88th Infantry Division – (H-2/350) – Monterumici – Italy – April 1945

0
272

Operations of How Company, 2nd Battalion, 350th Infantry Regiment, 88th Infantry Division in Monterumici, vicinity of Bologna, Italy, during the Po Valley Campaign, April 15 to April 18 1945. Personal Experience of a Company Commander, Captain Earl E. Danley

Introduction

This report covers the operations of How Co, 350-IR, 88-ID (Gen Paul W. Kendall), in the capture of Monterumici and the breakthrough of the German Lines at the start of the Po Valley offensive in April 1945. To bring the reader up to date a summary of the major events leading to this action will be given as follows. During the previous ten months the Allied Forces, composed of the British 8-A and the US 5-A, had fought their way up the Italian peninsula from the battlefields of Monte Cassino and Anzio, through Rome and Florence to within ten miles of Bologna.

There, in November 1944, the offensive ground to a halt. The stubborn German resistance had stopped the Allied drive just short of the Po Valley. The enemy had managed to hold a very strong position in the edge of the mountains, thus forcing the Allied Armies to stay all winter in the high Apennines with exposed positions and long and hazardous supply routes. Throughout the winter months both sides dug in and re-enforced their positions. The Allied divisions were re-grouped and re-trained; new divisions were brought in and supplies built up for the coming offensive in the spring. The mission of the Allied Armies in Italy was to contain the enemy forces, consisting of some twenty-five first rate German Divisions and five Italian Fascist Divisions, thus preventing the use of these units on the Eastern and Western fronts. Also, the Allies had to prepare for the final task of destroying these enemy units to prevent their withdrawal to the Alps and the prepared defenses of Hitler’s Bavarian Redout region where the struggle would be prolonged.


General Situation

In the spring of 1945, the US 5-A and the UK 8-A still faced the enemy in about the same general positions across the northern edge of the Apennines. Some improvement was made in the 5-A sector when the newly arrived US 10-MD (Mountaineers) made a limited objective attack in February to clear Monte Belvedere along Highway 64. The 5-A, commanded by Gen Lucian K. Truscott, was spread over ninety miles of front, extending from Massa on the Ligurian Sea to Monte Grando, East of Highway 65.

The UK 8-A (Gen Richard McCreery) tied in with the US 5-A (Gen Mark W. Clark) at Monte Grando and extended East to Lake Commancchio and the Adriatic Sea. The Allied Divisions were in good condition; the troops had rested and re-trained for over four months. Supplies were piling up in rear of the defense line. The Air Corps, with almost complete air superiority, continued to block the enemy’s communication lines from Bologna to the Brenner Pass.

The Enemy forces, although badly battered in the fall campaign, were still intact and fairly well situated behind their prepared defenses of the Genghis Kahn Line. The enemy had made good use of the winter months to improve his positions, replace and re-train his depleted divisions. He had carefully conserved supplies all through the winter. Ammunition, especially artillery, was used only when absolutely necessary.

Troops were moved by foot and maximum use was made of horses and oxen to conserve the critically short supply of gasoline. The Germans used the rich agricultural and industrial region of the Po Valley to make their forces vitally self-sustaining.

The main enemy defense, the Genghis Kahn Line ran from Vergatto, west of Highway 64, to Monte Grande. It was anchored in the center on Monte Sole, Monterumici, and Monte Adone blocking Highways 64 and 65, the two main approaches to Bologna. This line was made up of mutually supporting strong points consisting chiefly of fortified stone farmhouses, concrete pillboxes, and special cave positions. Typical German use was made of machine guns and mines to block all avenues of approach to his positions. He massed hundreds of mortars to assist the infantry strong points. Additional defense lines were prepared in depth behind the Po and Adige Rivers.

The British 8-A participated in the Italian Campaign which began with the invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky). When the Allies subsequently invaded Italy, elements of the 8-A landed in the ‘toe’ of Italy (Operation Baytown) and at Taranto (Operation Slapstick). After linking its left flank with the Gen Mark W.Clark’s 5-A, which had landed at Salerno, the 8-A continued fighting its way up Italy on the eastern flank of the Allied forces. Together these two armies made up the Allied Armies in Italy (later redesigned 15th Army Group, under Gen Sir Harold Alexander.

