Northern Italy and the End of Hostilities -6-21-08

Northern Italy and the End of Hostilities:

General Mark W. Clark,

Passover Seders in Liberated Italy,


Lt. General George S. Patton

April 1944 to May 2, 1945


Richard J. Garfunkel

June 21, 2008



This is an essay about the last few months of the Campaign in Italy, which ended on the date of my birth. It includes a very short summation of why Tito and his Communist-dominated partisans were allowed and encouraged to triumph in the Balkans and the role of then Lieutenant-General Mark W. Clark, his background and the conquest of Italy. I included some other information regarding his relationship with colleague, rival and fellow comrade in arms, Lt. General George S. Patton.


General Mark W. Clark was one of the most controversial and complicated of men, to reach theater command in World War II. He was born in upper New York State in what was then known as the Madison Barracks (later renamed Camp Drum in honor of General Hugh Drum in 1951) in 1896 and was raised in the Midwest in the town of Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. He was the son of a career military man, Charles Carr Clark, who had been born in 1866 and had an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point at the age of twenty. While in military assignment in Arizona, Charles Clark was introduced to the Ezekiel family, who lived in Tucson, by a mentor of his named Major William A. Rafferty. Rafferty was interested in one of the Ezekiel’s three daughters named Rosetta, who was known as Zettie. Young Charles Clark soon became enamored with another daughter, Rebecca Ezekiel. Their father Mark and his wife were Jews, who was most probably from Romania, and first came to the west and settled first in San Francisco, then Arizona, and finally in Montana, where he operated a pawn shop and served in the state legislature.


Mark Wayne Clark followed his father to the Point and graduated in 1917, and it was there he was baptized as an Episcopalian. He had never been raised with much concern for the religion of his mother or father, but seemed closer to the Clarks than the Ezekiels. He was also encouraged by his mother to take the religion of his father if he wished to succeed as an officer in the American armed forces. After graduating from the Point, he served with high distinction in France during World War I. He was wounded severely by shrapnel while leading his company of the 11th Regiment, 5th Division and decorated for bravery.


After the end of the war he held many peacetime positions. He was accomplished public speaker, and eventually graduated from the Army’s Command School at Fort Leavenworth, KS in the mid-1930’s. He moved up the command ladder as World War II approached. He was appointed assistant chief of staff at the US Army’s general headquarters and within a short period of time he rose to chief of staff of the Army’s Ground Forces. In 1941 he was elevated to brigadier general from the rank of lt. colonel. He rose so fast in the army that for a short time he outranked his friend and future mentor Dwight Eisenhower. As the United States entered into our first offensive actions in the European Theater, he was appointed deputy commander in chief of the Allied Forces in the North African Theater of Operations. He assisted General Dwight D. Eisenhower with the planning of Operation Torch. He, along with the American diplomat, Robert Murphy entered Vichy-controlled North Africa in mufti, and was able to take into protective custody, French Admiral Jean Darlan, one of Vichy France’s highest-ranking officers. This act of personal bravery earned Clark the Distinguished Service Medal.


In 1942, he as appointed the youngest three-star (Lieutenant) General in the US Army’s history at age 46. After the completion of the Sicilian Campaign, in December 1942, Clark was appointed commander of the U.S. Fifth Army. In September of 1943, the U.S. Forces under the command of General Clark landed in Italy at the Gulf of Salerno. Within three weeks the critical port city of Naples was conquered.


Martin Blumenson in his biography of Clark, Mark Clark, The Last of the Great World War II Commanders, wrote, “A radio message from AFHQ asked Clark whether he could absent himself from the struggle in Italy for one day. If so, he was to fly to Palermo, Sicily with seven officers and men who were to receive the Distinguished Service Cross. He joined the group and when the plane landed, found General George S. Patton and several high-ranking officers on hand. Several minutes later, another aircraft settled on the field. It brought President Franklin Roosevelt, who was returning from the Cairo and Teheran Conferences. General Eisenhower, the future head of SHAEF was with him. All who were there assembled to honor the seven men who were to be decorated, and the President pinned the medals on them. Finished, Roosevelt looked around and called, ‘General Clark.’ He motioned Clark over to him, then, to Clark’s great surprise, presented him with the award for his action at Salerno.”


“The President was very pleasant in his remarks to Clark. He passed over a letter he had composed in case Clark had been unable to come to Sicily. ‘I am very sorry to miss seeing you.’ Roosevelt had written, ‘but much as I wanted to see you at the front and to greet your fighting army over there, I was told I just could not go. You and your Fifth Army are doing a magnificent job under the most trying conditions imaginable. Eye -witnesses have told me about the fighting, so I know how tough it is. I have also been told of your personal courage in leading your forces, and especially your gallantry…Keep on giving it all you have, and Rome will be ours and more beyond. I am grateful to have such a staunch, fighting General.’”


