Spring 1945 offensive in Italy: Wikis


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Spring 1945 Offensive
Part of World War II, Italian Campaign
Date 6 April 1945 – 2 May 1945
Location Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy and the Veneto regions, northern Italy
  • Decisive Allied victory
  • German surrender in Italy
  • Italian Social Republic disestablished
 United States
 United Kingdom
Poland Free Polish Forces
India India
New Zealand New Zealand
South Africa South Africa
Italy Italy
and others
Italy Italian Social Republic
United States Mark Clark
United Kingdom Richard McCreery
United States Lucian Truscott
Nazi Germany Heinrich von Vietinghoff #
Nazi Germany Traugott Herr #
Nazi Germany Joachim Lemelsen #
Italy Benito Mussolini 
Italy Rodolfo Graziani #
British 8th Army
U.S. 5th Army
German 10th Army
German 14th Army
Army Group Liguria
Casualties and losses
16,258 casualties[nb 1] 30–32,000 casualties[nb 2]

The Spring 1945 offensive in Italy, codenamed Operation Grapeshot,[2] was the Allied attack by Fifth United States Army and British 8th Army into the Lombardy Plain which started on 6 April 1945 and ended on 2 May with the surrender of German forces in Italy.



The Allies had launched their previous major offensive, on the Gothic Line, in August 1944 with the British 8th Army attacking up the coastal plain of the Adriatic and the U.S. 5th Army attacking through the central Apennine Mountains. Although they managed to breach the formidable Gothic Line defences, they narrowly failed to break out into the Lombardy Plains before the winter weather closed in and made further progress impossible. Their forward formations spent the rest of the winter in highly inhospitable conditions while preparations were made to renew the campaign when better conditions returned in the spring.


Command changes

On the death on 5 November of Field Marshal Sir John Dill, the head of the British Mission in Washington, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson was appointed his replacement. Harold Alexander having been promoted Field Marshal, was in turn appointed to replace Wilson as Allied Supreme Commander Mediterranean on 12 December. Lieutenant-General Mark Clark succeeded Alexander as commander of the Allied Forces in Italy (renamed once more 15th Army Group) but without promotion. Lieutenant-General Lucian Truscott had been commanding U.S. VI Corps from its time in the bridgehead at Anzio and the capture of Rome to its current location in Alsace, having landed in the South of France during Operation Dragoon. He returned to Italy to assume command of U.S. 5th Army.

Command changes also took place in the German army before the spring campaign. On 23 March, Albert Kesselring was appointed Commander-in-Chief Army Group West, replacing General-Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. Heinrich von Vietinghoff returned from the Baltic to take over from Kesslering while Traugott Herr, the experienced commander of German 10th Army's LXXVI Panzer Corps, took over 10th Army. Joachim Lemelsen, who had had temporary command of the 10th Army, returned to the command of the 14th Army.

Orders of battle

Looking ahead to the spring, the problems of manning continued. In October 1944, Indian 4th Infantry Division had been sent to Greece and British 4th Infantry Division had followed them in November as well as part of British 46th Infantry Division, the rest following in December along with the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade. At the end of January 1945, Canadian I Corps and British 5th Infantry Division were ordered to North-West Europe, reducing Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery's 8th Army to 7 divisions. On the positive side, 5th Army had been reinforced from September to November 1944 with the arrival of fresh troops of 1st Brazilian Division and in January 1945 with the specially trained and equipped 10th Mountain Division. Allied strength amounted to 17 divisions plus 8 independent brigades (including four Italian groups of volunteers from the Italian army, equipped and trained by the British), a total equivalent of just under 20 divisions. Against them were ranged 21 much weaker German divisions and 4 Italian divisions, a total of 25[3]. Three of the Italian divisions were allocated to the Ligurian Army under Rodolfo Graziani guarding the western flank facing France and the fourth to 14th Army in a sector thought least likely to be attacked[4].

