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French Mule Train at Castelforte


French Mule Train at Castelforte

Here we see a French mule train moving supplies forward as they advanced west from Castelforte into the mountains west of the Garigliano River, early in their crucial advance during the Fourth battle of Cassino.


French Mule Train at Castelforte - History

This does not cover all of the weapons used by the troops. Instead, this page points out some of the more unusual ones---weapons that are not usually considered but were quite common to the average soldier.
These weapons are very common. But this has proven the hardest page to research because very little is mentioned about these weapons in most history books. So, I want to describe some of these weapons and then include quotes from the soldiers that they effected the most.

Main Menu

Artillery - German Nebelwerfer rocket launcher, large cannons.

Mules - Old technology necessary for mountain warfare.

Propaganda - Samples of the Weapons of Pyschological warfare [TO BE ADDED]

Barrage Balloons - Used extensively in the amphibious landings in 1943.

Artillery Shells
The Germans also buried artillery shells that had a long detonator. This allowed the artillery shell to be buried beyond the range of the mine detector. See quote below from Engineer.

See Quotes about the effect of mines, below, by clicking on Quotes.

Digging up a Bouncing Betty
Members of 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment practising their mine-detecting skills.
See brief history of 504 PIR , below.

Photo of a " Bouncing Betty " with examples of the
steel balls. On the right is a glass mine, possibly
the Glassmine 43 .

Booby-Traps
Any object that would be a soldier would be tempted to pick up and inspect could be rigged
with explosives. The Germans knew that the Americans were curious and always on the search
for food, war souvenirs and any little nick-nack.

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Scientifically covers white and gray hair
at the roots, temples and har parting.

NON GREASY - HARMLESS
To Apply - moiston tip.
At your local store or post paid $1.00
Mfg'd by E.F. LECHLER
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The mine detector proved to be inadequate for the Italian Campaign, although it was continued in service. The Italian soil had large amounts of iron ore that made it ineffective. Also, the Germans began to use non-metallic mines such as the Schu mine. In 1944, the SCR-625 was upgraded to the SCR-625(H) Short-Armed Detector Set that weighed only 3.5 lbs. It had a shortened handle to allow it to be used in a prone position.
Once a mine was detected, the operator would point to the location and an assistant would mark the spot. During patrols or assaults on a position, the engineers would sweep a path for the infantry and mark it with white tape(similar to crime scene tape). The bayonet was the most effective tool for probing for non-metallic mines or for removing mines.

SCR-625 Mine Detector

History of 504 PIR in Italy

The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment intended to join rest of 82nd Airborne Division in Ireland for training to prepare for the Normandy invasions. Instead they were sent to Anzio upon special request of Prime Minister Churchill.
They formed the 504 Parachute Combat Team that included the 376 Parachute Artillery Btn and 307 Parachute Engr, Company C. They entered the line at Mussolini's Canal and suffered heavy casualties.

The US paratroopers got the name "devils in baggy pants" from a German diary found at Anzio .

Above photos are obviously posed photos taken of the 504 PIR in Italy

Smoke Generators - and Smudge Pots
Smoke generators were used extensively in the early days of the Italian Campaign. As the Allies were moving on the offense against a German enemy that occupied the high grounds, concealment was an important factor. Both at Anzio and Cassino fronts, the Allies had to move troops and equipment under the ever-watchful eyes of the German artillery spotter. Smoke was a sure way to blind the enemy and allow movement up close to the front lines as possible.
M1 Smoke Generator

This device burned about two 55-gallon drums of oil per hour to produce smoke to cover the Allied positions.

Photos from the US Army History series.
Anti-Tank Ditches & German defense positions

The German defenses were built by the Todt Organization. TheTodt Organization was an off-shoot of the military labor organization, the Reichsarbeitdienst (RAD), that used labor from civilians drafted into service and civilian engineers. Later, it used forced labor from countries occupied by the Germans and was used in the front line service of the army.

The following describes the preparations in front of the German X Army at the GOTHIC Line located in the Apennine Mountains in 1944.

"All in all, even though limitations of time had prevented full implementation of the Fuhrer's order of early June, the work accomplished by the end of August represented no mean achievement. A report submitted to Kesselring on 3 September revealed the state of completion of the defenses in the Tenth Army's sector on 28 August. Most impressive were the figures for the minor types of installations - 2,375 machine-gun posts, 479 anti-tank gun, mortar and assault-gun positions, 3,604 dug-outs and shelters of various kinds (including 27 caves), 16,006 riflemen's positions (of trees and branches), 72,517 "T" (Teller, anti-tank) mines and 23,172 "S" mines laid, 117,370 meters of wire obstacles, and 8,944 meters of anti-tank ditch. Only four Panther turrets however had been completed (with 18 still under construction and seven more projected), 18 out of an intended 46 smaller tank gun turrets (for 1-cm and 2-cm. guns) were ready, and of 22 Organization Todt steel shelters being constructed, not not one was finished."
From "The Canadians In Italy, 1943-1945" - by Lt.-Col. G.W. Nicholson.


The fate of the Anzio Annie.
The two guns that made up the German K-5 RR battery in Italy were called "Robert" and "Leopold". When the Allies broke out of the Anzio Beachhead, the guns were moved to Civitavecchia, located just north of Rome. There "Robert" and "Leopold" were spiked with explosives and blown in place. On June 7, 1944, the 168th Infantry Regiment of the 34th Division captured the guns. "Leopold" was the less damaged piece and was moved to Naples and embarked aboard the liberty ship Robert R. Livingston and shipped to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland. The fate of "Robert" is unknown but supposedly it was scrapped in Italy after the war. In February of 1946, two more K-5 RR guns were brought to the US from Germany. Parts off those two guns were used to make "Leopold" operational so the gun could be tested at Aberdeen.


Cadet Officer Bill Dempsey at Fort Sill, OK in 1942, standing next to a 155mm cannon.
This gun does not exactly look like the ones that were used in service. It could be an
early prototype model.
Fort Sill was the primary school for artillery officers.


Mules

Mules were an essential mode of transportation in Italy due to the mountainous terrain, the lack of adequate roads, and the mud that was everwhere during the fall rainy season. As the war progressed, the Germans depended more and more upon horses and mules for transporting their support units. The Allies used mule trains to move ammo and food up to the troops in the mountains. The ex-military Italians were used to lead these trains as they knew the area and were accustomed to the terrain.


A mule train loaded and ready to traverse the steep trails near Castelforte. This photo
provides a glimpse as to the size of a mule train.


"Muleskinners" loading supplies onto mules for the treacherous trip
up the mountain paths. PHOTO FROM US ARMY HISTORY SERIES

"The entire mule train was destroyed. The Italian mule skinners are
hysterical and make no effort to collect any stray animals. They cry
and shout and run off weeping in all directions. To treat them is
impossible. None of them will hold still long enough to be bandaged.
They scramble off the mountain, leaving a trail of blood behind them."
Captain Klaus Huebner, a Medical doctor with the 88th Division,
describes the result of an artillery strike "Long Walk Through War".

Barrage Balloons were a small balloon that was tethered to the ground or a ship in order to provide an obstacle to discourage low-level attacks by enemy aircraft. These were used extensively in the early years of the war and especially on invasion fleets, as at Normandy and Anzio.

When the Germans were driven beyond Civitavecchia, I had Jack Walker pilot me there on June 9 <1944>in a new L-5, which was a little larger and a little faster than the type of Piper Cub we had been using. I wanted to survey the port from the air to determine how much it had been damaged by the Germans before their withdrawal. It looked pretty bad as we came over the port, so I told Jack to start circling and just keep on circuling until I told him to stop.
As a result of this order, not only was I looking down at the water, but Jack was looking down too, and neither of us saw an American barrage balloon that had just been run up as protection against a German air attack. There was a sudden grinding crash and the wing of our plane hit the barrage balloon cable, which extended down to a truck at the edge of the harbor. The cable slid along the wing and caught on the air-speed indicator at its end. By the time I realized what had happened, gas was leaking from the wing tank and we were swinging wildly in a circle. My first thought was to bail out, but I remembered I had no parachute.
Jack pulled the throttle wide open as we swung in a kind of spiral, and we went around the cable in a merry-go-round fashion several times, spinning toward the water. Then, happily, the cable broke while Jack could still straighten out the plan into a glide. Gas was all over the place by then, so he shut off the engine and drifted toward land. Neither of us ever figured out just how we escaped that time, and the men handling the balloon later said that it had seemed impossible that Jack ever could pull the plane out of it. In addition there was a bomb attached to the balloon that was supposed to slide down the cable and explode when anything struck the cable. The only reason we could imagine that it had not was because we were going at a very slow speed in a light airplane.
Jack picked out airfield not far from the water and set down the plane on it as tenderly as possible, When we crawled out, both of us were still shaking. "Sir, you have just witnessed a miracle, " Jack said, and it wasn't exactly a joke. "I really thought it was all over".

Quoted from "Calculed Risk" by Mark W. Clark, Harper & Brothers Publisher,1950.

This was the Gothic Line. It was built by the Organisation Todt over 12 months. It included pillboxes, concrete emplacements, som so thick that a 105mm shell bounced off them, barbed wire, tank guns mounted in concrete turrents, minefields, elaborate antitank ditches, and precipitous mountain terrain.

Descent of the precipitous northern slope of Mt. Calvi, breaching the barbed-wire entanglements and numerous minefields ahead and getting through an area completely zeroed in by enemy mortar, artillery, machine-gun and snipe fire called for the combined qualities of a mountain goat and Superman.

Monticelli is a rocky, cone-shaped peak, 3,000 feet high, wooded 3/4 of the way up, but devoid of any cover or concealment in the last 600 feet before the summit. On its sides pillboxes and dugouts were built in such a way as to afford protection for each other. They were camouflaged so carefully that they were invisible to the naked eye. One typical pillbox, large enough to accommodate five men, was constructed of concrete with a roof covered with 3 feet of logs and dirt. In front was a firing slit 6 inches high and 3 feet long. Row after row of barbed wire, one foot high and 25 feet wide were placed at 100-yard intervals to the top of the mountain. In two ravines which led to the top of the mountain, the enemy had laid small minefields. On the reverse slope of the peak elaborate dugouts were constructed. They were dug straight back into the mountain to a distance of 75 feet and were large enough to hold up to 20 men. On a hill 300 yards north of Monticelli was found a huge dugout blasted out of solid rock. Shaped like a U and equipped with cooking and sleeping quarters, it was large enough to accommodate 50 men.


Quote from Captain Klaus Huebner, medical officer with 351 st Regiment, 88 Division:

"Bracing my hands to get up, I almost set off a mine buried directly in front of me. In my stupidity and gripped with panic, I have jumped into a mine field! I must get back on the highway. I muster all the strength I have left and, sidestepping dangerously exposed mines like a football player does would-be tacklers, leap back onto the road. … The irony of it all is that while I was gone, my guide arrived. The poor fellow is shell-shocked, shakes all over, sobs, and is in a severe state of anxiety. To get back to us he had dodged mortars and air bursts and had stepped on a dud mine--its cap fluttering two feet into the air but the mine not going off. He is incoherent at the moment."

"Frequently the narrow road crosses and re-crosses the creek over small wooden bridges. These are usually demolished and we cross on the debris strewn around them. I witness the entire battalion crosss over one such obstacle, except for the last man, who is unfortunate enough to have his foot blown off by a shoe mine. How 450 men have crossed over the same path and avoided stepping on that mine is almost unbelievable!"

"Another axiom in seizing an objective seems to be this: never take the easiest and hence obvious route such as a main highway or a secondary road. The Germans expect you to come this way, and therefore such routes are heavily mined and defended. The route to take instead is the most illogical one to the enemy and the most difficult one for us. This means mountain climbing, and that is after all what we practiced for months."

"The next hazard is the crossing of the 2-mile-wide meadow at the foot of Mount La Fine. I am positive that the meadow is heavily mined and zeroed in. At 10-yard intervals the men of my battalion leave the oak forest and commence their treacherous walk across the flat, open plain. I feel as though I am embarking on my death march as I follow the troops across the meadow. Will I survive the assault on La Fine? I am scared to death yet can't afford to show it. The chaplain and I walk together. It is definitely comforting to have him at my side. I know he is a better Christian than I am. God will surely spare him, and if He does I, walking with him, will probably be spared also. I have suddenly become a superstitious foxhole Christian."
Quote from Captain Klaus Huebner, medical officer with 351 st Regiment,
88th Division in his book "Long Walk Through War".

Mines were hazardous to both privates and generals.

"Maj.-General H. K. Kippenberger, a New Zealander, stepped on a mine near Cassino which blew off one leg. Looking around, he realized that he was in the middle of a mine field. Nevertheless, he stood up on one leg and began hopping out. He hopped on another mine and went down in a blast of explosives that was only slightly less noisy than the voice in which he roared, "Dammit! There goes the other leg." (General Kippenberger had to walk on two artificial legs.)


'Destroying railways became a crucial aspect of military strategy,' said Christian Wolmar

This is not the age of the train. For most of us, the idea of train travel conjures up images of old-world luxury at best, and at worst, rolling stock marooned by snow or by ‘leaves on the line’ – and everywhere, polite but useless staff in uniforms apologising for the delays and offering horribly overpriced instant coffee.

But in those uniforms lies a clue to the secret history of trains. There’s a military cut to the uniforms, a military air to the entire organisation of Britain’s trains, from the caps worn by ticket inspectors to the drivers’ suits.

For people who’ve spent hours cursing quietly in a siding outside Doncaster, it’s easy to think of trains as an irritant, an enemy but trains have actually saved Britain from its enemies more than once – and for the best part of a century were one of the most terrible weapons of war.

It didn’t take long after the train’s invention for the military to seize it for war. It might be difficult to imagine in these days of ‘suburban rail’ and automated apologies on the Tannoy, but railways were once a weapon of mass destruction. For Britain in particular, the railway became a 19th-century equivalent of the air dominance crucial to warfare today. The railway age, which started with the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, transformed the nature and scale of warfare.

David Lloyd George, Prime Minister during the latter stages of World War I, was well aware of the gap left by many military histories. Referring to John Buchan’s History of the War, he noted, ‘The Battle of the Somme has about 60 pages, and yet it did not make that much difference in the war but the shells and the guns that enabled the army to fight it, all the organisation of transport behind the lines, do you know how much is given to this? Seventeen lines.’

The increase in the intensity of warfare was not merely a result of the railways’ ability to deliver more troops quickly to war zones. The railways became the key to military strategy as the generals realised that having effective rail lines was more important than the size of their armies or the quantity of their armaments.

Wars before the advent of railways were invariably short and took place within a small area. Names such as the Thirty or the Hundred Years’ War actually refer to long periods of peace punctuated by occasional battles generally lasting a few days at most. The Battle of Waterloo in 1815, for example, the last major conflict in Europe before the invention of the railways, lasted just one day and resulted in 50,000 casualties.

A hundred years later, the Battle of Verdun lasted for most of 1916 and resulted in more than ten times the number of dead and wounded. The biggest difference was that Verdun took place at a time when railways were available to carry the men and the munitions to the front, and sustain them there for long periods of time.

British troops being transported by train to the Front in 1917

The limiting factor in pre-railway wars was food – not so much for the men, who could go without for short periods, but for the huge numbers of horses used both in battles and to carry supplies. Large armies could stay immobile for only a few days at best, because of the necessity of moving the horses through the countryside in search of forage. Therefore, both victors and vanquished would retreat quickly from the battle scene and obtain supplies either through pillage or purchase.

