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Central Italy, Travelling North under movement control, Tears , Cheers and Flowers.

by RichardCory

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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.

We left our village at 10.50am. on the 3rd. June, the inhabitants waving and wishing us Adios. We followed the river Sangro and moved through the National Park, camping in a field 2 KM’s from Athena. There was destruction everywhere and may mines to avoid. Our field was full of pieces of shrapnel and there was a number of shell holes. Funnily enough the crop was making a brave attempt to grow, a mixture of beans, poppies and mint. Now on the level and the weather being hot and sunny, we bathed in the nearby river.

On the 4th June part of the American 5th, Army entered Rome

General Mark Clark drove into Rome with a small column of jeeps, a token infantry force and plenty of press-men. They lost their way several times and had to ask the way to Capitoline Hill.

By some mishap of communication the City officials were not there to receive them when they eventually turned up at their destination.

The Stars and Stripes, the Union Jack and, for some reason or other, the Tricolour, were run-up high.

The ‘conqueror’ of Rome made his declaration to a small group of passers-by who had stopped find out what was going on.

He ‘cocked-up’ his official speech — of one sentence.

‘This is a great day for the fifth Army and the French, British and American troops of the Fifth Army who made this victory possible’

The second ‘fifth’ should have been ‘Eighth’ and there were no Americans in latter.

At noon on June 6th. Churchill rose in the House and asked the Commons to take note of the liberation of Rome by the Allied Armies under the supreme command of General Alexander. He devoted a further ten minutes to the Italian campaign, paying tribute to the troops of the Allied Armies there. Having ended and after a slight pause he added, in the tone of an afterthought, ‘ I also have to announce that during the night and early hours of this morning the first series of landings upon the European Continent has taken place’

Amid cheers he sat down.

At last the secret ‘Diadem’ plan had been achieved, and the message to all fronts was ‘Forward to Victory’

Getting back to our patch, we heard that the enemy was on the run, northwards and it wasn’t long before we were told we were under movement control.

We mounted machine guns on all the vehicles and cleaned and oiled our rifles, we were ready.

The first order came on the 7th. June to move via Sora to cornfield 2 miles from Alatri. The enemy had left in a hurry, leaving plenty of their equipment about, including trucks without fuel in the tanks.

8th. June — Moved to Gallicarno, near Tivoli, and camped in a field top of the valley. On the way, we passed the wreck of a Spitfire, also further enemy equipment, cars, trucks, tanks and even dead horses. We put a four man guard out at night, not knowing where the front line was, and we had no infantry in front of us.

10th. June — Moved to St. Angelo, camping in an olive grove. Very difficult to keep moving on our route which is developing into a carnival. We get stopped in the villages, being mobbed by the inhabitants — tears, cheers, waves and being pelted with flowers. There is also the problem of the Vino, so many bottles thrust upon us with the risk of going over the top. From the church tower we had a good view of the plain of Rome.

11th. June — A short journey to Cassa Corese, camping near to railway junction, much bombed. Quite near was a whole German train which had been shot and bombed-up, carriages at all angles and completely wrecked.

13th. June — Another short journey to field near Cante-Lupo. We were told by the locals that enemy contact was 3000metres away, but they were still on the move. All bridges blown and railway arch destroyed. I saw 2 German caps near to a wrecked ambulance but did not touch in case of booby traps.

15th. June — Moved to olive grove by farmhouse, near to San Andrea — had a good view of Terni which lies in the valley, a large town with modern buildings. Heard on the BBC that Terni was surrounded and likely to fall any minute. Our water tanker had been to the centre early that morning to replenish our supply.

16th. June — Moved to another olive grove, this time near Massa Montarna. On the way we passed through Acqua Sparta by wrecked and burning buildings and a large coal dump well and truly alight.

17th. June — Heard over the BBC that Terni had a last fallen — the news was two days late. Terni had been a tough nut to crack, the enemy had elected to make a stand in the town in an effort to hold up our advance. Consequently the town got a bad bashing from our bombs and shells and subsequent street fighting. With no time to flee to the mountains, up to a thousand civilians were killed or injured.

18th. June — 15 mile journey to an olive grove, ¼ mile before Campoletams. We heard that the enemy might be making a stand shortly. We began a recci for a likely base, just in case. On the journey here we counted 50 ammunition dumps left intact by the enemy.

19th. June — It rained heavily throughout the night and in the morning our trucks got stuck in the mud. We had to borrow a farmer’s team of four oxen in order to get moving. We deployed to Angeli via Spello and Assisi. The enemy was now organising a rear-guard action and was sending over shells form the middle distance.

We did a rush job, setting up a base, the HQ being in a tent, in sight of the Basilica. We managed some useful locations but the battle moved forward quickly and we went out of action on the 22nd. June

I managed a rush visit to Assisi together with friends. A very beautiful town, hardly touched by war. We went into the Basilica and saw the original chapel founded in A.D. 300 by St. Francis.

Army Headquarter News. Perugia fell yesterday.

23rd. June — A 7 mile journey to a deserted farmhouse, 2 miles from Bastiola. The enemy was 3Km’s away, his activity being visible, though glasses, on a ridge. A steady stream of shells were coming our way, but fortunately going right over our heads.

