Battle of Rapido River

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Battle of Rapido River
Part of the Battle of Monte Cassino, Italian Campaign
American troops bring back wounded during the attempt to span the Gari River near Cassino, Italy.
Date 20–22 January 1944
Location Gari River, Italy
Result German defensive victory
United States United States Nazi Germany Germany
Commanders and leaders
United States Mark W. Clark
United States Geoffrey Keyes
United States Fred L. Walker
Nazi Germany Heinrich von Vietinghoff
Nazi Germany Frido von Senger und Etterlin
2 Regiments of the U.S. 36th Infantry Division 1 Regiment
Casualties and losses
1,330 killed and wounded
770 captured[1]
64 killed
179 wounded[2]

The Battle of Rapido River was fought from 20 to 22 January 1944 in the course of the Battle of Monte Cassino, part of the Italian campaign, during World War II. Despite its name, the battle occurred on the Gari river.[3]

Lieutenant General Mark Clark, commanding general of the United States Fifth Army, in an attempt to break through the German defences of the Gustav Line, tried to cross the Gari river, south of Monte Cassino, with two regiments of the U.S. 36th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Fred Walker. After crossing the river in boats, his forces were the target of enemy fire from elements of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division stationed on the west bank of the river. The Americans suffered very high losses and were counterattacked. After two days of fighting the survivors went through the river; two regiments were destroyed and the attack had to be interrupted.

Controversy followed the American defeat, with Clark criticizing his subordinates, which in turn polemicize with the commander of the Fifth Army for his tactics. The battle of the Rapido River was one of the heaviest tragedies suffered by the U.S. Army during World War II and, after the war, was the subject of an investigation in 1946 by Congress to establish responsibility for the disaster.[4]


In late 1943, the Italian campaign had reached a turning point; after the decisions made during the Tehran Conference, the Supreme military and political leaders of the Allied nations finally decided to give top priority to the opening of the Western Front in Europe and thus reduce the importance of operations in the Italian peninsula. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, left the Mediterranean Theater in December 1943 and returned to the United Kingdom to plan for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. Shortly afterwards, General Bernard Montgomery gave command of the British Eighth Army to Lieutenant-General Oliver Leese and returned to Great Britain also; seven veteran Anglo-American divisions were withdrawn from the Mediterranean, waiting to be transferred to take part in the Normandy landings, which were scheduled for June 1944.

Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, continued to assign great importance to the Italian campaign on the other hand and despite having shared in general plans for a second front, he considered it essential (strategically and politically), to achieve a great victory in Italy. He hoped to destroy the German armies there and build on the success in the direction of Southeast Europe to anticipate the arrival of the Soviet Red Army. Churchill also ordered the Allied Armies in Italy to, despite the weakening of their strength, commit pressure on the enemy and attain important strategic objectives and propaganda blows; this included Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, commander of the U.S. Fifth Army, who was absolutely determined to achieve victory by securing Rome first.

The Allied advance through Italy bogged down around Monte Cassino, which was a crucial point in the Axis defensive positions known as the Winter Line. As a result, Allied commanders planned to outflank the Germans with Operation Shingle, an amphibious landing at Anzio. To assist in the landing, Allied forces to the South were to launch attacks in the days leading up to Operation Shingle by seizing German positions across the Garigliano and Rapido rivers. It was hoped that German forces would be drawn away from Anzio to counter these attacks.[5]


On the night of 20 January 1944, the US 36th Infantry Division launched an artillery barrage on German positions across the Gari river, resulting in negligible damage. After the barrage, the 141st and 143rd regiments were ordered to cross the river, which began at 7 P.M. Two companies from the 143rd Regiment successfully crossed the river, but German return fire had resulted in the loss of too many men and landing boats, and their foothold was abandoned. The 141st fared even worse, being forced to withdraw with heavy casualties after landing in a minefield.

On the next day, the 141st and the 143rd regiments were ordered to perform another attack at 4 P.M. Although this assault was met with more success, the Allied foothold was unsustainable, as withering fire from the 15th Panzergrenadier Division prevented the construction of pontoon and Bailey bridges by engineers. Without the bridges, Allied armour could not assist in the attack, and the infantry were left to fight on their own, resulting in devastating casualties for the two regiments. After more than 20 hours of fruitless combat, the regiments were ordered to withdraw. The 143rd regiment was able to withdraw relatively intact, but much of the 141st was stranded, as their boats and bridges were taken out by enemy fire. The German defenders mounted a counterattack on the trapped regiment, capturing hundreds of US soldiers. The commander of the 36th Infantry Division, General Walker, decided against committing the division's last regiment, and the battle concluded at 9:40 P.M. on January 22nd. No significant gains had been made in either assault, and the original objective of luring away German forces was entirely unsuccessful.[6]

See also


  • Schultz, Duane (2012). "Rage Over the Rapido".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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