It was the British who first enlisted rail support in the pursuit of a military campaign. In 1854, British troops in the Crimea were struggling in dreadful conditions to maintain the siege of Sebastopol. The major logistical problem was that the road between the port at Balaklava, where supplies and troops landed, and Sebastopol, barely ten miles away on the heights above, was a sea of mud that became all but impassable in the rain.

It was worst for injured troops, who were carried on mules and horses down the hill, a journey that finished many of them off, as described by war reporter William Russell: ‘A large number of sick and, I fear, dying men were sent into Balaklava today on French mule litters… many of the men were all but dead.’

The solution, enabling both supplies and the injured to be transported efficiently, was a railway. Two great railway contractors, Thomas Brassey and Samuel Peto, built the line, a mere eight miles long and powered by a combination of men, horses and steam engines, and it proved invaluable in breaking the siege by enabling large quantities of ammunition to be hauled up the hill far more efficiently than on the inadequate road.

The American Civil War, which broke out in 1861 when the South seceded from the U.S. because it wanted to retain slavery, was the first railway war. And its bloody toll is testimony to the effectiveness of the railways as a catalyst for carnage.

The statistics are grim. This war, which lasted four years, killed more Americans – over 630,000 – than all the wars in which U.S. soldiers have been involved before and since, including the two world wars of the 20th century. The war was conducted over an area the size of Europe and there were 400 encounters serious enough to be termed ‘battles’ – one every four days.

The railways made this possible in several ways. First, they could bring large numbers of troops to a battlefield and ensure that reinforcements were quickly available. Second, whereas soldiers in the pre-railway age had to carry their own ammunition, or wait for supplies to arrive slowly by cart and horse, now a constant supply of bullets and shells was available to the men at the front. And third, the railways enabled battles to take place in countryside that had no houses or farms, because food for men and horses could be brought in by train.

The Battle of Verdun lasted for most of 1916. It took place at a time when railways were available to carry the men and the munitions to the front, and sustain them there for long periods of time

Railway lines and junctions were the focus of numerous battles, and destroying railways became a crucial aspect of military strategy. The first genius of railway warfare, an engineer fighting for the North called Herman Haupt, became particularly adept at repairing lines quickly, notably building a perilous-looking trestle bridge over the Potomac River near Washington in just nine days.

Haupt calculated that an army of 200,000 men could be supplied by a single-track railway line. This would only work, however, if the railway were operated efficiently. Haupt was adamant that the running of the trains had to be left in the hands of railway managers who understood the complexities involved, such as the need to return empty wagons and carriages forthwith, in order for them to be reused. In other words, railways needed military discipline – but not the discipline of the military.

The railways played a part in every major conflict of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in the case of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, the construction of a line – the Trans-Siberian – was actually the cause of the war. However, it was in World War I that their role assumed the greatest importance.

The German preparations for this conflict were based entirely on utilising the railways to mobilise troops and dispatch them to the front. An elaborate scheme, the Schlieffen Plan, was devised by the Germans to prepare for the rapid invasion of Belgium and France, with railways at the core of the plan.

The French border was to be reached on the 22nd day and Paris on the 39th, but inevitably there were unexpected obstacles such as the Belgians blowing up their railways and the British entering the war sooner than expected. This meant that Paris was, in fact, never reached. Instead, after the counter-attack of the Battle of the Marne in September 1914, the horrendous three-and-a-half-year stalemate on the Western Front was established.

It was entirely due to the state of transport technology at the time and the ability of the railways to keep the respective fronts supplied that the war became entrenched. Roads were lousy and early aeroplanes were mostly only suitable for reconnaissance. While the generals on all sides had foolishly entered the war with the expectation that it was the attackers who would have an inherent advantage, the opposite proved the case. Defending territory, with railways providing logistical support, proved far easier than invading enemy territory.

Moreover, once an advance was made, it was vital to consolidate it with the construction of a railway line to supply the invading troops. The battlefields on both sides became peppered with little 60cm-gauge railways, which transported men and supplies between the railheads, which had to be at least seven miles behind the front to be out of artillery range.

In World War II, despite the advances made in both air and road transport, the railways were still essential in maintaining supply lines. The failure of the Germans to consolidate their victory in Dunkirk when they allowed the troops on the beach to escape, for example, was partly a result of the lack of railways to facilitate the final push.

Most significantly, it was the paucity of railways in Russia, and the difficulty of operating them, that prevented the Germans from reaching Moscow before the advent of winter in 1941, the turning point of the war. It wasn’t until the railway system was destroyed by the Allies in 1945 that German resistance was finally broken.

The growing sophistication of weaponry in the post-war period finally made the wartime use of railways redundant. No longer are wars waged by huge numbers of troops ranged against each other on opposing fronts. The demise of this type of warfare means that railways no longer have a military role. All that remains are the caps and uniforms – and as Britain’s railways become dominated by competing ‘brands’ run by big, international companies, even they may not remain forever…


Grand Crimean Central Railway

The first significant transport of troops by rail was the despatch of 14,500 Prussian soldiers, together with their horses and wagons, to smash the Krakow rebellion of Polish nationalists in 1846, taking just two days to cover the 200-mile journey from their garrison at Hradish in Bohemia. Then, in 1848, Tsar Nicholas I, the most reactionary of the nineteenth-century monarchs – quite an accolade given the competition – got in on the act. He had no compunction in despatching 30,000 troops on the newly established Warsaw-Vienna railway to help his ally, the Austrian emperor, Ferdinand, quell a rebellion in Hungary in a particularly ruthless and bloody way. A few months later, the Austrians, in turn, made use of the railways to send reinforcements to reimpose their rule over Italy following a partial takeover by nationalists. That movement of troops stimulated the first recorded instance of railway sabotage when Venetian rebels, led by Daniele Manin, blew up some of the arches of the long viaduct linking their city with the mainland to try to prevent the Austrians reaching their island. They were unsuccessful as their sabotage only managed to lengthen the siege of the city, which ultimately fell to the Austrians in August 1849.

There were several significant troop movements on railways in the 1850s which made governments throughout Europe aware of the military potential of these networks, even if they were still unable to comprehend how completely the iron road would change the nature of war. The first of these involved the despatch of a 75,000-strong Austrian army, along with 8,000 horses and a thousand carts, from Vienna to Bohemia early in the winter of 1850. As Edwin Pratt, the first historian of the role of railways in war and whose seminal work on the subject, The Rise of Rail Power in War and Conquest, was published in 1915, puts it wryly, ‘owing to the combined disadvantages of single-line railways, inadequate staff and rolling stock, unfavourable weather, lack of previous preparations and of transport regulations and delays from various unforeseen causes, no fewer than 26 days were occupied in the transport’ for a journey of a mere 150 miles, in other words barely six miles per day.

It would ever be thus. The limitations of a rail line, together with the failure of the military to exploit it properly, would lead to many similar stories. Nevertheless, van Creveld describes this movement as ‘perhaps the first time when the railways played an important part in international power politics by helping to bring about the Prussian humiliation at Olmütz [the agreement under which the Prussians were forced to give up their claim to leadership of the German Confederation]’. The Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph, was sufficiently impressed to draw up a scheme for a strategic rail network and to devise plans for future movements of troops which could be carried out without disruption to existing traffic on the rail network. Unfortunately, despite this, the Austrians, as we see below, never quite got to grips with railway logistics while the Prussians, in contrast, would learn the lessons of their humiliation.

In spite of the hesitations and the nonsense about ‘feminising’ soldiers, the French finally began to recognize the advantage of carrying soldiers by rail and, in fact, undertook two of the biggest early troop movements by rail, both times taking armies to the Mediterranean for embarkation to wage wars overseas. The first was used to take troops to the Crimean War in 1854 and the second, five years later, to fight the Austrians in Italy. The railway between Paris and Marseille was not even quite complete at the outbreak of the Crimean War but the troops were able to use large sections of it to hasten their journey southwards.

The French actually sent more troops to the Crimean War than the British, 400,000 as against 250,000, and large numbers of them travelled by train to the Mediterranean seaports for embarkation. However, it was the British who were to use a railway in a completely novel way during this war. Indeed, the Crimean War was the first in which a railway played a major part in maintaining lines of communication, partly as a result of the poor preparations made by the British, who had not learnt the lessons from Napoleon about logistics.

A transport corps, called the Royal Wagon Train, had been formed in 1799 and indeed operated during the Napoleonic Wars, but was disbanded in 1833 for reasons of economy, which meant that the regiments sent to the Crimea had to organize their own transport, at times without the benefit of any mules or horses. Notionally transport was the responsibility of the Treasury, which was separate from both the War Office, responsible for the Army, and the Master General of the Ordnance, in charge of supplying ammunition and equipment. The Treasury showed little interest in this task but this ridiculous and dysfunctional system was not scrapped until the 1870s, even though its shortcomings were exposed by the Crimean War.

The Crimean War was a misconceived and unnecessary venture, fought in difficult terrain and awful conditions by an army which lost far more men to sickness and disease than combat and earned the description by the historian Eric Hobsbawm as ‘a notoriously incompetent international butchery’. The war was fought between Russia on one side and an alliance that encompassed Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia on the other in a number of theatres, including the Balkans and Finland, and lasted from late 1853 until early 1856. However, the key battles were in the Crimea, notably the prolonged siege of Sevastopol by the British and French forces.

The ostensible casus belli was obscure in the extreme, a dispute about access to the holy sites of Jerusalem, which gradually turned into war because of a failure of diplomacy and much ridiculous posturing. In fact, the Russians had long been on the outlook for an excuse to wrest control of the Black Sea – and consequently the land route through to India – from the crumbling Ottoman Empire, but they misread the diplomatic situation, not realizing that the Turks would receive so much support and expecting, wrongly, that Austria would be willing to fight on their side. Britain and France declared war after the Russians attacked the Turkish fleet in November 1853, wiping it out with the loss of more than 3,000 sailors. While this declaration was presented as a response to the horrors of the Russian attack, the two Great Powers had their own motives for becoming involved, as they sought to prevent the Slavonic parts of the Ottoman Empire, and even possibly Constantinople, from falling into Russian hands.

If the Russians were unprepared for a major and prolonged conflict, so too were the British, who had been at peace since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, more than a generation previously, and it was this lack of preparation which was to lead to the need for a railway as a key element of the supply route. The British army sent to the Crimea had lost its sense of purpose, having become obsessed with pomp and ceremony during the long years of inaction. As Anthony Burton, a railway historian, puts it eloquently: ‘The ordinary soldiers, poorly paid and badly fed, were no more than mannequins, displaying ever more gorgeous uniforms… The slightest falling away of standards – a dirty button, a foot placed out of sequence – was greeted with the vicious punishment of the lash. This was the army of popinjays and paupers that was sent to the distant Crimea to fight a real war in which blood would be spilled.’

In response to the annihilation of the Turkish fleet, in the summer of 1854 a force of 60,000 troops, together with 3,000 horses and 130 heavy field guns, was landed on the Crimean peninsula (now in Ukraine) by the British and French, supported by their Turkish allies. The idea was to attack and capture Sevastopol, a fortress town and port of crucial importance in controlling the Black Sea. The hope, as with so many wars, was that it would be a quick campaign with the town falling after a period of bombardment and that the war would be over by Christmas. But it did not work out like that. There was an initial victory at Alma soon after the force landed but this was not followed up quickly enough and the wet summer turned into a freezing winter against which the troops had no protection.

The British had arrived utterly unprepared. They had sent an army 3,000 miles from home by ship scandalously ill-equipped and, as a wet summer turned into a freezing winter, the conditions for the troops became unbearable. The death rates from disease and malnutrition were staggering, the result, as Brian Cooke, the historian of the Crimean railway, suggests, of ‘the indifference and incompetence of a government and Army command which had sent out a large military expeditionary force almost totally lacking in any of the services necessary to support it’.

The eight-mile road between the British base at the port of Balaklava and the front line, from where the bombardment and siege of Sevastopol were being conducted by 30,000 troops, was a terrible bottleneck. It was completely inadequate for the purpose of carrying thousands of tons of ammunition and other equipment and little thought had been given to the logistics. The army was dependent upon Russian ox wagons captured when the troops first landed and a few Turkish ponies, but according to Captain Henry Clifford, an officer stationed at Balaklava, ‘the cold, want of food and hard work have killed the oxen and ponies, and the roads are impassable’. The troops were down to ‘a quarter of half rations of pork and biscuit’. Later, he described how by December ammunition was running out because ‘our artillery horses [were] dying three and four a night’.

As more and more supplies piled into Balaklava, unable to be taken up to Sevastopol, the state of chaos increased. There were numerous tales of food and forage rotting on board the ships while both men and animals starved. A letter in the Illustrated London News described what had, before the war, been a pleasant fisherman’s harbour: ‘The harbour is a cesspool and the beach a bottomless pit full of liquid abominations – a putrid sea of black foetid mire, exhaling a poisonous stench even at this cold season and pregnant with the deaths of thousands the moment the hot sun of spring shall come forth to quicken the pestilence…’ William Russell, the legendary Times reporter who has claim to being the world’s first war correspondent, was blunt: ‘There is nothing to eat, nothing to drink, no roads, no commissariat, no medicine, no clothes, no arrangement: the only thing in abundance is cholera.’

The British belatedly recognized that they would have to improve the line of communication up to the encampment outside Sevastopol to maintain the siege. The death of most of the horses and oxen from neglect and exhaustion, and the lack of timber to build what was called a corduroy road (a crude but firm path built with logs perpendicular to the direction of travel and covered with sand), suggested that a railway might be the obvious solution.

The idea was not, however, a product of military imagination nor did it come from the government ministers who had become aware of the logistical failings. While previous military campaigns had been just as poorly organized and neglectful of human life, the difference this time was that there were journalists and photographers – ‘embedded’ in the modern parlance – who were able to inform the public back home of the disastrous turn of events. Without this flow of information, the railway might never have been built. The suggestion to build it came, in fact, from railway interests back in Britain. The country had just been through its biggest ever railway boom, with the result that an astonishing network of over 6,000 miles of track had been completed by 1854, a mere quarter-century after the first major railway had opened. Many of these lines had been built by Samuel Peto, one of the great early railway contractors, who had also been responsible for lines laid in much more difficult conditions in places as far afield as Norway and Nova Scotia. Hearing of the transport difficulties through Russell’s reports in The Times, Peto, a Whig MP and a widely respected figure, suggested to the Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary of State for War, that a railway be built from Balaklava to the encampment up the hill. It was not a notion that was universally welcomed among some of the senior military, who argued for simply improving the road. But the lack of animals and Peto’s promise to build the line quickly proved decisive.

Peto teamed up with Edward Betts, with whom he had built several railways, and Thomas Brassey, the other prolific contractor of the day, and the trio promised that since they were working in the national interest they would carry out the work at cost without making any profit. After his suggestion to build the line was accepted by the Duke of Newcastle, the material for the railway was gathered together at remarkable speed. So was the workforce of around 250 experienced navvies – eventually nearly four times as many worked on the line at the peak of construction – who were not only motivated by the nationalistic fervour which they strongly espoused but also by the shortage of work since the collapse of the railway mania in Britain in the late 1840s. The flotilla of steamers carrying the men and material managed to leave in December 1854 for the two-month journey within a few weeks of the acceptance of the idea by the government.

The project certainly caught the imagination of the public, who liked the idea of these rowdy navvies being sent to the other end of Europe to save the British army. Peto was appointed chief engineer and was rewarded for his efforts with a baronetcy, although he did not actually travel to the Crimea. He left the work on the ground in the charge of James Beatty, an experienced rail engineer, who was paid the princely sum of £1,500 (the equivalent of around £1.2m today) to build the railway. Brassey and Betts stayed at home, too, but provided advice and financial support.