Plan of attack

Allied Spring Offensive April 1945: Note that 21 ID NZ is actually New Zealand 2nd Infantry Division

The key to a decisive Allied victory in the spring, despite their overall numerical inferiority, would be for the 8th Army to strike across the Senio and take advantage of their strength of mobility to capture Ferrara quickly, so to cut the enemy's lines of supply and retreat across the Po. 14 miles (23 km) behind the Senio lay the town of Argenta, where the dry land narrowed to a front of only 3 miles (4.8 km), bounded on the right by Lake Comacchio, a huge lagoon running to the Adriatic coast, and on the left by marshland. The critical role of getting across the Senio, with its raised artificial banks varying between 20 feet (6.1 m) and 40 feet (12 m) in height, honeycombed with defensive tunnels and bunkers front and rear, was given to Indian 8th Infantry Division, reprising the role they played crossing the Rapido in the final Battle of Monte Cassino. British 78th Division would also be reprising their Cassino role and was tasked to pass through the bridgehead established by 8th Indian and drive for the Argenta gap. On the left of the 8th Indian Division, the New Zealand 2nd Division would lead the attack across the Senio to outflank the marshland on the left while farther left on Route 9 the Polish II Corps would widen the front further by attacking across the Senio towards Bologna. The Poles had been desperately under strength in the autumn of 1944, but had received 11,000 reinforcements during the early months of 1945, mainly from Polish conscripts in the German army taken prisoner in the Normandy campaign.[5]

On the US 5th Army front Geoffrey Keyes readied U.S. II Corps, which he had commanded since its arrival in the Italian mainland in the autumn of 1943, for its unfinished business at Bologna while Willis D. Crittenberger's U.S. IV Corps on their left would attack towards Route 9 between Bologna and to its left, Modena.


In the first week of April diversionary attacks were launched on the extreme right and left of the Allied front to draw German reserves away from the main assaults to come. This included Operation Roast, an assault by British 2nd Commando Brigade supported by the partisans of 28th Garibaldi Brigade and armour to capture the seaward isthmus of land bordering lake Comacchio and seize Port Garibaldi on the lake's north side. Meanwhile, damage to other transport infrastructure having forced Axis forces to use sea, canal and river routes for re-supply, Axis shipping was being attacked in bombing raids such as Operation Bowler.

The build-up to the main assault started on 6 April with a heavy artillery bombardment of the Senio defenses. In the early afternoon of 9 April 825 heavy bombers dropped fragmentation bombs on the support zone behind the Senio followed by medium and fighter bombers. From 15:20 to 19:10, five heavy artillery barrages were fired, each lasting 30 minutes, interspersed with fighter bomber attacks. The 8th Indian, New Zealand 2nd Division and 3rd Carpathian Division (on the Polish Corps front at Route 9) attacked at dusk. In fighting in which there were two Victoria Crosses won by 8th Indian Division members, they had reached the river Santerno, 3.5 miles (5.6 km) beyond, by dawn on 11 April. The New Zealanders had reached the Santerno at nightfall on 10 April and succeeded in making a crossing at dawn on 11 April. The Poles had closed on the Santerno by the night of 11 April.[6]

By late morning of 12 April, after an all night assault, 8th Indian Division were established on the far side of the Santerno and British 78th Division started to pass through to make the assault on Argenta. In the meantime the British 24th Guards Brigade, part of British 56th (London) Division, had launched an amphibious flanking attack from the water and mud to the right of the Argenta Gap. Although they gained a foothold, they were still held up at positions on the Fossa Marina on the night of 14 April. 78th Division was also held up on the same day on the Reno River at Bastia.

5th Army offensive, April 1945

US 5th Army began its assault on 14 April after a bombardment by 2,000 heavy bombers and 2,000 artillery pieces, with an attacks by the troops of US IV Corps (Brazilian, 10th Mountain and 1st Armored Divisions) on the left. This was followed on the night of 15 April by US II Corps striking with 6th South African Armoured and 88th Infantry Divisions advancing towards Bologna between Highway 64 and 65, and 91st and 34th Infantry Divisions along Highway 65.[7] Progress against a determined German defence was slow but ultimately superior Allied firepower and lack of German reserves told and by 20 April both corps had broken through the mountain defences and reached the plains of the Po valley. 10th Mountain Division were directed to bypass Bologna on their right and push north leaving U.S. II Corps to deal with Bologna along with Eighth Army units advancing from their right.[8]

