Robert N. Wallworth - World War II - Part 2 - January to April 1944
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My World War II Experiences
By Robert N. Wallworth
Last updated on September 17, 2010 Friday
Part 2 --- January to April 1944
December 31, 1943 to January 1, 1944
We arrived in Naples Harbor New Years Eve day. They didn't allow us to land so we had to spend the night on board. The Javanese crew had a great time celebrating. A lot of weird music and singing. We were not allowed to land on New Year's Day either. The port troops must have had the day off. We weren’t in a hurry to get to the front lines but one more day on that ship with the lousy food was too much.
January 2, 1944
When we pulled further into Naples Harbor all you could see was sunken ships. They were sunk by the Germans to make the port facilities unavailable to our ships. The combat divisions require a tremendous amount of supplies and ammunition every day. A large port is required to handle this much material. In any case our ship maneuvered between the sunken ships and docked next to a large ship lying on its side next to a pier.
We debarked across the side of the sunken ship and onto the pier where we loaded on 6x6s and were trucked out to the Race Track Replacement Depot. This was originally was a race track but long before that it had been a volcano crater. We were assigned to tents that were to be our home for a couple of days.
We weren’t allowed to tell anyone where we were but everybody tried to slip something past the censors. When we arrived in Naples Mount Vesuvius was erupting. The lava running down the side of the mountain was quite a spectacular sight especially at night. In a letter to my parents I mentioned Mt Vesuvius and told of the smoke and the red lava. The dumb censor cut out the words Mount Vesuvius but left in the smoke and red lava. Of course my parents could figure out where I was. It really didn’t make any difference as the Germans knew when troops came into the port.
January 6, 1944
We left the Race track by truck for the 2nd Replacement Depot at Caserta. We remained there overnight.
January 7, 1944
I found out that I was being assigned to the 34th Infantry Division and would be leaving on the next day for the 34th Replacement Pool.
The 34th Infantry Division was an Iowa, Minnesota National Guard Unit. It was made up of the 133rd Infantry, the 135th Infantry, and the 168th Infantry Regiments. Supporting the division were the 151st, 175th, and the 185th Field Artillery Battalions. The division also had its own Engineers, Medics, Ordinance, and Intelligence Groups.
Each Regiment had 3 Battalions. Each Battalion consisted of 3 Rifle Companies, of approximately 200 men each, and a Heavy Weapons Company with heavy Machine Guns and 81mm Mortars. The First Battalion, for instance, would have Rifle Companies A, B, and C and Heavy Weapons Company D. The second Battalion would similarly have companies E, F, G, and H and the third Battalion the companies I, K, L, and M.
The 168th Infantry, to which I was to be assigned, was originally from the Des Moines, Iowa area. The regiment, or its predecessor, served in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, the Mexican War and World War 1. In World War 1, the regiment fought as part of the 42nd Rainbow Division’s 84th Brigade at such locations as the Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. The 168th’s regimental crest has a cactus, a palm tree, and a rainbow on it to represent the various actions it had been involved in.
The 34th Infantry Division was the first American division to land overseas, in January 1942. They were sent to North Ireland. A short time later the U.S. Rangers were formed. They were meant to operate the same as the British Commandos did. Many of the original Rangers were volunteers from the 168th Regiment of the 34th Division.
After additional training in Ireland and Scotland the 34th joined other troops and sailed from England as part of the Task Force for “Operation Torch” the Allied invasion of Africa in November 1942. The 168th Regiment landed near the city of Algiers. The division fought through Africa, alongside British and Free French troops in Algeria and Tunisia until the final surrender of the German Africa Corps and the Italian Divisions in Africa.
The 168th Infantry lost almost two battalions at Fiad-Kasserine Pass. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions had been placed on two hills on the front line. They were supposed to be backed up by the U.S. 1st Armored Division. Just after they took up their positions they were attacked by elements of two German Panzer Divisions. The 34th was placed in such a terrible defensive location by the Corps commander General Fredendall.
As many as 80 German tanks attacked our positions and defeated the armor that was supposed to support the Infantry. Our remaining tanks pulled back and the supporting Artillery was also withdrawn. This left the 2 Battalions of infantry to fend for themselves against the Panzers. Rifles aren’t much good against tanks and self propelled artillery. Very few men avoided being killed or captured .
The British and the Press blamed the Fiad-Kasserine Pass disaster on “green troops” (not experienced). No other Infantry outfit could have done more under similar circumstances. In later actions, such as Hill 609, the 34th showed the British what American troops could do when we operated under our own commanders instead of being split up to support British operations.
The 34th did not participate in the attack on Sicily. The U.S. Divisions involved in that invasion were the 1st, 3rd, 9th, and 45th Infantry Divisions, the 82nd Airborne Division, and the 2nd Armored Division. They attacked North on the Western side of the island while the British 30th Corps., containing British and Canadian troops attacked North on the Eastern side. General Patton and the British General Montgomery had a race to see who would reach Messina first. Patton won the race but the Germans were able to evacuate most of their troops and equipment across the Messina Strait to Italy. Why they weren’t bombed continuously no one seems to know.
34TH ACTIONS IN ITALY BEFORE I JOINED THEM
September 8, 1943
The Allied invasion of Italy took place on September 8th 1942 and was carried out by the British 8th Army, under command of General Montgomery, that landed on the toe of Italy and the 5th Army, under command of U.S. General Mark Clark, that landed on the East Coast at Salerno.
The 5th Army consisted of the 6th Corps with the 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions and 3 Battalions of Rangers along with the British 46th and 56th Divisions. The U.S. 1st Armored and the 34th Infantry Divisions were in shipboard reserve. The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division was available for an air drop if necessary.
After the Italians surrendered the Germans moved into positions to block the invasion that they were sure was coming. German General Von Vietinghof, commander of the 10th Army moved his 16th Panzer Division, under command of General Von Sanger, into an area right where the 36th Division intended to land.
The 36th Division had about 500 casualties on the first day of the landing. It was touch and go for several days but after committing the 45th Division and dropping the 82nd Airborne we prevailed. The 151st Field Artillery of the 34th Division landed with the 36th and went into action as soon as they hit the beach. They used direct fire to knock out a group of German Tanks that threatened to split our landing force in two. Until that time there was serious consideration of withdrawing our landing forces and going back on shore to support the British forces on our left flank.
September 20, 1943
The Salerno Beachhead battle ended on September 20th. It had involved landing 190,000 troops and 3,000 vehicles. Total Allied casualties were U.S. 3,500 and the British 5,500. The Germans sustained about 3,500 casualties. All this and we still hadn’t captured the Port of Naples which was critical to supply further Italian operations.
September 30, 1943
The 34th Division started landing around the end of September. The 34th’s 133rd Regiment, working with the U.S. 3rd and 45th Divisions, captured Avellino on September 30th and Benevento on October 2nd. The 82nd Airborne and the British 7th Armored Division, with the help of the Rangers, finally took Naples on October 2nd. The Germans then fell back to their Volturno River Line.
September 30, 1943
The next action that the 34th participated in was the first crossing of the Volturno River. The 3rd and 34th Divisions moved into position to attack across the river. The 45th was positioned to attack on our right flank parallel to the river. The 168th attacked across the river on October 13th at 0200 behind a rolling artillery barrage.
