3d Division Attack
MIDNIGHT ON 12 OCTOBER the uneasy silence which had settled over the Volturno Valley on the 3d Division sector changed suddenly to an inferno of fire and noise (Map No. 8, page 28). All along the northern slope of Mount Tifata within the Triflisco, Gap, rifles and machine guns spouted lead at German positions across the river, and exploding mortar shells covered the slope with puffs of smoke. With the assistance of all the heavy weapons companies of the 30th Infantry, the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, dug in just south of Highway 87, was carrying out Col. Rogers' order to "demonstrate vigorously" on the 3d Division left flank. An hour later, at 0100, the 3d Division artillery opened fire against the north bank of the river. The targets were enemy machine-gun and mortar positions which had been spotted during the days of preparation. For an hour shells plowed up the dirt and crashed into farmhouses all along the division front. Then, at 0155, smoke shells were mixed with the high explosives to screen the crossing areas. Five minutes later the infantry began the attack against the German river line.
Breakthrough at the Hairpin Loop
The 7th Infantry which was to be the spearhead of the 3d Division attack crossed the river at the hairpin loop: the 1st Battalion crossing just downstream from the loop, the 2d and 3d Battalions crossing upstream from the loop (Map No. 9, page 30). At midnight, when the diversion on the left commenced, the 1st and 3d Battalions were
occupying a forward assembly area concealed in a deep gully on the eastern slope of Mount Tifata. The 2d Battalion and the regimental command post were on the east side of Mount San Leucio hidden along a dirt trail which the 10th Engineer Battalion had improved to get the tanks and tank destroyers down into the valley.
The 1st Battalion started pulling out of its assembly area at 0045, the men carrying their guide ropes, rubber pontons, and improvised rafts. Off in the distance, looming out of the misty, smoke-wreathed valley, was the rocky mass of Mount Majulo (Hill 502), their objective. Slogging across the muddy, plowed fields, they reached the river bank. While carrying parties struggled to get the boats and heavy rafts down the slippery bank to the water's edge, assault parties waded and swam the bitter-cold, rushing stream to anchor guide ropes on the far bank. Tracer bullets from enemy machine guns formed a criss-cross pattern of red flashes over the heads of the men as they worked feverishly to shuttle boats and rafts across. Crossing by boats on a narrow front, the 1st Battalion encountered many difficulties. Many of the trees
MAP NO. 8
FROM MOUNT SAN LEUCIO the Volturno Valley stretches toward the Caruso hill mass, objective of the 3d Division. Before the attack General Truscott's message to his commanders ended, "Every man must keep going until we get to the objective. The tank destroyers and tanks firing from the near shore will use direct fire.... I want them to make the area (shown above) . . . a very unpopular place."
used for anchoring the guide ropes pulled out. The improvised rafts broke up, one by one, in the swift current; and the engineer party from the 1st Battalion, 39th Engineers, had trouble in keeping the rubber boats from drifting downstream. Fortunately for this operation, the enemy bank was higher than the south bank, and in the darkness and smoke the enemy machine gunners fired too high to hit the men as they crossed the open fields to the river. Dawn was breaking before all the men had crossed. With the morning light the accuracy of enemy fire improved. Shells began landing all along the river line, and the last boat to pull away from the south bank was the target for a direct hit.
As fast as the men crossed the river, they gathered along a sandbar under the cover of the north bank and then moved upstream in column, clinging to the river bank for protection against the enemy machine guns. One man was killed by a mine. Several other men stepped on mines which threw up small geysers of sand and mud without doing any damage. The artillery fire was more serious. Shells
splashing into the river hit a number of men as they worked their way along the bank to the point where a small stream enters the river on the west side of the loop. Here they left the river and deployed across the fields south of Highway 87. Late in the morning, orders were received that the battalion was to hold this ground to protect the regiment's left flank.
While the 1st Battalion was crossing on the west side of the loop, the 2d Battalion, followed by the 3d Battalion, crossed on the east side of the loop. The men waded the river holding their rifles over their heads with one hand and clinging tightly to the guide ropes with
MAP NO. 9
the other to keep from being swept off their feet by the current. Scrambling up the muddy bank, they went after the enemy machine gunners. In the darkness and confusion of the crossing it was not easy to locate every machine-gun nest. Enemy snipers were still firing along the river until late in the morning. Without waiting to mop up these pockets of resistance, the 2d and 3d Battalions pushed on across the valley toward Mount Majulo, following the general line of the stream which flows south to enter the river at the north end of the loop. By 0800 the forward elements of the 2d Battalion had almost reached the mountain, and the 3d Battalion, under heavy artillery fire, was working slowly across the fields behind it.