At the end of 1943, Gen Montgomery was transferred to Britain to begin preparations for Operation Overlord. Command of the 8-A was given to Gen Oliver Leese, previously the commander of XXX Corps, which was being returned to England. Following three unsuccessful attempts in early 1944 by the US 5-A to break through the German defensive positions (Winter Line), the 8-A was covertly switched from the Adriatic coast in April 1944 to concentrate all forces, except the V Corps, on the western side of the Apennine Mountains alongside the US 5-A in order to mount a major offensive. This fourth Battle of Monte Cassino was successful with the 8-A breaking into central Italy and the 5-A entering Rome in early June.

After the capture of Rome the 8-A continued the fight northwards through central Italy to capture Florence. The end of the summer campaign found Allied forces butting up against the Gothic Line. The 8-A returned to the Adriatic coast and succeeded in forcing the Gothic line defences, but ultimately the Allied forces could not break into the Po valley before the onset of winter forced an end to serious offensive operations. During October, Leese was reassigned to South East Asia Command, and Gen Sir Richard L. McCreery, who had previously commanded X Corps, replaced him.

The final offensive in Italy saw the 8-A back in action. Working in conjunction with the US 5-A, now commanded by Gen Lucian K. Truscott, on its left flank, it cut off and destroyed, (during April), large parts of the opposing Armeegruppe C defending Bologna and then made a rapid advance through northeast Italy and into Austria. Problems occurred where British and Yugoslavian forces met. Josip Broz Tito’s forces were intent on securing control of the area of Venezia Giulia. They arrived before British forces, and were very active in trying to prevent the establishment of military government in the manner that had applied to most of the rest of Italy. They even went as far as to restrict supplies through to the British zone of occupation in Austria and tried to take over part of that country as well. On May 2 1945, the 2nd New Zealand Division liberated Trieste, and that same day, the Yugoslav Fourth Army, together with Slovene 9th Corpus NOV entered the town. During the fighting on the Italian Front the Eighth Army had, from 3 September 1943 until 2 May 1945, suffered 123,254 casualties.

The US 5-A was the principal formation of the US Army in the Mediterranean Teather during World War II, and was the first US field army ever to be activated outside of the United States. Officially activated on January 5 1943 at Oujda, French Morocco and made responsible for the defence of Algeria and Morocco. It was also given the responsibility for planning the American part of the invasion of mainland Italy, and therefore was not involved in the Allied invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky), where it was instead assigned the role of training combat troops destined for Sicily.

The 5-A was initially commanded by Gen Mark Wayne Clark, who would lead the 5-A for nearly two years, and was to experience some of the toughest fighting of World War II, where it was engaged on the Italian Front, which was, in many ways, often more reminiscent of the trench warfare of the Western Front in World War I. Writing to Gen Jacob L. Devers (American deputy to FM Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, Mediterranean Theater commander) in late March 1944, Clark explained the difficulties of the fighting in Italy so far, which could be said of the whole campaign. They were, he claimed, ‘terrain, weather, carefully prepared defensive positions in the mountains, determined and well-trained enemy troops, grossly inadequate means at our disposal while on the offensive, with approximately equal forces to the defender.”

The 5-A first saw action during the Salerno landings (Operation Avalanche) in September 1943. Due to the low numbers of American troops available in the Mediterranean Theater it was made up of one American and one British corps; the US VI Corps (Gen Ernest J. Dawley) and the UK X Corps, under Gen Richard L. McCreery. At Salerno, VI Corps landed on the right flank, the X Corps on the left flank. Progresses was slow. However, heavy naval and air bombardment, along with a parachute drop by elements of the US 82-Abn, had saved the forces from being driven back into the sea. Combined with the approach of the UK 8-A under Gen Montgomery whose 8-A had landed further south (Operation Baytown) six days before Operation Avalanche, the German 10.Armee began to retreat. On September 20, by which time the US 5-A and the UK 8-A had linked up, Gen Dawley was relieved of his command by Clark. Later, Gen John P. Lucas, assumed command of the VI Corps.

Progress was then good for a couple of weeks and the US 5-A crossed the Barbara Line and the Volturno Line until the Germans turned, stood and fought. They had established a position on the Winter Line (also known as the Gustav Line), which included the defensive positions at San Pietro Infine in the Liri Valley and at Monte Cassino. By this point, 5-A had been reinforced by a US II Corps (General Geoffrey Keyes). By the end of November Clark’s 5-A had almost doubled in size, with the addition of Gen Alphonse Juin’s French Expeditionary Corps, 130,247 men to 243,827.