The water was about chest deep. The banks on the opposite side of the river were about 5 ft high and soon became very slippery. The Germans had covered the crossing points with machine gun and mortar fire. Once across and up the bank the men found themselves in a mine field. The current was strong and some men were drowned. Equipment was also lost during the crossing. Loss and damage to radio equipment hampered communications. Enemy fire increased as it became daylight. Support by the 175th Artillery Bn. and the 168th Cannon Company permitted the 1st Bn. of the 168th to reach the objective by nightfall.
The 34th and the other divisions of the U.S. 6th Corps attacked continuously to force their way through the Mignano Gap that led toward Cassino and Highway 6 into the Liri Valley and the roads to Rome. In the process the 34th had to cross the Volturno two more times. The Infantry casualties were heavier than usual due to the Germans massive use of mines and booby traps. The 34th, working with the 3rd and 45th Divisions, took the cities of Alife, Dragoni, Capriati, and San Vitore driving the Germans back to their Winter Line.
By November 15th all U.S. Divisions were at the German Winter Line. During the period from October 7th through November 15th the 34th Division had suffered 1,658 dead, wounded, and missing casualties.
November 28 to December 3, 1943
On November 29th at 0600 the 1st Battalion attacked behind a rolling barrage. “A” Company closely following the rolling barrage surprised the Germans and threw them off Knob 1 of the mountain. The mountain top consisted of four knobs which had been fortified by the Germans. The mountain was defended by a full German battalion.
For the next five days the battle raged with almost continuous German counter-attacks. Hand grenade battles at 10 to 20 yards were common. The A Company’s C.O., Captain Ben Butler, even led his company headquarters and men from one of the platoons on a bayonet charge to throw back one of the counter-attacks.
December 4, 1943
The 168th was relieved by the 135th Regiment. The German counter-attacks had failed and the 34th remained in control of the mountain. The loss of Monte Pantano unhinged the Winter Line and the Germans were forced to abandon it.
During the six days of the battle the regiment had expended 13,240 rounds of rifle ammo, 231,250 rounds of 30 cal machine gun ammo, 5,300 rounds of 50 cal machine gun ammo, 1,440 60mm mortar shells, 6,864 81mm mortar shells, 2,974 hand grenades, and 7,500 75mm artillery shells. The effort of the 1st Bn., 168th Infantry, and 34th Division was recognized when it was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
December 30, 1943
The 34th Division relieved the 36th Division and passed to the command of the U.S. 2nd Corps joining the 36th Division and the 1st Armored Division. It was now only five miles to the Rapido River but between us and the river lay a terrain of fortified hills and high mountains.
January 4, 1944
The 168th was given the assignment to outflank Monte La Chia overlooking the town of Cervaro. The I Company, leading off the attack for the 3rd Battalion, ran into an ambush and 2 officers and 67 men were captured.
The 1st Battalion joined the attack and made some progress but it took a major effort to drive the Germans from the mountain. Close in fighting was the norm with hand grenades, small arms, and hand to hand combat. This effort required the participation of all three battalions before the enemy was driven from the hill on January 6th.
I JOINED THE 34TH DIVISION
On November 28th the 168th was ordered to seize and hold Monte Pantano the Northern anchor of the German Winter Line. The main effort was assigned to the 1st Battalion supported by the 3rd Battalion with long range machine gun and 81mm mortar fire.
January 7, 1944
A small group of us were loaded on a truck and left the 2nd Replacement Depot for the 34th Division replacement Pool. We arrived the same day and stayed two days while getting our assignments. I was assigned to the A Company 168th Regiment. I was to join one of the company’s Weapons Platoon’s 60mm Mortar squads.
January 9, 1944
A smaller group of us were loaded on a truck. This time we were moving to join our new outfits. We stopped at several different locations to offload men going to units not currently on the front line. It was late afternoon when stopped somewhere not too far from the front lines. The remaining men I assumed were going to A Company too.
We got off the truck but were told that we would have to wait until a guide from our company arrives and wouldn’t be moving up until after dark. The wooded area we were in seemed very quiet and there was only some rumbling, like an approaching thunderstorm, which I assumed was artillery firing. Whether it was theirs or ours nobody had the foggiest idea.
It was twilight when our guide showed up and we started our trek toward the mountain and to our new company’s position on the front lines. After an hour or so of walking on relatively level ground we started a steady climb up the mountain side. There was a trail so it was not too difficult although the climb was tiring.
While going up the trail we passed a couple of GIs coming down the mountain with several loaded mules. It was quite dark so it wasn’t until they passed us that we saw that the mules carried the bodies of men who had recently been killed. This brought home to us that this was deadly serious business. The training was over. This was reality.
We climbed up the mountain for what seemed like forever. It was so dark that we had no idea where you were going. The only light was from shells landing on a nearby hill. The final half hour of our climb was almost straight up. We had to pull ourselves up by using the bushes growing on the slope.
It must have been approaching midnight when we finally arrived at the A Company’s location right on top of the hill. We were all exhausted but one of the officers told us that we better dig in. One of the men already there told us to forget about digging in as the mountain top was all rock. All you could do to give yourself some protection against shell and rock fragments (that the shells created) was to build a sangar (a pile of rocks around you).
I finally got my rocks piled up, after stumbling all around the area looking for them in the dark, and laid down inside to get some sleep. There was one rock in the ground right in the middle but I curled myself around it and fell asleep. I was so tired that I went right to sleep even though shells were falling on adjacent hills. The shell bursts looked pretty as they burst in the dark. Sort of like fireworks on the ground. Later we would get a closer look at them.
We found out later that the company, while taking this objective on what was considered extremely difficult terrain, had killed 20 Germans and captured two others. We had such a difficult time just climbing up the hill it must have been really rough to have to fight your way to the top. This whole effort was planned to distract the enemy and hopefully make them move some of their troops to protect against a breakthrough in our section of the line. This would hopefully weaken their line in front of the town of Cervaro where our Second Battalion was going to attack.
January 10, 11, 1944
Early the next morning the company moved out on an attack on the hills surrounding the town of Cervaro. I got some more weight to carry when they gave me a satchel of 60mm mortar shells to carry. The company was advancing in single file along a low set of hills when there was a hiss and a mortar shell landed near our column. When I looked around I was the only one still standing. Everyone else had hit the ground. That’s the way you stay alive. Most of the experienced infantrymen that I knew were subconsciously looking around, as they move forward, for a place where they can get some cover if enemy fire comes in. If you don’t learn fast you won’t last long. Nobody was hit this time and seeing that no more shells came in we moved forward again. Needless to say I didn’t make that mistake again.
The Germans had fallen back over this area and knew where all the trails were that we might be using. They had zeroed them in as they fell back. They occasionally dropped a shell on the various trails just to make us more cautious and to slow down our forward movement.
The company did not meet much resistance in our area so we reached our objective ahead of schedule. We stopped and dug in. During the night we received orders to move out. Unfortunately someone missed two of us when passing the word. By the time we realized what was happening they had moved out and we could not locate the end of the column.
When there is no moon there is no way to find what direction they went. It doesn’t pay to go wandering around near the front lines so we had to wait for daylight so we could follow the telephone wire.