If the morning light improved the accuracy of enemy fire, it also enabled 3d Division observers to call for artillery fire on enemy guns and tanks in the valley. Tank destroyers of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion, firing from dug-in positions in the valley below Mount San Leucio, added the deadly fire of their high-velocity shells. Enemy tanks quickly learned that the area south of the highway was too hot for safety. They gradually pulled back to the north following the sunken dirt roads leading into the mountains. But they did not give up without a fight. At 1012 a British intelligence officer reported that an enemy radio message had been intercepted revealing that the 3d Panzer Battalion was ready to counterattack. Orders were immediately sent to the 751st Tank Battalion to get the tanks of Company A across the river. The waterproofed tanks and tank destroyers were to cross at daylight, but each time the bulldozer approached the river to break down the bank, it was driven back by enemy machine-gun and artillery fire. So men of Company A, 10th Engineer Battalion, using picks and shovels, tore down the bank at a point just below the hairpin loop sufficiently to allow the tanks to slither down to the water's edge. Shortly after 1100 the first tank climbed up the low sand bank on the far side of the river. By early afternoon, despite occasional enemy artillery fire on the ford, fifteen tanks and three tank destroyers had crossed the river. In the meantime the artillery and tank destroyers had broken up the enemy counterattack.
As the enemy tanks withdrew to the north, they continued to harass the 7th Infantry, but the abortive counterattack in the morning was the only serious effort made to regain the ground which had been lost.
BULLDOZERS FERRIED TANKS ACROSS THE RIVER, cleared wrecked vehicles from vital roads, and improved bridge and ford sites. One bulldozer, working on the river bank, was fired on each time it showed itself: others had to give tip operations because of enemy artillery attacks. The ponton bridge in the upper left corner of the picture had been constructed hastily for light traffic only.
Making full use of surprise and driving forward swiftly and relentlessly, the 7th had given the enemy no opportunity to reorganize his shattered defenses. A second enemy radio message, intercepted by British 10 Corps, was sent to 3d Division Headquarters with the comment that "Hermann Goering thinks you people are doing too well in that sector." General Clark expressed his opinion of the 7th Infantry's victory the next morning when he called Col. Sherman and personally congratulated him on his work in crossing the river. The cold, water-soaked men on the brush-covered slopes of Mount Majulo deserved to be congratulated. In one day's fighting they had crossed the Volturno and had won the commanding height, Mount Majulo (Hill 502), in the center of the 3d Division front.
Drive Toward Mount Caruso
While the 7th Infantry was moving down into the valley to cross the river at the hairpin loop, men of the 15th Infantry (less the 1st Battalion, which was creating a diversion on the division left flank)
were climbing around and over the rocky slopes of Mount Castellone (Map No. 10, below). Their objective, the hill mass rising behind the little town of Piana di Caiazzo on the other side of the valley, proved to be many hours fighting away. The immediate problem was to get across the river and knock the Germans off Mount Monticello and Mount Mesarinolo, the two hill fortresses lying in the valley just across the river.
The 2d Battalion, after leaving its assembly area behind Mount Castellone, worked around the west side of the mountain to a draw which leads down to the river near the site where the 10th Engineer Battalion was preparing to put in the division bridge. Here the battalion split.
MAP NO. 10
Company E crossed the river just west of the bridge site, and Company F, followed later by Company G, crossed below a small island about one thousand yards upstream. From these positions they converged on Mount Monticello, the smaller of the two hills. From zero hour at 0200, when the attack jumped off, to 0300, fierce close-in fighting raged along the river bank. The battalion suffered heavy losses before the men broke through the enemy's forward line of defense and swept on to capture Mount Monticello. Here the battalion paused to reorganize, bring up ammunition, and lay communication wire. A stone quarry, located on the south side of the hill, served as a command post and as an evacuation point for the men who had been wounded. From the quarry the wounded were carried back to the river and shuttled across in the rubber boats which were used to carry forward machine guns, mortars, and ammunition. With its first objective secured and its supporting weapons coming across, the 2d Battalion was ready to push on.
The 3d Battalion climbed over the crest of Mount Castellone to reach the river upstream from the island. All the crossing equipment except the essential guide ropes had been left behind in the assembly area because the carrying parties were unable to get the boats and rubber rafts down the steep slopes of the mountain. With Companies L and K leading the assault, the men waded across, battling the swift current and helping each other up the steep bank on the enemy side.
