Shellfire and a False Message
After the attempts of 14 September had failed to break through the Gothic Line, elements of II Corps prepared again to assault the high ground on either side of the Giogo Pass. Instead of attempting another simultaneous effort along the whole front, individual units of the 85th and 91st Divisions planned to attack at different times the night of 14 September and the early morning of 15 September. On II Corps' right wing the 339th Infantry (85th Division) was to attack at midnight on 14 September to take Monte Verruca. The next morning at 0900 the 338th Infantry was to attack to take the crest of Monte Altuzzo and to advance astride Highway 6524 toward the Giogo Pass. West of the highway the 363d and 361st Infantry (91st Division) were to try again at 0500 to seize Monticelli and Hill 844 to the west.1
The 13-14 September attacks had demonstrated the enemy's intentions to defend Monte Altuzzo firmly and had dealt heavy casualties to Company B, prompting Colonel Mikkelsen, 338th commander, to consider dropping the 1st Battalion into reserve and using the fresh 3d Battalion to attack through the 1st's positions. When this proposal was presented to Colonel Jackson, the 1st Battalion commander, he argued against it. Colonel Jackson well recognized that Company B was no longer an effective fighting force, but he was equally aware of the fact that his A and C Companies were in good condition. Company A had sustained only a few casualties in developing the Altuzzo defenses, and Company C had not yet been committed. Jackson insisted therefore that his battalion could and would take Monte Altuzzo the next day. Yielding, Colonel Mikkelsen gave the order to try again, this time with Companies A and C. As soon as the two companies should reach Hill 926, the 3d Battalion was then to pass through and the 1st to drop into reserve.2 Resupply of rations and ammunition from the regimental distribution point at Scarperia was to continue to be made by jeep to the slopes behind Paretaio Farmhouse.
Preparations for Attack
Because study through field glasses and conversation with Captain King had shown that the main Altuzzo ridge was too narrow to accommodate more than two platoons initially, the 1st Battalion
COMMAND POST AT PARETAIO FARMHOUSE. In this 1st Battalion, 338th Infantry, CP, the man on left using telephone is 1st Lt. Roberts Clay, Company D, 1st Battalion, 338th Infantry; next to him, in foreground is 1st Lt. William H. Alston, Jr., 1st Battalion S-2; 2d Lt. Joseph P. Lamb can be seen on extreme right, and next to him, using the telephone, is 1st Lt. Dawson L. Farber, Jr., both of the 329th Field Artillery Battalion. In the back ground, second man from left, bending over the table is Cpl. Mark Kolesor of the 329th. The other two men are not identified.
commander decided that one platoon each from Companies A and C would attack abreast up the main ridge from Hill 782. The other platoons of each company would follow by bounds. Beginning at H Hour, 500 smoke rounds from 105-mm. howitzers would screen the movement for about one hour.3
For half an hour before the infantry attack, mortars and light, medium, and heavy artillery were to soften up the entire mountain position. For the heavy 240-mm. howitzers and 8-inch guns, which were most effective against the prepared defenses of the Gothic Line, II Corps had given the 85th Division priority in fire and a large ammunition allotment. Cannon Company, 338th,
was assigned harassing missions in the area behind Hill 926, and the 81-mm. mortars of Company D, 338th, and the 4.2-inch mortars of the 84th Chemical Battalion were to fire on targets west of Altuzzo's western ridge and east of the main ridge which could not be reached by artillery fire. Two machine guns of Company D were to support the attack from Hill 624. After the preparatory barrage, all artillery concentrations were to be fired on call.4
At dawn tanks and tank destroyers were to strike at those pillboxes which had been located on the two ridges of the mountain. During the night of 14-15 September one tank from Company B, 752d Tank Battalion, was dug in and camouflaged in the vicinity of Hill 360, 1,500 yards south-southwest of the lower end of the main Altuzzo ridge. Although two other tanks were earmarked for use near the Paretaio Farmhouse, the tank liaison officer found later that tanks could not move into the planned positions. At 0430, 15 September, the 1st Platoon, Company B, 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Self-Propelled), was attached to Company B, 752d Tank Battalion. To assist the tanks in firing on pillboxes and targets of opportunity, the tank destroyers moved at 0845 up Highway 6524 more than a mile beyond Scarperia and took positions just north of Montagnana, 4,200 yards southwest of Monte Altuzzo's crest.
During the night artillery fire was placed on the crest of Monte Altuzzo every fifteen minutes. At 2300 artillery fired TOT on the north hump, Knob 3, north of the peak of Monte Altuzzo; and the 403d Field Artillery Battalion let loose a TOT on an area just south of the Giogo Pass and at Bagnolo, one mile north of the pass. Every fifteen minutes during the night the 403d put harassing fire around the pass, along the highway north and south of it, and on Hill 926. From 0400 to 0600 three guns fired each mission every fifteen minutes and walked up and down the Firenzuola highway for two miles north of the pass.
Although the 338th Infantry requested a number of bombing missions, poor visibility forced postponement. Throughout the day bad weather was to prevent flying of most bomber missions on the entire Fifth Army front.5
As soon as attack plans were completed, the 1st Battalion commander gave the warning order to the Company A commander, Captain King, and the Company C commander, 1st Lt. Redding C. Souder, Jr., and described the formation and supporting fires to be used. Specifying that the two companies maintain physical contact, he left the company commanders to work out their own boundaries and exact routes of advance.6
After the briefing, Captain King and Lieutenant Souder, each without the other's knowledge, apparently came to different views regarding the nature and probable outcome of the attack. Anxious to push all the way up the main Altuzzo ridge, Captain King understood his mission to be the capture of Hill 926. This time, he was sure, his men would break through the enemy's main line of
resistance. Lieutenant Souder, on the other hand, looked upon the attack more as a developing movement. He understood that Hill 926 was the assigned objective but anticipated that the two companies would go only as far as they could without sustaining heavy casualties. Having heard that Company B had suffered heavily the day before, he was far from sanguine about the possibilities of another attack. He doubted that his men could reach the peak and certainly did not believe they were being called upon for an all-out effort.7
Captain King ordered that Company A attack in a column of platoons, the 2d Platoon leading, followed in order by the light machine gun section, the 1st Platoon, and the 3d Platoon. For Company C Lieutenant Souder directed the 1st Platoon to lead, the 2d Platoon and the light machine gun section to follow, and the 3d Platoon to bring up the rear. During his conferences with his platoon leaders, each company commander, in some measure at least, must have passed on to his officers his own feelings about the impending action, for the two platoon leaders, Lieutenant Gresham and 1st Lt. William S. Corey, who were to lead the Company A and C formations, respectively, reflected the opinion of their company commanders. Aggressive and self-confident, Gresham felt sure he could take Monte Altuzzo the next morning. The more cautious Corey was skeptical about the possibility of success.8
Company A was resupplied during the night with water, K rations, and ammunition. The only shortage remaining was in hand grenades. Some had been dropped on the way by men who wanted to lighten their loads, or had been lost during the attacks of the first two days. There had been no resupply. Shortly after dark Captain King sent a small patrol beyond the barbed wire to the ridge line of Hill 782, and the patrol reported considerable enemy movement.9
Company C started forward at approximately 0300 from its positions on the southwest slope of Hill 624. (Map 13) Following the upper trail that wound along the slopes to the north, the company stopped just before dawn near the first finger on the southwest slope of Hill 782, about 150 yards to the right rear of Company A. There Company C established contact with Company A and strung telephone wire between the two command posts. Captain King and Lieutenant Souder arranged that the leading platoon of Company C would advance up the slope ahead and move to the left until it came abreast of the leading platoon of Company A at the rocks fifty yards below the peak of Hill 782.