By 19 April, on the Eighth Army front, the Argenta Gap had been forced, and British 6th Armoured Division was released through the left wing of the advancing 78th Division to swing left to race north west along the line of the river Reno to Bondeno and link up with the US 5th Army to complete the encirclement of the German armies defending Bologna.[9] On all fronts the German defense continued to be determined and effective, but Bondeno was captured on 23 April. The 6th Armoured Division linked with US IV Corps' 10th Mountain Division the next day at Finale some 5 miles (8.0 km) upstream along the river Panaro from Bondeno. Bologna was entered in the morning of 21 April by the Eighth Army's Polish II Corps' 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division advancing up the line of Route 9, followed two hours later by US II Corps from the south.[10]

US IV Corps had continued their northwards advance and reached the river Po at San Benedetto on 22 April. The river was crossed the next day, and they advanced north to Verona which they entered on 26 April. To the right of Fifth Army on Eighth Army's left wing, British XIII Corps crossed the Po at Ficarolo on 22 April, while V Corps were crossing the Po by 25 April, heading towards the Venetian Line, a defensive line built behind the line of the river Adige.

As Allied forces pushed across the Po, on the left flank the Brazilian, 34th Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions of IV Corps were pushed west and northwest along the line of Highway 9 towards Piacenza and across the Po to seal possible escape routes into Austria and Switzerland via Lake Garda.[11] On 27 April 1st Armored Division met partisans who reported they had liberated Milan, and Crittenberger entered the city on 30 April. To the south of Milan the Brazilian Division bottled up the 148th Grenadier and Italia Bersaglieri Divisions on 28 April, taking 13,500 prisoners.[12]

On the Allied far right flank, British V Corps, met by lessening resistance, traversed the Venetian Line and entered Padua in the early hours of 29 April, to find that partisans had locked up the German garrison of 5,000.[13]


Secret surrender negotiations between representatives of the Germans and Western Allies had taken place in Switzerland (Operation Crossword) in March but had resulted only in protests from the Russians (when they had discovered the existence of the talks through spies) that the Western Allies were attempting to negotiate a separate peace.

On 28 April, von Vietinghoff (who by then was in Bolzano under siege by partisans) sent emissaries to Allied Army headquarters. On 29 April, they signed an instrument of surrender to the effect that hostilities would formally end on 2 May.[13] Confirmation from von Vietinghoff of the arrangements did not reach Allied 15th Army Group headquarters until the morning of 2 May. It emerged that Kesselring had had his authority as Commander of the West extended to include Italy and had replaced von Vietinghoff with General Schulz from Army Group G on hearing of the plans. However, after a period of confusion during which the news of Hitler's death arrived, Schulz obtained Kesselring's agreement to the surrender and von Vietinghoff was reinstated to see it through.[14]

See also


  1. ^ From 9 April 1945 until the end of Operation Grapeshot, thus casualties exclude those suffered during the preliminary operations.
    5th Army: 7,965 casualties. American: 6,834 (1,288 killed, 5,453 wounded and 93 missing) casualties; South African: 537 (89 killed, 445 wounded and 3 missing) casualties; Brazilian: 594 (65 killed, 482 wounded and 47 missing) casualties.
    8th Army: 7,193 casualties. British: 3,068 (708 killed, 2,258 wounded and 102 missing) casualties; New Zealand: 1,381 (241 killed and 1,140 wounded) casualties; Indian: 1,076 (198 killed, 863 wounded and 15 missing) casualties; Colonial: 46 (11 killed and 35 wounded) casualties; Polish: 1,622 (260 killed, 1,355 wounded and 7 missing) casualties.
    Italians fighting with both armies: 1,100 (242 killed, 828 wounded and 30 missing) casualties.[1]
  2. ^ British estimated around 30,000 casualties were inflicted upon the Axis forces during this offensive, while a German staff officer estimated 32,000 casualties suffered during Operation Grapeshot.[1]
  1. ^ a b Jackson, p. 334
  2. ^ Jackson, p. 253
  3. ^ Blaxland, p242
  4. ^ Blaxland, p243
  5. ^ Blaxland, p247
  6. ^ Blaxland, pp256-258
  7. ^ Popa, pp. 10–12
  8. ^ Popa, p. 15
  9. ^ Blaxland, pp. 267-8
  10. ^ Blaxland, p. 271
  11. ^ Popa, p. 20
  12. ^ Popa, p. 23
  13. ^ a b Blaxland, p277
  14. ^ Blaxland. pp279-80



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