WHEN OUR SUCCESSFUL DEFENSE on the 14th indicated that the Salerno beachhead was safe, General Clark, in a letter to General Dawley, commanding VI Corps, congratulated every officer and enlisted man of the Fifth Army. He wrote:
We have arrived at our initial objective; our beachhead is secure. Additional troops are landing every day, and we are here to stay. Not one foot of ground will be given up.
Winning that fight, however, was not the end of the battle, for the Fifth Army had not yet captured the Naples port and airfields, its main objectives (Map No. 15, page 77 & Map No. 16, page 78). These objectives lay 30 miles northwest of our front lines, beyond the Campanian Apennines. In planning the Salerno attack the Allied commanders had reckoned with the dangers of crossing these mountains on roads winding through narrow passes. They had hoped that the initial rush of the landings would secure the routes north from Salerno and Vietri into the Nocera plain, but the toughness of the German resistance smashed these hopes. Now the Fifth Army must regain the offensive and fight its way across the mountains toward Naples.
General Montgomery's Eighth Army was approaching on the left flank of the German forces at Salerno. Units of the 1 Airborne Division entered Bari on 14 September and moved on north toward Foggia. Leading elements of the 5 Infantry Division made contact
with the Fifth Army at Vallo, southeast of Agropoli, on the 16th. If the enemy was to avoid being outflanked, he must withdraw. It is believed that the German high command accordingly directed XIV Panzer Corps in front of the United States Fifth Army to fall back toward the northwest in a vast pivot movement based on the Sorrento Peninsula. The enemy forces on this flank were to hold the mountain passes as long as possible to permit a thorough wrecking of Naples harbor and to safeguard their evacuation of the Campanian plain. Then they too would fall back to the Volturno River and link up with LXXVI Panzer Corps retreating before the Eighth Army to form a solid line across the Italian boot. The enemy plans called for stubborn resistance against 10 Corps and rear-guard action against VI Corps; the Germans would have almost no contact with the Eighth Army until they had pushed north of Foggia.
The plan of our advance on Naples was the complement of the German plan for withdrawal. Through the chain of the Campanian Apennines along the Sorrento Peninsula, where the enemy held most strongly, the Fifth Army attacked most fiercely. Once beyond the difficult passes of this chain, the army would travel the rest of the way over the Campanian plain. This was the shortest and easiest approach to Naples.
Within 10 Corps on the left flank the principal attack was assigned to the 46 Division, moving from Vietri sul Mare toward Nocera. On the right the 56 Division pressed straight north from Salerno to take the enemy on his right flank. The bulk of the 82d Airborne Division eventually went in on the extreme left of 10 Corps; together with the Ranger force and the British 23 Armoured Brigade, it followed the narrow road north from Maiori to flank the enemy defenses at Nocera from the west. Behind the 46 Division lay the British 7 Armoured Division, ready to pass through and strike for Naples as soon as our advance units had reached the Nocera plain.
VI Corps, under the command of Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas from 20 September, received the mission of sweeping around the extreme right flank of the Fifth Army to maintain contact with the Eighth Army and to take the mountains east of Naples, thus threatening the German defense of the Campanian plain. Speed here was vital, both to put pressure on the main German forces in front of 10 Corps and also to discourage enemy demolitions.
Our Right Flank Advances, 15-19 September
VI Corps still had to drive the enemy from the Tobacco Factory and Hill 424 before it could enter the mountains. On 15 September enemy infantry were dug in all along the front of the 45th Division, but there were indications that the Germans might be pulling out on our extreme right flank. From positions on Mount Soprano the 505th Parachute Infantry sent patrols to Roccad'aspide on 16 September and found no Germans in the town; other patrols from the 504th Parachute Infantry reported only a few enemy in the vicinity of Albanella. The way seemed clear for a fresh attack on Altavilla.
During the afternoon of the 16th, Col. Reuben H. Tucker of the 504th led his 1st and 2d Battalions on the long, arduous march cross-country from Tempone di San Paolo up the Albanella ridge. After a brief rest there, the paratroopers moved out at 1630, the 1st Bat-
MAP NO. 15
talion in the lead, to launch a night attack against Hills 424 and 315 from the south. As night fell, enemy artillery became more active. Its intensity and accuracy hampered the advance and caused units to lose contact with each other, but the 1st Battalion drove back enemy outposts in the vicinity of Mount del Bosco, and there the troops bivouacked for the night. In the morning of the 1711 the 1st Battalion moved to the unnumbered hill east of Altavilla, while the 2d Battalion held the north slopes of Mount del Bosco. Regimental Headquarters was cut off with severe losses. The 1st Battalion repelled a particularly heavy attack at 1100, but the Germans continued minor attacks. Enemy artillery pinned down the paratroopers.
