THE GOTHIC LINE CAMPAIGN
Gothic Line Campaign, 91st Inf. Division, September 1944
“...a lifetime of ... fear, courage and prayers.”
DURING THE MONTH of September the 91st Division fought its most brilliant
campaign, in which it smashed the most formidable defensive positions in Italy,
the Gothic Line. It advanced through elaborately constructed fortifications
over mountainous terrain made hazardous by rain and fog, with unflinching
determination and unwearying courage. According to one infantryman the
climactic days, 12-22 September, were a "lifetime of mud, rain, sweat, strain,
fear, courage, and prayers.” But with brilliant leadership and magnificent
courage, the 91st Division cracked the Gothic Line and established itself as one
of the great fighting Divisions of World War II.
Contrary to expectation the German high command did not elect to make a stand at
the Arno but withdrew to their prepared positions north of the Sieve River.
According to Intelligence reports the Division was facing four Divisions,
estimated to number 12,600 men, with at least one Division of 2100 men held in
reserve in the vicinity of Prato. The first extended stand was anticipated at a
line running from Fontebuona, through Ferraglia, Bivigliano, and M. Senario to
The Division moved across the Arno with the utmost secrecy on 6 September, and
assembled on the north bank, screened by the British Eighth Indian Division.
While the British were screening the Division's movements, however, they found
the enemy had begun to withdraw. The Eighth Indian Division, under the
operational control of the 91st Division, sent out patrols constantly, in an
effort to maintain contact with the withdrawing enemy. On 8 September, when
patrols reached Farraglia, Bivigliano, M. Senario, and M. Calvana and found the
positions unoccupied, the British units moved forward to occupy the line.
The 91st Division moved into position during the night of 9 September. The
362nd Infantry relieved the 2nd Brigade of the 1st British Division
near Vaglia and the 363rd Infantry, moving through the 3rd Brigade, closed just
south of Bivigliano. The Division Artillery took positions in the vicinity of
Pratolino, and by 1945 all pieces were registered.
Two members of the Fifth Army meet over a cup of tea
The attack jumped off according to plan at 100530. Advancing steadily
northward, the infantrymen met no resistance. In the afternoon, when the 2nd
Battalion of the 363rd Infantry cut Highway 65, near Tagliaferra, they received
artillery fire, and from then on both Regiments were subjected to harassing
artillery and small arms fire from enemy positions north of the Sieve River.
During the night, despite the extensive minefields along the banks and stream
bed of the river, troops of both Regiments waded the river and took up secure
positions on the north bank. Thus the first Division objective had been secured.
The next morning, 11 September, the two Regiments continued the attack. Since
the Germans had withdrawn from their outpost line upon contact, there was little
resistance. Only the mountainous terrain and enemy minefields slowed the
advance. At the end of the day the 362nd Infantry was just north of Gagliano,
while the 363rd Infantry had occupied San Agata. The next morning the attack
continued against steadily increasing resistance. The 363rd Infantry advancing
toward Monticelli, and the 362nd moving on M. Calvi met small arms and mortar
fire as well as harassing artillery fire. The main obstacle, however, was the
mountainous terrain which grew steadily more difficult as the troops advanced
toward the ridge line of the Apennines.
Gothic Line Campaign of 363 Inf September 1944
In the afternoon, 13 September, General Livesay, ordered the 361st Infantry
committed. The Regiment was to pass through forward elements of the 363rd
Infantry on the left and to attack at 140600 in the center of the Division
sector. On the right, the 363rd was ordered to secure Monticelli; on the left
the 362nd was ordered to secure M. Calvi and then proceed to its next
objectives, M. Poggio all Ombrellino and M. Gazzaro. Thus until the 363rd
reverted to reserve, the 91st Division was to have nine Battalions on line:
three on the left, one moving north near Highway 65, and two attacking M. Calvi;
three in the center attacking Hills 844 and 856; and three on the right
attacking Monticelli. The great drive on the main defenses of the Gothic Line
was now begun.
