(17 September)

On Hill 926 the Germans had observation posts and bunkers for housing reinforcements and counterattacking forces.

Map 17
Assault on the Bunkers
Morning, 17 September 1944

A few yards south of the crest they had had two observation posts, which provided commanding views of the terrain to the east and west and as far south as Scarperia. They had three-inch slits on the south side for observation. By the time the 1st Battalion (-), 338th Infantry, reached Hill 926, the westernmost observation post had been reduced by heavy artillery fire to a gaping shell hole. Originally both observation posts had been connected by zigzag trenches, running on either side of the crest, to heavy bunkers behind the peak. Built of heavy timber, the bunkers were roofed with four layers of ten-inch logs, capped with dirt. The right bunker (looking from the Company C positions) was dug into the top of the peak and the left bunker into the rear slope some ten to fifteen yards away from and below the first. Since the bunkers could withstand direct hits by medium artillery, they provided good protection for counterattacking forces. Each position could accommodate as much as one platoon. Inside, the enemy had radio and telephone communication facilities with higher headquarters and subordinate units, including telephones to the observation posts. Beyond the crest of Monte Altuzzo all the way down the wooded slopes that ran northwest to the Giogo Pass and then onto higher ground, Hills 1029 and 1041, the enemy had constructed


trenches and log bunkers that faced toward the highway.1

While the Germans on Hill 926 had not yet discovered the nightime approach of the 1st Battalion, 338th Infantry, and while the 3d Battalion was strung out behind the 1st on the main Altuzzo ridge, the men of Companies A and C began to dig their holes on the hill's southern slope. Their entrenching tools made little headway in the rocky soil; after hard digging most of the holes were only twelve to eighteen inches deep, barely enough to cover a man's body and too shallow to provide much protection against shell fragments.

Lieutenant Krasman was checking the holes dug by his 3d Platoon (Company C) when his platoon sergeant, Sergeant Fent, reported the discovery of a dugout which he wanted the platoon leader to see. Taking with them Private Schwantke, the German-speaking scout, Krasman and Fent went to the near-by position, a well-camouflaged observation post (the right OP). After inspecting it briefly, they started to follow a connecting zigzag trench on the east side of Hill 926 to determine where the trench led. As they neared a bend in the trench, they spotted a German a short distance ahead. Schwantke called out for his surrender. The startled soldier darted back down the trench toward a bunker (the right bunker). Krasman and Fent fired and the German slumped to the ground. A quick investigation of the trench revealed two 50-mm. mortars, a machine gun, and several packs with food, convincing Krasman that more Germans must be on the northern slope of Hill 926.

Assault on the Right Bunker

Instead of conducting a search by themselves, the three men returned for help from the southern slope. After Lieutenant Krasman called to his noncommissioned officers to hurry to the peak with some men, Sergeant Strosnider and about fifteen soldiers from Company C rushed quickly to the top of the mountain. Private Schwantke, followed by Sergeant Thompson (1st Platoon, Company C) and several of his men, dashed to the right side of the crest of the hill and moved down the zigzag trench. As the men neared the last bend, machine gun fire from near the entrance to the right bunker halted their movement. Several times Private Schwantke tried to go past the bend, but each time a machine gun burst drove him back. Lieutenant Krasman joined Sergeant Thompson in tossing hand grenades at the enemy machine gun and at other Germans below the north end of the trench. The grenades had no visible effect.

On the crest Sergeant Strosnider and his group continued for a few yards before taking cover in a large shell crater. Scarcely a yard away they saw the upper edge of a dirt-covered log bunker. There were doors on two sides but no firing aperture. The sound of the movement in the crater evidently carried quickly to the Germans inside the bunker, for they soon cracked the door opening to the north and began to toss concussion grenades toward the crater. Some near misses jarred the handful of men in the crater, but the only grenade to land inside was a dud.

While several of the attackers, including Sergeant Strosnider, remained for a few moments in the bomb crater, Pfc.


