[Railway reconstruction Italy 1943-1946 published by Royal Engineers, 1946]

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Chapter II

Section II.
Railway construction in relation to the campaign as a whole

5. - The Winter Campaign, 1944/45.

The tactical plan after the Arno had been reached, and Florence liberated, called for a switch of the whole of Eighth Army back to the East Coast, with the intention of breaking the Gothic line at its weakest point, near the coast at Rimini. Meanwhile 5th Army were to make a frontal attack on Bologna. The Ports of Leghorn and Ancona were in full use as bases for the 5th and 8th Armies. At the same time, the American construction strength of 5 Companies was reduced to two companies, the remaining three having been moved to Southern France. The centre of gravity of railway construction thus swung once more to the East Coast.

1 Group reinforced with units from 1212 Group moved in ahead of the South African Group on Line 86 to follow up the 8th Army towards Bologna. 1212 Group weakened in strength remained in the Arezzo area, carrying out strengthening of temporary structures on the Orte-Arezzo line, and making reconnaissances of railways in the Florence area. The two remaining American Companies carried on repairing Line 50, from Leghorn to Pisa.

The Eighth Army advance was much slower than had been anticipated, however, and it was soon obvious that more construction strength had been deployed in the East than was necessary to keep up with the advance, and open the line through Rimini to Bologna. Meantime, however, severe rainfall caused washouts to repaired structures in Lines 90 and 50, and American and South African units had to be withdrawn from the forward areas to cary out new repairs.

On 6th October, an important meeting took place between C.A.O., D.Q.M.G. (Mov) A.A.I., and D.M.R.S., to discuss the policy of railway reconstruction for the winter. By that time, hopes of the war ending before winter, previously high, had disappeared, and the C.A.O., started that a rail outlet to the port of Leghorn was imperative to meet the needs of the Armies in the Spring Campaign, and that a rail connection between Leghorn and Bologna must be pushed through at all costs. All the resources of A.F.H.Q., would be at our disposal, as the job would be given the highest priority.

This link meant the crossing of the Appennines by one of three railways, the Bologna-Pistoia, Bologna-Prato or Faenza-Florence lines. All of these lines are heavily engineered - as heavily as any others in Italy, and they all lay right through the Gothic line. The demolitions in the stretches then in our hands were complete, as were the lines connecting Leghorn to Florence. The work had to be started before any knowledge could be obtained of the state of the line in enemy hands. But it was obvious that without a connection to Bologna, the whole rail system of Italy was crippled. Decisions were taken as follows:
i) To repair Line 65, Prato to Bologna. The demolitions were extreme and included 17 tunnels and 17 large bridges in the section in our hands alone. But the line was double - a great assistance in tunnel repair, gradients and curves were much less severe than in the alternatives - thus increasing the possibility of deviations, and in any case, providing a better railway.
ii) To repair Line 218 (Leghorn-Pisa-Pistoia-Prato-Florence). This gave the shortest connection to Line 65 at Prato, and would provide as a short term dividend, useful railheads serving important roads at Pistoia and Prato. Florence required rail service, to support the civilian population and garrison troops.

Work started in October, 1212 Group taking over the task of repairing Pisa to Florence, and the South African Group, Prato to Bologna. Nº. 1 Group remained on the East coast repairing Line 86 behind the 8th Army. By 14 October, they had opened Rimini as a railhead. Nº. 4 (Indian) Railway Construction & Maintenance Group arrived in Italy in September and took over from the South African Group the completion of base development in Ancona, and maintenance of Line 87 and Line 86 behind Nº. 1 Group. To complete the winter reconstruction programme, military priority was given to the reconstruction of the Ancona-Ortona section of Line 86. This was to be done by State Railway Contractors under Military (A.C.) control.

Work proceeded on these lines throughout the winter at the highest pressure. A.F.H.Q., allotted to the Leghorn-Bologna project the services of five Artisan Works Companies, R.E., one M.E. Platoon, R.E., and eighteen Pioneer Companies. 180 Nº. 3-ton lorries and 24 tank transporters were provided for material haulage, and additional plant consisting of 16 Bull-Dozers, 16 cranes and shovels and 40 dumpers were allotted from R.E., and U.S., sources. The bulk of these resources were used on the Prato-Bologna section. Throughout the winter, the total number of troops employed on Railway construction in Italy stayed at the record number of 12,600. This included British, South Africans, Americans, Indians and Italian Railway Construction Units, British R.E. Units, and British, Indian and Italian Pioneer Units, and excluded civilian labour. The maximun amount of R.A.S.C. transport used at any time was 300 lorries and 40 tank transporters.

Pisa was opened to traffic by the American Units on 8 November and Montecatini by 1212 Group on 7 January. At this point, a severe set back was experienced. Repeated attempts to open the Serravalle tunnel, between Montecatini and Prato, by clearance from above were being prevented by rock slides and continuous bad weather, and by the end of January it was still not possible to forecast with any degree of certainly, the opening of the through line to Florence from Pisa.

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[Railway reconstruction Italy 1943-1946 published by Royal Engineers, 1946]

Alessandro Tuzza