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Italy Central to the foothills of the Alps - Spring 45 — Action with the 10th. Mountain Infantry Division

by RichardCory

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Contributed by 
RichardCory
People in story: 
John Cory
Location of story: 
Italy
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A6537080
Contributed on: 
30 October 2005

My father John Cory’s story from his memoir “A Span of Years” as left to the family, edited by Richard Cory. The opinions expressed here are my father’s.

March 7th 45 found ‘Don’ troop in support of the 10th Mountain Infantry Division, of the 5th American Army. The base was near Volpano, HQ being a farmhouse. Although the front had been more or less static for 4 months the 10th had made a small gain by capturing Monte Belvedere, by scaling a difficult face of the mountain and catching the enemy with their trousers down.

Generally speaking the Allies had at least got their toes into the Gothic Line and had a secure grip on the flooded fringes of the coastal flanks. Throughout the winter the Allied Airforce had kept up their sweeps over enemy territory, blowing up railway junctions, highways and bridges over the rivers. The Brenner pass was closed by bombing. This had to be done again and again after each time the enemy cleared it.

During the winter the enemy had been able to hold the allies in front of their defence line, but conditions behind this line became more and more difficult. Communications became hectic and ammunition became more important than food to move. By necessity they started living off the land taking cattle, horses, grain and anything else eatable and drinkable. When the local people objected they got knocked about. They started taking the younger men for forced labour in Germany, the majority fled to the mountains and joined the partisans. The enemy began to be thoroughly disliked by the population.

There were so many partisans as the territory became liberated that a whole battalion of them was formed, trained and equipped for active support at the front. Others were trained for duty behind the enemy lines, to blow up bridges and other installations and to ambush enemy patrols. Others were dropped far into enemy territory to await the day when the Allies would finally break through the mountains and they would be needed. The training was carried out by such irregular troops as Popskis Private Army who formed the nucleus of such forces. Thus a SAS was formed, termed at that time SAS (I) — Special Air Service (Italian).

The enemy had very few aircraft to deploy, in the whole of my service in Italy I only saw two in the sky at any one time.

In spite of their difficulties in March 45 they defended their position with 30 divisions in the field, compared with our 20 odd. Out of their divisions the enemy had to employ troops to keep down the Italian population, we could count on active support of the partisans.

Back to our base, the situation started on the quiet side, just a few enemy shells coming over at intervals, not too near and nothing to worry about. We were billeted on the backward slope of the house and the walls were thick.

As the days passed the front became active and on the 14th two of our fellows at one of the AP’s were wounded. Obviously the AP had been observed and during the night we moved it to another position. We locate the culprit. On the 17th further shells came dangerously close to our other AP, which was likewise moved to a safer spot.

Our hosts, the 10th had their HQ about ½ mile to our rear and in our off duty periods we were made welcome. It was not necessary to arrange guards as our friends patrolled our area, day and night.

They were very comfortably placed in their HQ and although they also slept on the floor they had thin but effective latex mattresses, sheets similar to sleeping bags, inflatable pillows, far better quality blankets to ours, and to top it all — pyjamas! They kitted us up with these items but we baulked at pyjamas.

They had a common room and most evenings turned into drinking sessions, they were liberally supplied with the hard stuff, rye whisky and gin. They were a tough crowd, expert skiers, carried their equipment on mules in the mountains and had mountain guns which were carried in bits and could be easily assembled. Some had Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish origins. I well remember ‘Max’ a hefty top sergeant who came from the Bronx and was half Italian and half Jewish. He was quite a comedian.

We were always welcome to join them in the entertainment, booze, a cook-up and usually finishing with a rowdy sing song.

We were not entirely forgotten by our regiment. Joss turned up with his truck coming a good distance from the 8th. Army position. He brought food supplies, pay on account and our free ration of beer and cigarettes. Beer ration was three pint bottles per week and cigarettes fifty, although we could buy a further fifty at a cheap rate. We didn’t really need the beer or cigarettes, our friends had plenty, cartons of 200 Lucky Strike and Camel and even pipe tobacco, which they thrust upon us.