From Hill 624 the men of Company C had brought with them ammunition, water, and rations for the next day. Each man still had one belt and one bandoleer of .30-caliber ammunition but like the men of Company A lacked a full supply of hand grenades. The leading platoons of both companies were four or five men short of full strength. In Company C's 2d Platoon, which was to follow its 1st Platoon, the effectives were reduced by the evacuation of five nervous exhaustion cases as H Hour approached.
Advance to Knob 2
and First German Counterattack
Morning, 15 September 1944
While the 1st Battalion made its last-minute preparations to attack, the 3d Battalion, 338th Infantry, in reserve, moved to Hill 624 from Lutiano southeast of Paretaio Farmhouse. From this position the 3d Battalion was to follow Companies A and C closely and pass through them after capture of Hill 926. Companies K and L, each with one machine gun platoon of Company M attached, reached Hill 624 at 0600, made contact with the rear elements of Company C, and learned the route of advance. Company I, in 3d Battalion reserve, and the mortar platoon of Company M remained near Lutiano.
After daylight, the two company commanders and platoon leaders of the 1st battalion assault force issued final instructions. Lieutenant Corey, who was to lead Company C's 1st Platoon, told his men to move up to the ridge line, then swing to the left and go north a few yards until contact was made with Company A's leading 2d Platoon. The movement would be slow, Lieutenant Corey warned, because the location of the enemy was not known. Having never seen the terrain ahead except at a distance, the lieutenant had no idea that the ridge line was as narrow as it actually was.10
Gresham and Corey Move Forward
Anxious to have his Company A assault platoon at the rocks above the barbed wire at 0900, when he was scheduled to meet the leading platoon of Company C, Lieutenant Gresham directed his men to move out in single file at 0830 from their positions on the large finger of Hill 782. The 3d Squad was in the lead, followed by platoon headquarters, the 2d Squad, and the 1st Squad.
Stepping over the low-strung barbed wire, the men came upon the dugout that Sergeant Van Horne had knocked out the afternoon of 13 September. It was now unoccupied. Continuing past the position, they reached the rocks just below the peak of Hill 782 about 0850. Although they had looked for Company C's 1st Platoon, it had been hidden from them by the steep, uneven slope to their right. After a five-minute wait at the rocks, Lieutenant Gresham saw several men of Company C approaching up the hill from his right rear.11
Approximately seventy-five yards to the right of Company A's 2d Platoon, the 1st Platoon of Company C had moved out about the same time from the trail on the southwest slope of Hill 782. In a column of squads--the 1st, 2d, and 3d, in that order--the men walked up the ridge in an open squad column and stepped across the low-strung barbed wire. Past the wire the leading squad found unmanned enemy emplacements reinforced with logs and covered with dirt. On the way up the hill, the 1st Squad, which was supposed to maintain visual contact with Company A, could see Lieutenant Gresham's men occasionally, but most of the time the slope hid them from view. As the head of the column came within twenty yards of the ridge line, the 1st Squad leader, S. Sgt. James O. Orr, stopped his squad and told his two scouts, Pfc. Lawrence F. Markey,
TAKING A BREAK. These men of the 338th Infantry are taking a brief rest on the slopes near their CP. Note the supply of 60- and 81-mm. mortar shells in center.
Jr., and Pfc. Willie Burnett, to reconnoiter. Reaching the crest and peering over the ridge line, the scouts noted only a sheer drop just beyond it on the eastern slope of Hill 782 and several German positions on the next mountain to the east, Monte Verruca.
By this time Sergeant Orr had noticed the 2d Platoon of Company A on his left flank. The Company A platoon seemed to be too high on the ridge to permit Company C's platoon to swing left, move abreast, and proceed north up the mountain without walking on the ridge line exposed to heavy flanking fire from Monte Verruca. At the report of visual contact Lieutenant Corey directed his 1st Squad to move on to Company A's 2d Platoon at the rocks, and in a few minutes Sergeant Orr made contact with Lieutenant Gresham.12
The preliminary artillery barrage, which had begun at 0830, was now in full swing. Every few minutes the 8-inch and 240-mm. shells, designed to knock out enemy pillboxes, were landing on the higher
slopes of Monte Altuzzo. Wherever the heavy projectiles hit, they sent up a mingled mass of smoke, dirt, and rubble and rocked the ground around the men of the 1st Battalion, scarcely 300 yards away. At 0855 the 338th Infantry reported that a 240-mm. howitzer had neutralized one pillbox on Hill 926. From 0815 to 0930 the 403d Field Artillery Battalion fired harassing missions of twenty to thirty rounds each every twenty minutes on the upper slopes of Monte Verruca and the slopes to the north. Beginning at 0830 this 155-mm. howitzer battalion placed harassing fire every five minutes on Hill 926 and from 0925 to 0950 on the northern slopes of Monte Altuzzo near the pass and along the highway just south of the pass. Before the attack jumped off, tanks and tank destroyers, despite a delay in getting into position, fired on fifteen pillboxes in the Altuzzo area.13
Wishing to make the most of the barrage while it lasted, Lieutenant Gresham decided not to wait for Lieutenant Corey and the rest of Corey's platoon. The Company A platoon leader wanted to take his men up the ridge while the artillery still pinned the enemy to his holes and pillboxes, and for fifty yards ahead there was an area in which his platoon could move in some concealment through the rocks to the peak of Hill 782. Directing his men to move out, Lieutenant Gresham told Sergeant Orr to ask that Lieutenant Corey have the 1st Squad of the Company C platoon follow Company A's 2d Platoon until it halted.
Using a leapfrog system, Lieutenant Gresham's platoon moved slowly through the rocks. As the leading squad advanced, the other two rifle squads and one machine gun squad of the Weapons Platoon covered until a designated bound was reached. The covering squads then displaced forward. Behind the machine gun squad came Sergeant Orr's squad of Company C and, within visual contact, the rest of the Company C platoon. Supported by the artillery fire the leading men reached the peak of Hill 782 without difficulty. There the two platoon leaders joined forces.
Corey and Gresham noted the sheer drop of the eastern slope and agreed that the ridge ahead of them was too narrow for two platoons to move abreast. They decided that Lieutenant Gresham's 2d Platoon, Company A, would lead the way, single file, followed by Lieutenant Corey's 1st Platoon, Company C.14 As the 2d Platoon started forward from the rocks on the peak of Hill 782, smoke shells began to land on the ridge ahead and in the draw to the west. Although the first shells fell too far to the left, Lieutenant Gresham was able to adjust the fire of the 105-mm. howitzers. In the heavy morning air the smoke clung to the ground like gas. At 0930 the 329th Field Artillery Battalion reported that smoke on Monte Altuzzo was good and should be continued. While it did not prevent the attackers from seeing one another or the route of advance for a few yards ahead, the smoke did severely limit German observation.
Fire at Knobs 1 and 2
After moving under the smoke screen about seventy-five yards beyond Hill 782
to another little rise on the ridge line, Knob 1, the 2d Platoon of Company A was hit by enemy fire for the first time. It came from a position about a hundred yards away on the left flank to the west of the ridge line. Pfc. Joseph Farino returned the fire, and the platoon leader himself sent a few rounds from his carbine in the same direction. The enemy fire ceased, and Lieutenant Gresham directed the 1st Squad, which was second in the column, to take the lead and continue forward.
As soon as the 1st Squad started off it came under close-in fire from the front. The squad leader, Pfc. Ray C. Collins, sent two men out to his left to sneak up on the Germans from the rear. When the two men found an enemy machine gun, one covered while the other threw a hand grenade, rushed the position, and shot the single German he found inside.
