WHILE THE SOLDIERS of VI and 10 Corps were pushing doggedly from the beaches across the plain and up the slopes of surrounding hills, German reinforcements were gathering in the mountains to the east. Savage counterattacks were coming.
By 12 September elements of the 26th Panzer Division and the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, arriving from the south, had reinforced the 16th Panzer Division in the Battipaglia-Eboli area (Map No. 8, faces page 53). These forces entered the battle of Salerno against VI Corps. From the north the Hermann Goering Division with detachments of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division had also come to form another concentration in the Nocera district, facing 10 Corps. The 3d Panzer Grenadier Division had at least one battalion in the line on 14 September. Units from these divisions, organized in battle groups resembling our combat teams, were preparing to counterattack the Fifth Army.
The enemy divisions in the south had escaped the trap which the Fifth and Eighth Armies were trying to set. They had, in fact, arrived so quickly in the Salerno area that they might hope, with the divisions from the north, to turn on the Fifth Army and drive it into the sea before the Eighth Army could come up. The Eighth Army could be delayed by small rear-guard actions, destroyed bridges, and blocked roads, except on the broad plain of the east coast from Bari
past the Foggia airfields. Here, accordingly, the 1st Parachute Division was ordered to hold the British army as long as possible. Meanwhile, from the mountains, the rest of the German forces could throw all their might down upon our troops spread throughout the plain of Salerno. A force composed of units from six divisions, completely motorized, and with heavy strength in fire power and in armor, was poised to strike against our beachhead.
After preliminary attacks on the 12th against the VI Corps to regain Altavilla and Battipaglia, the main enemy strength was unleashed on the 13th in a drive through the 45th Division and down the Sele-Calore corridor. The following day the enemy attempted to push still farther south against the 45th Division and west against the 36th Division with the possible intention of uniting his forces south of the Sele for a drive on the beaches. By this time, however, our troops, established in a solid defensive line, hurled back every thrust. After the 13th, the tide of the German offensive ebbed away all along the VI Corps front.
The tactics employed by the enemy on these 3 days made full use of his advantage in position and in mobility. Tanks, followed by infantry carried in half-tracks, concentrated quickly at exposed parts of our line and made quick stabs. Whenever the positions reached did not offer opportunity for further exploitation, the enemy withdrew to original concentration areas, ready to strike in a few hours in another direction. If the position were important for future plans, the enemy immediately fortified it with a small group of infantry, strong in machine guns and mortars, and held it against all odds, even when bypassed by our counterthrusts.
Uncertainty at Altavilla
Such a position was the all-important hill mass at Altavilla, which the 1st Battalion, 142d Infantry, had occupied shortly after noon on the 11th. The Battalion Commander, Col. Barron, had disposed his companies in the best defensive positions possible; but the slopes were difficult to cover, and the battalion line was necessarily thin. The hill itself was a weak position as long as the unnumbered hill to the south remained unoccupied; yet there was not enough strength to hold both hills.
During the night of 11/12 September enemy units of the 2d Battalion, 15th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, began to infiltrate around Hill 424. At daybreak on the 12th our troops received fire from so many directions that the enemy seemed to be everywhere. Our artillery, lacking definite targets on Hill 424, fired concentrations on enemy troops and tanks between the Sele and Calore rivers. Enemy artillery was also active, and fired for 2½ hours on Hill 424, beginning at 1100. Communications were severed; no amount of work could keep the lines open.
At this time Company B, 142d Infantry, held the forward slope of the hill on the northwest side; Company A was disposed near the summit; and Company C was on the south slope facing the unnumbered hill across a ravine to the south. By 1300German infantry were enveloping Company B's line. Enemy machine-gun crews were working through a small olive grove to attack this company. Two of these crews came within range of Pvt. Clayton I. Tallman's rifle. Tallman leaped up on a rock wall to get better observation and coolly picked off three men of one crew, then repeated the performance a few minutes later against another crew. Pvt. Paul C. Gerlich went through heavy fire to destroy another machine gun and its crew with two grenades. The storm of bullets that swept over the hill left hardly a tree in the whole of Company B's zone unscarred.