Elmer J. Kunze and Pfc. Lawrence Markey, Jr., worked their way along the western slope when suddenly a German wearing an American helmet popped from the entrance of the right bunker. For a moment both the German and the two Americans were startled. Markey threw his rifle to his shoulder, but hesitated a moment too long in squeezing the trigger. The German tossed a grenade first. Caught off guard, Markey and Kunze darted back a short distance where they met Sergeant Strosnider and asked him for hand grenades. With the squad leader's last grenade, the two men moved back on the west slope within a few yards of the right bunker. After a brief lull a German inside the bunker opened the door and again tossed grenades at the two men. Kunze promptly replied with his M-1. The German drew back inside, then opened the door at intervals and threw out grenades, slamming the door each time before Kunze could fire. Sgt. Harvey E. Jones and Pfc. Ernst H. Becker, both of the 2d Platoon (Company C), who had been on the left slope of Hill 926 near the crest, had moved toward the entrance of the right bunker, some ten feet from where Kunze was firing. Some of the German grenades landed within ten feet of Jones, and one slightly wounded Becker. The two men decided to try the right side of the bunker. After advancing halfway to the right zigzag trench they hit the ground as a German machine gun from the left front on Knob 3 north of Hill 926 sprayed the area. Jones and Becker crawled to the west side of the crest and found cover in the big shell crater which had once been the enemy's western observation post.

Back at the right bunker Markey paid little heed to the sound of the machine gun fire. While Kunze provided covering fire, Markey sought an opening into which he could toss a grenade. As he moved to the top of the bunker, a rifle bullet struck him in the right shoulder.

About the same time, Pvt. Anthony W. Houston, who was with Sergeant Strosnider's small group in the crater, put a grenade on his rifle and prepared to fire. Before he discharged the grenade, a machine gun burst from Knob 3 sliced into him. After the burst the others in the shell crater spotted Schwantke below, at the corner of the trench leading to the bunker. As Pfc. Kermit C. Fisher called out, "There's Schwantke; let's go over and help him," he raised his head above the crater to climb out. A bullet from the enemy machine gun struck him in the throat, and he fell back dead. The rest of the men in the crater crawled back slowly to the 3d Platoon's positions on the southern slope and to the right zigzag trench.

On the crest of Hill 926 and along the right zigzag trench, Sergeant Strosnider's men had failed to dislodge the Germans from the right bunker. Instead of rushing the position they had waited outside to grenade or shoot the enemy. In the end machine gun fire from Knob 3 had forced them to retire. The men with Lieutenant Krasman and Sergeant Thompson in the right zigzag trench, including Private Schwantke, had been stopped short of the bunker by machine gun fire from even closer range.2


Assault on the Left Bunker

During this action, Sergeant Fent (3d Platoon), Private Lightner, and Pvt. Peter Kubina, Jr., moved to the left flank on the west slope of the peak to locate enemy positions. Joining up in the zigzag trench west of the peak, Lightner and Fent pushed over the bush-covered slope, where they discovered the left bunker. A bespectacled German officer was on top. As Lightner moved toward the lower side of the bunker near the exit to the trench, Sergeant Fent climbed up and shot the German. The shot aroused the enemy in the right bunker, who began to throw grenades at Fent. Dashing back across the top of the bunker, the platoon sergeant dropped again into the left zigzag trench, followed quickly by Lightner. The two men then withdrew about halfway up the trench. They fired at the right bunker, but without success. Again they pushed forward in the trench toward the left bunker, Lightner returning to the entrance and Fent again climbing on top. Hearing voices inside, Fent called out in German for the men in the position to surrender.

As Lightner covered the entrance--a two-part door that folded together--a German rushed out, hurling hand grenades. Lightner fired back with his carbine as the grenades sailed overhead. The first shot hit the German in the stomach. Slumping to the ground, he reached for his pistol, but before he could draw it Lightner shot him again in the stomach and the hand, knocking the pistol away. To make sure the man was dead, Lightner pumped four more bullets into him. Picking up the pistol, Lightner withdrew to his firing position at the corner of the trench.

On top of the bunker Fent continued to call for the enemy inside to surrender, and after a few minutes the Germans began to file out, one by one. Urged on by the platoon sergeant, fourteen Germans, including a first sergeant, marched out. Lightner searched them, and the two men marched them back to the bomb crater that had been an enemy observation post.3 When interrogated, the first sergeant said that the Germans were going to counterattack soon and would try to hold Monte Altuzzo at all costs. They had been surprised, he said; otherwise, they would never have let the Americans get past the MLR to the crest of the mountain. The German soldiers inside the bunker had wanted to surrender after they had first heard the Americans outside. Their lieutenant refused, and kept his men under control until he was put out of action by the American fire.4

Return to the Bunker

Lightner and Fent again started back to the left bunker, leaving the fourteen prisoners in the charge of other Company C men. Just before they reached the position, ten Germans led by a medical aid man came up to surrender. They had come either from Knob 3 to the north or from the wooded area on the north slope of Hill 926. After searching the prisoners, Lightner moved them back to the bomb crater while Fent covered the bunker.