Unlocking the Door: Monticelli
Monticelli, the objective of the 363rd Infantry, was one of the most important
positions in the Gothic Line. Overlooking Il Giogo Pass, it was the left
bastion of the heavily fortified Il Giogo defense area and constituted the
anchor for the rest of the Gothic Line in the Division sector. It is a rocky,
broken ridge, with a cone-shaped peak 3,000 feet high, wooded three-fourths of
the way up, but devoid of any cover and concealment for the last 600 feet of the
slope. On its sides pillboxes and dugouts had been built in such a way as to
afford mutual protection for each other. These had been camouflaged very
carefully so that they were invisible to the naked eye. A characteristic
pillbox, large enough to accomodate five men, was of concrete construction with
a roof covered with three feet of logs and dirt.
In the front was a slit six inches high and three feet long.
Monticelli Ridge - Gothic Line Position
As further protection row after row of barbed wire, one foot high and 25 feet
deep, had been placed at 100 yard intervals up to the top of the mountain. In
two ravines which led to the top of the mountain the enemy had laid minefields.
On the reverse slope of Monticelli elaborate dugouts had been constructed.
These had been dug straight back into the mountain to a distance of seventy-five
feet and were large enough to accomodate twenty men. On a hill 300 yards north
of Monticelli a huge dugout was found which had been blasted out of solid rock.
Shaped like a U and equipped with cooking and sleeping quarters, it was large
enough to accommodate 50 men.
Typical German Dugout in Gothic Line
The Advance Was Slow...
On 13 September the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 363rd Infantry began the slow
torturous attack. Each
pillbox had to be knocked out individually by artillery or by flanking assaults
by the infantry with hand grenades. Frequently minefields or wire obstacles had
to be breached before the pillbox itself could be reduced. It was slow, bloody,
costly fighting. In the afternoon the 2nd Battalion attacked between the 1st
and 3rd Battalions and pushed under cover of a smoke screen to within 600 yards
of the crest of Monticelli. The next morning, however, they were subjected to a
heavy counterattack and driven from their positions.
After two days of slow progress the first break in the enemy defenses developed.
Company B overran the enemy Main Line of Resistance and occupied the ridge line
extending west from the peak Of Monticelli. Although the Company was subjected
to counterattack after counterattack and unrelenting artillery and mortar
concentrations, the flank was never turned. After one counterattack two enemy
were found sleeping in Company B foxholes!
The Final Assault
The next day while the 1st Battalion held the left flank and the 2nd Battalion
maneuvered to reduce pillboxes that had held up its advance, the 3rd Battalion
launched an attack on the peak. Despite every effort the intense mortar and
machine gun fire stopped the attack, and it finally bogged down. On the morning
of 17 September General Livesay, on the ground, laid the plans and personally
supervised the preparations for the final assault. Every resource was marshaled
for the effort. With every Battalion exerting maximum pressure on the enemy,
the 2nd Battalion, with Company K, made an all-out assault on the peak.
A view from the summit of Giogo Pass, Monticelli on the right
By 1330 Company K had advanced over a mile and had come to
within 300 yards of the crest. At 1400 a rolling barrage in which 272 rounds of
105 mm were fired by the 347th Field Artillery in 25 minutes moved up the south-
western slope of the mountain with the infantrymen following as close as 50
yards behind it. At 1448 word was received that the company commander of Company
K, Captain William B. Fulton, his radio operator, and six enlisted men had
reached the top of Monticelli.
"The Situation Is Well In Hand"
Immediately the enemy laid an intense artillery and mortar concentration on the
position and began to organize a counterattack of 200 to 300 men at a point 400
yards to the north. The company commander directed artillery fire on the area,
and 46 rounds were fired in 45 minutes to break up the attack before it could
get under way. Meanwhile the small band was reinforced, and at 172240 Col.