Of course during this period Clark had to deal with the backbiting, jealousy, and seeming hatred of General George S. Patton. Carlo D’Este, in his monumental biography of Patton, A Genius for War, stated, “The only time I have felt worse, (commenting on Omar Bradley’s appointment to command US First Army, which would lead the Normandy Invasion) was the night of December 9th, 1942, when (General) Clark got the Fifth Army… “ Later D’Este wrote, “Some of his remarks were both outrageous and racist, including his repetition of a rumor that Clark had been given high command as a concession to American Jews, and some pungent observations about black troops who were tried by court-martial for capital offenses. When three men were tried for rape: Patton said, “I put two Negro officers on the court. Although the men were guilty as hell, the colored officers would not vote death – a useless race.”


Of course evidence of Patton’s anti-Semitism went way beyond the attitude, language and feelings of the typical white, upper middle-class, Anglo-Saxon officers that dominated the peacetime army. D’Este also reported “His (Patton’s) growing anti-Semitism coupled with despair over the fate of Germany became frequent, rambling topics in his diary. The dissolution of Germany was all a plot by America Jewish Leaders. He accused Treasury Secretary Morgenthau and Bernard Baruch of ‘Semetic (sic) revenge against Germany,’ and characterized the Jews who survived the death camps as ‘lower than animals.’”


Finally with all of his anti-Semitic grousing and outrageous remarks, he started to go off the edge into the virtual realm of insanity. D’Este wrote, “Patton’s flip attitude and apparent indifference to denazification were conspicuously on display at a conference held in Frankfurt. On August 27, 1945, when he spoke out against the Russians. His remarks deeply offended Eisenhower, who finally exploded, saying: ‘I demand that you get off your bloody ass and carry out the denazification program as you’re told instead of mollycoddling the goddamn Nazis.’”


On can easily assume that Patton knew of Clark’s background and the fact that his mother was Jewish. When Clark was appointed commander of the Fifth Army, Patton’s not so latent or barely hidden anti-Semitism surfaced on a personal basis. (Ironically Patton had a number of Jewish officers who loyally served him like his extremely competent G-2, intelligence officer, Colonel Oscar W. Koch.)


After the invasion and subsequent liberation of southern Italy, on the 8th of April 1944, the famous US Army Chaplain, Rabbi Aharon Paperman, who was from Baltimore and was educated at the Telzer Yeshiva in Europe, helped organize the Naples Seder with over 1500 Jewish American armed forces personnel in attendance. At that Seder, their commander made this statement:


“Tonight you are eating the unleavened bread just as your forebears ate unleavened bread. Because the Exodus came so quickly the dough had no time to rise. There was a time of the unleavened bread in this war. The time when it looked as though we might not have time to rise – time to raise an army and equip it, time stop the onrush of a Germany that was already risen.


“But the bread has begun to rise. It started at Alamein. It was rising higher when the 5th Army invaded Italy. It is reaching the top of the pan and soon the time will come when it will spread out and into a finished product.”


Lt. General Mark W. Clark, commander of the U.S. Fifth Army, addressing the Jewish soldiers in attendance, Courtesy of the American Heritage Haggadah, Gafen Publishing House 1992.




The next year in newly liberated Florence, (Firenze,) Rabbi Paperman, was in charge of a Pesach Seder for over 4000 men. It was held in a huge train station, which was converted into a dining hall. It was so large that it was impossible to see it all from end to end. Rabbi Paperman used white parachutes for tablecloths, and gathered fresh eggs from local farmers. He was afraid that powdered potatoes were not Kosher so he asked for money to purchase fresh potatoes from the British Army. With regards to the wine, General Clark had his private plane fly to Algiers to bring back cases of Kosher wine.


During a gathering called of Fifth Army Jewish Chaplains on a Saturday, convened by General Clark, a Reform Jewish Rabbi was sent by President Truman as his representative to the meeting, from the War Refugee Board. The only rabbi missing was Chaplain Paperman. Noting the annoyance and discomfort of many of the Chaplains, General Clark stated, “Don’t worry, if Chaplain Paperman said that he’ll be here, then he will be here. Today is Shabbos, and Chaplain Paperman is probably walking now from wherever he is stationed.” And so it was!