The enemy fire and the discovery of the machine gun position led Lieutenant Gresham to believe that his men had struck the main line of resistance. Knowing that his left flank was exposed, he halted, passed word back for Lieutenant Corey to come forward, and reported what had happened to Captain King. The Company A commander, who had moved above the barbed wire beyond the dugout just below the rocks on Hill 782, kept urging the lieutenant to "Go ahead! Go ahead!" It seemed safe enough, for the smoke still hung heavily over the battlefield on the front and left flank.15
Heeding Captain King's urging, Lieutenant Gresham ordered his 2d Squad leader, Sergeant Wilson, to move his men through the leading 1st Squad. Walking in an open squad column toward the next bound, a rock formation on the next rise in the ridge line, Knob 2, the squad had gone only a few yards up the forward slope of the second knob when machine guns and rifles opened fire from the left flank and front. On the front the enemy positions were in the rocks squarely on the ridge line approximately thirty yards ahead of Sergeant Wilson's squad.
These positions at Knob 2, located about 250 yards north of Hill 782 and 300 yards south of Monte Altuzzo's crest, comprised the east anchor of the German lines. Most were placed on or a few yards west of the ridge line. The first was a fourteen-foot-wide, zigzag trench without overhead cover about five feet below the ridge line, providing vantage points from which riflemen or machine gunners could fire down the ridge line or into the bowl. A few yards north of the trench and to its right rear on the ridge line was a large rectangular hole, ten feet deep, eight feet wide, and twelve feet long, which had been blasted from solid rock but had no overhead cover. It could be used easily as a light mortar position and could give concealment to a number of troops. In front of the big hole were rocks piled two feet high and deep on the front and west flank as concealment for a machine gun, which was sited to fire down into the bowl. A few feet to the east of the piled rocks were heavy rock slabs three to four feet high; behind these the enemy could fire down on the east slope of the main ridge south of Knob 2. Directly to the rear of these positions on the upper slopes of Knob 2 was a series of rock slabs five to ten yards wide. From these the enemy could fire across the northern end of the bowl toward the western ridge of the mountain
and across the steep and inaccessible rock formation on the east slope of the main Altuzzo ridge.
A few yards to the west of the big hole on the upper west slope of Knob 2 were a few large rocks and slit trenches. Some ten yards west and below the big hole the enemy had a small trench about two feet deep with stones piled up on the sides which faced southwest and south. This position covered the trail that ran up the west slope of Knob 2 from the ridge line to the south.
From Knob 2, which was 300 yards south of the crest of the mountain (Hill 926), the enemy MLR ran along the trail northwest around the upper end of the bowl to the peak of the western ridge. Along the trail the Germans had set up a number of machine gun and rifle positions from which they could fire down the main ridge line, into the heart of the bowl, or onto the western ridge. About thirty yards northwest of Knob 2 on the trail the enemy had the advantage of a rock slab seven feet long and three feet high, behind which he had set up a double machine gun position by digging two slit trenches and blasting a deep hole out of the rock. Northwest of the double position were other large rock slabs behind which the Germans could fire into the bowl and onto the western ridge. Halfway down the bowl in front of these positions along the trail was at least one other prepared position--a log bunker which merged into near-by trees so well that from a distance it could hardly be identified.
In addition to the frontal defenses along the trail, the enemy had flanking positions along the west side of the bowl on Monte Altuzzo's western ridge, where Company B had been stopped the day before. Except for the general location of these western positions, Gresham and Corey knew little about the enemy defenses on either ridge. Some were so well concealed that through the whole battle the assault troops failed to locate them.
When the fire began from the left flank and Knob 2, the leading squad of Lieutenant Gresham's platoon dropped to the ground. At the head of the squad Sgt. Ira Wilson and his first scout, Pvt. Donald M. Getty, located a machine gun near the ridge line. Facing down the bottom of the draw to the west, the machine gun had no overhead cover; but on the left front a big stone and small bushes gave it some concealment. Private Getty was so close to the machine gun that he could almost touch the barrel. As he opened fire with his rifle, other Germans in the position behind the rocks began to throw hand grenades at the squad. Pulling back about ten yards, Sergeant Wilson and Private Getty sent word to Lieutenant Gresham, who was just behind the 2d Squad, to pass up grenades. Though the supply was short, several were promptly passed forward. Private Getty and Pvts. Oscar Maynard and George W. Schroeder pegged them toward the enemy. The Germans replied with more grenades, causing no casualties but bringing several close calls. Pvt. James S. Dorris deflected one grenade with his hands. Another landed between the legs of the assistant squad leader, Sgt. Edgar Parks, but he kicked it away before it exploded.
With the Germans still reacting violently, Private Getty tried to work his way around the right flank of the machine gun position where stones did not shield it. As he crawled forward, he almost
bumped head on into a German who had just emerged from the position. The German surrendered. Sergeant Wilson told Getty to prod the prisoner back down the ridge line; and, as he left, the other men in the 2d Platoon menacingly waved their rifles, yelled, and swore at the prisoner.
At intervals during the grenade exchange the Germans inside the position tried to make a break to the rear. Each time they tried, the forward men in the 2d Platoon picked off one or two Germans with small arms fire. At the head of Sergeant Wilson's squad, Private Schroeder and Pvt. Waymon A. Banks shot one man who was directly to their front, and Lieutenant Gresham, firing point-blank with his carbine, killed another.
After the first flurry of machine gun fire, the enemy's use of small arms was sporadic but close-in, although most of the bullets went wide of their mark. Gresham ordered his men to fix bayonets for close-quarter fighting and moved his 1st and 3d Squads forward to join the 2d. With the 1st Squad on the left, the 1st and 2d Squads together tried to root the Germans out of the positions while the 3d Squad supported the attack by fire. With a few well-aimed shots, the men flushed a few more Germans, killing several and driving the rest farther up the ridge. As the two squads came within a few yards of the rocks on the top of Knob 2, heavy rifle and machine gun fire again halted the advance. No longer held in their dugouts by the artillery fire, the defenders had crawled to better positions on the platoon's left flank. For the men of the 2d Platoon this was the more dangerous, because the smoke screen had lifted and an overcast sky was not enough to cut off enemy observation from the top of the bowl. From the front the Germans again tossed hand grenades, and from the left flank machine guns on the western ridge began to rake the area.16
Since the flanking and frontal fire was getting heavier and a few men had already been wounded, Lieutenant Gresham told his unit to take cover while he assembled his squad leaders for a conference. As he was outlining the next move, Lieutenant Corey came forward to join them. Gresham proposed that while the 2d Platoon of Company A kept pressure on the enemy's front the 1st Platoon of Company C advance on the left, enveloping the rock-protected Knob 2 positions. Corey approved and returned to bring up his platoon.
As the Company C platoon came forward, Gresham made contact with Sergeant Orr, Corey's 1st Squad leader, and told him to build up on his platoon's left. While the two leading squads of Gresham's platoon continued to keep pressure on the enemy by fire to the front, Orr directed his men one at a time out to the left along the trail that wound over the western slope of Knob 2, approximately twenty-five yards away from the ridge line. They walked single file fifteen to twenty yards down the trail past a dead German, then dispersed in a skirmish line, building up on the left flank and left rear of the Company A platoon. Each man in turn moved a little farther to the left along the trail.
Sergeant Orr's men were no sooner in position than Lieutenant Corey arrived
and told the sergeant to move his squad farther to the left so that the 3d Squad could build up between the 1st and the Company A platoon. Also, Corey said, the 2d Squad would build up on the left of the 1st. As soon as all men were in place, they would crawl forward and outflank the Knob 2 positions.