Assisted by the fire of machine guns and mortars placed along the south side of the river, the assault troops made short work of the enemy's forward line of defense. Then they drove on to attack Mount Mesarinolo, the larger of the two hills in the valley. Company L, which attacked on the left, was held up by a machine-gun nest in a house at the base of the hill until the reserve platoon worked around through Company K and caught the enemy from the rear. Pressing home the attack, Companies L and K swept up the steep slopes to take the enemy defenses by storm. A command post with its equipment, including two motor-bikes, was captured, and among the prisoners was an artillery spotter equipped with a radio. Few of the enemy escaped.
After losing the two hills in the valley, the enemy troops who had not already been killed or captured withdrew slowly to the north of
MOUNT MESARINOLO, an island-like hill formation, afforded the enemy sparse concealment but excellent observation for free fields of fire across the level valley. A prisoner from the 29th Panzer Grenadier Regiment reported, however, that on the 14th his platoon had not fired a single shot, because our artillery had forced the men to stay in their fox holes all day.
the highway. Enemy artillery concentrated on the two abandoned hills, and enemy tanks and self-propelled guns operating down the highway from Caiazzo kept the valley under fire. While reorganizing and bringing up machine guns and mortars to continue the advance, the 3d Battalion suffered severe casualties from this shelling. Anyone who exposed himself drew fire, and the men often had literally to crawl forward, making use of every ditch and stone wall for cover. The enemy paid a price for his efforts to delay the advance. One tank was knocked out by artillery fire directed by the 2d Battalion. When the crew jumped out and ran into a house, our troops brought down mortar fire promptly, setting the house afire. A second tank, coming down Highway 87 from Caiazzo, ran into a road block held by the 3d Battalion's antitank platoon. Three direct hits were scored with a bazooka, and a sergeant picked off the crew with his rifle.
During the afternoon the 2d and 3d Battalions pushed up into the mountains behind the village of Piana di Caiazzo to seize their final objectives. Company L, which took the village, found only one
German in the town. He surrendered. Two machine-gun positions located on the hillside above the town were knocked out with rifle grenades, and enemy resistance was ended. The 2d Battalion, attacking up the draw to the left of Piana di Caiazzo, cleared the high ground around Mount Caruso with equal ease. There are no roads through these mountains, and the rocky slopes offer little cover for troops fighting a delaying action. Once the enemy lost control of the valley and Highway 87, he was forced to pull back either to the east or the west. As the 7th Infantry had closed his route of escape to the west, the enemy had no choice but to withdraw up Highway 87 toward Caiazzo, leaving our troops in control of the Mount Caruso area.
MAP NO. 11
THE RIDGE NORTH OF TRIFLISCO GAP was an important enemy strongpoint. By 9 October the 3d Division knew that at least eight self-propelled 105-mm howitzers defended the gap and that other weapons were dug in on the rock formation.
The successful attacks launched by the 7th Infantry and the 15th Infantry cleared the hills dominating the Volturno Valley from the north; there still remained the key ridge line running northwest from the Triflisco Gap along the 3d Division's left flank(Map No. 11, opposite page). General Truscott had assigned this area to the 30th Infantry, assisted by the 1st Battalion of the 15th Infantry. Their task was actually threefold: first, creating a diversion to make the enemy believe that the main attack would be aimed at this strongpoint across the Triflisco Gap; second, keeping the ridge line north of the river blanketed with smoke to neutralize the enemy observation posts; and third, taking the ridge line itself.The accomplishment of the first two tasks contributed greatly to the success of the attack launched by the 7th Infantry, but because the enemy's attention was drawn to the left flank, the task of driving him off the ridge line was made more difficult. It had been hoped that the British 56 Division would effect a crossing of the river at Capua and clear the area to the west of the ridge line. This move would
relieve the pressure on the 3d Division left flank and might force the enemy to withdraw from his positions opposite the Triflisco Gap without a fight. All such hopes were destroyed when the 56 Division attack was beaten back. Thus, although the 46 Division, leading the main 10 Corps attack at the mouth of the Volturno, was progressing favorably, the 56 Division was unable to support the 3d Division with anything but artillery fire and smoke.