Arriving in a small advance party, the surveyor, Donald Campbell, had largely set out the route for the little railway by the time Beatty got there on 19 January. It was no easy task as the terrain and conditions were ill-suited for a railway. There was an initial problem over the location of the railway sidings at the wharf, but then Campbell decided to keep it simple by placing the railway in the centre of the main street in order to obviate the need for demolition of any existing buildings. Out of town, there was swampy land that required a few small bridges to ford the rivulets, but the most difficult section was about a mile after the village of Kadikoi, with a sharp incline up a valley reaching a col 600 feet above sea level to terminate on the plateau where the army was laying siege to Sevastopol. At its steepest, the gradient was one in fourteen, far too onerous for conventional locomotives of the day, and Campbell therefore realized that a stationary engine, using cables to haul the trains up the slope, would have to be installed.

The first group of 500 men arrived soon after Beatty. Most were ordinary navvies but there were also a hundred carpenters, a dozen engine drivers, three doctors and, remarkably, three scripture readers, whose injunctions fell on deaf ears on the trip as the navvies more than lived up to their infamous reputation. They had disembarked at Gibraltar (a timeless British military tradition), where they had got thoroughly drunk and a brave group had actually climbed up to join the monkeys on the Rock. At the next stop, in Malta, they had been banned from taking any money ashore to prevent similar drunken exploits, but they promptly staged prize fights to raise cash for their booze. News of these exploits had preceded them and their presence in Balaklava was met with hostility from some military top brass, who doubted their ability to build the railway. The officers were swiftly proved wrong. The navvies’ effectiveness as railway builders could not be faulted and the military were impressed by their endeavours. Within a week of the navvies’ arrival, rails were being laid on the road in Balaklava and much of the alignment of the whole route had been prepared. Captain Clifford was won over. While in his diary he describes the navvies on their arrival as ‘unutterable things’, a few days later he wrote that ‘I was astonished to see the progress of the Railway in Balaklava… the navvies do more work in a day than a Regiment of English Soldiers do in a week.’

Peto had rather rashly promised the Duke of Newcastle that the line would be ready within three weeks of the arrival of the workforce, but in the event it took slightly more than twice that time, still an amazing feat. Working conditions were appalling as the men, who toiled night and day, had to contend with several feet of mud using only spades, forks and wheelbarrows to help them. Although horses, mules and even camels were available, there was a shortage of animal labour as so many had succumbed to exhaustion and injuries caused by accidents.

Nevertheless, within ten days of the first landing, track had been laid to the village of Kadikoi, and as soon as the first section had been completed it was employed to carry material to the navvies building the remainder of the line and to help with the transport of supplies to the troops. The Grand Crimean Central Railway, to call it by its rather overstated and grandiose official title, was completed on 26 March 1855. While it was a crude and basic railway, its construction in just seven weeks during a fierce winter and early spring was a remarkable achievement. Although it was only seven miles long, Peto later pointed out that it comprised a total of thirty-nine miles of track, including branches, sidings and various sections of double track.

The operation of the railway was a cumbersome process, and sounds like something designed by the architects of the hugely complex railway privatization introduced by the Conservative government of the mid-1990s. The first two miles from Balaklava were worked by conventional steam locomotives imported from Britain and operated by Royal Engineers. Then the wagons were drawn up the steep incline from Kadikoi in batches of eight by the stationary engine, which again was under the charge of the Engineers. In the next stage, six horses, the responsibility of the newly created Land Transport Corps, would drag the wagons in pairs up a further incline and finally a combination of gravity and further horse haulage would bring the wagons, each capable of carrying up to three tons, to the upland campsite. The return of the wagons to Balaklava was largely by gravity, which caused numerous accidents when brakes failed or were not applied sufficiently, including one which led to the death of poor Beatty. Although apparently not badly hurt at the time, he returned to Britain and succumbed soon after, aged just thirty-six, to an aneurysm which the autopsy revealed had been caused when he fell from the train. The navvies, who had six-month contracts, went home too. By then the army, so impressed by their work, had wanted them to stay to build fortifications, but the contractors insisted they were civilians and could not be obliged to remain. The navvies, too, were eager to return, though not before at least one had been killed by a Russian cannonball while partaking in the local spectator sport of watching the bombardment of the besieged town.

Despite the complex and at times dangerous operating procedures, the line represented a far better and safer alternative to the cart roads which still carried many supplies. As soon as it was completed, the railway was rapidly put into action at full capacity, although the army placed ridiculous constraints on its working, limiting its usefulness by stating that no supplies could be sent before 8 a.m. or after 5.30 p.m.

During much of the time the railway was being built, the fighting had stopped for the winter and it seemed for a while that it might never resume. The Tsar, Nicholas I, had died and was replaced by the more modernizing Alexander II, but in the early days of his rule he did not have sufficient confidence to call a halt to the crazy conflict. In Britain, too, there had been political changes. The government had fallen as a result of the scandalous conduct of the war brought to the public’s attention by Russell’s graphic reports. Lord Aberdeen, the Prime Minister, was replaced by Lord Palmerston but that only served to encourage the British to redouble their efforts, given the national embarrassment about the failings of the 1854 campaign and the far better performance of their allies, the French, who had only recently been the enemy. Now with the railway fully functioning, the assault by the Allies, bolstered by the arrival of the Sardinian army, resumed. Thanks to the railway, supplies of ammunition could be brought up the hill to enable the bombardment, which had been halted for six months, to recommence. The attack, which began on Easter Monday, 9 April 1855, was the fiercest bombardment in all military history until that time, and lasted ten days. The railway played an invaluable role in supplying this attack, which involved the firing of 47,000 artillery rounds, including a far higher proportion than previously of the heavier shells, which could now be carried up to the guns far more easily.

The results, however, were disappointing, and the siege was not broken. The Russians managed to repair much of the damage caused by the artillery fire and, more important, no proper plan for an assault on the town, which would have to be a joint effort with the French, had been drawn up. The hope had been that the Russians would simply melt away under the bombardment but, despite incurring massive casualties under the artillery barrage which had turned the town into a charnel house, they remained in place. Further similar bombardments in June and August again failed to break Russian resolve and it was not until yet another attack in early September that the siege was finally broken. On each occasion the railway was vital in supplying artillery fire on an unprecedented scale and the final bombardment was on an even greater scale, with 307 guns being used to fire 150,000 rounds in just four days. As Cooke concludes, the railway turned Sevastopol into ‘the first victim of the modern application of artillery to war. Never before had so many guns been concentrated into such a small area. Never before had ammunition been available in such prodigal quantities.’ While the railway might appear to have been a modest little line, its importance in military history should not be underestimated. As Cooke goes on to say, ‘the idea of a relatively sophisticated and complex system of transport being especially built to feed the guns was being adopted for the first time. It was to reach its zenith on the Western Front in the First World War.’ Whereas previously railways had been used to carry troops, here a specially built line became for the first time a vital part of the line of communication.

After the collapse of Sevastopol, the war meandered to a halt, its futility slowly dawning on the new Tsar, who signed a rather humiliating peace treaty in Paris in March 1856. In the intervening months, however, the railway had been improved and was used to carry vast amounts of supplies to the British camp on the plateau as the generals had expected the war to continue and did not want the troops to spend a second winter out in the open. In the event, the utterly futile war cost nearly a quarter of a million lives, mostly to disease, and it may well have lasted longer had not the railway been built because the allies were intent on continuing their siege however much the Russians resisted.

Of course, not all the supplies arrived by rail. The road between Balaklava and the front line was eventually greatly improved but the railways continued to carry most of the heavy matériel, an average of 250-300 tons per day during the bombardments, the equivalent of perhaps a thousand carloads pulled by a couple of horses each, showing the huge capacity afforded by even such a Heath Robinson contraption. At its peak, the railway was worked by a huge group of 1,000 men, including many Turks, and carried 700 tons per day. The French, who fired more, but mostly lighter, shells than the British, did not have the benefit of a railway. However, their front line was more easily reached from their base, which was on the other side of the Crimean peninsula from Balaklava, partly because they had ensured the connecting road was well maintained.

As Brian Cooke sums up, ‘the railway did not save the British Army’, since most of the poor soldiers who arrived in the initial wave of landings died of disease and starvation in the first winter, but it did have a huge impact on the war through the simple expedient of allowing goods to be cleared out of Balaklava and used by front-line troops. More importantly, it taught the more far-seeing elements in the British military the importance of basic logistics since the army, until then, had seemed to assume that ‘if supplies of ammunition, food, fuel and clothing were delivered in sufficient quantities to the British base then they would distribute themselves automatically’. Peto was extremely proud of what had been achieved. After listing the achievement of building the line so fast, he said: ‘I received a letter from Field Marshal Burgoyne on his return from the command of the Engineering Staff, stating it was impossible to overrate the services rendered by the railway, or its effect in shortening the time of the siege and alleviating the fatigues and suffering of the troops.’

While the Crimean conflict is possibly best remembered for the work of Florence Nightingale, it marked another significant event: the first time that a railway was used to carry injured soldiers away from a theatre of war. While the railway was being built, the engineers and navvies had witnessed the appalling sight of the injured and dying being led down the hill to Balaklava, as Russell described in one of his dispatches: ‘A large number of sick and I fear dying men were sent into Balaklava today on French mule litters… many of the men were all but dead. With closed eyes, open mouths and ghastly attenuated faces, they were borne along, two and two, the thin stream of breath, visible in the air, alone showing that they were still alive. One figure was a horror – a corpse, stone dead, strapped upright in its seat, its legs hanging stiffly down, the eyes staring wide open, the teeth set on the protruding tongue, the head and body nodding with frightful mockery of life at each stride of the mule.’ Russell noted with satisfaction that now the railway was being used to bring down injured and sick troops: ‘Four wagons filled with sick and wounded soldiers, ran from headquarters to the town in less than half an hour. The men were propped up on their knapsacks and seemed very comfortable. What a change from the ghastly processions one met with some weeks ago, formed of dead and dying men, hanging from half-starved horses or dangling about on French mule-litters.’ As we shall see, it would nevertheless not be until the First World War that specially designed ambulance trains would carry out this task.


French Mule Train at Castelforte - History

"hybrid offspring of donkey and horse," from Old English mul , Old French mul "mule, hinny" (12c., fem. mule ), both from Latin mulus (fem. mula ) "a mule," from Proto-Italic *musklo- , which is probably (along with Greek myklos "pack-mule," Albanian mushk "mule) a loan-word from a language of Asia Minor.

Properly, the offspring of a he-ass and a mare that of a she-ass and a stallion is technically a hinny. The males are ordinarily incapable of procreation. Used allusively of hybrids and things of mixed nature. Meaning "obstinate, stupid, or stubborn person" is from 1470s the sense of "stupid" seems to have been older, that of "stubborn" is by 18c.

As a type of spinning machine, it is attested from 1793 (as mule-jenny , 1788), so called because it is a "hybrid" of Arkwright's drawing-rollers and Hargreaves' jenny. The underworld slang sense of "narcotics smuggler or courier for a drug trafficker" is attested by 1935. The mule-deer of Western U.S. (1805) is so called for its large ears.

"loose slipper," 1560s, from French mule "slipper," from Latin mulleus calceus "red high-soled shoe," worn by Roman patricians, from mullus "red" (see mullet (n.1)). Related: Mules .

"having the characteristics imputed to the mule," especially "stubborn," 1751, from mule (n.1) + -ish . Related: Mulishly mulishness .

"mule driver," 1530s, from French muletier , from mulet "mule," a diminutive formation replacing Old French mul as the word for "mule" in French (see mule (n.1)).

1590s, "one who is the offspring of a European and a black African," from Spanish or Portuguese mulato "of mixed breed," literally "young mule," from mulo "mule," from Latin mulus (fem. mula ) "mule" (see mule (n.1)) possibly in reference to hybrid origin of mules (compare Greek hēmi-onos "a mule," literally "a half-ass" as an adjective, "one of mixed race"). As an adjective from 1670s. Fem. mulatta is attested from 1620s mulattress from 1805.

Old English had sunderboren "born of disparate parents."

Russian capital, named for the Moskva River, the name of which is of unknown origin. Moscow mule vodka cocktail is attested from 1950.


In late 1883 France and China began to fight an undeclared war in Tonkin. In December 1883, in the Sơn Tây Campaign, the French defeated the Black Flag Army and captured the town of Sơn Tây. In March 1884, in the Bắc Ninh campaign, they defeated China's Guangxi Army and captured the strategically important town of Bắc Ninh on the Mandarin Road.

The defeat at Bắc Ninh, coming close on the heels of the fall of Sơn Tây, strengthened the hand of the moderate element in the Chinese government and temporarily discredited the extremist 'Purist' party led by Zhang Zhidong, which was agitating for a full-scale war against France. Further French successes in the spring of 1884, including the capture of Hưng Hóa and Thái Nguyên, convinced the Empress Dowager Cixi that China should come to terms, and an accord was reached between France and China in May. The negotiations took place in Tianjin (Tientsin). Li Hongzhang, the leader of the Chinese moderates, represented China and Captain François-Ernest Fournier, commander of the French cruiser Volta, represented France. The Tientsin Accord, concluded on 11 May 1884, provided for a Chinese troop withdrawal from Tonkin in return for a comprehensive treaty that would settle details of trade and commerce between France and China and provide for the demarcation of its disputed border with Vietnam.

Fournier was not a professional diplomat, and the Tientsin Accord contained several loose ends. Crucially, it failed to explicitly state a deadline for the Chinese troop withdrawal from Tonkin. The French asserted that the troop withdrawal was to take place immediately, while the Chinese argued that the withdrawal was contingent upon the conclusion of the comprehensive treaty. In fact, the Chinese stance was an ex post facto rationalisation, designed to justify their unwillingness or inability to put the terms of the accord into effect. The accord was extremely unpopular in China, and provoked an immediate backlash. The war party called for Li Hongzhang's impeachment, and his political opponents intrigued to have orders sent to the Chinese troops in Tonkin to hold their positions. [5]

Li Hongzhang hinted to the French that there might be difficulties in enforcing the accord, but nothing specific was said. The French assumed that the Chinese troops would leave Tonkin as agreed, and made preparations for occupying Lạng Sơn and other cities up to the Chinese border.

In early June 1884 a French column under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Alphonse Dugenne advanced to occupy the border towns of Lạng Sơn, Cao Bằng and That Khe. Dugenne's column consisted of a battalion of marine infantry (chef de bataillon Reygasse), an artillery battery (Captain Jourdy), a newly recruited company of Tonkinese riflemen, and a small force of chasseurs d'Afrique (Captain Laperrine). [Note 1] Reygasse's marsouins were veteran soldiers, who had served under the command of Commandant Henri Rivière at the Capture of Nam Định (March 1883), but the Tonkinese riflemen had only been recruited several days earlier, and were of negligible military value. The column needed to take food and rations for 45 days, and the combatants (450 Frenchmen and 350 Tonkinese) were accompanied by 1,000 Vietnamese porters, 240 French mule drivers and 200 mules. As the French were advancing through unknown country, Captain Jean-François-Alphonse Lecomte of the topographical service rode with the column to map the route. Lecomte, who served with distinction on General Louis Brière de l'Isle's staff throughout the Sino-French War, would later write a detailed account of the ambush, Le guet-apens de Bac-Lé (Paris, 1890).

