Bernhardt Line

Bernhardt Line

conflict=Battle for the Bernhardt Line
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=December 1, 1943 – January 15, 1944
place=Mignano Gap, Italy
result=Allied victory
combatant1=flag|United Kingdom
flag|United States|1912
flag|New Zealand
flag|Free French
flagicon|India|British India
and others
combatant2=flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany
commander1=flagicon|United Kingdom Harold Alexander
flagicon|United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery
flagicon|United Kingdom Oliver Leese
flagicon|United States|1912 Mark Clark
commander2=flagicon|Germany|Nazi Albert Kesselring
flagicon|Germany|Nazi Heinrich von Vietinghoff

The Bernhardt Line (or Reinhard Line) was a German defensive line in Italy during World War II. Having reached the Bernhardt Line at the start of December 1943, it took until mid-January 1944 for Fifth United States Army to fight their way to the next line of defenses, the Gustav Line. The line was defended by XIV Panzer Corps, part of the German Tenth Army.

Unlike most of the other defensive lines it did not run all the way across Italy but was merely a bulge in front of the main Gustav Line in the area of Monte Cassino and Monte Camino, a massif enclosing the mountains of Monte Camino, Monte la Defensa, Monte la Remetanea and Monte Maggiore, in the territory of Rocca d'Evandro. However, the defenses of the Gustav Line on the Adriatic are sometimes referred to as the Bernhardt Line and the battles for this part of the line are included in this entry.

The Bernhardt line was not as strong as the Gustav Line and was intended only to delay the Allies' arrival at the Gustav Line. Together with the Gustav Line and the Hitler Line, it made up the German Winter Line defenses.


Following the Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943, the Italian government had surrendered, but the German Army continued to fight. The Allied armies succeeded in conquering the southern part of Italy but by early October had come up against the Volturno Line, the first of two lines (the next being the Barbara Line) used to delay the Allied advance to buy time to prepare the most formidable defensive positions which formed the Winter Line. Alexander had three possible alternatives to reach Rome. On the Adriatic front he could advance to Pescara and then use Route 5 (the old Roman Via Valeria) which traversed the country to Rome on the other coast. Alternatively, on the other side of the Apennines, highway 7 (the old Roman Appian Way) followed along the west coast but south of Rome ran into the Pontine Marshes which the Germans had flooded. Finally highway 6 ran in the same direction, but further inland, through the Liri valley.

Order of battle

The German forces in Italy were commanded by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. The defence of the Winter Line was the task of the German Tenth Army commanded by General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, commanding Traugott Herr's LXXVI Panzer Corps on the Adriatic front and Frido von Senger und Etterlin's XIV Panzer Corps on the other side of the Apennine mountains.

The new Allied Supreme Commander, Mediterranean Theatre was British General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, replacing American General Dwight Eisenhower who had moved to command the forces preparing for Operation Overlord, the Normandy landings. Allied Armies in Italy were commanded by General Harold Alexander. Under his command were two armies: on the western half of the Italian peninsula was U.S. Fifth Army and to its right with a front running to the Adriatic Sea was British Eighth Army. The U.S. Fifth Army was commanded by Lieutenant-General Mark W. Clark and consisted of U.S., French and British units. The British Eighth Army, with British, Indian, New Zealand, Canadian and Polish units, was from early January 1944 commanded by Lieutenant-General Oliver Leese when General Bernard Montgomery was also recalled to Britain to prepare for Operation Overlord.

8th Army on the Adriatic Winter Line defenses


On 3 October a brigade of Eighth Army's 78th Infantry Division had crossed the Bifurno river to confront the German Volturno / Viktor Line defenses. A further brigade supported by two Commando battalions landed from the sea north of the river at Termoli and a fiercely contested battle ensued which had hung in the balance when temporary river crossings had been washed away after heavy rains and prevented Allied armour from moving forward. However, the isolated British Infantry, reinforced from the sea by a third brigade, had held out long enough against the tanks of 16th Panzer Division for a new bridge to be put across the river and the crisis passed with the arrival of British 4th Armoured Brigade's tanks. By 6 October the Germans were withdrawing to new defensive positions behind the Trigno river, the Barbara Line. [Carver (2002), p. 84]

At the Trigno Eighth Army were obliged to pause because it had outrun its supply chain which stretched back over poor roads to the main ports of Bari and Taranto, convert|120|mi|km and convert|170|mi|km to its rear. Port and transport capacity had also been affected by the logistic requirements of the Allied air force which was establishing strategic bomber bases around Foggia.Carver (2002), p. 90]

Eighth Army attacked across the Trigno on 2 November. By the next day the German position had been turned and the Germans commenced a fighting withdrawal to the forward Winter Line positions they were preparing on the ridges behind the Sangro River.