The wires are strung along the ground as the company moved forward. The other end of the wire was connected to the phones at Battalion Headquarters. These wires are constantly being cut by enemy mortar and artillery shell fragments. The Communications group in Company Headquarters was responsible for repairing the wire when it was cut. That was a lot of fun because you would have to go where the Germans were dropping the shells that cut the wire in the first place.
January 12 -14, 1944
When it got partially light we were able to find the phone wire and follow it to the company’s new location. When we rejoined the company the 1st Battalion was in Regimental Reserve. The 2nd Battalion led off the attack on the town of Cervaro. After initial heavy fighting, involving elements of the Herman Goering Division, they took the town. We moved up to protect the flank around one side of the town.
Cervaro was the first town that I had seen that had borne the brunt of a full scale attack where artillery, mortars, and tank fire had been used. Even though the houses were made of stone and cement they had reduced mostly to rubble. Strange as it seems it is more difficult to drive infantry out of rubble than from standing houses. It also meant that there would be a lot more casualties.
It was dusk when we moved up across a dirt road along which we had deployed. Alongside of the road was a small church which seemed to have escaped any damage. On the road, near the church, was the body of a German soldier. He must have been killed by a single bullet or piece of shell fragment as there was no visible wound.
He was lying on his back just like he was sleeping. The only strange thing was that he had no boots. When I asked one of the older men about it he said that the Italian civilians take the shoes off any German body that they run across. Italy was in bad shape. The people don’t have the bare necessities of life especially shoes.
You were warned not to touch any German bodies to look for papers because they were often booby-trapped. The Germans, if they had the time, would booby-trap houses, doors, guns and anything a curious American GI would touch. Even if German Weapons found were not booby-trapped they were dangerous to handle if you didn’t know how they worked.
The German Schmeisser (Burp Gun) didn’t have a safety. When the bolt was pulled back, and the handle was in the slot, if the gun was dropped it would fire. Quite a few GIs got killed fooling around with German weapons.
The company cooks brought up some coffee and doughnuts for us during the night. There was no action and we found that we were to stay in this location in reserve for the next couple of days. That would give us a chance to rest up unless something happened that required our help. There is always some outfit kept in reserve.
This applies to a Division in Corps reserve, a Regiment in Division reserve, a battalion in Regimental reserve, and finally a Company in Battalion Reserve. To some extent this is also attempted at the platoon and squad levels (12 men) but quite often there were not enough men available to do it. Besides giving an outfit a chance to rest an outfit in reserve can be used to exploit a breakthrough or to back up a unit in danger of being overrun.
The next day the rest of the Regiment moved out toward Mt. Trochio, our next objective. This was the last remaining mountain that had to be taken, to protect our flank, before we could move further into the valley. The next objective was to move up to the Gargliano and Rapido Rivers that were between us and the next mountain chain that blocked our access to the Liri Valley and Highway 6, the Highway North to Rome. The Germans called this their Gustav Line.
There was a very heavy artillery barrage placed on Mt. Trochio before we attacked. It was called the million dollar barrage. When the Infantry moved in they found that the Germans had pulled out during the night. This mountain top was an ideal place for an Artillery Observation post for the upcoming assault on Cassino.
OFF THE LINES IN RESERVE
January 15 - 23, 1944
The Regiment was pulled off the line for a rest. This was considered Division Reserve. If there was going to be an attack by the other two Regiments, we would be nearby if we are required for support. In Division Reserve you were generally back near the Division Artillery positions. If there were plans to use the reserve unit to advance through the attacking units then they would be located in a forward assembly area only a couple of hundred yards behind the lines.
When in rest, back by the Artillery, it can be quite noisy especially when the German Artillery initiates counter-battery fire. Generally the German shells are accurate enough to hit near to us and the artillery positions. The infantry generally didn’t have fox holes dug to protect themselves considering themselves off the lines. I don’t remember too many times that we were at risk when in a rest area. Occasionally the 40mm Borfors Anti-Aircraft guns would open fire but I don’t ever remember seeing any enemy planes. At least being toward the rear we did get hot food most of the time and also got the opportunity to catch up on our sleep.
About this time I was selected to be the runner for the Weapons Platoon. It seems that the previous one had disappeared and was assumed to have gotten lost and killed or captured. My job as a runner was to carry messages from the Company Commander to the Weapons Platoon Leader. Most such messages are too sensitive to be sent by radio or telephone. We knew that the Germans monitored our radio transmission and also tapped our phone lines.
It wasn’t a bad job if you were careful not to walk through your lines and end up with the enemy or unlucky enough to step on a mine. Sometimes it was so dark you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. Also when the troops are dug in they are sometimes difficult to find. Of course when a message has to be carried to the platoon leader it doesn’t make any difference if we are being shelled or not. If a message does not reach the Weapons Platoon in time it might make the difference in whether we are able to hold the line during a counter-attack by the enemy.
My job as a runner almost ended as soon as it began. That evening one of the cooks was cleaning his 45 cal pistol. Unfortunately when he removed the magazine he forgot that there was a round in the chamber. Sometime during the cleaning the weapon went off. The bullet just missed my head. It’s always dangerous when you are around people that have weapons in their hands.
I remember one time during basic training where several of us had come off guard duty at the base stockade. The Sergeant of the Guard, when we were relieved, took our rifles and removed the ammunition. Later on the truck, returning to our company area, one of the guards, who had been relieved at the same time as me, aimed his rifle at something and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened, even though that was a violation of the rules for handling a weapon.
I was thinking about doing the same thing but thought better of it. I pulled the slide back and out popped a live round from the chamber. I could have killed someone if I had followed the other guard’s example. Leaving a round in the chamber was the fault of the Sergeant of the Guard and I’m sure he heard about it from the C.O. but that would not have excused me if I had fired it. Guns are not meant to be played with under any circumstances.
The 34th Division was now in II Corps reserve. On the right flank of the II Corps was the French Expeditionary Corps consisting of the 2nd Moroccan and the 3rd Algerian Divisions. On our left flank was the British 10th Corps with the 5th, 46th, and 56th Divisions plus the 23rd Armoured Brigade.
The German troops in Italy were commanded by Field Marshall Albert Kesselring, “Smiling Albert” who had been Field Marshall Rommel’s commander during the African Campaign. He quite often received orders directly from Hitler on how to conduct the military operations against Cassino and the Anzio Beachhead. He didn’t always follow these orders but seemed to have good enough relations with Hitler to get away with it.
The German 10th Army, commander by General Vietinghof, was responsible for defending the Gustav Line. In the Cassino sector we were facing the 16th Panzer Corps under command of General Von Senger who had previously been fighting on the Russian Front.
The XVI Panzer Corps consisted of the 1st Parachute Division, the 94th Division, the 29th Panzer Grenadier division, the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, the 71st Infantry Division, the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, and the 5th Mountain Division.
CASSINO AND THE RAPIDO RIVER
During the period leading up to January 20th the U.S. II Corps had moved up toward the Rapido River. The Rapido normally wasn’t very wide but the Germans had flooded the valley so the banks were much further apart and the surrounding area was very muddy. It was necessary to cross the river in order to secure an area large enough to support an attack on the Cassino massif itself.
The town of Cassino was along Highway 6 (Via Castellina) as it wound its way through the gap in the mountain chain that led to the Liri Valley and the road to Rome. The gap was overlooked by Monte Cassino so it would be almost impossible to get through the gap while Monte Cassino was in the enemy’s hands.