The main enemy attack was apparently directed toward Company C's position. As the pressure on this company grew, Col. Barron ordered the other two rifle companies of the battalion to shift to its support. Company A, which was to pull back to support Company C on its right flank, was pinned by the enemy attack. From its position on the north slopes, Company B moved around through Altavilla, where it was hit by the enemy in the rear. Col. Barron went forward to direct the action in Company A's sector, but was lost en route.
The fight grew steadily more bitter; the enemy broke through and pushed down to Altavilla, cutting the battalion in two parts. The battalion executive officer, Maj. William B. Mobley, withdrew Company D and the Battalion Command Post at 1530; each of the rifle companies, surrounded and isolated, fought its own fight until dusk. Portions of various companies then collected and dug in for the night on a knoll a mile southwest of the summit of Hill 424. During the
hours of darkness small groups of men from the battalion drifted in throughout the regimental sector. The enemy had driven back the battalion with heavy losses and had regained Hill 424. The 1st Battalion had made a magnificent defense of a position which would have been tenable only if the unnumbered hill was under the control of VI Corps.
A greater force was needed to retake and hold Altavilla from the enemy. While the fight was still in progress, Col. Forsythe, Commander of the 142d Regimental Combat Team, had tried to get enough trucks to bring in another battalion to support the 1st Battalion. Everywhere in VI Corps, however, there was a critical shortage of transportation, and he was unable to bring in the needed reinforcements.
The Second Battle of the Tobacco Factory, 12 September
While the main German effort was being directed against Hill 424, our situation improved considerably in the Sele-Calore corridor. The enemy had driven the 179th Infantry from the river bluffs overlooking Ponte Sele and Highway 19 on 11 September, but his forces at Persano were exposed to attack by the 157th Infantry west of the Sele. During the night of 11/12 September, he withdrew from Persano. The German line now ran from Torre Palladino to the Tobacco Factory, then up the Sele to Ponte Sele, and across to the Calore 2,000 yards cast of the Altavilla crossing. The western part of the line was a series of outposts in front of the Eboli concentrations; the hills southwest of Serre formed a strong defensive position.
At daybreak on 12 September, the 45th Division prepared to establish contact with the 179th Infantry in the corridor and to strengthen its line east of the Sele. Company C, 753d Tank Battalion, carried out the first of these moves. At 0700 the tanks pushed up the corridor from the burned bridge, hugging the north bank of the Calore. An hour later they had gained contact with the 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry. The combined force then occupied Persano without opposition by 0900. The mine field east of Persano was cleared, and ambulances and the supply column were coming through at 1030. After contact had been regained, the main body of the 179th held its defensive positions in the corridor through the rest of the day.
THE TOBACCO FACTORY, five stone buildings on the road between Highway
Eboli, commands the roads and river crossings which give access to Highways 19 and 91,
principal enemy supply and escape routes in this area. From the 12th to the 18th of
September, German armored and infantry units holding the Factory blocked the advance
of the VI Corps left flank.
West of the Sele the situation likewise improved. The 3d Battalion, 36th Combat Engineers, came in on the left flank of the i57th Infantry at 0630 to relieve Company C in the area about Bivio Cioffi and to establish contact with 10 Corps by patrols. An enemy tank attack, supported by artillery, almost surrounded the position in the afternoon; but the engineers held their ground. Heavy machine-gun fire from Torre Palladino temporarily stopped when naval guns shelled the strongpoint.
Meanwhile Companies A and B, 157th Infantry, continued the attack on the Tobacco Factory. Patrols of Company A reached the blown bridge just east of the Factory, and some of the company forded the Sele River to its east bank. But the enemy still held the Factory, and the main body of infantry advanced slowly against 88-mm and machine-gun fire. Assault guns of the 191st Tank Battalion shelled the farm north of the Factory itself, while a company of tanks put 180 rounds into the Factory. After a fight of more than an hour and a half the enemy withdrew up the Eboli road. Company B held the Factory at 1130.
A German counterattack followed very quickly. At 1305 eight enemy tanks and a battalion of infantry attacked down the Eboli
road. Howitzers of the 158th Field Artillery Battalion stopped the attack momentarily, but by 1340 the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, had been forced out of the Factory. Fire from the 158th and 189th Field Artillery Battalions, supported by three naval gunfire missions, checked the enemy at 1500. Then, following his practice of withdrawing after quick jabs, he retreated.