Magill reported that "the situation is well in hand." During the night two
Batteries of the 347th Field Artillery laid a ring of steel around Monticelli
firing 4,000 rounds, a volley every three minutes. There
was no counterattack; by morning, 18 September, Monticelli was occupied in
A machine gun crew fires against the Germans dug in on Monticelli
Monticelli had been won by the courage and sacrifice of the 363rd Infantry and
the superb support of the 347th Field Artillery and its associated units. The
artillery pounded constantly at enemy positions. In one area where artillery
fire had been directed for four days, 150 dead were later counted. One of the
targets fired during the all-night barrage, 17-18 September proved to be a
Battalion Command Post 30 feet wide dug 100 yards into the side of the mountain.
The next day 33 prisoners were taken from the cave, dazed and shaken by the
pounding they had received. The artillery had run the enemy into their holes,
and the infantry had dug them out, and Monticelli fell.
General Keyes, Commanding General, II Corps, expressed his pride in the capture
of the key position, the first break in the Gothic Line in the II Corps sector,
when he telegraphed to General Livesay:
"Congratulations upon the capture of Monticelli. The successful accomplishment
of this tough assignment is fitting tribute to the dogged determination and
courage of the 91st."
Desiring to exploit the capture of Monticelli as rapidly as possible, General
Keyes ordered that the 363rd Infantry push on to the Santerno River immediately.
Patrols were sent out the afternoon of 18 September and 190530 the 3rd Battalion
attacked in force. Around Casanova the enemy put up a stubborn resistance to
protect their withdrawal. During the night 20-21 September the enemy withdrew
across the Santerno in this sector and the 2nd Battalion, which had
relieved the 3rd Battalion, advanced rapidly. They organized the area up to the
river and send strong patrols across the river to maintain contact with the
Men of the 363rd Infantry advance toward a shell burst, passing
a dead German in the road
The Unnamed Hills
The 361st Infantry, in the center of the Divisional sector, on the left of the
363rd Infantry, attacked north from Montepoli at 140545. The sector assigned to
the 361st is a bowl, surrounded on three sides by a mountain range shaped
roughly like a horseshoe. At the right point lies Monticelli; at the left
point lies M. Calvi. The floor of the bowl is not flat, but is cut by a ridge
running north and south which rises to Hills 844 and 856. The enemy literally
looked down the Regiment's throat whichever way it turned, and from their
prepared positions the enemy was able to place terrific machine gun, mortar, and
artillery fire upon the infantrymen advancing northward.
There was a second difficulty which hampered, to a certain extent, all the
Regiments of the Division, but especially the 361st Infantry. This was the
problem of supply. On the left and right, roads were available at least part of
the way for the transportation of supplies, but in the 361st Infantry sector the
only road of any size running north from San Agata stops at Casal. By ceaseless
effort the Engineers rapidly extended a trail to Coppo adequate for quarter ton
trucks which ran from Casal to Vallappero. This was unquestionably one of the
most difficult assignments the Engineers completed during the month. The trail
was so rocky that it was impossible to scrape the road out of the mountainside
and so steep on the outside that it was equally impossible to bank it up to a
passable width. Yet by blasting and chipping the rock wall and base, Company A
using all three of its platoons in succession working night and day succeeded in
widening the trail into a road passable to peeps.
It was dangerous, especially in the dark when the drivers could not even see the
tracing tape and had to be led along the road by a convoy officer, but it was
usable up to Coppo. From Coppo there were only mule trains. For days every drop
of medicine and every round of ammunition and every bit of
food was carried forward from Coppo on mules. The trail was so narrow and
dangerous that it was necessary to set up traffic control points along the way
so that the litter bearers bringing out the wounded could pass the mule trains
bringing up supplies.