As soon as Lightner returned, both he and Fent went inside the bunker, there to discover a large store of German equipment:


weapons, radios, telephones, and rations. A telephone rang while they were investigating. Sergeant Fent answered, but the German at the other end of the line, evidently recognizing the American accent, slammed down the phone. Sure that the incident had tipped off the Germans that Americans were in the bunker, Fent and Lightner shot holes in the radios and ripped up the telephone wires, so that the enemy could not use the communications if he reoccupied the position.

Fent and Lightner found fresh bread and cans of sardines, and ate greedily, for neither had tasted food since the day before. Gathering up other spoil, Lightner slipped several watches on his wrist and stuffed his belt full of knives. The two men spent about twenty minutes in the bunker before rejoining Company C on the southern slope of Hill 926.5

After the second group of prisoners was brought back to the south slope of the hill, Lieutenant Krasman, feeling that he could not spare men to take them to the rear, put the prisoners on the open slopes below the Company C foxholes. Two men were ordered to guard them from their holes. Although the German first sergeant protested, Krasman warned that his men would shoot if the prisoners tried to escape; they would have to take the chance of getting shot by their own troops.6

When all the men who had been attacking the bunkers had returned, the platoon leaders made further dispositions to meet the counterattack predicted by the German sergeant. Attempting to round out the defense on the left flank, Sergeant Strosnider directed Private Kubina, 3d Platoon automatic rifleman, into the left zigzag trench on the west side of the peak to cover straight down the trench, and farther to the left on the extreme left flank Pfc. Elmer Mostrom, another automatic rifleman, to cover toward Altuzzo's western ridge. Sergeant Strosnider himself took position in the pines on the western slope of the peak.7

The predicted enemy counterattack struck soon after the new dispositions had been made. (Map 18) Under a screen of long-range machine gun fire from Knob 3 to the north, a platoon or more of Germans advanced to within thirty yards of Company C's position. They tried to work around the flanks into or near the bunkers and then around the side of the left zigzag trench, Although relying primarily on rifles and hand grenades, they received direct support from 50-mm. mortars and machine guns. The main enemy effort came from the front and flanks, but Germans from the rear, who had been bypassed and still remained along the top of the bowl, also placed fire on the south slope of the hill.

During the height of the counterattack, the 1st Squad, 3d Platoon, Company A, was moved to Company C's left flank to fill a gap. As in other counterattacks that followed, these men frequently had to stand or kneel to shoot, exposing themselves to fire. After what seemed like an eternity the men on Hill 926, aided by the harassing fire of supporting artillery, drove off the first counterattack.8


Map 18
Situation on Mt. Altuzzo
Morning, 17 September


Search for Spoil

With the counterattack ended, Privates Lightner and Kubina, in search of adventure and souvenirs, headed again toward the left bunker. As they crept north along the slope near the left zigzag trench, a German from the right bunker began to throw grenades. Although Kubina replied in kind, he was unable to lob his grenades into the bunker. Both men edged back to the left trench, while the German tossed two more concussion grenades. The first grenade did not explode; the second landed on Lightner's helmet, blowing off the camouflage net and knocking him to the ground. Kubina thought him dead and rolled him over. Lightner had only been dazed and, except for a throbbing headache, quickly recovered. Together the two men followed the trench to the left bunker.

They found it unoccupied, and after their search had produced several pocket watches Kubina looked out the entrance and saw eight Germans headed up the path toward them. The Germans were carrying machine gun parts and seemed to be moving in for another counterattack. As Kubina continued to watch, four of the Germans disappeared from view; the other four continued straight toward the bunker entrance. Discovering that his BAR was down to less than one full magazine, Kubina grabbed a loaded Italian carbine and opened fire, while Lightner fired with his own carbine. Their combined fire quickly killed the four Germans. A few minutes later, Lightner saw another German approaching the bunker door, but when the German saw the American he threw his P-38 pistol to the ground, raised his hands, and shouted, "Kamerad." As he stepped inside the door to surrender, Private Kubina's back was turned; Kubina wheeled around to see the German entering and was so startled that he shot quickly, hitting the German several times in the stomach. Kubina and Lightner helped him to a double-decker bunk and then resumed their search for spoil, taking turns at watching for the enemy. Before long their quest ended. Sergeant Fent came down to the bunker and shouted into the door for them to come out.9

Action on the Western Peak

Shortly after daylight Sergeant Van Horne's 1st Platoon, Company A, pushing to take the western ridge, had received word from Captain King by sound-powered telephone that Company C had taken Hill 926 and that the 1st Platoon should move on and occupy the peak of the western ridge. Before Sergeant Van Horne could get started, Captain King passed the word that a machine gun on the western peak was firing on the main Altuzzo ridge. He told Van Horne to knock out the gun at once.

