Very recently we welcomed a trio from America, Patrick, Kathy and Rita, who came to this area searching for more information on a particular time in their family’s history.
Patrick and Kathy were trying to retrace their father’s journey through Italy as a soldier in the US 88th “Blue Devil” Division.
Patrick is currently writing a book about his father’s experiences during this period. His father sent home many descriptive letters to his new bride, who he had only married the day before his departure from America.
Charles Logan was just 22 years old when he was drafted into the army and sent to fight in Italy along the infamous GUSTAV Line. His Division disembarked at Naples and was then transported to the town of Piedimonte d’Alife (now known as Piedimonte Matesse) for combat training.
The 88th was then sent to the GUSTAV Line, on the western flank of the main Fifth Army, to relieve the 5th British Division in the Minturno area in Operation Diadem. The 88th “Blue Devils”, encountering stiff German resistance, took part in a particularly bitter and bloody battle, which lasted almost 3 days, to seize the village of Santa Maria Infante.
The capture of this position on the 14th May 1944, proved to be a defining moment, finally breaking through the GUSTAV line and forcing a German retreat.
The French Expeditionary Corps of Morrocan Goumiers*, who were skilled in mountain warfare, continued to make their way forward over the seemingly impassable terrain of the Aurunci Mountains, while the 88th surged ahead, taking the seaward facing villages of Spigno Saturnia, Castellonorato, Trivio, Maranola, then on through Formia, Itri, Fondi, Monte San Biagio to Roccagorga.
Continuing northward some of the 88th Division made contact with Allied units breaking out of the Anzio beach-head on 29th May and they were the first to enter Rome on the 4 June 1944.
We had the great pleasure of acting as Patrick’s guide and driver during their stay, and we visited Cassino and Montecassino and many of the above mentioned towns and villages, traveling some 500 miles during the week.
We learned so much about the historical significance of these places through this traumatic period of the Second World War. From the picturesque little villages that we see today, it is hard to imagine what it would have been like for the local people and the opposing Allied forces during this terrible time.
The Italians had suffered greatly under German occupation, having to endure persecution, reprisals and famine. Prior to their liberation these villages also had endured heavy land and naval bombardments by the Allied forces which resulted in catastrophic damage, and hundreds of innocent civilian deaths and casualties.
* Yet there was more suffering to come – The French General Alphonse Juin, before the final battles to the breach the German GUSTAV line, he was said to have promised the Morrocan Goumier troops the following:
“For 50 hours you will be the absolute masters of what you will find beyond the enemy. Nobody will punish you for what you will do, nobody will ask you about what you will get up to.”
When the Goumiers swarmed over the mountain villages they subjected thousands of Italian women and even young girls to merciless violence and rape, and reportedly any men who fought to save their wives and daughters from harm were ruthlessly murdered.
A novel, “La Ciociara”, was penned, based on this subject of mass rape, by the author Alberto Moravia. This was subsequently made into a film also called “La Ciociara” or “Two Women”, directed by Vittorio de Sica, and starred Sophia Loren. In 1960, for this role, she was awarded an Academy Award for Best Actress.
We would just like to wish Patrick Logan good luck with the writing of his book about his father’s war time experiences, and we very much look forward to the book’s publication.
We would be interested to hear from anyone else who had family members who fought in Italy during World War II, along this area of the German GUSTAV Line.
For more information about some of the towns and villages in SOUTH LAZIO that were positioned along the GUSTAV Line, please click on the following links:
Santi Cosma e Damiano
Monte San Biagio
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