Late in the afternoon of 12 September our troops moved up again under a smoke screen fired by Company C, 2d Chemical Battalion. Companies A and C, 191st Tank Battalion, spearheaded the advance toward the Factory at 1700. After clearing the Factory grounds, the tanks pushed on into the woods at the northeast end of the Tobacco Factory swell and withdrew at 1830. They left the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, in command of the area from the Factory to the road junction in the Grataglia. The 3d Battalion paralleled the advance by moving into positions west and south of Torre Palladino by 2200.
While the 157th Regimental Combat Team was doggedly gaining the key area northwest of Persano, the 2d Battalion, 179th Infantry, started to advance from La Cosa Creek. But General Dawley halted this advance and ordered extensive shifts of front-line units to take place during the night of 12/13 September.
Our Troops Change Positions
The shifts were made to strengthen the left flank of VI Corps (Map No. 7, page 48). A gap between American units near the Sele and the British units in the vicinity of Battipaglia, at times extending as much as 5 miles, had never been completely closed. It was held only by reconnaissance units of the British 23 Armoured Brigade. As the German threat grew more menacing, this open area became more dangerous. On the night of the 12th, units of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, led by 40 tanks, launched a powerful attack between the flanks of the Fifth Army and drove the 167 Brigade (56 Division) out of Battipaglia with heavy losses to the British. Although the attack had been stopped at the outskirts of the town and the 201 Guards Brigade, under the command of 56 Division, took over the sector, the British could not recapture Battipaglia.
Even before this attack had revealed the German strength in this area, General Dawley had begun to reinforce the left flank of VI
Corps. He ordered the 179th Regimental Combat Team with all its attached units to leave the Sele-Calore corridor after nightfall on the 12th and move to the left of the 157th Regimental Combat Team by the Factory. Before daybreak on 13 September the 2d Battalion, 179th Infantry, had taken up a line between the engineers at Bivio Cioffi and the left flank of the 157th Regimental Combat Team. The 1st and 3d Battalions went into reserve immediately behind the line.
The German capture of Battipaglia. made further reinforcement of the left flank seem necessary. In the early morning of the 13th the 36th Division was ordered to withdraw the 2d and 3d Battalions, 141st Infantry, from their defensive mission in the hills by Ogliastro on the right flank and dispatch them by truck to the extreme left flank northwest of Bivio Cioffi. The motor column ran into enemy artillery fire north of the Sele at 1700 and had to turn off Highway 18 onto a coastal track, so the two battalions did not begin to detruck and occupy their positions until dusk.
The withdrawal of the 179th Regimental Combat Team from the Sele-Calore corridor left a gap which had to be filled. The only unit available was the 2d Battalion, 143d Infantry, which had shifted earlier in the day from Tempone di San Paolo to an area south of Mount San Chirico. Lt. Col. Charles H. Jones, Jr. accordingly re-
MAP NO. 9
ceived orders to take up positions after dark in the corridor between the rivers about 2½ miles northeast of Persano. As the battalion moved north across the Calore east of La Cosa Creek, a German infantry patrol spotted its approach and brought down artillery fire which caused several casualties. By early morning of the 13th the battalion had reached its defensive sector. Company G outposted the line; Company F held the left flank of the main line, Company E the right flank. On neither flank was the battalion in contact with our units, but Col. Jones had been informed that the 157th Regimental Combat Team on the west bank of the Sele would attack abreast of him to protect his north flank. In any case, the 2,000-yard front assigned to the battalion was too great to allow any reserve for the Persano knoll.
Attack and Counterattack at Altavilla, 13 September
While these operations were strengthening the left flank of VI Corps, Col. Martin was assembling a force for an assault on Altavilla and Hill 424 (Map No. 9, page 59). The 3d Battalion, 142d Infantry, marched from Albanella; the 3d Battalion, 143d Infantry, moved from the vicinity of Capaccio to Hill 140 and then on to an assembly area northwest of Altavilla.
