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Operation Fourth Term, 8-11 February 1945
Operation Fourth Term (8-11 February 1945) was an unsuccessful American offensive on the western flank of the Italian front, carried out in an attempt to capture the town of Massa.
In late December the Allied front line in this area ran from Forti dei Marmi on the coast, north-east across the mountains to the Serchio valley around Barga. This part of the line was held by the inexperienced and troubled 92nd Division, a unit with African-American soldiers and a mix of African-American and white officers. The atmosphere within the division was poor, with little trust between the men and their officers. The Germans were aware of the unit’s problems, and in late December launched their last offensive in Italy, Operation Wintergewitter (26-28 December 1944), which pushed the 92nd back from the Barga area. The Germans then withdrew their main forces, leaving a holding force in that area, but it was soon retaken by two brigades from the 8th Indian Division, which had been moved to the area when an attack was believed to be imminent.
In the aftermath of this attack General Truscott, newly promoted to command the US Fifth Army, ordered General Crittenberger, commander of the 4th Corps, to plan for an attack that would capture Castelnuovo in the Serchio valley, and the naval base at La Spezia on the coast. It was soon clear that this was over-ambitious, and he altered the plan to an attack ‘in order to improve positions’.
General Almond, commander of the 92nd, decided on a two part attack. First, the 365th and 366th would attack in the Serchio valley, and capture the Lama di Sotto Ridge, to the east of the river, from where the Americans could threaten the German supply centre at Castelnuovo, a few miles to the north-west,.
Second, the 370th and 371s would attack on the coastal front. Here there was a narrow and very flat coastal plain, backed by mountains. The aim was for the main attack to come in the mountains, where the Americans would take the Stettoia Hills, three miles to the north-east of Forte dei Marmi. This would allow the Americans to threaten Massa, and bring their artillery within range of the naval guns at La Spezia.
The attack began with the diversionary attack in the Serchio, on 4 February. Here the 366th Infantry advanced to the west of the river, and captured the villages of Gallicano and then Calomini. On the right the 365th reached the foot of the Lama di Sotto ridge, and then captured the village of Lama Until this point they had been facing Italian troops, but they were now replaced by a battalion from the 286th Infantry Regiment, 148th Division, a German unit. The Germans counterattacked on the night of 7 February and forced the 365th to retreat. The 366th had to pull back to stay in line. The two battalions had performed well for inexperienced troops, carrying out a successful attack in mountainous terrain.
The main offensive began on 8 February, but soon ran into problems. The 371st, on the right, almost immediately ran into a minefield and was stopped. The 370th, on their left, was thus vulnerable to a flank attack. The battalion continued to advance, and by the late afternoon had reached its initial objectives. However the Germans then counterattacked, forcing the leading troops back, They ran into troops from the next wave of the attack, causing confusion.
A second attack, using the 3rd Battalion, 366th Infantry, managed to cross the Cinquale Canal, but they then came within range of the Italian naval guns at Punta Bianca and were forced to retreat.
The operation was cancelled on 11 February. The 92nd had suffered 706 casualties during the short offensive (47 officers and 659 men), and in return had taken 145 prisoners. The division was then completely reorganised before its next attack, the more successful Operation Second Wind (5-19 April 1945).