The men of the 504th spent the day and night of 17 September crouched in foxholes, with artillery shells exploding everywhere. They had neither food nor water for more than 36 hours because their can-
MAP NO. 16
COMBAT ENGINEERS OF THE 142d INFANTRY patrol the streets of Altavilla.
Germans were difficult to rout. On the 14th the Navy had fired 100 rounds of ammunition
on their positions to clear the way for our final occupation on 18 September.
teens had been emptied on the long trek from Tempone di San Paolo. Split into small groups, they had fought hard and had suffered heavy casualties, but had not recaptured Hills 424 and 315. The Germans were not ready to give them up. Finally the enemy began to withdraw, and his artillery fire diminished. Altavilla was deserted by late afternoon of the 18th, and tanks of the 191st Tank Battalion accompanied paratroopers into the town. On the third try Altavilla was ours for good.
The German evacuation of Altavilla and Hill 424 had been delayed as long as possible in order to protect the general enemy withdrawal from Eboli along Highway 91 through Contursi and then north. Units of the 45th Division west of the Sele found on the 17th that their patrols had increased freedom. Enemy artillery, however, continued active and a covering screen still remained well dug in on the old German line. During the night of the 17th the last Germans moved out from the immediate front of the division, and the morning of the 18th revealed motor vehicles and dust on Highway 91.
Strong patrols of the 45th Division promptly started north and soon reported that the enemy had completely broken contact. In the late afternoon and early night of the 18th our infantry pushed forward to the Tobacco Factory. Just after midnight Company K, 157th Infantry, entered Persano. The advance guard reached the high ground between Battipaglia and Eboli without opposition during the night. News that British reconnaissance units had entered Battipaglia made it clear that the enemy had abandoned the whole area.
All units of the 45th Division began to displace forward on the morning of the 19th, and by nightfall they held the high ground dominating Eboli, which had for so long been the center of enemy concentrations. During the same day elements of the 36th Division pushed east to Serre and also to Ponte Sele. Every part of the Salerno plain was firmly in our hands.
German Delaying Tactics
Moving forward from the Salerno plain to the Volturno River line, the VI Corps faced mountains and an enemy skilled in mountain warfare. As the Germans, chiefly from the 9th Panzer Grenadier Regiment (16th Panzer Division), withdrew north they used the shrewd delaying tactics which American soldiers had experienced in central and northern Sicily. Yet the terrain in Italy was even more rugged, and the fall rains were soon to prove an additional hindrance. The pattern of enemy rearguard action was clear. At chosen hillsides, small rearguard detachments of motorized infantry dug in their machine guns; the riflemen, placed higher up on either side, forced our troops to deploy and make time-consuming wide envelopments along the mountainsides.
BLOWN BRIDGES were familiar sights to our advancing troops on the
road to Acerno.
At Olevano, the Germans blew this stone bridge. Engineers have constructed a bypass and
steel treadway bridge upstream. An antiaircraft gun is in position on the demolished bridge.
Enemy artillery pieces, mostly self-propelled, well forward in echelon, harassed our columns and interdicted the roads at critical spots. The mountains afforded excellent positions for this practice. One 88-mm gun, for example, strategically placed on a bare nose along Highway 91 north of Contursi, delivered direct fire on almost the entire length of the valley floor. The piece apparently was not camouflaged, but the light haze in the mountains and the flashhider so concealed the gun that only an observer directly in line with the barrel could spot it. Four to five hundred yards behind, a tank armed with a 75-mm gun supported the 88. From this position the enemy caused us the greatest possible delay; then he pulled out and moved farther back up the road.
Both in the approaches to the mountains and in the mountains themselves, blown bridges and mine fields were numerous. Bypasses were always difficult and at times impossible. Occasionally an enemy detachment protected a demolition; more often blown bridges were merely left as time-consuming and troublesome problems for our engineers. When the enemy began finally to run out of high
explosive charges, he substituted artillery shells or mines. All the way up to the Volturno, our troops kept hearing the roar from German demolitions.