The VI Corps, with its experience of amphibious landings at Salerno, was chosen for the assault and withdrawn from the line, replaced by the Expeditionary Corps (FR). They made a second attempt to capture Monte Cassino in conjunction with the amphibious assault by VI Corps, which again failed. The VI Corps landed at Anzio, unopposed, on January 22 1944 (Operation Shingle), and suffered many of the same problems as had been seen at Salerno. A perceived lack of initiative on the part of the commander, Gen Lucas, combined with worries about the Germans catching VI Corps off balance if it advanced too far inland resulted in the beachhead being bottled up.

The Germans launched a series of attacks and counterattacks, with both sides sustaining heavy losses, and nearly breached the last beachhead defences before again being driven off by heavy naval and air support. The fault, however, was not due to Lucas’s incompetence; it was due instead to wishful thinking, faulty operational planning, and the German army’s ability to respond forcefully and aggressively. After the failure of Shingle, a large reorganisation took place. Previously the Apennines had been the rough dividing line between 5-A and 8-A. However, the dividing line was shifted westwards, to allow the concentration of both armies on the western side of Italy for maximum firepower to break through to Rome. The British V Corps was left on the Adriatic coast to pin down any German units there. 5-A was relieved of responsibility for Cassino and the final phases of that battle saw Indian, New Zealand and finally Polish troops thrown against the fortress. The 5-A also lost McCreery’s British X Corps at this time, since it was felt that having exclusively American-organised units under the 5-A and British-organised units under 8-A would ease logistics.

At this point, one of the more controversial incidents in the history of the 5-A occurred. The strategic conception of Gen Sir Harold Alexander, commanding the Allied Armies in Italy (15-AG), was that the forces of the VI Corps, coming out of Anzio, would trap the retreating German forces, and leave them to be annihilated by the advancing 5-A and 8-A. However, in contravention of orders, Clark diverted units of VI Corps towards Rome, leaving a small blocking force to attempt to stop the Germans. It failed to do so, and the German forces were able to escape and reestablish a coherent line to the north of Rome. Clark claimed that there were significant German threats which necessitated the diversion, but many believe that he was primarily glory-seeking by being the first to liberate Rome.

Two days after Rome fell, June 4 1944, Operation Overlord was launched. The strategic conception of Overlord called for a supporting operation to be mounted by invading southern France. In order to do so, forces would have to be withdrawn from the Allied Armies in Italy. In the end, the VI Corps was withdrawn, forming the nucleus of the field forces of the US 7-A for the invasion of the French Riviera (Operation Dragoon). The FR Expeditionary Corps was also withdrawn, to allow its men to be used to for the FR 1-A, a follow-up formation for Dragoon. In slightly less than two months, the strength of the 5-A dropped from 248,989 down to 153,323. However, the 25,000-strong Brazilian Expeditionary Force, under Marshal J.B. Mascarenhas de Morais, as well as other divisions had arrived to align with the US IV Corps (which had arrived in June) under (Gen Willis D. Crittenberger), so two corps were maintained within 5-A.

In the second half of 1944, the Allied forces fighting on the Italian Front (US 5-A and UK 8-A) resembled more a multi-national force being constituted by : Americans (including segregated African & Japanese-Americans), British, French, members of French and British colonies (New Zealanders, Canadians, Indians, Gurkhas, Black Africans, Moroccans, Algerians, Jews and Arabs from the British Mandate in Palestine, South Africans, Rhodesians), as well as Brazilians and exiled forces from Poland, Greece, former Czechoslovakia and anti-fascist Italians.

The Germans reestablished their line across Italy at the level of Pisa and Rimini. The Allied forces spent another winter, after fierce fighting in the summer and autumn in front of the Gothic Line, frustrated at their lack of ability to break through. This time, the 5-A with British XIII Corps (Gen Sidney Kirkman) whose relationship with Clark was apparently very stormy, was straddling the Apennines, with many of its units occupying high, exposed positions which were miserable to garrison. That winter also saw a significant change of command. Gen Clark moved to command 15-AG and Gen Lucian K. Truscott was appointed to command the 5-A in his place. Truscott would command the Army from December 16 1944 until the war’s end. Another change came in January 1945 when XIII Corps reverted to control of the British 8-A, which had also seen many changes in composition and command (now under Gen Richard L. McCreery).