Since there appeared to be little chance of an immediate crossing within the Triflisco Gap, orders were issued during the morning directing the 3d Battalion and then the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, to march from their bivouac area west of Caserta to the high valley behind Mount Castellone where they would be in position to cross behind the 15th Infantry. Then, at noon, after discussing the situation with Lt. Col. Lyle W. Bernard, commanding officer of the 2d Battalion, General Truscott ordered him to make an effort to put troops across the gap, sending one company across first and then following with the remainder of the battalion. Col. Bernard started the 2d off and at 1340 the attack was going well, but after two platoons had crossed, they ran into a hail of machine-gun fire and had to pull back across the river. Artillery and mortar fire was concentrated on the enemy positions. Again the men reached the river only to be pinned down a second time by the deadly fire. Because casualties were unusually severe, the attack was postponed until after dark.
Meanwhile the 1st Battalion, after marching two miles toward Mount Castellone, had been turned back to support the 2d Battalion. When the effort to get the 2d Battalion across the Triflisco Gap failed, the 1st Battalion was ordered to cross the river at the tank ford below the hairpin loop and make a night attack on the ridge line from the east flank. Leaving their trucks where Highway 87 turns west around the base of Mount Tifata, the troops marched across the fields toward the river. Here they had a lucky break. By the time they reached the river the engineers had completed a light bridge near the tank ford and the men crossed with dry feet. At 0100 the battalion was in position to attack; by 0330 it was signaling to the 2d Battalion that the objective had been taken. The enemy, with his left flank laid open by the sweeping advance of the 7th Infantry, had pulled back after dark from the exposed knoll at the end of the ridge. At 0445 the 2d Battalion crossed the river and after daybreak the 1st Bat-
talion, 15th Infantry, followed it. The strongpoint across the Triflisco Gap had been taken and all units were across the river.
In hardly more than twenty-four hours of continuous fighting, General Truscott's hard-driving infantrymen had won control of the Volturno Valley from the Triflisco Gap to Mount Mesarinolo; they held the whole of the hill mass dominating the valley from the north; and they were in the process of driving the enemy off the ridge line on the division's left flank (Map No. 8, page 28). By the morning of 14 October there was not an infantry battalion in the 3d Division which was not across the river and in position to continue the attack. But troops cannot operate effectively without ammunition, food, and their supporting weapons. Before the infantry's hard-won gains could be considered secure or further advances made, it was necessary to get supplies through. That depended on the engineers.
The 3d Division Bridges
During the early morning hours of 13 October while the infantry was fighting its way through the enemy machine-gun nests along the river banks, engineer bridge-construction parties began moving their equipment down to the river (Map No. 8, page 28). Casualties and delays were inevitable, for the men were working under shell fire. Mines blew up trucks, shells damaged the rubber floats, and the engineers repeatedly had to seek cover from enemy fire. Yet the bridges were built with remarkable speed. By the end of the day a light bridge for jeeps and an 8-ton bridge capable of carrying 2 1/2-ton trucks had been completed.
The jeep bridge, built by Company A, 10th Engineer Battalion, at the bend in the river below the hairpin loop, was a marvel of Yankee ingenuity. Since there was not enough standard equipment available, the engineers used a hodge-podge of construction track found in a hospital yard near Caserta, steel matting intended for airfield runways, and heavy floats borrowed from Company B, 16th Armored Engineers, to put together an unorthodox but highly successful bridge capable of carrying all the division's jeep traffic. By the end of the afternoon minesweepers were clearing the dirt trail leading from the bridge site to Highway 87, and jeeps loaded with ammunition and supplies were rolling across the bridge.
The division 8-ton bridge was built at the base of Mount Castellone by Company B, 10th Engineer Battalion. Fully aware that this was the only good bridge site in the area, the enemy had his guns zeroed in on it. Much of our equipment was damaged by shell fragments, and many of the rubber floats had to be patched on the spot while the bridge was under construction. By the time it was completed at 2200, Company B had suffered thirteen casualties and had lost five trucks. Building the bridge was not the whole job; it had to be kept in operation. Some of the patches on the punctured floats came loose, making it necessary, for the air compressors to be operated constantly to keep the floats from collapsing. On the morning of 14 October enemy planes bombed and strafed the bridge. Although the bombs all fell wide of the mark, four pontons were riddled with bullets and had to be replaced. Enemy mines and prepared charges laid in the roads and in the fields on each side of the roads were a final obstacle. The second vehicle to cross the bridge, a 2 1/2-ton truck hauling a pack howitzer, struck a buried charge which exploded with terrific force. The motor was blown completely out of the truck, and a crater three or four feet deep and eight feet across was blasted out of the road. Twenty yards farther up the road, a mule in a pack train set off another charge. The mule was hurled thirty feet, a second mule was killed, and there were eight casualties among the men who had begun to drive the frightened animals across the bridge. In spite of these accidents, which blocked the roads and piled up traffic, a steady stream of equipment and supplies was pouring across the river by the morning of 14 October.