Therefore it was decided to attack Monte Cassino, with its Benedictine Monastery, and the town of Cassino at the foot of the mountain. The British had tried to force a breach in the German Lines to the West of us but were unsuccessful. The II Corps was to try to take Monte Cassino and the town in spite of the fact that this point was the strongest point in the Gustav Line.
THE 36TH DIVISION RAPIDO CROSSING
January 20 - 21, 1944
On this date the 36th Division attacked across the Rapido River South of Cassino near the town of San Angelo. The Germans on Monte Cassino had perfect observation of all our positions below so any move had to be made at night. The river, at this point, was deep enough so that boats would have to be used to get our troops across.
The Engineers had boats available but the trucks carrying them could not be used to get them near the river because of the mud. Each boat would have to be hand carried to the river by the Engineers and the Infantrymen that would have to make the attack. Unfortunately the Germans could guess what was going on and shelled the area continuously. Many of the boats were smashed by artillery fire before they ever reached the river.
The troops, if they reached the river alive and there was a boat available, tried to cross the river. A few made it but most were cut down by interlocking fields of machine gun fire and mortar and artillery shell fragments. The few that got across were soon wiped out.
These attacks continued through the 21st with no better results. The 36th suffered 1,700 casualties and were withdrawn from further attacks. Even though the 36th had suffered heavy casualties the Germans were not even aware that this attack had been a major effort. They thought that it was just a probing action. Looking at the crossing point it is difficult to understand how anyone could have picked such a terrible location for a crossing.
THE ANZIO LANDING
January 22, 1944
At 0200 on January 22nd 1944 the U.S. VI Corps went ashore at Anzio and Nettuno. The troops included the U.S. 3rd Division, the 504th and 509th Paratroop Regiments, 3 Battalions of Rangers and elements of the U.S. 1st Armored Division and 45th Infantry Division. Also landing were the British 1st Division and two Commando Battalions.
They encountered very little resistance and moved inland about 3 miles. The Beachhead Commander was U.S. General John P. Lucas. He was very reticent about moving further inland until before consolidating their defenses so they did not push any further at that time.
Field Marshall Kesselring acted swiftly. He moved the 4th Parachute and Herman Goering Divisions down from the Rome area. The 10th Army, under General Von Vietinghof, sent the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, and the 71st Infantry Division from the Cassino Front.
The 1st and 26th Panzer Divisions were alerted for movement from the British Adriatic Front. German Headquarters in Berlin approved moving the 715th Division from the Balkans. All these troops became the 14th Army under the command of General Von Mackensen whose mission it was to push the Allied troops back into the sea.
WITH THE 34TH DIVISION AT CASSINO
January 23rd - February 14, 1944
The 168th moved out to our Rear Assembly Area in preparation for the 34th’s attack on Monte Cassino. The next day the 133rd and 135th Regiments moved up to their Forward Assembly Areas. There they were exposed to German observation from Monte Cassino and Mt Cairo on their right flank.
They were going to try to cross the Rapido North of the town of Cassino. Thank God they found a more suitable location for the crossing than the one that the 36th Division had. It was not ideal, especially for tanks, but it was better than the last one.
On January 25th and again on the 26th the 133rd and 135th Regiments attacked and were unable to hold a small bridgehead on the other side of the Rapido suffering 300 casualties. The inability to get tanks across the river, without getting them bogged down or knocked out, was the main reason that there was little if any support for the infantry when they tried to expand their bridgehead.
The 34th Division Commander, General Charles W. Ryder, then decided that the 168th Regiment should attack two battalions wide a little further North and once across the river should take the Italian Barracks and the town of Caira on the right flank. The Italian Barracks were in shambles but the Germans had installed pill boxes in the rubble. Sometimes the pillboxes were tank turrets that had been dug in. That was why we needed to get the tanks across.
On the 26th the 168th moved up to the Forward Assembly Area and as we expected the Germans spotted us and we were subjected to a very heavy shelling. We had dug in while we were waiting so the number of casualties was not too high.
At 0730 on January 27th our company, with others of the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 168th, attacked across the Rapido. We had a few tanks with us but after they opened fire they moved to a new position and the German counter-battery fire landed on us.
Tanks are welcome when you need fire support and they are good to walk behind when the weather is freezing because they put out a lot of heat from their engines. Unfortunately when moving through a minefield they run over personnel mines without damage to themselves but are bad news for the infantrymen walking alongside of them.
Shelling was very heavy as we moved toward the river. Two 88mm shells landed about 8 feet on either side of me but I was unhurt because the shells went a ways into the mud before they exploded. As I had hit the ground all that hit me was alot of clumps of mud. After I checked that I had not been hit I continued to move forward.
The mud was a result of the Germans flooding the valley to slow down the tanks. The guy walking in front of me was not so lucky. One of the shell bursts killed him before he hit the ground. Even though he was one of our company’s men I didn’t know who he was. It is very lonely when you are in situations where you may die in the next minute and you feel for those who didn’t make it even though you don’t know them.
The attack was successful in that we did get 5 companies and several tanks across the river by dark. We dug in near the river. Shelling was intense almost all day. Most of the tanks eventually got knocked out or stuck in the mud.
The mud in Italy was something else. It got so deep, even on the roads, that it went over the dual wheels on the large trucks. When you walked through it, it accumulated on your shoes. The extra weight and build up on the sole made walking difficult. Tanks, when they got bogged down in the mud, made great targets for the German 88s.
The 88 was a very versatile weapon. It fired a very high velocity shell and could be used for anti-aircraft fire, artillery fire, or as a direct fire anti-tank gun. It was also mounted on their Tiger Tanks.
None of our tanks, except possibly the Pershing Tank, could withstand a direct hit from an 88mm projectile. The Pershing was not available in Italy and only in Northern Europe near the end of the war. When an 88 fired at you, you heard a whoosh, an explosion, and then if you survived the shell fragments, you heard the gun fire.
The company did meet its objective during the day. After taking a hill the C Company Commander decided that he didn’t have enough men to hold it against German counter-attacks that he knew was coming during the night. He decided to pull the company back to a location that was more easily defended. Unfortunately the troops behind his company thought that it was a general withdrawal and pulled back too. They were able to stop the withdrawal in time to still have a bridgehead on the other side of the Rapido.
As part of that withdrawal my company was pulled back to a farm where our heavy mortars were set up. I fell asleep just before the company pulled back even though the shells were still coming in. I almost got left behind. Trying to catch up to the end of the column, I slipped off a log across a drainage ditch and dropped feet first into about two feet of water. I had a hard time getting out as the banks were very slippery. One of the guys gave me a hand and I got out. That night the temperature fell below freezing which was great with my wet pants.
It was either a case of too much water or not enough. We always had a problem finding drinking water. Water in shell hole was okay if you put some water purification pills in it. I know of several men who filled their canteens from the river and later found out that there was a dead German up stream. We were warned about poisoned water but I never heard of anyone running across some. Generally you could find a well or spring in a town where the civilians were using the water.
I volunteered for the first guard duty that night so that I could keep moving to keep warm. The Germans were shelling the farm area with 88s. A shell came in about every five minutes but none of their shells exploded. I don’t know what happened to their ammunition but after a while I didn’t even bother to hit the ground when the next shell came in.
