A Walking Tour of Italy’s WWII Battlefields: Breaking the Gustav and Hitler Lines


Robert Irving Desourdis¹
¹Desourdis Collaboration, LLC, President and CEO, A Business-Development Consulting Company

Series: Europe: Past, Present and Future
Homeland Security and Safety
BISAC: HIS027100

Bernard Nolan was a member of the “Gentlemen from Hell,” the 487th Bomb Group, commanded for a time by Beirne Lay, who went on to write Twelve O’clock High, which became the famous film starring Gregory Peck. Barney was born on November 22, 1922 in Long Island City, New York and grew up before and after the Great Depression. Though not having high school or college degrees, he was long inspired to fly from the enthusiasm of early adventurers in the air like Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart, and was part of a generation of young airmen who longed to fly. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew on the nation’s manpower, and Barney studied to be selected as a recruit in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew 33 missions striking at Nazi targets in Western Europe.
His memoir tells of his early life at a time when you could go see Doris Day or Frank Sinatra perform live in New York. He describes the impacy of the Depression on his family, his having to find work and leave school, and make other sacrifices to one day fly for his country. We see the frustration — which he surmounted – of thinking himself a fighter pilot, but ending up a copilot in a four-engine bomber. Hitler’s Luftwaffe would use radar, fighters, and flak to knock them from the skies, but they prevailed.
We hear about his death-defying missions, see the bombs falling on European landscapes as they were then and as they are today, we watch with him as other planes go down in flames, we live though him being shot down himself, and experience it all through the eyes of a young man in the air. He was not a General or part of the ground echelon, and he is not recalling stories from a father or uncle in his memoir; he was in the aircraft massed by many hundreds to strike well-defended Nazi targets in the daylight. There are very few people left who did so, and Barney is one of them.
Perhaps the most important real-life lesson learned from this book is the influence of strong will and perseverance to achieve a dream, as Barney surely did. As a child in the Depression excited by the flying heroes of the age, it seemed there would be too many obstacles blocking that dream. We see how his desire to fly made him a pilot by taking advantage of the war and following his heroes into the air. Once a pilot, we see how he worked to keep flying in the Air Services even after he completed his 33 missions in the European Air War crucible, and kept himself in the air when peace came. In fact, this child of the Depression with a dream of flying would one day be, as he called himself, “Mr. Airplanes,” of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Finally, we see how he met and married the love of his life, and is still married after 75 years. A lot is written today about relationships, but Barney and Sunny Nolan were engaged after two weeks of courtship and are closer today than ever after all those years. That story in itself demonstrates Sunny’s as well as Barney’s character and commitment, their knowledge of themselves and what is important in their lives.



• Lt Col (Retd) Frank de Planta de Wildenberg
• Robert Irving Desourdis
• Michael Kelly
• Giovanni Lisciotto
Editor’s Note
Part I Preface
• Why This Book
•  Frank de Planta de Wildenberg
•  A History Tour “Fanatic”
•  Guided tour of Pompeii
The Italian Campaign: Part I – Salerno to San Pietro Infine
•  The High Ground in Italy
•  Before the Invasion
Giovanni Lisciotto’s Story
•  The Family and Its Business
•  War Declared
• German Occupation
• The Bombings
•  Allied Occupation
Chapter 1 The Landing at Salerno
• Overview from Arechi Castle
•  Allied Invasion Planning and German Defenses
(1) Rome and Terracina
(2) Gulfs of St Euphemia & Gioia
(3) Salerno
Lack of Lift
Who’s in Charge
•  Clark, not Patton
•  Marshall
•  Walker and McCreery
Too Far Out
Seven Bells
The Landing Plan
Paestum: Texas Invades Italy
•  Piegolelle: A Legend of Salerno
•  Texas on the Beaches at Paestum
•  Paestum Remembers
Chapter 2 Taking the Salerno Plain
•  Capaccio
•  Altavilla 69
•  The Burned Bridge
•  Tobacco Factory
Chapter 3 San Pietro Infine
•  The Road to Rome
•  The 36th Texas at San Pietro Infine
•  Foreseeing Tragedy: The Rapido Crossing
Part II Preface
•  The Little I Knew
•  The Ground
Chapter 4 The Four Battles for the Gustav Line
•  The First Battle
•  Security, Surprise, Simplicity, Concentration of Force, Maintenance of Momentum
•  The Rapido – Another Suicide Creek
•  36 US Infantry Division Memorial from the First Battle
•  Monte Cassino
The Second Battle
•  The Atina Alternative – Ignored
•  The Monastery at Monte Cassino
•  Bomb, or not to Bomb
•  The Giant Pincer Movement
•  The Monastery
The Third Battle
•  View from Above Caira
•  The Cavendish Road
•  The Third Battle’s Diversionary Attack on Snakeshead Ridge
•  The Doctor’s House
•  The Vital Ground of 593
The Fourth Battle
•  The Cunning Plan
•  The Battle Starts
•  The Amazon Crossing
Chapter 5 The Hitler Line
•  Piedimonte San Germano
•  Canada at the Hitler Line
• The Ground
•  The Plan
• The Wheat Field
•  Killing Areas
•  Sacrifice for Victory
•  Mines
Chapter 6 The Monte Cassino Cemeteries
•  Cassino British Cemetery
•  Commonwealth Cemeteries
•  Precedence
The Polish Cemetery
•  Little Known Fifth Battle for Monte Cassino
•  Polish Sacrifice
•  Polish Plight
•  Buzuluk 94
•  Emigration
German Cemetery at Cassino
Part III Preface
•  … and It Would Get Worse
•  Vineyards and Grandfather
•  The Nettuno Cemetery Talk
Chapter 7 Landing at Anzio and Nettune
Nettuno Cemetery talk
•  The Terrain
•  Why Anzio?
•  The Invasion
Anzio Landing Logistics
•  Lucas and Darby
Chapter 8 The Anzio-Albano Road
•  Final Defense Line
•  Aprilia
The British Breakout
•  Smelly Farm
•  Point 105
Chapter 9 Cisterna and the Pantano Ditch
The Plan
The Ditch
The Attack Goes In
•  Conca-Cisterna Road
•  Ranger Style
•  Special Units
•  Fort Smith, Arkansas
•  Isola Bella
Defense to the End
Chapter 10 Pincer the Lozenge
•  Buonriposo Ridge
•  The Gully
•  The Flyover
•  The Caves
Chapter 11 The Lobster Claws
•  The Misery of the Wadis
•  Surviving the Hell
Chapter 12 The Allies Break Out 240
The Options
•  TURTLE 242
The View from Cori
The Velletri Gap
Chapter 13 Allied Victory in Italy
•  Passing the Caesar Line
•  The Eternal City
Chapter 14 Summary of the Italian Campaign: The Nettuno Cemetery Wall Maps
•  Sicily and Foggia
•  Salerno
•  Breaching the Gustav Line
•  Anzio-Nettuno Landings
Alban Hills
Chapter 15 The Nettuno and Anzio Cemeteries
•  The Rome-Sicily American Cemetery at Nettuno
•  British Beach Head CWGC Cemetery
•  Military Tribalism
Addendum: The Pompeii Tour
•  Reading List for Regiments & Corps involved in the Italian Campaign (alphabetical order
•  Reading List for generalist books on the Italian Campaign

Additional information