Armed with a bazooka and submachine guns, Sergeants Van Horne, South, and Whary moved up the ridge, followed by the 1st Squad. Already South had spotted the Germans, who continued to fire intermittently toward the main ridge. Moving in single file, the sergeants approached the position. They noted that the machine gun was behind rocks and logs near the crest. It was connected with dugouts and bunkers farther up the


peak by a log-covered tunnel camouflaged with dirt and rocks. As they neared the position, the machine gun stopped firing, but the two gunners were lying flat on the ground at the entrance to the covered trench and observing intently toward the main ridge. So engrossed with the troops on the main ridge were the Germans that they did not see Van Horne and his men crawling toward them about ten feet away. The three sergeants were close upon the right rear of the machine gun before the Germans spotted them. The gunners hurriedly tried to swing the machine gun around, but before they could do so South killed them both with two bursts from his submachine gun.

Whary set out to investigate the covered trench. Moving along the top, he saw large shell holes, which either artillery or direct fire weapons had knocked in the trench, and dead German soldiers sprawled inside and outside. As he peered down one hole into the trench, he noticed a German lieutenant with a rifle. Standing directly above the enemy officer, Sergeant Whary killed him with a burst from his submachine gun.

After the remainder of Van Horne's platoon had reached the position and searched the dugouts and connecting trench, the platoon sergeant placed the men in a perimeter defense. One light machine gun was placed on the peak, and the 60-mm. mortar just south of the peak.

Before S. Sgt. William H. Kohler, machine gun section leader, and Pfc. James F. Reid, machine gun squad leader, found suitable positions for their weapons, they heard the blast of a motorcycle on the highway to the north. Both men opened fire at the sound. When the motorcycle came into view moving fast toward the first house on the highway before the first switchback, Reid stood up and fired, felling the German driver with one shot from his carbine. The motorcycle bounded over the hillside. Sergeant Whary, lying near the machine gunners at the top of the peak, noticed movement in a pile of brush on the north side of the ridge. While he hesitated momentarily before firing, a German noncommissioned officer rose from the brush, and Whary cut him down with a well-aimed burst.

Thus, by midmorning of 17 September, the 1st Platoon (Company A) had taken its objective, Altuzzo's western peak, after one minor skirmish. One German machine gun crew had been killed, its weapon put out of action, and a German officer and noncom also killed. It was apparent from what Sergeant Van Horne and his men saw that most of the enemy on the peak had already been killed by shellfire or had withdrawn to other positions. The dead who littered the hill bore testimony to the effectiveness of the supporting fires.

Early in the morning, after the haze had lifted, Sergeant Van Horne could see the main force of the 1st Battalion on the south slope of Hill 926. During the day, he and Lieutenant Krasman kept abreast of each other's activities by telephone communication with their respective company command posts.

The principal mission remaining for Company A's 1st Platoon and its attached mortars and machine guns was to hold the western ridge and fire on the enemy who were still to the rear of the 1st Battalion around the upper slopes of the Altuzzo bowl between the two ridges. During the day, especially in the afternoon, scattered groups of Germans tried


to break out of these positions to a path leading from the western slopes of the mountain north toward the Giogo Pass. With good observation on the escape route which was completely open at one point Van Horne's force picked off fifteen to twenty Germans during the day. The Americans received sporadic fire from the western slope of the main ridge where small groups of Germans still held out.10

Action at Hill 926

About a platoon of Germans moved in at approximately 1000 for a second counterattack against the men of Companies A and C on Hill 926. Although probably a little weaker than the first attack, the second was nevertheless made with vigor. The enemy relied on 50-mm. mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire. Just before the Germans opened up, Sergeant Strosnider, on the left flank, saw a machine gun squad of five men coming through a small space in the tall pines toward the left zigzag trench. Before he could fire, the leading German, who was carrying the machine gun, moved out of sight, but Sergeant Strosnider fired his M-1 at the assistant gunner, killing him instantly. His comrades then dropped their weapons and ammunition and ran back in the direction from which they had come.