The column formed at Phu Lang Thuong, the most advanced French post on the Mandarin Road, on 11 June. It set off for Lạng Sơn on 12 June, reaching Phu Xuyen on 13 June, Kép on 14 June and Cau Son on 15 June. The march, under a sweltering summer sun, was gruelling, and on 15 June Dugenne sent Jourdy's battery back to Phu Lang Thuong. At the same time he was reinforced by a company of zéphyrs from chef de bataillon Servière's 2nd African Light Infantry Battalion.

Recent heavy rain had swollen the Song Thuong river, and the French were unable to use the ford at Cau Son. The column therefore remained at Cau Son for three days while its engineers bridged the Song Thuong, and only resumed its march on 19 June. For the next three days the column pressed on to the northeast, marching parallel to the course of the Thuong river and camping in the open country between Cau Son and the small town of Bắc Lệ. The French now became aware that their march was being observed. Single shots were heard in the distance at regular intervals, and on one occasion French cavalry scouts came under fire. It was not clear whether the attackers were Vietnamese bandits or Chinese soldiers. On the morning of 22 June the French column reached Bắc Lệ. Continuing their march in the afternoon, the French descended once more into the Song Thuong valley and rejoined the river. Dugenne's intention was to cross the Song Thuong and continue up the Mandarin Road to Thanh Moy and Lạng Sơn. The river was still swollen, and on the evening of 22 June Dugenne scouted its southern bank for a suitable ford. Chinese soldiers were visible on the other side of the river, and Laperrine's troopers covered them with their carbines while a French NCO tested the depth of the river. Neither side opened fire. Believing that he was dealing with stragglers from the Guangxi Army who would not oppose his passage, Dugenne gave orders for a crossing of the Song Thuong the following morning. [6]

In fact Dugenne was facing a force of 3,100 regular Chinese soldiers of the Guangxi Army under the command of Wan Zhongxuan (萬重暄). This force consisted of eight battalions under the command of Huang Yuxian (黃玉賢) and one battalion under the command of Wang Hongshun (王洪順). A further 1,500 Chinese troops under the command of Pan Dingxin (潘鼎新) were camped close by. Most of the Chinese troops were armed with modern rapid-firing Remington rifles. Both commanders were aware of the provisions of the Tientsin Accord, but as a result of the political intrigues aimed at Li Hongzhang they had received no instructions to withdraw from Tonkin. They had instead been ordered by the commander of the Guangxi Army (a yung-ying regional army), Wang Debang (王德榜), to hold their positions. [7] Wang Debang had experience serving with General Zuo Zongtang. [8] [9]

At dawn on 23 June Captain Lecomte crossed the Song Thuong with the column's advance guard (two companies of French infantry, a section of Tonkinese riflemen and a small party of cavalry). The crossing was observed by a force of Chinese infantry deployed in a defensive position on a wooded hill 250 metres behind the river. The Chinese allowed the French troops to cross unmolested, but opened fire while the Tonkinese riflemen were crossing. Their shots were high, and it is possible that they were intended to warn rather than to kill. Lecomte reacted immediately to this hostile demonstration, deploying his infantry to flank the Chinese out of their position. The French drove the Chinese from the hill, and Lecomte established a defensive position to shelter the crossing of the rest of the column. By 11 a.m. the entire French column had crossed the Song Thuong. [10]

By then an interesting situation had developed at the French advance posts. At 9 a.m. three Chinese envoys came forward with a written message for Dugenne from the Chinese commanders. Lecomte let them through, and an interview took place. Although Dugenne's Vietnamese interpreters were unable to grasp some of the subtleties in the Chinese message, they were able to establish that the French were facing regular troops of the Guangxi Army and that the Chinese commanders were aware of their obligations under the Tientsin Accord. The Chinese generals explained that they had received no orders to withdraw, and were consequently obliged to remain in their positions until further notice. They requested Dugenne to send a heliograph message back to Hanoi to seek instructions. [11]

In view of the diplomatic significance of the confrontation, Dugenne should have reported the presence of the Chinese force to Hanoi and asked for further instructions. Instead, he informed the Chinese at 3 p.m. that he would continue his march up the Mandarin Road in one hour's time. According to Captain Lecomte (normally a reliable source), Dugenne believed that the Chinese would let him pass, and his intention was merely to get his column away from the swollen Song Thuong River and to find a secure camping ground for the night. [12]

At 4 p.m. Dugenne resumed his advance. Aware of the potential for a misunderstanding, he gave strict instructions that nobody was to open fire except on his order. For several minutes the French column marched unmolested along a jungle path towards a group of Chinese forts on the cliffs of Nui Đồng Nai. Seeing the path opening into a clearing, Dugenne ordered Laperrine's cavalry to replace an inexperienced section of Tonkinese riflemen at the front of the column. As the French cavalry spurred their horses forward to move to the front of the column, Chinese infantry in the Nui Đồng Nai forts suddenly opened fire on them. Seconds later, Chinese infantry shadowing the march of the French column opened fire on both its flanks. It is not clear whether the Chinese were alarmed by the sudden movement of the French cavalry or (as the French believed) they mistook the horsemen for a party of senior officers and deliberately fired on this tempting target. [14]

The marine infantry of the French vanguard deployed as best they could and replied to the Chinese fire. Dugenne, who was leading the column's main body, ordered a bugler to sound for a ceasefire, but the bugle call had no effect. The Chinese were sounding their own trumpets to bring more of their own men into action, and as it became clear that the battle could not be stopped Dugenne planned his defence. He formed his men into a square, enclosing his vulnerable baggage train, and ordered them to dig trenches. During the late afternoon of 23 March the French successfully repelled repeated Chinese attacks, and were even able to counterattack with some effect. However, the Chinese brought up fresh troops during the night, and occupied positions on the heights of Nui Đồng Nai from which they could fire down on the French square. [15]

On the morning of June 24, the Chinese worked their way around the sides of the French square in an attempt to cut the column's line of retreat to the Song Thuong. Dugenne made several local counterattacks to take some air around his positions, but it soon became obvious that, with no artillery support, the French would be encircled and annihilated if they remained where they were. At 11 a.m. Dugenne issued orders for a withdrawal to the Song Thuong. [16]

Although the column suffered heavy casualties from rifle fire during the withdrawal and was forced to abandon its baggage train, Dugenne successfully fought his way out of the threatened encirclement and extricated his small force. Captain Laperrine, the commander of Dugenne's small cavalry contingent, dismounted his troopers so that wounded men could be loaded onto the cavalry horses. The successful evacuation of the wounded was due in no small measure to the coolness with which Laperrine and his chasseurs d'Afrique covered the retreat. [17]

Falling back by echelons, the French recrossed the Song Thuong under fire and regrouped on its southern bank. In the afternoon of 24 June the column retreated to Bắc Lệ, followed at a respectful distance by the victorious Chinese, and occupied a defensive position on a high plateau. [18]

Dugenne had heliographed news of the battle back to Hanoi during the night of 23 June, and General Millot, the French commander-in-chief, immediately despatched General François de Négrier and Lieutenant-Colonel Letellier to Dugenne's assistance with a substantial relief column assembled from the garrisons of Hanoi and Bắc Ninh. He also ordered the 2nd Brigade of the Tonkin Expeditionary Corps to concentrate at Phu Lang Thuong. De Négrier left Hanoi on 24 June with two Turco battalions, two companies of the 143rd Line Battalion and two 80-millimetre artillery batteries. [Note 2] Travelling upriver aboard a flotilla of steamboats to Phu Lang Thuong and thereafter marching light, de Négrier's relief column reached Cau Son on the evening of 25 June. [19]

De Négrier joined Dugenne's column near Bắc Lệ on the morning of 27 June and made preparations for an immediate counterattack to throw the Chinese back across the Song Thuong. The French scouted the Chinese positions during the afternoon, and de Négrier issued orders for an attack the following morning. However, on the evening of 27 June he received a heliograph message from Millot, ordering him to return to Hanoi at once. The French premier Jules Ferry had decided to lodge a diplomatic protest and demand an explanation from the Chinese government. De Négrier complied with this unwelcome order. During the night of 28 June, under cover of a heavy thunderstorm, he and Dugenne withdrew their respective commands from the Bắc Lệ plateau unnoticed by the Chinese. On the afternoon of 29 June the French reached Cau Son, where the wounded from the Bắc Lệ battle were evacuated back to Phu Lang Thuong by junk. At Phu Lang Thuong the wounded were transferred to the gunboat Éclair, which ferried them rapidly back to Hanoi. In early July the exhausted men of Dugenne's column returned to Hanoi. De Négrier remained at Phu Lang Thuong with the 2nd Brigade, pressing Millot in vain for orders to attack the Chinese. [20]

French casualties in the Bắc Lệ Ambush were 22 dead and 70 wounded. Chinese casualties were markedly higher, approximately 300 dead and wounded in total.

On July 1, 1884, General Millot issued the following order of the day to the men of Dugenne's column. Significantly, he blamed the engagement near Bắc Lệ on the bad faith of the Chinese and described it as an ambush. Henceforth, the battle became, in French eyes, the 'Bắc Lệ ambush'.

Partis en petit nombre pour occuper, conformément aux ordres du Gouvernement et suivant les conventions de Tien-Tsin, les places frontières du Tonkin et de la Chine, vous avez étés attaqués dans les gorges de Lang-Son par un ennemi déloyal qui s’était préparé pour vous attaquer dans un guet-apens. Mais grâce à votre énergie, vous avez déjoué toutes ses ruses, vous avez combattu avec succès à une contre dix et vous avez fait respecter le drapeau et l'honneur de nos armes. Quelques baggages abandonnés par les coolies sont restés au pouvoir de l'ennemi. Je le proclame bien haut : vous valez les soldats de la première République. Si vous n’avez pas vaincu, vous avez rassuré la France par votre courage, votre constance et votre héroïsme. Honneur à vous, soldats, la République vous remercie et inscrira un glorieux fait d'armes dans ses annales. [21]

(Setting out in modest force to occupy the fortresses on the frontier between Tonkin and China, in obedience to the orders of the government and in line with the provisions of the Tientsin Conventions, you were attacked in the Lạng Sơn gorges by a treacherous enemy who set an ambush for you. Thanks to your energy you foiled all his ruses. You fought successfully at odds of one to ten and made the enemy respect our flag and the honour of our arms. Only some baggage, abandoned by the coolies, remains in his hands. I declare this firmly: you have equalled the soldiers of the First Republic. Although you have not conquered, you have reassured France with your courage, your steadfastness and your heroism. Honour to you, soldiers! The Republic sends you her thanks, and will inscribe your glorious feat of arms in her annals.)

When news of the 'Bắc Lệ ambush' reached Paris, there was fury at what was perceived as blatant Chinese treachery. Ferry's government demanded an apology, an indemnity, and the immediate implementation of the terms of the Tientsin Accord. The Chinese government agreed to negotiate, but refused to apologise or pay an indemnity. The mood in France was against compromise, and although negotiations continued throughout July, Admiral Amédée Courbet was ordered to take his Far East Squadron to Fuzhou (Foochow). The negotiations broke down in mid-August and on 23 August 1884, at the Battle of Fuzhou, Courbet annihilated China's Fujian Fleet, inaugurating the nine-month Sino-French War. The defeat of the French forces also resulted in the unsuccessful French attempt to attack and take Taiwan, where the Chinese Huai Army under Liu Mingchuan defeated the French at the Keelung Campaign and Battle of Tamsui. [22]


Contents

In the divisional history of the 71st Infantry Division, a distinction is made between the line-up and personnel composition up to the Battle of Stalingrad as a caesura on the one hand, and the complete new line-up after the annihilation in 1943 on the other. [3] Divisional strength was 15,000 men. [4]

Deployment Edit

    (September 1939 – May 1940) (May 1940 – June 1941) (June – October 1941) (October 1941 – April 1942)
  • Eastern Front (April – August 1942) (August 1942 – January 1943) (arch – August 1943)
  • Slovenia (August – September 1943) (September 1943 – December 1944)
  • Hungary and Austria (December 1944 – May 1945)

In August 1939, the 71st Infantry Division was set up in military district XI (Wehrkreis XI) and was mainly recruited from soldiers from what is now Lower Saxony: Hanover, Hildesheim, Braunschweig and the western Harz. Mainly those born between 1910 and 1920 were drafted, with a divisional strength of 15,000 men. [4] Mobilization took place on 25/26 August 1939 by Infantry Commander 19 (Infanterie-Kommandeur 19) in Hildesheim under the code word "Sigurd 9757". [5] In spring 1939, under Colonel Wolf, Infantarie-Regiment 211 (IR 211) was already prepared for combat operations as Training Infantry Regiment 1 (Übungs-Infanterie-Regiment 1) at the Bergen military training area and was assigned a section on the Siegfried Line. [6] The training in the army's rear area consisted mainly of weapon operation, combat field training, silent approach, movement in the dark and shooting. [7] The first division commander was Generalmajor Wolfgang Ziegler in Hildesheim, former commander of the 19th Infantry Division. The positions of regimental commanders were filled with experienced officers from the First World War. Shortly after the general mobilization, the remainder of the 71st Infantry Division was moved to Pirmasens in night marches to secure the border, in order to move into their deployment space for the western campaign in France.

After the 71 ID had marched southwest through Luxembourg and southern Belgium, they crossed the Chiers river and followed into the Maginot Line. The fighting accumulated in the attack on the tactically significant Height 311. This made the 71st Infantry Division one of the first units to surmount the Siegfried Line. On May 18, 1940, the division continued its advance in cooperation with engineers and tank destroyers by taking the village of Villy, the 505 tank factory and other fortifications in the La Ferté area (Maginot line). [8]

Together with the IR 188 subordinated to the 71st Infantry Division, Olizy and the Height 342 were captured. [9] The period between May 21 and June 10, 1940 was characterized by defensive battles on the Maginot Line, which was further expanded to protection against counter-attacks. By May 22, 1940, seven officers and 170 NCOs and rankers had been reported dead. [10] At the beginning of June 1940, in the Bois d'Inor forest, also known as the “Green Hell” (Grüne Hölle), numerous counter-attacks by Moroccan Tirailleurs and Foreign Legionnaires had to be fought off before the division could move east of the Meuse into the Verdun area. [11] On June 15, 1940, the 71st Infantry Division was ordered to take Fort Vaux and Fort Douaumont, with IR 211 bearing the brunt of the attack. The attack succeeded under the leadership of the battalion commander Hauptmann Corduan, who fought in Verdun during the First World War. The fall of the two fortresses opened the way to the Verdun citadel, which fell after Fort Froide Terre was taken. [12] [3]

In the course of June 1940 the 71st Infantry Division pursued the retreating enemy across the Moselle to Nancy. [13] The mission on the Western Front ended with the bestowal of numerous awards: the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to Generalleutnant Karl Weisenberger, [2] Oberst Hans-Karl von Scheele (commander of Infanterie-Regiment 191), Oberleutnant Germer and Unteroffizier Pape. [14]

Between 1940 and 1941 the 71st Infantry Division served as a training division (Lehr-Division) at the Königsbrück military training area.