The 2d Squad, which had followed the 1st to the saddle on the ridge line where the trail turned left, passed through and around Sergeant Orr's men and kept on down the trail. At the far left flank of the 2d Squad, Pvt. Albert C. Borum, Jr., led up the path, followed by Pfc. Reginald W. Parrish and Pfc. Carl E. Hinrichsen. To the right rear of these leading men, the rest of the 2d Squad began to build up a skirmish line. After rounding a bend in the trail, Private Borum stopped and passed word back to his squad leader, S. Sgt. Jay E. Garner, asking if he had gone far enough. Sergeant Garner told him to go "a little farther," but as Borum and Parrish started off again they heard sounds of the enemy moving in for a counterattack. Standing erect, Parrish demanded the Germans' surrender.17
The Germans replied promptly with close-range fire from rifles, machine pistols, and machine guns. Near the left flank of the 2d Squad, the men saw three Germans bearing a white flag and shouting, "Kamerad." Pfc. Edwin L. Buechler cried out, "What did you say?"18 The trio did not bother to reply, for the familiar ruse had gained all the time they needed. Jumping into a trench fifteen to twenty yards away from Sergeant Garner's men, the Germans quickly set up a machine gun and opened fire. The first burst wounded Pfc. Kenneth L. Fankell in one leg, and the fire that followed drove others in the squad to more concealed positions. For better protection, the leading men, Privates Parrish and Borum, crawled back behind the bend in the trail.
The enemy on top of the knob joined the action by tossing grenades close to the Company C platoon. Pvt. Truett J. May, ammunition bearer in the 2d Squad's BAR team, was wounded slightly and fell back to the platoon aid man for first aid. Farther to the right the 1st Squad of Lieutenant Corey's platoon felt the force of the grenades even more than the 2d and 3d. Though no one was wounded or killed, many were badly shaken by concussion. As Pfc. Richard M. Feeney was crawling across a little rise in the slope above the trail, a grenade exploded close by and shook him up considerably. Numbed, he shouted for the man directly behind him, Pvt. Subastian D. Gubitosi, to pull him off the small rise. A few moments later, after the two men had crossed a small open space where the enemy had observation, another grenade exploded near by. The concussion this time gave Private Feeney a severe headache and knocked the camouflage netting from his helmet. Three concussion grenades landed almost on top of Pvt. Robert H. Kessell, shaking him up and sending him scurrying down the slope below the trail. Three grenades, one of which hit his helmet, another his rifle, and the third the ground near by, convinced Private Markey that he had better move his position. Sliding down the slope to the trail, he ran to the right to the CP
of the Company A platoon. After obtaining a rifle from a wounded soldier and casually smoking a cigarette, for he was in no hurry to return to the hot spot he had just left, he crawled back up the slope. Farther up the knob he spotted what appeared to be a German position and called down for a bazooka. When the bazooka man arrived, he and Private Markey discovered to the latter's embarrassment that the enemy "position" was only an overturned tree stump.19
On the extreme right of the Company C platoon, the 3d Squad, which Lieutenant Corey had ordered to fill in the gap between the 1st Squad and the Company A platoon, had just reached the dead German's body on the trail when the counterattack began farther up the hill. Although the grenades and small arms fire were not landing dangerously close, the squad leader, S. Sgt. George E. Price, halted his men and directed them to wait until the situation appeared safer before continuing up the slope to tie in with Company A.20
During the counterattack only a small number of men in Lieutenant Gresham's platoon were in a position to fire, for the Germans were moving in from the left front on the western slope of Knob 2. But the three men on the left, Privates Maynard, Schroeder, and Banks, could observe the attack and did yeoman service with their rifles. By the time the counterattack was in full swing, Gresham's men had exhausted their supply of grenades. Corey's men did not use their meager supply at all because of the danger of hitting their own men who were stretched out on the slope above the trail.21 In the end the Germans were beaten back, but the advantage gained was slight compared with the damage inflicted on Lieutenant Corey's platoon during the counterattack by the explosion of a single shell.
After the 1st and 2d Squads of Company C's 1st Platoon had built up a skirmish line, but while the 3d Squad was still moving into position, fire either from artillery or from a direct-fire weapon such as a tank or a tank destroyer began to land on the southwestern slope of Knob 2. As the first shell struck a few yards below the platoon, S. Sgt. Donald B. Smith, assistant leader of the 2d Squad, who was on the right flank of his men, called out, "That's our own stuff falling short!"22 A few minutes later a second shell landed in the middle of the 2d Squad, spraying the nearest men with fragments and wrecking the morale of others near by.
Possibly because of the noise from exploding grenades, Private Borum, who was on the squad's left below the trail, did not hear either shell strike the ground. As the dirt raised by the second shell flew over his head, Private Borum turned over and saw that his squad leader, Sergeant Garner, had a gaping hole in his upper arm, shoulder, and chest. Garner was calling, "Get me out! Get me out!"23 Borum shouted that he would go back for help. As he crawled
down the slope toward the right, he noticed several other men lying motionless near the trail and heard another, Pvt. Joe M. Self, moan for attention. Borum reached Lieutenant Corey and reported what had happened.
When the shell hit the 2d Squad, most of the survivors were badly shaken up by the concussion, and all withdrew so quickly to the platoon CP that they did not stop to find out the effects of the shell. Although Sergeant Smith and Private Borum, two of the uninjured men, both knew the toll had been heavy, neither could say at first how many or how serious the casualties were. To get the facts, Lieutenant Corey sent the two men back up the trail to the left. Coming to the wounded Private Self above the trail, they poured water down his throat and examined the men around him. They saw at a glance that Sergeant Garner was dead. Going a little farther to the left, they saw Private Parrish die just as they reached him. Four more men were counted dead, and another besides Private Self was wounded. All together, they discovered, the single shell had killed six men, including the squad leader, and wounded two others. Sergeant Smith reported the casualties to Lieutenant Corey at the platoon CP, and the Lieutenant marked them off in the little notebook in which he kept the names of his platoon.
The platoon aid man, Pfc. Boyd A. West, moved out to do what he could for Private Self, but as he walked up the slope above the trail the Germans opened fire. Although the shots went over his head, the aid man waved a bandage so that the enemy would discover his noncombat mission and cease fire. If the Germans saw the impromptu flag they gave no sign, continuing to shoot over the aid man's head. Despite the fire, Private West reached the wounded man and bandaged his knee, which had been hit by a shell fragment. When he had finished, he withdrew to the platoon CP.
Lieutenant Corey was certain that the shellfire which hit his platoon was American fire. He tried to get word back to Lieutenant Souder, the company commander, to have the fire lifted, but neither his radio nor his sound-powered telephone raised the company commander. The telephone had failed when the shell had exploded, fragments having killed Pvt. Frank A. Jordan, who along with Pvt. George Balog had been carrying the wire. Private Balog had scampered back down the slope to a more secure position, and when he returned to the platoon CP the telephone would not function. With his own communications out, Corey sent a messenger to Lieutenant Gresham, urging that Gresham tell battalion to get the shelling lifted and that he himself come down at once to Corey's CP. Lieutenant Gresham, accompanied by his runner, moved the thirty-five to fifty yards back to the Company C platoon's CP and noted the disorganized situation. Although his own radio had been out during the counterattack, Gresham tried it again; this time it worked, and he relayed Corey's request to Captain King.24
The news of what had happened to Lieutenant Corey's platoon shocked Colonel Jackson and Lieutenant Farber, the liaison officer from the 329th Field Artillery Battalion to the 338th's 1st Battalion, into immediate action. Both
tried through regiment, the 329th Field Artillery, and the divisional and corps artillery to get the fire lifted. Lieutenant Farber felt sure that the two rounds had come from somewhere in the Sieve River valley, but the offending gun could not be located. Because a number of tanks and tank destroyers were in support of the 1st Battalion attack but under regimental (338th) control, the liaison officer guessed that one of them had been the source of fire which had not been given enough range to clear the mountain and had landed in the midst of Company C's 1st Platoon.25 Lieutenant Corey's men felt certain that American artillery was responsible. The riflemen disagreed only over whether the two rounds came from a 105-mm. howitzer, from a 240-mm. howitzer, or from an 8-inch gun.26
Whatever the weapon, everybody agreed that it was American, not German. Before long the news of what had happened reached all the firing battalions, and no more shells landed in the area. It is possible, however, that the shells were enemy, for in the middle of the afternoon both the 85th Division G-2 and division artillery reported that German shells had fallen on Monte Altuzzo.27
Although only a single round had struck Lieutenant Corey's platoon, the resulting confusion and the belief that it was friendly fire had a demoralizing effect upon those who survived. The shell had dazed and shaken up most of the men left in the 1st and 2d Squads, including the 1st Squad leader, Sergeant Orr. After the second shell exploded, all the men had withdrawn quickly, at least as far as the saddle between Knobs 1 and 2 where the trail turned left away from the ridge line. Some men had rushed wildly down the mountain for 150 yards, and a handful had gone all the way to the covered positions below the peak of Hill 782 on its southwestern slope where they joined the 2d Platoon, Company C.
