The Winter Line Stories

Real-life accounts of the unheralded heros of the Italian Campaign of WWII

Italian Front Winterline Stories Map

In February, 1943, at age 37, Captain Ralph R. Hotchkiss left his fledgling career as a financial writer in New York City and joined other soldiers on a high seas journey to serve America in World War II. He left behind his wife and three young sons, to serve as a correspondent and Intelligence liaison officer. The freshly minted soldier had no idea what would transpire over the next couple of years. Considered old for Army service, he was commissioned as an officer despite never completing a single high school class. Fascinating life and reporting experiences would ensue.

The Captain, my Grandfather, was assigned to the 5th Army under General Mark Clark in Northern Africa. Before eating his second bite of Tunisian Couscous, Captain Hotchkiss was just another dog tag in the thousands destined for the beaches of Salerno, Italy in OPERATION AVALANCHE - the onset of the Allied mission to advance from the south of Italy northward towards Rome. The objective was to liberate the oppressed citizens from Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime and the occupying Nazi German Army.

On July 25, 1943, yielding to the mounting pressure of growing Allied strength and the beleaguered Italian resistance, Mussolini resigned, leaving the defense of the realm to the Nazis. The AVALANCHE order came swiftly. The German resistance faced during the landing at Salerno was a portent of the things to come. The overwhelming task of moving the Allied forces from the landing in the south, over muddy roads – either bounded by mountains or flooded with swollen rivers – and through mine littered olive groves proved to be a much more arduous task than had been envisioned. From breeching the Volturno Line, an amphibious landing at Anzio Beachhead and taking the high and holy ground of Monte Cassino, terrible battles were fought; casualties were high. All this effort just to reach the German main defenses: The Winter Line – a line that had to be breached to gain access to the Eternal City that is Rome.

This was the setting for Grandfather’s stories. Stories he wrote were about everyday folks doing extraordinary things that were as important to the outcome of the war as any more recognized feats of military genius or human bravery. Terms like Battle of the Bulge, Normandy Invasion and Auschwitz are well-known to even the casual observer. The names of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, General George Patton or Adolf Hitler are equally famous or infamous in their respective ways. Grandfather wrote about the unheralded, the little known, and the rarely credited. Whether partially due to censorship rules or perhaps his own beliefs, the stories are mostly anecdotal and uplifting. I cannot answer which was more influential to his words, the Army bowdlerizes or his conscience. This book is about Grandfather’s account of history as told from his stowed away foot locker containing a stack of material, full of his stories typewritten on tissue thin paper, army records and grainy black and white photographs. A fifteen-month chronicle of reality as it happened in the midst of the Italian Campaign of World War II - the bloodiest conflict in the history of humankind with an estimated death toll of near 70 million people.

~Michael Hotchkiss - June, 2016

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