(Over the years the estimates of the Jews serving in the armed forces during WW II range from 4.3 to 8%. Jews in America at that time were about 3.3% of the population. In addition to the 550,000 Jewish men serving, over 340,000 women served as nurses or in other capacities. Over 11,000 Jews died fighting in the U.S. forces during WWII. Along with the 40,000+ who were wounded, 52,000 received medals for bravery, which included three Medals of Honor recipients.)


With the capture of Naples and its deep-water port, which was almost obliterated by the retreating Nazis, American US Army Engineers took on the daunting task of clearing it for Allied shipping. The following Italian Campaign was difficult, fraught with errors in local command and bogged down with unusually inclement weather. The Allied Forces, which were a collection of many, many national groups, encountered many command and control problems. Logistical support was quite difficult, as soldiers and equipment was being constantly siphoned off for the up, and coming, invasion of France. General Clark faced his greatest challenge at Monte Cassino, an ancient monastery, which overlooked the Rapido River. The monastery was thought to house German artillery spotters and troops. Instructions were given to destroy the edifice on February 15th, but its destruction did not make the challenge of its capture any easier. It would take until May to get past Cassino and move the final 130 kms (or 80 miles) to Rome.     


But before that could happen, the Italian Campaign would go on and on. Eventually the new landings at Anzio enabled the Fifth Army to create another attacking front west and north of the bottle head at Cassino. The Anzio invasion, and the deployment of 36,000 troops and 3200 vehicles, had landed smoothly, without major resistance on the beaches. The 1st Division had penetrated 2 miles inland and the Rangers had captured Anzio’s port. Of course, there the controversy and tragedy begins. General John Lucas, who was in command of the ground forces at Salerno hesitated. In his indecisiveness of neither rushing towards Rome nor getting clarifications from General Clark, he exposed his undermanned two division forces to risk without really engaging the enemy. It wasn’t too long before German forces, including the elite Herman Goering Panzer Division, and his 1st Parachute Corps under the local logistical command General Alfred Schlemm surrounded the Salerno salient. Not long after Lucas’s refusal to breakout, more German forces, the Wehrmacht’s 14th Army, commanded by General von Mackenson, assumed the control of the area’s defense. Within a week of the landing, eight divisions faced the American’s, who were be then bolstered by the arrival of the US 45th Infantry Division and the US 1st Armored Division, which brought Allied forces on the beachhead to 69,000 men and over 200 tanks.


After a postponement of a few days, the German forces added five more divisions to the Anzio area and Field Marshall Kesselring, who was in operational control of Italy ordered an attack for February 1st. In between Lucas ordered his own gambit, a two-pronged attack on the Alban Hills, coordinated with a British attack on Campoleone. The British effort failed, as the German forces counterattacked. Stalemate ensued as both sides slugged it out for weeks. Eventually both sides bogged down.


Within a month and a day, Lucas was relieved of his command and replaced by General Lucien Truscott. Both forces bogged down, and operations by the Allies were virtually suspended until the spring. General Truscott, who took command of the VI Corps, worked with his staff to on plans for a decisive attack in coordination with British General Harold Alexander, who was in overall command of all of the Allied Forces in Italy. This plan, which called for an attack on the vaunted Gustav Line, was called Operation Diadem, and would later be referred to as the fourth Battle of Cassino. Of course controversy would ensue over General Clark’s interpretation of his orders, and instead of following Alexander’s orders to attack through Cisterna, and into the hills to cut Route 6 at Valmontone, Clark was determined to strike at Rome.


In his later writings he stated, “We not only we wanted the honor of capturing Rome, but felt we deserved it… Not only did we intend to become the first army to seize Rome from the south, but we intended to see that people at home knew that it was the Fifth Army that did the job, and knew the price that had been paid for it.” Of course this change in direction, and Clark’s refusal to attack the Valmontone Gap, prevented the destruction of the German 10th Army.


Many historians believed that Clark’s actions and his change in the plans of Operation Diadem failed in its objective to destroy the German 10th Army, and condemned the Allies to a further year of brutal combat notably around the Gothic Line, which I described earlier. Churchill defended the whole Anzio operation, and as a consequence of the effort German High Command dropped plans to transfer five of Kesselring’s best divisions to North West Europe. This fortuitously would help Allied operations in the post Normandy invasion days.


Of course, as a consequence of these momentous happenings, Rome was liberated in early June of 1944, and on July 25, 1944, there was an NBC broadcast sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. The NBC network, in cooperation with the AJC hosted a special broadcast of historical significance with the first Jewish broadcast from Nazi occupied territory, now liberated by the Allies.


