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Monday, November 06, 2006

Finishing the job

The Polish flag on the top of Monte

If people are looking for inspiration on how to finish a fight, here's one

The Second Attack
Intervening Events

THE 8TH ARMY COMMANDER later decided to postpone the 2nd Polish Corps' attack until more progress had occurred in the sector occupied by the British 13th Corps. The British 13th, however, ran into formidable resistance and did not reach the line of Matronola-Casa Petrarcone until May 13th and did not reach the highway and Pignataro area until the evening of May 15th. Casualties were heavy and General Leese committed the 78th Division, until then in reserve, directly into the battle. It was decided not to recommit the Polish troops until the 78th Division had engaged the enemy.

Before the second battle, the Polish artillery battered the German positions and Allied fighter-bombers attacked the Atina gun emplacements and the mortars in the gullies beyond Massa Albaneta.

On May 14, two squadrons of tanks from the 4th Armoured Regiment attacked the gorge, allowing the sappers to clear a path through the minefield. Thereafter, the enemy was prevented from planting more mines because of the armoured presence.

The German 1st Parachute Regiment was withdrawn and sent to bolster the defence against the British 4th Division. Interrogated POWs furnished the Poles with plenty of useful information: the Colle d' Onofrio-Massa Albaneta promontory was defended by the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Parachute Regiment; the 2nd Battalion, 100 Regiment was operating further north on Hill 575 and Phantom Ridge; and the 1st Battalion of that same Regiment occupied San Angelo and Hill 608.

On May 13 and 14, conferences were held and a second Operational Order was issued on the 14th. The Corps' objectives remained the same. Additionally, the Corps commander knew that Allied successes in the Liri Valley were sure to draw some of the enemy forces away from the Monte Cassino massif. He further knew that the Germans had only two weakened battalions and roughly one reserve battalion with which to carry out a counter-attack. Against these troops, the Allies could assemble the 2nd Polish Corps, the British 13th Corps, and the French Expeditionary Corps.

The Poles' plan was to gain control of Colle San Angelo and Hill 575 and link up with the right flank of the British 13th Corps. On May 16, the 5th Kressowa Division would capture the San Angelo-Hill 575 ridge and establish defensive positions. The 3rd Carpathian Division would capture the 593-569-476 ridge and prevent the enemy from withdrawing unmolested. "H" hour was set for 4 am on May 16. An hour later, the 5th Kressowa would attack the Phantom Ridge, while the 3rd Carpathian would seize Massa Albaneta. Later, the "H" hour was changed to 7 am, in order to coincide with the start time for the British 13th Corps' attack.

Events of May 16--The 5th Kressowa Front

General Sulik decided to attack in battalion-sized waves, capture the northern part of Phantom Ridge, Colle San Angelo, and Hill 575 and then advance towards Highway 6 until contact was made with the British 78th Division. A special group comprising the 5th Wilno Brigade (without the 14th Battalion), the 17th and 18th Battalions of the Lvov Brigade, the 3rd Tank Squadron of the 4th Armoured Regiment, the Corps' engineers, and a Commando company reinforced by assault troops of the 15th Poznan Lancers was assembled and put under the command of Major General Rudnicki.

On the night of the 16th, a sudden unexpected bit of good luck happened. While making a reconnaissance patrol of Phantom Ridge, a company of the 16th Battalion managed to capture a number of German emplacements in the northern sector. By 11 pm, the whole battalion set up an artillery observation post. Later, these troops successfully repelled a German counter-attack.

Events of May 17--5th Kressowa Front

At 7:22 am, after an artillery barrage, the Polish tanks climb the southern slopes of Phantom Ridge, but only reach a point about a hundred yards below the summit. These tanks were able to provide covering fire for the advancing infantry. The 17th Battalion quickly captures most of the Colle San Angelo, except for some pill boxes on the western side. They immediately come under heavy artillery attack from the Pizzo Corno and S. Lucia areas. Also, the 17th Battalion manages to repel a German counter-attack. By 2 pm, the Battalion runs out of ammunition and a third German counter-attack succeeded in recapturing the southern peak of Colle San Angelo.

General Rudnicki sends in the 16th and 18th Battalions and the Commando company and by 6:05 pm they have recaptured the southern peak of Colle San Angelo, which was now to remain indefinitely in Polish hands.

The 5th Kressowa Division suffered heavy casualties and the only option left was to build up a reserve of three half-battalions from the "B" echelon troops and others who had not been directly involved in the battle up to this point.

Meanwhile, the forward company now runs out of ammunition, just as the Germans were preparing to launch a counter-attack. The men sing Polish national songs to bolster their spirits and some throw rocks at the hated enemy.

Back in H.Q., General Rudnicki began to panic. He says to General Anders, "I've got nothing left to throw in." To which Anders replies, "Don't worry. I know the situation on the whole front. The Germans are beaten."