Gothic Line Campaign of 361 Inf., September 1944
There were, however, excellent reasons for attacking at this point. Within the
Division sector it was possible to attack here or at Futa Pass. Futa was the
most heavily defended position in the Gothic Line and had the further advantage
of being very easily supplied down Highway 65. The section of the Gothic Line in
the sector against which the 361st attacked, although very heavily fortified,
was not prepared in depth and was very difficult to supply. When the 361st
Infantry broke through the Main Line of Resistance in their sector, they found
that the enemy failed to solve their supply problem. Most of the prisoners
captured had had no food for three to four days and their ammunition supply was
very low. Thus, although the sector presented great difficulties for the
Regiment in the attack, it presented equal difficulties for the defense. The
wisdom of the commitment of the Regiment in this sector was borne out by the
subsequent success of its drive.
"They Are Looking Down Our Throats"
At 140545 the 361st Regiment jumped off and was almost immediately subjected to
fire from every side, especially from Pgio Roncolombello, Apparita, and M.
Calvi, under attack by the 362nd Infantry. Despite this, good gains were made
until the main enemy lines were reached late in the afternoon. It was clear
from the first day's fighting that extensive use of mortars and machine guns
would be necessary
if any marked advances were to be made, and when General Livesay visited the
Regimental Command Post late in the day, he ordered Col. Broedlow, to "Fire all
the ammunition you can haul."
The next three days the advance was slowed by barbed wire entanglements,
pillboxes, dug in positions, and heavy fire of all sorts. At one point the 3rd
Battalion reported that in front of it were "2 banks of wire, each 15-20 feet
deep with a space of 20 feet between each, which was undoubtedly heavily mined."
Even 105mm artillery shells could not breach the obstacle. This could only be
done by hand, always in the face of terrific fire from well-prepared positions.
On one occasion an Engineer was disarming mines while the infantrymen protected
him by keeping the pillbox ahead “buttoned up.” As the Engineer, prone on the
ground, squirmed from mine to mine, an infantryman called to him to keep his
head down. When he protested that his forehead was already touching the ground,
the infantryman ordered him to turn his head over to the side so that he could
maintain his protective fire!
After three days of bitter fighting, pillbox after pillbox had been captured,
minefield after minefield had been breached, and barbed wire entanglements had
been blown up by artillery shelling and bangalore torpedoes. Savage, bloody
counterattacks had been beaten off, and the constant pounding began to tell on
the enemy. The same development was observed along the entire Division front.
Terrific artillery and mortar concentrations and the constant drive of the
infantry had taken their toll. Replacements for the enemy were brought up as
early as 13 September, but they were adequate neither in
numbers or in combat training. Further, putting these replacements in the line
was no small task. One prisoner reported that his group had been attacked by
American bombers on the way to the line and had suffered heavy casualties. "Many
men lost their weapons on the march to the MLR because they were too exhausted
to carry them."
The End in Sight
By 19 September the disorganization mounted; captives flowed through the
prisoner of war cage. Of the 896 prisoners taken between 9 September
and 30 September, 502 were captured in the four day period, 18-21 September.
Although much hard fighting lay ahead, the enemy had begun to crack under the
strain, and the tempo of advance picked up.
In the sector of the 361st Infantry this was especially true. By 180650
Companies A and G were reported on Hill 856 and at 180811, Company E
was reported on Hill 844. The capture of Hill 844 was especially important, for
it had been the most strongly fortified and most stubbornly defended hill facing
the Regiment. Its loss unhinged the enemy positions in the sector and forced
the Germans to retreat. Early in the afternoon as the Regiment pressed forward,
the disorganization of the enemy became more and more apparent, as they took
hasty positions for a brief stand and then ran back to others. Before the day
was over Hill 805 had been taken.
The next day the attack continued under a tremendous rolling barrage. In rapid
succession Hills 992, 1022 and l027 fell. Since the 363rd Infantry had secured
the Division right flank, the 361st Infantry swept northwest along the ridge
line of the Apennines. Resistance was light as the enemy fled, but the terrain
was extremely broken and was made more difficult by rain. The 3rd Battalion
occupied the high ground overlooking the Santerno and sent patrols to Castro San
Martino: the 1st Battalion occupied positions from Segalari east to Hill 705,
with Company B immediately east of the road junction at Futa Pass covering it
with machine guns. Thus
the Regiment stabilized its lines overlooking the Santerno River.