In the final offensive of the Italian campaign, launched in April 1945, against the German Armeegruppe C, the 8-A initiated the main offensive on the Adriatic coast, and then the 5-A also broke through the German defenses around Bologna. The German units, in the main, were pinned against the Po River and destroyed, or at the very least deprived of their transport and heavy weapons, which effectively made many of them useless. The II Corps units raced through Milan towards the French frontier and the great port of Genoa. The IV Corps pushed due north through Verona, Vicenza and as far as Bolzano and to the Brenner Pass, where they linked up with elements of the US 7-A (Gen Alexander Patch). Its role in Italy cost the 5-A. It suffered 109,642 casualties in 602 days of combat, of which 19,475 were killed in action. The 5-A headquarters returned to the USA in September 1945. Tjhe 5-A was deactivated on October 2 1945 at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts. (Wikipedia)

North Appenines Campaing 1944-1945 - 349th Infantry Regiment - 88th Infantry Division

On the left, King Co reached the peak of Monterumici, but was driven back, badly cut to pieces with the loss of twenty men killed.General Plan of Attack

The general plan of the 15-AG was to drive through the German lines just west of Bologna, breach the Po River line near Ostiglia, capture Verona, to bisect the Po Valley in half and to seal the route into the Brenner Pass to prevent the withdrawal of enemy units out of Italy. Phase I, the main effort, was to break the German defenses between Highways 64 and 65; to isolate Bologna leaving it to be captured later as the drive was pressed on to the Po River.

Prior to and in conjunction with Phase I, a diversionary attack was planned along the Ligurian Coast directed at La Spezia. The UK 8-A was to breach the Senio River and attack on the right of Highway 9 up the Po Valley to draw enemy reserves away from the center. The 5-A’s II Corps was to make the main effort after the IV Corps units had reached a line abreast of II Corps along Highway 64. The advance would generally follow the Reno River line, which offered the best approach to Bologna except for the key enemy defenses on Monte Sole, Monterumici, and Monte Adone. These points were the most heavily fortified of the entire German Line. The II Corps Plan was to attack these positions directly with the 6th South African Armored Division against Monte Sole, the 88th Infantry Division employed against Monterumici, and the 91st Infantry Division attacking Monte Adone. D Day was originally set for April 12 1945 but was later set back to April 14 to allow the Air Corps to take advantage of better weather to participate in the attack.

11th South African Armoured Brigade
– Prince Albert’s Guards
– Pretoria Regiment (Princess Alice’s Own)
– Special Service Battalion
12th South African Motor Brigade
– Royal Natal Carbineers
– First Capetown Highlanders
– Witwatersrand Rifles / De La Rey Regiment
13th South African Motor Brigade
– Natal Mounted Rifles, South African Air Force Regiment
– Royal Durban Light Infantry
– Imperial Light Horse / Kimberley Regiment
4th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles (Indian)
– South African Artillery
– 1st/6th South African Field Regiment
– 4th/22nd South African Field Regiment (Self-Propelled)
– 15th South African Field Regiment
– 7th/23rd South African Field Regiment Medium (5.5in)
– 1st/11th South African Anti-Tank Regiment
– 1st/12th South African Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment
– Z Survey Troop
– 42nd Air Observation Flight, South African Air Force
– 535th Searchlight Battery [1sec]
South African Engineers
– 5th South African Field Squadron
– 8th South African Field Squadron
– 12th South African Field Squadron
– 17th South African Field Park Squadron

An elaborate deception plan was started in March designed to conceal the actual point of attack and the true disposition of the 85-ID and the 88-ID. A false II Corps was created and moved into dummy CP’s in the 8-A sector. Visits were made to these CP’s by Army Commanders and other staff members. A simulated thinning out of the line in the II Corps sector was made by the removal of the 88-ID, which was sent blacked out to Pisa for specialized training in river crossings. All traffic in the II Corps sector was carefully restricted. New artillery units, moved into position, were not allowed to fire. A careful twenty day artillery firing schedule was set up with gradually increasing fire as D Day approached to mask the actual hour of the attack. A total of 328,000 rounds over the basic rate of fire was set aside for this program.

The 88th Infantry Division Plan of Attack

The 88-ID started moving up from Pisa on April 1 to take over its sector in front of the Monterumici. The 349-IR was to be employed on the left against the Furcoli – Monterumici ridge and the 350-IR on the right against the Monterumici – Monte Adone ridge. The division mission was to break through the Monterumici sector and capture Monte Mario where it would be pinched out by the 6th South Africans Armoured coming across from the left.

Monterumici was a formidable barrier rising 678 feet from the Setta Creek with high extending saddles to mutually supporting Monte Adone and Monte Sole. The ground gradually sloped toward the mountain from our positions along Highway 65 thus giving the enemy perfect observation of any activity within a range of over two miles. The only approaches to the mountain were heavily covered by enemy mine fields and fire. The German 296. and 297.Regiments of the 8. Gerbirgsjäger Division (Mountain Division) held Monterumici. This was one of the best enemy units in Italy.

