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Operation Winter Storm

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Operation Wintergewitter (Winter Storm), the small-scale German-Italian 1944 Christmas offensive on the Apennines, was the last meaningful feat of arms of the dying Rome-Berlin Axis, and one of the last examples of the German tactical and operational mastery.

Genesis and Preparations

During an interview with Gen. Mario Carloni, commander of the Italian Republican “Monterosa” Division on October 20th, 1944, the German General Jost, commander of the 42nd Jaeger Division deployed on the western sector of the Gothic Line, touched upon the operational details of a plan under consideration by the Kesselring staff as well as by Mussolini and the Republican Supreme Headquarters since early October.

The plan envisioned a strong offensive to be launched against the left (western) wing of the US 5th Army, in the Garfagnana mountain region (between Emilia and Tuscany), an all-out attack carried out by 40,000 men (2 Italian and 1 German Divisions) with lavish tank, artillery and air support, aimed to break through the American lines and retake Lucca, Pisa and the strategically important port of Livorno (Leighorn), the nearest “lung” of 5th Army, thereby forcing the Allies to withdraw units from the central and eastern sectors of the front and call off their offensive in the most critical Ravenna-Bologna area. This was especially apparent in the 8th Army sector, where the German defense benefited by a considerably less favorable terrain.

A line of Monterosa Alpine marching on the snow-covered mountains

A line of Monterosa Alpine marching on the snow-covered mountains

Mussolini and Marshal Graziani, the commander-in-chief of the Republican Armed Forces, for obvious morale and propaganda reasons, warmly supported the plan in this original, wide scope version. A resounding success, mainly due to Italian troops in 1944, would not have been a negligible blow to Allied prestige, but rather a boost to Italian Republican morale.But when the operative plan was sifted by the Fretter-Pico Group staff officers (see the notes about the Monterosa Division), it underwent drastic changes, dictated by the bitter reality of the local and overall Axis situation.

The “big” project was a dream. Of the three required divisions, one (the Italian “Italia”) still had to arrive, just 50% of the Monterosa was available, and the German 148th Infantry Division was in poor shape.

There were neither tanks, nor aircraft, nor fuel; only a few extra German artillery batteries were given. Moreover, any attempt to move armored units to the area, or to substantially strengthen the infantry divisions already deployed, would have been quickly found out by Allied reconnaissance and partisan spies, and tactical and operational surprises could never have been achieved (not to mention the fact that the Allied air forces would have quickly made mincemeat of those reinforcements).

Generals Carloni and Otto Fretter-Pico (commander, 148th Infantry Division) radically modified the plan and proposed a limited local attack on a narrow front, which the scanty Gothic Line forces could have launched without resorting to unlikely reinforcements. Its goals would have been: to improve the Axis defensive positions in Garfagnana; to pin American forces down in a secondary zone, preventing them from being moved to more vital areas; to capture weapons, food, ammunition and materials; to boost the Republican morale.

The revised plan was accepted and preparations began.

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