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General Sir Harold Alexander, who commanded one of the Allied Armies in Italy, issued directives on November 8, 1943 for his own Fifth battalion. They were to advance into the Liri Valley to mount an amphibious assault on Frosinone, which was thirty miles beyond Monte Cassino, south of Rome. The town of Cassino was inland from the Gulf of Gaeta and is about forty miles north of Naples (Napoli ).
The advance which Gen. Alexander commenced was quite less than successful because they couldn’t penetrate into the valley. Churchill and Brooke became desperate to rescue the Italian campaign. A telegram sent by the PM to Roosevelt on Christmas requested that his LSTs remain because he wanted to attack at Anzio. This was going against an agreement made at the Washington Conference, but the possibility of gaining control of Rome was great enough that those involved agreed to try, even against the odds.
Mark Clark, the CEF ( Corps Expéditionnaire Francais ) attacked the Gustav Line on January 12, 1944, and with much trepidation on the part of the Americans The CEF comprised of colonial French troops from North Africa and they seemed too dramatic and over-emphasized as if they were making a movie- not at war. Faith in the French was low because they had lost control of their country to the Germans.
The CEF commander, General Alphonse Juin, was considered a great soldier whose origins were Algerian and he had been raised in poverty. Sent to St. Cyr for training he graduated first in his class. He had been wounded so badly in WWI that he’d lost the use of his right arm but continued to serve in battle. (In his free time he was a writer, and after the war he was elected as alumni to the Académie Francaise.)
Besides two (and later four) divisions, the CEF also had 8,000 guerrillas of Moroccan descent who were referred to as goumiers. These men were veterans of savage skirmishes which took place in the Atlas Mountains when the Muslim tribes had resisted French rule. These men were, in fact, Muslims themselves, but they had become loyal to France.
The Goumiers were easily distinguished by their dress. Their clothes were striped and appeared to be made out of homespun blanket material and their boots were knee-high- made from soft leather. In their tabors ( battalions ) they had forty women who did the cooking, tended wounded men and provided other comforts.
Goumiers traveled on mules with finesse, could suffer hardships easier than most and specialized in close combat and with much of their work done at night they could be as dangerous as bats or worse. In the book, There’s a War to be Won by Geoffrey Perret an account is given:
“Up in the mountains, a dozing American soldier might well wake in terror to find a knife at his throat while a goumier’s free hand felt for his dog tags, to decide whether to cut or not to cut. Once the life saving tags were found, the knife was gently withdrawn as the goumier disappeared into the night whispering, “Nice American”, searching for a German to send gurgling to hell.”
Goumier patrols were dispatched to patrol past Cassino, a town that was a hilltop about a thousand feet up. 2,000 feet above that, the beautiful monastery of Monte Cassino, stared down at the town and razorback ridges which were dense with thorny brush and vegetation which was impassable to anything living – save a rabbit- or a goumier.
René Dody, who commanded the 2nd Moroccan Division was asked by Mark Clark to penetrate this area. His division did infiltrate to the north and east on found trails, but even though it made possible some frontal assaults on the Germans in key positions and on several occasions it was minimally successful. Mostly the snow caused the difficulty, so much so that even the goumiers had difficulty on this impassable terrain.
To read more about the U.S. Army in WWII check out:
There’s a War to be Won by Geoffrey Perret
et voir ce lien pour plus d’info sur les goumiers:
This entry is not an excerpt from the book.
All Rights Reserved
Evelyn M. Wallace
March 4, 2008
Loving you more each day…
The Castle Lady