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Operation Winter Storm (German: Unternehmen Wintergewitter), the small-scale German-Italian 1944 Christmas offensive on the Apennine Mountains in Italy, was the last meaningful feat of arms of the dying World War II Rome-Berlin Axis, and one of the last examples of the German tactical and operational mastery. This offensive badly mauled an American infantry division and achieved some minor results, slightly and inconclusively improving the Axis situation over the Western Apennines Gothic Line sector. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alpino della MonterosaSoldati della Repubblica Sociale

  “Wintergewitter” ("temporale d’inverno o Winter Storm"), scattò alla mezzanotte del 25 dicembre 1944, con l’obiettivo iniziale di occupare la valle del Serchio ed arrivare eventualmente  a Lucca e Livorno. Nonostante le pretese della propaganda fascista, che voleva far passare l’operazione “WGW” come una sorta di controffensiva delle Ardenne italiana, la battaglia fu di proporzioni quantomeno limitate, sia per i risultati ottenuti (far ripiegare un gruppo di combattimento reggimentale americano) sia per le dimensioni dei reparti impegnati (4 battaglioni tedeschi e 4 repubblicani, più i supporti d’artiglieria per un totale di poco superiore ai uomini ). Entro il 31 dicembre il fronte si sarebbe nuovamente stabilizzato sulle posizioni di partenza, senza alcun mutamento strategico o tattico di rilievo.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Operation Wintergewitter (Winter Storm) - Italian Front".

Axis and American Orders Of Battle (oob)  

Background and Preparations

Axis OOB -All’offensiva parteciparono i seguenti reparti italo-tedeschi:

1a colonna d’attacco:
-Battaglione Alpini Intra;
-Compagnia Comando Reggimentale del 1° Reggimento Alpini;
-Gruppo Esplorante Divisionale;
-II Battaglione del 6° Reggimento Fanteria di Marina;
-I Battaglione del 285° Grenadier Regiment;
direttrice d’attacco: Vergemoli-Calomini.
2a colonna d’attacco:
-Battaglione Alpini Brescia;
-II Battaglione del 285° Grenadier Regiment;
direttrice d’attacco: Treppignana-Castelvecchio.
3a colonna d’attacco:
-Battaglione da Montagna Mittenwald;
-Battaglione Mitraglieri Kesserling (aliquote);
-4° Battaglione da Montagna
direttrice d’attacco: Sommocolonia-Barga.
-1 gruppo da 150mm;
-3 gruppi da 105mm;
-1 gruppo contraereo da 88mm;
-2 gruppi da 75mm.
(Tratto da RID Rivista Italiana Difesa del dic. 1994).

  During an interview with General Mario Carloni, commander of the Italian Monterosa Division (of the Italian Social Republic Army, or Republican Army) on October 20th, 1944, the German General Jost, commander of the 42nd Jaeger Division deployed on the western sector of the Gothic Line, touched upon the operational details of a plan under consideration by the Kesselring staff as well as by Mussolini and the Italian Social Republic (RSI) military leadership since early October.
The plan envisioned a strong offensive to be launched against the left (western) wing of the American 5th Army, in the Garfagnana mountain region (between Emilia and Tuscany), an all-out attack carried out by 40,000 men - 2 Italian and 1 German Divisions - with lavish tank, artillery and air support, aimed at breaking through the American lines and retaking Lucca, Pisa and the strategically important port of Livorno (Leghorn), thereby forcing the Allies to withdraw units from the central and eastern sectors of the front and call off their offensive in the most critical Ravenna-Bologna area. This was especially apparent in the 8th Army sector, where the German defense benefited by a considerably less favorable terrain.
Mussolini and Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, commander-in-chief of the RSI Armed Forces, for obvious morale and propaganda reasons, warmly supported the plan in this original, wide scope version. But when the operative plan was sifted by the Fretter-Pico Group staff officers, it underwent major changes, dictated by the bitter reality of the Axis local and overall situation.
The "grand plan" was a dream. Of the three required divisions, one (the "Italia" Bersaglieri Division) still had to arrive (only a coy available, solo una compagnia disponibile), just 50% of the Monterosa was available, and the German 148th Infantry Division was in poor shape. There were neither tanks, nor aircraft, nor fuel; only a few extra German artillery batteries were assigned (niente carri, nessuna copertura aerea, niente benzina). Moreover, any attempt to move armored units to the area, or to substantially strengthen the infantry divisions already deployed, would have been quickly found out by Allied reconnaissance and partisan spies, and tactical and operational surprises could never have been achieved (not to mention the fact that the Allied air forces would have quickly made mincemeat of those reinforcements).
Generals Carloni and Otto Fretter-Pico (commander, 148th Infantry Division) radically modified the plan and proposed a limited local attack on a narrow front, which the scanty Gothic Line forces could have launched without resorting to unlikely reinforcements. The offensive was to improve the Axis defensive positions in Garfagnana; pin American forces down in a secondary zone; prevent them from being shifted to more vital areas; capture weapons, foodstuff, ammunition and materials; boost the Republican morale.
The revised plan was accepted. The attack would invest the American front line between the town of Sommocolonia (east of Serchio river) and Mount Pania Secca (west of the said river), 20 kilometers as the crow flies. While Gen. Fretter-Pico would be the overall commander, Gen. Carloni would lead the attack operationally.
4,600 men (Monterosa and 148th Divisions plus attached units) were split up into three attack columns.
The situation prior to the outbreak of Winter Storm
Axis HQs did their best in trying to conceal troops and artillery movements and to muddle the enemy, also by purposely propagating rumors about a possible Axis offensive in the Serchio valley. They knew that the partisan spies and the Allied intelligence sooner or later would get to know about their plans, and spread false alarms. Vague information reached the US IV Corps and 92nd Infantry Division (the black "Buffalo" Division), the American unit holding the Sommocolonia - Pania Secca line. An attack was expected on or about December 10th : new trenches, fieldworks, barbed wire entanglements, strongpoints and minefields strengthened the defenses. However, it so happened that the IV Corps had also planned a Christmas attack, which should start on December 25th, 08:00 hours. As on December 10th nothing happened, the 92nd Division commander (Gen. Edward M. Almond) ordered his troops to make ready an attack, while at the same time keeping a look-out for possible Axis actions. This ambiguous directive engendered confusion among 92nd Division's officers and troops, and was one of the causes of their defeat.  

