Battle of San Pietro Infine

Battle of San Pietro Infine

"(For the John Huston film about this battle, see The Battle of San Pietro.)"
"(For the battle in 1734, between Franco-Piedmontese and Austrian troops as part of the War of Polish Succession, see Battle of San Pietro.)"Warbox
conflict=Battle of San Pietro Infine
partof=World War II, Italian Campaign

caption=The Liri valley with Mt. Sambùcaro overlooking the modern town of San Pietro Infine (left) and ruins of the original town (center).
date=Dec 8, 1943 – Dec 17, 1943
place=San Pietro Infine, Italy
result=Allied victory
combatant1=flag|United States|1912
combatant2=flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany
commander1=flagicon|United States|1912 Mark Clark
commander2=flagicon|Nazi Germany Albert Kesselring

The Battle of San Pietro Infine (commonly referred to as the "Battle of San Pietro") was a major engagement from 8–17 December, 1943, in the Italian Campaign of World War II involving Allied Forces attacking from the south against heavily fortified positions of the German "Winter Line" in and around the town of San Pietro Infine, just south of Monte Cassino about halfway between Naples and Rome. The eventual Allied victory in the battle was crucial in the ultimate drive to the north to liberate Rome. The battle is also remembered as the first in which the troops of the Italian Royal Army fought as co-belligerents of the Allies following the armistice with Italy. The original town of San Pietro Infine was destroyed in the battle; the modern, rebuilt town of the same name is located a few hundred meters away (coord|41|26|40|N|13|57|31|E).


North Africa and Sicily

The Allied invasion of Italy from the south followed the Allied successes in North Africa. Eighth Army's advance from the east following the Second Battle of El Alamein and the British-American invasion of in Operation Torch had led by May 1943 to the surrender of Axis forces in Africa.

The Germans retreated to the island of Sicily and on the night of 9–10 July 1943, an Allied armada of 2,590 vessels launched one of the largest combined operations of World War II — the invasion of Sicily. Over the next five weeks, half a million Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought German and Italian forces for control of the island. Although the Allied powers were victorious, the Axis managed to evacuate over 100,000 men and 10,000 vehicles from Sicily across the Straits of Messina during the first seventeen days in August. The Allies then invaded the Italian mainland in September 1943 at Salerno, in Calabria ("Operation Baytown") and Taranto ("Operation Slapstick").

On September 8, before the main invasion, the surrender of Italy to the Allies was announced. Italian units ceased combat, and the Italian navy sailed to Allied ports to surrender. This changed the German defensive strategy greatly, and the Germans now regarded their former allies as enemies and moved to disarm Italian units and occupy important defensive positions. The invasion at Salerno was ultimately successful and Allied forces took nearby Naples on October 1. German forces then withdrew to the north towards Rome and dug in along a series of well-fortified lines. By late 1943 fighting had reached the Winter Line.


German commander, General Albert Kesselring had marked out the "Winter Line" as three parallel defensive systems to the south of Rome. The defensives lines were called the Reinhard Line, Gustav Line and Hitler Line, placed convert|18|km|mi one from the other, taking advantage of the point at which the Italian Peninsula is narrowest; they served as a formidable series of obstacles in the path of the Allied march towards Rome. The Reinhard was the southernmost of the three and was the German fall-back position from the Barbara Line and Volturno Line further to the south as German forces retreated gradually up the peninsula. (The Reinhard was also called the Bernhardt Line.) The Reinhard was actually a southern bulge in the stronger Gustav line to the north. On the eastern side, the Reinhard went from the Sangro River to the Adriatic Sea (along which length it was identical to the Gustav Line); then, in the west, it bulged south from Cassino to incorporate the mountains overlooking the approaches to the Liri Valley and then moved west to the mouth of the Garigliano River. The line passed directly through the town of San Pietro Infine, blocking the Mignano Gap, the pass through which Route 6, the main road up the center of Italy from Naples to Rome, ran towards Cassino and the entrance to the Liri valley.


The Germans occupied San Pietro in September, 1943, to prepare the defenses. They evacuated all non-essential Italians from the town, meaning women, children and old men; they conscripted able-bodied men to help set up the defenses and requisitioned available vehicles and beasts of burden [Zambardi, pp. 18-21.] . They set up a defensive apparatus in the whole territory, in particular on Mount Sambúcaro [This name usually appears as "Sammucro" on Allied military maps of the period.] and Mount Lungo, which overlooked the Mignano Gap. These were strategically important positions because they allowed the control of the long stretch of route 6, important for the advance of the Allies. The Fifth Army began to attack the Reinhard/Bernhardt Line on 5 November 1943, and the attacks continued into December.