While the 363rd Infantry was battling for Monticelli on the left and the 361st
Infantry fought for Hill 844 and 856, the 362nd Infantry was advancing up
Highway 65 toward M. Calvi and Futa Pass. As in the other two sectors, the
fighting was very bitter and the advance painfully slow, 13-15 September. With
unwearying courage the Regiment fought
A mountain top blasted by 91st Division Artillery
Capture of Futa Pass by 362 Inf supported by 346 FA Bn,
its way from pillbox to pillbox, through barbed wire and
minefields, always through areas in which the enemy had excellent observation
and prepared fields of fire. On 14 September the 2nd Battalion occupied M.
Calvi but could not exploit its position because of the terrific mortar
concentrations which fell from Hills 821 and 840. Nor could the Battalion
advance rapidly to Hill 840, for although the forward slope of M. Calvi is a
gentle incline, the reverse slope drops abruptly to the foot of Hill 840, at
some points as much as 500 feet in 200 yards. Not only was it almost impossible
terrain for the infantry to cross, but artillery fire is masked in many areas.
Thus even high angle fire was unable to reach the mole-like Germans dug in
Shortly after noon 15 September the 1st Battalion attacked north to Morcoiano
according to a plan which involved nine TOT's being delivered by the massed
artillery in 15 minutes. Progress of this attack was slow but steady. Morcoiano
was heavily defended, but on 18 September the town fell and the Battalion
pressed on. The next morning under a "nearly perfect" rolling barrage fired by
the 346th Field Artillery the assault" on Poggio began. The artillery fire did
not smash the fortifications, but it forced the defenders to seek cover and
"button up" completely. Then when the fire moved past a given point, before the
enemy could jump out of holes to man their weapons, the infantry, just a scant
300 yards behind the barrage, was upon them. Two hundred prisoners were taken.
In this way the attack literally walked through a strong point that would
ordinarily have been a scene of bloody and prolonged fighting.
A mortar crew fires another round against the Gothic Line
Litter bearers evacuate a casualty from the front lines
On the same day, 19 September, the 2nd Battalion, attacking from the southeast,
captured both Hill 821 and Hill 840. Advancing rapidly to keep contact with the
enemy, now driven from his Main Line of Resistance, the Battalion occupied M.
Alto during the night of 19-20 September.
Although the collapse of the enemy lines in the 362nd sector was not so
spectacular as it was in the 361st sector, Hill 896 was captured the next day,
and by the morning of 21 September Company A had reached the Santerno and had
set up machine guns trained on Futa Pass.
In the meantime the 3rd Battalion, 362nd Infantry, which had been operating
almost alone, with the closest unit more than 1000 yards away, was battling
north along Highway 65. Despite a warning by General Livesay that it was not to
try "to win the war by itself" it was trying to do exactly that. On the morning
of 16 September the Battalion had come against a spectacular Anti-tank ditch
over a mile long over hill and valley and covered by interlocking fields of
machine gun fire. Covering the highway was an 88mm Tiger tank gun and turret
mounted in a concrete emplacement, as well as other concrete pillboxes and
dugouts commanding the approaches to the Pass.
For two consecutive days the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Battalion, directed
the 346th Field Artillery in a steady pounding of San Lucia. The Tiger tank gun
was knocked out and two 105mm SP guns were destroyed. Every time the enemy
attempted to move, the artillery hit him. On
20 September under a rolling barrage the Battalion attacked along the ridges,
surprised the enemy, overran his positions, and captured Hill 689. The next day
in a pincers movement they seized San Lucia and, under artillery fire which was
seldom more than 300 yards ahead of the front-line troops, they took Hill 901.
