The “Forgotten Front” Of World War II - And Response

  • Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Veteran’s Day is an opportunity for us all to honor those who have served us and our country in the uniformed services. And, perhaps, it’s a day to reflect on those whose service may have been forgotten or overlooked.

For example, D-Day. Ask the average person what that means, and they’ll mention Normandy. But did you know the men on the Southern Front of the European Theater of Operations had five D-Days? All were amphibious landings on the shores of French Morocco; Sicily; Salerno, Italy; Anzio, Italy; and Southern France.

When I ask people to name the first European capital liberated by the Allies, the most common answer is, “Paris.” That occurred in August 1944, almost 12 weeks after the Southern soldiers liberated Rome June 4-5, 1944. Unfortunately, news about Rome’s emancipation was buried by the Normandy invasion on June 6. From that moment on, the Southern Front became, in essence, the “Forgotten Front.”

Another case in point: many have heard of the Northern Army’s horrific Battle of Hürtgen Forest throughout the fall and winter of 1944, but few remember the arguably more gruesome and arduous battles fought in the Vosges Mountains at the same time. In three months of ferocious fighting in severe conditions, the Southern Front G.I.s accomplished what no army in the history of warfare had ever done before—conquer an enemy defending the Vosges Mountains—and in one of the worst winters in European history no less!

Most know about the Northern Front’s monumental Battle of the Bulge, but almost no one remembers the fierce and potentially more disastrous Battle of the Colmar Pocket and its decisive Battle at La Maison Rouge—waged in some of the worst winter wartime conditions ever recorded. Historian Stephen Ambrose wrote, “It was fought in conditions so terrible that they can only be marveled at, not really imagined.” He added, “Only those who were there can know. More than once in interviewing veterans of the January fighting, when I ask them to describe the cold, men involuntarily shivered.”

The Northern Front doughboys fought 336 days (June 6 to May 8) while on the Southern Front the 3rd Infantry Division slogged a long, bloody 913 consecutive days (531 combat days) to reach V-E Day in Salzburg, Austria, and was the only American Division that fought the Nazis on fronts in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) and Europe (Sicily, Italy, France, Germany, Austria). The 3rd had more casualties than any other division during the entire war—nearly 35,000, more than twice the original strength of the division. They hold the record for high combat citations, with no fewer than 29 Medals of Honor. When German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring was asked, “What was the best American division faced by troops under your command?”, without hesitation, he placed the 3rd at the top.

Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., who commanded the Southern Front, said, “Officers and men under my command established records that were not equaled by others in this war and have not been excelled in any other to my knowledge. In large measure, these magnificent accomplishments … passed without full recognition”—and have been forgotten for almost 80 years.

The front-line men and their brothers-in-combat faced and conquered fear, heartbreak, dread, chaos, stench, casualties, wounds, and unimaginable opposition. Many times, they faced battles they feared would end in inevitable defeat or certain death. They sacrificed the daily comforts most consider essential. Those that returned to the home front savored each new day, each breath, in a new way. They knew their many friends in battle who had left their all on the altar of war—who had sacrificed their tomorrows—had allowed them and us to live—truly live—for all their and our todays.

All our military men and women deserve to be remembered and honored on Veteran’s Day—especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But it’s long overdue to have a special shout-out for those who suffered and sacrificed on the Southern Front. Almost all are gone now—have graduated to eternal glory—but as General Truscott said, “We cannot look back to them if we do not look forward to the future for which they fought—and died.” So, as we celebrate our continued liberty and freedom on this Veteran’s Day, my hope and prayer are that the heroes who fought and died on the Southern Front will be forgotten no longer.

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Walt Larimore, a Colorado-based physician, and best-selling author spent significant parts of the last 16 years studying the “Forgotten Front” of Northern African and Southern Europe in World War II while researching his book, At First Light: A True World War II Story of a Hero, His Bravery, and an Amazing Horse. The book was released by Knox Press in April.

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Walt Larimore,

Thank you for your article on the Southern Front of WWII and I salute all of those warriors of ours who slogged through such inhospitable terrain in such a brutal fight that was the southern front of the European Theater of Operations.  I do have two comments though:

1.  The 3rd Infantry Division was not... "the only American Division that fought the Nazi's on fronts in North Africa and Europe":  among others were the 1st "Big Red One" Infantry Division, 9th "Old Reliables" Infantry Division, 1st "Old Ironsides" Armored Division, 2nd "Hell on Wheels" Armored Division, and the 34th "Red Bull" Infantry Division (I grew up listening to the personal stories of one of these old soldiers) that I know of.  Maybe that paragraph was intended to be read another way or something clarifying was omitted.  That's not to take away from the 3rd Infantry Division, they certainly earned their storied reputation.

2.  The most forgotten warriors of WWII in my mind, were the dog faced Army soldiers who fought in the Pacific in the shadows of the U.S. Marines who received all of the attention and glory.  The USMC ultimately formed and committed six Marine Divisions to combat in the Pacific.  The U.S. Army committed 22 Divisions along with most of the combat support and combat service support units to both the Army and Marines alike.  Yet most Americans only think of the Marines when they think of the War in the Pacific.  I recommend John C. McManus' comprehensive works of the U.S. Army in the Pacific for further reading on these equally gallant warriors.  

John Moore

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