Advance across the Sangro

Eighth Army's forward units had reached the Sangro on 9 November. Alexander had planned for Montgomery to strike across the river on its coastal plain on 20 November with the V Corps (Indian 8th Infantry and British 78th Infantry Divisions) while newly arrived 2nd New Zealand Division would attack some convert|15|mi|km inland. British XIII Corps would make a diversionary attack some convert|40|mi|km inland.Carver, p. 93]

However, heavy rain raised the river levels and the offensive was postponed to the night of November 27. Kesselring had divined the Allies' intentions [Phillips (1957), [ p. 67] ] and used the time to switch two divisions across to the defending LXXVI Panzer Corps, making three on the coastal plain opposing V Corps (65th Infantry Division, 90th Panzergrenadier Division and 26th Panzer Division); the 16th Panzer Division opposed the New Zealanders and the German 1st Parachute Division faced XIII Corps (1st Canadian Division and British 5th Infantry Division).

In the early hours of 28 November the Eighth Army attack, supported by heavy artillery concentrations, went in. The New Zealanders advanced steadily; although the German defences had been well prepared most of the New Zealanders' objectives were manned by 65th Division which was poorly equipped and untried in battle. The German Division was also hampered by their commander, Major-General G.H. von Ziehlberg, being severely wounded on the afternoon of 28 November. [Phillips (1957), p. [ pp. 73–74] ] The 8th Indian Division, however, like the New Zealanders facing their combat action since arriving in Italy, experienced tougher opposition. Elements of 65th Infantry Division supported by an armoured battle group held tenaciously on to Mezzagrogna [Ford (2003), p. 174] and the town was eventually taken on 29 November after tough, often hand to hand, fighting. On the morning of 29 November 78th Infantry Division had joined the attack on the right of the Indian Division and had forced their way to Santa Maria by the evening, creating a base for their main attack the following day towards Fossacesia. [Ford (2003), pp.175–176]

As the Eighth Army pushed forward over the next few days 65th Infantry Division crumbled (to the extent that German Tenth Army were later to order a court-martial into its conduct [Phillips (1957), [ p. 80] ] ). However, Herr was able to introduce 90th Panzergrenadier Division into the line from his reserve and transferred reinforcements from the quieter sector inland in the form of elements of 1st Parachute Division. The complications of these manoeuvres introduced considerable confusion within the German alignment but they were nevertheless able to manage a fighting withdrawal to the ridge on the far side of the Moro river. Unaware of the disorganisation in the German ranks the New Zealanders failed on 2 December to exploit an opportunity to capture Orsogna, a key position near the headwaters of the Moro, which on that day was still only lightly held. It was only on the morning of 3 December that the New Zealand Division disputed possession of Orsogna, but 26th Panzer had had just enough breathing space to organise and were able to repel them. 26th Panzer then proceeded to create a formidable defensive complex around the town and along the ridge towards Ortona on the coast [Phillips (1957), [ pp. 89–92] ] and Orsogna was not occupied by the Allies, despite a further two determined attempts during December, until the Germans withdrew after the Allied breakthrough at Cassino in May 1944.

The Moro offensive

Montgomery now rested 78th Division (which had been leading the V Corps advance since the Volturno Line offensive), swapping with Canadian 1st Infantry Division from the relatively quiet XIII Corps sector. The Canadians, with Indian 8th Infantry Division on their left, led the main thrust across the Moro on 8 December aiming for Ortona. By 20 December after stubborn resistance first from elements of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division [Carver, p. 94] and then elements 1st Parachute Division (which had relieved the Panzergrenadiers), they had patrols on the outerskirts of the town. But the battle for Ortona took another week of fierce house to house fighting as the German 3rd Parachute Regiment tenaciously held on before withdrawing to the other side of he Riccio river on 28 December. [Hoyt (2007), p. 116]