The Attack

The best, most experienced units, no doubt, were the two German assault battalions of the 3rd column, attached to the 148th Division, and called "special battalions" in Italian sources. They were entirely made up by well trained and fast-moving assault troops. The two weak, understrength German battalions of the 285th Grenadier Regiment instead were of poor quality. Most of their men came from Alsace, and had been forcibly enlisted in the Wehrmacht after the 1940 campaign and the German annexation of their native land. Desertion rate was high and on November 26th - 27th an Italian Alpine company joined them to have them toe the line.

The first attack column would operate on the right of the Axis array, carrying out diversionary attacks and taking the American first line and the towns of Vergemoli and Calomini. The second, central column (left and right of Serchio river) would break through the American defenses and would head for the rear area towns of Gallicano, Treppignana and Fornaci di Barga.

The 1,500-strong third column, on the left, was the pivotal one. It would start first, penetrating the US line, outflanking it, quickly seizing the town of Sommocolonia and making for Barga - Fornaci di Barga - Pian di Coreglia (8 km south of the start line).
  On December 24th, 92nd Division was ordered to call the scheduled attack off and prepare to fend off an Axis offensive which would be launched on December 27th. But the Axis third attack column was ready to go at midnight, December 25th - 26th!
At 04:50 (3:00 according to some sources) hours, December 26th, elements of the two German assault battalions, coming out from darkness, suddenly attacked the Sommocolonia garrison (elements of F Company, 2nd Battalion, 366th Regiment, supported by some partisans). Some authors state that the resistance there was tough but quickly overwhelmed; others say that it lasted all day and the attackers were even forced to call for artillery support. The latter account sounds more credible. When finally the town was completely occupied by the Germans, only 18 defenders managed to disengage and withdraw. In the morning, 200 men of the Mittenwald battalion seized the American positions at Bebbio and Scarpello, villages placed south of Sommocolonia and held by the 92nd Recon Troop, which withdrew to Coreglia.
At 14:00 hours, the German spearheads attacked Barga, and its garrison, the 2nd Battalion, 366th Regiment. Here, too, the defenders put up a good fight and the garrison succumbed to the German onrush by the following morning.
In the meantime, Axis mortars had opened fire along the whole front and the other two columns had started moving forward. The center column in the Serchio valley - east of Serchio river, the two German Grenadier battalions together with the attached company of the Italian Brescia Alpine battalion; west of the same river, the other Brescia companies - overcame a weak initial resistance, but their opponents were falling back already and the attackers got to Fornaci smoothly, almost without a fight. Fornaci itself fell quickly, although the two German (in fact mostly Alsatian) battalions were heavily criticized for their sluggishness and lack of aggressiveness.