From June 1941 the 71st Infantry Division took part in the attack on the Soviet Union and surprisingly broke into the Soviet border fortifications near Niemstow on June 22, 1941. [15] On June 24, 1941, a defensive battle against 50 Soviet tanks developed near Niemirow, with them firing from hidden positions against the German infantrymen. [16] Further positions of the Red Army on the Wiszenka military training area were cleared up and defeated. [17] At the end of June 1941 the breakthrough on the northern positions of Lemberg was achieved. [18] For almost the entire month of July 1941, the division managed a lengthy period of marching through the Ukraine within the framework of the army reserve (Armeereserve), which was made difficult by bad weather and unfavorable terrain. [19]

Battle of Kiev 1941 Edit

As part of the 6th Army, the 71st Infantry Division was to form the focal point (Schwerpunkt) of the offensive on Kiev, which expanded into the Battle of Kiev. Long periods of rain made the roads impassable and thus delayed the advance. The battle for Kiev was initiated by taking the towns of Ksawerowka (IR 211), Marjarowka (IR 194) and Gelenowka (IR 191). Between the divisional borders of the 99th Light Division and the 95th Infantry Division, the 71st Infantry Division stormed the southern sector off Kiev. The attack was delayed by a line of bunkers along the river Weta, which were penetrated in stubborn fighting in early August 1941 and the XXIX Army Corps opened access to Kiev. Between August 10 and 24, 1941, the Red Army carried out major counter-attacks against the lost Vasa position, but they failed. [20]

Here the 71st Infantry Division was replaced by the 296th Infantry Division and received a new 60-kilometer-wide combat section in the western sector of the heavily fortified city of Kiev on the banks of the Irpen River. On September 16, 1941 the XXIX Army Corps launched a major attack on Kiev, which ended three days later with the encirclement of the Red Army and the capture of the city. The 71st Infantry Division itself was not involved in the capture and was transported to its new operational area. [21]

Battle of Kharkov 1942 Edit

On April 5, 1942 the Order No. 55616/42 of the OKW/WFSt opened the summer offensive on the Eastern Front. To this end, the 71st Infantry Division, which was relocated from France back to the Eastern Front in April 1942, received the order in conjunction with the 6th Army to push in the Soviet frontline south of Kharkov and to relocate the main battle line to the Donets area in order to create a new starting position for Army Group South.

While IR 211 supported the 294th Infantry Division in defensive tasks in Ternowaja, the other two regiments moved into their starting lines. Meanwhile, the Red Army broke through with a massive infantry and tank deployment as well as numerically superior deployment of personnel and materials near Peremoga east and southeast of Kharkov and tied up large parts of the German units. Units of the 71st Infantry Division defended the area north of Izium on the Donets. The German formations succeeded, inter alia, to encircle the 6th and 57th Soviet Armies. The resulting spring battle of Kharkov from May 17 to 24, 1942 ended with the defeat of the Red Army. [22]

This was followed by taking up the defensive positions on the babka. Then the division advanced through Nikolayevka into the Oskol sector. The unit took part in pursuit battles via Belovodsk, Morozovskaya, the Tschir to the Don at the Generalow sector. Further defensive battles developed to the west of Kalatsch. From August 1942 the infantrymen of the 71st Infantry Division crossed the Don, took Karpovka and Rossoschka until they finally reached Stalingrad.

On September 3, 1942, General Friedrich Paulus had the following armed forces available for the conquest of Stalingrad: 30,000 soldiers of the LI. Army Corps (389th, 295th and 71st Infantry Divisions) and 50,000 soldiers of the 4th Panzer Army, XXXXVIII. Panzer Corps and IV Army Corps (24th PD, 14th PD, 29th Motorized Infantry Division, 94th Infantry Division and the Romanian 20th Infantry Division) a total of 80,000 soldiers. [23] The LI. Army Corps with the 71st Infantry Division under Major General Alexander von Hartmann was to fight its way through the western and northwestern suburbs to Stalingrad. [24] This route was the shortest and easiest from the outer to the inner defensive ring of Stalingrad. [25] On the evening of September 3, 1942, the 71st and 295th Infantry Division moved east, capturing Gumrak station in the fight against the Soviet 2nd Tank Corps (Major General Andrey Kravchenko) and the Soviet 112th Rifle Division (Colonel Ivan Yermolkin). They drove the 23rd Tank Corps under Major General A. F. Popov and the 399th Rifle Division under Colonel Nikolai Grigoryevich Travnikov to the east towards Konnaia station. The aim was to concentrate the main forces for the attack on the Gorodishche and Mamayev Hills. IR 211 and 194 broke through the defensive lines of the Soviet 112th RD, while on the right wing IR 191 overran the trenches of the 196th RD under Colonel Polikarpov and captured Talowoi and the Opytnaia and Eschowka stations.

This led to great losses on the part of the Red Army, which responded to the German advance with a counterattack at the Stalingrad hospital. The impact wedge of the 71st Infantry Division fought its way deep into the lines of the 62nd Army south of Gunmrak and "literally wiped the 87th and 196th RD out of the battle line of the Soviet troops". [26] In the region around Gumrak there were then a number of other defensive battles against the remnants of the 112th RD, 196th RD and 87th RD.

On September 4, 1942, Major General Anton Lopatin ordered a counterattack to prevent the 71st Infantry Division from gaining a foothold on the eastern bank of the Tsaritza. [27] The Soviet 244th RD encountered IR 191, which had occupied the surrounding heights and had approached the city center along the Tsaritza for 4km. Lopatin falsely reported that Afanasiev's troops had destroyed a large part of the IR 191. [28] On September 8, 1942, 295 ID and 71 ID continued their advance from Gorodishche and Razgulaewka on the main road from Gumrak to Stalingrad and pushed back hundreds of Red Army soldiers of the 87th RD, 42nd RB and a regiment of the 244th RD the vicinity of the hospital and the motor tractor station north of the Tsaritza, heavy fighting developed around Razgulaewka. As a result, the 87th Rifle Division soon had only 140 soldiers. Hartmann's 71st Infantry Division recorded only minor terrain gains between the hospital and the Tsaritza. [29] In the meantime the three infantry regiments of the division had to muster all their strength to cover the trenches of the 42nd RB and 244th RD, ready to for the assault. [30]

The battle for the Stalingrad suburbs reached its climax on September 12 and took place mainly around the 1.5 to 3 km wide hilly terrain in the west and north of the city between Gorodishche, Alexandrowka, the Razgulaewka station and the hospital. On the evening of September 12th the fighting subsided, the 6th Army was in possession of the tactically important mountain ranges, while the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies in particular suffered heavy losses in the defensive battle. [31]

Organization of the 71st Infantry Division on September 12, 1942 Edit

Before the offensive on the city of Stalingrad, the 71st Infantry Division had its starting position west of the "Red October" steel factory and the Tsaritza River, opposite it the 6th Tank Brigade, the 42nd Rifle Brigade and a rifle regiment of the 244th RD. [32] [33] The 295th ID and 71st ID received orders from the hospital to advance directly to downtown Stalingrad. [34]

Colonel Friedrich Roske issued the order to his unit that a quick capture of the Volga and a victorious conclusion of the fight against the Red Army would also mean an early termination of the Eastern campaign:

“We stand in this phase of the struggle, which is of exceptional importance for the war and especially for the Eastern campaign. The whole world looks at the troops from Stalingrad and besides, the quick and victorious conclusion of the battle with the reaching of the Volga also means a conclusion for the regiment. The troops are to be advised of this. I expect the whole regiment to be extremely strained, which will be worthy of the achievements of the IR 194 so far." – Colonel Friedrich Roske, Regiment Commander 194th Infantry Regiment. [35]

A similar order of the day was issued for the soldiers of the 191st Infantry Regiment:

“Soldiers of the 71st Division! We are approaching the climax of the Battle for Stalingrad. Forward to the Volga! Everything for Germany! Then we will take Stalingrad!" – Captain Fricke, battalion commander 2nd Battalion/191st Infantry Regiment. [36]

The 71st Infantry Division, together with the 295th Infantry Division, was one of the first large formations to reach their destination on the Volga. Due to the concentric waves of attack on the city center, the wedges of the 71st Infantry Division were greatly thinned out and thus predestined targets for Soviet snipers. [37] The first target was reached by reaching the ridge around the "brickworks" and the starting position was created for a rapid advance into the city center. In the city of Stalingrad itself, the division quickly became involved in the heavy house-to-house fighting in the city center and had to learn local combat under difficult combat conditions, which led to heavy losses.

The 71st Infantry Division pressed the Soviet defense units against the hills of the city and south towards Tsaritza. At nightfall, IR 194 took Aviagorodok, approached 2km of the railway line and reached the entrances from Hill 112.5 while IR 211 and 191 pushed the Red Army into a promontory northwest of the Tsaritza. [38] On September 13, 1942, the 71st Infantry Division advanced with massive air support from dive bombers in the direction of the main station and the next day they reached the city center of Stalingrad north of the Tsaritza. The struggle for the inner city developed into a merciless and extremely confusing battle, which was fought with great fanaticism on both sides around the main station, the government and party buildings and the Red Square with mutual successes. [39] In the afternoon, a series of Soviet counter-attacks with the support of 3 Katyusha rocket launcher regiments south of the Razgulyaevka station as far as the Tsaritza were supposed to defuse the situation, as 295 ID and 71 ID were in position just before the city center and the Mamayev Kurgan.

Artillery support and air strikes by more than 60 dive bombers brought the Soviet counter-offensive to a complete standstill at dawn on September 14, 1942. At the same time, IR 194 and 211 broke the resistance of the 42nd Rifle Battalion Batrakov and captured Hill 112.5. Shock troops from IR 194 broke into the streets of the city center and stood in front of Stalingrad Central Station at around noon. Chuikov reported:

"Individual groups of submachine gunners moved east in the Balkas around Hill 112.5, infiltrated the city center from 2 p.m. and stood in front of the main station at 4 p.m."

The rapid advance of 71 ID seemed to take the 62nd Army completely by surprise and forced them to mobilize all available reserves and throw them into the decisive battle. Important communication links were cut and supplies were cut off, and yet the German soldiers only reached the Volga for a short time. IR 194 threatened the ferry terminal and sank 2 Volga ferries. The fact that Stalingrad did not fall on September 14, 1942 was among other things owed to the resistance of the 35th Guards Rifle Division in the south of the city, which effectively stopped the 29th Motorized Infantry Division during their advance on the center. The 13th Guards Rifle Division, which arrived on the night of September 14th to 15th, 1942, prevented the complete conquest of the city center by reclaiming the streets and buildings (railway depot, state bank) east of the main station and intervening in the battle on the Mamayev Kurgan. The 1st Battalion from Colonel Elin's 42nd Guards Rifle Regiment occupied the main station again, while Panikhin's 34th GRR failed to take the house of specialists. [40] The combat strength of the 71st Infantry Division was numbered as follows on September 14, 1942: 8 infantry battalions, all in weak condition (300–400 men), 1 engineer battalion (PiBtl. 171) on average (300–400). [41]

On September 15, 1942, bitter fighting developed around Stalingrad Central Station against the 42nd Guards Rifle Regiment of the 13th Guards Rifle Division. On the same day, IR 194 continued the fight for the main station and IR 191 and 211 advanced further on the north bank of the Tsaritza. [42] The 24th Panzer Division tried to unite with the 71st ID near the Tsaritza on September 16, 1942, and 3 tanks were mistakenly shot by PaK guns of the 71st ID. Parts of the IR 194 in association with the 295th Infantry Division fought for possession of the Krutoi and Dolgii-Balka, but without being able to drive the enemy from his well-developed positions. In the center of Stalingrad, the main forces of 71st Infantry Division (IR 194 and 211) rubbed each other in a turbulent, completely chaotic and for both sides confusing battle from house-to-house and street-to-street over a width of 3.5 kilometers with the 13th Guards Rifle Division. The fighting reached its point of culmination on September 16, 1942 in the area around Red Square between IR 194 and 2nd Btl./34. GRR and 2nd Btl./42 GRR, in particular about the ownership of the massive buildings (Univermag department store, Gorki Theater, party building) that flanked the square as well as the main train station and Kommunisticheskaia Street:

“And farther south, the main forces of 71st Division’s 194th Regiment, with the bulk of the division's 211th Regiment on its right, engaged in a swirling and confused street-to-street and building-to-building fight with the bataillons of 13th Guards Rifle Division's 34th and 42nd Regiments in a 3.5-kilometer-wide swath of rubbled buildings and bomb-pocked streets extending from the Dolgii Ravine southward past Railroad Station No. 1 to the Tsaritza River. The heaviest fighting occurred in the vicinity of 9th January Square, where 194th Regiment's lead battalions dueled furiously with 2nd Battalion, 34th Guards Regiment, and 2nd Battalion, 42nd Guards Regiment, for possession of the hulks of buildings flanking the square, and near railroad station, where 1st Bataillon, 42nd Guards Regiment, clung resolutely to the station and adjacent ruined buildings aroung Kommunisticheskaia street.” [43]

The 71st Infantry Division was unable to send reinforcements to Kampfgruppe Edelsheim (24th PD) at their bridgehead at the mouth of the Tsaritza, as all divisions in Stalingrad were tied up in exhausting house-to-house fights with heavy losses. [44] On September 17, 1942, the guardsmen gave up their positions in the main station for the time being and tried again to recapture the house of the specialists in the technicians' building. [45] The fighting over the accesses to the Krutoi and Dolgiischlucht in the north continued, further south IR 211 and 191 with the 34th and 42nd GRR were incessantly fighting for the parks and key buildings along and east of Kommunisticheskaia Street, the firefights around the main station flickered again and the January 9th Square, only 3 blocks away from the Volga, remained a vital defense node of the 62nd Army. When dusk fell, the 1st Btl./42. GRR penetrated the main train station and all counterattacks on the house of the specialists repulsed. In the evening, the Red Army again proclaimed victory over the German attack formations at the main station and claimed to have counted 100 dead German soldiers who had fallen on the station premises. Finally, IR 211 was able to unite with the combat groups Hellermann and Edelsheim in the Tsaritza and bring the railway bridge over the river under control. During the night, IR 191 shifted eastwards behind IR 211 and was thus able to intervene together with IR 194 in the battle for the city center. [46]

The author William Craig describes the severity of the fighting for Red Square in September 1942:

“In this square the dead lay in grotesque contortions on the lawn and the sidewalks in dark red puddles. The traces of blood from the wounded, who had dragged themselves somewhere else, formed intertwined patterns on the pavement. The 'Univermag' was just an empty ruin. Mannequins riddled with bullets lay all over the place. Dead Germans and Russians, as they had fallen, lay next to each other in the corridors. The whole department store had become a morgue. The 'Pravda' building collapsed during the air raids on August 23, 1942. There was no longer anyone in the houses of the City of Soviets and the Red Army Club or in the Gorky Theater, empty window sockets and ugly black holes yawned in the walls. The shops in the side streets were also no longer open. Rotten tomatoes and mashed watermelons lay on the sidewalks, with parts of human bodies in between, swarmed around by swarms of flies." [47]

On September 18, 1942, the Gorokhov group's offensive in northern Stalingrad failed, so that the 6th Army could focus on fighting with the 62nd Army around the Mamayev Kurgan and the city center. Three regiments were embroiled in a swaying battle with the 13th GRD over the main station and the January 9th Square. Batrakow's 42nd RB withdrew to a defensive position west of the railway on the Tsaritza and thus tied the IR 211 again, which further exacerbated the precarious personnel situation of Hartmann's division. [48]