It was almost midnight on 12 September before Col. Martin could give commanders the detailed order for our second attack on Altavilla. The 3d Battalion, 143d Infantry, was to attack from its position on the northwest slope of the hill mass and occupy the northern ridge. Advancing from its assembly area 1½ miles southeast of Altavilla, the 3d Battalion, 142d Infantry, was to take the unnumbered hill south of Hill 424 and then push on against Hill 424 itself. Held as reserve west of Altavilla, the 1st Battalion, 142d Infantry, at this time reduced by losses to 260 officers and men, was to be prepared to attack the town, or extend to either flank. Company A, 751st Tank Battalion, was to counter enemy armor and to protect against a break-through north of the hill mass. More than two battalions of artillery were in support.
Artillery preparation for the attack began at 0545 on the 13th. The infantry jumped off 15 minutes later, and the artillery fired a new
concentration 600 yards forward until 0630. On the right flank Companies I and K, 142d Infantry, fought their way up the slopes of the unnumbered hill. All the way they met rifle and machine-gun fire. Pvt. William J. Crawford, a squad scout of Company I, attacked three machine-gun emplacements, dug in on terraces in front of his company. Crawling through intense enemy fire, he got close enough to the first two to throw hand grenades at the crews, killing them and destroying their guns. At the third emplacement, Crawford's grenade killed only one of the crew. The others abandoned their post and attempted to flee, but Crawford took over their gun, turned it around, and fired on them while they were making their escape.
After neutralizing machine-gun positions which held them up, Companies I and K neared the top at 0730. At the summit the enemy in other positions, reinforced by artillery, pinned them down. Companies L and M, cut off from the assault troops by artillery fire and enemy infiltration, could not advance beyond the lower slopes of the hill. Later in the morning Companies I and K fell back before a strong German counterattack and dug in with the rest of the battalion. Then the 1st Battalion, 142d Infantry, moved to reinforce the 3d Battalion; but at 1715, when it was passing through the draw south of Altavilla, the length of its column was raked by artillery. The companies were completely disorganized, and it was nearly midnight before the battalion could be pulled together.
On the left the 3d Battalion, 143d Infantry, under Col. Barnett, pushed up the ridge northwest of Altavilla through sniper and mortar fire. Shortly before 0900 the battalion reached the top of the ridge and sent Company K into Altavilla to protect the right flank. After consolidating its position, the battalion planned to go on up to Hill 424. Col. Barnett ordered the attack for 1715, but at 1700 the enemy counterattacked after mortar and artillery preparation. Time and again the Germans beat against our hasty defenses, and every time they were thrown back. After darkness, snipers and machine gunners fired on the battalion from the rear, but part of Company K continued to hold on in Altavilla. When, about midnight, the order came to withdraw, Company K was hemmed in and had to remain at Altavilla while the rest of the battalion and the battalions of the 142d Infantry retreated to La Cosa Creek. Our effort to recapture Hill 424 had failed.
Sparring on the Left Flank
The morning of the 13th opened quietly on the VI Corps left flank (Map No. 10, page 62). The 29th Panzer Grenadier Division apparently was resting after its night attack on the British at Battipaglia, and a large part of our own troops were just moving into new positions. At 0725 the divisional artillery reported that Germans were bridging the Sele north of Persano, and a patrol corroborated the information. Front-line units received a warning from Fifth Army about 0950 that the enemy might attack southwest from Eboli in the afternoon.
The 157th had attempted to drive forward in the night but had not succeeded. Late in the morning the regiment began to advance in accordance with orders to keep up with the 2d Battalion, 143d Infantry, across the Sele northeast of Persano. By 1200 leading elements of the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, were well into the woods
MAP NO. 10
north of the road junction in the Grataglia. The enemy, however, held firmly; the 157th was stopped.
At this time the line of the 45th Division ran from a point north of Bivio Cioffi to the Eboli road and south along the hills about the Grataglia to the Sele River. The 2d Battalion, 143d Infantry, about 2 miles northeast of the 45th Division, was dangerously exposed in the Sele-Calore corridor. While units on the left flank were so dispersed, the enemy prepared to attack. At 1310 the 158th Field Artillery Battalion detected German tanks and infantry moving in the vicinity of the Eboli-Battipaglia road and fired on them. Fifty minutes later, German tanks near the Eboli road were firing on the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry. Further reports of enemy activity were confirmed. By 1530 the heaviest attack on the VI Corps front during the whole Salerno battle was unleashed.