That night they outposted in Futa Pass in preparation for the final all-out
assault against Hill 952, which commanded the vaunted Futa Pass defense system.
One of many concrete pillboxes in the Futa Pass area
"The Pass is Taken"
The next day, 21 September, the Battalion inched its way relentlessly up the
hill against every type of fire the enemy could pour on it. Yet by nightfall it
outposted positions on the summit. This was the culmination of the Division's
12 day battle to crack the Gothic Line. With the fall of Futa Pass, the door
which had been unlocked at Monticelli and swung open by the drives of the 363rd
and 361st Infantries literally fell off its hinge. The Gothic Line had been
"A Fighting Team"
In twelve days the 91st Division had broken a series of defenses the German Todt
organization had worked over a year to build. Pillboxes, concrete emplacements,
some so thick 105mm shells bounced off them like peas shot from a pea shooter,
barbed wire, tank guns mounted in concrete turrets, minefields, and ditches,
this had been the Gothic Line. Acres of timber land had been cut over to make
unbroken fields of fire. Finally, all these fortifications had been constructed
in the rocky broken Apennine mountains, which in themselves constituted a
formidable barrier. Manning these fortifications was the 4th Paratroop Division,
one of Hitler's best Divisions in Italy.
In cracking the Gothic Line the Division had fought as a team. Each separate
branch of the Army contributed nobly to the accomplishment of the Division's
task. The 316th Medical Battalion, its equipment and
A member of Co. 'I', 362nd Infantry marches three
paratroopers back to the PW cage
Defenses in Depth, Futa Position
staff strained by handling
thousands of casualties did magnificent work. Litter bearers carried patients
over narrow slippery mountain paths, through minefields and barbed wire
entanglements and over stream beds. Yet without thought for themselves, the
medical men worked to treat the wounded and to evacuate them from the
For the 316th Engineer Battalion the drive from the Sieve River to the Santerno
River was a continuous nightmare. The road net in the Division sector was poor,
and damaged by shelling, demolitions, and rain, what roads there were became
almost useless. They built roads where no roads were meant to go; they filled
or by-passed giant craters; they built bridges and rebuilt them when rain-
swollen streams washed them away. By their untiring efforts ammunition, medical
supplies and food reached the front-line troops.
Much of the credit for breaching the Gothic Line goes to the Division Artillery,
composed of the 916, 346, 347, and 348 Field Artillery Battalions, augmented by
the power of II Corps artillery. For preparations fired during the campaign the
Division controlled 168 guns. During the period from 11 September to 22
Brig. Gen. Ralph Hospital, Division Artillery Commander
94,379 rounds were fired, and during a single twenty-four hour period, 15 September,
14,321 rounds were fired. Again and again prisoners were captured, dazed and
stunned by the artillery barrage to which they had been subjected. The heavy
artillery fire held the enemy helpless in their emplacements, unable to ward off
death or capture by infantrymen with grenades and automatic weapons who swiftly
followed up the concentrations. The extensive use of rolling barrages,
especially by the 362nd Infantry, is a noteworthy application of this technique
of advance and an indication of its success in the campaign.
The 91st Division was a single, coordinated fighting unit. It was the Division
which captured Monticelli and M. Calvi, and fought bitterly for Hills 840 and
844. It was the Division that advanced through rain and fog over steep and
rocky terrain along the ridge line of the Apennines to the Santerno River. It
was the whole Division which refused to be a holding force but swept northward
along Highway 65 and captured Futa Pass. Great credit is due to the mule pack
groups who went where motors could not go; to the 791st Ordnance Company, the
91st Quartermaster Company, the 91st Signal Company, the 91st Reconnaissance
Troop, who never faltered and refused to conceive of failure. Each man in the
Division had acted as if he had “wanted to win the war all by himself,” and the
tales of heroism and gallantry are legion. In twelve days it had reduced to
nothing a year's work of thousands of impressed laborers and had decimated the
best troops Hitler could put into the line against it.