We were dug in along a drainage ditch which ran along the dirt road that passed the farm. After my turn at guard duty I found a spot in the ditch and went over to the haystack to get some hay for my hole. Anything to make life a little more comfortable.
I saw a friend of mine lying in the haystack but when I went over to talk to him I found that he was dead. Most of the men by the haystack were dead. I don’t think that these guys were members of A Company. Once I got some hay in my hole and a blanket over me I was able to finally dry out.
January 29th 1944 at Anzio
On January 29th the Allied beachhead forces finally got moving in a two pronged attack. The British attacked toward the Albano Hills and the U.S. 3rd Division and two Ranger Battalions moved out to attack the town of Cisterna. The two Ranger Battalions were attempting to infiltrate into Cisterna using the Pantano Ditch which ran in that direction.
The Rangers thought that they had bypassed the German positions but the Germans knew they were there. That turned out to be a serious misconception. The Herman Goering Division with Tanks and other troops were waiting when the Rangers came out of the Ditch.
The ambush overwhelmed the Rangers and of the 767 men who had gone forward only 6 returned. Most of the missing men were captured. I think that the remaining Battalion of Rangers was disbanded after this disaster.
January 29th 1944 at Cassino
At dawn 168th moved from the position near the farm house about 100 yards North along the Rapido. This was location was almost directly across from the Italian Barracks. Our objectives were Hills 156 and 213. These were relatively low hills but when followed toward the South led up the mountain to Hill 516 where the Benedictine Monastery was located. This was on top of the Monte Cassino Massif.
The 135th was going to swing toward the right flank and take the town of Caira which was a German Battalion Command post.
We left the road and moved across a field toward the river. The Engineers had swept a path through the mine field that had be laid by the Germans. When mines have been cleared they generally identify the cleared area by stringing white tape along its perimeter. Unfortunately, during the night after the area had been swept, German shell fire had cut many of strips of tape. As we neared our jump off point one of the lieutenants stepped on a shoe mine and it blew off one of his feet. Most of the shoe mines were in wooden boxes and cannot be located with a mine detector.
We stopped moving forward and spread out along a ditch on the forward slope of a small rise to prepare to jump off on an attack scheduled for Noon. While I was sitting in the ditch one of the men asked if anyone had any extra carbine ammunition. I told him that I had some loose ammo in my pocket that he could have. He got up and walked about 10 feet over to where I was sitting. I gave him the ammo and he turned and took 1 step away from me when he stepped on the trigger of a Bouncing Betty mine.
This type of mine is one that blows a canister about 5 feet into the air and then explodes spreading shrapnel over a large area. They are very difficult to spot. The only things above ground are three wires sticking up that connect to the detonator.
The man I had given the ammo to was hit in the head and probably died right there. I never knew his name so I don’t even know if he was a member of our company. A piece of shrapnel hit me in the neck. Five other men were also wounded.
After a Medic put a bandage on my wound he told me to go back to the Aid Station which was several hundred yards to the rear. I started off down the path through the minefield toward the Aid Station. As I was running down the path the Germans started shelling right in that area.
One of the men from our company later told me that he was sure that the shells got me as they followed me right down the path. The Germans sure had good observation and had most of the approaches to the river zeroed in with mortars and artillery.
When I got to the Aid Station the Battalion Surgeon looked at the wound and said it would be okay as it was just a flesh wound. It was so dark in that building that he had to use a flashlight to examine me. He dressed the wound and told me to go back to the company kitchens for a few days.
Our kitchens were about five miles behind the lines. I started out walking down a dirt road in the direction I thought would get me to the area they were supposed to be in. I walked for quite a while before I figured I was lost so I stopped at a Tank Outfit to ask for directions. I never got good directions but after stopping several more times to ask I finally found the kitchens.
I hadn’t had anything to eat that day so they rustled me up a sandwich and some coffee. By this time my neck was bothering me so I went over to an Ambulance Company where they had some medics. One of the medics looked at the wound and called the Captain over to look at it.
When the Captain finished looking at it he chewed me out for walking around with a piece of shrapnel 1/4 of an inch away from my Cartoid Artery. If it had moved it could have killed me. They put me in an ambulance and sent me back to the 11th Evacuation Hospital.
When I arrived at the 11th Evac., they took me to the operating tent and gave me a shot of morphine. Most of the wounded in the tent were Germans. Some were in pretty bad shape. The operating room was a long tent with many operating tables lined up against one side.
They put me on one of the tables while they got ready to operate on me. The morphine they gave me relaxed me so much that I was able to watch three doctors working on a German prisoner on the next table. There was a lot of blood but nothing bothered me. I have never been as comfortable in my life and could care less about what was going on.
They gave me a shot of Sodium Pentothal and told me to count backward from 100. I don’t remember anything after 96. I woke up the next morning without any after effects from the anesthetic. I was very hungry as I only had eaten that 1 sandwich in the last day.
February 1, 1944 at Anzio
The Fifth Army Commander, General Mark Clark, decided after the failure of the attacks on January 29th that the Allied forces on the Beachhead should go into defensive mode.
The number of German divisions that had arrived at the beachhead by this time made it unlikely that we would be able to cut Highway 6 with our current troop strength. In fact we had better prepare for numerous counter-attacks that would attempt to throw us back into the sea.
February 4, 1944 at Cassino
I left the 11th Evacuation Hospital for the 3rd Convalescent Hospital. It only took a couple of hours to get there. I was to spend 20 days there before I was released to return to my company. The 34th always seemed to be able to get their men back unless they were sent home with wounds.
The food was very good at the hospital. Maybe it was just good in comparison to C and K Rations. They did play music over the PA system while we were eating which helped us forget where we were.
Many of the men here were sick with Yellow Jaundice. Their skin and eyes got a yellow tinge but they didn’t feel too bad. I don’t know what it would do to you if you didn’t treat it. Some of the Yellow Jaundice patients found out that if, just before they were ready to be released, if they drank some red wine that the Yellow Jaundice would return. I guess they figured that it was better than going back up front where you were likely to get wounded or killed.
There was another way to get in a hospital to avoid fighting. They took a sock and filled it up with sand. It you hit your knee enough times with this sock it will swell up for a few days. That’s enough time to get you into the hospital.
The Army was aware of all these tricks but they couldn’t prove that someone had done it. If they could prove it you could be court martialled and put in the stockade which some men thought was still better than being on the lines. Even a self inflicted gunshot wound happened quite often.
February 4, 1944 at Anzio
The German 14th Army Commander, General Von Mackensen, set in motion a plan to drive the Allies off the beachhead. They would pinch off the British salient along the Albano Road and capture the Factory (which actually a Fascist Farm Settlement). Then they would drive down the Albano Road to the sea, splitting the beachhead in two. They also planned to drive to the sea from Cisterna parallel to the Mussolini Canal.
The British pulled back to just in front of the Factory to avoid being trapped as the Germans attacked both sides of the salient. They suffered 1400 casualties in the actions between February 4th and the 7th. On the 9th the Germans attacked again and were able to push the British out of the Factory. Counter-attacks by the U.S. 45th Division to take back the Factory were unsuccessful.