We found out they were paid considerably more than us. They were quite new to the theatre only arriving in Italy a few months previously.

Second Front News 24/3
The British Army crosses the Rhine, north of Cologne

Three enemy guns began causing trouble to our friends at the rear and by request we carried out a ranging shoot on our plots using the American artillery. We got one complete knock out and two doubtful. These guns didn’t fire again, even the doubtful.

Second Front News, 10/4
Hanover Captured.

Equipment started moving up behind us, guns tanks and other armoured vehicles. Our guns started firing which attracted retaliatory fire from the enemy, things really came alive and we became very busy.

For the next two nights the enemy was kept awake by heavy barrages raining down on them.

In the meantime the rest of the front became active, diversionary attacks and heavy barrages. Allied aircraft increased attacks in enemy territory.

On the 9th April the 8th Army Free Polish Corp stormed the enemy positions in their sector and moved slowly on their way towards the plain, fighting for every yard.

On the right flank the British with Commandos attacked using amphibious craft to cross Lake Comacchio, others paddled through the flooded fringes.

New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians moved forward in their sectors, in fact all the front line troops were on the go.

Getting back to our patch with the Americans April 13th proved a quiet day, inactive on the base and only the odd shell or two coming over. We bedded down for a good nights rest.

Waking up next morning we found that our friends had gone, having moved silently up to their start positions during the night. The 10th began their attack 8.30am.

The guns opened up and shells started coming back in return. One house in the village was hit and destroyed and the locals retired to their cellars.

Towards dark the guns moved to positions in front of us and started another barrage. Searchlights were brought up to light up the mountains in front. From our vantage point it was an impressive sight, a red glow over the mountains and enemy shells bursting haphazardly like fireworks. We couldn’t hear ourselves speak.

We thought of our friends and wondered how they were getting on. That night we sheltered as best we could and bedded down in our clothes. We got very little sleep.

Things gradually cooled down, the battle moving forward and we went out of action during the afternoon of the 20th.

8th. Army News 21/4

the 2nd. Polish Corp. captured Bologna and raised their flag in the centre, joined a little later by troops of the American 5th Army in pincer movement.

Once again the Poles had broken through the enemy defences and a large gap had been created for the Allied main thrust to go through.

The same day we moved via Vergato, very badly damaged and deserted, to a field by the side of the road, near Monti St. Giovanni. A steady stream of prisoners was passing down the road, some walking and some in their trucks.

After a nights rest we moved again, to Crespillano, Pragatto, by way of the remaining mountains and at last we were on the plain of Lombardy. During the night two enemy planes bombed our convoys moving up the road.

Up and away in the morning we followed the route of a spearhead, similar to that of the 10th. bypassing Bologna and stopped for a meal at St. Agatha.

Moving on from here it very soon became a victory parade. In the villages we passed through the people lined the streets, cheering, waving and covering us with flowers. The flags were out, white ones to denote no enemy present, Italian, union Jacks and Stars and Stripes. In one village there was a large placard with the words ‘What’s kept you — we’ve waited so long — glad you’re here;.

When we stopped we were given bottles of wine and even bread and salami. The whole area was full of partisans, including girls, all armed to the teeth. While we moved ahead it was the job of the partisans to protect our flanks.

On the way we saw much enemy equipment, trucks abandoned for want of petrol, and knocked out tanks and artillery. We took over two of the trucks so that we could travel in more comfort.

In the early evening we arrived at Moglia, little ‘Don’ troop was the first allied soldiers to enter to the cheers of the population lining the streets. Our billet was made ready, a school.

That night was a wild one, free wine and food thrust upon us, a speech by the partisan leader, from the town hall balcony, Mike and I finished up on a piano.

Later on the enemy bombed and straffed the town, but with very little damage and nobody seemed bothered to even notice.