The big 30-ton corps bridge, designed to carry loads as heavy as tanks, could not be built on 13 October, for the enemy was not driven from his strongpoint across the Triflisco Gap until that night. Under cover of a smoke screen Company B, 16th Armored Engineer Battalion, started work the next day. The men of the company were experts in the handling of heavy equipment, and the bridge took only six hours to build. While it was being completed, the 1st Battalion, 39th Engineers, worked on approaches across the muddy fields to connect the bridge with Highway 87 and operated a ferry to assist the advance of the 30th Infantry.
THE VI CORPS BRIDGE AT TRIFLISCO GAP was used by the British 56 Division,
moving on 15 October toward the ridges occupied by the 30th Infantry. That
morning Focke-Wulf 190's, flying low, had attempted to bomb and strafe
this bridge and motor traffic along Highway 87 in the same vicinity.
With the completion of this corps bridge, the 3d Division had within its sector three bridges in operation varying in capacity to carry anything from a jeep to a medium tank. The victory won by the foot troops had been matched by the engineers. The 3d Division's bridgehead was secure.
On the 34th Division Front
While the 3d Division was fighting its way across the Volturno and into the hills dominating the valley from the Triflisco Gap to Mount Mesarinolo, the 34th Division was penetrating the rolling hill country lying between the 3d Division right flank and the upper reach of the Volturno (Map No. 12, page 42). Up the slopes of these hills, on the morning of 13 October, assault troops of the 168th and 135th Infantry were pressing forward to win a bridgehead for the 34th Division.
MAP NO. 12
On the evening of 12 October, the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 168th Infantry were joined in their bivouac areas near San Agata by engineers of Company C, 109th Engineer Battalion, who were to assist them in crossing the Volturno (Map No. 13, page 44). After dark the troops marched quietly forward to assembly areas along the gravel road which passes through Limatola on its way to Caiazzo. At the same time the 3d Battalion, located along the rock-strewn slopes of the hills above
Limatola, was placing its 37-mm guns in position and moving riflemen and automatic weapons near the river. Its mission was to protect the regiment's left flank and to support the assault battalions with a screen of fire. As zero hour approached, the troops, listening nervously for the artillery to start firing, began to move out across the level muddy fields toward the river.
At 0145 the artillery opened up. Ninety-six guns and howitzers, representing the combined fire of all the divisional and supporting artillery, threw round after round of high explosive into the enemy positions across the river. All fires were lifted at 0200. Then, along the front of the 168th Infantry, a series of concentrations was fired to hit the road at the foot of the hills and to cover the crossing points of the two assault battalions. Behind this protective screen of artillery fire and a blanket of smoke laid down by Company A, 2d Chemical Battalion, the 1st and 2d Battalions launched their attack.
According to plan, one company of the 1st Battalion crossed the river at a ford north of Limatola. Everything went smoothly until it reached the far bank, where an enemy minefield caused a number of casualties. The remainder of the battalion, which crossed eight hundred yards farther downstream, got its initial wave over in assault boats. Thereafter the engineers had great difficulty in returning the boats to the south bank. Before the crossing was completed, the swift current had swept the boats so far downstream that they were of no further use. The remaining men had no alternative but to cross through water up to their shoulders. Two men were drowned, and much of the radio and mine detecting equipment was rendered inoperative before the 1st Battalion had completed its crossing at 0400. Company L, protecting the regiment's extreme left flank, crossed downstream from an old ferry site below Caiazzo at 0530.
The 2d Battalion in column of companies crossed the river at a ford northeast of the little village of L'Annunziata. In the darkness and smoke the engineers missed the crossing point which had been selected on the basis of reconnaissance reports. As a result, the guide ropes were strung over water which was deeper than anticipated. The north bank was steep and slippery; the assistance of five men was required to hoist one man up out of the water. Although the lead company crossed quickly and was successful in closing up to the covering artillery fire, it was 0645 before the entire battalion was across.
