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The Gothic Line and the War on the Apennines
The Castel del Rio Liberation and the role of the Allies

In late summer 1944 the front line was approaching the mountain passes of the Apennines between Florence and Bologna and the outcome of the war appeared to be clear - the Nazis were withdrawing both on the French and on the Russian Fronts. In Italy, Kesselring had started a lengthy withdrawal since 1943, which allowed the Todt Organisation (German Corps of Engineers) to build an imposing line of defence on the northern Apennines, from Massa (northern Tuscany) on the Tyrrhenian sea to Pesaro (Marche, Adriatic sea). The Germans called it Grüne Linie, the Green Line, whilst for the Allies it was the Gothic Line. Minefields, trenches, fortresses for the fearsome Panther 75 mm, camouflage shelters for troops and a deep antitank ditch helped Kesselring to hold out as long as possible against the intense pressure of the biggest army – the Allies – that had appeared in Italy since the Roman conquest.

The attack on the Gothic line started on 30th August on the Adriatic sector, where the VIII Army, led by Gen. Alexander, moved against the Nazis around Rimini. On the Apennines, Gen. Clark waited for Kesselring to move the troops eastwards, then he concentrated three divisions (91st, 34th and 85th) in the central sector, near the Futa Pass, and assaulted the Nazi line on 13th September. Preceded by a terrible bombing, the action was finally directed to the Giogo Pass, a few kilometres further east, due to a communication from the British information services that signalled the presence at Futa of the Fallshirmjaeger, the German parachutists division.

The struggle lasted 4 endless days, until the German line of defence was overcome; breaking through the Gothic Line had cost the Allies around 3,000 losses.

On September 17th the Stars and Stripes Army arrived on the Firenzuola Plain, the first village of the Santerno Valley.

The Germans built up new lines across the mountains on the Santerno River whilst Clark replaced the 85th div. with the 88th, known as the Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils took around a week to win Castel del Rio, in the central part of the Valley. The 351st Regiment freed the little village during the morning of the 27th after a short battle.

At the same time as the 351st regiment was occupied in taking Castel del Rio, the 350th was advancing on the right flank towards the top of the mountain that soon became the symbol of the whole Gothic Line campaign: Monte Battaglia (Battle Mount). Its very name evokes a terrible destiny.

During the morning of September 28th, after the first day of battle in which the Americans, despite the driving rain, had managed to get a line of more than 1,000 soldiers to the top of the ridge and had positioned a machine-gun at every ten paces, the Germans started to attack with over 1,500 men from the 715th regiment, the 44th and the 4th Parachute division. Although they managed to enter the ruins of the medieval castle three times, they were forced back three times after a series of terrible struggles that were characterised by the notable acts of heroism of many soldiers. One above all was 27 year-old Captain Robert Roeder from Summit Station, Pennsylvania, who was awarded a Medal of Honour by the United States Congress thanks to his efforts and to the bravery of his actions defending his men and the position, and who in the end fell under enemy fire. Monte Battaglia was defended until the 2nd of October when British Highlanders replaced the exhausted American regiment.

The Germans didn't retake Monte Battaglia, but neither were the Allies able to advance towards the Imola plain. Because of too many losses, operations were strongly reduced until spring 1945 and they waited on the so-called Gothic Line 2 in the middle of the Santerno Valley, a few kilometres north of Monte Battaglia. It wasn't until April 1945 that the Germans could be definitively defeated, also thanks to the decisive contribution of Italian troops (Friuli, Folgore and San Marco Combat Groups)

Immagini

Reparto indiano all’attacco nella valle.Ufficiale inglese stringe la mano ad un aviere abbattuto sui cieli della valle e sfuggito al nemico."in cima ai gradini siete sotto il fuoco tedesco", ammonisce il cartello nei pressi di un casolare.
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