The 350th Infantry Regiment Plan

The 350-IR moved from Pisa to a forward area near Pietramalo along Highway 65 on April 6 and started making plans for the attack. Detailed meetings with battalion and company commanders were held to discuss and complete the plan. The troops participated in special practice problems in night operations before their final entry into the front lines.

The 350-IR plan placed the 1/350 on the line on D-2 to relieve elements of the 362-IR (91-ID) and was to remain there as regimental reserve. The 3/350 was to attack from La Valle directly up the peak of Monterumici toward Di Sotto and Le Mandrie. The 2/350 was to attack on the right up the Fazzano Ridge to take San Lucia and Ca Di Mazza and to continue north to capture Onercia. Easy Co was attached to the 1/350 until H+30 to take over part of the front line positions. The 1st Platoon Charlie Co, 752d Tank Battalion and 1st Platoon, Charlie Co, 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion were to give general support from positions forward of Anconella and La Garda. The 338-FAB and 1st Platoon (4.2 mortars) Able Co, 10th Chemical Battalion were to fire in direct support of the Regiment.

3/350 priority of fires was for Baker Co, 313th Engineer Combat Battalion was to clear and prepare a road through the mine fields to assist the tanks and TDs to displace when the Monterumici ridge was cleared. Company Commanders of the attacking units were to make an aerial reconnaissance over their sectors in Artillery liaison aircraft prior to D Day. The regimental CP moved to Anconella on April 10 and a forward CP was set up La Valle. H Hour D Day was set for 2230, April 14 1945, but was later postponed twenty-four hours.

Battalion Plan of Attack

The 2/350’s plan was to attack in a column of companies, Fox Co leading followed by George Co. Fox Co was to move out under cover of a thirty-minute artillery preparation, cross Savena Creek and mark a path through the minefield with the aid of the A&P Plat (Ammunition & Pioneer Platoon) and then attack northwest along the trail to Fazzano. With Fazzano secure, Fox Co was to scale the cliff north of Fazzano while the enemy strong points of San Lucia and Ca Di Mazza were boxed off with machine gun and mortar fire from How Co. Fox Co would then cut the ridge trail and attack Ca Di Mazza from the rear in coordination with an attack on San Lucia by George Co launched from the direction of Fazzano.

Easy Co was to remain in reserve on the front line position and attached to the 1/350 until H+30. How Co was to start moving into firing positions along the front line on April 10 to complete a detailed fire plan before D Day. The battalion forward CP and aid station was to be located at Laghi. The line of departure was the trail near San Ansano. A battalion wire team was to follow Fox Co laying WD 110 wire for communication during the attack. Extreme care was to be exercised by all personnel on reconnaissance or working in the forward area to avoid disclosing to the enemy any indication of the preparations for the attack. All activity had to be restricted to nighttime because of the excellent observation maintained by the enemy over the entire area.

How Company Preparations

A reconnaissance party consisting of company commander, platoon leaders and Recon Sergeant left the battalion area and moved up Highway 65 in time to reach the forward area at first dark. Transportation was limited to two jeeps in keeping with the restricted traffic regulations. The party moved down the unimproved road from La Garda to Ca Bianca, where a check was made with the CO of the unit of the 362-IR in position, to coordinate movement in the forward area. The road from Ca Bianca to Laghi had not been traveled previously by vehicle and How Co’s Commander was warned that it probably contained old enemy mines left there through the winter.

Since it was of utmost importance that a forward company supply point be established near the gun positions, the vehicles were carefully moved down the road to a point where it crossed a ford in the creek just west of Laghi. The jeeps were left at this point to be unloaded while the company commander and recon sergeant continued on foot to the platoon CP at Laghi. Before he reached the CP the company commander was captured by a group of the jittery 91-ID men who had not received word of the arrival of any newcomers in the area. The company commander was taken to the CP with a BAR in his ribs and held under guard until word finally came down announcing his arrival.

Obtaining a guide from the line platoon, a thorough reconnaissance was made of all likely positions in the forward area. The company commander set off a flare as he stumbled through an unmarked mine area thus alerting all riflemen along the front line. This greatly slowed the reconnaissance, M-1 safety locks clicked at almost every move because the 91-ID men were still jittery from the activity of strangers in their area. The forward bluff, west of Laghi, proved to be a good position for the emplacement of the company weapons and was chosen because no other place forward of this was suitable to conceal mean in the daytime. The platoon leaders were shown their areas and were left there to carefully select gun positions the next day. They also had to mark a path through the brush and old mine area from their gun positions to the company supply point to facilitate movement at night. The company commander returned with the jeeps to the battalion area to work out the final fire plan.