As the counterattack opened, other men of Company C placed effective small arms fire on the enemy. Private Mostrom, BAR man, shot one man who he thought was an Italian. Private Bury and other riflemen in positions near the pine trees on the left fired down the slopes to the west between the two ridges on Germans trying to infiltrate the left flank.

Soon after Sergeant Strosnider had routed the approaching German machine gun squad, enemy machine gun fire began to strike the left-flank positions, clipping the bushes around the handful of Americans. Private Mostrom and Pvt. Bruce Cohn, with BAR's, and Pfc. John Paludi, with an M-1 rifle, returned the fire. When Private Cohn was hit in the ankle by a .30-caliber bullet, Lieutenant Brumbaugh told him to jump into a hole on top of Sergeant Strosnider. Another German bullet struck Cohn's back, which still protruded above the level of the ground. The men in the right zigzag trench, having run out of their own grenades, began to use enemy grenades lying close by, and the surviving Germans soon made a hurried withdrawal.

The slight respite only gave the 1st Battalion troops on Hill 926 time to feel their thirst more keenly. They had no water other than the meager supply taken from Rocca Creek the day before, and many canteens were completely dry. Up to this time the Americans on the hill had suffered about fifteen casualties; the wounded were in slit trenches under the care of medical aid men. In the hope of preventing another counterattack, Lieutenant Krasman and Sergeant Strosnider combined as reporter and observer to direct artillery fire on the area north of the mountain's crest.11

Enemy Pockets and the 3d Battalion

While the 1st Battalion on the crest of Monte Altuzzo assaulted the bunkers and


GERMAN MATÉRIEL. American troops passing a knocked-out armored tracked vehicle (above) on the road near the Giogo Pass, and examining dual purpose machine guns and radio equipment (below) in a dugout position.


repelled German counterattacks, the main body of the 3d Battalion was still stretched out down the main Altuzzo ridge, under enemy fire from the flanks. Pockets of Germans, still holding out around the top of the Altuzzo bowl, on Monticelli, and on Monte Verruca, raked the battalion with automatic weapons.

Despite the fire, the 1st Platoon, Company K, which was leading the column, worked up on the right flank of Company C on the south slope of Hill 926 during the morning, and one squad took up positions in the right zigzag trench with a handful of men from Company C. During the remainder of the morning and into the afternoon the rest of Company K was strung out in a column behind the 1st Platoon. The company suffered six casualties when a single mortar shell exploded in the midst of a platoon conference, killing the platoon sergeant and wounding the platoon leader, the platoon guide, and the three squad leaders. By 0900 Company K had sustained ten casualties in all.12

Throughout the morning and early afternoon General Gerow and Colonel Mikkelsen, who had sufficiently recovered from his indisposition to take a more active part in the operation, kept their fingers on the pulse of the 3d Battalion. During frequent long visits to the 3d Battalion CP they badgered Major Kelley, insisting that he pass his troops through the 1st Battalion and attack beyond the crest of Monte Altuzzo to Knob 3. Neither Gerow nor Mikkelsen was satisfied that the 3d Battalion was exerting itself to close up to the forward positions of 1st Battalion, or that Major Kelley was aggressively pushing his rifle companies to carry out his mission. Before launching his attack, Kelley argued, he wanted his troops to clear out the pockets of resistance which, Company K reported, were holding up its advance. Kelley ordered Company I, in battalion reserve, to send out one platoon to do the job. The platoon went out but failed.13 The main body of the 3d Battalion stayed below the crest of Monte Altuzzo, well short of the assault elements of the 1st Battalion on Hill 926.

Not until midafternoon did Major Kelley apply enough pressure to get his troops started. At 1518 he notified Company L that smoke would be placed in its area so that it could move. A few minutes later, after the 339th Infantry on the right flank reported that large numbers of Germans were withdrawing through the Giogo Pass, Kelley ordered Company L to move ahead immediately. Company M was directed to put fifty rounds of mortar fire on the withdrawing troops, and chemical mortars were requested to lay smoke for Company L's movement. At 1601 the Company I commander reported that the enemy was withdrawing on the north slope of Hill 926. As a result of the smoke-screen cover and German movement out of the area, all of Company K was soon able to reach the leading elements of the 1st Battalion, pass through them, and jump off toward Knob 3 beyond Hill 926.14

