Panoramic views of the beginning of the Gothic Line, where the mountains rise up from the Umbertide - Citta Di Castello plain.

Panoramic views of the beginning of the Gothic Line, where the mountains rise up from the Umbertide – Citta Di Castello plain.

Sherman tanks of 1st Canadian Armoured Division advancing towards the Gothic Line, 26 August 1944.

Sherman tanks of 1st Canadian Armoured Division advancing towards the Gothic Line, 26 August 1944.

Sherman tanks supporting infantry of 2/5th Leicestershire Regiment, 46th Division, near Coldazzo on the Gothic Line, 30 August 1944

Sherman tanks supporting infantry of 2/5th Leicestershire Regiment, 46th Division, near Coldazzo on the Gothic Line, 30 August 1944

In Italy the Allies had made good progress since taking Rome on the 5th June, although substantial numbers of US troops had been diverted away for the attack on the south of France.

Now the British 8th Army and U.S. 5th Army found themselves confronting another German prepared defence line – the Gothic Line. Slave labourers had been brought in to build an extended series of strong points, casemates and machine gun nests dominating the high ground right across the Apennine mountains, spanning the breadth of Italy.

The attacks on the Gothic Line had begun on the 25th but it was not until the 30th that some units found themselves facing the main line of defence. Attacks were made across a broad front in the hope that it might be possible to “burst through”. For Major Alan Hay leading a company of the 16th Durham Light Infantry, this found them facing a very difficult objective south of Rimini – secured German defensive positions on a ridge above them:

The CO came forward and he said, “I want you to take those buildings.” Which happened to be a place called Mondaino which was in the distance, about a mile and a half.

I said, “Well what is the plan, where are the tanks, what about the artillery fire?” He said, “Oh, they’ll be coming.” I said, “Well, we’ll wait till we get some support!”

Then he went away. We advanced a bit further and we took some prisoners. We were then waiting for support, this was just after mid-day and I got a message from the CO, that we were to advance immediately. I said, “Well what about the support, I can’t see any support.” He said, “That’ll be coming.”

So we waited a while, nothing came. Then he ordered me, he said, “The General said you must advance immediately!” I thought it was absolutely stupid, broad daylight! We were in a bowl.

When we were looking at this target the Colonel said, “Our friends the Leicesters are there.” I said, “Colonel — they’re Germans — look!” He said, “No, they’re our friends the Leicesters!” This was his first mistake. The Leicesters on our left had not taken their objective and they were still heavily engaged plus one of our companies.

The Hampshires on the right had taken their objective, our C Company was too far away to give us any support and I wasn’t in charge of them. So we all had to do this, I was threatened, I assumed I’d get court marshalled if I didn’t. But this was entirely unknown to me — a commander threatening…

I said, “Well this is suicide!” He said, “The General said you must or you will be in trouble!”

So we advanced over this open country. There were one or two vines to shield us a bit. We hadn’t got very far. There was road just underneath Mondaino, not much of a road. They were going forward to these lower buildings on Mondaino and they were immediately under machine gun fire coming from the left. [Lieutenant] Tim Marshall got quite a few of his platoon across the road to the first buildings. [Lieutenant] Hood got to the buildings on the right. I was following up.

When I saw Marshall’s platoon in trouble I took my third platoon to support them. But the casualties were alarming. The Gothic Line had been prepared specially for this. They had their lines of fire, they had machines set and it was just chaos.

I got forward, I said, “Where’s Mr Marshall?” They said he’s down here. By the time I got to him he’d been killed. I said, “Get out to the right to the other buildings.” I got quite a few of them out. We rested up, counted the cost, tended the casualties.

We’d lost almost a platoon. I looked at the situation, still no support, no sign of tanks. My wireless set had been knocked out by that stage and I was almost glad not to have a word with the Colonel.

We re-assembled and I got Hood to go round to the right behind these buildings and we were going to attack them from the side. By that time we were only one good platoon which was the one I’d taken over.

Just then two aircraft from the Desert Air Force came in quick succession and each dropped a bomb on what we were going for — which was super!

We were in the first buildings where the first bomb had hit. Of course there were still Germans in there, wounded, that we hadn’t time to look at. But this bomb had really done quite a lot of damage.

At that time we had to count the cost. I had lost one platoon officer, I didn’t know I’d lost the other one. I got the chaps in some sort of defensive positions. Getting behind these brick walls in the ruins, just to protect ourselves from this machine gun fire. There was certainly more than one machine gun. But they had us in their sights.

We were near enough to the Germans for them to be shouting at us to give up, surrender. We were very low at that time, we had chaps who’d been wounded and couldn’t be attended to, the stretcher bearers were doing what they could.

The Sergeant Major was extremely good, he was rallying them, taking command of the spare ones. I said to him, “I must go round to the right where I sent Hood’s platoon to see how they are doing.” I found Hood had been killed and I am quite sure a lot of the casualties were caused by this bomb.

We were on the objective, this was the main attack, we weren’t here alone. Generals, all sorts of people, must have seen what we were doing. You think you are alone but all sorts of people are there watching the battle as it proceeds. This astonished me that we were allowed to go on without support. I said, “Well, we’ll just wait, they’ll obviously wait until night time to reinforce us.” I went round the men and eventually the count of the men was 27, [out of] about 90 [who] went in.