February 14, 1944 at Cassino
While the Anzio battles raged the effort to take Monte Cassino continued. The Benedict Monastery on the mountain top was originally built in 529 by Saint Benedict. Over the centuries it had been destroyed three times.
General Freyberg, the New Zealand Corps Commander, told General Clark, Fifth Army Commander, that he wanted the Abbey bombed before his troops would attack. General Clark and the other U.S. Generals did not feel that it was a militarily necessary. General Freyberg then went to British General Alexander, Theater Commander, and convinced him to authorize the bombing.
On February 14th we dropped leaflets on the Abbey warning the Priests and Italian civilians in the Abbey that it would be bombed on the next day. On February 15th, 40 B26, 47 B25, and 142 B17 bombers from the U.S. Army Air Force almost completely destroyed the Abbey.
General Freyberg thought that the Germans were using the Abbey for an observation post but post war investigations support the Germans claim that they were not using the Abbey or for that matter even going inside it. In any case, after the bombing the Germans made good use of the rubble to shelter their infantry. They were even harder to dig out than before.
The 2nd New Zealand Division attacked the town of Cassino on February 17th with little success. General Alexander started putting in place a plan to move most of the British 8th Army to Cassino where it would control the 10th and 13th British Corps, 2 Polish Corps, and the 1st Canadian Corps. The British 5th Corps would remain on the East Coast.
February 16, 1944 at Anzio
The Germans began a series of attacks against the positions held by the U.S. 45th Division that came to near crisis conditions. The German 3rd Panzer Grenadier and 715th Infantry Divisions, supported by tanks, almost succeed in breaking through with attacks that continued after midnight on the 17th.
The German Air Force, using 40 Focke Wolfe and Me109 fighters, bombed the 45th Division twice on February 17th. The German 65th and 114th Divisions joined in the attack with 60 more tanks. The 45th’s lines bent but did not break.
A supreme effort by our supporting artillery made possible concentrations of up to 224 artillery pieces being called onto a single target at the same time. Concentrations like this and aid from two cruisers offshore broke the back of the German attacks. During those few days the 45th Division suffered 3,400 casualties and the Germans lost 5,389.
February 22, 1944
On February 22nd the 5th Army Commander, General Clark, removed General Lucas, the Beachhead Commander. He was replaced by U.S. General Lucian K. Truscott the Commander of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division.
February 24, 1944 at Cassino
I left the 3rd Convalescent Hospital to rejoin my company. I arrived at A Company 168th, located in a rest area near Santa Maria. The 168th and 135th Regiments had been relieved on Monte Cassino by the 4th Indian Division of the 2nd New Zealand Corps on February 15th.
In the approximate one month that I had been gone the 34th had taken the Italian Barracks, the town of Caira, and fought their way up the mountain yard by yard in some terrible weather that consisted of snow, rain, and freezing temperatures.
The 168th and 135th lines got to within 100 yards of the walls of the Monastery but they didn’t have enough men left to exploit any successful attacks and make a breakthrough that would enable them to cut Highway 6.
One platoon reached some caves along the road next to the Monastery walls and captured 14 Germans. Another platoon was able to reach the Monastery Walls but was driven back by murderous crossfire. In time, due to attrition, there came a time where we didn’t even have enough men left to defend our line against a counter-attack. The 168th’s A and C companies had so few men left that they combined the two companies for better coordination.
One of the 34th’s last attacks on the mountain was launched by the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 168th and took place in heavy rain that turned into a raging blizzard. Again there was no appreciable gain. They threw in one Regiment of what was left of the 36th Division, to help out but it was too late. At that time some companies were down to as few as 14 men where full strength is about 200 men.
During this time the 34th’s 133rd Regiment was attacking the town of Cassino. Some progress was made but again the continuing casualties reduced their effectiveness. Each house had to be taken from the Germans before we could move on to the next one. There was so much rubble that it was difficult for the supporting tanks to get through the streets.
On February 14th, 1944
The Indian 4th Division relieved the 34th Division on the mountain. The commander of the relieving troops said:
“The performance of the 34th Division at Cassino must rank with the finest feats of arms carried out by soldiers during the war”
As many as 50 of the survivors could not walk and had to be carried down the mountain.
On February 22nd, 1944
The 133rd Regiment of the 34th was relieved in the town of Cassino by the 2nd New Zealand Division.
During the days following my return (February 24, 1944) to my company the 34th’s Regiments received replacements for some of the men that were killed or wounded on Monte Cassino. It got so that you got to know only the men in your squad or platoon.
Men from other platoons arrived and disappeared before you got to know them. Maybe that was good. It was bad enough when someone got killed but if it was a friend it was much worse.
After the war we found out that, during the four months that the battle for Cassino lasted, the Allies had 115,000 casualties and the Germans had 60,000. The 34th casualty total for this period was 2,200. The 5th Army was experiencing about 41% casualties during their battle up the Italian Peninsula.
During the rest period they decided to pay us. I don’t know why as there was no place to spend any money except for the crap and card games that sprung up any time we were off the lines. I didn’t get my pay because my name was redlined.
This was because, when I was wounded and at the Aid Station, the First Sergeant, who was also there, heard the Battalion Surgeon tell me to go back to the kitchens for a couple of days. When I didn’t come back after that period of time he assumed that I was AWOL.
Even with the papers I had from the Hospitals, that included award of the Purple Heart, it took about two months before I got my pay straightened out. I later found out that the original A Company Morning Report listed me as wounded but not as being hospitalized. The next day’s Morning Report corrected it to WIA and hospitalized but I guess the 1st Sergeant didn’t read the corrected one.
February 28th, 1944 on Anzio
The Germans mounted an attack against U.S. 3rd Infantry Division with the 26th Panzer Division, the 362nd Division, and the Herman Goering Division. The German 715th Infantry Division and the 16th SS Panzer Division also attacked the U.S. 504th Paratroop Regiment’s positions along the Mussolini Canal.
Although some of these attacks were partially successful the overall result was not. When the weather cleared the U.S. Army Air Force attacked the German supply lines, artillery, and frontline troop locations using 241- B24s, 100 - B17s, 13 - P38s, and 63 - P47s. This much airpower convinced Field Marshall Kesselring to end his efforts to destroy the beachhead.
March 4, 1944
The 168th left Santa Maria and moved to Pietro de Fusi. We stayed there until March 18th and then moved to the College (Staging Area) near Bagnoli. Bagnoli is a small port just North of Naples. We were told that we were going to the Anzio Beachhead to participate in the breakout.
March 15, 1944 at Cassino
On March 15th the second phase of the British operation to break the Gustav Line at Cassino went into operation. The British identified the U.S. effort at Cassino as the 1st Battle.
The 2nd Battle was the British unsuccessful attack after they relieved the 34th. It was prior to this attack that the controversial bombing of the Monastery took place. The attack on the Monastery was requested by General Freyberg the Commander of the New Zealand 2nd Corps.
The 3rd Battle began on March 15th. Before the attack began, the U.S. 12th and 15th Army Air Forces attacked the town of Cassino. 250 planes dropped about 1000 tons of bombs on the target. In addition almost 200,000 rounds of artillery were fired at Cassino and other targets in the area.
The New Zealand 2nd Division and the 8th Indian Division attacked the town and the Monte Cassino Massif simultaneously. They hoped to take Castle Hill and then progress up to Hangman’s Hill and from there launch an attack on the Monastery.