Lieutenant Corey tried now to bring order out of chaos, to reorganize the platoon's defense, and to bring back all the men who had run down the ridge. With the assistance of his platoon sergeant, Sgt. William A. Thompson, and the platoon guide, S. Sgt. William S. Trigg, the platoon leader directed those men who had withdrawn to the saddle between Knob 1 and Knob 2 in the trail to build up a defense covering both sides of the ridge line. All together not more than eighteen men set up the new defense thirty-five yards to the rear of Company A's 2d Platoon. A few yards farther to the rear in the rocks on the top of Knob 1, Sergeant Trigg, an extra automatic rifle team, and the bazooka team continued to guard the platoon's rear and the extreme right flank.
After the shellfire had come in, Sergeant Price, 3d Squad leader, had sent four or five riflemen and his BAR man to positions on the slope above the trail to the left rear of Company A's 2d Platoon. Except for Pfc. Michael Burja, who assisted Gresham's men on the right flank, at no time while in these positions did the group fire at the enemy. The rest of the 3d Squad either remained with the assistant squad leader, Sgt. Loyd J. Duffey, below the bend in the trail or straggled farther down the ridge.
While Lieutenant Corey remained to
direct the defense at the bend of the trail, Platoon Sergeant Thompson went down the ridge with the platoon runner, Pfc. Randolph H. Bishop, to bring back those men who, after the shellfire, had withdrawn past Knob 1 as far back as Hill 782. Going back to the rocks at the peak of Hill 782, Sergeant Thompson found several men, including an assistant squad leader, and brought them back up the ridge. This assistant squad leader had been so unnerved by the shelling that he had walked on down the mountain between Knob 1 and Hill 782 and seated himself right on the ridge line in full view of the enemy. All he could think about was that Sergeant Garner, his best friend, had been killed in one lightning stroke. He remembered bitterly that that day, 15 September, was Sergeant Garner's birthday.
Sergeant Thompson failed to find some of the stragglers, because they had gone even farther down the hill to the southwestern slope of Hill 782 just above the barbed wire. One man whom he did find refused to return on the ground that his back hurt and that he had to go to the company CP for medical attention. In all, the 1st Platoon sergeant made three trips down the ridge to round up the half dozen stragglers he brought back. Upon their return they filled out the platoon's positions, but such shaky, nervous men did little to strengthen the defense.28
While the defense of the 1st Platoon, Company C, was being reorganized, Lieutenant Gresham informed Lieutenant Corey that his 2d Platoon, Company A, would try to move men to the rear of the Germans in the rocks on Knob 2. Hoping that another attempt at envelopment might break the enemy resistance, Gresham asked that Corey's platoon protect the left rear of his men. Gresham's plan awakened no enthusiasm in Lieutenant Corey, who doubted even the value of holding on in his bare, rocky position. Haunted by the heavy losses Company B had taken the previous day, he feared that if his men remained they would suffer a similar fate. In spite of these misgivings Corey promised that his men would hold and would support Gresham's attack.29
Long-Range Fire and Counterattack
Before Lieutenant Gresham could move his platoon forward again, the Germans opened fire from the right rear and left flank, keeping the Company A men on the defensive. The rear guard of Gresham's platoon, Platoon Sergeant Stevens and five other men, began receiving enemy fire from two machine guns on the western slopes of Monte Verruca. Although Sergeant Stevens' group quickly silenced one of the guns with return fire, the other continued to harass them for some time. Soon the group spotted five more Germans with a machine gun moving up to the right rear about 500 yards away on the eastern slope of the Altuzzo ridge southeast of the peak of Hill 782. Bringing a BAR and rifles to bear, the platoon's rear guard killed or wounded two of the enemy and drove the rest to cover.
Scarcely had the long-range action ceased, when about fifteen Germans counterattacked on the left flank of Gresham's platoon.30 (Map 14) Word
Situation Before Second German Counterattack
Afternoon, 15 September
had already come from an enemy radio intercept that the Germans were going to counterattack soon from the north or northeast. Although the 85th Division artillery reported at 1440 that it had placed fire on the area where the enemy force was forming, the Germans still struck.
At 1320 the Germans on Monte Altuzzo had radioed that Hill 926 was firmly in their hands. They stated that their "blocking position" ran from the trail crossing at the north end of Knob 2 for about 200 yards west-northwest. The blocking position was being extended by the 2d Battalion, 12th Parachute Regiment, to an observation post north of the peak of the western ridge near the switchbacks in the highway. Adding that the troops that had broken through at Hill 782 were surrounded, the 3d Battalion, 12th Regiment, which occupied the main line of resistance, declared it would throw the Americans back to the southwest. The reserves were to counterattack on the line from Hill 624 to Hill 782.31
The first word Lieutenant Gresham's men had of the counterattack came from the Company C platoon, which reported enemy movement to its left front and fire from a bend in the trail. The Germans were moving in from the western slope of Knob 2, abandoned by Company C's platoon after the second shell had burst. Using rifles, machine pistols, and grenades, the Germans came in close, sometimes advancing within a few yards of the rear Company A men. Lieutenant Gresham's men not only fired point-blank whenever a German came in sight but also reacted with area fire. Although the 1st Platoon, Company C, was not in position for effective fire, a few men did fire in the direction of the attack. Several men in Gresham's platoon were wounded, though a few with light injuries continued to fight. In the end superior fire power, mainly from the Company A platoon, drove the Germans back up the ridge.32
Supporting Platoons on Hill 782
During the advance of the two leading platoons and during the enemy counterattacks, the rest of Company A and Company C had remained aloof from the battle, staying for the most part in concealed positions behind the peak of Hill 782. The narrow, exposed route of advance west of the main ridge line and the sheer drop-off on the eastern slope left no room for the deployment of more men. Behind Lieutenant Corey's 1st Platoon (Company C) had followed in single file Company C's 2d Platoon. After the forward advance was stopped, the 2d Platoon leader, 1st Lt. David M. Brumbaugh, halted his men just west of the ridge line from Knob 1 to Hill 782, fifty yards to the rear of Corey's platoon. From that area the 2d Platoon could see the fight in progress up the ridge but could not give supporting fire without taking the chance of hitting the assault troops. The 1st Platoon of Company A had remained on the slope of Hill 782 between the barbed wire and the peak; the other rifle platoons, the 3d of Company A and the 3d of Company C, had stayed below the entanglement near the company command posts.
While the attack was going on, none of the machine guns were able to reach firing positions from which they could support the leading riflemen. One machine gun squad of Company A had followed Lieutenant Gresham's platoon to the top of Hill 782 but had not fired because of its exposed position. The other squad set itself up briefly on the slope below the peak of Hill 782. To the right the light machine guns of Company C stopped above the barbed wire, where they had some concealment but lacked good firing positions.