The Storm Breaks at the Tobacco Factory
This attack followed the pattern of attacks during the 2 preceding days in the same area, but it was distinguished by far greater force and persistence (Map No. 11, page 64). The opening drive forced back the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, uncovering the Sele River crossing at Persano; about the same time another enemy assault struck the 2d Battalion, 143d Infantry, from front and rear. Then the main body pushed down the lower Sele-Calore corridor with the obvious aim of crossing the Calore at the burned bridge and threatening our rear areas.
Initially the enemy drove against both flanks of the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, which was dug in on the north slopes of the Factory swell. At 1542 six German tanks were approaching the left flank of the battalion from the east of Torre Palladino. The principal effort, however, was against the right flank of the battalion and had begun at 1517 when 15 enemy tanks were reported moving southwest on the Eboli road north of the Grataglia. Behind the main tank force came the 1st Battalion, 79th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, which was detrucking at 1552 in the draw just around the hill to the north of the Grataglia. Towed field pieces followed the enemy infantry. During this period of approach, the 1st Battalion of the 157th Infantry was heavily shelled.
Our troops took countersteps immediately. Tanks, tank destroyers, Cannon Company howitzers, and 37-mm guns were moved up hastily. During this tense-afternoon the division artillery Fire Direction Center used two aerial observers, as well as ground observers, to keep four battalions of artillery firing almost continuously. But the enemy advance continued, and by 1600 it had struck with full force. Two Mark IV tanks with six scout cars came down the draw northeast of the road junction and were within 150 yards of our men before they were discovered. Our infantry gave way. Battalion headquarters was temporarily trapped by the enemy tanks, and control of the action grew difficult.
The Germans followed up, putting all their pressure now between the Eboli road and the Sele against the right flank of the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry. By 1715 enemy tanks were outflanking Company A along the river. Company I was alerted to aid Company A, and two of our tank companies helped to prevent a complete break-through at this point, while divisional artillery and the chemical mortars put
MAP NO. 11
down a smoke screen to delay the enemy advance. In another hour, however, the men of the 1st Battalion, despite desperate resistance, had been pushed back over the open ground 1½ miles from the Factory and had drifted to the west toward the 3d Battalion. This unit, also heavily engaged, faced toward the east to help hold the thrust.
Enemy pressure on the 157th then slackened, although fighting continued until after dark, for the enemy had gained his objective in this sector: he had driven our troops from the Factory swell and could put his main forces across the Sele to drive down into the Sele-Calore corridor. A force of tanks and infantry had already cleared the way by coming down the corridor and smashing at the left flank of the outpost line established by the 2d Battalion, 143d Infantry. This force of tanks then fanned out, hitting the main line on both flanks, and other tanks crossed near Persano to take our troops in the rear. The battalion was completely surrounded. Most of Company G, on outpost, escaped south across the Calore, but few of the rest ever came back; the total loss for the battalion was 508 officers and men.
Meanwhile the enemy attack rolled on relentlessly down the lower corridor. At 1715 the main body of tanks was east of the Sele. Enemy artillery was in Persano by 1800, and at the same time an artillery aerial observer reported that 15 enemy tanks were headed south from Persano on the road to the burned bridge-straight into a gap in our lines held only by the 189th Field Artillery Battalion, under Lt. Col. Hal L. Muldrow, Jr. and the 158th Field Artillery Battalion, under Lt. Col. Russell D. Funk. By 1830 the enemy was established in a heavy growth along the north bank of the Calore and was firing into the 189th positions.
