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Le schede biografiche di alcuni dei principali protagonisti delle battaglie per Cassino e più in generale della campagna d'Italia.
The biographies of some of the main protagonists of the battles for Cassino and in general of the Italian campaign.
OPERATION MICHAEL – FEBRUARY 12, 1944
In early February 1944 the first battle of Cassino was in its final phases. Clark's plan was to break through with American troops in order to advance to Cassino. This began with tragedy; the attack of the 36th (Texas) Division on the river Gari did not succeed despite victory appearing possible.
The situationThe 135th Regt., 34th (Red Bull) and the 142nd Regt., 36th (Texas) Division had taken the important Mount Castellone, and from there had occupied Phantom Ridge and Snakeshead Ridge, arriving at Calvary Hill, Point 593. From below, while 133rd Regt., 34th Division tried to enter the city, sections of the 168th Regiment had already arrived at Point 445 and were established below the Monastery, capturing the hidden artillery observation posts in the caves under the Abbey.
The dangerEarly in February General Ernst Gunther Baade, Commander of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division, assumed control of this front and noted the potential danger that came from Mount Castellone: from that point the Allies could have attacked in a westerly direction towards Saint Villa Lucia, and down the wide gorge to Route 6 (Via Casilina), a manoeuvre which would encircle all the German forces, taking the city of Cassino and the Monastery hill; a plan that, in truth, the Allies did not even consider!
The units in the fieldThe plan the Germans predicted was that the I./ Pz-Gren Regt.200, commanded by Captain Bottler, would have attacked from the ridge west of Mount Castellone in the central part; the III./ Pz-Gren Regt.200, under Captain Heyda, staying on the western side but moving more to the north; finally the IV "HochGebirgsjaeger" (Mountain) Battalion would have moved from the position on S. Angelo Hill in direction of Point 706, passing along the ridge, and reaching Mount Castellone. The Americans were positioned on the slopes behind Mount Castellone; towards the salient mountain were the weaker forces of the 1/142nd Regt in the direction of Point 706 the 3/143rd Regt., finally the 2/141st Regt. was positioned from Point 706 and Point 465, the connection between Phantom Ridge and Snakeshead Ridge; all units of the 36th (Texas) Division.
The AttackThe attack began at 1600 hours on Saturday 12th February. The German artillery comprising 109 guns and mortars, to which 28 nebelwerfer were added, opened fire on Castellone; the shooting lasted until 18.10. Suddenly, the German troops started the attack. From the command point at Saint Villa Lucia Colonel von Behr, The attack began at 1600 hours on Saturday 12th February. The German artillery comprising 109 guns and mortars, to which 28 nebelwerfer were added, opened fire on Castellone; the shooting lasted until 18.10. Suddenly, the German troops started the attack. From the command point at Saint Villa Lucia Colonel Behr, commander of Panzergrenadier Regt. 200, followed the phases of the attack; in a short time the German soldiers had successfully reached the mountain top. The German artillery continued to bombard the top of Castellone, now, however, occupied by the German grenadiers; Captain Munsing radioed unsuccessfully for firing to cease. From the German line soldiers fired a green rocket to signal their presence and to renew the demand to cease shooting, but the German shells continued to inflict casualties among their soldiers. Captain Bottler, commanding the I./ Pz-Gren Regt.200, called by radio for firing to stop as he was losing too many men. When the artillery fire stopped, over 100 German soldiers, including two commanders of the company, had been hit by “friendly fire”. Shortly after the Americans, sheltering on the opposite side of the mountain, safe from the firing of the German artillery, counterattacked; the Germans were now hit by the American artillery.
. flew in the air then fell in pieces.On this occasion they used phosphorus bombs, turning the soldiers into human torches. There were men who, in flames, jumped down from cliffs yelling to be killed instantly. On the south side of Castellone the attack of IV HochGebirgsjaeger Battalion had had greater success; they were in fact successful in gaining Point 706, also taking 31 American prisoners.
The truceAt this point Colonel Behr sent the senior medical doctor Wauer to the Americans on the Castellone Mount, to ask a truce for three hours to allow them to collect the dead men and the wounded on the battlefield; the Americans consented, as it was also in their interest. The truce began at 9am on the 14th February and proceeded without any problems; at the request of the Germans and with the approval of General Walker.
. the 14th of February (the day before the bombing of the Abbey) at 12:10 P.M., at altitude 706, from afar I managed to recognise
three helmets, which weren't ours but were our enemies', coming towards me. I immediately left my hiding place and approached them; that's how I saw
that the enemy wasn't armed; once I got near them I realised that they were Americans and I heard them cursing and swearing in their language.
The first man was a colonel and the other two were majors and they weren't wearing their uniform, but casual clothes.
Shaking their heads they said that the war was a disgrace and without reason, the colonel (Reese) handed me his business card with his address on it, speaking to me in German he invited me to go to Philadelphia in America after the war.
Reece did not know he could not have honoured this invitation; he fell in May 1944 at the entry to Velletri, when a shell from a Tiger tank exploded.The diary continues, saying that the order to cease fire arrived at 11.00 and that all the soldiers were astonished and amazed; but as the enemy had also stopped firing, they cautiously began to leave their positions and cross into “no-man’s land”, going to meet the enemy. During the truce the opposite sides could collect the wounded and the fallen; the Americans assisted in carrying the wounded Germans. It was a moment in which the war was suspended, the enemies looked one another in the eye, aware that all were victims of a situation they could not control; sharing life and death, the uncertainty of the future and the thousands of difficulties encountered every day.
Traslated into english by Kay Scott
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