Company K Attacks Knob 3

Late in the afternoon, with its three rifle platoons abreast, the 2d and 3d


Platoons going west of the crest of Hill 926 and the 1st Platoon east of the crest, Company K attacked toward Knob 3. (Map 19)

Map 19
Company K Attack
Afternoon, 17 September 1944

Although the enemy had made some withdrawals in the area, these evidently did not include troops on the north slopes of Hill 926 or on Knob 3. After moving only a few yards, the 1st Platoon on the right was halted by fire from the vicinity of the right bunker. Elements of the 2d Platoon on the left pushed almost to the crest of Knob 3 despite stiff enemy resistance and harassing fire from both the left and right bunkers to their rear. The 3d Platoon in the center reached a draw between the two hills where fire from the bunkers halted the advance. With the enemy threatening to cut off both the advance platoons, the company commander ordered a withdrawal to the starting point.15

The withdrawal came none too soon. Striking from the front and from both flanks, the Germans made a determined effort--their third counterattack--to encircle the troops on Hill 926. The enemy came in close, hurling hand grenades into the right zigzag trench and causing some casualties. The 1st Battalion (-) and Company K fought back with small arms and hand grenades, but the supply of grenades was soon exhausted. Still the Germans came on.

During the height of the counterattack, Lieutenant Ritchey, Weapons Platoon leader (Company C), cradling a machine gun, ran forward to the men in the right zigzag trench. Setting up the machine gun at the first bend in the trench, while near-by riflemen held ammunition belts for him, Ritchey unloaded several bursts at the attackers. The Germans replied with grenades which landed so close that Lieutenant Ritchey and the other men in the trench were forced to withdraw to less exposed positions on the southern slopes a few yards to the rear.

On the left flank the men of Company C came under German machine gun fire which began before and continued through the third counterattack. As the enemy attempted to work around the left flank between the crests of the two ridges, many Company C men exhausted their


ammunition in trying to halt the attack. During the counterattack a German tank moved around in the draw north of Altuzzo's western peak and south of the highway, firing ineffectively toward Hill 926.

As soon as Company K's platoons, which had been attacking toward Knob 3, had returned to the south slope and the enemy counterattack had begun, the Company K commander, 1st Lt. Mack L. Brooks, directed his 60-mm. mortar men to fire at the enemy. The Company K mortar men checked to see that the riflemen were in their holes and then began lobbing shells some forty to fifty yards in front of Company C. Firing almost straight up into the air, the mortars put heavy concentrations on the enemy to the front and right front. After the first shells landed, the attacking Germans moved to the left. The mortar section then adjusted fire and showered the enemy with an effective, close-in concentration. As usual the supporting artillery put down timely concentrations on the Germans. Between 1700 and 1800 the 403d Field Artillery Battalion alone fired three missions totaling 277 rounds north of Monte Altuzzo's crest. The combination of artillery, mortars, and small arms proved too much for the Germans, and they abandoned the counterattack. Against the strongest enemy effort to recapture Hill 926 the little band of Americans had held firm and the way was now cleared for moving on to Knob 3.16

The 3d Battalion Mops Up

After the last counterattack against Hill 926 had been repulsed, the 3d Battalion, 338th Infantry, assumed responsibility for holding the crest of Monte Altuzzo and pushing on to the north. A twenty-five man patrol from Company K went out after dark and found the right bunker on the north slope unoccupied. When this information was transmitted to the rear, new orders were issued for Companies I and L to continue the attack to take Knob 3.

Company I experienced difficulty in finding its way in the darkness, but Company L jumped off successfully and advanced toward Knob 3. Its first opposition came from a small entrenched enemy force at the top of the objective, but this group's three machine guns were quickly knocked out. Several prisoners who were taken directed the men of Company L to two dugouts close by and assisted them in calling for the occupants to surrender. In the attack and mopping up of Knob 3 the company captured sixty-four prisoners in all at the cost of one man wounded and two killed. Shortly after dawn on 18 September, Knob 3, the last remaining part of Monte Altuzzo, was securely in American hands.

On the morning of 18 September the 2d Battalion, 338th Infantry, advanced along the highway and occupied high ground north of the highway between the Giogo Pass and Monticelli. During the day Companies I and L of the 3d Battalion continued their advance to the town of Barco, 1,600 yards north of the Giogo Pass.17 (See Map IV.)