They took Castle Hill without too many casualties but even though they were able to get men up at Hangman’s Hill they were counter-attacked continuously by the German 1st Paratroop Division. There was no chance that they would be able to launch an attack from Hangman’s Hill. After 9 days of fighting the gains were so limited and the losses so high (2,000 men) that the attacks were called off.
The fighting in the town of Cassino had not gone well either. After the town was bombed so heavily the British were unable to get tanks in to support their Infantry. The streets were cratered so badly they had to be filled in before tanks could move forward. The rubble from the destroyed houses filled the streets so it was difficult to even tell where the streets were located. These attacks also were called off with minimal gains.
THE 34TH MOVES TO THE BEACHHEAD
March 19, 1944
We left the College and moved down to the port of Naples where we were loaded on an LSTs for transfer to the Anzio Beachhead. The ride from Naples to Anzio was quite rough as an LST is a flat bottomed boat. The flat bottom was to allow the ship to pull up on a beach to offload tanks, vehicles, and troops.
We arrived in Anzio Harbor the next day. Our ship had to wait out in the bay until it was our turn to dock. Every so often there was a loud whoosh and a large shell would land in the harbor throwing up a column of water about 100 ft tall.
We found out later that this shell was from a 10” German Railway Gun that was nicknamed “The Anzio Express”. Actually there were two guns. One interesting thing about this gun was that the crew could put a booster on the shell to extend its range. If the shell was passing over you could hear the booster explode and the shell speed up.
Luckily for us none of the shells we saw hit anything. I understand that one of these guns is currently at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.
March 20, 1944 at Anzio
We disembarked from the ship and hiked up to a Rear Assembly Area. The town of Anzio was mostly in ruins as a result of our shelling before the landing and also due to mines set by the Germans before they pulled out of the cities of Anzio and Nettuno. Disarming the mines that hadn’t exploded took the Allied Forces quite a long time and slowed down full use of the port.
That night there was an air raid on Anzio Harbor. I never saw so much anti-aircraft fire before. The whole sky was lit up with exploding shells and tracers. The Germans were after the ships in the harbor. I don’t know if they hit anything but there were not any secondary fires or explosions.
They had sunk several ships on prior raids. Because the Beachhead was only 10 miles long and 7 miles deep any air raid on the Harbor spread over most of the beachhead. They said that the anti-aircraft barrage over Anzio was more
concentrated than the one over London during the Blitz.
There was so much stuff falling it was a good idea to keep under cover if possible. We didn’t have any cover as the area was only a temporary location.
LIFE AT COFFIN CORNER
March 21,1944 at Anzio
We left the Rear Assembly Area for the Mussolini Canal area of the front lines. The Canal formed the right flank of the Beachhead. We started the move at night so it was possible to move us forward by truck. The 168th Regiment was to relieve the U.S.504th Paratroop Regiment in an area called “Coffin Corner" because it stuck out toward the German lines.
It fronted on the Mussolini Canal on our left flank and the Cisterna Creek on our right flank. We were exposed to German small arms and artillery fire on both our front and rear.
After getting off the trucks we moved up with the company in single file. As usual the weapons platoon was at the tail end of the column. It was very dark, no moon. As we were moving up, the man in front of me lost contact with the man in front of him. I ran head but was unable to locate the end of the column.
I returned to the rest of the men and while we were discussing what to do, two German machine guns opened up cross firing right over our heads. Although it probably was just a coincidence, and the bullets were too high to get us, I told the rest of the group that, inasmuch as we had no idea where the front line was, that we should return to a house we had passed a short while ago.
If we continued on without a guide we might walk into a minefield or walk right through our lines and get captured. We went back and luckily found the house. It was occupied by U.S. troops and was being used for a supply dump.
We stayed at the house until it started getting light. One of the men at the house volunteered to take us up to our company’s position. We felt kind of silly because in the daylight we saw that our positions were only a couple of hundred yards from where we got lost.
We received no fire while moving up but we did feel quite exposed. This was generally normal during the day. Except for a few snipers and fire from some artillery quite far behind the German lines there was not too much action during the day. The Germans pulled their tanks and self-propelled guns back to hidden locations during the day.
As soon as it got dark you could hear them clanking forward again. They also had a Flakwagon that they also brought forward at night. It was a tracked vehicle that had 4 20mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on it. They used it mostly to fire on our positions when they thought we were up to something.
They never fired at our planes when they flew over during the day and we never called in for air support at night. Most of the U.S. planes that we saw during the day were artillery spotters. The Germans were not stupid enough to fire on them as it was inviting artillery fire.
The man that lost contact when we were moving up was in the company by mistake. He was 37 years old which should have exempted him from the Infantry. He had been married for19 years and had no children. Just before he shipped overseas his wife became pregnant for the first time. We bugged the C.O. about getting him re-assigned. The C. O. finally was able to get him transferred to an outfit in the rear. I heard that he made it home before his wife had the baby. There are a few happy endings to war time stories.
March 22 - April 10, 1944
“ A” Company Headquarters was dug into stream bank of the Cisterna Creek that intersected with the Mussolini Canal. The rest of the company was split between the stream bank and the Canal bank. This formed a wedge that stuck out toward the German lines.
The Germans were dug into another stream bank, facing us, about 300 yards out to the front. I don’t know exactly where the Germans were dug in to face our troops along the Canal Bank. There probably was a stream bank out there too. The whole beachhead was laced with small canals and creeks that drained what used to be the Pontaine Marshes. That was one of Mussolini’s good ideas.
My buddy and I worked all day digging a dugout into our side of the stream bank that faced the Germans. Our location was next to the C.O.’s dugout which also served as our company command post. The shallow stream of the Cisterna Creek was behind and a few feet below us.
We finished the hole for our dugout on the first day up there but didn’t have time to put a roof on it. The next morning, just after it got light, the Germans started shelling our positions with heavy artillery. I was laying on my back in the hole and I saw one of the artillery shells as it passed over us. I didn’t think you could see them.
One of the men broke during the shelling, left his dugout, and ran down to the creek bank behind us. He was killed by one of the shells. It doesn’t pay to try to run away from artillery. You never know in which direction to run. You might just as well stay where you are. When you get up to run you also expose yourself to shell fragments from shells that would miss you if you were lying down even if you were not in a hole.
The stream behind us wasn’t much to see. At that time it was only about a foot deep and a couple of yards wide but it did provide us some extra water for washing. There was one place where the stream had cut the banks in such a way as to provide a place that was lower than most of the surrounding area.
We were able to put a gasoline cook stove down there so that we could heat up some rations or water for coffee without being exposed to the Germans behind us on the Mussolini Canal side of our position. It makes you nervous when you have to watch your back as well as your front.
We always dug in with another man. It was good to have some company when things got rough. Also when we were on alert one of us could get some sleep while the other was ready to respond to any threat. Our dugout was deep enough to sit up in when we got our roof on and wide enough for the two of us to lie down side by side. We finally got a roof put on. There were some steel beams from a blown bridge that we used for support.
Using some pieces of wood that were there and sand bags we completed the roof. This position had been occupied by the 504th Paratroop Regiment so they had constructed quite a few dugouts. We had to build ours because we got there late and all the completed ones were taken.