Although the 60-mm. mortars of both Companies A and C were set up in defilade on the slopes of Hill 782 and Hill 624, respectively, they were never used because the company commanders were afraid their fire would fall on the attacking rifle platoons. But while the attack was in progress 1st Lt. Merlin E. Ritchey and T. Sgt. Zealin W. Russell, Weapons Platoon leader and platoon sergeant, Company C, with good observation up the Altuzzo ridge, directed artillery fire on the big rock escarpment between the enemy's main line of resistance on Knob 2 and the highest peak of the mountain, Hill 926.33
Back at the battalion and regimental command posts Colonel Jackson and Colonel Mikkelsen had received fragmentary reports of the 1st Battalion's progress. At 1030 the 1st Battalion reported that Companies A and C were about 500 yards from the top of Monte Altuzzo and were still moving forward under mortar fire. An hour later the 1st Battalion reported that its troops, having struck resistance on the crest of the mountain, were on the west slope of the main ridge at a point a hundred yards beyond their actual positions on Knob 2. Again at 1206 the 1st Battalion reported that its attacking troops were on the "1st Knob" of Monte Altuzzo, calling for lots of artillery fire on the "2d Knob." Finally, at 1405, Companies A and C were reported by the 338th Infantry to have one platoon each closing for the assault against Hill 926 with one platoon from each company ready to follow.34
While Lieutenant Corey was reorganizing the 1st Platoon, Lieutenant Brumbaugh (2d Platoon, Company C), who was behind a rock on Knob 1 and near Corey, called Lieutenant Souder, the company commander, on his SCR 536. Brumbaugh asked permission to withdraw his platoon, which was stretched out in column to the rear of the 1st Platoon between Knob 1 and the crest of Hill 782. If his platoon withdrew to the southwestern slope of Hill 782, Brumbaugh said, his men could have better cover and could still come to the assistance of the 1st Platoon if needed. Before giving permission, Souder said he would have to get battalion approval. While Brumbaugh waited for the answer, Corey said to him, "I don't see why we all don't withdraw."35 A few minutes later the battalion commander approved the original request on the condition that Lieutenant Brumbaugh keep abreast of
the 1st Platoon's situation. The order did not apply to Lieutenant Corey's men, who were to remain in position farther up the ridge and continue the attack with the 2d Platoon, Company A.
Leaving Lieutenant Corey at his platoon CP on Knob 1, Lieutenant Brumbaugh moved his 2d Platoon single file 250 yards to positions among the rocks on the southwest slope of Hill 782, below the peak. Placing the 3d Squad leader, S. Sgt. Joseph S. Adams, in charge, the lieutenant and his platoon sergeant, T. Sgt. Tony L. White, continued down below the barbed wire to the company CP, where the platoon leader explained to Lieutenant Souder his reasons for requesting withdrawal.36
It seemed ironical that a platoon which had sustained only one casualty before withdrawing to better concealment should now suffer casualties. Enemy mortar shells began to pelt the area where Lieutenant Brumbaugh's men were digging in. The mortar concentration killed two men and wounded eight, including some from the 1st Platoon who had run down the mountain after the stray artillery shell had disorganized their platoon. Besides inflicting these casualties, the enemy shelling also wounded Lieutenant MacMinn, 1st Platoon leader, Company A, and wiped out one Company A machine gun squad. The machine gunners had just set up below the peak of Hill 782 to guard the right flank when one mortar shell wounded two men and killed the other three.37
After the 2d Platoon, Company C, had withdrawn to the slope below the peak of Hill 782, a cry passed up to Lieutenant Corey and his 1st Platoon: "Withdraw!"38 Although the message traveled by word of mouth from man to man, no one remembered who started it, only that it had come from somewhere on the slope below. Making no effort to check the message, Lieutenant Corey assumed it was authentic. His men peeled off spontaneously as soon as they heard the cry. To the platoon leader and the men alike the withdrawal "order" was welcome, for it told them to do what everyone apparently wanted to do. Corey started down the ridge behind his men.39
Since no message for Lieutenant Corey's platoon to withdraw had been passed up from the 2d Platoon, it seems likely the cry originated with some member of the 1st Platoon who had seen the 2d withdraw and thought or wished the movement to apply to him. When the withdrawal started, Sergeant Thompson and the platoon runner, Private Bishop, were between the 1st and 2d Platoons on the ridge line between Knob 1 and Hill 782, still trying to bring back stragglers who had run down the hill after the misplaced shellfire. Had the cry for
withdrawal come from the 2d Platoon, which was below them on the slope, the platoon sergeant and his runner would certainly have heard it. They heard nothing, only saw the main body of the 1st Platoon above them moving fast on the way down the ridge. They followed suit.
When the withdrawing men reached the peak of Hill 782, they saw the casualties which the 2d Platoon had suffered from mortar fire, and some men assisted the ambulatory casualties down the ridge. Others loaded themselves with extra rifles and went below the entanglement halfway down the slope to the company CP. A few men of the 1st and 2d Platoons tried to improvise a litter of field jackets and rifles, but the effort failed because the wounded man they tried to put on it was too tall. Pending later evacuation, they hid him in the bushes and hurried down the slope to join the rest of the company. For lack of litters, the other nonwalking wounded were left on the slope above the barbed wire.40
As the 2d Platoon reached the company CP, Lieutenant Souder, the company commander, noticed that some 1st Platoon men were arriving too. They could tell him only that word had come up the line to withdraw, and they had obeyed. When Lieutenant Corey appeared, Lieutenant Souder said he had given no such authorization and had received no request from Lieutenant Corey for the 1st Platoon's withdrawal. Although he was angered by the platoon's abandonment of its position, it was now an accomplished fact about which he could do nothing.41
After Company C had started to withdraw, Sergeant Stevens and the rear guard of the 2d Platoon, Company A, spotted two German squads of four men each below the peak of Hill 782 on the eastern slope of the main ridge. Although the Germans were carrying litters, Sergeant Stevens suspected that machine guns were hidden on them and he directed his men to fire. Their shots killed two of the Germans and drove the rest to cover. A moment later, as if to confirm Sergeant Stevens' guess about the loads the Germans were carrying, two machine guns opened fire from the same vicinity, wounding several men in Lieutenant Gresham's platoon.42
In the midst of this new fire from the rear, Lieutenant Gresham received word that Company C had withdrawn. The cry to pull back had reached the rear men of his platoon, and, as a few of Lieutenant Corey's men who were farthest up the hill began to withdraw, some of Gresham's men started to follow. Alert to what was happening, Gresham promptly pulled his men back and sent two scouts down to check with Corey's platoon. The scouts confirmed Company C's withdrawal. The lieutenant tried in vain to reach Captain King by radio and then decided that in the face of the continuing heavy fire it would be costly, if not impossible, to remain unaided in the Knob 2 positions. He told his squad leaders his decision and sent the 3d Squad to protect the platoon's rear and to make contact with Company C. Moving some distance down the
ridge, the squad sent word back that the Company C platoon could not be found.
