Operation Second Wind, 5-19 April 1945

Operation Second Wind (5-19 April 1945) was a diversionary attack on the far left of the Allied front line in Italy that saw the US 92nd Division capture the town of Massa, forcing the Germans to move precious reinforcements west to try and hold their line.

The 92nd Division had originally been forced of three regiments of African-American soldiers, with white officers. The division had a troubled history going back to training in the United States, with a poor relationship between the officers and men. The division’s first real taste of combat came in late December 1944, when the Germans launched an attack at the western end of the line (Operation Wintergewitter, 26-28 December 1944). The Germans pushed back the division, and captured a number of villages before withdrawing. Some parts of the division fought well, but others broke and fled several miles south, lowering the reputation of the division. In February 1944, the Division was used in a small scale offensive on the coastal sector (Operation Fourth Term, 8-11 February 1945), but this had also ended in failure. 

Over the winter the division had been reorganised. Two of its original regiments, the 365th and 371st, had been detached to provide cover for the left flank of the 4th Corps. The best of their men had been concentrated in the 370th Infantry (Col. Raymond G. Sherman). Two new regiments had then joined the division, the Japanese-American 442nd (Lt. Col. Virgil R. Miller) and the 473rd (Col. William P. Yarborough), made up of some of the many surplus anti-aircraft gunners in Italy.

The division’s new target was Massa, on the south bank of the Frigido River, and the last part of the original Gothic Line still in German hands. The town was on the narrow coastal strip on the western end of the front line, a few miles south-east of La Spezia.

The plan was for the 370th Infantry to cross the Strettoia Hills, east of the town, with the 371st Infantry in the higher ground to their right. The 473rd was placed in the Serchpo valley, 14 miles north-east into the mountains. General Almond hoped that the Germans would withdraw from the town once it was outflanked in the mountains.

The attack began with an aerial bombardment of the German positions. This was followed by a 10 minute bombardment by American artillery and British destroyers. The 370th then attacked from a starting line five miles south-east of Massa. At first things went well, and the regiment advanced half way to Massa, but the Germans then counterattacked, forcing them back. A series of further attacks by the 370th made little progress.

On the right the 442nd captured Monte Gragolita, three miles to the south-east of Massa on the first day of the attack. By 7 April they had taken Monte Belvedere, two miles to the north-east. However the Germans showed no signs of being willing to abandon Massa without a fight.

In order to speed up the attack on the coast, General Almond swapped the 370th and 473rd Regiments. The 473rd then attacked up the coast, and had reached the outskirts of the town by midday on 9 April. At this point the Germans finally withdrew to avoid being trapped.

The American advance continued for a few days more. On 10 April the 442nd crossed the Frigido and captured Monte Bruguana, then on 11 April captured the marble quarry at Carrara, three miles to the north-west of the town.

On the coast the 473rd ran into more determined resistance, and also came under fire from the coastal guns at Punta Bianca, near the La Spezia Naval Base. The advance stopped on the Carrione creek, seven miles past Carrara. However the attack had achieved its main aim. Kesselring had moved a regiment from the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division from his reserve at Modena to the western end of the line, and it would be unavailable when the main Allied spring offensive began.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 March 2019), Operation Second Wind, 5-19 April 1945 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/operation_second_wind.html

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