On September 19, 1942, the 71st Infantry Division changed their fighting technique because the main battle line could no longer be maintained due to the heavy losses and the peculiarities of the terrain of the Balkas, as platoons and companies were reshaped like assault troops in small groups. So it was possible to attack Soviet house fortresses and defense nodes in isolation and break out of the defensive barrier. The landing of parties of the 284th RD on September 19, 1942 significantly relieved the difficult situation for the badly battered 13th GRD in the Stalingrad center and set new forces free. The high losses around Red Square and the main train station had meanwhile increased threateningly. Batrakov's 42nd RB and Afanasiev's 244th RD (fewer than 200 soldiers each) retreated to the ruined houses east of the railway line and around 1st May Square. The entire 62nd Army was in an unstoppable retreat house by house and street block by street block to the Volga during September 19th. [49]

On September 20, 1942, the 13th GRD only had small isolated “defense islands” east of the main station, 42nd GRR on the left, 39th GRR in the center and 34th GRR on the right flank. [50] The next day the fighting concentrated on local areas in Kommunisticheskaia, Respublinskaia, Krasnopiterskaia, Stalinskaia and Naberezshnaia streets. During the fighting, an ad hoc combat group (Kampfgruppe) of around 150 submachine gunners with around 10 assault troops displaced the 1st Btl./42 GRR from a block east of the main train station and enclosed it halfway in another block on the corner of Krasnopiterskaia/Komsomoskaia Street. In the north, another combat group of 71st Infantry Division broke through the barricades of 2nd Btl./34. GRR and got to January 9th Square, where it was only stopped by a counterattack from Vologodskaia Street. The 42nd RB and 244th RD fought off several attacks by the IR 211 in Pushkinskaia Street after the almost complete capture of the grain silo on September 20, 1942, they were the last active fighting troops of the Red Army in the southern part of Stalingrad. [51]

On September 21, 1942, the grenadiers were able to successfully take a tactically important group of houses and effectively fight their way into the central ferry terminal in Stalingrad. [52] An unknown participant reported on the final phase of the battle for downtown Stalingrad:

“Elite divisions were called in to stop the assault of the 71st. Next to the south station there was a lot of fighting for days over the grain storage facility filled with wheat [captured by the 94th Infantry Division]. In the smoke and stench of the smoldering wheat, each floor had to be conquered individually in the huge concrete block, and there was also the fact that a Soviet defensive position extended from the southern landing of the ferry to the high silo. In the division section, on October 3rd, the enemy forces fighting in the ruins of the house were so much destroyed that further neighboring sections could be taken over." [53]

September 22, 1942 brought a renewal of the German attack on the city, against the Dolgiischlucht, the oil refinery and January 9th Square, where the Volgaufer was also reached. The guardsmen lost 200 soldiers and reoccupied Krutoi Gorge, January 9th Square, Naberezshnaia, Solnechnaia, Kurskaia, Orlowskaia, Proletarskaia, Gogolia and Kommunisticheskaia streets. After a week of street fighting, the 13th GRD only had 1,000 combat-ready soldiers their units consisted almost entirely of small isolated units that had withdrawn in a few bombed-out houses. IR 211 used a sewer ditch to successfully reach the Volga east of the main train station and had to retreat again at night. The 1st Btl./42. GRR was locked up in the Univermag department store on Red Square and completely destroyed the left wing of the 13th GRD had already completely collapsed. The unabated pressure of the 71st Infantry Division caused the guardsmen to collapse all along the line. Almost the entire center, with the exception of a few pockets of resistance, had to be abandoned only a 500 to 1000 meter wide bank could be maintained. According to the Red Army, however, 500 Germans were killed and 43 tanks (presumably assault guns) destroyed.

On September 25, 1942, the 71st Infantry Division was again involved in heavy fighting around the Stalingrad center north of the Zariza Gorge and found itself in a stalemate with the Red Army. North of the Tsaritsa, the 71st Infantry Division took possession of parts of the houses east of the party buildings as far as the Volga. In very bitter street and house-to-house fighting, the infantrymen won the ground step by step with flamethrowers, hand grenades and explosive charges, and on September 26, 1942, the 71st Infantry Division hoisted the Reich war flag on the party building on the Red Square. The 71st Infantry Division was the only one of the 6th Army in the entire division width to reach the Volga in the south of Stalingrad at the end of September 1942. The 211 Infantry Regiment was deployed on the right flank of the division between the rivers Zariza and Minina respectively. The units were therefore in well-developed and secure positions for a while, albeit heavily decimated in the city center in the September fighting.

Three infantry battalions of the 71st ID were severely exhausted and bloodied (fewer than 300 soldiers each) after the protracted and bloody fighting around the Stalingrad center on September 28, 1942, and by mid-October 1942 all infantry battalions of the 71st ID were already in the state of hors de combat and no longer able to take the remaining Soviet house-fortresses. From September 14 to 26, 1942, the 71st ID, 295th ID and 389th ID had 1,000 dead, 3,000 wounded and 100 missing. [54]

After the fighting in the Stalingrad center had subsided, the 71st Infantry Division broke away from the concentrated attack formation and expanded into wider sections in the defensive positions on the Volga. In doing so, they were largely able to take over the existing Soviet defensive positions. IR 191 was now in the middle of the division between the Tsaritza and Minnina gorges, south of it IR 211 with the border to 371st Infantry Division and in the north IR 194 following the 295th Infantry Division. [55]

Major General von Hartmann was given overall responsibility for the south and center sectors from the Dolgiischlucht to the Elschanka River on September 27, 1942, after the 94th Infantry Division was withdrawn for the fighting in the north. IR 211 was used from the Elschanka river to Kuporosnoe, IR 191 from the Tsaritza to the Elschanka and IR 194 from the Tsaritza to the Dolgiibalka. [56] However, IR 194 was too weak to make any significant progress against Pavlov's House and the positions of the Red Army on the banks of the Volga and their fortresses on Krutoi and Dolgii. [57] The impenetrable defenses of Rodimtsev in a dense network of buildings and fortresses north and south of the 9th January Square were unbreakable for a single, severely weakened regiment. From September 28 to October 1, 1942, a series of unsuccessful attacks in multiple company and battalion strengths were carried out in conjunction with the 295th Infantry Division, all of which failed. [58] On October 5, 1942, the combat strength of the 71st Infantry Division worsened to 1 weak (300–400 men) and 7 fully exhausted (300) infantry battalions. [59]

Between October 25 and November 1, 1942, the 64th Army launched a counterstrike in the south of Stalingrad, which, however, would be repulsed. [60] During Operation Hubertus in November 1942, 71st Infantry Division was only able to carry out smaller raid operations. [61]

On November 21, 1942, the Stalingrad pocket closed as part of Operation Uranus, when Soviet tanks took German positions near Kalach. The 71st Infantry Division received the order to entrench themselves in the city. In the urban area, Colonel Roske assigned the following defensive sections to the GR 194:

  • Prison: Leutnant Schölermann
  • Jägerpark: Stabsfeldwebel Raboldt
  • Official base: Oberfeldwebel Fraust
  • Univermag department store: Leutnant Drewes
  • Bazaar: Hauptfeldwebel Moser
  • Riegel: Leutnant Meyer
  • Children's home: Leutnant Brandenburg
  • Pitomnik regimental command post: Hauptmann Röse

The bases were set up for all-round defense according to a specific fire plan, in order to maintain communications between the positions, scouting parties shuttled between the individual fighting positions connected by trenches. Landings of Soviet troops across the Volga should be prevented by chevaux de frise and mines.

On December 11, 1942, when the supply situation of the enclosed 6th Army was already very critical, the Red Army undertook further attacks in order to push the German defensive ring further inwards. On January 26, 1943, the division commander Lieutenant General Alexander von Hartmann, Lieutenant Colonel (posthumously Colonel) Kurt Wilhelm Ernst Corduan (Regiment Commander IR 191) and Major (posthumously Lieutenant Colonel) August Friedrich Wilhelm Bayerlein (Regiment Commander IR 211) were killed in a firefight at a railway embankment in the sputhern sector near Tsaritza. At this time, the staff of the sub-units on site was composed of 3 officers, 7 NCOs and 183 rankers. The division secured, among other things, the section between Yelschanka and Voroponovo and often had to fight with the last remaining battalions at infiltration sites. Colonel Roske, who took command of the division after the death of Hartmann, entrusted the only available officer, Captain Hindenlang, with these special tasks. In his personal notes (printed in the divisional history of the 71st Infantry Division) Roske mentioned that a total of 17,000 soldiers were found in the southern basin, of which about 2000–3000 were able to fight (kampffähig). [63] On January 26, 1943, Paulus moved with the staff of the 6th Army into the Univermag department store, where Colonel Roske commanded the 194th Grenadier Regiment (GR 194). The remaining battalion commanders of the GR 194 were Major Dobberkau and Captain Hindenlang. [63]

The 6th Army was divided into two parts, the north and south basins collapsed between January 27 and February 3, 1943. [64] The 71st ID was one of the last units that was still able to fight Soviet tanks under certain conditions in January 1943. The last line of resistance of the German southern basin ran from the main station to the Tsaritza. On January 30, 1943, the Red Army captured the station area and approached the last defensive ring, which was placed within 300 meters of Red Square. Colonel Ludwig of the 14th Panzer Division surrendered around 6:00 p.m. in a corner building at the western end of Red Square in order to save the 2,000 wounded lying there. Towards evening the resistance of the GR 194 ended due to a lack of ammunition and Major General Roske (promoted 27 January) [65] ordered the cessation of all fighting. [66] On January 31, 1943, the remnants of the 6th Army surrendered, from the 71st Infantry Division present, Major General Roske, Major Dobberkau, Captain Hindenlang, First Lieutenant Fritz Hossfeld surrendered, and the seriously injured First Lieutenant Wegener in the Univermag department store and a little later the battery of First Lieutenant Wüster in the area of the Bathhouse on Dvinskaya Street/Karskaya Street also surrendered. [67]

From March to July 1943, the 71st Infantry Division was completely reorganized in Denmark from Grenadier Regiments 883 and 885 and replacements from Military District XI. In August 1943, the 71st Infantry Division was transferred to Carinthia with the assignment to help disarm the Italian troops in the Treviso - Gorizia - Trieste and Fiume areas during Operation Achse. This was followed by coastal protection and partisan fighting in the Monfalcone and Fiume areas. Participation in the Battle of Monte Cassino from January to May 1944 was also significant.

Here the IR 211 defended a 4km long section of the front in the town of Cassino and fought in hand-to-hand combat with New Zealand units for possession of the station under the command of Colonel Barnbeck. IR 194 was used in front of the US beachhead of Anzio-Nettuno until mid-February 1944. In May 1944 Major Knuht and the IR 211 fought in the Third Battle of Monte Cassino for the foothills of Monti Aurunci, at Castelforte and Esperia. The correlation of forces consisted of 6 heavily exhausted battalions against 4 full-fledged divisions of the Free French Expeditionary Corps, that included Moroccan mountain troops. [68] The German resistance collapsed due to the Allied pressure and the infiltration and flanking maneuver of the French forces on the Garigliano.

General Mark W. Clark described in his memoires how the French broke through the Gustav Line in May 1944:

Meantime, the French forces had crossed the Garigliano (River) and moved forward into the mountainous terrain lying south of the Liri River. It was not easy. As always, the German veterans reacted strongly and there was bitter fighting. The French surprised the enemy and quickly seized key terrain including Mounts Faito Cerasola and high ground near Castelforte. The 1st Motorized Division helped the 2nd Moroccan division take key Mount Girofano and then advanced rapidly north to S. Apollinare and S. Ambrogio In spite of the stiffening enemy resistance, the 2nd Moroccan Division penetrated the Gustav Line in less than two day’s fighting. The next 48 hours on the French front were decisive. The knife-wielding Goumiers swarmed over the hills, particularly at night, and General Juin’s entire force showed an aggressiveness hour after hour that the Germans could not withstand. Cerasola, San Giogrio, Mt. D’Oro, Ausonia and Esperia were seized in one of the most brilliant and daring advances of the war in Italy, and by May 16 the French Expeditionary Corps had thrust forward some ten miles on their left flank to Mount Revole, with the remainder of their front slanting back somewhat to keep contact with the British 8th Army. Only the most careful preparations and the utmost determination made this attack possible, but Juin was that kind of a fighter. Mule pack trains, skilled mountain fighters, and men with the strength to make long night marches through treacherous terrain were needed to succeed in the all-but-impregnable mountain ranges. The French displayed that ability during their sensational advance which Lieutenant General Siegfried Westphal, the chief of staff to Kesselring, later described as a major surprise both in timing and in aggressiveness. For this performance, which was to be a key to the success of the entire drive on Rome, I shall always be a grateful admirer of General Juin and his magnificent FEC. The 8th Army’s delay made Juin’s task more difficult because he was moving forward so rapidly that his right flank---adjacent to the British---constantly was exposed to counter-attacks. [69]

After the abandonment of the Cassino positions, the Abruzzo region was lost and defensive battles continued in central Italy until September 1944. Further combat missions followed in Carinthia, Italy and Hungary until the end of the war. In northern Italy, the 71st Infantry Division was stationed on the Metauro River opposed to the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the Gothic Line, where it suffered heavy losses in attritional operations. In 1945 the 71st Infantry Division surrendered to the British Army near St. Veith in Austria.

The division was reconstituted over the summer and then served on the Italian Front from the fall of 1943 through the end of 1944, almost ground to destruction at the Battle of Monte Cassino. The remnants then spent time in northern Italy where they opposed the 1st Canadian Infantry Division north of the Metauro River and on the Gothic Line with very heavy losses. Following this, 71st Division fought in Hungary, finally surrendering to the British near St. Veith in Austria.

The division has been implicated in Tićan massacre (Višnjan, now in Croatia), on 11 September 1943, when 84 civilians were executed. [70] [71]


French Mule Train at Castelforte - History

It was a quiet, lazy spring day -- the date was 11 May, but it was no different from any other day on that front.

Scarlet fields of poppies nodded and bobbed in a faint breeze -- smoke pots at the Minturno Bridge drifted their haze across the valley -- an incoming shell punctuated the stillness now and then with a muttering crash.

South of Minturno, the "Vampire Platoon" -- so named because they'd bivouacked in a cemetery, sleeping by day and gliding about the front by night -- made last checks of their equipment, slept a little, wrote letters or talked idly about the job ahead of them.

Daylight faded, and dancing stars winked across a clear sky. A dog howled somewhere, its cry echoing over the silent valley. Forsythia drenched the night air with a nostalgic perfume. The minutes crept on it was 2230 hours. And then 2245 2255.

It was 2300 hours -- H-Hour of D-Day.

A solid, leaping sheet of flame shattered the darkness as the greatest concentration of Allied artillery since El Alamein roared sudden death into German lines. From coast to coast along that long-dormant front, uncounted tons of steel spat from the throats of hellishly-roaring American, English, French, Canadian and Polish guns.

And silently, quickly, from their sangers and dugouts, the men of the 88th took their first few steps on what was to be a long and bloody and bitter trail -- began doing the job for which they had been trained so well, began making battle history.

Stunned at first by the ferocity of the barrage, the Germans nevertheless were swift to react and poured a murderous hail of mortar and small arms fire down the slopes at the advancing doughboys, battering at their sector of the Gustav Line.

There was no stopping that initial surge, and in less than 51 minutes Mt. Damiano (Hill 413) key to the defenses of Castelforte and a height Lt. Gen. Clark had once boasted could be taken whenever the 88th desired, had fallen to the 350th Infantry Regiment.

Capture of Damiano, or Cianelli, passed almost unnoticed in news dispatches at the time, but it was described later as one of the most outstanding operations in the initial assault on the Gustav Line. Its seizure covered the flank of the French Corps on the right and enabled the French to crack through the bottleneck that was Castelforte.