The 3d Division Takes Acerno, 20-27 September
Ahead of VI Corps there were only two routes north through the mountains. One of these leads almost straight north from Battipaglia through Acerno; the other is Highway gi, which bends east through Contursi and then north along the upper Sele River. Both roads meet Highway 7, the main east-west route from Avellino to Potenza. Since the 36th Division had suffered severely in the beachhead defense, it was detached from VI Corps and placed in Army reserve to refit and rest. The 3d Division, under Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, which had begun landing 18 September, took its place and moved up along the western route toward Highway 7 and Avellino; the 45th Division advanced on the right along Highway 91.
Toward midnight on 19 September, the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of the 30th Infantry, advance guard of the 3d Division, moved through the ruin-encumbered streets of Battipaglia. At 0245 on the 20th, the platoon met a small detachment of enemy infantry where the road forks left to Montecorvino Rovella and right to Acerno and drove the detachment out. Our advance guard turned northeast on the Acerno road; the first elements of the 3d Division had entered the mountains.
It would be almost impossible to find terrain more unsuited to offensive warfare. The steep and narrow road follows the slopes of mountains as rugged as anything in the Rockies; it so swings about that a mile of its sinuous course can be observed from each curve. There are wind-swept passes, cliffs that fall away hundreds of feet to narrow valleys, and canyons where the sun penetrates only a brief time during the day. All these make rapid advance impossible. Nevertheless, this was our route.
Our men pushed ahead without opposition until they came to a reverse curve 2 miles southwest of Acerno (Map No. 17, page 83). Here the Isca della Serra plunges out of a narrow canyon and falls into the Tusciano. The road crosses a 60-foot gorge by a single-arch concrete bridge, the only major bridge along the entire stretch to
Acerno. The Germans had effectively blown it. Moreover, they commanded the curve of the road to the south by fire from machine gunners and riflemen placed on a hilltop across the Tusciano valley, which is here 300 feet deep. The platoon reported the facts, established an observation post, and waited for the rest of the regiment. The enemy, consisting of the 1st Battalion, 9th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, also waited, in a well-nigh impregnable position.
The 3d Battalion, 30th Infantry, under Lt. Col. Edgar C. Doleman, left Battipaglia at 1030, 20 September. It reached the saddle just west of the Tusciano by 1925 and halted for the night. At daybreak on the 21st, Company I resumed the advance up the road, but the German command of the curve south of the bridge proved complete. Enemy artillery from positions Just north of Acerno put down harassing fire occasionally on stretches of the road and pounded the 3d Battalion bivouac area shortly after our men had left it.
To strike at Acerno our troops clearly had to get off the road into the mountains, leaving the 9th and 41st Field Artillery Battalions to knock out the enemy artillery and to fire on enemy truck and tank movements in the vicinity of Acerno. A-36's of the Tactical Air Force flew a mission at 1245 along the road north of Acerno.
MAP NO. 17
During most of the 21st, the 3d Battalion, 30th Infantry, met slight enemy opposition as its men clambered and slid over the wild mountains west of the road. Company I zigzagged up the mountainside and joined Company L, which had moved up a rough trail leading north from the saddle. Then both companies advanced east across the hill just above the blown bridge. By 1800, Company I in the lead had gained the southern nose of Hill 687, northeast of the bridge.
Meanwhile the 2d Battalion, 30th Infantry, came up. Company G pushed north along the trail from the saddle with the mission of bypassing Acerno, and cutting the escape route of the Germans north of the town. The rest of the battalion at first planned to advance along the main road to Acerno, but the advance guard drew artillery fire as it approached the blown bridge. It was then decided to reinforce Company G with the bulk of the 2d Battalion. Company F, however, was ordered down the precipitous slopes into the Tusciano, valley and up the east side to drive out the enemy delaying force in that area and then to strike at Acerno from the south.