While machine gun fire from the right rear continued, Gresham ordered the rest of his men to move back quickly down the ridge. To speed their withdrawal, the men dropped their blanket rolls, brought along in the attack. The time was well into the afternoon, probably about 1530. The withdrawal down the ridge was well organized, and all the platoon's wounded were evacuated except Private Dorris, who was left behind until a litter could be brought. Private Banks, who had shell fragments in his legs and stomach and should have waited for litter evacuation, ran all the way down to the company area below the barbed wire because he feared being left on the mountain. Almost the first man to reach the bottom of the hill, he collapsed at the company command post and had to be carried to the battalion aid station.43
When Lieutenant Gresham, bringing up the rear of his platoon, reached the rocks just below the peak of Hill 782 where he had met the 1st Platoon, Company C, that morning, he saw Captain King and explained to him the circumstances which had brought about withdrawal. Captain King approved his action. Colonel Jackson in turn approved the withdrawal of the two companies and told them to prepare for the next assault.44
After the rifle companies' withdrawal, litter squads were sent up to evacuate the wounded who had been left behind. A smoke screen cover was fired by the 403d Field Artillery Battalion. Guided by Pfc. Clifford P. Marx, 1st Platoon, ten men returned for the wounded of Company C. Five of them found Private Hinrichsen above the barbed wire and pulled him out while the smoke was still thick. Although the other five continued up the ridge in an effort to reach Private Self, they moved only a few yards past the peak of Hill 782 before the smoke lifted and a machine gun from the front drove them back. Private Self was subsequently captured. While the smoke lasted, several men of Company A's mortar section moved up the ridge and evacuated Private Dorris.45
During the battle Company A had lost three men killed and fifteen wounded, and Company C nine killed, twenty-one wounded, and one missing in action--a total for the two companies of forty-nine. While these losses were not excessive, they were felt strongly in a battalion which had already lost more than half of Company B. The strain of battle was beginning to tell, and the number of exhaustion cases was increasing. That night an enemy mortar concentration close to the 1st Battalion aid station hit a near-by outbuilding at Paretaio Farmhouse, killed one litterbearer, and wounded several others.46
The Day's Action
The fourth attack against Monte Altuzzo on 15 September had brought the farthest advance yet on the main ridge. The leading platoons of Companies A and C had been within 250 yards of the top of the mountain (Hill
926) and had come under the nose of the main German defenses at the top of the bowl on Knob 2. Yet the attack had failed to knock out the heavy semicircle of positions guarding the top of the bowl. A major factor was the shellfire which had inflicted heavy casualties on Company C's 1st Platoon and had demoralized most of the survivors.
In spite of the repeated failures, the cumulative effect of American efforts was being felt. The infantry and the artillery were inflicting casualties on the enemy, wearing down his powers of resistance, and forcing him to commit first the battalion and regimental reserves of the 12th Parachute Regiment, then divisional and finally corps reserves from other sectors of the front.47
As on the day before, effective artillery, tank, and tank destroyer fire had been placed on the enemy bunkers on Monte Altuzzo. Several hits had been scored, and a few positions had been severely damaged. Heavy artillery--240-mm. howitzers and 8-inch guns--was credited with placing destructive fire on several positions.
In midmorning the 403d Field Artillery Battalion fired 112 rounds against enemy activity on the slopes north of Monte Verruca and six rounds at German mortars between Hill 926 and Pian di Giogo to the east. The 329th Field Artillery Battalion in direct support contributed a number of harassing missions, three TOT's, and observed fire on enemy pillboxes, personnel, mortars, and machine guns in the Altuzzo area. It also fired a concentration to repel a counterattack against the 1st Battalion, 338th. With a ground observation post adjusting, a battalion of heavy corps artillery scored four target hits on the crest of Monte Altuzzo and three target hits on pillboxes on the western ridge, claiming at least one pillbox destroyed. At 1500 the 85th Division artillery placed harassing fire on Monte Verruca and the area between Altuzzo and the highway.
During 15 September the 1st Platoon, Company B, 84th Chemical Battalion (4.2-inch mortars), in support of the 1st Battalion, 338th, fired harassing missions of seven rounds of high explosive and forty-two rounds of white phosphorus. The 2d Platoon fired sixty rounds of high explosive near the highway. In addition, the 81-mm. mortars behind Paretaio Farmhouse fired in the draws east and west of Monte Altuzzo.
From positions north of Scarperia, Company B, 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion, using forward observation, fired about 1,000 rounds during the day at suspected pillboxes and machine gun positions at the long range of 4,000 yards. For the most part the destroyers' targets were east of the highway in the Giogo Pass area and on the slopes of Monte Altuzzo. The tank destroyers claimed destruction of one pillbox. Because the pillboxes were high on the steep mountains and good firing positions could not be reached by roads or the adjacent slopes, the tank destroyer guns had to shoot at long range with a high angle of elevation. Hits in the rock were damaging but not destructive; hits in the aperture were more effective. The 76-mm. gun on the destroyers had a good percentage of hits with both high explosive and armor-piercing ammunition.48
CAMOUFLAGED TANK DESTROYERS (M-18) MOVING UP. These destroyers of the 805th are en route to positions north of Scarperia.
Many positions, especially the heavy rock slabs and other open positions around the top of the Altuzzo bowl, remained unidentified and untouched by supporting fires. Even where the bunkers were hit by light and medium artillery, most of the personnel inside probably survived. Unless the bunkers were severely damaged they could be remanned as long as the Germans had the troops.49
While the 1st Battalion, 338th Infantry, was making the main effort to capture the crest of Monte Altuzzo, the units on its flanks were equally unsuccessful in attacks against defenses in the rest of the Giogo Pass sector. On the 338th's right
flank the 339th Infantry at midnight on 14 September attacked Monte Verruca, but the assault companies were stopped by mines and barbed wire and then driven back by mortar and machine gun fire. West of Monte Altuzzo along Highway 6524, the 2d Battalion, 338th, made no advance from l'Uomo Morto. West of the highway the 91st Division's 363d Infantry attacked up the western ridge of Monticelli during the early morning of 15 September, but failed to breach the enemy MLR. Even the 361st Infantry, striking on the west of the 363d, failed to outflank Monticelli. At the end of 15 September the 85th and 91st Divisions had everywhere failed to break through the Gothic Line.50
The Enemy Situation
During three days of fighting, the 12th Parachute Regiment and the rest of the 4th Parachute Division had sustained heavy casualties. By the end of 15 September the paratroopers of the 1st Battalion, 12th Regiment, in the Altuzzo sector were in dire need of reinforcement. The 1st Company had suffered especially heavy losses, including the company commander's death on 14 September. A prisoner captured later on Monte Altuzzo reported having seen eleven men killed and many others wounded in the 1st Company between 13 September and the morning of 16 September. On 15 September the 1st Platoon, 1st Company, alone had five killed and ten wounded. While infantry attacks had caused a number of the casualties, artillery fire had been more effective by killing and wounding German reinforcements as they moved into position. For example, as the Engineer Platoon, 12th Regiment, came into the forward area, American artillery fire killed four men and wounded seven.
The 12th Parachute Regiment's reserve and the reserve of the 3d Battalion had definitely been committed. Since the division's reserve troops were being sent in to strengthen the forces on Monte Altuzzo and Verruca, it seems likely that the reserves of the 1st and 2d Battalions had also been committed. The enemy admitted during the evening that the 4th Parachute Division had committed its last reserves and claimed that these had been used successfully to block local penetrations.
Even with the reinforcements of 14 September the companies of the 12th Regiment were still short their normal complements. Their ranks were filled with noninfantry replacements or paratroopers who had had short training and no specialized work, among them all headquarters and service personnel of the 4th Parachute Division who could be spared. During the night of 15-16 September the Monte Altuzzo sector was reinforced by the 10th and 15th Companies, the Engineer Platoon of the 12th Regiment, and a miscellaneous group of twenty men from the 4th Antitank Battalion, 4th Parachute Division. (Though the 15th Company's total strength on 10 September was eighty men, American artillery fire had by the night of 15 September caused 20 percent losses.)51
In addition to bringing up division reserves, the enemy began on the night
of 15-16 September to move units from as far west as the sector north of Lucca where the front was relatively quiet. After the enemy realized that the 12th Regiment alone could not hold the Giogo Pass sector, the 2d Battalion, Grenadier Lehr Brigade, which had been in corps reserve north of Lucca, began to move by trucks and horse-drawn vehicles to Firenzuola from where it could be sent to the forward positions. During 15 September the 2d Battalion, Grenadier Lehr Brigade, arrived at the I Parachute Corps, but the 1st Battalion was still on the march. Although by the morning of 16 September this small group of reinforcements was on the way to the front-line positions, these reserves were hardly strong enough to enable the enemy to hold the Giogo Pass defenses for any prolonged period. Furthermore, they would not be available for more than three or four days. Sometime on 15 or 16 September, Field Marshal Kesselring, commander of Army Group C, changed his orders, allowing the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division to remain in Fourteenth Army's coastal sector. A condition of this change in order stipulated that the Lehr Brigade would go to the Tenth Army during the nights of 18-19 and 19-20 September.52
1. 338th Inf and 339th Inf Unit Jnls, 14-15 Sep 44; 85th Div and 91st Div G-3 Jnls, 14-15 Sep 44; Strootman MS, Ch. III; Muller Notes.