Break-Through on the Flanks

After the 338th Infantry had reached the crest of Monte Altuzzo, other units of II Corps completed the break-through by seizing the peaks on either side. To the east, elements of the 339th Infantry (85th Division) secured all of Monte Verruca by noon of 17 September. Farther to the east, on the 85th Division's right wing, the 337th Infantry captured Monte Pratone during the afternoon. West of Highway 6524 and the Giogo Pass, the 91st Division fought hard throughout the night of 16-17 September and the day of 17 September to reach the crest of Monticelli in the afternoon. The last German resistance on the mountain ended by the morning of 18 September.18

Monte Altuzzo had been captured and the Gothic Line breached. The unit which had battled to reach the crest of the mountain, the 1st Battalion, 338th Infantry, had sustained 223 casualties. In repelling German counterattacks once Hill 926 was taken, the battalion had suffered twenty-nine casualties--two killed and twenty-seven wounded, all in Company C except two wounded in Company A. The 3d Battalion, which had figured briefly in the abortive effort to push to Knob 3 north of Hill 926 and the battle to hold the southern slope of Hill 926 and then had captured Knob 3, had sustained thirty-eight casualties, including three killed, four missing in action, and thirty-one wounded. Most of the 3d Battalion's losses had been sustained while it was stretched out to the rear of the 1st Battalion on the main Altuzzo ridge. During the five-day struggle to take and hold Monte Altuzzo, including Knob 3, the 338th Infantry had suffered a total of 290 casualties--252 in the 1st Battalion and thirty-eight in the 3d--a figure that could not be considered excessive in view of the importance of Monte Altuzzo to Fifth Army breakthrough plans.19

In the battle of Monte Altuzzo supporting units had played major roles. Artillery, tanks, tank destroyers, chemical mortars, and the tactical air force had all made important contributions to weakening the German positions and hampering movement of reinforcements to the threatened area. Several hits had been scored on enemy bunkers on the mountain, the tanks alone claiming to have knocked out seven bunkers during 17 September. The effectiveness of the hits undoubtedly was exaggerated, because light and even medium artillery would not penetrate the heavy bunkers. Far more effective in the struggle had been accurate, well-placed artillery time fire, which killed many Germans while they were in open emplacements or moving into position.

As indicated by the large number of enemy dead on the upper slopes of Monte Altuzzo, American shellfire had served to disperse and disorganize the Germans and to inflict heavy casualties. For four days and nights, prisoner reports indicated, artillery fire and air support had prevented front-line troops from receiving supplies of food and water. Propaganda leaflets, fired by supporting artillery, proved less effective. Although many enemy soldiers had read these leaflets--


which included safe-conduct pamphlets and sheets headed, "Why fight in Italy when the Allies are in Germany?"--their morale had not been appreciably weakened.

Besides killing and wounding a large number of Germans, the 338th Infantry captured many prisoners. Although an accurate breakdown of prisoner of war figures is not possible, probably close to 200 men were captured by the regiment. By 1200 on 18 September seventy-three prisoners had passed through the regimental cage since the start of the Gothic Line offensive, and during the twenty-four hours ending at 1200, 19 September, the total rose to 212. In view of the time required to process the prisoners and send them to the rear, the 338th Infantry's action was probably responsible for the capture of most if not all of them.20

The basic point was that the 338th Infantry and its supporting units had left the Germans with inadequate force to man their positions or to maintain a prolonged defense. The 12th Parachute Regiment, as well as the reserves of the 4th Parachute Division, had suffered heavy losses. Men of the Lithuanian labor battalion had deserted in large numbers. Even the 2d Battalion, Grenadier Lehr Brigade, the I Parachute Corps reserve, had lost many men from artillery fire while moving into position on Altuzzo and Verruca and had not proved able to hold the defenses. Even had it had no casualties, the battered Grenadier Lehr Brigade could no longer be employed in the Gothic Line positions: Field Marshal Kesselring, the commander of Army Group C, had ordered the unit shifted to the Tenth Army to aid the hard-pressed troops along the east coast. When the Grenadier Lehr Brigade left the area, no reserves remained to recapture that part of the Gothic Line which had been lost. By 1920 on 17 September Fourteenth Army had directed the I Parachute Corps to abandon its positions and build a new defense in the heights beyond Firenzuola. Before midnight, 17 September, the forward troops of the 12th Regiment had received the order to withdraw.21

By the morning of 18 September, the troops of II Corps had seized an area seven miles in width on either side of the Giogo Pass. The Germans, hard hit by heavy losses and the lack of reserves, were in full retreat toward the heights north of Firenzuola and, in the days following the break-through, offered only light rear guard resistance as II Corps drove north to reach the Santerno River valley on 22 September. The rapid movement exploiting the decisive breakthrough in front of Giogo Pass completely outflanked the strongly fortified Futa Pass, which fell the same day without heavy fighting. By that time the American II and British 13 Corps of Fifth Army had broken completely through the Gothic Line on a thirty-mile front and were ready to continue the attack toward the Po Valley.22


BREAK-THROUGH. Troops of the 338th Infantry advancing along Highway 6524 near the Giogo Pass on the morning of 18 September.