The Fire Plan

The detailed fire plan was set up to initially cover the enemy outposts east of Fazzano with machine gun and mortar fire as Fox Co worked across the Savena Creek. From then on the fire would shift on call as Fox Co progressed up the trail toward Fazzano. The 1st Platoon of machine guns and 3rd Section of 81-MM mortars would lift and fire on the bluff above the trail. The 2d Platoon and the 1st and 2nd Sections of mortars were to shift up the trail sweeping a path in front of Fox Co. When Fazzano was taken the guns would lift to San Lucia and Ca Di Mazza.

When Fox Co scaled the cliff north of Fazzano, the 2d Platoon would shift its machine gun fire left of San Lucia and all mortar fire would go in rear of the ridge trail to give added safety for the riflemen. The 1st Platoon of machine guns and the 3d Section of mortars were to box the Ca Di Mazza area off during this action and they were to shift to the trail west of Monte Adone as to the attack on Ca Di Mazza developed. The 1st Platoon and 3d Section of mortars were to be ready to displace to positions near Fazzano to give continued close support of the attack. The 2d Section of mortars was to be ready at all times to deliver counter mortar fire on all close in probable enemy mortar positions.

On the nights of April 11 to April 12, the squad leaders and gunners moved up on four jeeps along with tools, guns, equipment, and ammunition. Heavy overloads on the vehicles were necessary to restrict the traffic. All equipment and ammunition was carried at night from the supply point to the gun positions. The remainder of the company moved into position on the nights of April 13 to April 14, along with an additional ammunition supply. A large amount of ammunition had to be placed on position because the battalion supply point was located at La Gorda and resupply during daylight was not possible. Each machine gun had forty boxes on position with an additional one hundred boxes in the company supply point. Each mortar had one hundred rounds on position with an additional six hundred rounds at the supply point.

The company commander returned to the front line positions on the night of April 12 to April 13 and inspected all gun positions. Platoon leaders were given the plan of attack and their fire plan. They were instructed to begin registration the following day, using extreme caution. One machine gun was to register from each section at widely dispersed intervals and at only one target. The remainder of the data was to be carefully sighted and measured with the mill scale and Clinometer (see photo). Aiming stakes and safety bars were to be placed out for night firing. All positions were to be improved and sandbagged. No alternate positions were selected because of the limited area. Covered exits were to be dug from all gun positions to facilitate resupply and control. A sound powered phone was to be placed with each gun section and tied in with the platoon leaders and the company CP located midway between the two machine and gun platoon positions.

From the company CP two heavy EE8 phone lines were to run to the battalion CP at Laghi. Three SCR 300 radios were employed, one to be at the company CP, one with the mortar platoon leader, and one with the company commander. These were not to be used unless the telephone system failed. Each mortar was to register on one of its primary targets with a minimum of two or three rounds. This registration was also to be conducted at long intervals of time so as not to attract the enemy’s attention. Six mules were stationed near the company supply point to aid in the forward displacement of the mortars. The company executive officer, Lt Frank Matte, was to carefully supervise all work, paying particular attention to the maintenance of secrecy. Over two hundred men would soon be in the area right under the enemy’s nose and no movement could be allowed in the daytime. The company commander returned to the forward battalion assembly area, which had moved to Anconella, to check on final plans.

The company commander checked the positions again on the night of the 13 and found that all preparations were nearly complete. Registration had been successful and had drawn no enemy fire. Remaining that night, the company commander checked final plans with the battalion commander, Lt Col Donald A. Yongue, and Fox Co’s CO, Capt Charbonnet. The mortar registration nearest Savena Creek was shown to Capt Charbonnet and he was confident that all fires were correct.

The rifle troops at Anconella were eating their last B rations; How Co men were already on a strict C ration diet. Morale was good but all men of the battalion had a certain feeling of reluctance about the coming attack, mainly because of the good news about the success on the western front. Everyone felt that the war was almost over and that this struggle in the Italian mountains would not add much to the cause. Continued explanation to the troops that all units must now make a final drive to shorten the war was necessary to overcome this feeling of reluctance. The battalion had suffered previous heavy losses in other similar operations of the long Italian campaign and the desire to close with the enemy was not as keen as it had been previously. The companies were almost up to strength, but a large percentage of the officers and men were new replacements, yet untried in the offensive. The battalion assembly area, near Pietramalo, was located near a temporary cemetery, which contained numerous graves of former members of the 350th Infantry. This seemed to serve as a solemn warning to veterans of the battalion who remembered their former buddies. (It was no help to morale!)