A base was deployed in quick time and we were in action during the afternoon. A sector became very active during the following days. The guns moved up behind us, then the tanks came through, followed by the infantry. The guns openned up and the battle began. We got plenty of locations but some film was confused due to both sides sometimes firing at once. Then we had a thunderstorm which made matters worse!

29th. June — During the morning we must have been observed ourselves. Ranging shells came over to our position, bursting 2 minus then 2 plus with 1 air burst overhead. The final shells burst 250 yards from the HQ, not what could be termed very good firing, thank goodness. We moved our HQ to a safer spot and later on managed to locate the offender.

In spite of the activity going on, those off duty managed to get back to Assisi for some peace and quiet.

The battle moved away on Sunday, the 2nd. July. The birds could be heard singing and we were out of action. And so we rested, swimming in the river and doing such mundane jobs as washing our dirty clothes.

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Message 1 - Capture of Rome, 4 June 1944

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

Dear Mr Cory

I am not sure whether it is your editing or if it was in your father's original account, where it is said that:

"On the 4th [June, 1944] part of the 8th. Army reached the outskirts of Rome and were halted, waiting for the American 5th, Army to catch-up. The Americans were to be given the honour of taking the Eternal City."

Not only were the Americans not 'given the honour of taking' Rome, they were specifically in breach of direct orders to the contrary. Moreover, the British 8th Army was not near the outskirts of Rome, the boundary between them and the American V Army ran well to the west of Rome. The Americans had no catching up to do.

On 2 June General Alexander temporarily changed the 8th Army's left (western) boundary to allow the American V Army and the French Expeditionary Corps more room to manoeuvre to cut off the retreating Germans, not to enter Rome, but to outflank it. It is also easy to forget that the US V Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Mark Clark, was not entirely American. It was composed the II (US) Corps, VI (US) Corps, and 10th (British) Corps. Furthermore, the US VI Corps, which took Rome, also included three British divisions: 1st, 5th, and 56th.

It was Clark who thwarted Alexander's intention of encircling the Germans, wanting to become (in Carlo D'Este's words) "the first modern-day conqueror of Rome". He was obsessed with media coverage and, after diverting the line of attack and in the process causing a chaotic jumble, he raced into Rome ahead of his troops with a bevy of press photographers. It was a grave blunder and was to cost the Allies dearly in lives for the rest of the campaign.

The Germans were complete baffled by the Americans breaking contact and swinging round to Rome and the strongest evidence of Clark's blunder comes from the German commanders themselves. The Americans had the Herman Göring Panzer Division within their grasp, but because of the allure of Rome it was allowed to slip away, regroup, and form the Viterbo Line.

The Allied Commander-in Chief in Italy, General Sir Harold Alexander said of Clark's blunder and colossal vanity "I can only assume that the immediate lure of Rome for its publicity value persuaded Mark Clark to switch the direction of advance". The official British History of the campaign says "On the German side Hitler and his entourage and the senior commanders in Italy attached no strategic or tactical value to Rome ... ." Clark, on the contrary, looked no further ahead than Rome.


Peter Ghiringhelli


Message 2 - Capture of Rome, 4 June 1944

Posted on: 30 October 2005 by RichardCory


Wow that was quick !

I have edited the capture of Rome section in line with your comments. By using a section of my Dads text I had left out which I now realise was probably more to the point than the bit I left in.

Is it OK now?



Message 3 - Capture of Rome, 4 June 1944

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

Hi Richard

That was swift too! :)

Personally, as I said before, I think that it is always best to stick to what was personally witnessed without chunks of history. But, as I said, that is entirely a personal view.

Otherwise, it has to be right. If you are going into fine detail, then American troops penetrated the city limits of Rome on the night of 4 June. Troops of Major General Harmon's 1st Armoured Division entered the suburbs, closely followed by men of the Major General Walker's 36th Infantry Division. About midnight Walker's men started to pick their way through the deserted streets. Too dark to hold press conferences. Clark entered on the morning of the 5th at the head of a small procession of Jeeps with Major General Gruenther and another general and, as you say, promptly got lost.

You say that he said ‘This is a great day for the fifth Army and the French, British and American troops of the Fifth Army who made this victory possible’. I do not know what your source is, all mine tell a different story as do a few biographies.

Shortly after finding the Piazza Campidoglio, Rome's main square, he was joined by Juin (the French General), and the American Generals Truscott, Crittenberger, and Keyes - his corps commanders. What he did say at his press conference offended the British, effecting surprise at something he had arranged, he said "Well, gentlemen, I didn't really expect to have a press conference here - I just called a little meeting with my corps commanders to discuss the situation. However I'll be glad to answer your questions. This is a great day for the Fifth Army." - and that was it. He then pretended to look over a map with his subordinate commanders, and had himself photographed with generals Keyes and Truscott climbing the steps of the Capitol. D'Este records that "Juin flushed with embarrassment and the other corps commanders chafed at their role in this contrived 'opéra bouffe' ... [and] many of the correspondents were profoundly offended by Clark's insensitive remarks, which pointedly failed to mention British or French participation in the bloody battles to liberate Rome."

The best sources, in my opinion, are:
"Fatal Decision - Anzio and the Battle for Rome" by Carlo D'Este (HarperCollins, 1991).
"The Mediterranean and Middle East volume VI 'Victory in the Mediterranean' Part I - 1st April to 4th June 1944", of the Official History of the Second World War.

Kind regards,

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