Events of May 17--3rd Carpathian Front

The Division had been ordered to cut off the enemy's withdrawal from the Monastery by linking up with the British 13th Corps on Highway 6. Tanks were to be used to neutralize the hamlet and the western slopes of Hill 593, so as to draw the enemy's attention away from the 5th Division's attack on Phantom Ridge. The actual attack was to commence only after the 5th Kressowa had gained a foothold on the Ridge. The attack on Massa Albaneta was entrusted to the 2nd Carpathian Brigade, supported by the 2nd Tank Squadron and anti-aircraft guns. The plan involved having the 6th Battalion (with a single company) neutralize and then hold the gorge, then pass the tanks through, so that they could fire on Massa Albaneta and Hill 593. As soon as Colle San Angelo had been secured, the two companies were to be sent to seize Massa Albaneta. The 4th Battalion would then be in a position to capture Hills 593, 569, and 476 (in that order).

At 7:10 am, the gorge was cleared of enemy troops, while the sappers began clearing the minefield. The tanks proceed through the gorge and on to the open area before Massa Albaneta, allowing the them to to fire not only on enemy troops in that location, but also on German troops located on Hill 593.

By the afternoon, the 6th Battalion, supported by tank fire, managed to push one company forward to within two hundred yards of Massa Albaneta. At this point, however, the assault is slowed down because of the presence of cleverly concealed German pill boxes, which could only be cleared by bitter hand to hand fighting.

At 9:23 am, the 4th Battalion began their assault on Hill 593. The Germans counter-attack from Hill 476 and it takes all three companies of the 4th Battalion two hours of hard, bloody fighting to regain possession. Casualties were high as the Poles were bombarded by mortar fire from the Monastery and raked with automatic gun fire from Hills 569 and 575.

The fighting ebbed and flowed. The battalion came close to reaching the top of Hill 569, but were suddenly pushed back and came very close to losing their tenuous hold on Hill 593. A company from the 5th Battalion reserve secured the Poles' grip on Hill 593's northern, eastern, and southern slopes. The casualties were heavy. Even the commander, Lt. Colonel Fanslau was killed. As dusk approached, further attacks were canceled and the soldiers dig in on the ground they have already captured.

Situation on the evening of May 17

After a very hard day of fighting, the Polish Second Corps had come close to breaking the enemy's northern defence ring.The Phantom Ridge, Colle San Angelo, and Hill 593 were in Polish hands. Although not under complete control, Massa Albaneta had been neutralized and some tanks were within two hundred yards, but were stopped short because of mines.

The German garrison occupying the Monastery and Hill 569 was now hanging on to Hill 575 by a slim thread. The Germans fought stubbornly and counter-attacked frequently. Many pillboxes could only be taken after vicious hand-to-hand fighting, in some cases involving the use of knives. Much of the day's success could be attributed to the capture of the Phantom Ridge prior to the attack's commencement.

There were two hundred air sorties flown in support of the Corp's attack. The headquarters of the 1st Parachute Division and the 90th Division were bombed. Also, bombs were dropped on the enemy troops preparing to attack from the Villa S. Lucia area and on enemy mortar and artillery positions in the following areas--Villa S. Lucia, Pizzo Corno, and Piedimonte-Roccasecca.

During the Poles' attack, both the British 13th Corps and the 1st Canadian Corps made substantial progress in the Liri Valley. In the east, the 4th Division had crossed Highway 6 and was approaching the southern slopes of Monastery Hill. The British 78th Division was within 500 yards of the railway line in the C. d' Anguano and the C. Tarquino area.

A gaping hole had been torn in the enemy's defences, which had blocked and frustrated all Allied attempts to reach Rome. The Monastery was now isolated. During the night of May 17-18, the German 1st Parachute Division (click here to see a 169K Jpeg of the paratroopers) withdrew from the now ruptured Gustav Line and headed towards the Hitler Line

The Defeat and Withdrawal of the Enemy

The retreating Germans now had two possible escape routes: Highway 6 or the Monte Cassino-Massa Albaneta ridge. The Poles sent out reconnaissance patrols to find out which route the Germans intended to take. On Hill 575, 569, and 593, the Germans left detachments of troops to guard the remaining soldiers as they withdraw from the Monte Cassino massif.

At dawn on May 18, the 5th Battalion, with remnants of the 4th Battalion, mopped up the remainder of the uncaptured sections of Hill 593; and, by 10 am, they have taken Hill 569; and 6th Battalion has seized Massa Albaneta by noon. Enemy fire was getting weaker and more sporadic. The 3rd Carpathian now advanced quickly.

Some 30-odd German wounded were all that remained of the now withdrawn garrison to greet the Poles when they arrived at the top of the Monastery Hill. At 10:15 am, the Lancers hoist their regimental colours over the shattered ruins of the monastery and the Polish national flag was hoisted later that morning.

posted by Steve @ 10:58:00 AM

10:58:00 AM

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