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The French Expeditionary Corps (French: Corps Expéditionnaire Français, CEF), also known as the French Expeditionary Corps in Italy (French: Corps Expéditionaire Français en Italie, CEFI), was an expeditionary force composed of Free French soldiers that fought in the Italian Campaign during World War II under the command of General Alphonse Juin.
The French Expeditionary Corps, composed of 112,000 soldiers by April 1944, including 60% Maghrebis (mostly Moroccans) and 40% French (mostly Pieds-Noirs), was put under the command of Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark and his U.S. Fifth Army. Its commander was Alphonse Juin, a great tactician, assisted by General Carpentier. The other leaders were mainly General Joseph de Goislard de Monsabert (3rd DIA), General François Sevez, General Guillaume, General Dody and General Brosset.
During the first battle of Monte Cassino in January 1944, the FEC, on the U.S. Fifth Army's right flank, took Monte Belvedere and Colle Abate but largely because of lack of reserves being made available, failed to take Monte Cifalco and were forced to halt. In the next two battles, much smaller affairs on a narrow front around Cassino town, the corps was not involved. For the fourth and final battle the Fifth Army's front had been compressed towards the coast to allow the British Eighth Army's XIII Corps and II Polish Corps to join the line. During this battle, which took place in May 1944, the Corps attacked into the inhospitable Aurunci Mountains which the Germans had considered impassable by modern infantry. The progress made by the corps and in particular the lightly loaded goumiers, capturing Monte Maio and pushing deep into the Aurunci, threatened the flanks of the German forces on their right in the Liri valley fighting against XIII Corps. The Germans were consequently forced to withdraw allowing XIII Corps to advance up the Liri valley and the Polish Corps on the right to occupy the hotly contested heights of Monte Cassino and the abbey on top of it.
Meantime, the French forces had crossed the Garigliano (River) and moved forward into the mountainous terrain lying south of the Liri River. It was not easy. As always, the German veterans reacted strongly and there was bitter fighting. The French surprised the enemy and quickly seized key terrain including Mounts Faito Cerasola and high ground near Castelforte. The 1st Motorized Division helped the 2nd Moroccan division take key Mount Girofano and then advanced rapidly north to S. Apollinare and S. Ambrogio. In spite of the stiffening enemy resistance, the 2nd Moroccan Division penetrated the Gustav Line in less than two day’s fighting. The next 48 hours on the French front were decisive. The knife-wielding Goumiers swarmed over the hills, particularly at night, and General Juin’s entire force showed an aggressiveness hour after hour that the Germans could not withstand. Cerasola, San Giogrio, Mt. D’Oro, Ausonia and Esperia were seized in one of the most brilliant and daring advances of the war in Italy, and by May 16 the French Expeditionary Corps had thrust forward some ten miles on their left flank to Mount Revole, with the remainder of their front slanting back somewhat to keep contact with the British 8th Army. For this performance, which was to be a key to the success of the entire drive on Rome, I shall always be a grateful admirer of General Juin and his magnificent FEC... The 8th Army’s delay made Juin’s task more difficult, because he was moving forward so rapidly that his right flank---adjacent to the British---constantly was exposed to counter-attacks.
The battle for the Gustav Line had been difficult for the FEC. It had been involved in violent combat in mountains. Then, while Clark entered Rome, the FEC attacked the east of the city securing the road to Siena and capturing it. After the campaign, the soldiers were withdrawn to Africa as they were a good experienced soldiers base for the Army B that had landed in southern France after Operation Dragoon.
In a letter to Marechal Juin, General Mark Clark, paid tribute to the Tirailleur units and Goumiers of the CEF :
For me, it has been a deep source of satisfaction to see how the vital part played by the French troops of the Fifth Army throughout our Italian campaign against the common enemy has been universally acknowledged. During these long months, I have had the real privilege of seeing for myself the evidence of the outstanding calibre of the French soldiers, heirs of the noblest traditions of the French Army. Nevertheless, not satisfied with this, you and all your people have added a new epic chapter to the history of France; you have gladdened the hearts of your compatriots, giving them comfort and hope as they languish under the heavy and humiliating yoke of a hated invader. The energy and utter disregard for danger consistently shown by all members of the C.E.F., along with the outstanding professional skills of the French army officer, have aroused admiration in your Allies and fear in the enemy. From the banks of the Garigliano where your first successes set the tone which was to characterize the whole offensive, then pushing on to Rome through the mountains, crossing the Tiber and pursuing the enemy relentlessly to Sienna and to the hills dominating the valley of the Arno, France’s soldiers have always accomplished everything that was possible and sometimes even that which was not...With my deepest gratitude for the tremendous contribution that you have made to our joint victories, my dear General
The casualties for the campaign were approximatively 6,500 killed in action, 2,000 missing and 23,000 wounded. Today the combatants of the C.E.F. rest in the French military cemeteries of Monte Mario (Rome) and Venafro.