Amphibious and River Crossing attacks in Italy 1943-44

In a previous post, there is an extended discussion of how much the terrain was influencing the results. One reader asked about amphibious operations and river crossings.

Measuring Human Factors based on Casualty Effectiveness in Italy 1943-1944

Among the 141 Italian Campaign engagements there are three amphibious operations and 16 river crossing operations.

Amphibious Operations – Italian Campaign 1943-44:

…………………………………………..Average..Average

………………………………Percent…Percent…Attacker..Defender

…………………..Cases….Wins…….Advance..Losses…Losses

 UK attacking…3………..100……….100…………417………105

.

…………………………………Force….Exchange

…………………..Cases…….Ratio…..Ratio

UK attacking….3……………3.45…….3.98-to-1

 

River Crossings – Italian Campaign 1943-44:

…………………………………………..Average..Average

………………………………Percent…Percent…Attacker..Defender

…………………..Cases….Wins…….Advance..Losses…Losses

UK Attacking….8………..63…………67…………169……….154

US Attacking….6………..67…………67…………388……….112

….Less two ……………..100……….100………..122……….150

German………..2…………50……….100………..955……….507

.

…………………………………..Force….Exchange

…………………….Cases…….Ratio…..Ratio

UK Attacking……8…………..2.20…….1.10-to-1

U.S. Attacking….6…………..1.47…….3.47-to-1

….Less two…………………….1.63…….0.82-to-1

German…………..2…………..1.96…….1.88-to-1

 

The description of the headers is given in the previous post. The “Less two” row is less the two Rapido River engagements by the 36th Infantry Division on the 20th and 21st of January 1944. These were particularly bloody and lopsided engagements (exchange ratios of 12-to-1 and 48-to-1 respectively).

Again, this is a small number of cases, but does seem to show that the defender has an advantage when defending against amphibious assaults and river crossings.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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10 Comments

  1. Chris,

    Thanks. Of the two German river crossings, is one the Moletta river? Wasn’t that more of a knee deep stream? There are some photos suggesting that on the IWM website.

    One of the factors affecting force ratios for full-scale river crossings (assault boats, rafts, infantry and then vehicle bridges) would be the sheer scale of engineer and infantry manpower dedicated to the physical crossing itself, did the force ratio statistics take that into account?

    And, I suppose, the lack of initial close armoured support wouldn’t help the poor bloody infantry secure a foothold?

    Regards

    Tom

    • The two German river crossings are:

      1. #23711 Moletta River Defense, 7-9 February 1944, German 65th Infantry Division vs the U.S. 45th Infantry Division
      2. #23715 Moletta River II, 16-19 February 1944, German 65th Infantry Division vs the UK 56th Infantry Division.

      I am not personally familiar with either operation. They were both drawn from HERO Report #95 and #111.

    • Sorry Tom. I don’t know this engagement. The Moletta River engagements were done the 1980s, before I came to work there.

      I would be hesitant to put much stock in a picture from May 1944 to evaluate a creek/river in February 1944. These things can change depending on weather. Also the battle is fought over several kilometers…so hard to say without further examination. I do note from a quick internet search that someone (Frank de Planta on 10 September 2018) claims “The ground in front of them–the River Moletta, was a major obstacle to rapid movement.” See: https://www.italystarassociation.org.uk/history/the-forgotten-army-italy-1943-1945/

      It does not always take much a creek/river to halt movement. Look at my big Kursk book pages 221 and 229. Col. (Dr.) Sverdlov (he was at Battle of Kursk) was with us at that site, and he was adamant that you could not cross the creek/river without engineer support to at least break down the banks. Also page 241 is a picture of the Psel River at Prelestnoye. The Totenkopf SS Division was unable to cross this river for a day while it waited for bridges to be brought up.

      So I don’t know what the situation is without going back to the original units records, but I would hesitate to evaluate the engagement based upon a single photo in May 1944.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Oh, I agree. I just posted the link to the photo up to suggest that not all “river crossings” are equal (with apologies to George Orwell!).

    I’ve got some of the British war diaries for the ‘Moletta River II’ period and also some German sources. I’ll take a look and see if either comment on the engineer resources needed to get across the river at the time.

    Regards

    Tom

    • Oh, I agree. I just posted the link to the photo up to suggest that not all “river crossings” are equal (with apologies to George Orwell!).

      Definitely the case.

      I’ve got some of the British war diaries for the ‘Moletta River II’ period and also some German sources. I’ll take a look and see if either comment on the engineer resources needed to get across the river at the time.

      Would be interesting to know. Thanks. Your previous comments did lead me to go back and look at river crossing operations. As I do have a chapter on terrain in my follow-on book (More War by Numbers)…then it now ends up getting discussed there, thanks to you.

  3. On p.334 off the Irish Guards Regimental History there is a reference to ‘the ford across the Moletta’. This is for the period 21 – 25 Feb 44, so just after the ‘Moletta River II period’ and in the same general area (to the north-west of the Flyover). And in the Fifth (British) Division’s history, on page 230 there is a comment that the river ‘Moletta even at its mouth was not a formidable obstacle’. Indeed I’m not even sure that the engagement of 16-19 Feb should even count as a ‘river crossing’ as such as I’m not entirely certain that the German start line wasn’t already across the river. Someone with the divisional history of the 45th US Infantry Division might be able to answer that for definite.

  4. Doh, I knew I shouldn’t be so hasty.

    I just looked at the war diary for 9th Royal Fusiliers for Feb 44 (WO170/1391) and saw this entry for 15 Feb 44: “Bde plan was now for 9 R.F. to take over front on line of MOLETTO [sic] river from 815311 to 826317”. I’m not sure about the rest of the brigade though, so will keep looking.

    Tom

      • Hi, I absolutely agree and just when you think you’ve got it nailed along comes another source and causes you to review what you think you have already identified and take another look.
        Incidentally, just for an example of a real Italian winter river – I would suggest the river Garigliano and the 10 British Corps crossing in Jan 44. It is described in the regimental history of the KOYLI as having banks fifteen feet high and being a hundred yards wide. Meanwhile the same author describes the river on the British flank at Anzio (at exactly the same time) as the “little Moletta river”.

        Regards

        Tom

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