Both artillery battalions gathered all available men, stripping their gun crews to the minimum, and posted them on the gentle slope south of the burned bridge to dig in and hold with rifles and machine guns, supported by six 37-mm guns of the 189th. Members of the divisional artillery staff went out on the roads and commandeered every soldier they found. They put Divisional Artillery Headquarters Battery and Band into the line and scraped together a reserve of 15 mechanics and truck drivers to reinforce the most threatened sectors. The sweating gun crews poured artillery fire on the ford by the bridge and on the road leading to it, firing 8 rounds per minute per gun at the
height of the attack. Altogether the two battalions fired 3,650 rounds, and seven M-7's of Battery B, 27th Armored Field Artillery, came up in time to add another 300 rounds. This devastating fire pulverized the roads and fields in the tip of the corridor and, combined with the dogged resistance of the artillerymen at the ford, hurled back every enemy attack. At sunset, the enemy admitted failure and pulled back his tanks. The artillery had stopped the most serious break-through attempted during the whole Salerno beachhead fight.
VI Corps Goes on the Defensive
The situation was critical as the commanders assembled at VI Corps Headquarters at 1930, 13 September (Map No. 12, page 67). The 1st and 3d Battalions, 142d, and the 3d Battalion, 143d, had been thrown back from Altavilla. Company K, 143d, was cut off; the 1st Battalion, 142d, had lost all except some 60 of its men. The 2d Battalion, 143d, bad been smashed in the Sele-Calore corridor; the 1st Battalion, 157th, had been bit hard at the Tobacco Factory. Our line had been dented, even pierced; and only the artillery had prevented a complete break-through. Worst of all, there were almost no reserves available to mend the line.
The near-disasters of the 13th had not been the fault of the soldiers, who had fought well at every point against the overpowering mass of enemy armor and infantry firepower. Our troops were too extended to be able to meet the attacks that the enemy launched. The only thing to do was to pull back into the best defensive line available, dig in, and hold until the situation could be improved. Orders were issued, and all through the night of the 13th the weary commanders and men worked to reassemble their units and fortify the line.
The 45th Division was ordered to refuse its right flank by pulling parts of the 157th and 179th back along the Sele. The 1st Battalion 179th Infantry, was put into the line at the base of the Sele-Calore corridor to relieve the artillerymen of the 158th and 189th Field Artillery Battalions. On the extreme left the 3d Battalion, 141st Infantry, was now in position on miserable terrain, mosquito-ridden and full of swamps and wallows for the water buffalo of the Salerno plain. To the southeast of this area, the 3d Battalion, 36th Engineers, still held Bivio Cioffi. From Highway 18 the line ran to the junction of the
Sele and the Canale di Bonificamento, then along the Sele to its junction with the Calore, and up the Calore to La Cosa Creek.
The 36th Division took up a defensive line west and south of La Cosa Creek. This position, selected for what might well have become a last stand, was not naturally very strong; but there was nothing else to fall back on. The creek itself is not much of a barrier, and the hills behind it from Cappa Santa through Mount San Chirico and on to Tempone di San Paolo, are neither high nor very rugged. From the high ground at Altavilla the enemy had excellent observation over
MAP NO. 12
these hills; but to reach them, German troops would have to cross a plain fully exposed to our fire. The weakest spot in the Cosa line lay at the junction of La Cosa Creek and the Calore, where there is a stretch of low ground nearly a mile in width, sparsely timbered, with heavier growth along the banks of the Calore. Most of our tank destroyers, tanks, and artillery were placed so as to deliver heavy fire on this area.
From the Calore to Mount Soprano, the Cosa defenses were divided into three sectors under Brig. Gen. William H. Wilbur, Brig. Gen. John W. O'Daniel, and Brig. Gen. Otto F. Lange. To man the line it was necessary to draw troops from every possible source, for the 36th Division had been so extended and had suffered so heavily during the 13th that reconstitution of its regiments was impossible. The 1st and 3d Battalions, 142d Infantry, and most of the 3d Battalion, at Altavilla had withdrawn to the rear of the new line during the night and were reorganizing. Company K, 143d Infantry, remained pinned down on the slopes northwest of Altavilla until the night of the 14th. From the Calore to Mount San Chirico the line was held by the only units available: the 2d Battalion, 36th Engineers; one company of the 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion; Company A, 751st Tank Battalion; and the Cannon and Antitank Companies of the 143d. The 2d Battalion, 141st Infantry, which had been sent to the extreme left flank of the VI Corps, was hastily recalled and garrisoned the south slopes of Mount San Chirico. The 1st and 2d Battalions, 504th Parachute Infantry, had been dropped near the beachhead during the night of the 13th and went into positions from Difesa Monti on the south. The 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, was brought up from Trentinara to defend the eastern nose of Tempone di San Paolo. The extreme right flank of VI Corps, thus stripped of infantry, was entrusted to the 3d Battalion, 531st Shore Engineers, with other detachments. The divisional artillery moved back to new supporting positions. The Division awaited the morrow.