Assuming that, as usual, the Germans would soon make a counterattack to regain the position Major Hay mounted a pre-emptive attack on the German lines. He was wounded in the head leading that attack. However by the end of the 31st August the Division was “firmly established on the Gridolfo Ridge”. See Peter Hart: The Heat of Battle: The 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, 1943-45

Troops from the 2nd Hampshire Regiment move up to their last objective before the Gothic Line, 27 August 1944.

Troops from the 2nd Hampshire Regiment move up to their last objective before the Gothic Line, 27 August 1944.

An M10 tank destroyer of 93rd Anti-Tank Regiment passes infantry of the 5th Sherwood Foresters during the advance to the Gothic Line, 27-28 August 1944.

An M10 tank destroyer of 93rd Anti-Tank Regiment passes infantry of the 5th Sherwood Foresters during the advance to the Gothic Line, 27-28 August 1944.

General Sir Harold Alexander (right), with Lt General Leese and Lt General Harding, inspect one of the German Panther tank turrets which formed part of the Gothic Line defences, September 1944.

General Sir Harold Alexander (right), with Lt General Leese and Lt General Harding, inspect one of the German Panther tank turrets which formed part of the Gothic Line defences, September 1944.

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Aug

29

1944

US reconnaissance patrol holds off Panzer troops

US Army Pfc. Edward J. Foley of the 143rd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division cleaning his Springfield M1903A4 sniper rifle, near Valletri, Italy, 29 May 1944

The Germans poured in the barn but didn’t harm the tank driver and didn’t spot me. They didn’t take the wounded man because of his leg wound. Two hours went by before the forward advanced troops of the 3rd Division came into the barn. Paul Blackmer, Louis Weiner and David Pritchet were captured. Koch died of his wounds.

Aug

28

1944

Over the Seine and “push on”

Sherman tanks crossing a pontoon bridge over the River Seine at Vernon, 28 August 1944.

The first few yards were not too bad, but then, as the pontoons sagged under the weight of the tanks, water sloshed over the tracks so that the roadway in front temporarily disappeared from view. It was a nightmare drive and it was with huge relief that we found ourselves safely on dry land on the opposite bank of the river at Vernonnet, a small, pleasant riverside settlement, now completely deserted.

Aug

27

1944

‘Friendly Fire’ disaster for Royal Navy off Le Havre

The Hawker Typhoon's devastating rocket armament was effective against tanks, gun emplacements, buildings and railways. Coastal shipping was another target, including this unfortunate tug caught in the Scheldt estuary in September 1944. In this case the shell splashes from the aircraft's four 20mm cannon assist the pilot in correcting his aim before unleashing a salvo of RPs.

The ship lurched over to starboard and rolled back to settle with a ten degree list to port, the officers’ cabins and alleyways having flooded instantly. Luckily in the wardroom we were all sitting either on the bulkhead settees or in low armchairs, not at the table, for at this moment cannon fire raked the wardroom just above table level, smashing right through the ship.

Aug

26

1944

No 4 Commando finally rest out of the line

Sherman DD tanks of 'B' Squadron, 13th/18th Royal Hussars support commandos of No. 4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, as they advance into Ouistreham, Sword area, 6 June 1944.

About three miles beyond the town we marched along dusty lanes, the hedges of which were already full of ripe hazel-nuts. On either side were orchards in which rosy apples hung heavy on the trees. Here we halted. Each troop was given an area, an orchard with a barn filled with sweet-smelling straw. It was just like heaven. The date was 26 August.

Aug

25

1944

‘Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated!’

Brimming with anger, a French man attacks a German soldier being marched through the streets of Paris following his capture by members of the French Resistance. After the entry of the French 2nd Armored Division of the Free French Forces and the U.S. Third Army (United States Army Central), numerous pockets of German snipers who refused to surrender had to be rooted out in street fighting. Paris, Île-de-France, France. 25 August 1944. Image taken by Robert Capa.

Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of all France, of the France that fights, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!

Aug

24

1944

Paris in turmoil as liberation approaches

Members of the Free French Forces fight from inside the Paris Prefecture (police headquarters)(Getty)

Tomorrow morning will be the dawn of a new day for the capital. Tomorrow morning, Paris will be liberated, Paris will have finally rediscovered its true face. Four years of struggle, four years that have been, for many people, years of prison, years of pain, of torture and, for many more, a slow death in the Nazi concentration camps, murder; but that’s all over…

Aug

23

1944

Normandy: the British breakout begins

Cromwell OP tanks and Humber scout cars of 5th RHA, 7th Armoured Division, climb the hill into Lisieux, 23 August 1944. On the right is a Royal Artillery battery commander's half-track of 51st Highland Division, and in the centre a wounded Highlander shot by a sniper is carried to safety.

This was the real thing. This was the Breakthrough. We saw the remains of a retreating army. Burnt-out vehicles that the RAF had caught, abandoned vehicles that had broken down, derelict vehicles that had run out of petrol, dead horses, broken wagons, scattered kit and equipment.

Aug

22

1944

The French rise up in Paris

The French enthusiastically took to the barricades again.

This morning, a peasant said to me as he watched massive lorries full of ammunition thunder past his door: “I think the liberation of Paris will affect me even more than the liberation of my own village, because France will once again have a capital.

Aug

21

1944

Poles seek help as they battle on in Warsaw

Bombs falling on the centre of Warsaw, August 1944.

The aeroplanes fly away, but it’s not long before they return. I check my watch with each attack. There is always at least forty-five minutes between each raid, the difference rarely more than a few minutes. That’s how long it takes them to fly to the aerodrome, reload with fuel and ammunition, and return. I memorise the numbers and letters on the fuselage of each aeroplane. They are always the same.