The Battle of San Pietro was preceded by Allied attacks on the Camino hill mass at the entrance to the Mignano Gap (named for the small town on the road at that point). The entire hill mass is about convert|10|km|mi long and convert|6|km|mi wide. After that, the main Allied effort was against the German defenses on Mount Sambùcaro and Mount Lungo, which dominated the narrow valley on the east and west respectively. As a point of historical interest, the assault on Mount Lungo was aided for the first time by the 1st Italian Motorized Group ["Fifth Army at the Winter Line", p.47] , part of the recently reconstituted Italian army, now fighting on the side of the Allies.

The battle

The direct attack on the German positions in and around San Pietro began on December 8 by II Corps of the Fifth Army. The positions were defended by the second and third battalions of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the second battalion of the 71st Panzer Grenadier Regiment, ["Fifth Army at the Winter Line", p. 48 (Map 16)] all part of German Tenth Army's XIV Panzer Corps.

After a week of intense attacks and counter-attacks the US 36th Division's 143rd Infantry Regiment and the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment commanded the heights of the Sambùcaro mass. The US 36th Division, then planned a further effort for 15 December. 143rd Infantry assisted by 504th PIB would continue to push west along the shoulders of Sambùcaro and take San Vittorio del Lazio while to the south of Route 6 142nd Infantry Regiment supported by the Italian 1st Mororized Group were to capture Mount Lungo. In the center 141st Infantry would attack San Pietro itself. The main attack of the 36th Division started at 1200 on 15 December. After four successive Allied attacks and German counter-attacks, the Germans pulled back from San Pietro since the dominating ground on both flanks, Mount Lungo and the Sambùcaro peaks, was now in II Corps' possession. The Germans launched a counter-attack on December 16 to cover their withdrawal as they retreated to positions farther north at Cedro Hill, Mount Porchia, San Vittore, and the western spurs of Sambúcaro. ["Fifth Army at the Winter Line", pp. 53–65.]


The Battle of San Pietro was part of the overall campaign to breach the Bernhardt/Reinhard Line, some convert|10|km|mi deep at that point. It took six weeks of heavy fighting--from early November to late December--to overcome the German defenses. During that time, the Fifth Army sustained 16,000 casualties [Majdalany. p.30] . The highway through the Mignano Gap to the Liri Valley was nicknamed "Death Valley" by members of the attacking force. The battle destroyed the town of San Pietro Infine completely. Destruction was wrought by a combination of close combat, both Allied and German mortar and artillery, and German "scorched earth" policy. Both the battle and the plight of the civilian population have inspired numerous accounts, most famous of which is the John Huston film "The Battle of San Pietro".

By mid-January the Fifth Army had reached the formidable Gustav Line defenses and commenced the first Battle of Monte Cassino, which started on January 17, 1944.

ee also

*Italian Campaign (World War II)
*Allied invasion of Italy
*Gustav Line
*Fifth United States Army
*Barbara Line
*36th Infantry Division (United States)
*European Theatre of World War II


* D'Este, Carlo, "Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome". 1991 ISBN 0-06-092148-X
* " [ Fifth Army at the Winter Line (15 November 1943-15 January 1944)] ". Center of Military History, United States Army. (1990) . First printed in 1945 by the Historical Division, War Department, for the American Forces in Action series, 1945. CMH Pub 100-9.
* Grigg, John, "1943: The Victory that Never Was". ISBN 0-8217-1596-8
*cite book | author=Majdalany, Fred | title=Cassino: Portrait of a Battle | publisher=Longman, Green & Co Ltd., London | year=1957 | id=
* Muhm, Gerhard : "La Tattica tedesca nella Campagna d'Italia, in Linea Gotica avanposto dei Balcani", (Hrsg.) Amedeo Montemaggi - Edizioni Civitas, Roma 1993.
*Zambardi, Maurizio (2006). "War Memories; The ordeal of the civilians of San Pietro Infine during the Second World War". CDSC publications. Cassino.


External links

* [ Complete text of "Fifth Army at the Winter Line"] , the US War Department account of relevant operations.
* [ 36th Division in WWII, San Pietro] , site of the Texas military forces museum.
* [ Oral history account] of battles of San Pietro and Cassino.

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