The all-Italian right column, however, faced a much more vigorous defense. The San Marco easily seized the village of Molazzano and pushed the defenders back, but the Regimental Headquarters Company suffered losses and could not take the village of Brucciano. The Cadelo Group, supported by the Intra battalion which was engaging the enemy by launching little diversionary attacks, occupied Calomini, but the Vergemoli garrison - 370th Infantry Regiment elements, and some partisan groups - proved a tough nut to crack and could not be dislodged. A wide minefield, artillery shelling and deadly machinegun and rifle fire stopped the advancing Italian platoons and inflicted heavy casualties, in spite of a relentless Axis artillery barrage fire hammering the American positions. In the evening of December 26th, the town still was in American hands, but the Cadelo broke off its attacks because the whole US line had elsewhere crumbled. The stout Vergemoli garrison could be encircled and cut off. It eventually retreated, leaving in place a partisan group as a covering party. By December 27th, the mini-offensive was over. In the morning, the German assault troops entered Pian di Coreglia, their final objective, and patrols went forward as far as the relatively distant village of Calavorno, reporting that the enemy still was in full retreat. The other columns had also reached their objective points, and an entire Allied Division had been routed. Nearly 200 prisoners were taken, along with many weapons (including several Browning M2HB heavy machineguns, mortars and some bazookas), foodstuff and assorted materials. Axis attack forces had wedged themselves into an area 20 km wide, 8 km deep. The Allied air forces were caught off guard and the usually ubiquitous USAAF P-47 fighter-bomber aircraft did not seriously oppose the enemy's advance until the morning of December 27th.
American OOB  


The unit that would bear the brunt of the upcoming battle was the 370th Regimental Combat Team (Col. Sherman) of the 92nd Buffalo Infantry Division:
370th Infantry Regiment (less 3rd Battalion); 2nd Battalion, 366th Infantry Regiment; 598th Field Artillery Battalion; 92nd Reconnaissance Troop; support guns company, 366th Regiment; B Company B, 760th Armored Battalion; A Company, 317th Engineer Battalion.

  It is difficult to assess Axis losses as the available sources do not provide any figures. The left and center columns casualties were most likely negligible; the heaviest losses were those suffered by the (Italian) right wing of the Axis array.
As for the 92nd Division, the relatively few prisoners taken by the Axis indicate a headlong retreat, although some small units held out to the last. On the other hand, routing an enemy division, surrounding the remnants and bagging thousands of prisoners was a task beyond the very limited capabilities of the Axis forces - few "leg" infantry battalions crossing rugged mountain terrain, under the threat of the deadly Allied air raids. During the American retreat instances of panic, feeble resistance and utter disorganization actually took place, as Gallicano civilians witnessed.
The responsibility for these episodes, as Gen. Mark Clark himself pointed out, rests almost entirely with the high level commanders, not with the 92nd Division's black troops nor with the majority of their platoon, company and battalion leaders. A night assault took them by surprise, they did what they could do, and not rarely they fought valiantly; a number of black soldiers were later awarded decorations. In the Italian and German officers' opinion, the American black soldiers were not much aggressive, but in defense they could be stubborn and tough. In several little local attacks October through November, the "Buffalo soldier" troops had fought fairly well. Gen. Almond and Col. Sherman deserve criticism. Although they later tried to blame it on the troops, the American setback was mainly caused by their muddled orders, their slow reaction and some misunderstandings, as well as the tactical surprise achieved by the Axis and the effectiveness of the German assault troops. The inadequate leadership of several American company and platoon commanders compounded 92nd Division's failure. The Allies also underrated Monterosa Gothic Line troops' morale. A mid-December US intelligence report stated that "the morale in the [Monterosa] Division is very low". While the Italian unit was not a topnotch outfit, and did have its morale troubles, it was far from being a total failure. It also seems the Americans were unlucky. The blasting charges placed on some important bridges in order to blow them up in case of a sudden Axis attack did not explode.

Maggiore CADELO Girolamo (1906-1944)


The Tide On The Ebb

nato a Trapani il 4 luglio 1906 e morto il 27 settembre 1944 in Liguria a Santo Stefano d'Aveto . Servizio al Rgt. "Lancieri di Novara, 1942, al Gruppo esplorante 1° Ged Bersaglieri della divisione alpina Monterosa. Decorazioni: Bronzo al V.M. 1944 Il gruppo esplorante “Cadelo”, dipendente direttamente dal comando di divisione, era composto da bersaglieri che portavano il fez rosso e avevano in dotazione la bicicletta. Era formato da un reparto comando e da tre squadroni. Il none “Cadelo” gli derivava dal nome del suo comandante, caduto in Liguria, a Brizzolara di Borzonasca (GE) in un agguato partigiano. Dal novembre 1944 resse il fronte nella zona Sassi-Eglio-Grottorotondo-Rocchette, collocandosi fra il Btg “Uccelli” della San Marco e il Btg “Intra”. Dal dicembre ’44 all’aprile ’45 fu comandato dal Ten.Col. Emanuele Andolfato.