With regards to Italy after Rome’s surrender, a new fascist government was founded in Northern Italy for a short period of time, but collapsed. After the fall of Rome Marshall Albert (Smiling Albert) Kesselring was reinforced with eight new divisions of varying quality (one from Denmark, Holland, and Russia, with two from the Balkans and three German ones from the eastern Front) and also the vaunted Herman Goering Panzer Division. With these forces, in the wake of the fall of Rome, he established a strong defensive line from Grosetta on the Western coast, not far from the off shore island of Elba (of Napoleonic fame) to the eastern coast of the Adriatic. He fought strong delaying actions, but by August of 1944,as he was forced to re-establish a strong defense in the Po Valley, called the new Gothic Line.


Attacks on the Gothic Line were concentrated in the east under General Harold Alexander's 15th Army Group and its British 8th Army. With Polish and Canadian forces they were able to move up the coastline from Rimini to Revenna and challenge the Gothic Line's forces commanded by General Vietinghoff's 10th Army. In the east General Mark Clark's army of American and British Corps enveloped Florence (Firenze) on the Arno River and advanced northward to challenge German General Lemelson's 14th Army. As the winter set in, a weather related stalemate ensued between January and March 1945. Eventually Kesselring was recalled to Germany to support the actions on the Western front, Alexander became commander of the Mediterranean Theater, and Clark succeeded Alexander as commander of the 15th Army Group. (Patton had never been in command in Italy, but had operational command of American forces in Sicily, and shared the responsibility of reducing and destroying German forces with the British commander General (later Field Marshall) Bernard Law “Monty” Montgomery. His actions disturbed the Anglo-American high command and he was later shipped off to Great Britain to command a faux army in East Anglia, near Dover, and across from Calais to divert German attention from Normandy.)


In the Po Valley, rough terrain, and stubborn German resistance handicapped the Allies. The Allies had 4000 planes to the Axis powers total of 200 of all types and this air superiority started to attrite supply lines and whatever was left of German armor. Vietinghoff requested from Hitler permission to orderly withdraw, but was ordered to stand and resist in place. At the end of March the Allies attained the three “Rs,” rest, reorganization and re-equipment. But they were a polyglot command and with the reassignment of three British divisions to the Western Front, they were now reinforced with new formations that included the Jewish Brigade, the 42nd Regimental Combat team of Japanese-Americans and a Brazilian Division. The 15th Army Group had already included; American, British, New Zealand, Canadian, Newfoundland, South African, Gurkha, Indian and Polish units. The language and logistical problems were extraordinary and daunting to the supreme command. By late April 1945, General Lucien Truscott's 5th Army had penetrated deep into the Po Valley, and by the 23rd Bologna fell to General Keyes II Corp.


Italian Partisan bands operating throughout their rear areas further compromised the German forces. These partisans were trained and partially armed by Allied agents of the OSS (The OSS or Office of Strategic Services and the for runner of the CIA and was led from Washington by General William Donavan). It was estimated that by April 1, 1945 there were over 50,000 of these irregular troops (guerrillas) in Northern Italy. Though the German command was never under the illusion of victory or relief they still fought very hard. Eventually when Hitler's death was confirmed General Vietinghoff surrendered on May 2, 1945, (my birthday) all of his forces. Through all of this, and as the German forces were divided, enveloped and destroyed, the Allied forces reached the Austrian frontier. New Zealand forces also received the surrender of German forces in Trieste.


Of course, by this time, Yugoslavian forces under Marshall Tito were also moving towards Trieste as they routed German and Croatian units. The Germans were caught between the Allies in northern Italy, the Italian Partisans and the Tito's forces. By that late date, many of the American and British forces were worn out. In truth, with the polyglot forces under Allied command, with the rough terrain, the logistical nightmare, and the active partisan forces in the area, the battle for Northern Italy was not easy. The Alexander and Clark commands were never given their proper due.


With regards to Yugoslavia, the Allies had no interest. They were never convinced or concerned about a post-war Soviet domination of the Balkans. Tito had grown in strength and the Allies were decently happy with him and saw no economic imperative in Yugoslavia. If anything the British were only interested in Greece and we wanted Italy to remain in one piece. Also Tito was seen as quite strong, and if there were any worries about the Soviets, Tito was seen as a nationalistic bulwark. Later on, Tito proved that he was independent of Soviet domination.


The next real crisis in the Balkans came decades later in the wake of Tito's death. The nine subgroups that made up that amalgam state started to seek their own self rule, and the ancient rivalry and bad blood between the Croatians (once run by the former Nazi-allied Ustashi Movement) and the Serbs erupted. With all the tough fighting, the Allies weren't in any mood to get into another fracas in the wild topography of Yugoslavia. With the occupation of Eastern Europe by the Soviets, the old dynasties that had run Bulgaria, Hungary, Roumania and Yugoslavia had been deposed and the ethnic rivalries were suppressed!