Through the night these units stumbled across the mountains. Shortly after daybreak on 22 September, Company F was on the heights east of the Tusciano, and the 2d Battalion held Hill 634 to the northwest of Acerno. One platoon of Company G was moving on toward Hill 606, across the valley on the main road north of Acerno. The 3d Battalion had occupied the rest of Hill 687
From its position the 3d Battalion could now look across a relatively gentle valley toward the shelf on which the town of Acerno lies. The main road reaches the shelf by a reverse V and then runs straight east to the town. The extreme western edge of the shelf which affords excellent observation to the north, west, and south is crowned by a stately grove of tall chestnut trees. Northeast of the grove, generally level ground extends past a church and cemetery to the wooded mountainside behind Acerno. The only escape route of the Germans ran north along this mountainside toward Highway 7.
While the 2d Battalion attempted to cross the deep valley on the west of this escape route, the 3d Battalion launched an attack on the chestnut grove. At 0800 Companies I and L, with L on the left, moved out against enemy light and heavy machine guns, supported by riflemen; by 0842 they had taken the grove in a bitter fight with hand grenades and bayonets. After reorganization, the companies moved
THE CHURCH AT ACERNO.
northeast toward the cemetery and church, but an enemy 75-mm battery to the right behind the church, together with mortar fire, forced them to give ground. A small enemy counterattack against Company L was beaten off at 1030. Our troops attacked again and were again driven back by the artillery-mortar combination, which was keeping open the route of escape for the last German infantryman in the vicinity of the town. The main body of the enemy had pulled out in the middle of the morning, after the chestnut grove was lost.
At 1300 our attack began anew. The 2d Battalion continued its attempt to cross the valley toward the main road, and the 3d Battalion hit at Acerno from the northwest. The three light artillery battalions of the division put down a concentration on Acerno at 1310; during the period 1252-1325 our artillery poured a total of 1,016 rounds into the town. Under this pressure the remaining German infantry withdrew in armored vehicles. But enemy mortar fire continued to pin the 3d Battalion. At 1525 Company F to the south and the 3d Battalion on the northwest attacked again, and at 1700 the 3d Battalion reached the town. Twelve prisoners were captured in an antitank position to the southeast, and twenty others were rounded up on the hillsides to the north.
Although the retreat of the enemy had not been cut off by the 2d Battalion, there was no further serious delaying action in front of the 3d Division, and by 27 September units of the division held Highway 7. In fact, the fight for Acerno was the most protracted of all the actions in the VI Corps area from Battipaglia to the Volturno. The pattern of all the others resembles that of Acerno: enemy motorized infantry and self-propelled guns were well-emplaced, close to the road of escape, forcing arduous cross-country movement by our troops to get on the German flanks.
The Advance of VI Corps, 20-27 September
During this same period the 45th Division moved up Highway 91 (Map No. 15, page 77). West of Oliveto the 180th Infantry met the 1st Battalion, 64th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, in a position which forced our troops to deploy widely, but on 22 September the 180th took the enemy strongpoint with the aid of tanks from Company A, 191st Tank Battalion, and from the 756th Tank Battalion. On 23 September the 179th passed through the 180th and advanced up the west bank of the Sele parallel to the 157th Infantry on the east bank. These regiments met a more persistent enemy delaying action than that encountered by the 3d Division, but by the morning of the 26th the 45th Division securely held the junction of Highways 7 and 91.
VI Corps had met the requirement of speed. In 8 days the 3d Division had advanced 28 miles, measured along the road from Battipaglia to Highway 7, though the mountain detours made the actual distance much greater. The 45th Division, swinging east, had moved 34 miles from its position on the morning of the 20th. Each division had pushed the enemy out of excellent positions and had kept the advance rolling in spite of every difficulty. Frequently the infantry advance guard was beyond the supporting range of the artillery, struggling to get its guns up over the crowded roads full of bottlenecks. Units of the 3d Division got so far into the mountains that they could be supplied only by mule trains, which they had brought from Sicily, and at one point even mule trains had to give way to human pack trains from the reserve companies.
A BRIDGE SOUTHWEST OF ACERNO after our engineers bad repaired it.
The 10th and 120th Engineer Battalions, with resourcefulness and endurance, did much to aid the VI Corps advance. The engineers swept the roads for mines. They operated supply dumps and maintained water points. They filled in road craters and kept the surfaces passable under the heavy burdens imposed by the restricted road net. Wherever possible they constructed new roads to increase our freedom of action. They posted signs, laid out cemeteries, and at Acerno even constructed a landing strip for the divisional artillery airplanes. They built bridges and bypasses on almost every mile of the roads used by the two divisions.