MAP NO. 13
Meeting little resistance at the river, advance elements pushed on up into the brush-covered hills. At 0730 the battalion reported that it had reached its first objective: the high ground east of San Giovanni. The enemy, determined to hold the dominating heights between San Giovanni and Caiazzo, was prepared for the 1st Battalion when it started across the flat fields lying at the foot of the hills. At dawn the battalion, under heavy machine-gun fire from the left, was held up at the road only four hundred yards from the river. Company L,
which had crossed on the left flank, could offer no assistance as it was making little progress in mopping up the flat lands below Caiazzo. Shortly after noon it was decided to advance the troops by covering the ridge running into San Giovanni with a rolling barrage laid down by the 175th Field Artillery Battalion and the Cannon Company of the 168th Infantry. The division artillery was also ordered to fire concentrations that had been computed for fire on call. The artillery commenced firing at 1400, and the 1st Battalion, following closely behind the screen of exploding shells, crossed the road and fought its way up into the hills. By dark the troops had reached their objectives above San Giovanni.
Although the men of the 1st Battalion struggling up the slopes toward San Giovanni were probably not aware of the fact, a platoon of Company G contributed materially to the success of their attack. During the morning Company G was sent over to the 2d Battalion's left flank to assist the 1st Battalion with the fire of its weapons. One platoon penetrated all the way into the streets of San Giovanni only to be caught in the fire of our own artillery. Some casualties were suffered in this misdirected effort, but the enemy was induced to withdraw more rapidly than he expected.
With the hills above San Giovanni secured, the 168th Infantry drove on against Caiazzo, the major objective on the 34th Division front. The 3d Battalion was ordered, at 1700, to cross the river on the right of the 1st Battalion and then swing around through Caiazzo toward the high ground northwest of the town. This mission was completed successfully shortly after daylight on 14 October. In the meantime the 1st Battalion pushed on to the north of Caiazzo and the 2d Battalion moved northeast to protect the regiment's right flank. Cold and wet to the skin-the assault troops had found no time even to drain the water out of their shoes and it rained again on the afternoon of 13 October—the 168th Infantry spent the night fighting through the hills.
In the Hills East of the River Junction
Shortly before zero hour on the morning of 13 October, the 1st Battalion and Company E, 135th Infantry, moved to their designated jumping-off points on the right flank of the 34th Division front (Map No. 14, page 46). At 0145 the 125th Field Artillery Battalion added the roar of its guns to the thunder of the artillery firing all along the Volturno-Calore line and at 0200, just as thousands of other grim-
faced men were doing at many other points along the Volturno, infantrymen of the 135th slipped and slid down the steep river banks and waded out into the cold, swift water. The enemy made no serious effort to oppose the crossing; once past the river, the troops moved forward rapidly. At 0220 Company A, which crossed just below the junction of the Volturno and Calore rivers, was already advancing over the plowed fields lying at the foot of the hills, and Company E, crossing at the other end of the regimental front, was
MAP NO. 14
sending back prisoners at 0250. Company E was soon in possession of its objective, Hill 134 just to the west of the little town of Squille.
Company A reached the first phase line called for in the regiment's plan of attack at 0527, Company B followed at 0600, and Company C, at 0712. Still encountering little opposition, the 1st Battalion pushed on toward the second phase line. Shortly after dawn the engineers had a ferry in operation, making it possible to get light vehicles across the river. In the early morning hours it appeared that the enemy would not attempt to make a determined stand. Then, as the morning wore on, enemy mines and fire began to slow down the advance of the 135th Infantry. The 1st Battalion reported at 0930 that a tank in Amorosi was firing on the ferry, and a few minutes later tanks in the same vicinity were firing on the battalion command post. Hindered by enemy minefields and continually under fire, the 1st Battalion made little progress during the afternoon; the 2d Battalion, moving up after dark, had to fight its way through a pocket of Germans which had been bypassed during the morning advance. The day closed with the 135th Infantry still short of the second phase line.
Continuing the attack early the next morning, the 1st Battalion occupied Hill 283 at 0400. Shortly after daybreak four tank destroyers from the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion managed to ford the river. Placed in hull-down positions on Hill 283, the tank destroyers were used to support the advance of the infantry. By the end of the morning the area south of the second phase line had been cleared and the regiment had patrols operating in all directions. Patrols from Company C made contact with the 168th Infantry. Other patrols reached Highway 87 to the north and crossed the upper reach of the Volturno to make contact with the 45th Division on the right flank. All indications pointed to a general enemy withdrawal.
Battle for Supplies
After a day and a half of stubborn resistance, the enemy had been driven back from his positions all along the 34th Division front by 14 October (Map No. 12, page 42). There remained only the question of how quickly the division could exploit its victory. Before the troops could go farther it was essential here, as on the 3d Division front, that the engineers bridge the river so that supplies and support-
ing weapons could be brought up. The major struggle on the 34th Division front proved to be a fight for supplies.