Meanwhile, inland of V Corps, Orsogna had suffered three successive assaults but XIII Corps spearheaded by 2nd New Zealand Division could not get past the defending 26th Panzer Division. After advancing a total of only 18 miles (29 km) and sustaining 6,500 casualties [Lloyd Clark, p53] blizzards, drifting snow and zero visibility at the end of December in jagged terrain caused Eighth Army's offensive on the Adriatic front to grind to a halt. As the New Year approached it became clear that, with no prospect of better weather until the spring, Eighth Army did not have the strength to force its way to Pescara. Alexander called a halt to the offensive, instructing the Montgomery to maintain sufficient activity to pin LXXVI Corps and prevent troops from being sent across to reinforce XIV Corps facing 5th Army. [Carver, p. 103] [Phillips (1957), [ p. 149] ]

The rest of the winter on the Adriatic front was spent in bitterly uncomfortable conditions with the opposing sides often in close proximity and engaged in night-time patrolling and vicious skirmishing.

5th Army Bernhardt Line offensive

It had taken U.S. 5th Army, in deteriorating weather as the torrential autumn rains broke, from the middle of October to early November to fight their way across difficult terrain and through skillful and determined rearguard defenses from the Volturno Line positions to the Bernhardt Line.

In the centre of the 5th Army front lay the Mignano Gap, which because of the marshy conditions on the coastal plain represented the only realistic path to the mouth of the Liri valley.

Flanking and overlooking Route 6 through the Mignano Gap and its villages (San Pietro Infine, San Vittore Del Lazio and Cervaro) are, successively Monte Camino, Monte Lungo, Monte Porchia and Monte Trocchio on the left and Monte San Croce, Monte Corno, Monte SambúcaroThis name usually appears as "Sammucro" on Allied military maps of the period.] and Monte Maiao on the right. Monte Sambúcaro normally appears as Monte Sammucro on Allied maps of the time. On reaching the Bernhardt positions an immediate attack was launched by British X Corps on Monte Camino on November 6, which was beaten back by German 15th Panzergrenadier Division. By mid-November it was clear that after having sustained 10,000 combat casualties since the Volturno Line offensive, 5th Army needed to pause, reorganise and re-gather its strength [Carver, p90] . U.S. 5th Army resumed its attack on December 1. The first attack, Operation Raincoat, was delivered, after an intensive artillery and air bombardment, by British X Corps (British 46th and 56th Infantry Divisions) on the left and elements of U.S. II Corps, including 1st Special Service Force, on the right against the formidable Camino hill mass. The dominating peak on Monte Camino, Hill 963, is crowned by a monastery. Two slightly lower peaks, Monte la Difensa (Hill 960) and Monte la Remetanea (Hill 907), lie less than two miles (3 km) north of Camino. At the upper end of the Camino feature are the numerous peaks of Monte Maggiore. The entire hill mass is about six miles (10 km) long and four miles (6.5 km) wide. On the east and northeast the slopes rise steeply to the heights, then fall away gradually to the west toward the Garigliano River. It took until December 8 before the Camino mass was secured from the 15th Panzer Grenadiers.

Meanwhile, on the 5th Army's right flank, U.S. VI Corps (U.S. 34th and 45th Infantry Divisions) had attacked into the mountains but made little progress until reinforced by the mountain troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, recently arrived in Italy; [Carver, p104] they attacked again on December 15.

On December 8 U.S. 3rd, 36th Infantry Divisions and 1st Special Service Force of U.S. II Corps launched the attack on Monte Sambúcaro and into the Mignano Gap. By the night of December 10 the peaks were taken, threatening the German positions in the gap. However, the German positions at San Pietro in the valley held firm until December 16 when an attack launched from the Camino mass took Monte Lungo. The Germans could no longer expect to hold San Pietro when the dominating ground on both flanks, Monte Lungo and the Sambúcaro peaks, was in II Corps' possession. Under the cover of a counterattack German forces withdrew to positions about a mile (15. km) to their rear, in front of San Vittore. Several attacks were made in the next days, and Morello Hill, overlooking the San Vittore positions from the north, was captured on December 26.