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1. Combat Intervs and Notes of terrain reconnaissances with Krasman and Strosnider, and with all enlisted survivors in Co C, 338th Inf.

2. Combat Intervs with the following: Jones, Becker, and Pfc John A. Palmer; Krasman, Schwantke, Thompson, Strosnider, Hinton, Markey, and Pugh.

3. Combat Intervs with Krasman, Lightner, and Jones-Becker.

4. Combat Interv with Becker.

5. Combat Interv with Lightner.

6. Combat Intervs with Krasman.

7. Combat Intervs with Strosnider, Krasman, and Thompson; Notes of terrain reconnaissance with Krasman, Strosnider, and Thompson.

8. Combat Intervs with the following: Sgt John R. Maiorana, S Sgt Bruno G. Pegolatti, and S Sgt John Paludi; Krasman, Strosnider, Lightner, Hinton, Myshak, Colosimo-Grigsby-Albert, White, Pugh, and Pfc Francis A. Kaufman.

9. Combat Interv with Lightner.

10. Combat Intervs with South-Whary, Kohler-Reid, Van Horne, King, and Souder; Notes of terrain reconnaissances with Van Horne, King, and Souder.

11. Combat Intervs with Krasman, Strosnider, Maiorana, Pegolatti, Paludi, Brumbaugh, Hinton, and Thompson.

12. Combat Intervs with Brooks and Pfc Harold W. Peterson; 3d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnl, 17 Sep 44.

13. Interv with Kelley, 1 Aug 45; Interv with Gerow, 3 Dec 48; 3d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnl, 17 Sep 44.

14. Combat Intervs with the following: Peterson, Brooks, Krasman, Strosnider, Kelley, and Gerow. See also 3d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnl, 17 Sep 44.

15. Combat Intervs with Brooks, Peterson, Kingsley, and S Sgt John S. Warzala; 3d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnl, 17 Sep 44.

16. Combat Intervs with Thompson, Hinton, Ritchey, Krasman, Strosnider, Brooks, Kingsley, and all survivors still in Co C, 338th Inf, 1-10 Apr 45; 338th Inf and 3d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnls, 17 Sep 44; 403d FA Bn Battle Mission Rpt, 17 Sep 44.

17. Combat Intervs with the following: Sgt Meredith R. Jenkins; Brooks, Kingsley, et al. See also 2d Bn and 3d Bn, 338th Inf, Unit Jnls, 17-18 Sep 44.

18. 85th Div G-2 Rpts, G-2 and G-3 Jnls, 17-18 Sep 44; 337th Inf and 339th Inf Unit Jnls, 17-18 Sep 44; 91st Div G-3 Jnl, 17-18 Sep 44; Strootman MS; Muller Notes.

19. 1st Bn, 338th Inf, Morning Rpts, 17-18 Sep 44; 338th Inf, Casualty Rpts, Sep 44.

20. 752d Tk Bn, 805th TD Bn, 178th FA Gp, and 423d FA Gp AAR's, Sep 44; 338th Inf Unit Jnl, 17 Sep 44; 329th FA Bn Arty Jnl, 17 Sep 44; 85th Div G-2 and G-3 Jnls, IPW Rpts, Intel Sums, and G-2 Rpts, 13-18 Sep 44; all Combat Intervs and terrain reconnaissances; 338th Inf IPW Rpts and Intel Sums, 13-18 Sep 44.

21. 338th Inf IPW Rpts and Intel Sums, Sep 44; Entries of 15-17 Sep 44, Fourteenth Army KTB 4; 85th Div G-2 Jnls and Div Arty Rpt, Sep 44; 339th Inf AAR, Sep 44.

22. Fifth Army G-3 Jnl and Files, 18-23 Sep 44; II Corps G-3 Jnl and Supporting Files, Sep 44.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation