Break-Through at Monte Altuzzo
The story of the 338th Infantry Regiment, 85th Infantry Division, in the Penetration of the Gothic Line in Italy.
by SIDNEY T. MATHEWS
Developing the Gothic Line
Allied Front in Italy
12 September 1944
This is the story of an American breakthrough in the mountains of Italy. It describes the main effort of an army that numbered 262,000 troops and included ten combat divisions. Of this mighty force, less than a thousand men--one third of 1 percent--made the principal attack. The assault force that actually closed with the enemy and bore the brunt of the fighting at the critical point was sometimes as small as a single platoon and never larger at any one time than two rifle companies of some 350 men. When a prize fighter strikes a blow against his opponent, his fist alone makes contact. So it is with the main effort of a modern military force: a fraction of its bulk acts as the fist and delivers the punch in the name of the entire army.
On 10 September 1944, the II Corps of the Fifth United States Army launched an attack across the Sieve River in an effort to reach the next major German defenses, the formidable Gothic Line stretching east-west across 170 miles of the rugged North Apennine Mountains.1 (Map III) For almost a year the Germans had been using forced labor to reinforce the natural defensive strength of the mountains with pillboxes, mine fields, and tank barriers, particularly along the limited number of mountain roads. Because terrain along north-south Highway 65 through the Futa Pass did not afford an effective natural barrier, some of the strongest positions had been concentrated in front of it.
Since the British Eighth Army had already broken through a portion of the Gothic Line along the Adriatic coast, the Fifth Army's attack was designed to supplement and exploit the British advance. It was originally scheduled to be launched against the Futa Pass; when intelligence information revealed the German strength there, the main Fifth Army effort by the II Corps on 10 September was directed instead at il Giogo Pass, on Highway 6524, seven miles southeast of the Futa Pass. A penetration through the Giogo Pass could be expected to outflank the enemy strength at the Futa Pass.2
It was recognized that any successful attack against the Giogo Pass would
Situation in Mt. Altuzzo Area
0600, 13 September 1944
require capture of the dominant terrain features on either side of Highway 6524: the Monticelli hill mass on the west (left) and Monte Altuzzo on the east (right). (Map IV) The 91st Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. William G. Livesay), spearheading the American drive, was scheduled to reach the outpost line in front of these two mountains, there to be relieved partially by the 85th Infantry Division, under the command of Maj. Gen. John B. Coulter, which was then to make the main effort on a narrow front against the dominating peak, Monte Altuzzo. The 91st Division was to co-ordinate by taking Monticelli while one of its regiments and the 34th Infantry Division made holding attacks farther west. Armor concentrations and heavy air action around the Futa Pass were designed to deceive the enemy into thinking the main attack was to be launched there, but II Corps artillery was to give maximum support to the effort at the Giogo Pass.3
The 363d Infantry of the 91st Division crossed the Sieve River and advanced to the Gothic Line against relatively light German resistance. On the night of 11 September the regiment found itself approximately 2,000 yards south of Monticelli and Monte Altuzzo.4 Since stiff opposition had failed to develop, the II Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes, kept the 85th Division in reserve and ordered the 91st Division to continue its attack the next morning (12 September). It was to advance as far as possible toward the two dominating peaks.5
The Terrain and the Enemy
The German defense of the Giogo Pass sector of the Gothic Line was based on a group of 3,000-foot peaks, including Monte Altuzzo and Monticelli, which flanked either side of the pass. From these peaks eroding streams had cut north-south spurs and ridges parallel to the planned axis of advance, dividing the terrain into compartments and pockets that provided excellent defensive locations. Heavy stands of pine trees covered the northwest slopes of Monte Altuzzo and the area west of the pass, and oak trees grew on the lower slopes of Monte Verruca (east of Monte Altuzzo). Elsewhere the ridges were overlaid with rocky soil, low brush, or grass, sparsely interspersed with scattered trees. What little concealment there was for an attacking force came from the unevenness of the slopes; and the high peaks gave the defenders observation for miles to the south.
The only possible route for an armored attack against the Giogo Pass was the main road, Highway 6524, which was narrow, full of sharp turns, and flanked by the bare slopes of Monticelli and by Monte Altuzzo. Since antitank weapons could easily bring effective fire on the highway, enemy engineers had devoted most of their efforts to developing strong infantry positions and had constructed heavy pillboxes and bunkers on the adjacent mountains. Some positions had been blasted from solid rock; others had been dug into the ground and built of heavy logs. In many positions, machine
guns had been placed for interlocking cross fire, and in a number of cases barbed wire and antipersonnel mines had been laid across the approaches. Behind the main firing positions other bunkers, primarily of thick log construction, had been built, generally on the north slopes of the mountains, to house mobile counterattack reserves.
Towering above the highway southwest of the pass, the Monticelli hill mass was a long, steep, backbone ridge with a concave southern slope. East of the highway, Monte Altuzzo was a high conical peak that rose to 3,037 feet, 181 feet above Monticelli, and curved 650 yards north-northwest down to the Giogo Pass. From Monte Altuzzo's highest peak, Hill 926, a main north-south ridge ran south 2,500 yards, a wavy, undulating hill mass with narrow draws cutting its slopes into uneven arms. Along this main ridge line were at least seven distinct hills or knobs, five of them south of Hill 926; from south to north, they were Hills 578, 624, 782, two unnumbered knobs which will be called Knobs 1 and 2, Hill 926, and another unnumbered knob which will be known as Knob 3.
Along the entire main ridge south of Hill 926, the ridge line was extremely narrow, varying in width from one to ten yards. North of Hill 782, any advance up the eastern slope toward the crest, Hill 926, was virtually impossible. Although this slope was not an escarpment, the gradient was too steep and the rocks were too precipitous. Besides, from higher points on the main ridge--from Pian di Giogo, which stretched between the northern slopes of Altuzzo and Monte Verruca to the east, and from the western arm of Verruca itself--the enemy could observe and cover with fire any attempt to advance up Altuzzo's eastern slope. On the western side of the mountain beyond Hill 782 the slope was less precipitous but even more exposed to enemy fire. In this area the Germans had built a main line of resistance (MLR) along the upper rim of a huge bowl, formed by the main Altuzzo ridge and a prominent spur curving west and southwest from Hill 926, which extended 200 yards north and 500 yards west of Hill 782. The prepared positions of this line ran from Knob 2, about 250 yards short of the crest of the mountain, for 200 yards northwest along a trail which skirted the top of the bowl to the peak of the western ridge extending 500 yards to the west of Hill 926. On the peak of the western ridge German engineers had blasted bunker positions out of rock. Two bunkers covered the bowl, including the slopes of the main ridge north of Hill 782; about halfway down the bowl other mutually supporting positions could bring fire on the lower ground around the base of the bowl. Well screened by camouflage, trees, and heavy brush along the upper slopes, the main German positions covered the exposed approaches over the lower slopes of the bowl and along the main ridge line north from Hill 782. Scattered trees, bare rocks, and low brush along the lower slopes of the bowl offered scant concealment for attacking troops, and north of Hill 782 the narrowness of the ridge line offered no room for deployment.
About 300 to 500 yards in front of the main line of resistance, the enemy had erected an outpost line on the southwest slopes of Hill 782. Consisting of three log bunkers and an open zigzag trench, these outer defenses were spaced at
irregular intervals and were covered by a weak barrier of barbed wire. From them the Germans could place effective rifle and machine gun fire in the draws on either side of the mountain and on the lower slopes of the main ridge. Besides utilizing this outpost line, the Germans had attempted to canalize any attack against Monte Altuzzo by erecting a band of barbed wire fifteen to twenty yards deep across the western ridge of the mountain (the west side of the bowl). No wire had been laid across the central and eastern slopes of the bowl, evidently because the enemy relied on the mutually supporting machine gun and rifle positions to beat back assaults.6
Facing the American attack was the 4th Parachute Division of the I Parachute Corps of the Fourteenth Army. Except for a small nucleus of experienced paratroopers who had been combat-schooled at Anzio, most troops in this division were inexperienced boys with only three months' training. The division's reserves were green troops who had never fired ball cartridges, so inexperienced that the commander of the I Parachute Corps stated his intention to use the reserves as pack animal drivers.7
The Fourteenth Army as a whole had suffered heavy casualties in the Allied breakout from the Anzio beachhead and the pursuit to the Arno River. Although the halt of the Allied offensive at the end of July had given the Germans as well as the Americans a chance to absorb reinforcements and equipment, Fourteenth Army's strength was well below that of the Fifth U. S. Army. It had been weakened even further after the British Eighth Army had launched its earlier Adriatic coast attack and four German divisions had been shifted to the Tenth Army on the east to meet this threat. At no more than half strength, each division left in the Fourteenth Army held a long front averaging ten miles, and the army's reserves were reduced to two battalions of the Grenadier Lehr Brigade.8
Despite the shortage of front-line troops and reserves, the enemy intended to hold the Gothic Line as long as his limited resources would permit. On 8 September each soldier in the 12th Parachute Regiment, 4th Parachute Division, had received orders that ". . . the position is to be held to the last man and the last bullet even if the enemy breaks through on all sides as well as against strongest artillery or mortar fire. Only on authority
of the company commander may the position be abandoned."9
The 363d Infantry Attacks
The 91st Division launched its 12 September attack in the early morning with the 363d Infantry making the main effort up Highway 6524 to capture Monticelli and Monte Altuzzo. While the 1st Battalion kept pressure on the enemy on the left flank, the 3d Battalion attempted to seize the two objectives. Company K pushed toward Monticelli; Company I toward Fonte Fredda along the highwy between the two mountains; and Company L toward Monte Altuzzo.
German resistance stiffened, and neither of the division's attacking regiments got farther than the enemy's outpost positions.10 The II Corps commander, General Keyes, thereupon ordered his original plan for a co-ordinated attack to go into effect at 0600 the next morning. While the 34th Division on the left wing and the 91st Division in the center kept pressure on the enemy, the 85th Division, taking over the attack zone east of Highway 6524, would make the main effort to seize Monte Altuzzo and the Giogo Pass. The weight of the 91st Division attack was to fall against Monticelli along the west side of Highway 6524. General Keyes ordered the 91st Division to continue pressure on the enemy through the day of the 12th and to advance as far as possible before the 85th Division launched the main effort. The II Corps commander realized that there would be confusion when the 85th Division units passed through the 91st Division before the latter was ordered to halt its attack. He believed, however, that uninterrupted pressure against the enemy was necessary until the 85th Division took over the main effort.11
Although the 91st Division commander was not anxious for the 363d to attack that night, the 363d Infantry commander wanted to take Monticelli and Monte Altuzzo and secured division approval to continue the operation.12 He ordered his 3d Battalion to continue the regiment's principal mission. The battalion planned to jump off again shortly after dark on 12 September in a night attack. Company I, 363d, was to capture Monticelli; Company L, Monte Altuzzo.13
Again the attack met with little success. Company I, after making an encouraging early advance, was pushed back to the cluster of houses at l'Uomo Morto on Highway 6524.14 Company L's commander became confused in the darkness and led his company by mistake to the southwestern slopes of Monte Verruca. Some time after midnight he radioed his error to his battalion headquarters and then moved his company
INFANTRYMEN IN FULL FIELD EQUIPMENT advancing toward the Gothic Line on 10 September 1944.
west. Not long before dawn he reached Hill 578, the lowest knob on the main Altuzzo ridge line. There again the company commander lost his bearings; he reported that he was on Hill 782 and that the crest of Monte Altuzzo (Hill 926) was the next rise straight ahead. Actually the peak before him, hiding the crest from his view, was Hill 782. With orders to push on, Company L moved up the southern slope of Hill 782 until its leading platoons reached barbed wire defenses and received fire from German machine guns in bunkers forming the outpost line of the main line of resistance. Shortly after daylight on 13 September, Company L, after a stiff fire fight, captured six prisoners and silenced three bunkers before heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire halted the attack.15
In taking the three enemy bunkers, the troops of the 363d Infantry created a confused situation. Soon after the night attack had begun, wire communications to the 363d's battalions had failed, and at daylight the regiment knew almost nothing of its 3d Battalion's location. Only a half hour before the 85th Division was to launch its attack, the 363d Infantry reported its Company L on the eastern slope of Hill 782 approximately 200 yards from the crest of the hill. Even then the regiment knew nothing of Company L's situation.16 The 85th Division's 338th Infantry, scheduled to take over Company L's zone for an 0600 attack and to use the 91st Division's farthest advance as its line of departure, was thoroughly confused by meager, contradictory, and indefinite reports.17 Thus the II Corps attack against the Gothic Line began in confusion.
As Fifth Army drew up to the Gothic Line, the Germans deduced from armored and heavy bombing attacks that the Americans would make their main attack in the Futa Pass area. To meet the threat Fourteenth Army on 11 September shifted the left flank of the 362d Grenadier Division to the east and requested Army Group C to hold one regimental group in readiness for use at Futa Pass. At the risk of straining its west coast defenses, Army Group C announced on 12 September that it would speed withdrawal of a regimental group from the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division for movement to the Futa Pass. The enemy had not yet ascertained that the main American effort would be made against the Giogo Pass.18
Attack Preparations, 338th Infantry
At approximately 0915, 12 September, Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, Fifth Army commander, and General Keyes stopped at the 338th Infantry command post and talked briefly with Lt. Col. Willis O. Jackson and Lt. Col. Robert H. Cole, the 1st and 2d Battalion commanders, and Maj. Sherburne J. Heliker, the regimental S-3. General Clark told the infantry commanders: "You had better get on your hiking shoes. I'm going to throw you a long forward pass into the Po Valley, and I want you to go get it."19 Such was the long-range importance of the Giogo Pass attack.
About noon on 12 September, the regimental commander of the 338th Infantry, Col. William H. Mikkelsen, went to the 85th Division command post (CP) to receive the attack order.20 It called for the 338th Infantry on the left to take over part of the 363d Infantry zone for the main effort against Monte Altuzzo. On the right the 339th Infantry would attack Monte Verruca. On the assumption that the main objective in the Giogo area, Monte Altuzzo, would still be in enemy hands at H Hour, the 338th Infantry was to jump off from whatever forward positions elements of the 91st Division reached during the night.21
Between one third and one half of the 338th Infantry had experienced two months of combat against the heavy Gustav Line near the Garigliano River and in the drive through the mountains to Rome. Nearly all had at least been indoctrinated during a ten-day period in August with patrols and holding action along the Arno River. The regiment then had been out of the line for several weeks of rest and training in mountain assaults. During the II Corps advance toward the Gothic Line, the 338th Infantry and the other elements of the 85th Division had moved on the night of 11 September by motor convoy across the Arno River at Florence and up Highway 65 to Vaglia, some ten to twelve miles south of the 91st Division's front lines.22
Since the 338th had known for several days that it would make the main attack against Monte Altuzzo, its officers had initiated preliminary plans based on detailed map study. An intelligence summary had been distributed to the battalions indicating that, although the enemy had not done as much work on the Giogo positions as on other parts of the Gothic Line, they formed nonetheless a "formidable defense sector." A second intelligence summary put out with the 338th's attack order indicated that the enemy's intentions regarding defense of the pass were not yet clear. It alluded optimistically to the poor quality of enemy troops. From prisoners of war captured by elements of the 91st Division it had been learned that the 12th Parachute Regiment, 4th Parachute Division, was defending the area.23
In midafternoon of 12 September Colonel Mikkelsen, the 338th commander, issued the regimental attack order. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Colonel Jackson, was to make the main effort, seizing Hill 926, the crest of Monte Altuzzo. The 2d Battalion, under the command of Colonel Cole, was to attack on the left along Highway 6524 to Point 770, between Monticelli and Monte Altuzzo. The theory was that pressure along the highway would assist the main effort against Monte Altuzzo. In reserve the 3d Battalion, commanded by Maj. Lysle E. Kelley, was to follow the 1st up the main ridge. All battalions were to move soon after dark to forward assembly areas from which they were to launch the attack at 0600 the next morning. All three were at full strength, carried normal allowances of equipment and combat
loads of ammunition, and could be reinforced from a regimental replacement pool of 250 men.24
The artillery plan for the attack involved use of the 329th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzers) for direct-support fires on call from the 338th Infantry. In general support of the entire division were to be two other field artillery battalions of the 85th Division, the 328th (105-mm. howitzers), prepared to mass fires on call in either of the 85th Division regimental sectors, and the 403d (155-mm. howitzers) for precision and destruction fires and for long-range neutralization and harassing missions in the division zone. (The remaining battalion of 85th Division artillery was in direct support of the 339th Infantry.) Reinforcing fires would be provided by the 752d Tank Battalion (Medium) and the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Self-Propelled), which had also the mission of providing antimechanized defense. Also in general support of the 85th Division was to be the 178th Field Artillery Group, which included three 155-mm. howitzer battalions and one 4.5-inch gun battalion. For long-range counterbattery fire and especially for knocking out heavy enemy fortifications, the 423d Field Artillery Group, consisting of two battalions (less one section) of 240-mm. howitzers, three sections of 8-inch guns, and two battalions of 155-mm. guns, was to provide general support along the entire II Corps front. On 11 September the long-range artillery had moved into position in the vicinity of Vaglia and the medium-range corps artillery and the 85th Division artillery to positions near the Sieve River. Maximum fire was to be placed on known and suspected enemy fortifications in the attack zone; and general support battalions, in addition to maintaining destructive fires on enemy defenses, were to place fire on roads and other routes of entry into the area behind Monte Altuzzo to harass movement of enemy supplies and reserves. No plans were made initially for a preparatory barrage.25
During the afternoon of 12 September both commanders of the 338th Infantry's attacking battalions reconnoitered the forward area. Colonel Jackson, 1st Battalion commander, and Capt. Thomas M. Quisenberry, his operations officer, went forward by jeep at 1730 to select a final assembly area, make a reconnaissance, and secure information from the 3d Battalion, 363d Infantry, whose Company L was in the zone the 1st Battalion was to take over the next morning. Before leaving his command, Colonel Jackson told his executive officer to start his companies marching north at 1800 on the road to Scarperia; he would meet the battalion later and guide it to a final assembly area.
Arriving at the command post of the 3d Battalion, 363d Infantry, about 200 yards north of the village of Ponzalla, Colonel Jackson found the situation perplexing. The commander of the 3d
Battalion, 363d, had not yet been informed that the 338th Infantry was to pass through his units, and he was planning his own attack to secure Monticelli and Monte Altuzzo. Company L, 363d, was scheduled to make a night attack against Altuzzo, and the battalion operations officer predicted that the capture of Altuzzo that night would be easy and that Company L would hold the objective by dawn.
After selecting his forward assembly area in the vicinity of Tre Camin Farmhouse, about 400 yards east of Ponzalla, Colonel Jackson sent a message for his company commanders to come forward. When they arrived shortly after dark, he oriented them as best he could under the handicap of the meager information he obtained from the 3d Battalion, 363d, and the lack of opportunity to make a detailed ground reconnaissance. Darkness had closed down before he could survey the routes of approach to his objective, or even the objective itself, the crest of Monte Altuzzo. Until the next morning he would have to base his route of advance on map study and what he had seen of the hills from the CP of the 3d Battalion, 363d. Jackson still felt that he could find out from the 363d Infantry at least the route of approach to the objective. At all events there was the possibility that the 363d Infantry would have captured Monte Altuzzo before dawn.
Jackson's plan of attack was to employ a column of companies, A, B, and C, with one heavy machine gun platoon of Company D attached to each of the two leading companies. He adopted this flexible plan because of incomplete information on the amount of resistance that would be encountered and because of uncertainty as to the location of the troops through which his battalion was to pass. The six 81-mm. mortars of Company D were to support the attack from positions on the slopes below Paretaio Farmhouse.26
Confidence in the 338th
There seemed to be an air of confidence--almost overconfidence--in the conversations of Colonel Jackson and his 1st Battalion company commanders. Based partly on the intelligence appreciation by the 338th Infantry that the German troops on Monte Altuzzo were inferior, the confidence also stemmed from the optimism of the 3d Battalion, 363d, which expected to take Monte Altuzzo without much of a struggle before the 338th should be committed. The overlays of enemy positions which the officers had seen showed only a few defenses on Monte Altuzzo, much less formidable than on Monticelli. The fact was that the German positions on bare Monticelli were more easily identified than those in the brush and woods of Monte Altuzzo. None of the overprints showed the heavy fortifications on the peak of Altuzzo's western ridge or the ring of positions around the Altuzzo bowl. The confidence of the 1st Battalion officers was strengthened by events at large--day after day, newspapers and radio had blared the news of victories on other fronts, the British had already cracked the Gothic Line below Rimini, and The Stars and Stripes had announced that the German Army in Italy was finished.27
During the night of 12-13 September, Colonel Jackson could not help worrying about the obscure situation of Company L, 363d Infantry, which was supposedly attacking up the Altuzzo ridge. Although he kept contact with the 3d Battalion, 363d, he was never able to secure accurate information about Company L and therefore did not know where his line of departure would be at 0600 the next morning. His battalion was faced with passing through a unit which had not been located and whose success against his own objective was not known.28
The men of the 1st Battalion, 338th, arrived just before midnight at their forward assembly area in the vicinity of Tre Camin Farmhouse. Loaded down with full packs and blanket rolls, they had marched on foot from Vaglia, twelve miles up and down hills. Despite their fatigue, they did not seem depressed about the impending attack. Few suspected that a hard fight lay ahead, and most shared the confidence of their officers. After digging in, the men dropped off to sleep.29
Colonel Cole, commander of the 2d Battalion, which was to assist the 1st Battalion's main effort against Monte Altuzzo by attacking up Highway 6524 between Altuzzo and Monticelli, experienced much the same difficulty as Colonel Jackson. When Colonel Cole issued his attack order around midnight, designating two companies forward, one on either side of the highway, he still did not know his line of departure, for Company I, 363d Infantry, was still making a night attack toward Monticelli.30 The 2d Battalion, 338th Infantry, awaited its morning attack in a forward assembly area, one to two hundred yards north of Ponzalla. The 3d Battalion, 338th Infantry, moved up during the night to an assembly area about one mile south of Ponzalla and made plans to follow in reserve behind the 1st Battalion up the main Altuzzo ridge.31
Preparations of Company A, 338th
As daylight approached on 13 September, the men of Company A, 338th Infantry, who were to lead the 1st Battalion's movement against Monte Altuzzo, roused from their short sleep at 0430, ate K ration breakfasts, and prepared their equipment for the attack. Each man folded his shelter half and blanket into a U-roll. The new infantry packs were left on the hillside behind the Paretaio Farmhouse. Stripped down to the barest gear needed, the men shivered a little. The night air was cool, and the old field jackets, olive drab uniforms, and summer underwear in which they had sweltered the day before were no proof against the cold morning drafts that swept over the hills.
The company commander, Capt. Robert A. King, the 2d Platoon leader, 2d Lt.
RELAXED FOOT SOLDIER of 338th Infantry in forward assembly area. Members of the 338th Infantry, resting and waiting, were not depressed by the impending attack.
Harry R. Gresham, and the platoon runner, Pfc. Bernard C. Van Kleeck, met Colonel Jackson near the Paretaio Farmhouse and went inside for map orientation. Lieutenant Gresham's 2d Platoon was to spearhead Company A's attack. Pointing on his 1:25,000 map to a small trail that seemingly led north to the objective, Colonel Jackson designated it as the battalion's route of advance and gave Captain King and Lieutenant Gresham last-minute information. On the whereabouts of Company L, 363d Infantry, he could say only that elements of that company were somewhere on the mountain.32
Lieutenant Gresham's platoon sergeant, T. Sgt. Adron G. Stevens, had in the meanwhile been leading the 2d Platoon toward the farmhouse. Lieutenant Gresham met them outside and assembled his squad leaders and platoon headquarters for a conference.
After establishing communication by SCR (Signal Corps Radio) 536 with Company A headquarters, the 2d Platoon leader, his squad leaders, and platoon headquarters, followed by the platoon itself, walked thirty-five yards beyond a rock wall above the Paretaio Farmhouse to a little road that ran northwest to a junction with Highway 6524. Light was beginning to break on the lower slopes of the Altuzzo ridge. Although the crest of Hill 926 was still not visible, the wooded slopes to the north along the highway could be seen for several hundred yards.
Halting his platoon, Lieutenant Gresham relayed to his squad leaders information about the enemy and the route of advance designated by Colonel Jackson. He assigned S. Sgt. Ira W. Wilson's 2d Squad as the scout squad of a squad column formation, to be followed at an interval of fifty yards by platoon headquarters, the 1st Squad, and the 3d Squad, in that order. The lieutenant selected as the first bound for the scout squad a clump of trees some 600 yards north of Paretaio near the head of a little fork of Rocca Creek west of the open fields and olive orchards that lay along the west side of the main draw.
At approximately 0600 the 2d Platoon moved out. Sergeant Wilson's scout squad had walked about fifty yards up the little road when Lieutenant Gresham discovered that it led to the left instead of to the right toward Monte Altuzzo, as his map reconnaissance with Colonel Jackson had indicated. Accordingly he ordered Wilson to strike cross country to the right in the direction of the selected bound. Leading his men across a scrubby slope east of the little road, Wilson found and followed a trail which ran high on the eastern slope of Hill 577, below the highway, to the south and eastern slopes of Hill 606 near l'Uomo Morto. (Map 8) Possibly because the advance was shielded by heavily leafed trees and thick underbrush on either side of the path, Lieutenant Gresham ordered the platoon to decrease the distance between men. The leading squad filed down the trail across a little hump in the slope and over a small branch of Rocca Creek to the first bound, the clump of trees on the nose of Hill 606. There Sergeant Wilson halted his men and observed the open wheat field and olive grove facing them. Bounding the field
ADVANCE TOWARD MT. ALTUZZO, Company A, 338th Infantry, 13 September 1944.
and olive grove was a V-shaped draw chiseled by the winding mountain stream.
Wilson passed word down the column to Lieutenant Gresham that he had stopped. About one hour had passed since the jump-off, and still there had been no fire or sign of the enemy. When Lieutenant Gresham came forward, he noted that observation of the whole Altuzzo ridge was good and for the first time saw the highest peak of the mountain, Hill 926. He reported his position to Captain King: he was at a point some 1,200 yards southwest of Monte Altuzzo's crest.
Studying the terrain briefly with his platoon sergeant and leading squad leader, Lieutenant Gresham selected the main creek bed of the Rocca directly across the open field as the next bound for the scout squad. For the scout squad's protection, he moved the 1st Squad to covering positions in the clump of trees and directed the 3d Squad to close up in rear of the 1st.
Because he feared mines in the fields and draws ahead, Lieutenant Gresham directed Wilson to move his squad across the open field in single file. The platoon leader then led Sergeant Stevens, Private Van Kleeck and Pvt. Donald R. Smith, platoon runners, and Pvt. Edmond H. Carter, an automatic rifleman, to the nose of Hill 606, and prepared to help cover the scout squad's movement. These were routine precautions. Gresham and his men still thought that Company L, 363d Infantry, was on Monte Altuzzo and that the 2d Platoon would merely pass through Company L.
It was nearly 0800 when Sergeant Wilson moved his squad from the clump of trees into the open field. Sunlight striking the western slopes of the Altuzzo ridge had helped dispel the morning haze, and the mountain ahead was clearly visible. The squad had advanced about seventy-five yards across the field when a machine gun from an enemy outpost on the southwestern slope of Hill 782 directly above la Rocca Farmhouse suddenly opened fire. The first bullets struck the ground about twenty yards in front of the squad. There was little concealment in the field, and Lieutenant Gresham, back at the covering position on the nose of Hill 606, could see the squad plainly. As the men hit the ground, the lieutenant shouted to Sergeant Wilson to move into the creek bed about fifty yards away; an instant later, as if the platoon leader did not know what was happening, Sgt. Edgar A. Parks, the assistant squad leader, called back, "There's somebody shooting at us, Lieutenant!"33 For the moment the machine gun fire was so intense that the men could not reach the creek bed, though they were able to dash forward to a little drainage ditch, two feet deep, which ran through the field.
Soon Private Carter, the automatic rifleman with platoon headquarters, located what he thought was the enemy machine gun position about 600 yards away on the southwest slope of Hill 782. Carter opened up with his Browning automatic rifle (BAR), and the enemy weapon soon ceased fire. Sergeant Wilson's squad ran forward quickly to take cover in the main bed of Rocca Creek. The action had taken about one hour, and the 2d Platoon found it had four men wounded.
MONTE ALTUZZO AREA on right flank of the Giogo Pass. La Rocca Farmhouse area, hidden by trees, is indicated by circle.
INFANTRY APPROACH OVER OPEN FIELD. This area, under direct observation from Monte Altuzzo, was where the first enemy fire hit Lieutenant Gresham's platoon.
Lieutenant Gresham was convinced that the movement of more men across the open field would unnecessarily expose them. He therefore decided to send the rest of the platoon, now some 200 yards behind the advance squad, off at a sharp angle to Sergeant Wilson's route. The 1st and 3d Squads would push southeast down the branch of Rocca Creek, which ran beside the southwest side of the open grainfield to the main creek bed some 500 yards away.34
Before moving again, Lieutenant Gresham radioed company headquarters, and Captain King came forward. The company commander told the platoon leader to continue the advance and promised to have the 1st Platoon cover the advance from the edge of the open field until Gresham made contact again. Promising to call for artillery fire on the entire area from la Rocca to the top of Monte Altuzzo, Captain King radioed Colonel Jackson, who in turn asked for the support fire from regiment.35 The request was passed through channels to
the 363d Infantry, which refused to allow the fire because its Company L was still somewhere on Monte Altuzzo.36
Minus the 2d Squad, which had taken cover 300 yards to the northeast in the Rocca Creek bed, Company A's 2d Platoon moved out on its selected route down the dry branch bed leading southeast toward the main draw. The leading men had advanced only about 150 yards when 120-mm. mortar shells began to shower the banks and bed of the branch creek. Shouting for the men to take cover, Lieutenant Gresham hit the ground. Up and down the creek bed the men could see the shells kicking up the dirt a few yards away or hear them plopping in the hay fields above the banks. As the mortar fire continued, the 1st Squad leader, whose nervous condition had worried Gresham before, asked permission to return to the company command post. Realizing the sergeant was unfit for duty, Gresham sent him back and ordered the assistant squad leader, Pfc. Ray C. Collins, to take command.
During and after the mortar concentration, Lieutenant Gresham tried in vain to reach the company commander by SCR 536. The platoon leader then sent back his runner, Private Van Kleeck, to report the platoon's position and the route it expected to take as it continued.
The main body of the 2d Platoon again moved down the creek bed. About 200 yards farther, the lieutenant called a halt. He sent two men ahead to tell Sergeant Wilson--still with his 2d Squad on the other side of the field in the main Rocca Creek bed 300 yards to the north to begin moving down the creek bed to meet them. There was a dugout in the side of the bank where the platoon leader had halted his men. Inside were about a dozen Italian civilians, and outside lay the still-warm bodies of a chicken, a dog, and a cow, killed by the mortar barrage. Assisted by Pfc. Joseph Farino as interpreter, Lieutenant Gresham questioned the civilians. They knew that Germans occupied the territory into which the platoon was moving, but had seen no Americans either on the slopes of Monte Altuzzo or in the Rocca draw.
Again Gresham tried to make contact by SCR 536 with Captain King; again he failed. Since Private Van Kleeck had not returned, the platoon leader sent another runner, Pvt. Richard E. Finkle, to the company command post, which presumably was still following down the slope north of Paretaio. About 1000 the platoon finally made SCR 536 contact with the Weapons Platoon leader, 2d Lt. Henry F. Robbins, who was at the company CP. Lieutenant Gresham reviewed the progress of his platoon and said he planned to continue moving down the creek bed.
The two men who had gone to make contact with Sergeant Wilson returned after a round trip of about forty-five minutes, and Lieutenant Gresham and the 1st and 3d squads moved out toward Sergeant Wilson's squad. The two groups joined forces around 1100, and the entire platoon ate K ration dinners in the creek bed at the base of the big western finger of Hill 624.
Advance to Hills 624 and 782
With the 1st Squad in the lead, Lieutenant Gresham moved his platoon single file up the left branch of a Y-shaped draw
which mountain streams had carved through the western slope of Hill 624. The men walked up the creek bed, barely wetting their boots in a watercourse that months of rainless days had cut to a trickle. Leaving the creek bed, they moved across the south side of the finger of Hill 624, rounded the nose, and pushed on toward a grove of gnarled chestnut trees on the slope about 250 yards west of Hill 624. Going uphill for the first time since the jump-off, the men trudged slowly, their bedrolls, cartridge belts, bandoleers of ammunition, and M-1 rifles seeming even heavier than before. The ground was rough and uneven, and the slope was steep.
When the platoon reached the chestnut grove on the slope of Hill 624, enemy machine gunners and riflemen in the outpost positions on the southern slope of Hill 782 near the ridge line must have spotted the men's heads bobbing through the heavily foliaged but widely spaced trees. The Germans fired sporadically but caused no casualties. Instead of returning the fire, Lieutenant Gresham halted the column, and the men stretched on the ground to rest.
A wild cry came suddenly from the higher slopes of Hill 624. Four men sent to investigate found a dazed soldier from Company L, 363d Infantry. He had lost his rifle, helmet, and field jacket, and was in a semicoherent condition. He told Gresham that the night before his company had made an attack to the right of where the Company A platoon was now resting. His company, the soldier said, had run into strong enemy resistance and had been driven back with heavy casualties. He had become separated from the rest of the company and had no idea where it was. Sending the man to the rear with a guide, Gresham radioed the information to Captain King.37 The company commander replied that he still thought the platoon would meet only light opposition and instructed the platoon leader to keep moving toward the top of the mountain.38
Before pushing forward again, Lieutenant Gresham roughly marked the next bound and route of advance. From the chestnut trees on the northwestern slope of Hill 624, he could see a large finger extending down from Hill 782. The platoon leader located on his 1:25,000 map a clearly marked trail that wound from the top of Hill 624 northwest to and around the finger. He designated the finger as the next bound. Although foliage and scrubby undergrowth prevented locating the trail on the ground, Gresham decided to move the platoon in a northeasterly direction anyway, hoping this would bring his men to the trail.
Shortly after noon Gresham's troops, in single file, the 1st Squad still leading, moved forward again. They met no resistance as they passed between stunted trees and bushes across the western slope of Hill 624. The leading men had gone about fifteen yards when they came upon the trail near the head of a creek that flowed down the slope. Following the trail, the 1st Squad moved along the southwestern slope of Hill 782 and, after rounding the first of its two fingers, came to the bend in the trail on the second, larger, finger which stretched down from Hill 782 to la Rocca Farmhouse. When the squad halted, Lieutenant Gresham joined Private Collins, the squad leader,
and called the other two squad leaders forward. From the bend Gresham could see a peak to the left on a ridge that seemed to extend east toward Hill 926, the crest of Monte Altuzzo, which still was not visible. Rather than push directly toward the objective, Gresham decided he would move his platoon to the western peak and then swing right toward the top of the mountain. His men could walk along the trail to the western ridge, then straight up the ridge to the peak.39
After this decision Gresham radioed his plan to his company commander. Captain King, still confident that the enemy would not put up a stiff fight, approved Gresham's plan and urged the platoon to move along quickly.40 Earlier that morning, at 1007, Colonel Jackson had prematurely reported to regiment that Company A's leading platoon had reached the lower southwest slope of Hill 782.41
Again Lieutenant Gresham's platoon moved out, going around the bend and down the trail that ran to the base of the bowl, which was formed by the large finger of Hill 782, the western slope of the main ridge, and the western ridge. The men of the leading 1st Squad were dispersed along either side of the trail in a squad column formation, and behind them in single file came the 3d and 2d Squads. Between men there was an interval of ten yards, and the squads had visual contact. Thick undergrowth of bushes and small trees along the trail concealed the men from the enemy who, unknown to the advancing platoon, lay in wait behind the semicircular ring of defensive positions across the upper half of the Altuzzo bowl.
About 150 yards from the bend of the trail, the 1st Squad came to more open ground where the overhanging foliage thinned and the path became clearly exposed to enemy view from the west side of the bowl. About forty yards straight ahead the trail led downward to the base of the bowl, then curved toward the slope of the western ridge. At the bottom of the bowl, bare rocks jutted out from the uneven surface. Across this space sprawled the trunks of thick trees which the enemy had felled to provide fields of fire. The slope beyond the clearing became steeper, and tiny mountain streams had cut small, narrow draws in it and had left many arms of land which gave the galleria, as the Italians called it, a rough, uneven appearance when the sun was playing on it. Beyond the right top center of the bowl towered Hill 926, Altuzzo's crest.
Reaching this open part of the trail, Private Collins halted his squad and waited for instructions. Lieutenant Gresham came forward quickly and directed Collins to lead his men up the eastern slope of the western ridge toward the rocky peak 500 yards west of Hill 926. To cover the 1st Squad, he directed the 3d, under S. Sgt. Stanley G. Hillier, to disperse at the edge of the brush. The 2d Squad took cover off the trail to the rear.
Fire Fight in the Bowl
While the rest of the 2d Platoon was going into position, Collins led the 1st Squad from the edge of the brush into the open space. The men went about a hundred yards before the enemy opened
fire with machine guns and rifles from three directions: the left flank, front, and right flank--from positions on the top and halfway up the rocky western peak, from the upper west slope of the bowl, and from the main Altuzzo ridge line north of Hill 782.
At the first sound of fire, the 1st Squad hit the ground and scrambled for cover. Some men crawled behind a big chestnut tree which the enemy had left standing; others pulled themselves behind rocks and logs. There were no holes to hide in and the uneven ground provided little concealment. In a short time the men were aware that the enemy looked directly down upon them from behind rocks and prepared positions along the higher slopes and the top of the bowl. One man, lying beside the big chestnut tree on the left front of the clearing, was wounded.
Soon after the 1st Squad was fired upon, the rest of the platoon at the edge of the brush also received fire. Lieutenant Gresham ordered the men around him to take whatever cover they could find and return the fire. In the 3d Squad Pvt. Diego Martines, attempting to move across the trail, was hit in the chest by small arms fire and instantly killed. Private Van Kleeck, who had rejoined the platoon, began to carry the SCR 536 to Lieutenant Gresham at the edge of the brush. Two bullets struck him in the leg, forcing him to the ground. As the heavy small arms fire continued to saturate the area, Gresham ordered the 3d Squad to move back around the bend in the trail on the large finger of Hill 782. Most of the 3d Squad and platoon headquarters pulled back. Private Finkle, who had also been slightly wounded, stayed with Private Van Kleeck in what seemed to be a relatively safe position.
Although the men of the 1st Squad in the open space were at first pinned down, Private Collins managed to direct them individually back to the head of the wooded draw through which a branch ran down beside a grainfield to la Rocca Farmhouse. Lieutenant Gresham then shouted to Collins to move back down the creek bed and rejoin the platoon behind the crest of the large finger that ran from Hill 782 to la Rocca. While the 1st and 3d Squads withdrew to this position, the 2d Squad, which had taken no part in the action, remained dispersed in covering positions on either side of the bend in the trail.42
At 1315 the 338th Infantry command post learned from the 1st Battalion that Company A was in a fire fight but was moving slowly forward. From his observation post in front of Paretaio Farmhouse, Colonel Jackson, 1st Battalion commander, could see the battle, and fifteen minutes later correctly reported that his forward elements were at the base of the bowl just beyond the large finger of Hill 782 some 500 yards southwest of Hill 926.43
About 1345, after he had moved his platoon behind the bend in the trail, Lieutenant Gresham reported to Captain King by SCR 536, relating the story of the fire fight at the base of the bowl and stating that it would be impossible without artillery support to move farther in the direction of Monte Altuzzo's crest. Captain King, promising to relay the artillery request and to send two litter
squads to care for casualties, ordered Lieutenant Gresham to hold where he was, just above the trail behind the crest of the large finger of Hill 782.44
The request for artillery support was quickly passed back to the regimental commander, who again asked the 91st Infantry Division for clearance. At 1350 the 363d Infantry gave permission, stating that its Company L had recently withdrawn from Monte Altuzzo.45 In addition to this artillery fire, both Colonel Cole (2d Battalion, 338th) and Colonel Jackson requested that three medium artillery battalions and the direct-support 329th Field Artillery Battalion place TOT (time on target) fire on the area north of the Giogo Pass. The mission was fired with undetermined results. (Map 9) Through the remainder of the day, the 329th fired on enemy machine guns and mortars in the Altuzzo area and laid down harassing fire.
Other close artillery support during the day was designed to fulfill the missions of neutralizing and destroying enemy defenses and isolating the battlefield from enemy reinforcement and supply. The 403d Field Artillery Battalion (155-mm. howitzers) placed harassing fires on the highway through the Giogo Pass and a small road running from the north slopes of Monte Altuzzo to the highway. The 178th Field Artillery Group fired missions against German infantry in the Altuzzo vicinity, mortars, and a radio tower near the Giogo Pass and neutralized guns 1,000 yards south of Firenzuola. Since the enemy held the dominant ground observation, both 85th Division and II Corps artillery depended primarily on air observation posts, which were in position to observe only a small percentage of the missions fired.
By midafternoon additional fire support was being provided by Company B, 752d Tank Battalion (Medium). At 1530 the 1st Platoon, Company B, moved into firing positions about a thousand yards northeast of Scarperia and reportedly knocked out one pillbox on Monte Altuzzo with direct fire. The 3d Platoon, Company B, moved into direct firing positions east of Montagnana, about two thousand yards northeast of Scarperia, and fired on pillboxes, claiming two direct hits.
Besides the tanks, the 338th Infantry requested the 85th Division to attach one platoon of tank destroyers to the tank company, a request later fulfilled. Company B, 84th Chemical Battalion (4.2-inch Mortar), which had also been attached to the 338th Infantry, remained in an assembly area nearly seven miles to the rear and fired no missions on 13 September. Company B, 310th Engineer Combat Battalion, maintained supply routes in support of the infantry regiment.46
Assistance was also received from tactical air support. Having received word early in the morning from division that fighter bombers could be secured on short notice, Colonel Mikkelsen, 338th commander, had requested planes to
Artillery and Air Support Area
13-17 September 1944
HOWITZER AND TANKS MOVING FORWARD. A 240-mm. howitzer being towed into position (above) and a medium tank (below) fording Sieve River under cover of smoke screen.
operate north of Monte Altuzzo. During the day missions against enemy artillery, vehicles, supply and ammunition depots, and troop concentrations were flown by the 239th and 244th RAF (Royal Air Force) and the 7th SAAF (South African Air Force) Wings of the Desert Air Force. The 7th SAAF Wing reported good results from six missions against enemy strong points and also bombed and strafed buildings one and one-half miles north-northeast of Monte Altuzzo. When gun areas two to three miles northeast of the Giogo Pass were bombed and strafed, two direct bomb hits caused a large explosion. The 7th SAAF Wing also destroyed one troop carrier and two motor transports. The 239th Wing attacked a motor transport park 1,500 yards southwest of Firenzuola and guns three miles north of the pass. Shortly after noon fighter bombers bombed and strafed enemy troops near Bagnola at a point a mile north of the Giogo Pass, and a short while later tactical aircraft bombed and strafed three gun batteries at Corniolo, three miles northwest of the pass. Other missions were flown against a house at Collinaccia, 4,500 yards northeast of the pass, and against a self-propelled gun on the Firenzuola highway 3,200 yards north of the pass.47
Company A at Hill 782
While Lieutenant Gresham's platoon had been advancing to the lower slopes of Hill 782, the 1st Platoon, Company A, 338th Infantry, had followed within connecting distance. It reached the lower slopes of Hill 782 without incident, arriving at a point where the trail crossed the crest of the large second finger of the hill. (See Map 8.) There, about 1600, the platoon leader, 1st Lt. John R. MacMinn, Jr., and his platoon sergeant, T. Sgt. Nelson B. Van Horne, halted the platoon and went forward themselves to establish physical contact with the 2d Platoon. About an hour later, Lieutenant MacMinn received orders from Captain King to pass on the right of the 2d Platoon and advance as far as possible up Hill 782 toward the crest of Monte Altuzzo. If fire was received from the western ridge, the 2d Platoon was to support the 1st by fire.
About 1730 the 1st Platoon moved out in a column of squads--2d, 3d, 1st--up the draw between two fingers of the western slope of Hill 782. Spaced about ten yards apart in single file, the men climbed the steep slope, sometimes in a half-crouch, sometimes crawling, and nearly always having to clutch bushes and branches of small trees for support. Passing the 2d Platoon where it had halted on the slope of the large finger about 450 yards from Hill 782's crest, the men continued toward the head of the little draw. When they reached the barbed wire entanglement which stretched all the way across the west slope, they moved through without difficulty, encountering three strands of ankle-high wire about seven yards wide. Although stakes for three other strands stuck out waist-high above the ground, the wire had not been strung.
As the leading men passed through the wire, they spotted a camouflaged machine gun bunker thirty-five to forty yards away at the head of the little draw. Halting the platoon, Sergeant Van Horne
crawled forward to the right of the position. He could see that it was a bunker constructed of heavy logs and covered with layers of logs and dirt and a wooden platform that had a manhole for an entrance. Branches had been thrown across the top of the platform. Crawling closer, Sergeant Van Horne saw two Germans, one in the manhole and one inside the bunker, visible through the embrasure. Evidently alerted, the German in the manhole entrance was holding a rifle and scanning the little draw where the 1st Platoon had halted just above the barbed wire. In order to fire effectively Sergeant Van Horne had to crawl within three yards of the position. When he tried to push the safety off his rifle, for an agonizingly long moment it would not budge. At what seemed like the last split second before discovery, for the German could almost reach out and touch him, the sergeant shoved off the safety catch and pulled the trigger. The German dropped from sight into the bunker.
Unable to bring fire on the other German inside the position, Sergeant Van Horne shouted to the 2d Squad leader, S. Sgt. David C. South, to bring up a hand grenade. Van Horne directed the two scouts into position to protect him to the front and the rest of the 2d Squad to form a ring around the bunker. Pfc. Jerome J. Straus called out in German for the enemy to surrender or be blown up with grenades. There was no answer. Noting that a trench led up the hill from the bunker, providing a second entrance into the position, Sergeant South pulled the pin from a grenade and tossed it through the trench entrance. Only the sound of the exploding grenade came from the position.
Sergeant Van Horne and the leading men of the 2d Squad then moved about ten yards past the bunker toward the ridge line along a rock ledge that stretched across the brow of the finger leading to the crest of Hill 782. It was still daylight, and as the men moved their route of advance became more bare. Weighing these factors and the fact that the rest of Company A was a hundred yards down the hill, Lieutenant MacMinn ordered Sergeant Van Horne to withdraw and pulled his platoon back below the barbed wire to a point where a little rise provided some concealment.48
When his men had returned to this position, Lieutenant MacMinn retraced his steps to the 2d Platoon and talked with Lieutenant Gresham and the leader of the 3d Platoon, 1st Lt. Charles T. Holladay, who had by this time also come forward. The three lieutenants decided that, instead of moving out into the confusion of approaching darkness without further orders from Captain King, they would set up defensive positions where they were. They established their three rifle platoons from the brow of the large finger of Hill 782 across the little draw to the next finger to the right, above the trail on the southwest slope of Hill 782. The 2d Platoon was on the left on the large finger, the 1st in the center in the draw, and the 3d on the right on the other finger.49
Several hours after darkness, about 2230, Captain King and the Weapons Platoon under Lieutenant Robbins moved the Company A command post from the slope west of Rocca Creek to the large
finger. During the advance of the rifle platoons, the light machine guns and 60-mm. mortars of Company A had remained as a covering force on the southern slope of Hill 606 near where the 2d Platoon had first received its fire that morning. When Captain King reached his rifle platoons, he expressed disappointment that they had not advanced farther.
Confused Reports from the 363d
Throughout the morning and even into the afternoon of 13 September, poor communication between the leading platoons and the Company A command post, plus confused reports regarding Company L, 363d Infantry, had made it difficult for Colonel Jackson and Colonel Mikkelsen to keep abreast of events or to issue intelligent orders for the attack. At 0900 the 363d Infantry reported that its forward elements (Company L) were on Hill 926, the crest of Monte Altuzzo, and estimated that the elements of the 85th Division would not come abreast before 1400. Although Colonel Jackson learned in midmorning that Company L, 363d, was digging in on Hill 782, to the 338th Infantry it was reported at 1055 that Company L was on the top of Monte Altuzzo. Again at 1135 the 363d Infantry reported to its division headquarters that it had captured Monte Altuzzo and was then clearing out remaining snipers.
As time went on, the story gradually came back that, far from being a pushover, the enemy had put up stiff resistance and had driven Company L, 363d, back from the crest of Monte Altuzzo. About 1400 the 338th Infantry informed Colonel Jackson that Company L, 363d, had withdrawn from Monte Altuzzo. At 1440 a soldier from the company reported to the 338th Infantry that his platoon had advanced to within 150 yards of the peak of Monte Altuzzo the night before, had knocked out three bunkers, and had captured six prisoners, all paratroopers.50
These conflicting reports left Colonel Jackson confused about both the enemy situation and Company L's true location. Though his liaison officers tried all day to find out Company L's true position, such information was not available at the 3d Battalion, 363d.51 What had actually happened was that, in an attack about dawn, Company L had advanced only to the barbed wire on the southwest slope of Hill 782. Shortly after midday it had withdrawn some 500 yards down the main Altuzzo ridge. Until the picture cleared as to what had happened to Company L and what the enemy's intentions were regarding Altuzzo's defense, the 338th Infantry's plans continued to be fluid and were based on the belief that the Germans would not resist strongly.
Colonel Jackson held the remainder of his battalion throughout the day behind the Paretaio Farmhouse. Before Company A jumped off, he had planned for Company B to follow at a 500-yard interval. By the time Company A had cleared the line of departure, the morning haze had lifted and Jackson felt movement of Company B before darkness would invite needless risks.
Throughout 13 September the 1st Battalion, 338th, had thus cautiously
committed only one company to the advance against Monte Altuzzo. The attack had been a developing movement to reach the Altuzzo ridge without heavy casualties, pass through Company L, 363d Infantry, and locate the enemy positions. By the end of the day the battalion had sustained about twenty casualties.52
While the 1st Battalion had been making the 338th Infantry's main effort against Monte Altuzzo, the 2d Battalion advanced along Highway 6524 about 1,200 yards to l'Uomo Morto, almost on a line with the 1st Battalion's farthest advance. The 2d Battalion's two assault companies were stopped by heavy mortar and artillery fire and some small arms fire. They were hampered by being unable to get clearance for supporting artillery fire because elements of the 363d Infantry (Company I) were in the area and their exact location was unknown. At the end of 13 September the battalion was still 1,100 yards short of its objective, Point 770.53
On either flank of the 338th Infantry adjacent units made some progress but in all cases failed to take their objectives. On the left the 363d Infantry attack up the slopes of Monticelli had bogged down about 1,500 yards short of the crest. On the right flank the 339th Infantry (85th Division) had had no more success against Monte Verruca.54
All along the II Corps front on 13 September the enemy had shown that he was not withdrawing from the Gothic Line without a struggle. In the area of the Giogo Pass there were already signs that the fighting would be hard and costly. On 12 September the 363d Infantry (91st Division) had sent two battalions against Monticelli and Monte Altuzzo, and twenty-four hours later six battalions from both the 91st and 85th Divisions had been committed against the same features.55 While the attacks of 13 September had served to locate some of the enemy positions, many others still remained to be identified, and the task of reducing them had barely begun.
The Enemy Situation
During the afternoon of 13 September the 338th Infantry learned through prisoners of war that a company of eighty men held a front of about two thousand yards from Monte Altuzzo to Monte Verruca. Although this force would not have been sufficient to man all the prepared positions in the area, it was large enough to occupy a number of strong points in the main line of resistance. In view of the small number of troops in position when the American attack was launched, the Germans were evidently waiting to see where the heaviest blow would fall.
During the night of 13-14 September, replacements arrived for the companies on Monte Altuzzo and on the other mountains in the Giogo Pass sector. At least one group of two officers and thirty men arrived at the companies of the 12th Parachute Regiment. Shortly after dark on
13 September, air reconnaissance identified fifty enemy motor transports moving south from Firenzuola, ostensibly loaded with paratroopers whom Partisans had reported as having been sent to Firenzuola a week earlier.
Although some radio intercepts and prisoner of war reports had indicated an enemy withdrawal, the II Corps G-2 discounted such movement as being of a local nature only. Intelligence was received that all three battalions of the 12th Parachute Regiment were withdrawing, but the reported withdrawals were interpreted to be from outpost positions to the main line of resistance. On Monte Altuzzo the enemy's defenses were still intact except for the outpost positions which elements of the 363d and 338th Infantry had knocked out during the day. Even these positions were remanned during the night.56
The Fourteenth Army was still not aware that the Fifth Army's main effort was being made up Highway 6524 toward the Giogo Pass. Expecting the principal attack at Futa Pass, the Germans planned to send one battalion of the Grenadier Lehr Brigade on the night of 14-15 September to the area south of Loiano as I Parachute Corps reserve. A second battalion was alerted for shipment the following night. Impressed by the needs of his Tenth Army on the Adriatic front, Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, commander of Army Group C, ordered the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division to prepare for a speedy withdrawal from the western coastal sector of Fourteenth Army into army group reserve.57
1. The name "Gothic Line" (Gotenstellung), used by the Germans throughout the first half of 1944, was changed to "Green Line" when the Allies began to threaten the position. The former designation only will be used herein.
2. AAI Opns Order 3, 16 Aug 44, Annex B from Capt John Bowditch, Fifth Army History, Pt. VII (Washington, 1947), pp. 201-04; II Corps FO 23, 5 Sep 44, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl Files, Sep 44. This volume of the Fifth Army History contains an excellent description of the North Apennines Campaign, within the limits of documents available during the war.
3. II Corps FO 23, 5 Sep 44.
4. 1st Lt Ralph E. Strootman, 363d Inf Unit History, MS, Ch. III, "The Gothic Line" (hereafter cited as Strootman MS). Lt Strootman wrote this study in early 1944. Unofficial Notes of Capt Robert F. Muller, S-3, 3d Bn, 363d Inf (hereafter cited as Muller Notes). Capt Muller made these notes during the Gothic Line battles.
5. 91st Div and 85th Div G-3 Jnls, 11-12 Sep 44; II Corps AAR, Sep 44.
6. Notes of numerous terrain reconnaissances of the Altuzzo and Giogo Pass areas by the author, including those with the following: Lt Col Willis O. Jackson and his three rifle company comdrs, Capts Robert A. King, Maurice E. Peabody, Jr., and Redding C. Souder, Jr.; several plat ldrs and plat sgts; Capt Peabody and several of his NCO's; 2d Lt William A. Thompson and enlisted survivors of Co C, 338th Inf. (Ranks given for personnel interviewed are those held at the time of the interview. Ranks given in the text and index are those held at the time of the action. Detailed information concerning terrain reconnaissances and combat interviews may be found in the Bibliographical Note.)
7. Entry of 13 Sep 44, Armeeoberkommando 14, Kriegstagebuch Nr. 4 (War Diary 4 of Headquarters Fourteenth Army), 1.VII-30.IX.44 (hereafter cited as Fourteenth Army KTB 4). German information used in this account, except that taken from intelligence files, is based primarily on this war diary.
8. Entries of 10-13 Sep 44, Fourteenth Army KTB 4; 338th Inf and 85th Div Intel Sums, IPW Rpts, and misc Intel Rpts, Sep 44; MID, The German Operation at Anzio, filed in OCMH. This last publication is based on earlier volumes of the Fourteenth Army war diary.
The so-called Lehr units in the German Army were composed of picked men and were originally used to demonstrate tactics at service schools in the zone of interior. Because of the growing manpower shortage, however, many of these units were transferred intact to active theaters and used in combat. Cf. Artillery Lehr Regiment.
9. Captured order to soldiers of 12th Pcht Regt (4th Pcht Div), 8 Sep 44, 338th Inf S-2 Files.
10. Strootman MS; 91st Div G-3 Jnl, 12 Sep 44; Fifth Army G-3 Jnl File, 12-13 Sep 44.
11. II Corps Opns Instns 23, II Corps G-3 Supporting File, Sep 44; Memo, Lt Col Thomas R. McDonald, 85th Div G-3, 12 Sep 44, regarding a conference of G-3's of the 85th Div, 91st Div, and II Corps, in 85th Div G-3 Supporting File, Sep 44; 85th Div and 91st Div G-3 Jnls, 12-13 Sep 44; Interv with Col Robert W. Porter, II Corps DCofS, 30 June 50.
12. Interv with Col W. Fulton Magill (formerly CO, 363d Inf), Washington, D. C., 5 Jul 49 (hereafter cited as Interv with Magill); Interv with Maj Gen William G. Livesay (formerly CG, 91st Inf Div), Fort Knox, Ky., 5 May 50. All interviews in this study were conducted by the author.
13. Interv with Magill; Muller Notes; Combat Interv with Capt Thomas M. Draney; Strootman MS.
14. Strootman MS; Muller Notes; 91st Div G-3 Jnl, 12 Sep 44.
15. Combat Interv with Draney; Rpt, unidentified soldier, Co L, 363d Inf, in 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44.
16. 91st Div G-3 Jnl, 12-13 Sep 44; Combat Interv with Draney; Interv with Magill.
17. Combat Intervs with the following: Jackson and Capt Thomas M. Quisenberry; 1st Lt Dawson L. Farber, Jr.; Peabody.
18. Entries of 9-12 Sep 44, Fourteenth Army KTB 4.
19. Combat Intervs with Cole and with Jackson.
20. Combat Intervs with Mikkelsen and with Jackson.
21. 85th Div and 91st Div G-3 Jnls, 12 Sep 44; II Corps FO 23, 5 Sep 44; Fifth Army G-3 Jnl Files, Sep 44; Memo, Col McDonald, regarding G-3 conference, 85th Div G-3 Supporting File, Sep 44.
22. Combat Intervs with all surviving offs and EM, 1st Bn, 338th Inf; 1st Bn, 2d Bn, 3d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnls, Sep 44; 338th Inf Unit Jnl, Sep 44; 85th Div G-3 Jnl, 11-12 Sep 44.
23. S-2 Memo on the Giogo Pass Defenses, 7 Sep 44, Annex to 338th Inf FO 3, 10 Sep 44.
24. Combat Intervs with Jackson, Cole, and Mikkelsen, and postwar interv with Kelley; 1st Bn, 2d Bn, 3d Bn, 338th Inf, AAR's, and 338th Inf AAR, Sep 44. Although the regimental replacement pool was always available during the battle of Monte Altuzzo, the commanders considered it unwise to send replacements forward over the exposed terrain or to try to integrate them into rifle companies during heavy front-line action. See Ltr, Col Cole to Hist Div, Nov 48, filed in OCMH.
25. 85th Div Arty Opns Memo 18, 11 Sep 44, 85th Div G-3 Supporting File, Sep 44; FA Annex to 85th Div FO 21, 10 Sep 44, in 85th Div Arty Rpt of Opns, Sep 44; Arty Jnls, II Corps Supporting File, Sep 44; Annex 4 to II Corps FO 23, 5 Sep 44, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl Files, Sep 44; Combat Interv with Farber.
26. Combat Intervs with Jackson and Quisenberry.
27. S-2 Memo on the Giogo Pass Defenses, 338th Inf, 7 Sep 44, Annex to 338th Inf FO 3, 10 Sep 44; Memo, The Defense of the Giogo Pass, 12 Sep 44, 338th Inf S-2 Jnl Files, Sep 44; Defense Overlays showing enemy positions in the Giogo Pass area, 5-12 Sep 44, in 338th Inf AAR, Sep 44; Combat Intervs with Jackson, Peabody, King, Souder, and surviving plat ldrs and EM, 1st Bn, 338th Inf; 1st Bn, 338th Inf, AAR, Sep 44; Regtl and 1st Bn, 2d Bn, and 3d Bn Aid Station Logs, 1-11 Sep 44; The Stars and Stripes (Med Edition), 6 Sep 44.
28. Combat Intervs with Maj Vernon A. Ostendorf, and with Jackson and Quisenberry.
29. Combat Intervs with the following: Jackson, Peabody, King, and Souder; plat ldrs of Co A, 338th Inf; enlisted survivors in Cos B and C, 338th Inf.
30. Combat Interv with Cole; 2d Bn, 338th Inf, AAR, Sep 44.
31. Ibid.; 3d Bn, 338th Inf, AAR, Sep 44.
32. Combat Intervs with the following: Gresham; T Sgt Adron G. Stevens; S Sgt Walter J. Michalek, Jr., S Sgt Edmond H. Carter, S Sgt Ira W. Wilson, S Sgt Stanley G. Hillier, and S Sgt Kenneth C. Pickens; Jackson and King.
33. Combat Interv with Gresham.
34. Ibid.; Combat Intervs with Stevens and with Michalek-Carter-Wilson-Hillier-Pickens.
35. Combat Intervs with Gresham, King, and Jackson.
36. Ibid.; 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 12 Sep 44.
37. Combat Intervs with Gresham, Stevens, and Michalek-Carter-Wilson-Hillier-Pickens.
38. Combat Intervs with Gresham and King.
39. Combat Intervs with Gresham, Stevens, and Michalek-Carter-Wilson-Hillier-Pickens.
40. Combat Intervs with Gresham and King.
41. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 12 Sep 44.
42. Combat Intervs with Gresham, Stevens, and Michalek-Carter-Wilson-Hillier-Pickens.
43. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 12 Sep 44; Combat Interv with Jackson.
44. Combat Intervs with Gresham and King.
45. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44; 91st Div G-3 Jnl, 13 Sep 44; Combat Intervs with Jackson and Farber.
46. 338th Inf, 339th Inf, and 2d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnls, 13 Sep 44; II Corps Arty Jnl, 13 Sep 44; 403d FA Bn and 178th FA Gp Unit Jnls and Mission Rpts, 13 Sep 44; 329th FA Bn Unit Jnl and AAR, Sep 44; 752d Tk Bn AAR, Sep 44; 84th Cml Bn Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44, and AAR, Sep 44; 310th Engr (C) Bn Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44.
47. 85th Div G-3 Jnl, 13 Sep 44; 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44; MAAF Central Med Daily Operational Sum, 13 Sep 44; 57th Fighter Group Operational and Intel Sum, 13 Sep 44.
48. Combat Intervs with the following: MacMinn; Van Horne; South and S Sgt Harry B. Whary; King.
49. Combat Intervs with MacMinn, Van Horne, Gresham, and King.
50. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44; 85th Div and 91st Div G-3 Jnls, 12-13 Sep 44; Combat Intervs with Jackson, Mikkelsen, Quisenberry, Peabody, King, Souder, and Draney.
51. Combat Intervs with Jackson and Quisenberry; 1st Bn, 338th Inf, AAR, Sep 44.
52. Combat Intervs with Jackson, Quisenberry, and Draney (who interviewed the other offs and NCO's of his company after his return from hospitalization); 91st Div G-3 Jnl, 13 Sep 44; Msg, Actg CO, Co L, 363d Inf, in 910th FA Bn Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44; 1st Bn, 338th Inf, AAR, Sep 44.
53. Combat Interv with Cole; 2d Bn, 338th Inf, AAR, Sep 44; 2d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44; 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44.
54. 91st Div G-3 Jnl, 12-13 Sep 44; Strootman MS; Muller Notes; 339th Inf Unit Jnl, 12-13 Sep 44.
55. 85th Div and 91st Div G-3 Jnls, 13 Sep 44.
56. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44; 85th Div G-2 Jnl and G-2 Rpts, 13-14 Sep 44; IPW Rpts and Intel Sum, 14 Sep 44.
57. Fourteenth Army KTB 4, 13-14 Sep 44.