  The success went to Mussolini's and Graziani's heads. They (and several RSI military and political representatives as well) pressed for a continuation of the offensive, by pouring reinforcements in and directing the victorious columns southwards (Lucca), south-west (Viareggio) or eastwards.
But it was the realm of fancy. December 27th to 30th, USAAF aircraft strafed and bombed everything in sight. In the town of Camporgiano, even a hospital wherein German, Italian and American wounded were being treated was attacked by mistake. The few 20 mm and 88mm anti-aircraft guns could not stop the waves of Allied planes.
Moreover, the 8th Indian Division (first a battalion and a company of the 19th and 21st Indian Brigades, then the whole units) was hurriedly rushed to the Garfagnana front and was deployed north of Bagni di Lucca. Two US 85th Division Regimental Combat Teams quickly set up a front line again. The 1,000 meters high Mount Palodina (4 km south of Gallicano) became an impregnable Allied strongpoint.
In any event, the new Allied line was not tested: as previously decided, the Wintergewitter commanders shut the offensive down and withdrew their troops to more solid positions, just 1 - 2 km south of the December 26th start lines. The withdrawal was completed by December 30th. 8th Indian Division's bloodless advance simply followed on the Axis retreat and no fighting took place. In his book "War in Italy - 1943-45. A Brutal Story", p. 120, Richard Lamb states: "The crack British 8th Indian Division went into the line to replace the 92nd and immediately counter-attacked. Graziani's Italian troops were no match for fierce, battle-hardened Gurkhas, and Barga was recaptured". In fact, the Gurkhas recaptured Barga without a fight. The Germans and Italians had withdrawn and evacuated the conquered territory. In a few patrol actions, 8th Indian Division reportedly captured one German and two Italian soldiers.
All of the limited objectives of the Garfagnana offensive were attained. The US 5th Army got a minor beating. Allied reserves were shifted to a secondary sector. The success cheered the Italian RSI troops up, though just for a while. Some local Italian partisan bands and groups were eventually scattered. The Axis gained a slightly better defensive situation on the Western Appennines, and indeed, the new line stayed more or less intact until April 1945 and the final Axis collapse.
Given the awful conditions under which the Axis units were operating in the Italian theater, and the disproportionate numbers and firepower, it's unthinkable they could achieve more than they historically did. Assuming it was a realistic proposition, which is highly doubtful, an all-out, Ardennes-style offensive, if successful, would probably have led to the capture of Leghorn and pushed 5th Army further back, but it would never have "driven the Allies into the sea". And an extra German effort in Italy would just have quickened the collapse of the Western and Eastern fronts.

L'offensiva scattò alle ore 0 del 26 Dicembre ed ebbe pieno successo: le colonne avanzanti conquistarono Sommocolonia, Barga, Coreglia, Fornaci di Barga, Promiana, Calomini e altri paesi fino alla sponda settentrionale del torrente Turrite di Gallicano. Il nemico, costituito dalla 92a Div. Buffalo USA, dopo aver aspramente combattuto, era in rotta e il comando americano fu costretto a spostare sulle linee reparti della 8a Div. di fanteria indiana e il 370° Regg. Fanteria USA con artiglieria, per arrestare l'avanzata. Contemporaneamente il tempo migliorò e ciò' permise un intervento massiccio dell'aviazione americana che effettuò continue azioni di bombardamento e mitragliamento. Il comando tedesco decise quindi di non proseguire l'offensiva e di formare una nuova linea difensiva più' avanzata di quella di partenza. Le truppe italo-tedesche, oltre a conquistare terreno e un notevole bottino di armi, materiali e viveri, avevano creato una situazione di pericolo per la tranquillità di rifornimenti che da Livorno affluivano alle linee americane a sud di Bologna. Nel volume "The Mediterranean Theater of Operations-Cassino to the Alps" pubblicato nel 1977 dal Center of Military History del USA ARMY a Washington a pag. 410 si legge: "Il Generale Von Tippelskirch, comandante della 14 Armata, non aveva dubbi sulla validità dell'operazione. La breve offensiva, secondo la sua opinione, aveva migliorato il morale delle truppe dando ai suoi uomini una necessaria vittoria sugli Americani e le unità partecipanti avevano ricevuto un notevole addestramento ed esperienza di combattimento. Ma più' importante ancora la V Armata USA era stata costretta a ritirare truppe dal critico settore a sud di Bologna per rinforzare il traballante settore della Valle del Serchio. Ma il Gen. Von Tippelskirch sarebbe stato ancor più compiaciuto se avesse saputo che l'operazione Wintergewitter aveva anche creato tali incertezze nella V Armata al punto di contribuire a un quarto rinvio, che poi si rivelò essere "definitivo, fino a primavera, dell'attacco a "Bologna."