As the 350th mopped up on Damiano, the 351st butted against the stone wall that was Santa Maria Infante -- pivotal point in the Gustav Line and the first real testing ground for the 88th.

With tanks, which knocked out 21 German machine guns in the first few hours, the 351st jumped off for Santa Maria with the 2nd Battalion in the lead. A hell of small arms, machine gun and mortar fire caught the doughboys as they started up the rocky slopes. Company "E" led the assault on the right, Company "F" on the left and Company "G" was held in reserve. Early on 12 May, Company "F" overcame resistance from Hill 130 and continued its advance up the terrain-feature known as "the tits," on line with Company "E." Its commander wounded, Company "E" was held up on the "spur." When his radio was knocked out by shell fire, Lt. Col. Raymond E. Kendall, Bn. CO, moved up to determine the cause of the delay and assumed command of Company "E" on arrival. Spotting two machine guns, Lt. Col. Kendall led a platoon in an attack on one of the pillboxes.

This gun was knocked out, and Lt. Col, Kendall then swung the company to the right under heavy mortar and machine gun fire. Moving up to the right of "the tits," the outfit was stopped again by machine guns firing from the flanks and front. Again Lt. Col. Kendall took off -- this time with a squad from the 2nd platoon, and started for the gun which was firing from a position in a stone house to the right. First building up all the fire power possible, and joining in the fire fight himself with a carbine, bazooka, BAR and M-1 with anti-tank grenades, Lt. Col. Kendall then led the final assault on the building. As he pulled the pin on a hand grenade, he was hit by machine gun fire from the left flank, receiving mortal wounds.

An artillery liaison officer, 1st Lt. Pat G. Combs of the 913th, reorganized the company after the death of Lt. Col. Kendall and personally led the doughboys as they attacked and silenced three machine guns. He then ordered part of the unit to dig in while he and the remainder drove forward to capture the "spur."

Company "E" then pushed on into Santa Maria, but was driven back by a strong counterattack. Company "F" forged ahead on the left and reached a position near Tame. Supporting tanks were unable to get through because of mines and Nazi SP guns.

At 0515 hours, 12 May, the 3rd Battalion, commanded by youthful Maj. Charles P. Furr of Rock Hill, S.C., was ordered to pass through the 2nd to keep the attack moving. The 3rd jumped off at 0730 hours for Hill 172, was held up for a time by fire from Hill 103, but continued the advance.

Another German counterattack forced Company "E" to withdraw, and Company "F" quickly was isolated and surrounded. Attempts to reach it failed.

Going forward to check on the supply situation, Capt. Charles E. Heitman, Jr., Fort Myers, Fla., found "E" and "G" practically disorganized, badly cut up and with "E" minus its commander. Taking over "E," Captain Heitman outlined a plan of attack with 1st Lt. Theodore W. Noon, Jr., of Belmont, Mass., Company "G" commander, who insisted on sticking despite wounds. To complete coordination with the 85th Division on the left, the attack was delayed until 1700 hours, 13 May.

When "E" and "G" kicked off at 1700 hours, Lieutenant Noon had recovered sufficiently to lead his men. Hours later, and then only on direct orders, did he turn himself in for treatment. Captain Heitman, with the 1st platoon of "E," moved up on two machine guns. In a struggle which lasted almost two hours, he killed four grenade- throwing Jerries and knocked out two guns before being wounded.

Late on the 13th, with no word having been received from Company "F" in 24 hours, Colonel Champeny ordered a new "F" to be formed from the remaining companies of the 2nd Battalion.

The 1st Battalion, ordered to attack at 1600 hours, was taken over by Colonel Champeny when the battalion commander was separated from the outfit while on reconnaissance. And stern, graying Colonel Champeny proved himself to his men as they lay pinned down under a barrage. Standing erect, apparently unmindful of the shells falling in his vicinity, the Colonel calmly directed operations -- shouted words of encouragement to his bewildered doughboys.

"It was magnificent." said Larry Newman, International News Service correspondent. "We wanted to lay down and stay there -- but with the 'old man' standing up like a rock, you couldn't lay down. You were ashamed to. Something about him just brought you right up to your feet. The guys saw him too they figured if the 'old man' could do it, so could they. And when the time came, they got up off the ground and started on again to Santa Maria."

Early on the 14th, the 1st Battalion took Hill 109 after considerable resistance which included traversing an extensive mine-field and beating off a strong enemy counterattack. Its flank wide open through failure of the 338th Infantry to take Hill 131 on schedule, the battalion left the regimental zone and took 131 itself.

With opposition now in its final stages, the 2nd Battalion moved on Santa Maria from the right and the 3rd Battalion drove up the Minturno-Santa Maria road. The town was occupied by 1000 hours and engineers followed on the heels of the infantry, clearing rubble froth the streets with bulldozers.

On arrival of the 351st in force, the mystery of missing Company "F" was solved when Pfc. Frank Cimini of Northampton, Mass., and two other men emerged from a culvert in the vicinity of Tame where they'd been forced to hide more than two days to avoid capture.

Company "F," in the first attack, advanced so rapidly it soon was far out in front of the regimental lines. Cut off when the Krauts counterattacked and forced "E" to withdraw, the men of "F," though surrounded, held out for more than 30 hours, Cimini related. Finally, the Krauts resorted to an old trick -- but it worked. Several Krauts stumbled down the hill towards the company lines, hands in, the air and yelling "Kamerad." As the men of "F" rose to capture them, other Germans closed in from the rear and flanks. Five officers and 50 enlisted men were taken -- only three escaped to live and tell the story.

In the first days of the push, the 88th Recon Troop made its bid for glory with capture of Mt. Cerri by a 13-man patrol. During the months of the "quiet war," Recon patrols up the Ausente Valley always had met fire and resistance from Cerri, and 2nd Lt. Laurence "Cookie" Bowers of Grand Island, Neb., swore that some day he'd "get the Krauts on that damned hill."

Shortly after 0200 hours, 14 May, Lieutenant Bowers and his little group of dismounted cavalrymen "busted through" Kraut defenses to the top of the hill, originally listed as a 350th battalion objective. When the 350th chugged up at dawn, the patrol turned over the newly-won ground to the doughboys and went back to their outfit.

Action in the 350th sector had been much more favorable. The advance was swift and resistance was quickly overcome. By morning of the 12th, Hill 316 and Mt. Ceracoli were taken, and at 1320 hours Brig. Gen. Kendall, who was directing operations of all units in the Damiano area, reported that Ventosa had fallen, thus completing action in the first phase by the 350th.

One of the highlights came when an entire German battalion was caught in its assembly area by a TOT barrage from the 337th, 358th, 339th and 913th Field Artillery Battalions -- observers later said there was no describing the scene of death and destruction at the impact area.

The 349th, held back as a reserve striking force, sent its 1st Battalion to occupy its 1st Phase positions. These positions, involving a limited advance, were occupied by 0030 hours, 12 May and the regiment awaited further orders. On the afternoon of the 14th, the 1st Battalion jumped off for Mt. Bracchi -- occupied it with Companies "A" and "B" by nightfall.

But with Santa Maria fallen, the German Gustav Line was smashed the Nazis, fighting desperately for time, began a general withdrawal, German prisoners, stumbling back through the rubble heaps that had been their "impregnable" fortification, were dazed, bewildered -- glad to be alive, amazed at the savagery of the attacks hurled at them so suddenly out of the night. They had expected a spring drive -- it was inevitable that there would be one. But they had not expected it so soon -- their commanders had told them that 24 May was the Fifth Army D-Day.

They told PW interrogators that Yank troops -- 88th troops -- who swarmed in on their positions were on top of them within seconds after the artillery lifted.

And they said that those men, those bearded, dirty, tired, angry, charging men with the blue cloverleaf insignia " fought like devils ."

Many of those men never lived to hear that tribute from a beaten enemy -- many of them had been dazed and bewildered and frightened also in the first hours of hell that marked their first attack. But they took all the Krauts could throw at them -- and kept on going, until wounds or death had stopped their individual advance.

Magnificently, they'd met -- and passed -- their first real combat test. And, living or dead, those draftees had become soldiers -- soldiers who "fought like devils."

The nodding poppy fields added new patches and splashes of red to their scarlet blankets. The breeze still carried the sweet fragrance of forsythia, but mixed with the flower odor was a new scent, the unforgettable smell of the dead. The smoke pots at the Minturno Bridge no longer covered the valley with haze.

And back in the Division cemetery at Carano, the notes for a book lay in the new grave with Frederick Faust, killed in the first hour of the push below Santa Maria lnfante.

Pressing on after the retreating enemy, the 349th "Krautkillers" bypassed the 351st at the rubble heap that had been Santa Maria, took the Capo D'Aqua and at 2045 hours, 14 May reported its 2nd and 3rd Battalions were advancing up Mt. La Civita from the rear while the 1st Battalion drove up the forward slopes.

To the northwest of Civita, the 1st Battalion, 351st, took Mt. Passasera and wiped out a German pack artillery train in the process. Continuing its drive to the northeast, the regiment moved to cut off the Germans withdrawing from Spigno on 15 May, then under direct assault by the 350th.

By 0830 hours on the 15th Spigno fell to the 1st Battalion, 350th, with Brig. Gen. Kendall accompanying the troops into town, where they met a patrol from 1st Battalion, 351st, in just a few minutes before. After the fall of Spigno, the 350th became division reserve and the 351st continued its attack to the west, captured San Angelo and on the 17th had occupied Mt. Ruazzo.

The 349th Combat Team, attached to the 85th Division on 15 May, assisted the 85th in its drive on Castellonorata.

Punching across the mountains, the 351st stabbed to within 800 yards east of the Itri-Pico road before it was stopped by heavy enemy tank, SP and machine gun fire. Casualties were high and ammo and water ran low. Because of the terrain, artillery could not displace far enough forward to take the enemy tanks and guns under fire.

Artillery Cubs dropped medical supplies, radios, rations and maps to the 351st, forced to set up on Mt. Peretta and reorganize. Corps artillery finally got the range and silenced the Kraut tanks -- later the 601st Pack Artillery arrived and went into position to support the regiment.

Detached from the 85th on 18 May, the 349th was ordered to drive for Itri -- at 1500 hours, 19 May, the 1st Battalion moved into the wrecked town behind General Sloan, clearing the buildings and streets of snipers and rearguards left behind to harass the Yanks. The advance of the 349th was so swift that 313th Engineers, hacking out a supply road from Marinola to Itri, were only half finished when word came to drop the project. Previously, the engineers had cut jeep trails through rugged country from Spigno to Marinola and from Guanello to Route 6.

Recovered from pneumonia which had hospitalized him for weeks, Brig. Gen. Guy O. Kurtz returned on the 19th to assume command of the division artillery. And arrived in time to learn of the 338th's "firing from the hip" technique.

Displacing forward on the road about one mile east of Itri, the 338th was warned that the battalion Air OP had picked up considerable activity on the west side of Itri. Immediately, Battery "B", Capt. John G. Tillman, commanding, dropped trails on two guns and started to fire through a fire direction center established on the hood of a jeep. Other batteries went into position on both sides of the road and remained in their improvised setup until late next morning, their fire accounting for one Jerry tank, a 170-mm. gun and more than two-score Jerries.

In general, the artillery situation in this phase became rather hectic not at all as outlined in the manual. The doughboys, with a full head of steam, were chasing the Krauts so rapidly it was difficult for artillery to keep the enemy in range. Outfits would displace, set up in a new area, find that the doughfeet again had outdistanced them.

The Krauts, disorganized, wandered in small groups all over the hills, bypassed by the infantry. Artillery batteries met sniper fire many times and cannoneers became expert at patrol work -- on several occasions new areas first had to be combed and cleared of snipers before the guns could go into position.

Forward observers frequently found themselves doubling in brass and leading infantry companies and platoons. Air OP s flew missions, not only to spot targets, but to dump food supplies and maps to advanced infantry elements far ahead of their ration trains. No longer could artillery be classed as "rear echelon."

Because of the mountainous terrain, pack mules were used extensively for supply purposes and despite several ambushes and sudden enemy raids, the Division's 1,400 mules and more than 400 Italians and soldier "mule-skinners" slogged doggedly across the peaks with their precious loads.

"Sally of Berlin," on the air almost constantly as the 88th battled up the peninsula, grew increasingly annoyed at the doughboys and as her harassed countrymen lost more and more ground she aired a plaintive complaint that the 88th soldiers were "a bunch of bloodthirsty cutthroats" and "did not fight like gentlemen." Later the hysterical voice added a couple of hearty cuss words as descriptive adjectives finally stuck to calling them "Blue Devils."

Brig. Gen. Kendall again took off frontwards -- this time on horseback, startling doughboys and war correspondents alike as he galloped after, and along with, the infantrymen. He shocked the Recon Troop at one spot when he told a platoon leader to pretend his scout cars "were tanks."

Below Fondi he joined combat engineers in a fire-fight with ambushing Krauts -- later took personal affront at a Kraut sniper who fired at him. Stalking the sniper, Brig. Gen. Kendall bagged him and dragged three more "supermen" out of a nearby house before he calmed down. His front-line prowling became almost legendary and the doughboys grew accustomed to seeing his one star with them, or up ahead with the advance patrols.

Scauri, Gaeta and Formia fell -- and the 85th drove for Terracina. On the right flank of the 88th, 10,000 Goums -- held back until Castelforte and surrounding heights fell -- poured through the hills in delirious pursuit of the Nazis, shooting them by day and by night slipping quietly among them for a little knife-work.

Slugging north from Itri, leading dements of the 349th with Maj. Gen. Sloan in the foreground, were fighting in the southern outskirts of Fondi -- key point in the Hitler Line -- on the afternoon of 20 May, the 350th following closely in its wake. With capture of Fondi at 2200 hours, the 349th drove on for Mt. Passignano, took it and assembled in that area on the morning of the 21st.

The 350th, moving through Fondi, attacked at dawn 21 May to the northwest, the 1st and 2nd Battalions being committed in the drive against Mt. Casareccio and Mt. Martino, both of which were taken late on the 21st. The 351st jumped off on 20 May from its assembly area near Mt. Grande and by the morning of the 21st had seized Mt. Valletonda.

German planes were active in this phase and on the 24th, the 788th Ordnance Company was bombed and strafed heavily, resulting in death of three men and wounds to 14 others. The night before, the Division Rear Echelon at Casanova suffered its first casualty when seven bombs were dropped on the outskirts of town -- fragments ripping through a tent killed one member of the APO staff.

Opening of the beachhead drive on 23 May was joyful news to tired doughboys of the 88th -- junction of the southern Fifth Army front with the beachhead on 25 May was a terrific morale booster. Though not officially in on the junction, the 88th was represented unofficially when Capt. James A. Flanagan, Asst. G-2 Lt. Milton A. Blum, G-2 Office, and Lt. Wolfgang Lehmann PW interrogator, took off in a jeep piloted by Sgt. Egar Clark, correspondent for The Stars and Stripes .

On the former beachhead, the quartet had tea (?) with the commanding general of the 5th British Division -- the outfit the 88th relieved when it first went into the Minturno sector -- then made the return trip to the CP where they explained their absence to "the Chief of Staff and relayed congratulatory messages from the 5th.

After regrouping in the Monsicardi-Delmonte area, the 349th continued its advance northwest, taking Mt. Rotondo, and later, Mt. Alto and Mt. Della Salere -- the 350th meanwhile jumping off for Roccasecca dei Volsci.