Holding the line, 14 September
On 14 September the enemy attack continued in a series of staff jabs to feel out our new defenses. The enemy command must have been very disappointed in the results, for nowhere did our line bend
MOUNT SAN CHIRICO was the center of the low hill barrier on the west
of the 36th
Division defensive line, 14 September. La Cosa Creek, owing from the Calore River,
passes Mount San Chirico on the east. Between the creek and the hill, men of the 36th
Division made their stand.
or break. At one point a few enemy tanks penetrated our forward positions, but none of those tanks escaped.
The attacks began first on the 45th Division front (Map No. 13, page 70). At 0800, while mist still lay along the Sele, eight enemy tanks with an estimated battalion of infantry of the 16th Panzer Division and the 29th Motorized Division moved south from the Tobacco Factory to begin the day's action. The reorganization of our forces during the night was effective, for the 2d and 3d Battalions, 179th Infantry, were now in such a position that the enemy was unwittingly advancing parallel to our front, at a distance of 600 to 1,000 yards. No less than six of our units, including the infantry, two artillery battalions, tanks, and tank destroyers, opened fire immediately on the Germans. Seven of their tanks were destroyed, and the eighth was immobilized almost at once. The enemy infantry continued the attack until 0930 and then retreated.
There was a lull for about an hour in which the early tank and infantry action dwindled into minor probes by tanks. Then the enemy struck again at two points on a wider front. At 1035 enemy infantry tried to work down the west bank of the Sele from the Grataglia toward Company A, 157th Infantry. Eight minutes later heavy enemy machine-gun and artillery fire prepared the way for a large-scale tank attack against the 3d Battalion, 179th Infantry, in position along Highway 18.
The men on the VI Corps left flank were alert for more attacks. First Lt. Hilston T. Kilcollins, forward observer of the 158th Field Artillery Battalion, saw six enemy tanks assembling in the vicinity of the Tobacco Factory and brought down the fire of his battalion on them. Five of the six tanks burned. At 1230 about one-half a company of Germans carrying white flags approached the 2d Battalion, 179th Infantry. As these men came within range they dropped their flags and fired on the 2d Battalion. Our troops, sighting this group of Germans at a distance, were prepared for their attack and killed about forty of them.
MAP NO. 13
But our alertness did not discourage the enemy. Two attacks by tanks and infantry followed. The 179th and supporting units knocked out all the eight tanks on Highway 18 just above Bivio Cioffi by 1430; the 157th, aided by the 158th Field Artillery Battalion and naval gunfire, repelled the attack along the river southeast of the Factory at 1405. These rebuffs were enough for the enemy, and he gave up serious action west of the Sele for the day.
His success on the Cosa line was no greater (Map No. 14, page 71). At 0930 on the 14th, infantry and a company of Mark IV Specials attacked across the Calore toward Mount San Chirico. Six tanks of Company A, 751st Tank Battalion, moved up to meet the attack and
MAP NO. 14
knocked out eight Mark IV's with the loss of only one of our own. At 1043 at least three more tanks, supported by a battery of self-propelled guns, attempted to cross the Calore at the burned bridge and northeast of it. Our supporting fires repelled the whole attack. The enemy withdrew. At about 1300 the enemy attacked again, this time from an area near the Calore north of La Cosa Creek and against the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, which had arrived by truck from Tempone di San Paolo to buttress the infantry line. Naval and artillery gunfire struck the German formation. Although several enemy tanks managed to penetrate our positions during the next few hours, they were all destroyed.