We kept up the festivities until moving off on the morning of the 26th, still being cheered on our way. Passing over a pontoon bridge on the river Po, we made our way to Castle Belforti, a farm commune, for a night’s rest in the school building.

Next day we joined another column moving forward, via Castiglioni to Ghedi.

A report came through that an enemy body of 4000 was in the neighbourhood and had decided to fight it out. We turned out manning road blocks and other strategic points with machine guns, until the dawn when artillery was brought up. After being peppered with shells for nearly an hour they were quick to give in. Many were just young lads, hardly out of school.

Army HQ.Italy — News
It was given out over the radio that Milan, Genoa and some other big cities were in the hands of the Partisans.

The type of country we had entered was extremely flat, very fertile, with wide strips of tilled land intersected with dykes and ditches, rice being the main crop.

Ever onward, on the 29th we were on our way, via Brescia, Rovato, Cocaglio, Palazzola and Friate to a country estate near Ponte San Pietro. More wild scenes of welcome on the way. As we were going north , unhappy Germans in their thousands were moving south, on the same roads to captivity. We got the cheers, they got the jeers.

From Ponte San Pietro could be seen the mountains of Switzerland, we had arrived at the foot of the Alps.

A report came though that an enemy corp was holding our near Milan. We were directed to Castellarso di Bollate, via Cormano, in case we were needed. Milan could be seen in the distance. We were the first Allied troops to arrive in the village and were billeted in a Commune.

Army HQ. Italy — News
It came over the radio that Mussolini had been caught and shot, trying to cross over into Switzerland, near Lago di Como. His body had been brought to Milan and thrown in the gutter. The population were lining up to spit on it.

On Wednesday the 2nd, May the long awaited news came over the army radio the German Army in Italy and part Austria had surrendered unconditionally as from 12.00 hours.

Cut to shreds by the Allies fanning out spearhead movements most of the army had already given in and the rest were being badgered by the partisans. They had no choice, their only way for retreat over the Alps had been cut off.

Before the end, our friends, the 10th. Mountain Infantry Division, had reached Lake Garda and moved up into the Alps, only being stopped by the tunnel entrances being blown up.

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Message 1 - Italian Partisans 1943-1945

Posted on: 30 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Richard

You say that "There were so many partisans as the territory became liberated that a whole battalion of them was formed, trained and equipped for active support at the front. Others were trained for duty behind the enemy lines, to blow up bridges and other installations and to ambush enemy patrols. Others were dropped far into enemy territory to await the day when the Allies would finally break through the mountains and they would be needed. The training was carried out by such irregular troops as Popskis Private Army who formed the nucleus of such forces". This is very far from the truth. Regular troops of the Italian army were assisting the Allies after September 1943, but this had nothing whatsoever to do with the partisan movement.

The Allies didn't train the partisans and there were certainly more than one battalion - in the end there were entire brigades of partisans locked in a deadly struggle with crack German troops. They were controlled by the National Liberation Committee in Milan, but depended on arms drops by the OSS.

There was a civil war in Italy. Partisans did their own training, they were mainly ex-regular troops (particularly young officers), young Italian Jewish men, dedicated anti-fascists, communists, socialists, Catholics (Italians are mainly Catholics, but these were ex-Popolari and followers of De Gaspari), and increasingly, young non-political Italians avoiding forced labour in Germany. All agreed to drop their political differences for the duration of the war. Help from the Allies (dropped arms, liaison officers, etc) came very much later.

For security reasons, every partisan was only known to his comrades by a 'nom de guerre' (which was embroidered on his neckerchief), so that if captured and tortured, he could not reveal any real names; this was important to protect a partisan's family and relatives.

A good site in English is here http://www.cia.gov/csi/kent_csi/pdf/v41i5a06p.pdfAbout links

You can see some photos of Partisans here, at the A.N.P.I, (National Association of Italian Partisans): http://www.anpi.it/About links Incidentally, you could get yourself shot just for whistling that simple tune.

You can also get some background information from my own story here A1993403.

Peter

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