At 0700 on the morning of 13 October, Company A, 36th Engineers, began moving the divisional light bridging equipment from its assembly area to the previously selected bridge site north of the village of L'Annunziata. Before the trucks were loaded, the rubber floats had been inflated, but this effort to speed up the operation almost proved disastrous. When the head of the column had reached L'Annunziata, the enemy opened up with an artillery barrage. Three trucks were disabled on the highway, and others were hit by shrapnel which punctured the inflated floats, damaging many of them beyond repair. Sticking grimly to their work, the men drove the trucks, three at a time, from L'Annunziata down a dirt road to the unloading point one hundred yards from the river, and went ahead with the work of building the bridge. Twelve trucks had been unloaded and three floats launched when the enemy fire became so accurate that the bridge itself was hit, completely destroying the three floats in the water and causing heavy casualties to the men. Operations had to be stopped.
During the afternoon the damaged equipment was pulled back from the river bank to a concealed assembly area behind L'Annunziata, and those floats which could be salvaged were patched up. In the evening smoke pots were moved down to the river to screen a second effort to put in the bridge. No sooner had these been set off than the enemy again poured artillery fire into the area, making construction impossible. In the meantime a reconnaissance party reported that the bridge could be put in near Squille. Consequently, at 0300 the company began moving its equipment to the new site. This position provided defilade from the enemy artillery fire, but the approach roads were poor and the river was seventy feet wider than at the former site. The increased width of the river, coupled with the 'loss of nearly half of the floats, presented a difficult problem. Exhibiting the same ingenuity which had characterized bridging operations on the 3d Division front, the men of Company A borrowed 12-ton floats and what was left of the 6-ton floats to produce a workable bridge, ready for use by 1030 on 14 October. As soon as the muddy approach roads had been improved and mines cleared on the enemy side of the river, trucks began pouring across with supplies for the 135th Infantry.
To supply the 168th Infantry a 30-ton bridge was built by Company B, 16th Armored Engineers, at the old ferry crossing below Caiazzo. Until the afternoon of 14 October, no work could be done at this site because it was in full view of enemy artillery observers located in the hills around Caiazzo. Once the Germans had been cleared from this high ground by the infantry, the work went forward rapidly, and the bridge was completed early in the morning Of 15 October. The 34th Division's supply problem was finally solved, but for two days the troops of the 168th Infantry had been forced to rely on assault boats to ferry ammunition and food across the river and to carry back the wounded. Operating these boats against the swift current was hard work; even more laborious was the task of hand-carrying the supplies up the hills to the troops. For the 34th Division, the crossing of the Volturno was a true battle of supplies. Until that battle had been won on 15 October, it was impossible to take up the pursuit of the retreating enemy.
The 45th Division Reaches the Volturno
In the early morning hours of 13 October while the 3d and 34th Divisions were forcing a crossing of the Volturno, the 45th Division, on VI Corps' right flank, was launching an attack up the rugged slopes of Mount Acero (Map No. 15, page 50). The division had been assigned the task of breaking through enemy defenses extending from the towering Matese range above Faicchio to the Calore River south of Telese. This series of hills was the enemy's last natural line of defense blocking the approach to the Volturno Valley, at the junction with the Calore where the Volturno River changes its course from north-south to east-west. Once the line was breached, the way would be open for General Middleton's troops to make contact with the 34th Division and then swing northwest through the upper valley of the Volturno.
On 12 October a good start had been made toward unhinging the southern anchor of the enemy line, when the 2d Battalion, 180th Infantry, took the high ground northeast of Telese, a resort town famous for its sulphur baths. Continuing to advance the next morning, the 1st Battalion occupied the hill to the east of San Salvatore. From this position it was able to lay mortar fire on the German defenses on the south slopes of Mount Acero which were under attack by Companies
MAP NO. 15
I and K, 179th Infantry. Under cover of darkness Company K penetrated the enemy positions on the southeast slope of the mountain but was unable to clear them out. Just before dawn it pulled back. When enemy troops, unaware of this withdrawal, launched a counterattack into the area which our troops had just evacuated, Company K caught them in a fire trap and inflicted heavy casualties on them. Following up its advantage, Company K then proceeded to mop up the remaining enemy troops on the southeast slopes of Mount Acero, while Company I attacked from the south. Late in the evening the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry, occupied San Salvatore just to the south
of the mountain. This success opened the way for the 157th Infantry to launch an attack around the west side of Mount Acero, forcing the enemy to give up the whole southern flank of his line.