In essence it wasn't far from what the planners had desired. Unfortunately they had not envisioned a Soviet bloc becoming a new empire. In truth it was “reality on the ground” that won out. We were not willing or able to challenge Soviet hegemony in that area of the world. The Soviets had proximity, men, and eventually all the “new” politicians. American presidents from Truman through Reagan saw the futility of overthrowing Soviet rule by force! From Churchill's historic “Iron Curtain” speech, containment became the policy rather than confrontation. 


At the end of hostilities, as to General George S. Patton, he was eventually relieved of his command of the Third Army in late September of 1945. It seems that his outlandish statements, his problems with Eisenhower’s staff, and the final report about his administration in Bavaria caused his final dismissal. In an audience with General Eisenhower, General Clarence Adcock and Professor Walter Dorn, an academic who was brought in to root out of Germany of all of its Nazi influence, Patton’s fate was sealed. It wasn’t really his ranting and raving about Jews and the Russians, but his failure when he replaced the old Nazi cadres with new ones. Dorn was quoted as saying, that Bavarian local rule was rife with Nazis, “little better than the Nazis it replaced.”  In a few months, on December 9th, Patton would be seriously injured in an automobile accident, which happened in the northern suburb Mannheim suburb of Kafertal. His new driver, one Pfc. Horace Wooding, a 19 year-old kid, who wasn’t the most responsible soldier or driver, wound up running into a truck which had made an un-signaled left turn across the road. The drivers of both vehicles suffered slight injuries because they were braced for the collision and were later exonerated from all legal responsibility for the accident. General Patton wasn’t so lucky, and suffered a broken neck along with serious cuts and lacerations to his face and scalp. It seems that he was sitting on the edge of his seat and looking out the window at the point of impact, and he was hurled forward into the partition that separated the drivers from the spacious back seat of his 1939 Cadillac. He would survive the accident, but was immediately paralyzed. Despite heroic efforts that stabilized his wretched condition, he died in his sleep less than two weeks later on December 21st, 1945. At just past the age of 60 years, General George S. Patton passed into the portals of history. He was buried on December 24th, in midmorning under a dignified white cross in the American military cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg along side a young GI from Detroit was killed during the Battle of the Bulge and with 5075 other American heroes. After the war, Patton’s diary was expurgurated of nearly all of its colorful, to say the least, language and more controversial assessments, and was published as War As I Knew It. It was a huge bestseller and remains both in print, and in my personal library.


General Mark W. Clark would receive many more assignments, which included being promoted to a full four star General in March of 1945. At the war’s end he was appointed Commander of Allied Forces in Italy and, later U.S. High Commissioner of Austria. He served as a deputy to U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall in 1947 and helped negotiate the treaty with Austria and the occupying powers. Later on he was given command of the Sixth Army, which was based at the Presidio in San Francisco. He would eventually relieve General Matthew Ridgeway in Korea in 1952 and it was Clark who proceeded over the cessations of hostilities with the North Koreans and signed the official cease-fire documents in 1953. After his retirement from the active list of the Army he served as president of The Citadel from 1954 through 1966, in South Carolina. One can visit the campus of the Military College in Charleston, and marvel at the unique architecture, the black and white squares of the assembly yard, and the hall and museum dedicated to Clark. General Clark, the author of two volumes of his memoirs, Calculated Risk and From the Danube to the Yalu, died in 1984 and is buried at the campus, not far from Mark W. Clark Hall. (In one of our trips through beautiful Charleston, we visited The Citadel and spent some time in Clark Hall viewing and reflecting on the life and achievements of Clark.


History is full of incredible ironies. The lives of Eisenhower, Clark, and Patton were quite interwoven and no one in the late 1930’s could have even dreamt of what would happen to their lives and careers. Ironically, Patton, who was regarded as one of the most capable generals of the 2nd World War, faced its conclusion in semi-disgrace. His untimely death rescued him from much of the criticism he inflicted on himself. He became to later generations the “stuff” which legends are made of. Both Clark, and Eisenhower, had meteoric careers, which were assisted more by their excellent diplomatic skills than their military tactics or grand strategy. Because of these attributes they were vaulted quickly passed the more blunt, unforgiving, and bombastic Patton. Both Eisenhower and his protégé Mark Clark lived long and productive lives and though they trod quite different paths, they were highly honored and now relegated to the honored past.


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