2. Combat Intervs with Mikkelsen, Lt Col Marion P. Boulden, and Jackson. Colonel Jackson did not recall this incident but thought it entirely possible that he had taken the position herein described.
3. Combat Intervs with Jackson and Farber.
4. Ibid.; 2d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnl, 14-15 Sep 44; 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 14-15 Sep 44; II Corps Arty Jnl, 14-15 Sep 44; 403d FA Bn Mission Rpts, 14-15 Sep 44; 752d Tk Bn and 805th TD Bn AAR's, Sep 44.
5. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 14-15 Sep 44; 85th, Div G-3 Jnl, 14-15 Sep 44; MATAF Intel and Opns Sum, 15 Sep 44; MAAF Central Med Daily Operational Sum, 15 Sep 44.
6. Combat Intervs with Jackson, King, and Souder.
7. Combat Intervs with King, Gresham, and Souder.
8. Ibid.; Combat Intervs with Corey and with 1st Lt David M. Brumbaugh.
9. Combat Intervs with Van Horne, King, and enlisted survivors in Co A, 338th Inf, and Gresham; 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 14-15 Sep 44.
10. Combat Intervs with the following: Gresham-Stevens; Michalek-Carter-Wilson-Hillier; Sgt Tony L. White; Souder, Thompson, and Corey. 3d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnl, 14-15 Sep 44; 1st Bn and 3d Bn, 338th Inf, AAR's, and 338th Inf AAR, Sep 44.
11. Combat Intervs with Gresham, Stevens, and Carter-Wilson-Hillier.
12. Combat Intervs with Orr and with Gresham.
13. Combat Intervs with Farber, Gresham, and Jackson; 2d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnl and 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 15 Sep 44; 403d FA Bn Mission Rpts, 15 Sep 44; 752d Tk Bn and 805th TD Bn AAR's, Sep 44.
14. Combat Intervs with Gresham, Orr, and Corey.
15. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, Sep 44; Combat Intervs with Gresham, Jackson, Hillier, and King. Quotes are from Gresham and King.
16. Combat Intervs with Gresham, Wilson, and Corey.
17. Combat Intervs with the following: Orr, Thompson, Corey; S Sgt Clifford P. Marx, Pfc Richard M. Feeney, and Pfc Robert H. Kessell; Borum; Gresham.
18. Ibid.; Combat Interv with S Sgt Kenneth L. Fankell.
19. Combat Intervs with Fankell, Borum, Feeney, Kessell, Markey, S Sgt Kyle F. Priestley, and May.
20. Combat Intervs with Sgt Loyd J. Duffey, Pfc Louis J. Hart, Pfc Jackson P. Bagley, and with Corey.
21. Combat Intervs with the following: Corey, Thompson, and all enlisted survivors still in 1st Plat, Co C, 338th Inf; Gresham and Stevens-Michalek-Carter-Wilson-Hillier-Pickens.
22. Combat Interv with Borum.
24. Ibid.; Combat Intervs with the following: Balog and West; Feeney, Corey, Priestley, Gresham, and King.
25. Combat Intervs with Jackson and Farber.
26. Combat Intervs with all enlisted survivors still in 1st Plat, Co C, 338th Inf.
27. Ibid.; Combat Intervs with Jackson and Farber; 85th Div G-2 Jnl, 15 Sep 44.
28. Combat Intervs with Duffey, Feeney, West, Borum, Bagley, Hart, Marx, May, Bishop, Burja, Pfc Earl B. Gray, Corey, Thompson, Orr, and Priestley.
29. Combat Intervs with Gresham and Corey.
30. Combat Intervs with Gresham and Stevens.
31. 85th Div G-2 Jnl, 15 Sep 44; 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 15 Sep 44.
32. Combat Intervs with Gresham, Stevens, Priestley, Marx, Duffey, Markey, Feeney, Bagley, Hart, Burja, and Borum.
33. Combat Intervs with the following: MacMinn, King, and T Sgt William H. Kohler; Ritchey, Russell, and T Sgt Dale E. Burkholder; MacMinn, White, and S Sgt Robert W. Kistner, Jr.; Van Horne, South, Whary, Colosimo, Grigsby, Albert, and Brumbaugh.
34. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 15 Sep 44; 85th Div G-3 Jnl, 15 Sep 44.
35. Combat Intervs with Brumbaugh and Souder.
36. Ibid.; Combat Intervs with Jackson, White, and Kistner.
37. Combat Intervs with Jackson, White, Kistner, Brumbaugh, MacMinn, King, and Kohler.
38. Combat Intervs with all enlisted survivors in 1st and 2d Plats, Co C, 338th Inf, and with Corey.
39. Ibid. Although he did not so state in the first interviews held with him, Lieutenant Corey stated later (13 April 45) that just before the cry to withdraw was heard he had sent a note by runner to Lieutenant Souder, requesting permission to withdraw. Corey said he reasoned that the attack had bogged down, that his men had sustained heavy casualties, and that sounds from the left flank indicated that his platoon was being surrounded. No reply had been received, the lieutenant said, when his platoon withdrew. If such a message was sent, it never reached the company commander. The historian was unable to find any officer or enlisted survivor in Company C besides Lieutenant Corey who knew that such a message was sent. Cf. Combat Intervs with Souder.
40. Combat Intervs with Corey, Orr, Priestley, Marx, Bagley, Hart, Burja, Feeney, Thompson, and Borum.
41. Combat Intervs with Souder and Corey.
42. Combat Intervs with Gresham and Stevens.
43. Combat Intervs with Gresham.
44. Ibid.; Combat Intervs with King, Jackson, and Souder.
45. Combat Intervs with Marx and Gresham; 403d FA Bn Mission Rpts, 15 Sep 44.
46. Cos A and C, 338th Inf, Morning Rpts, 16 Sep 44; 1st Bn, 338th Inf, Aid Station Log, 15 Sep 44.
47. IPW and S-2 Rpts, 338th Inf Unit Jnl, Sep 44; Radio Intercepts, 338th Inf Unit Jnl, and 85th Div G-2 Jnl, 13-15 Sep 44.
48. Mission Rpts in 403d FA Bn, and 178th and 423d FA Gps, Unit Jnls, 15 Sep 44; 84th Cml Bn Unit Jnl and AAR, 15 Sep 44; 85th Div G-2 and G-3 Jnls, 15 Sep 44; 805th TD Bn AAR, Sep 44; Combat Intervs with Capt Clarence D. Brown and other officers of Co D, 338th Inf; 752d Tk Bn AAR, Sep 44.
49. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 15-18 Sep 44; 85th Div G-2 and G-3 Jnls, 15-18 Sep 44; Notes of several reconnaissances of the area by the author from Nov 44 to Apr 45.
50. 2d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnls, 14-15 Sep 44; 85th Div and 91st Div G-3 Jnls, 14-15 Sep 44; Fifth Army G-3 Jnl File, 14-15 Sep 44; Combat Intervs with Cole; 2d Bn, 338th Inf, AAR, Sep 44.
51. 338th Inf Unit Jnl, IPW Rpts, and Intel Sums, 14-18 Sep 44; 85th Div G-2 and G-3 Jnls, 15-18 Sep 44; 85th Div G-2 Rpts, Sep 44.
52. Entries of 14-16 Sep 44, Fourteenth Army KTB 4.