Each enemy demolition cost our engineers labor. The magnitude of their task may be indicated by the fact that on 2,200 yards of the Acerno road north of that town the enemy blew five bridges. Bypasses, moreover, were not always possible in the mountains. In 2 days Company C, 10th Engineers, rebuilt a bridge south of Acerno, completing on 23 September at 1500 a two-story, two-bent trestle span 8o feet long, capable of carrying 18 tons.
Two days later Company A of the same battalion was confronted by an even more difficult job. In the canyon north of Acerno the Germans blew not only a bridge but also the cliff side, so that for a total
of 100 feet the road ceased to exist. After 2 days' work the company reopened the road at 1900, 26 September. Forty feet of it was steel treadway bridge; the rest had been cut out of the sheer cliffside.
Supported by the 36th Engineer Regiment (Combat) of VI Corps, the two divisional engineer battalions thus patched up the roads behind the infantry and kept the supply lines open. From the night of the 26th on, their work was made immeasurably more difficult by heavy rains which turned every bypass into a sticky bottleneck, damaged some of the temporary bridges, and washed rocks and dirt down the mountainsides onto all the roads. Infantrymen were pressed into service to clear the way, and traffic was cut to a minimum, but it went through. Between German demolitions and the fall rains the advance of VI Corps was undeniably retarded, but the engineers kept that delay to a matter of days rather than of weeks.
Avellino, Naples, and the Volturno, 28 September-6 October
While VI Corps had been struggling in the rain-swept mountains, 10 Corps had forced its way through the passes south of Nocera. By the 28th our troops all along the line were ready for a swift rush forward, the British on Naples, the Americans on the important road junction of Avellino (Map No. 15, page 77).
The regiments of the 3d Division were by the 28th poised in a great arc about Avellino, with the 133d Regimental Combat Team of the 34th Division north of Highway 7. (This division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Charles W. Ryder, had begun landing at Paestum 21 September.) Our troops converged quickly on the objective, and by a sudden night attack 29/30 September we pounced on the town before enemy demolition parties could finish their work.
At the same time 10 Corps swooped down on Naples, led by 7 Armoured Division. At nightfall on the 30th, units of 10 Corps were on either side of Mount Vesuvius; at 0930, 1 October, the King's Dragoon Guards, under command of 10 Corps, entered Naples without opposition. They found a city more terrified than destroyed, although the damage was grave enough. Previous Allied air raids had smashed most of the harbor installations, and the Germans completed the wreckage before they left, scuttling ships at the piers and sinking obstacles in the harbor. The waterfront itself was a mass of crumbled
INFANTRY OF THE 3D DIVISION MOVE NORTH FROM AVELLINO, an
important road junction, captured on 29130 September. The 30th Infantry, 3d Division,
covered the distance between Acerno and Avellino in 8 days, despite the delaying tactics
of the enemy. Their sudden attack on Avellino had caught the enemy before demolition
parties could complete their work.
stones and fire-twisted steel. The main aqueduct was cut; all public utilities had suspended operation; hidden time bombs made every quarter dangerous. Yet the Fifth Army now had a harbor which could be quickly restored to service, and supply of its units was now shifted north from the Salerno beaches. The 82d Airborne Division entered Naples, 2 October, and took over police and reconstruction work in the city.
The occupation of the city, however, was not enough. To defend
Naples harbor and the vital airports in the plains nearby required a
substantial natural barrier. We must hold the Volturno River, 20 miles
to the north. So our troops drove on without delay. While 10 Corps moved
up the Campanian plain, VI Corps secured the mountain slopes on the northeast.
The 34th and the 45th Divisions advanced on the focal road junction of
Benevento. The 45th Reconnaissance Troop reached it first, at 1210 on 2
October; at 2330 on the same day the 3d Battalion, 133d Infantry, entered
the town and pushed on to hold a bridgehead across the river. The 3d Division
advanced into the mountain mass above Caserta, and by 6 October our troops
everywhere commanded the south bank of the Volturno. Now Naples was secure,
and the main objective of the Salerno landings had been achieved, 27 days
after D Day on the Paestum beaches.
THE VOLTURNO RIVER VALLEY and the hills beyond were to be the scenes
second phase of the invasion of Italy. In the background, artillery fire against German
defenses prepares the way for the next attack.
MAP NO. 18
page created 23 July 2001
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