The 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion, although under artillery and small-arms fire most of the day, did much to defend the line. Company B, having 12 tank destroyers in firing position south of the junction of the Calore River and La Cosa Creek, disabled 5 Mark IV's that had forded the creek north of Cappa Santa. Company C destroyed 7 tanks and 1 ammunition vehicle. Most of the damage inflicted on the enemy by Company C was the work of Sgt. Edwin A. Yost, Tec. 5 Alvin B. Q. Johnson, Pfc. Joseph R. O'Bryan, Pvt. Claude H. Stokes, and Pvt. Clyde T. Stokes, the crew of a tank destroyer "Jinx." Under direct enemy tank and small-arms fire, Sgt. Yost ordered his crew to move Jinx to the crest of a ridge where it might threaten approaching enemy armor. Their first shot hit 200 yards from the target; the next set a tank on fire; the third caused an ammunition vehicle to explode. At one time heavy 88-mm fire forced Jinx down the ridge, but a short while later the destroyer was back in position. Within 30 minutes Sgt. Yost's crew had knocked out 5 tanks and 1 ammunition carrier. By dusk the Germans ceased attacking along the Cosa line for the effort was proving too costly.
Fifth Army Position, 14 September
At dark on the 14th, VI Corps lines remained where they had been at dawn. On the 12th and the 13th the enemy had forced us out of Altavilla, the Sele-Calore corridor, and the Tobacco Factory, and thus had partly achieved his purpose both to threaten a break-through toward our beaches and to neutralize our attacks toward Highway 19; but on the 14th he was unable to exploit his gains. Our defensive fires
were better integrated, and the artillery, with the invaluable assistance of the heavy rifles on the cruisers and destroyers in the Gulf, broke up several enemy threats. On the 14th the artillery of the 36th Division fired more than 4,100 rounds; the 3 battalions of the 45th Division artillery topped this with 6,687 rounds-the most fired in one day during the Salerno landings. The enemy, moreover, had suffered severely on the 13th, and on the 14th his armor met further losses. The number of enemy tanks which we destroyed from the 9th through the 14th cannot be given exactly, but it must have been almost half the German strength.
While VI Corps had been fighting desperately, the British 10 Corps on our left had also been meeting heavy opposition. The main German strength, consisting of elements of the 16th Panzer Division north of the Sele, the 29th Panzer Division near Contursi, and 30 tanks in Battipaglia, could be turned on 10 Corps front. Dug in on the hills about the town of Salerno, the 46 Division had reason to fear an enemy infiltration into the area north of Vietri. Every unit was in the line. The 56 Division was in the open plain southeast of Battipaglia, its positions in full view of the enemy on nearby hills. On the night of the 13th the Germans shelled Salerno with artillery and attacked again with tanks from Battipaglia. The tanks persisted for 3 hours, but the Coldstream Guards, of 201 Guards Brigade (56 Division), and the 9 Royal Fusiliers, of 167 Infantry Brigade (56 Division), resisted stubbornly and held their ground.
By the evening of the 14th, the situation of the Fifth Army on the Salerno plain was much improved. The gap between VI and 10 Corps had been effectively closed, for as the corps had moved inland their left and right flanks had joined southeast of Battipaglia. Reinforcements were arriving. The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was already in the line, and the 180th Infantry of the 45th Division, which landed early on the 14th, was in reserve near Mount Soprano. The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment dropped during the night of September 14/15, and the 325th Glider Regimental Combat Team came in by LCI's on the 15th. The British 7 Armoured Division began landing in the 10 Corps sector on the 14th, and the American 509th Parachute Battalion, under Lt. Col. Doyle R. Yardley, dropped near Avellino on the night of 14/15 September to harass enemy lines of communication on the 10 Corps front.
The Strategic Air Force had been diverted on the 14th from its long-range hammering of railroads, dumps, and of movements far behind the lines; together with the Tactical Air Force it dropped as many tons of bombs as possible on Eboli, Battipaglia, and other key points. On the 14th alone 187 B-25's, 166 B-26's, and 170 B-17's of the Strategic Air Force operated over the Salerno plain. Throughout the night of the 14th the heavy bombing continued. Meanwhile 2 British battleships had been ordered to the Gulf of Salerno to add the power of their 15-inch rifles. The Fifth Army had held its beachhead against the full weight of the German counterattack and could now build up its strength for further advance toward Naples.
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