During the day the artillery had knocked out two Nebelwerfers, the German six-barreled rocket mortar which became famous in the Italian campaign as "Screaming Meemie" or, as the 45th Division dubbed it, "Wailing Willie." The 45th Division had encountered the Nebelwerfer for the first time, but in the next few days "Wailing Willie" became familiar to every man in the division.
By the end of 13 October there were indications that the enemy, pivoting his line on his strong defensive positions at Faicchio, would fight a delaying action while withdrawing to a new line north of the Titerno, Creek, a shallow stream which flows into the upper reach of the Volturno four miles above Amorosi. During 14 October, while the 3d Battalion, 179th Infantry, was establishing an observation post on the top of Mount Acero, the 180th Infantry sent patrols west to the Volturno. The next day the 2d Battalion, reinforced with tanks and tank destroyers, completed the work of clearing all enemy troops out of the valley as far north as the Titerno Creek. In establishing contact with the 34th Division on the other side of the Volturno, the 45th Division had achieved its primary objective.
British 10 Corps Secures a Bridgehead
Along the lower reach of the Volturno from the Triflisco Gap to the sea, the British 10 Corps was winning its portion of Fifth Army's bridgehead (Map No. 16, page 52). Like VI Corps, it was attacking with three divisions: the 46 Division on the left near the mouth of the Volturno; the 7 Armoured Division in the center at Grazzanise; and the 56 Division on the right at Capua.
According to plan, the main attack was made on the left by the 46 Division and succeeded brilliantly. By dawn on 13 October infantry assault battalions were across the river and two squadrons of Sherman tanks had completed an amphibious landing just north of the river mouth. Before the end of the day, the 139 Brigade had reached the canal three miles north of the river. Paths for the tanks were cleared through enemy minefields and repeated enemy counterattacks were beaten back. By 14 October a firm bridgehead extending from the sea east to Cancello, was secured.
MAP NO. 16
The 7 Armoured Division, attacking at Grazzanise, met determined opposition. The assault troops, reaching the river just after dark on the night of 112 October, had hardly succeeded in stretching a cable across the river when an enemy counterattack forced them back. At 0200 a second attempt was made to cross in boats pulled along the cable which had previously been secured. The enemy countered with air-burst artillery fire, and again the men had to withdraw. But they refused to admit defeat; a third, and this time successful, effort was made. By dawn on the 13th the assault troops of the 7 Armoured Division had secured a small foothold on the far bank, and on the 14th they established a firm foothold by advancing about a thousand yards north.
The 56 Division, on the right flank of 10 Corps, was the only unit which was unable to force a crossing of the river on 13 October. In the meantime the 3d Division, on the east side of the boundary between VI Corps and 10 Corps, was moving forward so rapidly that there was danger of VI Corps' left flank becoming exposed. A solution to the problem was found on 14 October, when General Clark changed the boundary between VI Corps and 10 Corps to give the 56 Division responsibility for the ridge line on the 3d Division's left flank. Arrangements were then made to move the 56 Division troops across the 30-ton bridge within the Triflisco Gap.
The Battle Is Won
Early on the morning of 14 October the 39th Field Artillery Battalion, moving into new positions across the Volturno on the 3d Division front, captured two German 150-mm guns in perfect condition, a tracked vehicle, a light vehicle, and an enemy gun crew of six men (Map No. 16, opposite page). Cut off during the fighting of the day before, the prisoners explained that they were waiting to surrender. Although only a minor incident in a great battle, the surrender of this German gun crew to an American gun crew bears witness to the speed and overwhelming power of our attack.
Before daybreak on 13 October, six Allied divisions had struck four German divisions along a forty-mile front. The enemy had tried to delay the crossing as long as possible. He had placed his artillery to cover the river, and his infantrymen, supported by tanks and mortars, in position to counterattack. For the Fifth Army, the long days of
careful planning and the rainy nights when patrol after patrol risked their lives to find crossing points and to probe the enemy defenses along the river had borne good fruit. By night on 14 October, our forces held all but fifteen miles of the river line, between Cancello and Triflisco. Allied air superiority and the weakness of the Luftwaffe prevented enemy planes from interfering seriously with the crossing and the establishment of the bridgehead. A large proportion of the enemy's available fighters and fighter-bombers tried but failed to stop the amphibious landing of 10 Corps' Sherman tanks. Although the enemy was shelling the engineers as they rushed work on vital supply bridges, the backbone of German resistance had been broken. In two days of fighting Fifth Army was across the Volturno, holding a bridgehead from one to three miles deep in three strategic sectors and preparing to pursue the enemy.
page created 17 September 2001
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