan"

Posted on: 24 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Richard

Thank you for your response. I am sorry to hear that your father died in 1998.

However, that does not alter the matter and the facts are as I have stated them. I think you will agree that events are not subject to argument, they can only be right or wrong - it is not a matter of reading different texts. It is only the interpretation and significance of events that can be argued about.

Kind regards,
Peter

 

Message 4 - Stuck in front of the Gustav Line - and "The Plan"

Posted on: 24 October 2005 by RichardCory

OK Peter

I have to bow to your superior knowledge of the campaign. I don't think it was my Dads intention to cause any controversy with his memoirs of which this is only one small part.

I think the best thing would be if you would advise me the best way to edit it to achieve an accurate account of the events surrounding his story. I'm sure he wouldn't mind a bit of help from his old buddies.

Richard

 

Message 5 - Stuck in front of the Gustav Line - and "The Plan"

Posted on: 25 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Richard

You have asked me for best way to edit your father's story to achieve an accurate account. Before doing so, I must emphasis that I am just a member of this website as you are and I am not a member of the WW2 Editorial Team.

That said, I would leave out all the historical background paragraphs and leave everything else, the part dealing with your father's personal experience, untouched. I would particularly leave out his version of the history of 8 Survey Regiment, RA.

For example, your father said that the regiment "was formed at the beginning of the war". It was formed, in fact, in February 1941. You may check some important dates here http://www.ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/svy/page8.htmlAbout links

Your father then says "They have served in North Africa and had taken part in the greatest artillery barrage of all times up to then, resulting in victory at El Alemien," In fact, the Battle of Alamein started with that barrage on the night of 23/24 October 1942, but at that time 8 Survey Regiment, RA, was still in England and about to embark to join the 1st Army after the Torch landings in North-West Africa. 5 and 8 Survey Regiments, RA, were at First Army GHQ; the Advanced Headquarters landed at Algiers, over a thousand miles west of El Alamein, on 9 November and the Order of Battle lists the two survey regiments (the 5th and 8th) there on 18 December 1942.

8 Survey Regiment remained with 1st Army until July 1943 when the regiment was transferred to Middle East Forces, GHQ. They didn't take part in the Sicily campaign but, instead, on 29 September 1943 they went straight to Italy to the 8th Army. But since your father was not with them during this period, you may consider it irrelevant to his story. The first two paragraphs relate to your father's personal experience and, in my opinion, should not be touched. But after that all could be removed down to "Settling in with Don Troop — Village Life — First spell of Action".

I hope this helps.

Kind regards,
Peter

Message 1 - Stick in Front of the Gustav Line

Posted on: 24 October 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Peter / Richard

thank you Peter for an accurate time line of the campaigns in the Desert / North Africa / Sicily and finally Italy.
Two or three things come to mind as i am sure we will hear from Ron Goldstein, Harry Hargraves and many others who were there most of the time.
The "invasion" of Pantelleria was
carried out by my old regiment - the 16th/5th Lancers - and what a to do that was - a complete and total waste of every resource known to man, mind you this was before I joined them!
I wonder just how many people were able to swan off from the envirions of Cassino in order to visit Campobasso for example , some 60 miles away without rousing the suspicions of the red caps ?
The Ghurka's of the 4th Indian Division were also involved with the New Zealanders in the ill fated third battle as well as the 2nd battle when the monastery was bombed.
It was at the Cassino Sation where the 16th/5th was "resting" when a New Zealander wandered over and asked " do you know why they call us Kiwi's ?"
In the silence which follwed he continued " because we cannot fly - we cannot see - and we are fast becoming extinct up here"! Such was the ferocity of those battles, and the men who served there should not be belittled - by anyone.
Otherwise I would agree wholeheartedly with Peter's comments as being factual and from excellent references as well as conversations with people such as myself, the afore mentioned Ron and Harry and many many more who survived.
We extend our sympanthy for the loss of your father as he obviously was one of us at some time.
best regards
tomcan

 

Message 2 - Stick in Front of the Gustav Line

Posted on: 24 October 2005 by RichardCory

OK you guys,

I have to bow to your superior knowledge of the campaign. I don't think it was my Dads intention to cause any controversy with his memoirs of which this is only one small part.

I think the best thing would be if Peter would advise me the best way to edit it to achieve an accurate account of the events surrounding his story. I'm sure he wouldn't mind a bit of help from his old buddies.

Richard

 

Message 3 - Stick in Front of the Gustav Line

Posted on: 24 October 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Richard -
I would go along with your suggestion as we refer to Peter as the "Oracle" inasmuch as we are led to believe that he has actually read a couple of books on this very subject as indeed we all have in the 60 years which we were fortuate to have been allowed since that conflict ended.
I do think that we all share the same curiosity of that war which it was a case of disblief that it all happened - in the way it happened.
I am reminded of Monty as he was trying to get across the River Sangro - which might have been his last battle in Italy. He watched a British plane being shot down and the pilot parachuted out. Monty then sent someone to pick the pilot up. Later at lunch Monty asked the Pilot what he thought the first principles of War was. The Australian Pilot thought about this for a minute and finally answered - "everyone stops frigging about !" Monty roared with laughter ! It would have helped end the war sooner had everyone complied with that principle !

Cheers

 

Message 4 - Stick in Front of the Gustav Line

Posted on: 25 October 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Dear Richard

Firstly, to get down to basics, you are to be highly complimented on bringing your late father's memoirs into the public domain.

Please don't take umbrage at comments regarding the factual accuracy of his fascinating story.

We, and I include myself, have all at some time or another had to accept that memory will ALWAYS play us false and you have merely been the messenger when bringing your father's story into the public gaze.

If I might make a suggestion it would be as follows:

On the very first page of his story add a para that would say in effect "This is my Dad's story, exactly as he left it for his family. There may be some factual inaccuracies which I am happy to leave to others to comment on"

Having said all that, you can safely take Peter's version as being the correct one, I always do and look where it's got me <smiley>

Best wishes

Ron

 

Message 5 - Stick in Front of the Gustav Line

Posted on: 27 October 2005 by RichardCory

Ron,

Thanks for your kind and encouraging comments, which have helped a lot.

At one point last weekend I was beginning to wonder what I had done(it was a bit like stirring up a Balrog in the depths of Moria).

But I feel more encouraged now, and will attempt to edit the peice with Peters help.

Thanks again

Richard

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