Operation Encore, 19 February-5 March 1945

Operation Encore (19 February-5 March 1945) was a limited offensive carried out by the US Fifth Army in an attempt to improve its position in the Apennines and prepare for the upcoming spring offensive.

The offensive was to be carried out by the newly arrived 10th Mountain Division (85th, 86th and 87th Mountain Infantry Regiments). This division had been formed through a recruitment campaign led by the National Ski Patrol System, and contained a high proportion of college educated men and winter sports enthusiasts. The division had trained in Colorado, and was perfectly suited to the Apennine theatre.

The division held an area around the Silla and Reno Rivers. Their position was overlooked by two ridges - the ‘Riva’ ridge to the west and the Monte Belvedere-Monte della Torraccia ridge to the north. These ridges gave the Germans good observation points into the Reno valley to the east and in particular over Highway 64, one of the main routes across the mountains to Bologna. However the ridges were held by the three regiments of the 232nd Infantry Division, rear area occupation troops, who now had to try and hold an 18 mile long front in high mountains.

The operation began with an attack on the Riva Ridge. Soon after dark on 18 February three climbing from the 1st Battalion, 86th Mountain Infantry and one from the 2nd Battalion, scaled the 1,500ft side of the ridge, leaving a line of pitons and ropes behind them for the main body of the unit. They were then followed up the mountain by the 1st Battalion. The Americans arrived just as the 232rd Fusilier Battalion was relieving a battalion from the 1044th Infantry Battalion, further helping their cause. The Germans launched three counterattacks but without success, and then withdrew. Riva Ridge was in American hands by the end of 19 February.

On the night of 19-20 February the second phase of the operation began. The 87th Mountain Infantry advanced north-west to capture three villages between the ridges, and then climb the Valpiana Ridge, to the north-west of the main mountain, while the 85th attacked directly up Monte Belvedere and Monte Gorgolesco. Both units successfully took their objectives very quickly, and were then able to advance along the ridge to Monte della Torraccia, the last mountain on the ridge.

The Germans rushed reinforcements from the 714th Jaeger Division to the front, and early on 21 February they launched the inevitable counterattack. The counterattack failed, but it did halt the Allied advance towards Monte della Torraccia for a few hours. The attack resumed on the afternoon of 21 February, with the 2nd Battalion, 85th Mountain Infantry, in the lead. This time the Germans put up more of a fight, and the battalion was held up 400 yards short of its objective. Late on 22 February it had to be replaced with the 86th Mountain Infantry. The 3rd Battalion, 86th Mountain Infantry, finally took Monte della Torraccia on the afternoon of 24 February and then fought off a German counterattack. The division had achieved all of the objectives of the first phase of the operation at the cost of 203 dead and 700 wounded or missing.

The second phase was an advance north-east towards the town of Vergato, twelve miles to the north-east of Monte Belvedere. The immediate objective was another line of hills - Monte Grande d’Aiano, Monte della Spe, Monte della Castelllana and Monte Valbura, about half way between Monte della Torraccia and the town.

This time the 86th Mountain Infantry advanced on the left, with the 87th on the right. Further to the right the Brazilian Expeditionary Force advanced along the valley. The ridge was defended by troops from the 232nd and 714th Jaeger Divisions.

The offensive began on 3 March. By 4 March the 86th and 87th had cleared the gap between the ridges and taken Monte Grande d’Aiano, at the left of the line. On 5 March the 85th Division attacked Monte delle Spe and Monte della Castellano, and captured both by the end of the day. The advance forced the Germans to commit the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division to the sector, weakening Kesselring’s reserves.

The new troops were almost immediately committed to a series of counterattacks against the 87th on Monte delle Spe. The first came late on 5 March, and was repulsed. The Germans attacked three more times before giving up. At this point Truscott ordered an end to the operation, which had achieved its main objectives, of opening up Highway 64 as a possible route for the Allied spring offensive.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 March 2019), Operation Encore, 19 February-5 March 1945, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/operation_encore.html

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