On the afternoon of April 15, 765 heavy bombers hit targets behind the enemy front lines, between Highways 64 and 65 to Bologna. 200 medium bombers attacked Praduro and 120 fighter-bombers hit targets on Monte Sole, Monterumici and Monte Adone. IV Corps on the left was attacking against heavy opposition and had gained some ground. II Corps was quietly awaiting H hour. At first dark, troops of Fox and George Cos moved down from Anconella and stopped along the road west of Laghi. The night of April 15 was partly cloudy and dull, a mist of smoke and dust hung low over the enemy positions, lending a fearful atmosphere for the men quietly awaiting the attack.

The Attack

At 2230, the sky erupted with a 75.000 round artillery, tank and heavy mortar preparation, directed at Monte Sole and Monterumici. How Co tied in with the preparation at 2245, firing slowly at first, checking fires under the light of Jerry flares. Fox Co worked across Savena Creek under cover of the barrage and breached the minefield, reaching the trail leading to Fazzano against little opposition.

As the barrage lifted, scattered machine pistol and rifle fire came from the enemy outposts near Fazzano. The heavy weapons shifted fire on call and Fox Co started up the trail. The enemy was alert and quickly directed a mortar barrage on the advancing riflemen, forcing them to move north toward the shelter of the cliff. The company became disorganized and considerable time was taken before a move could be started on Fazzano.

How Co machine guns continued to provide cover with a heavy volume of fire directed up the trail and on the bluff below Ca Di Mazza. Moving carefully along the cliff, Fox Co closed in and captured Fazzano at 0100 hours.

Reorganizing quickly, Fox Co moved toward Ca Di Mazza in two columns and under extreme difficulty, managed to get a few men up the cliff north of Fazzano. George Co was slow in moving up behind Fox Co and became disorganized in the attack on San Lucia. How Co continued on the fire plan but the enemy was extremely alert and active even under fire. The Germans again poured in mortar fire and Fox Co fell back behind the cliff. Two men were killed, eight wounded, and many others injured in falls down the cliff. Many others became lost, including the artillery forward observer and party. Capt Charbonnet, the company commander, was among the wounded.

At 0500, the attack stopped and Fox Co fell back to secure Fazzano. George Co retired to cover positions west of Laghi because of the crowded and exposed area around Fazzano. How Co continued to cover the enemy positions with a slow rate of fire. At daylight, Fox Co had not yet organized around Fazzano and How Co’s mortars were given the mission of smoking the ridge, which was effectively done until 0800, when Fox Co was well dug in.

At noon, April 16, the assistant division commander, Col J. C. Frye, arrived in the area and checked the situation from the CP, north of Laghi, with the battalion commander and George and How Co commanders. He instructed that an all out effort be made the following evening to capture San Lucia and Ca Di Mazza. The 3/350 on the left had reached a point 400 yards short of the peak of Monterumici, against strong enemy opposition. The 361/91-ID on the right was similarly stopped cold below Brento. Enemy reaction had been violent all along the line.



The 3d Section of Mortars was started first, guided by the section sergeant. They were followed closely by the 1st Machine Gun Platoon. As the men were crossing the Savena Creek a mortar barrage caught the tail end of the 1st Platoon, destroying one gun and killing one man and wounding four others. The 1st Platoon was placed in position northwest of Fazzano, but was unable to go into action because of the constant enemy mortar fire harassing the area. The mortar section had even more difficulty, they found many enemy shoe and trip mines in their area, which had to be cleared before the guns could be put into operation. The ammunition bearers were caught in a mortar, barrage as they returned across Savena Creek losing one man killed and six wounded. The mortar observer, Lt Carmody, joined Fox Co at 0400, with a sound powered phone connected to his section. By daylight the rifle companies were badly disorganized and intermingled, the attack had failed and the riflemen dug in hurriedly to hold the ground already gained.