The entrance was covered by a blanket to keep any light from escaping. Sometimes we had a candle or a lamp made from an empty C Ration can. We spread our shelter halves on the bottom of the hole and put our blankets on top of them. It was fairly comfortable as the temperature in early Spring wasn’t very cold.
The Germans knew something was going on when we moved in to replace the paratroops. They always seemed to have good information on our movements. Occasionally they even had Axis Sally broadcast a welcome to our division.
Axis Sally was the name , among others, that we gave to the woman who talked to us on their propaganda radio station. Once or twice they even broadcast our password for that night. Most of the time they played current Big Band music which we enjoyed.
The next night, while we were in our dugouts, we heard a thump, thump, thump sound. We knew what that meant and shortly mortar shells started falling on our positions. Although it was the last thing we wanted to do, we all climbed out of our holes to repel a German attack that might follow the mortar barrage.
We opened up with everything that we had, rifles, machine guns, and mortars. We also sent up many flares but no attack materialized. I guess the Germans wanted to get an idea about what kind of an outfit had replaced the paratroopers. They found out that they were not facing green troops and that this area was not a weak point in our lines that could be exploited. It was very quiet for the rest of the night after we stopped firing.
Unfortunately all the firing that night used up most of the mortar and machine gun ammo. The next three nights we had to work hauling ammo from the supply dump located behind the house where we had stayed the night we got lost. During the day no groups moved up out of their positions as they might attract fire. The beachhead is as flat as a pancake so there are few places except ditches where you can find cover.
Some of the men dug a hole through the bank so that they could see what the Germans were doing during the day without exposing themselves. There was a German sniper who had dug into the top of the German’s bank. He used to shoot at anybody who showed themselves. His position, on top of the their bank, was covered by a blanket. He didn’t have to raise up much to fire. We put a couple of mortar rounds right in his area and we never were bothered by him again.
It was always a lot of fun to go back at night to pick up ammo and supplies. You had to cross the stream on a narrow plank, climb the rear stream bank, and then run about 200 yards back to the farm supply house to get our supplies. There were two buildings at this farm, the main house and a shed. The supplies were kept in the rear of these buildings.
A German machine gun used to fire right down the path between the house and the shed. The gunner would fire a burst of tracers every few minutes during the night. Their tracers were white probably due to using white phosphorus. Our tracers were red. It looked like a stream of white light going by. Incidentally this was the same machine gun that fired right over the top of my dugout.
When we were ready to return with a load of ammo or whatever, we would wait until he fired a burst and then run like hell until we cleared the area through which the gun fired. If that German gunner had fired a second burst right away he probably would have killed at least one of us. It was a gamble but we had to take it to obtain our supplies.
One night, I was carrying a five gallon can of gasoline, for our cook stove, back to our position. I had just reached the top of the stream’s rear bank when that same machine gun opened up and just missed the can in my hand by inches. As I ran across the footbridge a bullet cut the guide rope that I was holding. It must have been a ricochet as the bridge was below the level that direct machine gun fire can reach. Lots of fun.
Most of the farm houses scattered around the Beachhead had two stories and were constructed from fieldstone and cement. Not many trees for lumber in this area. The second floor, especially on the houses near the Canal bank, were used for artillery observation over the 10 ft tall Canal bank. Of course the Germans knew this and were constantly trying to destroy the houses.
One house near our position had 32 direct hits from heavy artillery on the second story. These houses were so solid that it was very difficult to completely destroy them. The Germans used both 88mm tank fire and 150 mm Howitzers but the houses, at least the first floors, were still usable.
Most of the time life in our area was quiet. Both the Germans and the Allied troops were recovering from the losses they suffered when the Germans tried to throw us back into the sea. The Allied forces were also starting to build up resources for the coming breakout from the Beachhead.
A few men at a time, were sent back to an area near Anzio for showers and to get clean clothes. After a couple of months without washing your clothes can almost stand up by themselves. I supposed we all smelled pretty bad but nobody mentioned it and the big brass didn’t come around the front lines too often so they weren’t offended by us.
It’s great taking a shower while the shells from the Anzio Express are landing in the area. We were all nervous but said the hell with the shells. No Germans were going to keep us from taking our showers.
During the night that I was gone from the company’s position the Germans tried out one of their secret weapons on us. It was what we later called the Doodlebug. It was a small battery powered tank that was controlled using a cable that reeled out behind it. The small tank, about four feet long , contained 200 lbs of TNT and could be exploded remotely.
When we heard them coming we didn’t know what they were but opened up with machine gun and rifle fire. All the tanks but one were exploded by rifle fire or by the Germans remotely. None of them reached our positions.
The remaining tank was stuck out between the German front lines and ours. It could not move and I guess they couldn’t detonate it either. Maybe the control cable had been cut by our rifle fire. The Germans sent out a patrol to recover the tank and we sent out one to get it for ourselves. After a short fire fight we were able to haul the thing back to our lines.
This was the first time that the Germans had used this weapon during the war so our intelligence people were anxious to get hold of it. It turned out that it never was a very effective weapon and we never encountered another place where the German used it.
One morning, at first light, a single shot rang out. One of the machine gunners had left a round in the chamber while taking the gun down from the night position on top of the bank. It had accidentally gone off wounding him in the leg. This was a stupid mistake as we were taught to always check for a round in the chamber when handling the weapon.
Battalion headquarters was radioed for medical aid and they sent an ambulance right up to our positions. Surprisingly they were able to pick up the wounded man, put him in the ambulance, and drive away without having even one shot being fired at them.
Early on Easter Morning, while my buddy and I were just waking up, there was a terrific explosion that bounced us around in our hole. Some dirt fell in but the roof held. Later we found out that a 150 mm shell had hit the top of the bank just above our dugout.
Strangely the shell hole was perfectly round which would indicate that the shell came straight down which generally is not the case with artillery shells, even howitzers. Some Easter Egg.
I sometimes wondered if being so close to the CP was such a good idea. The radio to Battalion was on quite often and the Germans were known to be experts on triangulating on a radio signal and then throwing in a few artillery or mortar rounds.
One night while one of our sentries was walking along our position someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around to find a German soldier who wanted to surrender. How he got through the mine field and over the bank without being seen was a mystery. Needless to say the number of sentries was increased on the following nights.
April 11, 1944
The 168th was relieved and pulled back by the division artillery. It was worse back there than up on the front lines because they were always firing and in doing so attracted counter-battery fire. Still we did get hot food back there. The artillerymen had quite a bit of loot.
They were able to get some German equipment and also had the trucks to transport it. The infantry didn’t pick up much other than an occasional Luger or P38 pistol. It wasn’t a real smart move as we heard that the Germans sometimes shot prisoners who are carrying German pistols.
Most of those that did pick them up sold them to the rear echelon guys or the merchant marine if you were near a port. You could get $150 for a Luger or P38 from the Merchant Marine. Those guys were crazy. We used to run across them, in areas that hadn’t been secured yet, looking for souvenirs. They had cigarettes by the case and U.S. Liquor for bartering. We almost opened fire on a group of them one time. We thought they were Italian Fascists.
Part 1 --- 1942 to 1943
Part 2 --- (this is Part 2)
Part 3 --- April to December 1944
Part 4 --- January to December 1945 (to be added soon)
Last updated September 17, 2010 Friday
By Robert N. Wallworth
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