The defense line prepared along the Apennines was named by the Germans “Gothic Line” (Gotenstellung). During the Summer of 1944, when it was feared the Allied armies would easily breach it and fan out in the Po Valley after their advance North of Rome, the name was changed to “Green Line” (Grune Linie), so as not to compromise such an imposing denomination, but the first name survived in general parlance.
The tactics of retreating to organized lines of defense prepared along prominent terrain features up the Italian “boot” (such as the “Gustav Line” at Cassino) was successfully followed by the German Army throughout the Italian Campaign. The German command had started to study the idea of fortifying the Central Apennines already in August 1943, when the Allies were still fighting in Sicily. Work however started only during the Spring of 1944, under the direction of the Todt work organization.
The Gothic Line was not a continuous line of fortification, but rather a series of strong-points arranged in depth, exploiting the natural terrain features which favored the defender. Traversing the Italian mainland from the Tyrrhenian coast North of Viareggio to the Adriatic at Pesaro, the line extended for more than 300 km. It included thousands of field fortifications made of wood, rock or steel-girded concrete, and included long antitank ditches such as the one at Santa Lucia near the Futa Pass. Extended minefields and wire emplacements completed the picture.
Luckily for the Allies, construction work was still incomplete when the advancing armies approached the Central Apennines. Both coastlines, being more vulnerable, had received priority and were better defended.
Due to terrain features, the weakest points in the line were the Futa Pass and the Adriatic coast. These areas were therefore the most heavily defended. At the Futa Pass the Germans placed two of the five divisions defending the whole Apennines sector. Apart from the 5-km long antitank ditch, routes of attack were covered by concrete pillboxes and Panther tank turrets with 75 mm guns. The advance line of resistance was usually anchored on strong-points covered by extended wire and mine fields.
Because of the enemy disposition, the US command decided to attempt a breakthrough at the less defended Giogo Pass, feinting a covering attack in force against the Futa Pass by the 34th and 91st Ids. Allied operations along the Tyrrhenian coast (the sector of the IV Army Corps) took on a secondary role to those in the Central Apennines North of Florence till the final offensive in the Spring of 1945.
The order of attack against the Giogo pass envisaged a maneuver aimed at conquering the heights overlooking highway 6524 (nowadays SS 503) – the Monticelli hill mass to the West (91st ID sector) and Mount Altuzzo to the East (85th ID sector). Attacking units were supported by the entire Artillery complement of the II Corps. The attack was to be preceded by massive air strikes that would hit deep behind enemy lines and then shift to the front area.
Such big numbers notwithstanding (the US 5th Army at the time fielded ten combat divisions with a force of 262000 men), the decisive battles on the front lines were fought by units totaling less than a thousand men: a few rifle companies belonging to a few Infantry battalions. On the German side, this disproportion was even more marked. The 4th Parachute division alone, well below its full complement of troops and equipment, held a 20-kilometer front from the Futa Pass to Mount Pratone, with no available reserves. Among its men, only a few scattered veterans of the Cassino battles survived. Most were inexperienced replacements sent directly from Germany. Many had never fired their rifles.
The German Main Line of Resistance (MLR) on Monticelli included concrete-reinforced dugouts blasted into the rock and larger shelters dug deep into the ground. Forward positions along the ridge line were protected by wire fields 100-yd deep. The only natural approaches, two deep draws up the ridge, were heavily mined. On the reverse slope of Monticelli elaborate dugouts had been constructed by the Todt work organization. These had been dug straight back into the mountain to a distance of seventy-five feet and were large enough to accommodate twenty men. On a hill 300 yards north of Monticelli a huge dugout had been blasted out of solid rock. Shaped like a U and equipped with cooking and sleeping quarters, it was large enough to accommodate 50 men. The Outpost Line of resistance covered the highway at l’Omomorto.
On Mount Altuzzo, the German MLR developed along a trail at mid ridge covering the southern “bowl” of the mountain, anchored to the West on a crest which projected southward dominating the highway. To the East, the German defenses went up the ridge culminating at the top on hill 926, the highest point on Mount Altuzzo. The OPL covered approach routes along the western ridge and the main, eastern ridge line at hill 782.
The Todt Organization, which took its name from Fritz Todt, a German politician, was created by the Nazi regime in 1938 to build the Sigfried Line of fortifications along the French-German border. During WWII, the Todt organization widened its tasks, supporting the Whermacht both in building fortifications, field works, and repairing vehicles of all kinds. Its construction activities in occupied countries involved large-scale use of forced labor by the local population. During the spring of 1944, in Italy, the Todt Organization employed about 50000 Italian civilians alongside 10000 German engineers to fortify the coastlines, while 18000 more laborers and technicians worked at building the Gothic Line over the Central Apennines.
Like all other regions in Italy, Tuscany felt the effects of the war from its beginning in 1940. Soldiers died, were wounded or declared missing in action, Allied bombings soon took their toll on towns classified as industrial or communication centers. Rationing of food and other basic commodities became an everyday problem for all. When the battlefronts reached the region during the summer of 1944, monthly allowances for food were extremely limited – they included about 6 ounces of oil and fats, and 5 ounces of meat (bone included).
Farmers fared better than city dwellers who, with the collapse of communications found it ever more difficult to find foodstuff on the legal market, and had to resort to black market with its exorbitant prices. When the average hourly pay for a factory worker was about 3 liras, an oil fiasco might cost as much as 1100 liras, and 2 pounds sugar 180 liras. In June, 1944, scarcity of bread provoked widespread rioting.
Armed Partisan activity in Tuscany was short, compared to Northern Italy, since by the end of 1944 the region was liberated almost in its entirety. Nonetheless, almost 30000 partisans and patriots were actively engaged in the Tuscan Resistance movement in the year after September, 1943.
Tuscany was also the first time the Allies had to deal with a well-organized, cohesive Resistance movement. In Tuscany, Partisans started assuming a larger role in Allied military operations, significantly hindering German defensive capabilities, but also posing political problems to be dealt with by Allied authorities.
In June, 1944, the Tuscan Committee for National Liberation (CTLN), the political guide of the Resistance movement, declared its responsibility for administering liberated communities, and instructed partisan formations to assume control of liberated towns and cities before Allied occupation, to assure the empowerment of local CTLN governments. These instructions were carried out with a certain degree of success in several instances, the most relevant being that of Florence, where the CTLN took political control of the city. The Allies, which had ordered the disarmament of Partisan bands as soon as their troops had reached the Arno river line, had to rescind the order when the well organized and politically backed Partisans threatened to fight against any attempt at disarming their forces.