On the left, King Co reached the peak of Monterumici, but was driven back, badly cut to pieces with the loss of twenty men killed. The 1/350 was committed to regain the peak, which was secured by Charlie Co at 0800 on the 17 against stubborn opposition. The 361-IR on the right was still stopped below Brento. Easy Co moved into covered positions west of Laghi to support the 2/350. On the afternoon of the 17 the assistant division commander again visited the 2/350’s Commander at Fazzano. Plans were made to commit all three companies to break through the German ridge positions.

How Co’s forward weapons secured data during daylight to support this attack. Early in the evening on the 17, some scattered machine gun fire from the 2d Platoon hit in Fox Co’s area. This was from the dispersion of some fire directed at the trail junction above Ca Di Mazza. The company commander ordered a replacement of gun barrels, but found that all available ones had been burned out. Replacement took considerable time and two of the guns were not ready for the night attack. Only light guns were available and these were not suitable for long-range overhead fire at night. In the late afternoon tank and tank destroyer direct fire was concentrated on the machine gun nests at San Lucia and Ca Di Mazza in an attempt to break up the enemy’s bands of fire. The direct fire looked good but was not accurate enough to destroy the enemy guns hidden deep in their fortified holes.

All during the attack, after the initial jump off, companies were making separate attacks to break into the enemy strong points. Coordination was lost and the enemy was able to shift his limited artillery and mortar fire to break up each attack. Love Co tried to gain the ridge west of San Lucia late in the afternoon of the 17. This attack was supported by fire of How and George Cos from the vicinity of Fazzano. One platoon of Love Co was caught crossing the open field below San Lucia and was mowed down by an enemy machine gun. The attack was abruptly halted.

At 2030, the 2/350’s attack again got underway with Easy Co leading up the cliff northwest of Fazzano. How Co’s fire was split, half directed at Ca Di Mazza and the remainder at San Lucia. The forward guns were held to engage observed machine gun locations. Easy Co managed to scale the cliff, losing sixteen men injured in falls, and moved directly on Ca Di Mazza. George Co advanced along the cliff toward San Lucia with Fox Co on the left in the open field. Easy Co made the most progress, but was driven back after reaching a point 300 yards from Ca Di Mazza. Reorganizing, Easy Co shifted directions and moved on the right of George Co toward the ridge trail.

The enemy reacted violently and swept the area with fire badly disorganizing the attack. How Co command group lost the radio operator and one messenger badly wounded by mortar fire. The instrument Corporal of the 1st Platoon was secured to replace the 300 radio operator. By 0800, on the 18, Easy Co reached the ridge trail and the enemy was found to be withdrawing. How Co Commander ordered an immediate displacement of all guns. The 1st Platoon was sent to positions near San Lucia to protect the left flank. The 2d Platoon displaced rapidly to Ca Di Mazza in time to aid Easy Co mop up some enemy soldiers at Onercia. The mortar platoon displaced by mule to positions behind the cliff northwest of Fazzano but did not get to fire. Easy Co pushed rapidly down the trail west of Monte Adone at 1000 and the 2d Plat displaced to a position above the trail junction to support this advance.

The enemy was withdrawing rapidly but many prisoners were captured as the battalion closed in. Moving in a column of companies, the battalion quickly cleared La Serra and advanced on Badolo. The enemy left numerous mines strewn along the road to slow the advance. The heavy weapons moved along in the battalion column without going into any more firing positions. The 3rd Platoon was forced to hand carry part of the distance because the mules had difficulty dodging the mines along the road. As Easy Co reached Badolo a sharp fire fight developed. The 2nd Platoon, following closely behind Easy Co moved rapidly up to give fire support. The platoon sergeant, T/Sgt Forbes, quickly placed a section of guns in position along the trail east of the village. He engaged in a duel with a Jerry machine gun located five hundred yards to the northeast. The accurate fire of our machine guns quickly cut the German gun crew to pieces with the loss of only one man wounded from the 2nd Platoon. The advance was halted as more enemy guns opened up from the hill to the east. Several riflemen were wounded and the Battalion S-3.

How Co Commander directed the heavy weapons into position fire from the battalion column. The mortars were emplaced off the trail fifty yards south of Badolo and started shelling the enemy positions. Plans were prepared to continue the attack later that night. At the end of the third day the 2/350 had made the greatest advance of the regiment and the other two battalions were shifted to push through Badolo toward the division objective, Monte Mario, which was eventually taken on the afternoon of April 19 by the 2/350. With the capture of Monterumici and Monte Mario, the German lines before Bologna were broken and the path was clear for a drive into the Po Valley.

For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Francorchamps 4970
Belgium
Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be





Thank You for your support !




(NB : Published for Good – March 2019)

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.