On the VI Corps front, progress was made but proved very difficult over the mountainous terrain as the weather deteriorated further with the onset of winter. During the month of December, U.S. 5th Army suffered 5,020 wounded but total admissions to hospital totalled 22,816 with jaundice, fevers and trench foot prevalent [Fifth Army at the Winter Line, p87] . At the end of December, U.S. 5th Army had to pause once again to reorganise, replace its losses and gather itself for a final push to reach the Gustav Line defences. U.S. VI Corps was taken into reserve to train and prepare for the Anzio landings with the French troops, at corps strength, taking over their front [Fifth Army at the Winter Line, p91] .

U.S. II Corps returned to the attack on January 4 1944, with attacks parallel to Route 6 north and south of it. The northern attack took San Vittore and by January 7 the overlooking height of La Chiaia. On the south side the attack was made from Monte Lungo and captured Monte Porchia. Meanwhile on their left, British X Corps had attacked from positions on the Camino mass to take on January 8 the Cedro hill which with Monte Chiaia and Monte Porchia had formed a strong defensive line in front of Monte Trocchio [Fifth Army at the Winter Line, pp106-107] .

The last offensive to clear the enemy in front of the Gustav defenses started on January 10. Cervaro was taken on January 12 and the overlooking hills to the north on January 13. This opened up the northern flank of Monte Trocchio, and a heavy assault was planned for January 15. However, the German XIV Panzer Corps considered the position to be untenable and withdrew across the Rapido. When II Corps moved forward on January 15, they encountered no resistance [Fifth Army at the Winter Line, p112] .


It had taken U.S. Fifth Army six weeks of intense combat and 16,000 casualties to advance the seven miles (11 km) through the Bernhardt Line defenses (including the action at Battle of San Pietro Infine) to take Monte Trocchio and reach the positions facing the main Gustav defenses on January 15.

See also

*Allied invasion of Italy
*Battle of San Pietro Infine
*Gustav Line
*US Fifth Army
*Barbara Line
*US 36th Infantry Division


*cite book | authorlink=Michael Carver, Baron Carver|first=Field Marshall Lord |last=Carver| title=The Imperial War Museum Book of the War in Italy 1943-1945| publisher=Sidgwick & Jackson|location=London | year=2002| origdate=2001 | id=ISBN 0 330 48230 0
*cite book | first=Lloyd |last=Clark | title=Anzio: The Friction of War. Italy and the Battle for Rome 1944 | publisher=Headline Publishing Group, London | year=2006 | id=ISBN 978 0 7553 1420 1
*cite book | author=Fifth Army Historical Section| url=| title=Fifth Army at the Winter Line (15 November 1943-15 January 1944)| series=CMH Online bookshelves: American Forces in Action series| publisher=US Army Center of Military History|location=Washington| year=1990| origyear=1945| id=CMH Pub 100-9
*cite book | author=Fifth Army Historical Section| url= | title=From the Volturno to the Winter Line 6 October-15 November 1943 | series=CMH Online bookshelves: American Forces in Action series| publisher=US Army Center of Military History|location=Washington| year=1989| origyear=1944| id=CMH Pub 100-8
*cite book| first=Edwin P.| last=Hoyt| title=Backwater War. The Allied Campaign in Italy, 1943-45| publisher=Stackpole| location=Mechanicsburg, PA| date=2007| isbn=0-8117-3382-3| origdate=2002
*cite web|first=Gerhard |last=Muhm|url= |title=German Tactics in the Italian Campaign| accessdate=2007-10-12| language=English
*cite book| first=Gerhard |last=Muhm| title=La Tattica tedesca nella Campagna d'Italia, in Linea Gotica avanposto dei Balcani| language=Italian|publisher=(Hrsg.) Amedeo Montemaggi - Edizioni Civitas|location=Roma |year=1993
*cite book|url=
series=The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945| title=Italy Volume I: The Sangro to Cassino |accessdate=2008-07-12|accessdaymonth=|accessmonthday=|accessyear=|author= |last=Phillips|first=N.C.|authorlink= |coauthors=|date=|year=1957|month=|format=|work=|publisher=Historical Publications Branch| location=Wellington |pages=|language=|doi=|archiveurl=|archivedate=|quote=

*cite book | first=Col. Kenneth V.|last=Smith| url= |title=Naples-Foggia 9 September 1943-21 January 1944 | series=CMH Online bookshelves: World War II Campaigns |publisher=US Army Center of Military History|location=Washington| year=1990?| id=CMH Pub 72-17

External links

* [ Map of the German defensive lines]


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