In the drive for Roccasecca, the 2nd Battalion ran into stiff resistance in the valley south of San Boggio -- the Krauts pouring in heavy fire from the hills on both sides. On the 24th, the 1st Battalion occupied Roccasecca dei Volsci - 10 miles ahead of Fifth Army lines -- and the 3rd garrisoned the high ground overlooking the town.

On 27 May, 2nd Battalion, 349th, was advancing northwest towards its objective of Mt. San Martino and as security, sent Company "E," its leading element, to establish a road block on the road running north from Maenza, a small town to the west of the battalion objective. Company "F," commanded by 1st Lt. Paul R. Behnke, encountered a German Panzer Company retreating from the town and the gleeful "Krautkillers" shot up three enemy half-tracks, 10 cycles and two jeeps before running out of ammunition-"F" held its position during the night and made contact with the battalion next day.

Ordered to clear the Amaseno River Line, the 88th had accomplished the task late on the 28th, was attached to IV Corps and shortly thereafter, its front pinched out by the French and the beachhead forces, the Division prepared to move on the 31st to the new II Corps sector in the vicinity of Anzio.

Released by Army censors for identification in news dispatches, the 88th was praised for its "magnificent record" by newspapers throughout the United States-the New York Times summing up the tributes with its own accolade that "the blue cloverleaf shoulder patch has become a badge of honor to be worn proudly" by all who are, or were, members of the 88th.

If the battle for Rome was tough-and it was--the battle to determine identity of first troops in Rome was, in its way, tougher-and still is.

They're still arguing it but as far as the 88th is concerned, there's no argument . The 88th will not claim "first in" but will simply state the facts here and let the story stand by itself.

Bivouacked in the former beachhead area, the doughboys' half-hopes for a rest were ended with news that the Army had turned and was driving directly for the Eternal City. And from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey M. Keyes, II Corps Commander, came word to the 88th that it had been honored by a new assignment in the final drive for Rome-and that the Corps Commander was confident it would be the first in.

On 2 June, having moved back into the line with the 3rd Division on the right and the 85th on the left, the 88th attacked to the northwest to capture the eastern entrance to Rome on Highway 6 and cut off and destroy the retreating enemy. The 340th Infantry, minus one battalion, was attached to the 3rd Division for this operation and the remaining battalion was sent with the Howze Task Force. The 351st was directed to attack northwest, protect division flanks and maintain contact with the neighboring division and with the 350th until that unit advanced abreast of the 351st. In support of the 351st was the 752nd Tank Battalion.

Widening an initial narrow sector, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 351st cleared the towns of Carchitta and San Cesareo and at 1630 on the 2nd, cut Highway 6. After reorganizing, they established road blocks on Highway 6 and parallel routes.

In the assault on San Cesareo, the 1st Platoon of Company "G," which was acting as advance guard for the 2nd Battalion, ran into enemy resistance. During the action, a tow-haired youngster from Virginia had a field day when he made seven bazooka rockets count for as many German vehicles and upwards of 60 Nazis.

The youngster was Pfc. Asa Farmer of Isom, Va., who was at the head of his platoon column when the fleeing Nazi vehicles were spotted. He'd never fired his bazooka in combat before but when someone yelled "let 'em have it," he swung into action, scored a direct hit with his first shot. After that, targets loomed in quick succession at the road block calmly and accurately, Farmer and his bazooka paced the platoon. When it was all over, a tally revealed that Farmer himself had knocked out two half-tracks, a light tank and four German jeeps the platoon as a unit bagged 22 Kraut conveyances before sundown.

Another Virginian, 1st Sgt. Paul N. Eddy of Crewe, Va., distinguished himself near Monte Proziocatini when he killed five and captured eight of the vaunted Hermann Goering Division, put three enemy machine guns out of commission and neutralized an enemy mortar and crew, thereby enabling his company to advance.

Enemy air braved the skies over rear areas in futile attempts to cut supply lines and block reinforcements as Nazi foot-soldiers struggled to get away. The 313th Medical Battalion clearing station was a target for six bombs and several strafing runs the night of 1-2 June a direct hit on an admission tent killed nine, wounded others.

Moving now astride Highway 6 on a 3,000 yard front, the 351st drove for vital bridges over the Aniene River. The town of Colonna was partially bypassed by the 3rd Battalion and the regimental staff, with a portion of the I and R platoon, officially captured the town-were treated to a preview of a Rome welcome when civilians broke out hidden stores of wine for the dusty and tired men of the "Spearhead" Regiment.

At Colonna, eight Division MP's who "wanted action" took off with Lt. Walter R. Glass of Dexter, Kan., on a combat patrol-bagged 18 Germans before calling it a day. With Lieutenant Glass on his round-up were Cpl. William A. Stewart of Oklahoma City, Okla. Pvt. Ronald Ware, Navasota, Tex. Sgt. Sidney Gabin, Bayonne, N. J.: Sgt. Carmine Romano, The Bronx, N. Y. Pvt. Jesse Brown, Memphis, Tenn. Pvt. Xenephon Simitacolos, Canton, O. Pvt. Robert Mahaffey, Rudolph, O., and Pvt. Emanuel Holtzman, N. Y.

Securing the bridges over the Aniene River, the 351st was ordered to halt in place. Dawn's light on the 4th disclosed the unscarred buildings of Rome some 4,000 yards away-the regiment was impatient to close the gap.

Now began the final foot-race. The 350th had been directed to overtake the 351st, pass through it and continue the attack. Loath to be overtaken, Colonel Champeny had pressed on not exactly disobeying orders, he nevertheless saw to it that his doughboys hit a pace fast enough to out-distance the 350th. Early on the 4th, the 351st was ordered by Maj. Gen. Sloan to push forward at once with one motorized battalion along Highway 101, enter Rome, and seize important bridges over the Tiber River.

Before the take off, however, word came that a six-man patrol from the 3rd Platoon, 88th Reconnaissance Troop, had entered Rome at 0730 hours on Highway 6. This patrol later was credited, officially, by Fifth Army as being the first Allied troop element to enter Rome. This is its story.

The 3rd Platoon had fought its way to within two miles of Rome. There it halted and the patrol was dispatched to reconnoiter the road ahead. Shortly before 0730 hours the lone jeep, moving forward cautiously, passed the "Roma" city limits sign and proceeded for about a kilometer and a half to a small railroad station from which point a Kraut machine gun opened up on the patrol.

Sensing the immediate danger and because their orders called for it, the patrol retraced its route and Staff Sgt. John T. Reilley of Watervliet, N.Y., reported to his platoon leader that he'd been in Rome. Cpl. Cassie W. Kuemin of Detroit, Mich. T-5 Roy T. Cutler of Moweaqua, Ill. Pfc. John E. Cottrell of Rochester, N.Y. Pfc. Matthew J. Fitzpatrick of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Pfc. Michael J. Regan of North Bellmore, Long Island, N.Y. confirmed Reilley's report and "damned the Kraut machine gun which had spoiled everything."

At 1500 hours the 3rd Platoon, attached to the 1st Special Service Force, moved into Rome and raced through the city to secure certain bridges over the Tiber River.

Back at Division CP. staff officers turned hand-springs Maj. Gen. Sloan beamed proudly. His men had "made it and first."

But the struggle was not yet over. Moving up Highway 101, paced by a Recon platoon, the regimental I and R platoon and Company "C," motorized, the 351st ran into considerable German resistance from a strong point about one mile east of the city, just north of the suburb of Centocelle.

Detrucking, the doughboys deployed and took up the challenge. In the ensuing action, 1st Lt. Trevlyn L. McClure, I and R platoon leader from Greensboro, N.C., was wounded several times but continued to lead his men until caught and killed by cross-firing enemy machine guns. Less than 24 hours before, McClure had led his platoon in routing 50 Germans from a strong point -- killing 16, wounding six and capturing four and shortly after had captured an enemy tank and an ammo truck, exploits for which a DSC, posthumous, was awarded.

Overcoming the last-ditch resistance, the 1st Battalion, plus several TD's and three tanks, swept on into Rome -- arrived in the city at 1530 hours and reported itself as the first infantry, in force, to make it.

Toiling along up Highway 6, a motorized battalion of the 350th, one battery of the 338th Field, one company of the 313th Engineers and a provisional battery of six 105-mm. self-propelled guns from the 752nd Tank Battalion, all under command of Lt. Col. Walter E. Bare Jr., Muskogee, Okla., battered its way through Jerry rear guards and crossed city limits on the Via Palestrina shortly before 1730 hours. Once in, it was joined by Italian Partisan troops who aided the doughboys in cleaning out snipers from buildings along the way.

The welcome was tremendous -- like nothing the doughboys ever had expected or experienced. In the suburbs, civilians poured out of their homes to greet the first troops -- milled about the vehicles, ignored the sniper and return fire which whizzed about their heads, cheered when a German tank was hit, groaned when a Yank jeep went out of action, cried, whistled, smiled, shouted, danced, sang, tossed flowers, poured wine and champagne and finally by their sheer exuberance succeeded in doing what the Germans hadn't been able to do since the kick-off -- temporarily stopped the "Blue Devils" cold in their tracks as they welcomed "the liberators."

It was fantastic -- it was unbelievable -- but it was Rome, that first night.

Artillery units were fired on by Kraut small arms and machine guns Battery "B" of the 339th was pinned down while moving into position outside of Rome Division Artillery Headquarters found itself in the midst of a firefight and surprised cannoneers of the 913th rounded up 15 Kraut PW's. The "red legs" were a defiant, proud lot as they hauled their guns into new firing positions in the city.

The 913th was the first artillery battalion to fire from Rome after occupying positions in the Villa Borghese early on 5 June, followed shortly by the 338th, the 339th and the 337th. Division Artillery Advance CP moved to the Villa Borghese at 0800 on the 5th but later that day Brig. Gen. Kurtz moved the CP to the Ministry of War Finance Building near the Milvio Bridge.

Division Headquarters and the CP of the 349th Infantry also set up in the building -- Kraut artillery tossed a barrage at the area in mid- afternoon, scored hits on a jeep and an apartment house across the street.

Stripped to the waist, and center of an admiring circle of signorinas, artillerymen were never in better form as they pumped shells at enemy columns and vehicles across the Tiber fleeing north along Highway 2. The Romans cheered every round, youngsters fought for still-smoking shell cases as souvenirs, wary parents eyed their daughters who, in turn, eyed the artillerymen, who -- well, there still was a war on.

Weary doughboys plodded through crowd-jammed Rome streets, slept on sidewalks and in doorways during short breaks, secured their bridge and road objectives and pressed on over the river and up Highway 2 after an enemy they were unable to catch or to make stand and fight. The 349th, held in place south of Rome after being pinched out by the French, rode and marched through Rome on the 5th, detrucked and deployed across the river to take up the pursuit again.

There were some who neither rode nor marched through Rome -- they were the men who died on the outskirts, in the suburbs and in the center of Rome itself from rearguard enemy sniper fire and who lay crumpled and twisted in the pathetic shapes the newly-dead assume. Over their silent heads, the delirious welcome celebration roared on unabated.

Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, Fifth Army Commander, officially entered the city on the morning of the 5th. Accompanied by Maj. Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther, Fifth Army Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey M. Keyes, II Corps Commander, and Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott Jr., VI Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Clark's appearance touched off the celebration again as the party toured city streets.

News of the invasion of France on the 6th was the climax -- the first flash brought smiles to the faces of exhausted doughboys and a new jag to an already happiness-saturated Rome.

Still pressing, the 88th Division was relieved on 10 June, culminating an offensive advance of 109 airline miles in 31 days from Minturno, including the rapid dash through Rome and across the Tiber from the vicinity of Roccamassina to the vicinity of Bassanelio, a distance of 56 miles in eight days.

After a total of 100 straight days in the line, the "Blue Devils" put down their guns, capped their mythical horns and headed back over the long trail they had won - headed for Lake Albano.


Defence / Italy: World War 2: Allies Marching In Strength On Road To Rome 1944

Nazis stake all in Rome defence. Latest film report from Italy shows Allies marching in?

Description

ITALY: Castelforte:
EXT
GV Sherman tanks and various vehicles waiting to move on.
SBV Sherman tanks moving off.
LV Sherman tanks in line along road.
SCU pan Sherman tank past camera.
GV French troops along dusty road.
BV French troops in truck pulling small gun.
LV French troops in line on either side of road.
SV French troops past camera.
GV British troops attacking near Castelforte under cover of smokescreen.
SV sapper in cornfield with smokescreen in b-d sweeping for mines.
LV British troops along road after mines have been cleared smokescreen in b-d.
BV trucks and vehicles entering Castelforte.
GV pan damaged tanks outside Castelforte.
LV wrecked town of Castel forte.
SV German tank lying in ditch near town.
SV British soldier firing from ruins.
LV devastation and ruins in Castelforte.
LV British soldier firing in ruins.
LV French troops walking thru town between buildings.
LV German prisoners down street carrying wounded German on stretcher.
SV pan wounded German on stretcher.
SV French troops rounded up German prisoners.
LV wrecked tank and troops in wrecked square of Castelforte.
GV refugees along road - wrecked buildings in b-d.
SCU old lady type carrying bundle on head.
LV German prisoners marching towards hiding their faces from camera.
SV German prisoners being de-loused with syringe down back of trousers.
SCU two prisoner types one scratching hair and one smiling.
CU young German type - other prisoners in b-d.
LV German prisoners along road escorted by one British tommy.

GOOD SCENES:
GV Italian landscape.
SV U.S. Soldier looking thru periscopical binoculars - other U.S. soldier speaking on telephone receiver of radio equipment.
SCU French Soldier looking thru range finder.
GV pan another Italian landscape.
Shot thru hole in wall showing
GV Castelforte.
GV Castelforte - soldier with rifle half in right of picture.
LV past camera French troops with loaded mules.

SCU pan past camera loaded mules.
GV Red Cross Truck, lorry, troops and mules along road - mountains in b-d.
LV Sappers clearing cornfield of mines - wrecked house and smoke screen in b-d.
SBV British troops with full equipment walking away from camera.
GV devastated area.
LV devastated area.
LV French troops loading mules.
SCU French soldier loading mule.
LV loaded mules with French troops walking up mountain path.
Angle shot French officer on horseback, British troops and loaded mules up rocky up mountain path.
LV French soldiers leading loaded mules up rock mountain path.
GV French soldiers leading loaded mules up rocky mountain path.
LV British officer getting German prisoners into line.
CU young German prisoner.
CU another German prisoner.
CU Another German type.

Military - Active Italy World War 2 (World War Two, Second World War, WWII)
Background: Nazis stake all in Rome defence. Latest film report from Italy shows Allies marching in strength on the road to Rome.


Significance [ edit | edit source ]

When news of the 'Bac Le ambush' reached Paris, there was fury at what was perceived as blatant Chinese treachery. Ferry’s government demanded an apology, an indemnity, and the immediate implementation of the terms of the Tientsin Accord. The Chinese government agreed to negotiate, but refused to apologise or pay an indemnity. The mood in France was against compromise, and although negotiations continued throughout July, Admiral Amédée Courbet was ordered to take his Far East Squadron to Fuzhou (Foochow). The negotiations broke down in mid-August and on 23 August 1884, at the Battle of Fuzhou, Courbet annihilated China's Fujian Fleet, inaugurating the nine-month Sino-French War. The defeat of the French forces also resulted in the unsuccessful French attempt to attack and take Taiwan, where the Chinese Huai Army under Liu Mingchuan defeated the French at the Keelung Campaign and Battle of Tamsui. ⎡]


Watch the video: Allied advance in Italy pushes through Castelforte 1944 (January 2022).